Sunday, December 25, 2016

One of Life's Little Ironies... A Christmas Observation

It's Christmas morning, and I'm sitting in front of the computer.  On my days off, this is one of my morning rituals... Get up, put on my bath robe, stroll to the computer and read for a while.  It's a soothing way to wake up at my own speed.  This morning I was up at 5:30 AM.

As I sat down to the glow of the computer monitor, and took that first sip of my morning coffee, I saw the Christmas tree lights blinking in my peripheral vision, and had a flashback to a time long passed, and experienced one of life's little ironies...  I thought back to my days as a young parent, when my children would come into my bedroom well before the sun came up, full of excitement and anticipation...  "It's Christmas!  Can we open our presents?"  Though I look back with fondness now, I very well recall how annoyed I was at the time.  Dammit kids, I just got to sleep, I'd think.  Don't you know that?

I remember one specific year, when my older daughter came into my bedroom in the middle of the night, full of wonder... "Dad... it's Christmas!  Let's open presents!"

"Kid, it's still night time.  We can't open presents until your sister wakes up."  In the fog of my half-sleep, I thought I was being pretty clever, and expected that my command would purchase another couple of hours of well-deserved rest.

Moments later, I heard the same daughter in the next room, whispering "Sissy, wake up.  It's Christmas."  That didn't work out exactly as planned.

Over the subsequent years, I developed a ritual that was tantamount to torture for the children.  I told them that daddy got to sleep in until 7:00 AM on Christmas.  This, of course, never exactly worked out, because invariably the little ones would start creeping in around 5:00 asking "Dad, is it 7:00 yet?" or "Dad, can we pleeeeeaaaaassse open presents now??"  But I did stick to my guns and make them wait.  Basically, we all suffered... they suffered with anticipation, and I suffered from lack of sleep.  But make no mistake, I'm grinning as I relive those days, and write the memories down.

Then I briefly thought back further... to my own youth, remembering how I would wake up before dawn, full of excitement, and how I did the same thing to my own parents.

Now the kids are grown and making their own memories.  My older daughter has a child of her own, and there's no doubt in my mind that he was up very shortly after midnight, saying "Mom!  It's Christmas!  Can we open presents?"

Meanwhile, I've now been getting up early for years.  I've been doing it daily for so long that even on weekends, I'm usually up before the sun.  THIS is that life irony I mentioned earlier... when I was a young dad, I wanted to sleep in, but the excitement of the children prevented that from happening.  Now that the kids are grown, I have the opportunity to sleep in, but I can't.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Farewell, Uncle Jack

Just shy of two weeks ago my uncle was airlifted to an area hospital.  He had a stroke and a "cardiac event."  Doctors determined that he had an infection on a heart valve.  Part of the infection broke loose, causing the stroke.  He fought the good fight, but he passed away early this morning.

My family is not a tight-knit family, though I wish it was.  Regardless, I have fond memories of my uncle Jack, my aunt Judy, and my cousins, Jennifer, Bill and Richard.  I'm saddened that they will now associate Christmas with the passing of a family member.  But I will say that God answered a prayer.  I asked that my uncle not die on Christmas day, and that's how it played out.

My most vivid memories of Jack revolve around my days as a young boy, when we would visit the farm he had at the time.  I remember him as a happy, boisterous, strong man.

I am happy -- though "happy" isn't exactly the right word -- that Jack had a relatively peaceful, pain-free passing.  He died peacefully in his sleep, and he spent the overwhelming majority of the last weeks unconscious.

Please don't feel bad for me.  I'm okay with this.  It's how life plays out.  I will, however, ask that you pray for my aunt and my cousins.

Farewell, Uncle Jack.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

What Did I Say?

Just under fourteen months ago, I delivered a heart-felt eulogy for my friend Greg, who took his own life.  The eulogy was done in three parts.  It started with me reading a letter that his parents wrote, mourning the loss of their son and begging those in the audience to seek help if they were depressed.  From there I talked about Greg, and how he impacted my life.  We then played a couple of songs appropriate for the occasion, and I closed with some fun memories about him... stories that would have most certainly embarrassed him if he'd been physically present.

Though I wrote the main part of the eulogy, I very much spoke from the heart, essentially using my written words as a frame of reference and speaking extemporaneously.  I printed off the prepared eulogy after I finished writing it, and from there I expounded and added new thoughts with quick notes in the margins.  It was this combination of prepared speech and handwritten notes that I used to memorialize Greg.

The thing is, I don't really know what I said.  After everything was said and done, I went back to the podium to retrieve my notes only to discover that they were gone.  To this day, I don't know where the notes went.  (If the person who has those notes reads this post, I'd love a copy... you can keep the original.)  I did, however, find the next best thing yesterday.  On my computer, I stumbled across the file that contained my prepared words.  Reading those words for the first time in over a year brought back a flood of memories, including a flashback to me standing at the podium summarizing 35 years of friendship.  It was good to finally recall what I'd said in remembrance of my chosen brother.

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


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...

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.

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

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.

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.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wasting a Vote

Today I am going to tilt at another windmill.  I am going to ask people to not vote straight ticket, because by doing so you could be wasting a vote.  Don't believe me?  Read on.

Since I am a candidate, I received a sample ballot in the mail a couple of days ago.  My ballot will have four straight ticket options this year... Republican Party, Democratic Party, Libertarian Party and New Independent Party Iowa.  On my specific ballot, the ONLY party that has a candidate for each office is the Democratic Party.  The Republicans are sitting out two races, and the Libertarians and NIPI have more unrepresented offices.  Now, for the sake of argument, let's pretend that I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, who would rather chew off my own nose than vote for a Democrat.  (Forget about the logistical problems with chewing off my own nose, focus on my point.)

Intuitively, one would think that it would be okay for me to vote straight ticket Republican, but that assumption is incorrect.  Due to the fact that there are two races on my ballot without Republican candidates, my vote for those two offices would not be cast at all, and those votes wasted.  I could have voted for the third party candidate to offset that pesky Democrat vote, or written a vote as a protest.  But I waived my right to do so by voting straight ticket.

With this in mind, I ask you, dear voter, to not vote straight ticket.  If your party is fully represented, and you end up manually selecting your candidate in each race, okay.  But please, don't risk throwing away your vote by running straight ticket.

Note:  I am not writing this post as a candidate.  I am in a three-way race, against a Democrat and a Republican.  Whether or not potential voters in my district vote straight ticket, the outcome is unlikely to be significantly different for me.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Why I'm Running

I received an email from a newspaper columnist a few days ago, asking why I'm running for office as a third party candidate.  This was my response...

Hi Steve,

I'm in receipt of your email asking why I'm running for office as a third party candidate.  I apologize for the slow response; in addition to running a political campaign, I work full time, help care for my grandson, and am active in the community, so it occasionally takes a little bit of time to answer all of my email.

The truth is, I've been sitting here at a blank screen for several minutes, trying to find the right way to start answering your question.  On the surface, it's easy.  I'm angry.  I'm frustrated with the system.  At the same time, this is an over-simplistic answer that makes me sound like I'm running out of spite, and that's not the case.  I'm running from a position of hope.

I am firmly convinced that our current two-party system is hopelessly broken.  Belay that.  It's not the system that's broken, it's the parties.  I have watched these parties misbehave for 20 years.  Politicians say that they have entered the arena to be public servants, but their actions express only desire to perpetuate the power of their party.  If an individual wishes to enter politics anywhere above the local level as a Democrat or Republican, they must be properly vetted, and demonstrate their loyalty to the party.  During the primaries, candidates show that they're the best Democrat or best Republican.  After they have been nominated by their party, they shift and tailor their position in order to appeal to the maximum number of mainstream supporters.  Meanwhile, difficult issues like Social Security goes unaddressed, and back-room deals such as the Bakken Pipeline continue, at the expense of the constituents these very politicians are supposed to protect and represent.

In their insatiable thirst for power, Democrats and Republicans have sold our individual liberties.  They have legalized the theft of our possessions and our land through Eminent Domain abuse and Civil Asset Forfeiture.  They have allowed speed cameras to ticket the owner of a vehicle, without verifying who was driving.  They have refused to implement term limits, despite knowing that the people want it.  They refuse to overhaul campaign finance laws, despite knowing how money corrupts the political process.

You ask my why I am running?  My answer is that I'm running because I have contacted my representatives at the state and federal level, and nothing ever changes... ever!  As a constituent, the most I can hope to receive for voicing my concern or support is a form letter from a career politician who is too busy to actually read my words, much less personally respond.  What I usually receive is silence.  I am running because I reached the conclusion that the ONLY way I can honestly say I did my best to change things is to throw my hat in the ring.  I did this as a Libertarian because the will of the people, and my personal integrity are more important than submitting to the will of the party.

As I said at the outset, I know this makes me sound bitter.  Yes, I'm angry, but I'm still running from a place of hope.  I hope that the people are as frustrated as me.  I hope that collectively, we are ready to tell politicians that we've had enough.

Friday, September 16, 2016

An Open Letter to Gary Johnson

Mr. Johnson,

I just read the news that you will be excluded from the first Presidential Debate.  I'm sad.  I'm not only sad because you're not being included, but also because I am not surprised.  Such is the state of our political arena.

I would like to propose that you "participate" in the debate by hosting a live forum of your own.  During this forum, you can listen to the live televised speech, and when any given question is asked of your Presidential opponents, you can provide your answer as if you were there.  I am specifically suggesting that you do this live, because pursuing this course of action will demonstrate that you are just as prepared as they are to answer these questions.

You, of course, have a couple of additional alternatives... one is to respond to these same questions the next day.  This, naturally, has the downside of giving the appearance of having extra time to polish your answers before responding.  You could also march to your own drum, but I am fully convinced that you need to participate somehow.  You could even take things a step further, and invite Jill Stein to do this parallel participation with you.  I don't think that it would hurt either of your causes.  You could play it up by calling it the "separate but equal tour," or some such tongue in cheek catchphrase.

Think about it.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Mistakes Can Yield Positive Outcomes

For those of you who don't know, I joined my local chapter of the Marine Corps League a few months back.  For the most part, I've kept silent during the meetings, and focused on getting to know the other Marines in the chapter.

Last month's meeting was a doozie for me.  I made three screw-ups.  First, I went to the local VFW, where the meetings are held, and asked to start a tab.  The woman behind the bar took my credit card and proceeded to bring me drinks as I ordered them.  Shortly before our meeting started, I asked her to close out my tab and at that point discovered that the VFW doesn't take credit cards.  Long story short, I didn't have enough cash to pay the tab; one of my fellow MCL members bailed me out.  (I'm still not sure why the bartender took my card when I asked to run the tab, but that's really not the point here.)

I went on to break two rules during the meeting...

-There was a rather heated discussion between a Marine who held the floor and the leadership.  Out of turn, I yelled that they needed to take things offline.  I stand by what I said, but the point is that I spoke out of turn, which is a transgression of decorum.

-Later on, I talked politics during the meeting, not realizing that doing so is strictly prohibited.

These were all honest mistakes, made out of ignorance.  Regardless, I felt the need to own up to these mistakes.  During this month's meeting, I repaid my debt, with interest.  And when the opportunity arose, I stood and publicly apologized for my errors, specifically stating that I made the blunder in public, making it only appropriate to publicly acknowledge the gaffes as well.

I really had no expectations as to the outcome.  I did what I did because character dictated that since I screwed up publicly that I must also apologize publicly.  Interestingly enough, I actually received applause for my apology, and I believe that I earned some respect for my actions.

What I'm writing today is not designed to garner kudos for my actions.  What I am attempting to do is express that sometimes mistakes can yield positive outcomes, and I'm using a personal experience as an example.  If I had never made these errors, I would have remained one of the new guys in my MCL chapter, slowly familiarizing myself with the people and the traditions of the organization.  If I had made the mistake and let it go, it probably would have been written off as a rookie mistake.  But my chosen action earned respect from several members of the group.

Monday, September 5, 2016

In Defense of Millennials

I've got two Millennial daughters.  As such, I've experienced a lot of exposure to their generation.  Yes, I will agree that they can be entitled and spoiled, but I'd like to take a few minutes to defend them.

Before I discuss the Millennials though, I'd like to delve into history for a moment, to another generation that was rather entitled and spoiled... the Baby Boomers.  They were asked to serve their country in Vietnam, and they protested... to the point of spitting on those who answered their country's call.  (Whether or not these people should have gone to Vietnam is beside the point of this discussion.)  They spent the 1970's reveling in the hedonism of the Disco Era.  The 1980's was appropriately labeled the "me" decade.  The Baby Boomers raised Generation X... my generation.

We came into adulthood surrounded by adults who practiced conspicuous consumption... who refused to address Social Security and healthcare.  We entered the workforce during a major recession.  We had virtually no voice in politics because our parents' generation, and their parents' generation drowned out anything we had to say in the political scene.  We were (correctly) labeled a cynical generation.

Fast-forward to now.  We (my generation) overcompensated by giving our kids too much... by telling them that they're all shining stars... by taking away dodgeball, competition and trophies, and by giving them recognition for merely participating.  My generation raised Millennials to believe that they were entitled.  How is it their fault that they took to heart the values we instilled.

Furthermore, Millennials have come to age in a world of crushing college debt, a struggling global economy, and a world filled with war and hatred.  It would be justifiable for them to become completely disillusioned and just drop out, but they have not done so.

The Millennial generation, instead, has chosen to adapt to the circumstances they inherited.  It's true that they don't chase the dollar like the Baby Boomers, but that's very understandable, considering the current job market.  They instead choose to focus on life experiences.  They care about the world around them.  They are ecologically conscious consumers.  They recycle.  They take mass transit, Uber and Lyft.  They ride bicycles.

Millennials face the very real possibility of being the first generation to not experience a higher standard of living than the generation before them.  As a result, they seem to have learned money management lessons that, generally speaking, skipped a couple of generations.  They save.  They carry lower credit card debt.  They wait to buy their first home.  My generation didn't practice this type of discipline, nor did my parents' generation.  And they're doing this while learning that they're not quite as special and entitled as we raised them to believe.

So yes, it may be true that Millennials can be spoiled and entitled, but I say that we need to give them a chance.  I know that my little Millennials are making me proud, and many of their friends are making me proud as well.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Gary Johnson for President

Yesterday, I had the privilege of seeing Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for President of the United States, speak in Des Moines.  I actually traveled two hours to hear what he had to say.  I have been a Johnson fan since he was nominated as the Libertarian candidate, and my enthusiasm -- yes, enthusiasm -- has only grown as time has passed.  But after hearing him speak yesterday, I was absolutely blown away, and I couldn't imagine a better candidate.  When I heard him talk, it almost seemed as if he had called me personally to ask for my position on the issues.  Yes, there are certain specifics on which we don't agree 100%, but man... I was stunned with how well we aligned on the various topics.

Let me start by discussing the areas in which we don't agree.  I will talk about places where we see eye to eye shortly.

-Social Security:  I agree that we need to tackle Social Security.  I even agree with his basic premise that there should be means testing for receiving Social Security.  I do not, however, agree with the nuts and bolts of his platform.  Paraphrasing what he said... he doesn't understand how those "with means" should receive more than they paid in.  I disagree with this to an extent.  In all fairness, I disagree with this because my wife and I have done the right thing.  We are not rich, but we have chosen to scrimp and save as much as possible in our respective 401(k) programs in order to secure our futures, and we are on track to have a relatively secure, prosperous retirement... with or without Social Security.  There is no doubt that we will end up in the "of means" category.  My problem with Mr. Johnson's proposal is threefold: 1) I find it objectionable that we should receive only our "initial investment" if we are determined to be "of means."  If we had the opportunity to invest on our own, we would have reasonably expected to receive some sort of return on our investment.  Therefore I propose that even the most well-off should expect to receive some sort of return on their Social Security "investment," especially considering that we (collectively) had no choice but to contribute.  2) If we are going to tax income for the purpose of Social Security, I believe that it's reasonable to tax ALL income to care for our elderly.  3) I believe that Mr. Johnson's current proposal penalizes people like me who do the right thing, and encourages reckless practices regarding retirement savings.  With this said though, I am willing to sacrifice some personally for the benefit of many, and for the long-term interest of my country.

-Abortion:  I'll preface this by saying that I'm going to piss off both sides with my personal position on abortion.  I do not believe that life starts at conception.  I believe that the *potential* for life starts at conception.  Stating that life starts at conception is like saying that grass seed is the same as a blade of grass.  At the same time, I find it morally objectionable that a woman can theoretically go in for an abortion the day before delivery.  And yes, this is theoretically, legally allowable in most states, though most doctors of conscience would refuse such a procedure.  I believe that life starts at the heartbeat.  I believe that abortion should be illegal past the point of fetal viability outside of the womb.  Note that there is a gray area in between the point of heartbeat and the point of fetal viability outside of the womb, and candidly admit that I do not have a solid answer for this area.  One of Gary's overriding philosophies -- one with which I agree -- is that people should be generally free to do what they choose, on the condition that those choices don't adversely impact the lives of others.  My position is that a fetus is a person before birth, though not necessarily at conception.  This means that the government has a responsibility to protect the life of the unborn child.  My major difference is that I don't blindly subscribe to the pro-life platform.  I do, however, believe that the government should stay out of a woman's womb until we can find some sort of compromise.  With that said though, it's important for the pro-life platform, and for moderates, to voice our opinions and keep pushing for some sort of middle ground.

[Edited to add a new item]
-I disagree with Johnson's tax plan.  Gary proposes to abolish income taxes for individuals and companies, and replace it with a consumption tax.  I disagree with this for two reasons: 1) A consumption tax is a de facto regressive tax, because poor people essentially have no discretionary income, whereas the rich have a significant ability to save money, thereby avoiding taxation.  2) Consumption is what drives our economy.  If you tax consumption, you create an incentive to save, which drives down spending and slows our economy.  I personally prefer a flat tax, where all income is taxed at the same rate... whether it's income, investment dividends, corporate income, etc.  I would also close all loopholes.  I would, however, consider combining our ideas, to an extent.  I could support a smaller flat tax, coupled with a smaller consumption tax, on the condition that items necessary for a person's survival, such as food, housing, clothing and medicine, are tax exempt.

Now, let's talk about areas where the Governor and I agree...

-Civil Asstet Forfeiture:  I am disgusted by laws that allow the government to seize the assets of private citizens without due process of law.  This was one of the first things that Mr. Johnson mentioned.

-Term Limits: Johnson supports term limits, a subject with which the overwhelming majority of Americans agree.  Yet our elected officials continually choose to NOT pass laws limiting their longevity in government.  I personally propose a law that allows an elected official to serve a maximum of twelve years in any one elected office.  (This is specifically because 12 is the lowest common denominator in the House, Senate, and Presidency.)  I propose that we can get this law passed by grandfathering those who were in office before this election cycle, which would help garner the support of existing lifelong politicians.  This is not my personal preference, but I am bowing to the reality of our current situation.  I would also place text in this legislation that would require the largest legally allowable majority possible in order to overturn the legislation.

-Military Affairs:  Like Gary, I am tired of being the world's police.  Our doctrine of regime change has yet to provide the desired outcome.  Furthermore, it's cost untold thousands of American lives, and countless trillions of dollars.  His position is the same as mine.  If you directly fuck with us, we will crush you.  But we aren't just going to galavant half-way around the world just because we don't agree with the domestic policy or situation of such-and-such country.

-Internet Freedom:  I'm a computer geek by trade.  I personally favor net neutrality, and find the opposing position nothing more than a money-grabbing ploy by Internet service providers.  There is no extra cost to ISPs to provide "more" internet.  Data caps screw the consumer.  "Fast lanes" screw both providers and consumers.  It's time for Internet providers to understand their place in the ecosystem... they are the digital equivalent of the dial tone for a land line telephone.

-War on Drugs:  I submit for your consideration the position that there are two things that cannot be legislated -- stupidity and morality.  The drug war is an attempt to criminalize both... it's a personal moral decision to choose whether or not to take drugs... to the same extent that it's a personal moral decision to consume alcohol.  There are certain drugs, such as heroin and meth, that it's stupid to consume.  Mr. Johnson believes that it's time to end the war on marijuana, and return personal choice to the people.  It's time for us to stop being the country with the highest rate of incarceration in the world, all because of drugs.

-Education:  I agree with Gary that education is better served at the state level... without Federal interference.

[Edited to add a new item]
I agree with Johnson's view on capital punishment.  Additionally, this is an area where we both changed our views over time.  I, like Johnson, used to support capital punishment.  We both changed our views, and for similar reasons... it's significantly more expensive to execute a person than it is to keep that same individual incarcerated for life.  Johnson took this a step further, referring to a review of death row inmates ordered by the Illinois governor a few years ago.  I believe there were 36 inmates on death row at the time.  At the end of the review, I believe that twenty of these prisoners were ordered released because of new information that exonerated them. That's a pretty staggering figure, especially considering that the estimated rate of error is approximately 4%.

A couple of other things I'd like to note...

Gary Johnson, unlike the Democratic and Republican nominees, did not sling mud at his opponents.  He didn't trash talk them.  He spent his time and energy discussing the issues.  This was incredibly refreshing.

There was not a single protestor at Johnson's rally.  Nobody appeared strictly to say "Johnson sucks!"  "Never Johnson!"  This is because he is a reasonable candidate and a viable alternative.  I know this is an uphill battle.  I know that statistically speaking, my words in the future will be read, and the reader will ask "Who's this Gary Johnson."  I don't care!  I believe in the depths of my soul that Gary Johnson is the best candidate, and I will do all that I can to spread the word.  I will do all that I can to break the partisan logjam that is American politics.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Catharsis Revisited

Today would be Greg's 48th birthday.  It's his older daughter's 13th birthday.  It's been about ten months since he committed suicide.

I've been cognizant for over a week that today was approaching... cognizant to the point that I forgot my own wedding anniversary until the day of...

Greg and I referred to one another as heterosexual life partners.  We were closer than brothers.  I had visions of us travelling together throughout retirement, or at least meeting up for a few weeks during the year after we retired.  I've come to grips with the realization that this will never happen.

Immediately after he died, I wondered what I'd do... how I would move forward... how I would function... how I would breathe...

I went through a dichotomous thought pattern, wondering how I would replace that friendship, and knowing that I could never do so.  Eventually, I came to the understanding that I will never have another best friend like I had in Greg.  I'm not going to try to fill the hole.  I'm not going to look for another single relationship like that...

Some of my relationships have grown stronger... Bill... Twan... Darin...  I've forged some new relationships... I've spent more time alone...

I've come to appreciate the alone time... the opportunity to reflect.

My wife and kids have been rocks.  I can't express all of the emotions here... all based on the idea that I've leaned on them, when I'm used to being their rock...

Riding my motorcycle... wind therapy... the opportunity to be alone... the chance to reflect... the time to be in the moment... has grown tremendously in importance....

There are still places in town that I avoid, because I don't want the memories...  I suspect there are some places I will never go again...

I was able to prepare for this wave of... not exactly grief... not exactly sadness... not quite hollowness... just shy of emptiness... I guess wistfulness is the term.  It was a high wave.  It took some work to ride it, but I'm not as exhausted as I was during the initial storm of Greg's death.  As much as this post rambles, I will call today catharsis, revisited.  I'm releasing a little more of the sadness and moving forward with life.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

I am Blessed

By many accounts, today would have been a rough day.  But through my eyes, I am blessed.

One of my dogs peed on the carpet this morning shortly after I woke up, but I am blessed.  You see, she is sixteen years old.  I could have chosen to be angry about the accident, but I am happy that she's still around to provide companionship.

My wife then cleaned up the mess with our carpet shampooer, which broke.  I could have chosen to be upset over this misfortune, but I am satisfied that the carpet cleaner lasted fifteen years.

After church, I went to purchase a new wet vacuum.  The brakes went out in my truck.  I could have chosen to be irritated at the inconvenience, but I am gratified that nobody was injured, and that I was only a couple of blocks away from my chosen mechanic when the brakes failed.

Let me briefly discuss another couple of reasons that I feel blessed, despite the inconveniences I experienced today...

-These unexpected expenses occurred with an "extra" payday right around the corner.  Yes, I had planned to sock the money away into savings, but in the grand scheme of things, the timing of these events couldn't have been much less inconvenient.

-I am blessed to have extra vehicles available to me while repairs are being done on my truck, so I will not be more than slightly inconvenienced.

-I have a home, when there are many in our own country who live in tents, homeless shelters, or under bridges.  There is even a man in my own church who lives in his car.

Yes, I could have been thrown for a loop by these first world problems, but I have made a conscious decision to be thankful for what I have, as opposed to being angry at life's minor inconveniences.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Complete Catharsis

Yesterday I hosted a memorial ride for Greg and Ian. Despite the fact that the ride was designed to remember the passing of two people who took their own lives within the last year, it was a most excellent experience. The event itself was small and intimate... seven people on six motorcycles, and one chase car carrying three people.

It couldn't have been a better day... sunny... low 80's and no wind. The route was awesome (if I do say so myself)... a little freeway riding for the speed demons in the group... plenty of stops for those with smaller bikes (or bladders)... winding county roads... hilly countryside... a stop at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa... a wonderful meal at Flatted Fifth in Bellevue... a dive bar stop... a biker bar stop...

A couple of people rode two hours just to attend the ride. It was fun... it was cathartic... there were stories about Ian and Greg, but there were no tears.

I was asked about the prospect of hosting another ride like this, and I declined, explaining that I'm done. I have spent a lot... I mean a LOT... of time over the last nine months making grandiose gestures in Greg's memory, and it's time that they come to an end. It's not that I will miss Greg any less. I've known him for 35 years, and he's been closer to me than my own flesh and blood.

But it's time to move forward. Life is for living, and I think that the best way I can honor him is to live life to its fullest. Don't get me wrong... his birthday is later this month, and I'm sure it will be a somber day. I know that I will be sad on October 27, which will be the one year anniversary of his death. There will be countless other reminders... probably for the rest of my life... that will make me miss him. But it's time to move forward, and I'm ready to do so. Besides, the fact of the matter is that yesterday's event was the perfect catharsis. Anything I could possibly try to arrange from here on our would fail to live up to yesterday. This is a perfect time to stop making gestures for the dead, and resume living.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Whose Mind was Changed?

Earlier this week, I participated in an anti-Trump rally.  Okay, I didn't really participate, I was more of an observer who stood on their side of the street.  To be clear, I really don't want Trump as our next President; but I also cringe at the prospect of President Hillary Clinton.  The fact of the matter is that I genuinely despair at the idea of either of these candidates becoming our next Commander in Chief.  It's a tarnishing example of all that's wrong with the American political system.

As I stood among the protesters, I was initially encouraged by what I saw.  It was a peaceful protest.  The participants were generally happy to voice their opinions.  There was even a guy handing out sandwiches... not only to protesters, but to passers-by as well.  It was common to see the the demonstrators cheer when passing cars honked their horns in solidarity with the anti-Trump cause, which occurred frequently.  As the protest continued, though, I realized that nobody's mind was being changed.  There was no dialogue.  It was merely the protesters shouting and chanting at Trump supporters.  Let me give you an example:

I observed a motorcyclist riding by, who got stopped by a red light at the intersection, ostensibly on his way home from work.  He was quite obviously a Trump supporter, and he started shouting at the protesters.  I didn't hear what he said, but I could tell that he vehemently disagreed with their position.  The protesters, in return, started chanting anti-Trump rhetoric.  The biker shouted louder, and the protesters got louder in response.  Soon their chants were loud enough that the biker's shouts were completely drowned out, so he started revving his bike engine to counter the protesters' volume.

Eventually, the light turned green, and he turned right, which required passing even more of the protesters.  Traffic was backed up because it was rush hour, so he had to endure still more chanting, and he became even more agitated.  (I really thought the guy was going to completely lose his cool and attack the protesters.)  In response he did the loser "L" over the forehead symbol.  He was so angry that he started riding like an asshole in order to get away from them.  (As a motorcycle rider, this frustrated me greatly.)  I was initially amused at his venomous hate and anger.  As a bit of time passed though, I reflected on what I witnessed and was saddened by the spectacle.  You see, both sides were so entrenched in their own beliefs that they absolutely refused to even consider what the other side had to say.  They were so emotionally invested in being right, that they were completely unable... and unwilling... to hear the legitimate grievances of those on the other side of the fence.  There's got to be a better way.  In the end, I couldn't help but wondering... Whose mind was changed?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Reviewing American Idiot (The Play)

Last night I had the privilege of seeing American Idiot at Theatre Cedar Rapids.  It's a performance I've actually been wanting to see since I heard about its release on Broadway, and I was not disappointed.  I went in with relatively high expectations, and the play still blew me away.

The show had an explosive beginning, exquisitely and energetically capturing and channeling the anger and disillusionment that's a rite of passage for American youth, and expressing the growing pains of the three main characters who take completely different paths to adulthood.  That energy carried throughout the approximately 90 minutes of the production.

The characters plan to leave their small-town upbringing to explore the world.  Unfortunately, just before leaving, one of the young men finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant, and he stays home to do the right thing.  The other two continue on their journey.

Once the other two get to the big city, they too part ways, with one joining the military, and the other finding drugs.  The storyline does a spectacular job of telling all three stories simultaneously, with the tale being told almost exclusively through Greenday's music and choreography.

The boy who stayed home withdraws from his girlfriend, and loses his girl and his kid.  The soldier is injured in battle.  The drug addict finds love and loses her.  They all come full circle and wind up home.  Once returning home, they find some measure of peace, but it's not your typical Hollywood happy ending.

The music was powerful, energetic and in your face.  The dancing was spirited, animated and integral to the advancement of the plot.  It was not-quite-choreographed in a way that was coordinated, yet retained enough individuality to carry that punk feel and express the individuality of each character.  Indeed, the choreography was as integral as the music to the character development; there were minimal non-musical lines.

I really can't say enough about this play, because I was an American Idiot, and am still able to identify with all of the characters portrayed, despite being well beyond the teen angst years of my life.  I would like to thank Theatre CR for their wonderful adaptation of this play, and highly encourage anyone who's a fan of Greenday or live performances to see the show if the opportunity arises.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Losing Another Friend

Today's post is not about someone unfriending me on Facebook, and no, I didn't lose someone else to suicide.  This topic, however, is as insidious as suicide.  I'm talking about mental illness, and for the last several years, I have been watching a friend slowly lose his mind.  Unfortunately, it may be time to say goodbye.

I've been pondering whether or not to write this article, because I know that he's seen my blog in the past.  In the end I have chosen to write this up because the overall problem of mental illness is more important than the need to protect his feelings.  There are a few close friends and family who will know the subject of today's post, but I am going to sanitize and generalize this to the greatest extent I'm able, in order to protect my subject's anonymity.  I will also count on the discretion of my family and friends to protect his identity.

Things started almost ten years ago, when this friend came to me with disturbing news.  He reported that he had proof that his wife, a daycare provider, was having sex with young children.  I know the wife as well as I know the subject of today's article, and for the record, I never believed the story.  The friend claimed to have an audio recording as proof.  He never offered to play it, and I never asked to hear it.  I did, however, say that if he believed this to be the case, he had a duty to inform law enforcement and to turn over any proof in his possession.  He said that he didn't want to do that... that it was more important that he continue to monitor the situation, for the sake of keeping things stable for his children.

Fast forward several years... he had brought this up again from time to time, but the story grew more elaborate and sinister.  The number of people his wife had seduced or molested continued to grow exponentially,  and he knew that his wife was out to murder him.  She had tried everything from poisoning his food to arranging auto accidents, but God was watching over him, and he always managed to escape by the skin of his teeth.  As you can imagine, he and his wife divorced, and his children have essentially cut him out of their lives.

At one point during this ordeal, his wife had him committed.  I assume that he was on meds for a while, because things quieted down for a time.  Eventually though, he became non-compliant and stopped taking his prescription(s) and now believes that the entire stint in the mental ward was an elaborate attempt by his wife to have him silenced and/or killed.  Again, I want to state that I never believed his story, but I did feel that it was in his best interest to maintain the friendship to the greatest extend I was able.  I would drop by, and we'd talk about nothing.... cars... the weather... how fast the grass was growing... whatever.  Occasionally, things would turn to his (now) ex.  I'd let him speak uninterrupted, neither confirming nor debunking his delusions.  By confirming them, I would reinforce the delusions; by refuting them, I would become an object of his misconception.  In the back of my mind though, I knew that I would eventually be woven in to the web of his psychosis.  I even knew how it would happen.  He would come to the conclusion that I too had sex with his mass murdering, sexually deviant wife.  Sure enough, it happened a couple of days ago.

Interestingly enough, he doesn't blame me for these "indiscretions," he blames his wife exclusively, believing that no guy could possibly be immune to her sick wiles.  He said, "Hell, I'd have done it if I was in your shoes."  He fully expected that I'd own up to this, and that he would magnanimously forgive me, and that things would go back to how they were before the conversation.

When I heard the words come out of his mouth, I was only surprised by the timing, and I did what anyone in my position would do... I explained to him that he was wrong.  Staying true to my choice to not confront his overall delusion, (because, quite frankly, doing so would be beyond my capacity... many others have tried and failed over the years) I did, however, profess my innocence and explained that infidelity is not part of my character.  He clearly didn't believe it.

Toward the end of the conversation, I explained that I understood how he came to believe that I fucked his ex, and affirmed that I held no ill will toward him for coming to the wrong conclusion.  I followed up by saying, "However, if you don't believe me now, after I've told you that I've never slept with her, then we have a problem."  He didn't say it outright, but his noncommittal words and refusal to make eye contact told me that he still didn't believe me.  I followed up by saying, "Look, you don't need to answer right now.  I understand that you need some time to process the new evidence.  If you decide to believe me, then we'll be okay."  His further non-commitment and failure to make eye contact said what his words didn't.  I'm part of his delusion.

If I could find a way, I would continue to be part of his life.  I pity his isolation.  He's not evil, he's sick.  Unfortunately, I'm in a Catch-22.   If I gloss things over, then in his eyes, I am tacitly admitting to an indiscretion that never occurred.  By concluding that it's time to let him go, I'm tacitly admitting to an indiscretion that never occurred.  I know that his accusation is based on a mental illness, but my character will not allow me to continue associating with him, because it would allow him to believe something that is grossly untrue.  It sucks losing another friend.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Scar Remains

Well Greg, it's been just under nine months since you checked out... since you put a bullet into your brain and left the world... a long, grueling nine months... the hardest nine months of my life... harder than my divorce from Cindy.  The gaping wound of your absence has begun healing into a scar.  I still think about you all the time.... all the time!  I still miss you all the time... all the time! It's not the intense, crushing pain that it was before, but a hollow, wistful feeling. I frequently think about sharing such-and-such with you, only to realize that I can't do so.  I recall some random event that we shared, and remember that you're gone.  It sucks.  Part of me is happy that I'm moving on with my life, but an equal portion feels guilty that the intense grief is subsiding.  It feels like I'm not honoring your memory enough by allowing myself to move on and be happy.

When I think about your absence, I wonder whether or not you thought about those you'd leave behind during your final moments.  I wonder if you figured that we'd be fine (or better off) without you, or if you focused only on your own pain.  If you only considered your own need to escape, I understand.  Based on your suicide note though, I expect that you believed we'd be better without you. If you assumed that we'd be okay with your absence, you're right to some extent.  If you thought we'd be better off without you, you're dead wrong.  (That pun was somewhat intended.)  We're coming to grips with the loss of your companionship, but we'd all prefer your presence.  We miss you... more than you could possibly know.

I know that you didn't believe in an afterlife.  You know that I do.  I hope that I'm right.  I pray that in this afterlife, you see the consequences of your actions.  Don't get me wrong, I don't want you to eternally suffer, based on one idiotic, impulsive moment.  I do, however, hope that you empathetically experience what we've had to go through because of your stupid decision.  I hope that you see the crushing grief we experienced when you took your own life, and realize that it was a mistake.  I wish that you see the hole you left in our lives, and understand your error.  I hope you see us carrying on in your absence, and feel the desire to be with us... to interact with us, instead of being a silent observer... to share in our of joy... our pain... our mundane moments... our significant events, such as your kids' graduations and marriages... just like we feel the desire for you to be with us.  Again, I don't specifically want you to suffer as you see these events, but I want you to know and understand that you made the wrong choice.

Since you committed suicide, you've been in my dreams many times.  When I wake up, I'm invariably sad, but even if I could wish you out of my dreams, I wouldn't.  I'm happy that you showed up, and I cherish these dreams, because I can interact with you.  Please, keep 'em coming.  I hope that you're in my dreams until my dying day, because the memories and the dreams are all I have left.  The crushing grief has passed, but the scar remains.  I miss you, brother.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Please God, Use Me

It's been roughly eight months since Greg committed suicide, and for the most part, I've come to grips with it. I still miss him terribly, and I think about him almost daily, but I'm moving forward with my life. Unfortunately, events still happen in my life that take me back to his suicide, and the terrible grief and devastation he left behind. In the last week, I've had two friends lose loved ones to suicide.

When people die under normal circumstances, it's possible to take consolation that the death is part of God's plan. This doesn't happen with suicide, because taking a life is not part of God's plan. Committing suicide is the ultimate in selfishness, and there are no words to reduce the pain. Those who are left behind often feel a sense of anger and guilt that's unique to suicide. People who didn't know the victim (for lack of a better term) don't know what to say to friends and family.

Even worse, the friends and family have a visceral sensitivity to future suicides. As you can imagine, finding out that a friend lost someone to suicide evokes a strong reaction. In my case, I ever-so-briefly returned to the darkness and despair I experienced right after Greg died, and I've more acutely sensed his absence. In both instances, I sincerely wished that I could take the pain for my friends, because I've experienced it, and I would rather take the pain for myself than have them go through this unique type of hell on earth.

Knowing that I can't take on their burden, I am instead choosing to write this plea. This is a plea to anyone considering suicide. Please stop and think. Yes, if you successfully commit suicide, you will no longer feel pain. But your pain won't go away. In fact, you will amplify the pain. You see, when you take your own life, you leave those behind with the crushing burden of coming to grips with your death. They will wonder what they could have done to prevent your death. They will experience an anger over your choice that words cannot adequately express. And believe it or not, you will hurt people you've never even met. Going back to what I said before... my friends lost a loved one; and when I found out, I went back to my own grief.

Like I stated before, suicide is never part of God's plan, but I am now asking -- begging -- that God help me use Greg's death for good. Let me be a source of strength for my friends who are going through what is undoubtedly the darkest time in their lives. Better yet, let my words reach someone who is thinking about suicide. Let them hear and absorb what I'm saying, and help them understand that their pain might end for them, but the actual amount of pain will be amplified, because EVERYONE close to them -- and even people they've never met -- will grieve over the senseless loss. There is help available. Suicide is not the only option, and it's not the only solution. In fact, suicide is not an option at all. Please God, use me.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Soaring into the Unknown

My younger daughter started the next chapter in her life this morning by moving to Connecticut. During the last few months, a lot of friends and family have asked what I think about my baby moving half a country away, and they're pretty consistently surprised that I'm excited for her. "Arent you going to miss her," they ask? Well, yeah, of course I'm going to miss her. She's been gone less than twelve hours and I miss her already, but that's not the point. I could look at this from a narrow viewpoint and obsess over the fact that my baby is leaving, but that's not how I think. When she initially told me that she was thinking about moving, I looked back to when I left my hometown, and remembered what an exciting life that was for me. When I left home, I spent six years traveling extensively, courtesy of Uncle Sam. I made new friends, tried new food and experienced new cultures to such an extent that I could die today and still have seen more than most people twice my age. I went out, I saw the world, and I came back home to raise my family. Am I going to miss my daughter? Sure. But I look back on my experience and realize it was a blast, and it helped me grow as a person. I fully expect the same for my little girl. I may miss her, but I'm proud of her for spreading her wings and soaring into the unknown.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Just Enough

For those of you who don't know, I am part of the worship team at my church.  I play bass, guitar, and occasionally sing.  Interestingly enough, the strongest of these three talents -- singing -- is what I do least, and lately I've been stepping well out of my comfort zone and playing guitar most, which is my weakest area.  When I say that singing is what I do best, that means that on a scale of 1 - 10, I'm a five or six.  I'm an average vocalist.  I enjoy playing bass and guitar, but I'm not particularly accomplished.  On the same 1 - 10 scale, I'm a 4 to 5 on bass and 3 to 4 on guitar.

On the way home after performing today, I thought about my best friend who died several months ago, and his skill and aspirations as a guitar player.  Greg was a much better guitar player than I've ever been, but almost nobody knew this, because he never played in public.  He had a modest goal of publicly performing in a band, and having an audience appreciate his work, but it's a dream he never achieved.  Somewhere along the line, I decided that his unpretentious intent was something I could do, and I adopted it for myself.  Eventually, I seized an opportunity to play in my church band, and the rest is history.  I've been playing for a few years, and I absolutely love it.

As I stated earlier, I am not incredibly talented, primarily because I don't practice as much as I could.  Regardless, I enjoy playing music, and performing for the congregation, and I am grateful that God has provided me just enough...

... just enough drive to seize the opportunity when it appeared.
... just enough confidence to get me in front of the congregation in the first place.
... just enough tenacity to stick with it through the nervousness and awkwardness.
... just enough talent to be able to contribute to the worship team.
... and just enough self awareness to know when I'm in over my head.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Closing Chapters

Late yesterday afternoon, I returned home from my annual Boys' Trip.  I've been doing these trips for 22 or 23 years.  None of us who started the trips can remember the exact year we started, but we know within two years due to other significant events that happened around that time.  It's funny how life works that way.  This was the shortest trip we've done in I-can't-remember-how-long, and it was really the first trip I didn't look forward to attending, because we scattered the ashes of my best friend Greg, who committed suicide on October 27, 2015.  In addition to being my best friend, Greg was one of the core three on the Boys' Trips.  I didn't merely attend this trip, or co-plan the trip, I planned it... every minute detail... because I couldn't do any less for my best friend, or for those who came to pay their respects.

We scattered the ashes into the Upper Iowa River near Decorah, Iowa, on a partly cloudy, warm spring Saturday morning.  Even though it was still mid-morning, there were children playing, splashing and laughing  in the water a short distance upstream from us.  In a slightly odd twist, as we scattered the ashes, the children started moving downstream toward us.  Just before they got to the point of encroaching on our space, a kid who was onshore, but downstream of us, and apparently with the kids playing in the water, hollered out for the upstream kids to back away.  I'm reasonably sure he knew what we were doing.  The kid deserved props for recognizing and respecting what we were doing, whether or not he knew the full extent of the symbolism.

Greg's girls were the first to grab a handful of his ashes and toss them into the river.  At first they were giggling and smiling at running their hands through the ashes, and, after tossing the ashes into the water, they enjoyed watching the ashes dissipate, simultaneously floating downstream and sinking to the river bed.  Somewhere along the line though, things started sinking in, and the levity departed from the scene, leaving the sorrow, and a hollow sense of loss in its place.  I had hoped that I'd be able to complete the ceremony without shedding tears, but I failed spectacularly... as did virtually everyone else.

The time and place we chose to scatter Greg's ashes is the most appropriate I could possibly imagine.  Greg loved the outdoors... camping and canoeing particularly.  The Upper Iowa River is where our Boys' Trips started, and it's the river that we paddled most often.  Additionally, Greg had a vision of being on the water when he retired.  He wanted to complete his cabin cruiser and motor up and down the Mississippi.  He won't have his boat, but I suspect that some of him will make it to the Mississippi, and possibly even to the Gulf of Mexico.

After scattering Greg's ashes, a smaller group of us canoed the river for a couple of hours.  It was a great little trip.  Virtually no paddling work required... long enough to enjoy the water, easy enough that Greg's wife and kids could safely paddle, and short enough that children weren't screaming "I'm bored."

During the float, I fulfilled a promise I made to Greg about a decade ago.  You see, I've known for 20 years that suicide was a possibility for Greg.  During a conversation about his depression, I told Greg that if he ever committed suicide that I'd piss on his grave.  Well, he thought he'd have the last word by getting cremated, but that's not the case.  I held back some of his ashes, and took them on the canoe with me.  When it was time, I pulled to shore, took the ashes with me, unceremoniously dumped them on the rocks and dirt a little ways from the waterline, and I pissed all over those ashes.  When I got back to my boat, I told a couple of friends what I'd done, and they added their fond farewell to those ashes.

When I made the promise, I had hoped that I'd never need to fulfill it.  When I decided to follow through, I didn't know what to expect... sadness?  a welling of anger?  a bit of morbid humor, knowing that I had the last laugh?  What I felt was flat and empty.  There was no sadness, anger or humor.  It felt as though I was fulfilling a promise, nothing more.  I was, however, mildly amused that my friends followed in my footsteps.

Toward the end of the trip as I looked at the rock ledges lining the left side of the river, and the woods on the right, I remember thinking "Greg, you're supposed to be here, fucker!"  As I continued to appreciate the panorama, I felt the sun's warmth, and a gentle breeze from behind me, and I heard... no felt... Greg's presence as he said "I am here, dumbass!"

Aside from scattering Greg's ashes, the trip didn't suck.  Planning the trip was pretty miserable, but attending wasn't so bad.  Others talked about doing trips like this in the future.  The fact is though, that I'm not sure if these trips will continue.  You see, Greg was the person that started this tradition.  Many people through the years have attended, but Greg, Darin, and I... three boys that grew up together, and have known each other for 30+ years... were the core of the group.  Greg is gone.  Darin's health prevents him from enjoying the outdoors like we used to do.  This means that I'm really the only one left who could do this... and I kind of realized over the weekend that scattering Greg's ashes not only bid farewell to Greg, but also probably means that there will be no more of these Boys' Trips... at least not in it's current form.

I honestly, genuinely, sincerely, hope that Darin and I can continue doing something over Memorial Day Weekend.  And I honestly, genuinely, sincerely hope that I can occasionally coordinate weekend trips like this in the future.  But I think that the Boys' Trips as I have known them in the past are probably as dead as Greg.  I didn't intend to, but I think I managed to close two huge chapters in the book of my life this weekend.  I'd rather have kept writing.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Wonderful Visit

For those of you who don't know, I volunteer with the Cedar Valley Humane Society.  As a volunteer, I go to the pound each month, select a dog, and take it to a nursing home to interact with the residents.

As I mentioned in a previous post, last month's visit was the worst.  I found out that my all-time favorite resident had died.  This month's visit, however, was probably my best visit ever, and it almost didn't happen.  Upon arriving at the animal shelter, I quickly determined that none of the animals were suited for a visit; they were all to energetic, and I didn't want to risk the chance of a dog jumping up and hurting a resident.  As I was preparing to cancel the visit, one of the employees offered to let me take her dog.

The employee, who will remain nameless to protect her anonymity, introduced me to Lola, her one year old teacup chihuahua.  Lola was curious, but also very quiet and mellow... a perfect fit for the visit.  When I got to the home, I realized quickly that Lola was a good fit.  Virtually everyone there was delighted to meet Lola, even people who aren't usually interested in seeing the dogs I bring.  They were particularly pleased to be able to hold the pooch, who was completely content to be held and adored by the residents.

I also met a new resident who was absolutely delightful, and we chatted for several minutes.  I believe that I am going to greatly enjoy getting to know her.  She's an incredibly humble, thankful, charming and happy soul.  I was also pleased to see a couple of people who were admitted for short term rehabilitation, and found out that a woman I'd met a couple of months ago will be going home in a day or two.  At my last stop, Lola fell asleep in the resident's arms, apparently exhausted from all of the attention she received.

Though not all visits are fun per se, they are all very rewarding, and today's visit will remain in my memory for a long time to come.  It was a welcome contrast to last month's visit.  I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the anonymous employee at the Humane Society who so generously allowed me to take her baby.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

LGBTQ Movement Seeks to Add Another Letter

Sarah Ellis, the CEO of GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), has announced a campaign to add another letter from the alphabet to the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) movement's collection.  Ellis was quoted as saying "Over the years, we in the LGBTQ movement have made tremendous strides in gaining acceptance in society.  We are firmly convinced that a large portion of this success is our own policy of inclusiveness regarding letters of the alphabet."

Ellis went on to note that the movement stayed in relative obscurity until they added 'Q' to the mix.  "With this in mind," she said "X is an early favorite to add to the collection.  There seems to be a consensus that the letter X is representative of the LGBTQ community as a whole."

"Though it's 1/26th of the alphabet, it's almost never used, and it's among the last letters," one aide said during the press release. "We want to raise the profile of X and promote inclusiveness," the employee continued, "but there are a couple of dark horse entries, such as A and K because we haven't yet included a vowel, and we haven't added an average letter.  Eventually, we hope to include all 26 letters, and we may even move on to the Greek alphabet."

A final decision on which letter to add is expected later this year.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Volunteering Isn't Always Easy

For those of you who don't know, I volunteer with the local Humane Society.  Each month, I choose a dog, and take it to a local care center to interact with the residents.  Over the years, I've gotten to know some of the residents, and have come to look forward to my monthly visit.  Today, I found out that my all-time favorite resident, Cindy, passed away.

The first time I met Cindy, she was in a motorized wheelchair, sitting quietly in her room, watching TV.  When I walked into the room with the dog, her face lit up with a great, beautiful smile.  She had a very difficult time talking, but managed to ask me a few questions about the dog... it's name, age, breed, gender and so forth.  Her body was giving out on her, but her mind and her spirit were indomitable, and I quickly became fond of her.

Over the next who-knows-how-many months, I got to know her more and more.  In the grand scheme of things, I didn't know her as well as her long time friends, but that didn't matter.  We always took some time to chat about nothing.  I remember one time in particular, I noticed that she had mud all over the wheels of her wheelchair.  I asked her if she'd been off-roading in the chair.  She grinned, laughed and said "Yeah."

I said something along the lines of "Keep it under control, you know that thing's not a Jeep," and she laughed some more.  It was wonderful, bringing some humor to her day.  The next visit, I brought her a bumper sticker that said "Jeep Girl," which she had affixed to the back of her wheelchair.

In another visit, I met her husband, who was visiting with her.  I introduced myself as "the guy who flirts with your wife when you're not around," and we all smiled and laughed... Cindy especially.  Her husband knew that I was ever-so-slightly serious, but took things in stride.  He knew who Cindy loved.

There were several months during this time that I didn't get to see Cindy, because she was out and about on field trips with her husband, or with other residents from the care center.  Every time that happened, I had mixed feelings.  I was a bit disappointed that I didn't get to see my favorite resident, but was also happy that she was getting out and about.

A couple of months ago, she got a computer that helped her speak, kind of like what Stephen Hawking has.  Oddly enough, I was there for a visit a day or two after she got it.  Cindy was definitely excited about the idea of the machine, but she still spoke to me directly.  Next month was the same thing.  I asked her if it had the same voice as Stephen Hawking's machine, and she told me that it had a woman's voice.  I threatened to change the voice to Barry White while she wasn't paying attention, and we had another grand laugh about that.

Over the months, we developed a friendship.  I always spent a little more time with her than the other residents, and somewhere along the line, she was happy to see me... I was no longer just the guy who brought the dogs.  Her room was the last room in the rotation, and it was great to end the visit with her.

As today's visit came to the end, I was once again looking forward to seeing Cindy.  I was quite surprised to see someone else in Cindy's room.  On the way back, I asked Chris, the activities director, if Cindy had gone home.  "She passed away," he replied.  I almost cried.  I've almost cried several times between then and now.

When I decided to do this volunteer work, I knew that I would get attached to a few residents, and I knew that I would be sad upon hearing that some of them had passed.  It was, and still is, my firm belief that my sadness in these instances is insignificant compared to the happiness that I can potentially bring the residents during my monthly visits.

That doesn't make today's news suck any less.

Friday, March 11, 2016

My Witty Daughter

My younger daughter amused me greatly today with a phone call...


"Yeah, kid."

"Did you name your bike yet," she asked, referring to the Harley Ultra Classic I bought last fall?

"No, why?"

"I think you should name it Caitlyn."


"Well, I think your bike is female, but it's still got balls."

A Personal Message to SCM


I'm sorry you're hurting.  What he did to you was unacceptable, and there is no excuse.  You deserve better.  When it comes to relationships, I can't think of anything worse than infidelity.  The physical betrayal is bad enough... wondering why you aren't enough... thinking that you could or should have done something different or better.  The emotional betrayal is worse.  You loved and trusted, and he broke that trust.  You have every right to be furious.  Unfortunately for him, you're particularly spiteful when you are scorned.

For what it's worth, I think you're a good woman, and I'd like to remind you, in case nobody else has, that his actions are about him, not you.  This isn't your shortcoming or failure, it's his issue.  Try to keep this in mind.  I also want to mention that you have the power to forgive.  I know that you just cringed inside when you read those words. If you had a mouth full of coffee, you probably spit it all over your computer monitor, but hear me out.  I'm not going to say exactly what you expect me to say.

Yes, it's true that you can look past his deception and attempt to work things out.  I also know that doing so wouldn't be easy.  You and I have had more than one conversation during our long friendship where you've caught him telling you grave lies.  I know this is one more in a series of breaches of trust.  My point in saying that you have the power to forgive is to make sure that you know that walking away isn't your only option.

To be clear, I suspect that you've already thought about this and have made a conscious decision that you've had enough, and decided that ending things is the least objectionable option available.  Running with this assumption, please know that I support you.  Please know that I'm here...

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Tax Exemption for Churches?

I've been reading a lot of posts on Facebook that advocate removing tax exemption from churches, ostensibly because Christianity teaches that homosexuality is a sin.  After seriously pondering the idea for a while, I've decided that I respectfully disagree.

I'm going to start by reminding you all that I am a Christian.  I frequently make missteps in my walk with God, but I try to consistently follow Christ's teachings.  I also acknowledge that The Bible unequivocally calls homosexuality a sin, but quite frankly, this is a tenet of my religion with which I struggle.  I understand that homosexuality is a sin according to doctrine, but when I observe the behavior of the few gays I know, I don't see them as morally inferior.  In fact, my experience is that most LGBTs exhibit compassion and kindness far above what I witness in society at large.  I also stipulate that some in the Christian community do not agree with my acceptance of gays.  In the end, however, I believe that Christianity's spotty record on homosexuality doesn't warrant revoking their tax exempt status.

I personally donate to my church.  How much isn't really relevant, but I will say that I give generously.  I have seen my church use this money to directly impact my community, and know that my funds make a difference globally.  Each week, people come to my church in distress.  I'm not talking about parishioners, I'm referring to ordinary folks who are truly desperate and don't know where else to turn.  We have provided food.  We have donated clothing.  We have given shelter in the form of paying for hotel rooms.  We have sponsored a village in Africa, where we have paid to build a well and provided funds to start a pineapple farm.  We have built multiple homes in Guatemala.  We help the truly destitute.  Last week we provided a car to a random family whose car engine blew on the way home from a funeral.  We help young women who decide to keep their unexpected children.

My church is not without its moral failings.  There are those in my own congregation who unequivocally condemn homosexuality.  Others condemn abortion, and would undoubtedly treat the would-be mother as a murder.  I suspect that my entire church community commits at least one of the seven deadly sins from time to time.  My pastors have repeatedly said that they will resign if ever they are forced to officiate a gay marriage.  At the same time, these same pastors do not outright reject a person simply based on sexual orientation.  The congregation at large does not turn away a soul simply because of an abortion.

My overarching point is that we are not perfect, but we do a lot of good in our community, and in our world.  We act on Christ's teachings of love and compassion.  If my church were to lose its tax exempt status, we would be far less equipped to do this good, because a large portion of the money we channel to helping our community, our nation, and our world, would instead be sent to the government.  I would like to think that most churches -- nay, most religious organizations -- in our country are founded and act on similar principles.  With this in mind, I ask that those who want to revoke tax exemption for churches to reconsider their stance.