Archive for July, 2016


entrepreneur-livingLet’s be honest. The last ten days sucked. The unexpected deaths of two black men in Minnesota and Louisiana were absurdly connected to the deaths of five Dallas police officers. Combine those tragedies with deaths in Nice, France, everyone should acknowledge the internal wake up call that we know, but rarely acknowledge, our demise can occur at a moment’s notice.

It’s strange how life’s last moments seem unremarkable. The New York Times reported Philando Castile of Minnesota finished getting his hair styled, called his sister Allysza, and offered to deliver dinner to the suburban house she shares with their mother. Over a meal of Taco Bell takeout, the two alternated between laughter and serious discussions, including about the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by the police in Louisiana. He never returned home.

The five murdered Dallas officers were spouses and parents. They volunteered in schools and church and swore to serve and protect. One officer gave a homeless man a meal the night prior to his death. Officer Patrick Zamarripa served several tours of duty in Iraq only to be felled by a fellow vet.

As French revelers celebrated, a 19-ton refrigeration truck was driven nearly 70 miles per hour over a 1.1 mile stretch of road. The driver directly aimed for and struck celebrants before being stopped by French officers. The aftermath left trails of family ruin and death. One moment, a great celebration. The next moment, despair.

This post is not about the value of a life, whether it be Castile or Sterling, Dallas police officers or French victims. Each have been duly honored for giving more than I ever will. This post is not about the merits of concealed carry, the right to bear arms, Black Lives Matter or the fight against terrorism. This is about “understanding,” as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross noted perfectly:

“It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, we will then begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.”

What I thought about were those brief moments when loved ones said goodbye and were never heard from again.

I am curious how life interacts, becomes separated from the interconnectedness and reconnects by some seemingly unrelated event. Any of us can be connected to family and friends one moment only to be connected to some tragic event later. We forget the number of lives we have touched today is like counting waves in the ocean, because each wave follows another until it vanishes from us. Through the lives of one another, everyone has already lived so many lives, so many forms, so and participated in so many stories.

In a noncritical way, as I look upon life’s ocean waves, I cannot but wonder what could have been – if Castile never purchased a handgun or achieved a concealed carry permit; if Castile’s officer had taken a more conciliatory approach; if a veteran sought help rather than a weapon; if the damn truck in Nice, France didn’t start or if someone offered its driver an open hand. Would all that were lost be alive?

I doubt if each victim imagined their life would end so abruptly. You and I share similar backgrounds, faiths, experiences, thoughts and love. Rarely does one think that before day’s end, one would move onward. Yet that very fact is all too common.

Readers, like those whom love and share our journey are the characters of our story. Most never want the story to end. Like you, we’ve invested significant effort into the knowing, molding and loving, the highs, lows and middle. We find it extremely difficult to near the final chapter.

Rarely do we have the ability to control our goodbye, there’s never enough time. We human ants are too busy with workouts, meetings, plane flights, doctor appointments, family and social functions. We replace brief moments of sharing with football, baseball, working late, burning the midnight oil and fixated upon this or that. Meanwhile, the readers of our lives wonder of the story within, the writer’s composition and homily. Oh how the writer becomes a stranger, even to himself.

Unlike many, I haven’t chosen a one and true path. I’ve traveled far. But have I lived richly? My soul’s youth yearned to changed the world. I didn’t. I only changed myself. I know many would have loved my spontaneity, my energy, my ability to make people laugh. Yet I hid and cloistered my soul, even from those whom I loved. I forgot the last time I made love, lightly caressed or kissed.

The lesson this Buddha learned is that life and living life are completely different. Living life means recognizing our interconnections. This week’s memoriams demonstrate true living, people who embraced life’s highs, lows and middles. Life was about embracing their readers, about being human in the most vulnerable way, reaching out toward interconnectedness and rippling the ocean’s waves.

So, for all who passed, please … please relish, live and connect with the readers of your book (life).

dallasListening to President Obama’s memorial speech in Dallas, I reflected upon Baltimore.

When Freddie Gray died April 19, 2015, and riots erupted, Baltimore and its residents were forced to confront issues that had plagued them for decades. Personally, I was about 1200 miles west when Baltimore protests erupted over the death of Freddie Gray. Like most, we’ve watched too many protests, from Ferguson, Baltimore, Chicago, Florida, Atlanta, Oakland and many others via the comfort of some easy chair. What had been mostly peaceful protests erupted into rock-throwing, looting and fires.

This past year has seen me working at hospitals in the Baltimore and Washington area, with one hospital a mere four blocks from the original riots.  There is much to praise and much work remains.

A year later, dozens of Baltimore legislative proposals resulted were generated because of the death of a disadvantaged, young, black man from West Baltimore. From policing and criminal justice reform to efforts to Baltimore neighborhoods and lead poisoning referendums, reforms are underway. Other things have remained the same. Officers involved in Gray’s death have not been held accountable. DeRay McKesson (Black Lives Matter leader) was not elected mayor and the makeup of Baltimore legislators has essentially remained the same.

Yet, when I look at protests in Dallas and other cities, I often ask myself, What’s next? What happens after the march? What happens when to burning singe of hatred is cooled? Where does the movement go?

While not completely agreeing with President Obama on every issue, I do believe that if we truly want to improve a community, the police cannot do it alone. Societal effort is required. Police, residents, schools, elected officials, along with those who work in housing, transportation and health must all work together to make difference.

We must also learn to love one another. In his book What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Raymond Carver noted:

“I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making. Not one of us moved. Not even when the room went dark.”

That is what interdependent love is. It is listening to that beating heart, and when we hear it, it is our job to interpret it to the best of our abilities. We need to find a piece of each other in our daily life.

We have to get past yelling. It is true that the most important things to say are the hardest things to say, but we have to do it.

PrayerI watched in horror last night as five Dallas police officers were killed and another seven wounded in a racially charged attack that ended when police used a robot to kill the sniper. The killings came at the end of a largely peaceful protest over a pair of fatal shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota. These killings culminate a string of killings of black men by police officers, including Ferguson, Missouri, New York, Baltimore and Chicago.

Several things concern me.

First, looking at the tactics and weaponry used last night, one has to ask, “Are we at war?” When does disagreement and the thirst for political integrity justify the use of heavy weapons?  As noted by Carl Philipp Gottfried, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” When do we lose our ability to communicate that our only option is to don camo-pants, an ill-fitted bulletproof vest and weapons? Does it matter if one is pro-Black Lives Matter, pro-abortion, pro-life, anti-religious this or that, anti-this or anti-that?  Must the next logical step be shoot first, dialogue later.

Secondly, our current juncture in history lends itself to the fact we are exceptional at destruction. We suck at repairing. Whether the issues are Iraq or homeland infrastructure, healthcare, abortion, left leaning judges, right leaning judges, whatever … it seems our current nature leans toward complete and utter destruction. We lack the ability for common interfaith dialogue.

Jay Parini echoed similar comments on an CNN opinion piece earlier today.

“Are we a people at war with ourselves, unable or unwilling to control our most violent urges? Must we settle every dispute with a gun or a bomb? Who is responsible for this mayhem that plays out on many fronts?

We quickly blame the other guy: the Mexican or Wall Streeter, the immigrant, Muslims, “millionaires and billionaires.” In our confusion and malaise, we have become a deeply angry nation. As such, we reach for scapegoats, and they’re easy to find. Anyone who doesn’t look or sound like ourselves becomes suspicious.”

The real pain of Ferguson, New York, Baltimore, Chicago, Orlando and Dallas is that someone always wakes up fatherless, motherless, daughter-less, brother-less, sister-less, uncle-less. As a Buddhist, I — along with communities and practitioners of all faiths — stand in solidarity with those who seek to live in peace and nonviolence, and grieve for the loss of life

Yes, I concur we have too many freely available weapons. However, I also believe we have too many disenfranchised people. Theoretically, we could fix the gun issue. We wont. Just look no further than recent bipartisan gun legislation condemned to legislative purgatory.

If society is to survive, we must fix disenfranchisement. If we don’t, all we’ll get is one more prayer service.

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