Archive for February, 2015


Wanting More

A_Christmas_Carol_-_Ignorance_and_WantBy nature, we always want more. Laying in bed druing a recent afternoon, a friend quierred stated that she did not know me. She wanted more – wanted to utmost personal thoughts.

For the most part, I been a fairly secretive person. I never told loved ones more than they needed. Seemed cruel to do otherwise. For instance, my parents, girlfriends and lovers were never told of trips to Cali, Columbia, Lima, Peru, Venezuela or any other weird or dangerous place. Of course there was always the chance my family could see their son/lover on a terrorist propaganda film. I accepted that potential but took stock in my ability to know the difference between good and bad social situations.

Having been in the military and astute business traveler, one grows accustomed to danger. You continually assess risk against reward, pain versus gain. But I always scoped an out, always looked for an extraction point. For instance, to this day, none know I can recall phone numbers and addresses of 56 US Embassies across the world, key US flights into and out of high risk countries, potential exit information ports and docks, trains and key border crossings.

For many years, wanting more meant getting back to US soil in one piece, with limbs and sanity attached. There’s no way to simply explain the destruction seen. Disaster pictures posted on CBS, NBC, CNN and ABC bear little resemblance to it’s real world counterpart. Standing among miles of desecration of a typhoon is like having a sadistic artist chisel an image unto your psyche. It’s impossible for a NBC Nightly News photograph to replicate the scene. Seeing a deceased man after the Haiti earthquake was sensory overload. Media photographs come unaccompanied by groans of death, pleadings with God for mercy or pleadings for death, a child’s tears and caskets lining miles of road. To those who bear witness, images float like unprocessed photographic stills left on a USB memory stick. You know they’re there but they’re undeletable.

For those tucked in peaceful towns, criticism comes easy. But for people like myself, reporters, men and women of the Armed Forces, Doctors Without Borders and many many others, living completely only occurs from a 17 inch carry-on.

We live such lives because few can do what we do.

Coming home presents other problems. There are no Biblical verses that adequately mitigates stress. Verses expounding one giving their burdens to unto the Lord are drastically inadequate for those with a .38 caliber pistol pointed at their forehead. I’ve accepted just how difficult comphrension is for someone born, bred and living in a faithful community to understand the complexities village life 7,000 miles away. Thus, we accept gaps occur, people who spoke one way finds other voices, believers become unbelievers and unbelievers become believers. It’s the circle of life.

Wanting more is a theme humans seemingly perpetuate. Watching season 3 of Downton Abbey I found Lady Mary’s character pretty much a spoiled brat, rude and oversly self-absorbed about being a countess and staying at Downtown. I compare such images against that of a woman met eighteen years prior in South Africa. Her home consisted of four sheet metal walls, a tin roof, dirt floor, a blanket and some pots. I asked if there be heaven on earth, what would that look like?

Heaven on earth would be running water.

Ah, one man’s faucet is another man’s heaven.

A lifetime of wanting and craving creates a powerful energies that draw us toward fulfillment in the wrong ways. If we control the negative form of grasping and subdue it through insight, we’d be in a position to organize our life free of even the smallest trace of unnecessary clinging. To do so means you’d be capable of working and living peacefully in the world, of being undefiled, enlightened and tranquil.

We must lessen ‘want’s‘ burden.

Someone Loves You, Live Safely

BullMy grandfather told of a neighboring farmer who placed a sign upon the fence of his pasture.

“Caution! If you want to cut across the field, you must run from one end to the other in 9.6 seconds. The bull runs it in 9.7.

You’d be surprised at the number attempting to outrun the bull.”

I recalled this story today as I drove down a highway and saw a Department of Transportation sign: Someone Loves You, Drive Safely.

Starting out as a mother-daughter driving lesson, Tammy Myers’ day ended in a volley of road rage-fueled gunfire. After an argument between Myers and another driver, Meyers drove home and summoned the help of an adult son and sent her daughter inside. Meyers and her armed 22-year-old son followed a car believed to have been involved in the road rage incident. Eventually, they stopped following and returned home. After arriving home, a car matching the description of the one followed began shooting, with Meyers’ son returning fire. A bullet struck 44-year-old Tammy Meyers in the head, killing her.

From a Buddhist perspective, we need to step back from the decisions we make and understand those which are suspect from the start. Meyers placed herself and family in undue risk by going home, requesting her son grab a weapon and searching for the offender. By reengaging the offender, Myer unduly increased the level of risk. By grabbing a weapon as a potential form of solution, she risk increased exponentially.

In nature, bees protect themselves against decisions spiraling out of control. They listen to what other bees say; explore contrary facts; change their minds when better alternatives appear; and make judgments without undue influence of others.

Before reason was set aside and emotions took precedence, there was a beautiful and fleeting opportunity for one side to stand naked in compassion and take the difficult road of understanding and reconciliation. With effort and compassion, all of us can shepherd compromise, become a voice of reason in the face of intolerance or ignorance. Perhaps Myers could have pointed out similarities and areas to which they agreed rather than exaggerating differences.

As Booker T Washington said, “I would permit no man, no matter what his color (or temperament) might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.

I’m convinced that had any party involved in Myers’ death taken the effort to be kind, listen and compromise, they might have been surprised just how far grace could have gone.

My grandfather had a caveat to the bull story.

“Had anyone presented the bull with several sugar cubes, the bull would have been a friend for life. Instead, almost everyone tested the bull … with most losing.”

Imagine what would happen if we found another way.

Someone Loves You, Live Safely.

talking-to-godVisiting an area with heavy snowfall, I was reminded just how stupid many of us can be.

After a night of heavy snowfall, a young professor stormed around the home flabbergasted that the private university she was employed did not cancel academic class. “After all,” she exclaimed, “my secretary called and said roads were awful. It was tough crossing some snow-packed highways, with some having ice.”

I simply stated, “Why chance it? Work from home.”

Fifteen minutes later my friend stated, “Let’s go to the store?”

“Why?”

“Well, the remaining Valentine’s day chocolate is half-off.”

“But didn’t you say road conditions were awful, even treacherous” I responded.

“Yeah, but the store’s a five minute drive.”

And with that, off she went … too treacherous for a drive to work but not treacherous enough to save a couple bucks.

Some conservative Christians claim nothing is random in gambling. As a determinative force, there is no such thing as Lady Luck or Lady Luck. God is sovereign even over the roll of the dice; He is the one who sovereignly determines everything appearing to be random.

As a Buddhist, this is the point within the blog narrative I would state that taking unnecessary risk causes suffering. And the Buddhist way to overcome suffering is by following the Noble Eight-fold Path.

However, being a former rescue man, I made a living pulling people out some strangest things: car wrecks, boating accidents, fighting a barnyard bull while drunk, sex games gone awry, murder, knife fights to drag racing. For instance, since the book “Fifty Shades” sold more than 100 million copies, London fireman have been called out to 393 incidents believed related to sex since April 2014, including 28 incidents involving people trapped in handcuffs. In November 2014, firefighters had to come to the rescue of a man who had a pair of metal rings stuck on his manhood for three days. I personally once rescued a man who stuck his penis into a vacuum cleaner hose … while the vacuum clear was on.

So are all of these things something God knew, created and laughed about? I’ll leave that up to you.

From a simple perspective, how does one know if the risk is stupid? Here are some thoughts:

  1. You rush the process. You perform no homework.
  2. Ignore feedback.
  3. You do something with no skillsets. A high school football player does not make one a hang glider in three easy lessons nor does an excellent home cook make a great chef.
  4. You worry about the details … later.

My friend made it to grocery store, having purchased 5 bags of Hersey’s Kisses at half price. Total savings $12.50. It never occurred to her that 23% of accidents occur under a mile from home. That percent increases exponentially in snowstorms and other inclement weather.

So was that $12.50 worth a lifetime? God only knows.

A Solitary Life

imageThere are powerful words in Lynsey Addario’s memoir It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War.

“I have missed the births of my sisters’ children, the weddings of friends, the funerals of loved ones. I have disappeared on countless boyfriends and had just as may disappear on me.”

As a vagabond road warrior and former serial asshole, I’ve never been a photo journalist. I rarely use my cellphone camera and never been to Syria, Afghanistan, the heart of Yemen or other strange places. Yet former girlfriends and wives, including Joanne, Julie, Karen, Aida and Virginia could attest that I’ve disappeared from their lives shockingly fast. I could barely commit to next week, let alone years.

I’ve spent funerals, births, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, reunions and first communions sipping beer in an airport lounge or some distant hotel. I missed my brother’s wedding walking the jungles of Guam, deaths of Uncle Bill, Aunt Pat, Larry, Mike, Harry, Barbara, Jane, numerous cousins and countless distant friends. Literally, I don’t know my niece and nephew. I know their names, I know what they look like, but I know nothing of them. I’ve celebrated sunrises and sunsets, tornados and hurricanes, drought and famine with nothing more than a glass of Southern Comfort, an iPad or cellphone.

Contrary to a former administrative assistant’s repeated requests, there aren’t many pictures of me globetrotting through the 28 countries visited. Simply stated, when you live via carry-on, cameras are extra weight and knowingly giving a camera to an unknown local means it might just disappear. Romantically, I believe many would love to see these the places upon my visitation. Then again, there aren’t many who’d visit my funeral anyway and doubt few, if any, would intuitively grieve.

Borrowing from Sara Eckel, the intimate side of my soul did not acquire important skills such as how to be vulnerable, how to set boundaries, how to listen and how to speak up. I learned the art of compromise and forgiveness, but found many who couldn’t love when they didn’t always like one another. Thus, I cultivated significant wisdom from failure but bore little success. Maybe failure is a success?

In my parents generation, most married young and part upon death. Should death come early, they remarried quickly; if late, the survivor moved in with family or assisted living. In today’s world, surviving spouses avoid moving in with others—even, perhaps especially, their children. We cycle in and out of different living arrangements: alone, together, then alone again.

Still, as a Buddhist, I enjoy the solitary movement of my life.

I am a solitary person. Where others seek company, I seek secluded places of thoughtfulness and self-discovery. Like Thoreau, I go to the woods because I wish to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I haven’t lived.

A friend constantly eschews how hard her life is. Yet, quiet moments offers me the ability to understand that whatever life is, we must meet it; live it; not shun it nor call it names. Life is about living, about the essence of freedom available to all. Just as Lynsey Addario learned, it’s about living deliberately, with purpose. Similarly, George Bernard Shaw wrote of a purposeful life, a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one.

Living in solitude these past years, I recognize my own growth. I am deeply human, moral and spiritual. And I know that for most pressing moral questions, the spiritual and political can, and often must, go hand in hand.

Life is about waking in every moment. Whether you’re alone, married or bonded by group, live in the moment. Revel in it. Bathe in it. Breathe in it. And most importantly, live it.

Ganges River 2What is a good death? What defines a good death?

In a beautiful price on Public Radio International, Atul Gawande talked about the biggest checklist that relatives and an aging family have to make — what conditions should occur in which a family member should be allowed to die.

People talk about wanting to have a good death. I don’t know if I believe in a good death. There’s lots of things that aren’t dignified about dying. He soiled his bed. We had to put a urinary catheter in him when he became so paralyzed he couldn’t pee anymore. He was almost shrinking in front of us. How is dying ever at all acceptable? How is it ever anything other than this awful terrible thing?

The only way it is … is because we as human beings live for something bigger than ourselves.

But there was something about the ritual of the same thing that families have been going through for thousands of years and we were doing it. And you could almost feel the links of hands across generations.

What I felt on the Ganges was he had brought us there and connected himself to all that was important to him, but he was connecting us as well.

There was a kind of handoff occurring. That we are a link in chain and making a contribution that goes well beyond our own life. And that’s part of what makes dying tolerable. That’s what makes — being a mortal creature — tolerable.

As one who should have been dead already, I found this piece very moving. As a Buddhist, I don’t have a fear of death or unnatural hurry to get there. However, as man whose heart could give way at any moment, there have been many days I wish the Angel of Death would descend and carry me away.

But just as Atul Gawande noted, I long for the links – to look for my friend Kanako, to touch the hand of a loved one, of those lost and of friends who’ve stood beside me for all these years. Yes, it’s about the links.

It’s in the links.

Brian Williams Will Resign

chinews-nbc-nightly-news-anchor-br-20150208I predict Brian Williams will eventually resign to pursue other opportunities. How can I predict such an event? While the military events surrounding Brian Williams and I are vastly dissimilar, the events and brouhaha surrounding Williams mirrors, almost exactly, what occurred to me five years prior.

As I wrote three years ago in my post Cruciatus in crucem. Eas in crucem, “…when I had a personal failure in the eyes of the community and I requested not so much redemption but forgiveness, I was given none.” On April 1st 2010, I was informed to take personal leave and then summarily executed the following day on Good Friday. And to this day, I remain forgiven by God, but unforgiven by the community.

For Williams, step one occurred Saturday, as he announced:

In the midst of a career spent covering and consuming news, it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions. As managing editor of NBC Nightly News, I have decided to take myself off of my daily broadcast for the next several days.

What makes Williams believe he won’t be the story upon his return? Nothing.

As reported by the Washington Post, covering combat in person is a significant — and potentially life-changing — event. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 61 journalists were killed in 2014. Twenty-three died while covering combat in 2014 and that’s nothing of situations such as the executions of James Foley, Steven Sotloff and other journalists by militant groups such as the Islamic State.

But what of accountability? As seasoned reporter, does he not have an ethical viewpoint that must be maintained? He does. But ethical principals are not equally adjudicated. Fox News Channel’s Geraldo Rivera was kicked out of Iraq in 2003 for revealing future troop movements while Dan Rather resigned as a CBS News anchor after acknowledging he used unverified documents in a story questioning President George W. Bush’s military service. However, even after a posting a seminude photo online, Rivera still corresponds for Fox while Rather’s career as a newscaster died a long painful death.

The lessons are twofold.

First, in todays’ world, almost everything you do is recorded. Everything you do via the Internet or social media is watched, tracked, monitored and recorded. Do not ever put anything on the Internet that you would not want someone to hold you accountable for.

Secondly, when you fall, learn to live through and past the experience. I violated the trust of those surrounding me way too many times. Those very events cost me dearly: lost my job, lost the love of my life, burned through a hell of a lot of savings. In truth, I found the following statement most profound, “Arrogant people cannot walk in unison with God or others.” It simply cannot occur.

For Williams the first year will be hell. Even the best personal energy is eroded by the constant emotional toll. I constantly found myself in torrent seas, lying too wounded from the battle. While the life I so wanted was reminiscent of a ship’s hull being ripped from the rocks, I found myself slowly sinking, swallowed by the darkened sea.

As a Buddhist, be forgiving. All of us have made mistakes. But we can strive to be of service, be mindful in understanding, showing kindness, honesty and humility. These are the worthy human values all of us should be proud to acquire. And while we may have gone to jail, lost a job, lost a loved one or family, we can become contributors to the greater good.

Nealry, five years later, I’m a survivor. I survived both my own inhumanity and that of the world around me. And while I lost my career, the death of our hopes in one led me to live out those hopes via another.

imageNBC Nightly News host Brian Williams apologized and recanted his story about being in a U.S. military helicopter as it was forced to land under fire in Iraq 12 years ago, Stars & Stripes reported.

You are absolutely right and I was wrong. In fact, I spent much of the weekend thinking I’d gone crazy,” Williams wrote on his Facebook page.

Many of my father’s father’s fish stories are folk lore in rural Wisconsin. My grandfather was a huge fisherman. He loved fishing. He also loved ‘fish’ stories. He was good at them. We’ve all heard them before. “Hey, there was really super duper extra large Bluegill. He had to be at least 17 feet long.” Of course through the years, there was the shark that got away, “God, he was huge. Must have been ninety feet long.” We laughed, he laughed, drank our beer and listened by the camp fire for another regaling battle of man versus nature.

We’ve all had our fish stories. For six days in June 2009, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s whereabouts were unknown. Magically, the Governor reappeared and reported having been on a lengthy leisurely stroll hiking mountains, when in fact, he was in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Senator Rand Paul continually provides misleading statements about vaccine safety, claiming “many” children have developed “profound mental disorders” after vaccinations. There is no evidence any recommended vaccine causes brain damage or other mental disorders. Other notables include Clinton did not having sex with that woman … but did; Al Gore inventing the Internet and Missouri State Senator Todd Akin believing women cannot get pregnant when truly raped. So his loyal voters must feel that those who did conceive, well they must have secretly wanted as such.

The National Review wrote, “Fox News is a personalities-driven opinion network with occasional news reports; it is inevitable that its broadcast hours will be more rapidly punctuated by controversial statements than those of others.. Unsurprisingly, the opinion-heavy Fox News and MSNBC both have relatively high falsehood scores on the PolitiFact report card, while CNN doesn’t. It’s not as though Michaela Pereira never says anything that might be disputed — she simply never says anything that is interesting, true or false, so nobody cares. Or, as PolitiFact puts it: “We use our news judgment to pick the facts we’re going to check, so we certainly don’t fact-check everything. And we don’t fact-check the five network groups evenly.””

Sigh … To be fair, I wasn’t in Brian Williams helicopter either. Wish I did – would’ve been a hell of a ride.

Still, let’s face it, fish stories are everywhere. All of us project our own home movies onto everyone else’s screen. If you haven’t, you’d be an oddball rarity. Christ not included, name one person who hasn’t lied, stretched the truth or told something not factual? When conversing with friends or colleagues, we’ve filtered our stories. If you feel otherwise, go look at your resume. In a 140 character text and one-minute sound bite world, it’s hard to be completely honest. Memories fade and our minds adapt to the moment before us.

Unlike the Ten Commandments, the Buddhist Precepts are not rules everyone must be compelled to follow. Instead, they are personal commitments people make when they choose to follow. Practice of the Precepts is a kind of training to enable enlightenment. Right Speech goes beyond simply trying to not tell lies. It means speaking truthfully and honestly, yes. But it also means using speech to promote good will and reduce anger. Right Speech is using speech to benefit, not to harm.

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