Saturday, December 3, 2016

Adversity and Thankfulness

Though I do not always express it, I am quite content in my life, and extremely thankful for what I have.  It's my default state to be happy and grateful.  I have a good home, a fulfilling career working for a great employer, and most importantly, a wonderfully supportive family, circle of friends and church community.  God has provided for me.  I'm expressing this today, because the last couple of days have reminded me how truly blessed I am.

The last week at work was unusually difficult.  I'm not going to go into specifics, but I will say that the week was trying physically and emotionally.  Quite frankly, I was overwhelmed Thursday.  But my boss and co-workers were incredibly supportive and understanding, my family was my rock, and my church family was compassionate and encouraging.  The support and prayers of these people helped in a way that words cannot adequately express.

Fast forward to this morning...  The momentary tribulation at work has for the most part passed. I was on the way to the corner store to get my morning coffee, and I was reminded of my friend Greg's funeral... specifically, I recalled giving the eulogy at his memorial service, which was held at my church.  I was again reminded of the love and support I received from my immediate family, my employer, and my church family, and I was overcome with gratitude for what God has given me.  The twist is that it took that moment of pain to remind me how much I have.

The words I write today are designed to publicly express my heartfelt appreciation for what I have in my life.  I know that I possess what many in the world seek with all of their being:  I have a wonderful family that I adore.  I have a great group of friends.  I have a supportive church community.  If you read these words and feel a twinge, it means one of two things... 1) You are part of one or more of the aforementioned groups, and I am grateful for you, or 2) You too have what I have, and you should feel as grateful as I feel.

Friday, November 11, 2016

There's No Going Back

Last week, I was in Las Vegas for a business trip.  While I was there, I decided to take a day trip to Tustin, CA, where I was stationed during my enlistment in the Marine Corps.  The base, MCAS Tustin, was closed in the 1990s, and has slowly been dismantled and converted to civilian use over the last two decades or so.  My visit was designed to be a trip down memory lane, to see what little was left of the base before it disappears entirely.

I've got to start by saying that California is a lot less green than I remembered it.  I expected to see palm trees lining the streets, like it was when I was stationed there.  Instead, I was greeted by the gray of the freeways and the uniform terra cotta of the buildings.  I also didn't miss the traffic, alternating between the crawling pace of overloaded roads and the speed of people trying to make up for lost time when traffic thinned out.  Having had several years of experience with California traffic, it didn't bother me per se, but I found myself missing the ability to appreciate the scenery like I can do at home.

When I arrived in Tustin, I was downright discouraged.  Essentially, all that remained of MCAS Tustin was a pair of massive blimp hangars, both suffering from years of neglect.  I had forgotten how large these structures are, and I was momentarily awed by their sheer mammoth scale.  But that fleeting observation was quickly replaced by sadness over their state of decay.  One of the hangars had a large hole in the top, and they were both missing most of their windows and the majority of the paint had fallen away.  They were surrounded by dirt and construction equipment that seemed to be waiting for the buildings to succumb to the ravages of time and gravity.  I had hoped that my visit to Tustin would jog some fond memories of my time in Southern California, but what I witnessed made me feel sad.  A significant portion of my personal history had been obliterated in the name of progress, and what remained was obviously uncared for.

Fortunately, I had made arrangements to meet up with a Marine Corps buddy.  We had lunch at a restaurant in a shopping center that was erected almost exactly where I had spent my years working on the base.  I was again saddened... my old stomping grounds had been eliminated to build a shopping center.  Part of my heritage had been erased to build yet another place to spend money.  That thought, however, quickly vanished.  The food was good, and I enjoyed catching up with my brother in arms, as we filled one another in on the various goings on of mutual friends.

After our lunch, we walked around the marketplace.  Though I still experienced a twinge of loss, I was happy to see that some of the architecture gave a nod to the base, specifically a store that had an arch motif, similar to the aforementioned hangars.  The stores were designed with an open-air feel, making it comfortable to walk.  I was pleased with the planning that had gone into the design and build of the marketplace.

The lunch and walk were relatively short, but my friend had other commitments, and I needed to get back to Las Vegas that night, because my flight home left early the next morning.  On the way out, I was reminded again that I didn't miss the traffic of Southern California, but soon enough I emerged from heavy traffic, which allowed me to enjoy the rest of the trip back home.

The next several hours back to Vegas were pleasant.  The music, the open road, and the trip to Tustin provided me a trip down memory lane.  I thought about road trips that my friend Fred and I used to take when we were in the Corps.  Certain songs brought back other memories of days gone by.  The day ended on a positive note.

This was the second time I've visited Tustin since I left the Marine Corps, and it will probably be my last trip.  I fully expect that the hangars will be gone in the not-too-distant future, because it seems that nobody wants to preserve them.  In all fairness, I can't blame anyone for that position, based on their current state of repair.  But those hangars are the last remnant of my time there, so once they're gone, there is really nothing drawing me back, with the exception of a few friends from long ago; and really, I don't need to visit in order to stay in touch with them.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Same Song, Different Arrangement

One year ago today, my best friend Greg took his life.  The gaping psychological wound of his suicide has morphed into a scar.  The crushing sense of loss and grief has mellowed to quiet acceptance and frequent wistful reminders of his absence, sprinkled with fond memories of his life and our 35 year friendship.  I still think of him all the time; reminders are everywhere... when I drive by the river, I think of our mutual love for the water and all of our canoe trips... when I listen to music, I hear songs that we both loved... I still hear his voice in my head...

I see his wife making changes to the house, and think of how Greg would cringe at some of the choices she's making, primarily because of the cost.  Of course, I also think good for her, because she deserves to move forward.  I see his girls having sleepovers, growing up, laughing and smiling, and I say good for them, because they shouldn't live the rest of their lives grieving for their dad; they should be happy.

I talk to Greg's parents and brother occasionally, and they too are moving forward with life, though every time we speak, the conversation invariably turns to Greg.  This is only natural.  He was a colossal part of all of our lives, and it will never feel right that he's not here.  That's the thing about suicide... it's not part of the natural order, so it can never feel right.  But we don't talk about Greg exclusively, and the conversations increasingly focus on his life and less on his death.

As I look back over the last year, I see that we've all come a very long way since Greg's death.  We have all grieved in our own way, and we are moving forward.  I guess that should be the takeaway from what I'm writing today.  I'm not going to say it gets better.  That phrase is nothing more than a cliche that minimizes the pain.  I think it's more accurate to say it gets less bad as you move toward a new normal. I'm really gearing these small words of encouragement toward others who have recently lost a loved one to suicide.  It gets less bad.

Since music has always been a powerful influence in my life, I'm going to use a song as an analogy...  In the Late 60's to early 70's Eric Clapton wrote and released Layla, a song about unrequited love.  The song is powerful, intense and driving.  Roughly twenty years later, Clapton re-released the same song, completely rearranged.  The new version was no longer angry; instead the story was more of a nostalgic, wistful yearning.  It was the same man, telling the same story, but it was told from a wiser perspective.  My story about Greg is kind of the same thing... it's the same song, different arrangement.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Greg...

It's been a year today since I last saw you.  I knew that you were hurting, and I understood your pain like none of your other friends could, because I had experienced it.  I did everything I possibly could to help you through things, but I failed.   You came to the conclusion that you couldn't take it anymore... that life was no longer worth living... so you left.

I remember you saying many times over the years that you didn't want to be a burden.  I kept trying to tell you that you weren't;  I kept trying to get you to understand how much you were -- are -- loved.  Now, I'm sitting here, trying to translate incoherent thoughts into understandable words, knowing that you'll never read what I'm writing.  I wish that you had chosen to remain, so that I could have continued helping you through your pain.  I wish that I had been able to say the right thing, so that you wouldn't have put that gun in your mouth and pulled the trigger.  I wish you were still here.

I wish that I could bring your friends and family the magic words that would end their sense of loss and grief.  I wish that I could bring them the healing that I failed to bring you.  I wish that I didn't have the experience of losing a friend to suicide.  I know that your death has helped me bring a small measure of comfort to others who have had someone close take their own life, but that's not really a comfort.  Helping others through a loved one's suicide is how we make sense of a senseless act.

Dude... you rocked my world, and not in a good way.  I've made my peace with your death, but there's something that you'll never get... you took a piece of me with you when you pulled the trigger.  That's right, a part of me died on October 27, 2015.  And I'm not the only one.  When you killed yourself, you killed a piece of all of your friends and loved ones.

Don't misunderstand, I've rediscovered my happiness.  But it's not the same.  I'm not quite as happy as I was before.  The closest analogy I can find is that you were my right arm, and now my right arm is gone.  I've adapted.  I've overcome, but you are a part of me that even the best prosthetic can never truly replace.

Please know that I'm not saying any of this out of anger.  I'm saying it only because I miss you man.  I hope I never stop missing you.  October is never going to be the same.

Friday, October 14, 2016

It All Started Here

Thirty years ago today, I stepped off of a bus at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and onto the yellow footprints.  These footprints  marked the start of a journey that transformed me from an 18 year old boy into a Marine.  When I enlisted, I knew that my decision would have a big impact on my life, but I had no idea how much significance it would carry three decades later.  I gave the Marine Corps six years of my life.  It gave me so much more...


-Respect
When I joined the Marine Corps, I had no respect... no respect for my parents... no respect for wisdom... no respect for tradition... no respect for... well, anything really.

-Discipline
The Marine Corps gave me the discipline to see things through to the end, no matter how uncomfortable or difficult.

-Camaraderie
Oh sure, I had friends before joining the Marine Corps.  But these relationships were nothing compared to the bonds I formed during my enlistment.  I have a lifelong connection to all Marines, whether or not we served together... even if we've never met.  This bond also helped me realize the importance of relationships in my civilian life.

-Experience
The Marine Corps trained me as an Avionics Technician.  I later used this knowledge to become an IT professional.

-Love of Travel
The Marine Corps sent me to over a half dozen countries, where I experienced a multitude of climates and cultures.  During this time, I met countless people from many walks of life.  To this day, traveling and meeting new people is still one of my favorite things.

It's impossible to sum up six years of my life in a short story, but I will say this:  I firmly believe that if I hadn't joined the Marine Corps, I'd probably be dead or in jail.  I received FAR more from the Marine Corps than the Corps got from me.  This is why, when people thank me for my service, I tell them that it was an honor and a privilege to serve, not a burden.  Unfortunately, it's only through hindsight that I learned just how much I got out of my enlistment.  I'm definitely a better Marine today than I was during my actual service.

And it all started here...

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Collective Sigh of Relief

Eight years ago, my hometown was hit with the worst flood in its recorded history.  Downtown was decimated and countless homes were destroyed.  It was ugly.  Last week we found out that another flood was on the way.  River levels were predicted to hit somewhere between 24 and 25 feet.  To put this in perspective, the river usually runs 11 feet or less, and anything over 16 feet is considered major flooding.  The 2008 flood was just over 31 feet, but the forecast was still the second largest in our recorded history.

When our community found out about the impending deluge, we sprung into action.  Hundreds of people swarmed sandbagging centers, filling the bags for people in flood impacted zones, whether businesses or residences.  City workers erected hesco barriers and earthen dams in a valiant attempt to keep the water contained and away from property.  City officials confidently estimated that the barriers would hold back anything less than 24 feet, and hoped to hold back 25 feet of water.  The river crested yesterday at just over 22 feet, and our hard work has paid off.  I'm aware of one business that may have been hit, though I'm sure there were more.  I'm not yet aware of any homes that were flooded, though I'm sure a lot had water in their basements.

In preparation for this flood, citizens filled between 300,000 and 400,000 sandbags.  The city used somewhere between 10 and 20 tons of sand, costing an estimated $7 Million.  But it worked.  The largest issue most of us have had to deal with is traffic.  The river basically divides the city in half, and there was effectively one way to get from one side of the river to the other.  My daily commute went from five minutes to 45 minutes.  But in the grand scheme of things, this was such a minor issue that it's really not worth mentioning.  In approximately a week, the river will return to its banks, and life will start returning to normal.

Thanks to those of you who offered thoughts and prayer.  Now we can breathe a collective sigh of relief, and start trying to figure out what to do with all of this sand.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Allow Me to Retort

I just finished reading this article on the "folly of protest voting."  The article is long and the arguments are well-thought in places, but the underlying premise is fatally flawed at the beginning and at the end.  Early on, the original author says...

When I am confronted by the “not voting” or “protest voting” crowd, their argument often boils down to one of principle: They can’t possibly vote for Trump or Clinton because both are flawed in their own ways.

I know immediately that they have bought into the false equivalency nonsense, and additionally are conflating the casting of a ballot with an endorsement of a candidate’s shortcomings.

Unfortunately, this is an incorrect application of the false equivalency fallacy.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the premise, the false equivalency flaw goes something like this... Puppies are fuzzy.  Kittens are fuzzy.  Therefore puppies and kittens must be the same animal.  The author's supposition disregards the possibility that people are genuinely disgusted with both Trump and Clinton, but for completely different reasons.  The argument dismisses the reality that people genuinely believe neither candidate is qualified for office.

Next, the author extols the virtues of Hillary while excoriating Trump, thereby revealing the true purpose of his article.  I will concede his contention that the next President will appoint numerous Federal Judges.  But that's not the point.  The point is that the author inaccurately applies a logical fallacy to support his argument, and then expects us to buy into the false dilemma fallacy, which he uses by implying that our only choices are Trump and Clinton.  For those of you not familiar with the idea, the false dilemma says that if you don't support Trump, then you must support Clinton... completely ignoring the possibility that other choices exist.  The Democrats, Republicans and mainstream media have been perpetuating this delusion for literally as long as I can remember.

After this, the author says that protest voting isn’t principled. It’s dumb, and childish, and self-immolating. I know you’re young, but grow up!  He believes that voting for the lesser of two great evils is somehow more adult and noble than refusing to compromise your principles, and believes that it's dumb to think critically, and look for answers other than what we are spoon fed by the political machine and the complicit media.  And then, in the ultimate display of adult-like behavior, he uses insulting, condescending language toward anyone who is considering a third possibility.

I am going to freely concede that Johnson and Stein are facing uphill battles.  But until we as a society stop compromising our votes, and quit sustaining the lie that only two options exist, we will only perpetuate the self-fulling prophesy of our corrupt two party system.  Who wins in this scenario?  The politicians.