Recovery

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With a nod and a wink we used to be able to say, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Unfortunately, that is no longer true. The repercussions and consequences of the senseless massacre on October 1st have certainly not stayed in Vegas. Tens of thousands of lives have been impacted. Even though the violence of that fateful night has all but faded out of the news cycle, sorrowful funerals have been held, victims remain hospitalized, criminal investigations are underway, the search for answers continues, and survivors have returned to their homes and families where life will never, ever be the same. The tentacles of what happened in Vegas have slithered their way through America’s cities and towns, hamlets and burgs, and continue to effect the survivors and their loved ones. For many of them, this will never entirely go away.

I wish to express my deep appreciation to all those who reached out to me, to Barb, and to David during the past two weeks. Your sincere expressions of love and concern remain very meaningful to us, and will never be forgotten. This is neither a short nor an easy journey toward recovery, and it absolutely helps to know that we are not traveling alone. We will continue to lean on you as we progress through the healing process.

We are thankful for small steps. David has returned to his teaching position and has immersed himself in his students. He keeps as busy as possible, so as to at least sometimes be able to stave off the nightmares and flashbacks. What used to be boisterous gatherings of friends to watch football or tailgate at the Horseshoe have become (at least for now) quiet get-togethers with just a few people. His friend, Kody, who stayed with Michelle Vo as she lay in a hospital clinging to life, and became the sole channel of communication to her family in California, will travel to San Jose this week for her funeral. Most of us probably would not attend the funeral of a person we had only known for a few hours, but this is a special instance.

I’m finding that I am in a different state of mind these days. Life has taken on a more somber tone. I’m laughing less (not like me) and crying more (mostly when I see or read about a compassionate deed or an example of unconditional love). I wonder if that’s because it feels like these acts of kindness are too often being overshadowed by hatred. I lament that mass shootings have become an unwanted strand in the fabric of our society, and it appears we’re just going to allow them to keep happening. As caretakers of the culture, what messages are we sending to our children?

I have become more easily distracted, and my mind wanders more than normal. I have to work harder to stay focused. Priorities have shifted, and what seemed important just a few short weeks ago no longer feels so urgent. To cope I have turned continually to Psalm 139 and to a prayer written for me by a very dear friend. I find it comforting to hear again and again the words of the psalmist:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me… You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways… You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb… In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed… I come to the end – I am still with you.

It is reassuring to know that no matter where we go, no matter where unwanted thoughts and memories may take us, no matter how horrific and terrifying life may become, God is present in the midst of it all. We cannot escape the unconditional love of God who promises to have mercy especially on those who are weak and broken hearted, and those whose lives have been shattered by unthinkable circumstances.

For all the people who have been touched in any way by the tragedy of the Las Vegas massacre, life will never be exactly the same, with one exception. God is still here, and I’m convinced that we must hold onto this truth in order to survive.

Vegas

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If there’s any irony in this situation it’s that if there ever was a call about an active shooter I thought it would come from the inner city Columbus high school where David has taught for eight years. Instead, it came at 1:15 a.m. Monday as he was running away from the Route 91 Harvest Festival concert that has become the site of our nation’s worst mass shooting. In a panicked voice all he could manage to say was, “Dad, I’m alright, I just want you to know I’m alright, but there’s an active shooter. I’m running away and I’m okay, but I wanted you to know before you saw it on TV.” Unless you’re a parent and you’ve received this kind of message from your child you can’t even begin to imagine the the level of terror Barb and I felt at that moment.

Along with some friends, our son had spent the entire weekend in Las Vegas, lounging at the pool, tossing back a few beers, frequenting the casinos, and attending the festival. That frivolity ended abruptly when shots rang out from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. The group of friends became separated before Jason Aldean took the stage. A few, including David, went to the beverage tent and decided to stay farther back in the crowd. The two that stayed in the original location ended up being in the line of fire. The killer’s bullets missed one, but hit the other – twice. She was someone they had just met earlier in the evening, a new friend. Her gunshot wounds would be fatal. In the ensuing chaos a girl grabbed David’s hand and they started running. They, too, were separated when David was pushed to the ground by other frantic concert goers trying to get out of harm’s way. Several people trampled over him before he managed to get back to his feet. Eventually the group was able to rendezvous at their rental car and drive away from the scene.

David was able to fly back to Columbus later on Monday. A crush of reporters were waiting to interview anyone who would talk. He somehow managed to avoid all of that. I can’t repeat in this space what he said about the media disrespecting the privacy of those who had been so recently traumatized.

While Barb and I are certainly thankful that our son and his friends escaped physically unscathed, we know it will take a very long time to process the emotional consequences of this event. For someone who typically internalizes trauma he will have a long road ahead. While his principal and superintendent have been very supportive and understanding, and have given him the option of taking as much time as he needs before returning to work, he decided to go in on Wednesday because he wanted to experience something “normal.” He lasted until 1:00 before his principal sent him home. Normal no longer exists.

It didn’t take long for this tragedy to be politicized. People on both sides of the gun control debate were quick to speak up. I confess that it didn’t take me long to become very, very angry.

I’ve been a gun control advocate for a long time, but now it has become personal. With all due respect to responsible gun owners – some of whom are my friends – you will never be able to convince me that your second amendment right to bear arms extends to the kind of weaponry that was wielded by Stephen Paddock. I’m sorry, but your right to possess military style assault rifles capable of raining bullets down on innocent people from the 32nd floor of a hotel does not supersede the rights of my son and other law abiding citizens to attend a concert – or any other public event – without fear of having their heads blown off.

To all of you who have offered your thoughts and prayers, please know they, and you, are very much appreciated. But members of Congress, while it’s great that you continue to think about and pray for the victims of tragic events it’s time for you to actually DO SOMETHING. You’ve been extending thoughts and prayers all the way back to Columbine and things have just gotten worse. And I don’t want to hear that “now is not the time to talk about gun control.” When would be a better time?! Legislate common sense gun laws that would ban assault weapons and bump-stock equipment. I know you’re afraid of losing campaign funding from the NRA but I truly and sincerely don’t care. You keep squawking about what a privilege it is to serve your country and how you’re working so hard for your constituents. If you really mean that then stand up to the NRA and the rest of the gun lobbies and do what is right for the citizens that elected you to preserve their well being.

At the very least, do it for the people who were at the Harvest Festival. Do it for the families and friends who are mourning the senseless loss of loved ones. Do it for those whose lives will be forever altered. You owe them that much.

 

Listening

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I think we learn more by listening than we do by talking. I was reminded of this because over the weekend A LOT of people were talking. Some of it escalated to yelling and screaming. And finger pointing. And judging. And blaming. And posturing. Facebook and Twitter were both lit up with posts that were either strongly worded defenses of one’s particular point of view, or scathing attacks of someone else’s perspective.

To be clear, the primary topic of conversation was not health care reform, or terrorism, or the ever-growing threat of nuclear warfare. It was not about the devastation left in the wake of hurricanes or earthquakes. Rather, it was centered around the decision of some professional athletes to do something other than stand for the National Anthem.

So there’s no misunderstanding, this post is not about my personal view regarding the choices made by professional athletes (mostly football players). It’s about the value of listening rather than reacting, no matter one’s position on any particular issue. Listening has the power to unite people, to create respect, and build bridges.

And so I listened. Not just on social media, but in person. I listened to white people and people of color. I listened to military families. I listened to pundits, editorial writers, politicians, and news anchors. I listened to football players, basketball players, baseball players, managers, coaches, and team owners. I listened to police officers, members of the clergy, teachers, and my parishioners. I listened to Republicans and Democrats, women and men, rich, middle class, and low income folks.

Some of the most difficult things to hear were anger, outrage, disappointment, arrogance, apathy, and pain. There were stories of proud service to our country and stories of great personal sacrifice set alongside history’s accounting of racial injustice and oppression. I heard empathy, but also hatred; gratitude, but also suspicion. Patriotism found a strong voice, but so did bigotry and racism. The need to be “right” sometimes outweighed the potential for personal growth.

As I drilled down through all of the rhetoric, the bullying, the shaming and stone throwing and finally got to the more thoughtful and calmly articulated orations and conversations, one thing became obvious. While opinions are certainly divided on acceptable ways to express oneself during the playing of the National Anthem, what bubbled to the surface was a common love of – and concern for – our country. It may not seem that way because the rhetorical volume has been turned up so loud that it makes it difficult to discern what anyone is really saying.

It’s always easier to dismiss those with whom we disagree. But it’s dangerous to stop listening to the counterpoint because it just leads to greater ignorance and misunderstanding. How will we ever come to respect one another if we just keep dissing people who dare to express an opposing view? It’s time to listen to each other without the judging and blaming, surrendering our righteous indignation for the sake of coming together to create the civil society we all desire.

As an aside (kind of), I started wondering where the tradition of playing the National Anthem at sporting events originated. I thought it might provide some much needed context. Here’s an article from ESPN the Magazine that may help move the conversation forward. And maybe we can all listen just a bit more carefully.

http://www.espn.com/espn/story/_/id/6957582/the-history-national-anthem-sports-espn-magazine

Speak English!

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Disclaimer: I want to make clear that this is not intended to be a piece that advocates for any one particular or specific viewpoint about the complexities of the immigration debate in this country. Rather, it is meant to suggest that thought be given to the idea that racism may be a factor worthy of our attention as we sort out our own thoughts and feelings about the changing ethnic landscape of our nation.

I’ve met many interesting people since my mother moved into a senior apartment building twelve years ago. One is a short bespectacled old lady who speaks not one word of English. She immigrated here many years ago from Europe. My mother tells me she gets along just fine, and the language barrier hasn’t been a problem. Somehow all of the residents in the building are able to communicate with her, and she with them. Not once have I heard my mother – or any of the other residents in the building – complain because this kindly woman failed to learn English when she moved to this country.

After the Cleveland Indians won their 22nd consecutive game, a local broadcaster interviewed Jose Ramirez who went five for five and scored the game winning run in the bottom of the tenth inning. Ramirez, who is from the Dominican Republic and became part of the Indians organization in 2009, was joined by his interpreter because he doesn’t speak much, if any, English. I can pretty much guarantee nobody cared because this guy is an unbelievable athlete and has been embraced by our baseball crazy city as a hero.

Part of the immigration debate has centered around whether newcomers to the United States should be required to learn English. Undoubtedly, the benefits of being able to speak the primary language of our country are innumerable. But should we require people to do so? A deeper question to ponder is this: would imposing a language requirement be considered racist?

Nobody is knocking on the door of the old lady in my mother’s apartment building, ready to serve deportment papers. And I’ve heard no one rail at Jose Ramirez suggesting he be sent back to the Dominican Republic, able to rejoin the Tribe only when he has a firmer grasp of the English language. Why not? I have an idea.

I remember my father, who was a bigot by anyone’s definition, using a term to describe an African American person who was “okay in his books.” Meaning he or she wasn’t like the rest of those _________ (you can fill in your racial slur of choice). The phrase was “good Negro.” Usage: Sammy Davis Jr. was a good Negro. Probably because he was part of the Rat Pack and kept company with hip white guys like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

Is this what’s going on in the immigration debate? Is there an intentionally quiet distinction being made between good immigrants and bad ones? Is Jose Ramirez getting a free pass on his English language deficiencies because some people consider him to be one of the “good Dominican Republicans?” I hope not, and I’m not saying definitively that it’s happening, but the possibility exists. And as long as that’s the case we owe it to ourselves, and to those who may wish to join the Great American Experiment, to examine the potentially racist undertones that may be driving at least a portion of the immigration discussion.