Archive for June, 2016


Anderson Cooper 360 began with the names … Right on Anderson.

PrayIn 1991, Barbara Poma’s older brother John died battling HIV. Twelve years later, Poma and her friend Ron Legler founded Pulse Orlando in memoriam to her brother and as a safe space supporting the LGBT community.

According to police, alleged shooter Omar Mateen opened fire early Sunday morning at Pulse. An officer working at the club initially responded, “engaging in a gun battle” before the suspect went back into the club, Authorities say that at least 50 people have been killed and at least 53 are injured, making it the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

Playwright Arthur Miller wrote “violence in our streets is the violence in our hearts.” So much so that violence by weapon has weaved so much into daily life we hardly notice. To add support, BradyCampaign.org notes on average, 31 Americans are murdered with guns every day and 151 are treated for some form of gun assault. Additionally, every day, on average, 55 people kill themselves with a firearm and 46 people are wounded or killed via a gun. In contrast, if 86 people were dying each day from the mosquito bred Zika Virus, there’d be holy hell on the streets of America.

Over the coming days, thousands will pay their respects, reefs laid, memorials held, tears shed and promises to remember will be made. Homage and prayers were offered by Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and many celebrities. Donald Trump? Well, Trump congratulated himself. But at the end of the day, even this shooting will have little positive impact for the Washington electorate to implement anything more than a few moments of silence.

The important part of Sunday remembrances came not from celebrities but rather from those who survived the shooting. Brothers, sisters and children were not overly idealized or enlarged in death beyond what they were in life. Each victim was remembered simply as a good and decent person, who saw wrong, tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it.

Pulse Orlando was about was Love.

And what set Pulse Orlando and victims apart from the hate was their depth of love – not only for each other but their community as well. It’s the same love Christ and Buddha offered. And that form of agape love can never be forced, even by a whacked out, mentally deranged idiot. Why? Because power never wins. A true God does not want subservience, but love. Pulse Orlando and all those LGBT rights activists chose the sometimes slow, hard way of agape love. It’s a conquest from within.

George McDonald captured both Christ and Buddha’s approach, “Instead of the crushing power of force; instead of destroying what we believe to be infidels, these victims encouraged making one another better people. (paraphrased)” Better citizens. They chose to love one another.

Victims in this shooting are voices speaking from heaven. Some will try to dismiss them but each victim is dazzling proof of love’s transfiguration. Each one is beautiful and may their voices roar to the power of love.

After learning of a colleague’s death (You Are Not Alone), I flew from Baltimore, landing midday in a Midwest city I’ve haven’t seen in months. I’ve chosen to name my colleague Daryl. Though not this person’s true identity, Daryl is interchangeable between male and female.

I attended Daryl’s wake late Friday. As the parlor doors opened, some 50 or so of Daryl’s colleagues huddled in the receiving line. Pictures donned poster-like billboards both before and after the viewing and covered Daryl’s life, from childhood. Daryl’s life appeared well documented and many shared storied with uneven tears and bewilderment. By the time I left, mourners reached 250. Awe struck by the deep tenderness and love, I wondered throughout the wake if Daryl knew. Would Daryl have passed if this depth of love had been known?

Landing back in Baltimore late Friday, I sat in an easy chair of the Marriott. I typed a quick Apple iMessage to Amy (not her real name), one of Daryl’s coworker’s who sat two (2) cubicles away.

I was impressed and shocked by the amount reverence Daryl’s family received. By the time I left, there were close to 250 or more well wishers,” I texted.

Several minutes passed before receiving a response.

That’s nice. I didn’t go, as I did not know Daryl.

In the twenty-six hours since starting this post, I remain befuddled. How can someone sit two cubicles away and not know your coworker; not say hello, talk about the weather, a favorite sports team, politics, a good restaurant or show; vacation, children, wife, love, hopes, dreams or sorrows? I don’t get it. The cubicles of life are five by seven, yet for many they are chasms.

Of course disappointment has been with the human race for centuries. Disappointment did not vanish in from the earth in Jesus’ day and hasn’t vanished in the two thousand years since.

More importantly, where was God? In a time of crisis, a time of faith, I can’t believe Daryl needed smoke, fire and a burst of light or heavenly songs. Daryl was a common human being from the middle of nowhere who played in the backyard, celebrated friendship over a drink, watched fireworks on July 4th, celebrated the seasons and volunteered at church. Yet somewhere between this life and the next, Daryl lost faith. Life lost a wonderful soul. A spouse lost a partner. Children lost a parent. Parents lost a child.

I’m often asked if God is unfair. Hadn’t the prophets promised God would wipe tears, heal the sick, raise the dead? Instead, what we receive today is eBay auctions of people selling faith of Christ-like images on toast, in the clouds or some other trivial form. Jesus did heal some people, but many went unhealed. Lazarus was raised from the dead. Yet, Lazarus eventually passed, as does everyone. Obviously, at His word, Jesus could have healed a multitude, but statistically speaking, only few merited such intervention.

Did Daryl experience the same loss faith John the Baptist experienced? He prophesied Christ’s coming. However, a few years later, he smuggled a message, “Are you the one who was expected to come?” Some days, I wonder myself.

I don’t believe Daryl ever wanted a miracle or a visible sign of power or glory. Daryl wanted the touch of a friend, a gentle smile, to share a cup of coffee, to laugh. Daryl wanted faith, love and hope. And when we silently walk past those in our life, we become indifferent and ignorant.

Whether you’re Christian, atheist or Buddhist, say hello to as many people as possible. You never know how that simple conversation will empower someone. So Monday morning, when I get to my client, I will purposefully walk at least two cubes and introduce myself. It is my silent memoriam to Daryl to find someone who thinks they are alone and convince them they’re not.

Don’t let the cubicles of life become chasms.

You Are Not Alone

Not AloneA client acquaintance of mine passed away this past Sunday.  While I did not know this person particularly well, I understand from other coworkers that this person may have ended his life.  Somehow, on a Sunny Sunday, this middle-aged person, two children and a good career passed away.

Those of us outside the family’s inner circle remain perplexed. And like armchair coroners, for better or for worse, many scalpel this person, slicing open their life, peeling the facade like an onion. Why?

For those like me, who experienced so few interactions, why must we strip this person’s dignity on the cold steel table of our imagination? We care so little for others that we walk past people, day-in, day-out, with nary a glance. Yet we presume to have the right to dissect the dead, to explore, to investigate, to simply satisfy curiosity.

Think I am wrong, then look no further than Prince. Not into Prince? How about Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley or Robin Williams?

We need to autopsy ourselves. If this acquaintance really did commit suicide then we need forgiveness – forgiveness for not saying hello, forgiveness for not being supportive and forgiveness for being so god damn arrogant. We need to understand that at the basic human level, pain often wins. We need to understand that when hope loses, faith does as well.

In reference to her husband’s death, Susan Schneider, Robin Williams’ widow said, she was beside herself in agony. She fought to the end, but didn’t know what she was fighting. Our battle is similar. When someone dies, we often don’t know why. In our angst, it’s even more important not to stop fighting for one another, living and loving – in life, love and pain.

As many of you know, I once considered suicide. Not because of the degrading physical pain I currently experience, but because of mental pain that incessantly encased me. Like many, I often thought there was no escape. But like many, I made it, just as many others made it. There is life beyond the pain.

So … if you’re contemplating suicide, my advice is go ahead and kill yourself. But don’t do it with a rope or a gun or a knife or a handful of pills. Do not end your life by destroying your body. Kill yourself by cutting off your former life and going in a completely new direction. Kill the old life by starting anew. Be someone different. Live, love and learn in ways never imagined.

Yeah, it wasn’t easy. And there were times I thought living to be impossible. Yet things changed and when they did, they really changed.

Lastly, if you feel alone you’re not. If need to talk to someone, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. They will fight for you. I will fight for you. Everyone one of us should fight for you.

Life’s Cycle

LifecycleI faced my parents and friends with dignity. I looked into their heart, eyes that searched, worn faces and longing hope.

My body’s giving out. One day soon, I won’t be able to get around.”

Why?” my mother asked.

Why?” I sighed. “Well, life.  Like all things, life detonates.”

In a chapter titled “When the Air Hits Your Brain,” author Frank Vertosic wrote that life is encircled in a repetitive wheel of motion. We get up, Make the coffee. Head to work. Work. Head home. Exercise a little. Sleep. For most of us, our lives are trapped in orbits, with the grand pattern of life changing a little.

The late George Carlin said something to the effect, “Everybody needs 8 hours sleep, 8 hours work, 8 hours play and one good shit.” Brutally honest? Yes. But the circle of life is brutally honest.

Someday, our life, my life, your life, will detonate.  There will be an auto accident, brain hemorrhage, heart attack, tremor, a fall, allergic reaction. Cancer, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, and others diseases will sweep into everyone’s life. All life’s mishaps are part of a larger biological process designed for one purpose: to kill. As with all living things, life becomes one problem after another. Prostate problems, Alzheimer’s, back problems, eye cataracts, degenerative arthritis and hardening of the arteries are nature’s way of recycling the world population. The list is endless.

At its core, our life, and its end, is a design feature. Just as a Buddhist recognizes the cycle of life our cars, computers or cell phones, we’re all built to die. All things experience birth, life, an autumn and a death. Each creation enjoys a finite number of days in the sun then make way for a newer set of the living. Nature respects and implements continuous turnover, interspersing mutations of good genes, keeping life flexible and lean. Our commission to keep and ensure this lifecycle moves forward.

Buddhist clergy remind followers about closeness of death, their own demise. Likewise, they want each of you to live. Accordingly, how do we live? It’s fairly simple, just behave in a manner which you believe is responsible, good and positive for yourself and towards others. This leads to calmness, happiness and an outlook which contributes to a calm and controlled mind.

Through this positive and compassionate outlook of life, always being aware of the impermanence of life and having a loving attitude towards all living things. Having lead a responsible and compassionate life and having no regrets enables us to surrender without struggle to the inevitable and in a state of grace which need not be as uncomfortable as we are led to believe.

After stating my peace, one family member muttered, “Well maybe God will heal you.” Doubtful. In my eighteen years of working in hospitals and the insurance arena, I have never seen Jesus come and remove someone’s tumor. The other resounding fact is that the wheel of humanity will turn just fine without me.

Neil Gaiman poetically noted that life was both sexually transmitted and terminal. At the time I read it, I thought it was funny as hell. Still do.

In time, my shoulders and arms will make frequent mistakes. The current half-hour needed each morning to move without pain will increase to an hour; then two, then three; to a half-day, to most of the day. Eventually, people will have to assist me. I probably won’t be able to write or even stay awake. Weakness becomes paralysis.

My end goal is simple. Should I even reach one person, what I want is for each generation to grow better than the last. Adapt, laugh, love and survive long enough to keep the wheel of life turning.

TVThis blog has not opined too deeply into current presidential politics. This has more to do with the fact all the presumptive nominees have yet to be decided. By I read New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman’s article “Clinton’s Fibs, and Her Opponents’ Double Whoppers” with interest:

“… while Hillary’s struggles with the whole truth on certain issues have garnered huge attention, driving up her negatives, Trump and Bernie Sanders have been getting away with some full Burger King Double Whoppers that will come crashing down on the whole country if either gets the chance to do what he says.”

Both Trump and Sanders appear to come from opposite sides of the same coin. Each claims political mobilization, but beyond the veneer, little appears to have changed. Neither candidate has generated real mobilization.

Real political mobilization is about getting constituents to become voters, voters to become activists and activists to become candidates. It has yet to be seen if the extreme ideas proposed by either Sanders or Trump can transform the electorate and drive public policy at the state and local level. If what has been reported is accurate, the Vermont senator has not drawn as large crowds to his events in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. Sanders may resonate in some places, but certainly not all.

Additionally, Trump has only garnered roughly 11,500,000 primary votes while Sanders has netted about 10,000,000. Contrast that to 2012, when President Barack Obama received 65,915,796 general election votes. To be elected the 45th president, each must compete on a political map that, for now, looks forbidding. This means both Trump and Sanders will require not only all their primary voters, but also an additional 50 – 55 million more voters.

First take-away: political challenges are huge.

When Republicans took control of the House, America experienced two of the least productive Congresses in history. Strangely, this happened after we elected a group of politicians to government who openly stated that they hated government. In a Trump victory, Trump must navigate the reality of political tide. Numerically speaking, there’s only 24 Republican and 10 Democratic seats up for reelection in 2016. As of this writing, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, both Bush presidents, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Former GOP Mitt Romney, and former Florida Sen. and former RNC chairman Mel Martinez rejects the idea of voting for Trump.

If Sanders wins, he’ll have to go it alone.  With a veto-proof Senate and a majority in the House of Representatives, President Obama had to battle those who were grotesquely entrenched in their own special interests.  At a time when affordable health care, a democratic priority, should have been a slam-dunk, President Obama was forced to scale back his plan.  Universal health care was never an option and even the public option (Medicare/Medicaid) was seen as “too radical.”  In the end, it took every single ounce of support to pass the Affordable Care Act, without a single vote from Republicans in the Senate as well as 35 Democrats refusing to support it in the House.

Then there are economic realities.

Trump’s border wall will encompass many subplots. If erected, trade routes will shut down, water rites and land contested and industries wouldn’t be able to export products. The economies of both El Paso and Ciudad Juárez would take major hits. For Sanders, the issue of wealth and income inequality is the great moral issue of our time, it is the great economic issue of our time, and it is the great political issue of our time. Yet many economists claim Sanders fiscal policies reside in fantasy-land. Sanders critics claim there is little credible economic research supporting claimed economic benefits.

Neither candidate has politically mobilized constituents to become voters, voters to become activists and activists to become candidates. Freidman got it right.

“All lying in politics is not created equal. I think the ideology Bernie is selling is fanciful, but underlying it is a moral critique of modern capitalism that has merit and deserves to be heard. But Bernie is not being truthful about the costs. What is grating about Hillary is that her prevarications seem so unnecessary and often insult our intelligence. But they are not about existential issues. As for Trump, his lies are industrial size and often contradict each other. But there is no theory behind his lies, except what will advance him, which is why Trump is only scary if he wins. Otherwise, his candidacy will leave no ideas behind. It will just be a reality TV show that got canceled.”

Then again, I believe all most Americans want is a TV show. If we’re not careful, that’s what we’ll get.

01-gorilla-harambe-deathDebate has raged over the death of Harambe the gorilla. As you have heard, Harambe was shot and killed to protect toddler who slipped through the railing and plummeted more than 10 feet into the exhibit’s moat. While animal experts and activists believe the Cincinnati Zoo was right to fatally shoot Harambe, that alone did not offset the public scrutiny of the parents.

Critics felt the zoo should have done more before killing Harambe and many urged authorities to hold the boy’s parents criminally responsible, with an online petition called “Justice for Harambe” had more than 330,000 signatures Tuesday.

In truth, I believe zoo officials had to a make a critical, probably correct, but politically incorrect decision. And I honor them for that decision.

Whether the toddler’s parents are charged or not isn’t my issue. What bothers me is the 32-year-old Cincinnati mother’s now-deleted Facebook post, thanking the zoo for making the difficult decision to shoot the gorilla to save her son. The post, in part, quotes, “God protected my child until the authorities were able to get him.” Further, “Thank you to everyone that helped me and my son today and most importantly God for being the awesome God that He is.”

What bothers me is our society’s overuse of God’s intervention toward the good while not acknowledging the reverse. In other words, if God positively impacted events and protected this child from Harambe, then does He not stand passively aside while countless other children perished? Why did God protect this child and not others?

For instance, several days ago a north Texas man shot and killed his 3-year-old stepson, Dominic Tra’Juan Castro, because he was upset the child was jumping on the bed. In what authorities called a tragic accident, a 2-year-old girl was found dead inside her mother’s car at a Mississippi daycare. The mother thought she had taken her child to daycare before going to work. Also, a 9-year-old boy died after being shot in the head near Indianapolis. Police say the shooting occurred Friday afternoon at an apartment complex in the community.

So was God there or not there to protect these children? While the list of children hurt or killed remains endless, we are quick to praise God for apparent miracles while simultaneously remaining silent for His lack of accountability. We cannot experience God one way. To do so is an affront to those who’ve suffered tremendous agony.

Final food for thought – if God was so heavily involved with protecting the child, why’d Harambe have to die? Couldn’t both have been saved?

Paraphrasing from Rabbi Brad Hirschfield’s logic after 9/11, if you’re going to tell me about how God protected your child, you better also be able to explain how God did not protect other children.  The test of that has to do with going and saying it to the person who just buried a child and look in their eyes and tell them God’s plan was to allow the death of their child. Look at them and tell them that God’s plan was that their family should go to bed every night for the rest of their lives without their son or daughter. If you can say that, well, at least you’re honest. I don’t worship the same God, but that at least has integrity.

Personally, the child is alive because of quick acting dedicated zoo staff. Nothing more, nothing less.

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