An intimate act

Writing is an intimate act. Like sex it can be a great deal of work for sometimes little reward, or it can flow and build to a flood that would make both Noah and John Holmes proud.

In my writing I attempt to learn more about myself while revealing it to others; sort of thinking out loud and publishing it on the internet. Some days I am successful beyond my wildest expectations and there are essays a wrote years ago that I will go back and read and think, “Damn, Bledsoe (I’ve decided to go by one name, like Bono or Sting), that was pretty good.” Others I will read and think, “Seriously. You need to start drinking a better brand of bourbon.”

At its best, writing should be comfortable, like an old denim shirt frayed around the collar and cuffs. I have shirts like that, which I refuse to get rid of. I still wear them. Even in public. I had a homeless person try to give *me* money once. He was like, “dude, you obviously need this more than I do.”

Good writing of the type to which I aspire should draw you in and elicit an emotional response, involuntary, but comforting. I’m not going to change the world with my little essays, but in writing them I change myself and that’s a start.

Maybe the reader will laugh out loud and wake up their spouse. I’m ok with an angry husband under those circumstances. Maybe the reader will think anew about a matter and begin to ponder. Either way, if someone responds in some way then I am content.

When one has to form thoughts and commit them to a screen they must be sufficiently coherent to at least fit within the confines of some sort of reason. That’s how writing changes the writer. Thoughts left in the brain- at least my thoughts- are rarely organized. They look like my daughters’ playroom when they were small. My brain is full of naked Barbies, strewn about with various articles of clothing in piles on the floor. One of my daughters, whose initials are Courtney, used to join them in their nakedidity. I figured she would either grow out of it or get really good at it and make a lot of money. (For the record, she grew out of it.)

Unorganized thoughts must queue up to exit my mind and make it to my hands to be typed onto a page. Sometimes they come out and collide into one another, occasionally yielding inter-word road rage. That’s where f bombs come from. They are debris left over from a word wreck, like bits of windshield in an intersection.

Writing is not always pretty, but the act of producing the finished product, the journey, is what changes me. In ruminating on matters large and small I am forced to confront sacred cows and sometimes slaughter them. That’s as it should be. There is no value in merely repeating the same mantras while not considering their consequence. It should be like travel in the mind where you experience new thoughts and opportunities to see your world differently.

In that sense, writing is both arrogant, assuming one would want to read it, and humble, approaching the blank screen with a mindset that allows for a wandering across hill and hollow perhaps to find a small gemstone in an unexpected place.

Life is like that in general. Or should be. Travel should change us. Our experiences should change us. Our preconceived notions should be held up to scrutiny and discarded if found wanting. I believe that’s called growth.

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2016: What it was

What a year! Please tell me it’s almost over. Some events were memorable, for all the wrong reasons. We’ve watched Syria engage in a masturbatory convulsion of violence. On the other hand, we watched the USA win a truckload of medals in the Rio Olympics and took joy in the fact that the Russian swim team did so poorly; especially the women, whose beards created too much resistance in the water.

Like most years, this one began in January… when Kim Jong Un executed six family members who had the effrontery to have names that came ahead of his in the alphabet. According to the official North Korean Hungwell News Agency, all six committed suicide by shooting themselves in the back. Kim celebrated by exploding a thermonuclear device and climbing Mounts Everest and Kilimanjaro in the same day. All of this truly amazed Donald Trump who dispatched to North Korea his BFF and Good Will Ambassador to the Universe, Dennis Rodman, to discuss whether Kim might consider heading the Justice Department in his Administration, on the off chance he were to win in November. Literary note: this is called foreshadowing. It’s kind of like foreplay, which for the men would take too long to explain, because we have to move onto….

 February…. Where republicans and democrats decided to hold a primary in New Hampshire. It seems kind of stupid to hold an election there that time of year because it’s fucking cold.  During one of the Republican debates, Donald Trump declared his penis – in spite of the cold –  was so large it had three electoral votes. This crude remark was widely predicted to cost Donald Trump the election. So, of course he won New Hampshire, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and Uranus. Vladimir Putin (whose last name roughly translates into English, as “grab ‘em by the pussy”, sent Trump a bottle of vodka and an autographed copy of his new book, “Go Hack Yourself: how to beg, borrow and steal Internet secrets”.

Putin’s book was released in March… when Ben Carson, a kind, decent and exceptionally intelligent man, dropped out of the presidential race and promptly endorsed Donald Trump, who is exactly none of those. Not to be outdone, on the Dem side, Bernie “Feel the Bern” Sanders declared in front of God and everyone that Hillary Clinton did not, in fact, have a penis. Libertarian candidate, Gary “Ride The” Johnson, chose former Massachusetts governor William “Bill” Weld to be his running mate, prompting media pundits to ask, “Why the hell isn’t Weld running for president himself?”

NASA announced that 2015 was the warmest year ever recorded in the history of humankind. We’re not saying anything, but there’s a lot of Mexicans trying to head north. Maybe they’re related? Possibly, because…

In April things really began to heat up with the birth announcement for the world’s first baby born with DNA from three parents: Larry, Marie and someone named “Stan”. Video of the conception is available on PornHub. Also, a 26’ python was found in Malaysia living inside someone’s toilet and Donald Trump told Fox News host Megyn “Blood from her Wherever” Kelly she had a “nice rack”. This was widely predicted to be the beginning of the end of the Trump Candidacy. Also in April, a reunion of women allegedly raped by Bill “Spanish Fly” Cosby was held in Madison Square Garden. Trump then asked Cosby to be his running mate, because, hey, they have a lot in common. That and “the Blacks love me!” Commenting about “the Blacks” when, you know, they’re standing right there, was widely expected to mark the end of Trump’s candidacy.

By May it seemed to be that the country and the world were headed to Hell, but, as it so often happens, just in the nick of time, a 70 year old Indian woman gave birth to a son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the hospital. Ever been to India? There’s like a bazillion people there. There’s no room for fucking anybody! They all work for “tech support” companies and have names like “Bob” and “Joe”.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Brazil impeached their president because of corruption and replaced her with the previous vice president, himself earlier removed from office for, you guessed it, corruption. This all literally weeks before the Olympics.

Then Harambe the gorilla was shot in the Columbus Zoo.

It was a good thing that the schedule called for the month of June because on the 1st, Switzerland (literally “land of Switz”) opened their 57  km Gotthard (literally “stay hard”) tunnel through the Alps. This would have been very handy for Steve McQueen in the Great Escape. In science news, CO2 was successfully turned into “stone” by Icelandic scientists, in an effort to find out what to do with all this excess carbon floating around. Considering that this was in Iceland, methinks it was the scientists that were stoned. (I have my own solution to this problem: trap all the extra CO2 and use it for beer. More beer, less carbon in the atmosphere. A win-win.

Not much else happened in June, but on the 18th the first British astronaut, Sir Ian Austin Goldfinger Bond Powers, returned from the International space station. Fellow travelers, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Sonofavich and American Robert “Bob” Patton, said “Not a moment too soon. We couldn’t understand a word he said.”

By July, Donald Trump decided that he really did want to be president and accepted the Republican nomination. Hillary, in spite of having all the popularity among younger voters of a sexually transmitted disease, won the Democratic nomination with the help of so-called “super delegates”, meaning other politicians on whom Hillary had enough dirt that they really had to support her.  Bernie didn’t give up without a fight, however, and gave a rousing speech at the convention, saying, and we quote, “This nation is something, something…. Free sex toys for someone…. Tax (we think) somebody…. Giant sucking sound…”. We’re not really sure but it sounded like he was discussing some unlawful acts with goats, but, honestly, we could understand Sir Goldfinger Bond Powers better.

Donald Trump nominated Mike Pence to be his running mate and Hillary Clinton nominated Tim Kane. Both of these gentlemen were as bland as matzah, but each possessed two indispensable qualifications: each were somewhat palatable to their party’s base and neither were under Federal indictment.

August represents the “dog days” of summer in most of Murica, and 2016 was no different, except, the Summer Olympics opened in Rio. Preparations were finally, well sorta, almost… not really, complete. However, at least each Olympic athlete received 40! condoms. The Olympics last but a fortnight and each participant got enough latex to git ‘r done almost three times/day. These athletes were honed and skilled and apparently also quite randy. But 3 times a day?  Whatever happened to the days when my old high school coach told us to “keep ‘it’ in our pants” the night before the big game? Not that there was much chance of “it” being used for much other than taking a leak, but I, at least, did make sure “it” was very, very clean, if you get my drift.

Anyway, the Olympics came off more or less without a glitch, if you don’t consider the Olympic diving pool, which turned the color of Augusta National midway through the competition. NBC, fearful that Putin would drop a nuke on Rockefeller Center, didn’t disclose the cause of the color change, but it appears a Russian diver went wee wee in the pool and all the drugs in her urine turned the pool into a giant version of those field ID kits they use to identify seizures on Border Wars.

There was also the small issue of members of the US Swim team deciding to hold up a convenience store because they had already used all their official Trojans.

The Olympics at least took our minds off the election for a while, but by September it was in full swing. Even Bill Clinton got involved after he heard the word “swing”. Staff members had to explain it wasn’t that kind of swinging and Bill decided he should have just stayed in Rio.

At the Vatican, Mother Theresa was “canonized” (literally, “shot out of a canon”) after someone claimed they saw her in a vision give 3-1 odds that the Cubs would win the World Series. St Theresa of Las Vegas, Calcutta and Monaco is the newest saint in the “Roman” Catholic pantheon.

NASA launched the Osiris-Rex probe to retrieve a rock sample off the Kardashian asteroid, so called because it’s almost as big as Kim’s ass. Also in science, the world’s oldest fishhooks were discovered in Okinawa, accompanied by an ancient Popiel Pocket Fisherman and a stone tablet version of Playboy magazine; featuring “articles” and a prehistoric centerfold of a model named “Og” (literally, “they’re not real”).

All this stimulation was too much so we ejaculated ourselves straight into October where an audio recording surfaced of Donald Trump being interviewed by Howard Stern. These recordings caused much weeping and gnashing of teeth amongst everyone but actual voters who seemed to have already factored such things into their disdain or support for Trump. Even so, this was widely predicted to mark the end of Trump’s chances of winning the presidency.

South Korean firm Samsung recalled their Notes 7 phones when they proved to have a tendency to catch fire; an undesirable feature of a product typically held next to the user’s face. This proved to be especially troublesome for some women in the Dallas and Houston areas who are known for using copious amounts of – as it turns out – highly flammable hairspray.

In cultural news, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Really.

By November it was time to finally get the US presidential election over with. So, like a kidney stone, it came to pass that on November 8th, a date which shall live in high school textbooks everywhere, Donald Trump won the presidency. He performed unexpectedly well, confounding media pundits (with the exception of Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un (literally “single penis Kim”). Trump even won Michigan, as voters there basically said, “what the hell? It can’t possibly get any worse” and Wisconsin where Trump carried the state by 40,000 votes in spite of CNN not being able to find a single voter who would admit doing so. Not long after the election, Russian president Putin was accused by the CIA, FBI, and the NFL of meddling in the election. Evidence included a check for $100,000,000 made out to Trump for America that was signed by “V. Putin”, billboards all across Moscow featuring Putin and Trump in a vaguely homoerotic embrace (this really happened, well mostly), and campaign balloons that were suspiciously underinflated. (Did I mention that Tom Brady supported Trump, as well?).

When the fullness of November’s days had come, she opened her thighs and gave birth to December, whereupon on some specific date, French president Francois Hollande (literally “Frank Holland”) said “fuck this shit” and announced he was not running for a second term. Not to be outdone, Donald Trump called the president of Taiwan and attempted to order Chinese carry out, thus pissing off both Taiwan and the Mainland. (Historical footnote: Trump stiffed the delivery person).

Philippine president Something Duterte boasted he personally killed criminals when he was mayor of some city in the Philippines. Not to be outdone Donald Trump announced he will hold public executions at the White House. Speaking of the White House, the Cabinet will again be all white with one token black dude, Ben Carson, who was nominated to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.  Unfortunately, on his way to the white house to meet the president he was pulled over by a white Fairfax county police officer named “Earl” and arrested because he was a) black and b) clearly not an NBA player or rapper and c) obviously no black man could afford a Mercedes unless he was an athlete, rapper, or a drug dealer.

A series of cease fires were declared in Aleppo, some of which lasted as long as 4, even 5 minutes, before devolving into an orgy of artillery fire. During these interludes (literally from the Latin meaning “time to reload”) as many as a dozen civilians were evacuated from the city before the firing would start again.

And so you have it. 2016. A year in which America, united for all of two weeks for the Olympics, won more medals than ever, but ended up more divided than before. Where one candidate was elected without technically getting more votes (well if you don’t count California he won by 2 million votes, if you do, he lost by 3.5 or something… this is humor, not an effing history book). Where al Qaeda has been replaced by something so much worse, we long for the days of bin Laden. Where the Soviet Union seems being rebuilt republic by republic. Where Great Britain voted to leave the European Union. (This happened earlier in the year, but we forgot to mention it. Or maybe it was last year. Everyone talks about it so damn much you’d think the vote was last week. Frankly, we don’t give a shit.)

The only thing certain is that on January 1, 2017 will be upon us… and you know what that means: The Trump presidency! This will surely lead to an even more eventful, not to mention hilarious look at 2017, what it was, about this time next year. Until then, I have to ask: did those athletes really use all those condoms?

PS: The Cubs won the World Series! Woo hoo! You’d think they cured HIV or discovered cold fusion or something the way these people carry on. Can we get on with our lives now. Please?

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The Prodigal

I’ve come to the conclusion that most people are broken to one degree or another. Life does that in prodigal fashion. Yet, those who are most broken tend to not realize it. Like someone with an undiagnosed chronic illness, he may go through life thinking he is fully healthy. This becomes his normal. These people are to be pitied most of all; living life in a prison of self-imposed boundaries.

Almost everyone in western culture knows the parable of the Prodigal Son. It was one of Jesus’ greatest hits, along with The Good Samaritan, and Thirty Tips for Arizona Gardening. (Oops. Wrong Jesus. That last one is my landscaper. You don’t know him.)

For those of you unfamiliar with this story, there were two brothers. The older brother was dutiful and obedient. He worked for his old man; a fellow of some wealth and property. Probably a Republican. The older bro tended the flocks and supervised work in the fields.

The younger brother was a wild child. He had no interest in the agrarian lifestyle of hard work. In fact he wanted out so much that he went to his father and asked for his inheritance… while he was still alive. What’s more, the father gave it to him.

In those days the first born male child got a double portion of the inheritance, so in this case big brother was to get 2/3 and little bro 1/3. Little brother took his 1/3, presumably mostly property and animals, and sold them. We can also assume he wasn’t the sharpest business man and probably didn’t hold out for top shekel, either. Like today, these younger fellers weren’t exactly financial planning types, if you catch my drift.

As you might expect, younger brother took off for Vegas and spent his fortune on sex, drugs and rock and roll. To keep up his lifestyle, he even pawned his first century Roman denarius on Pawn Stars. (Rick had to call in his expert from the Clark County Museum, the guy with the Amish hat, aka “The Beard of Knowledge” to verify its authenticity. How younger bro lived 2000 years is just one of the many amazing things about this parable.)

As you might expect, the money ran out. Like Nicholas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas, he was busted. He had no skills. He got a job busing tables at the all you can eat buffet in Circus Circus and even ate the scraps off the plates to survive. He was so broke the hookers didn’t even bother him.

Eventually he came to his senses. “I’m going back home”, he said. “Even my dad’s servants have enough to eat. Maybe he will hire me”. So, he headed home.

During the time his younger son was gone, the father daily looked for him. From his front patio he scanned the horizon. He hoped. He prayed.  He wondered. Day. After. Day.

Then. In the distance, he could see a lone traveler on foot. This one he could barely make out but something looked familiar. Even in poor torn clothes this lone male figure seemed to be someone he knew.

Then he realized it! It was his son. Here’s where the story gets really freaky. “While he was far off”, Jesus said, the father ran to him. This old man, lifted up his outer robe and ran as fast as he could to meet his lost son.

The son began his prepared speech. “Father, I have sinned against God and you…”

The father would have none of it. “My son who was dead is now alive! We must celebrate!”

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (I’ve always wanted to write that. This seems like a fitting place), the older brother could sense excitement. What was going on? The servants were all in a tither. He asked them. “Your brother has returned! your father has ordered a big BBQ and party in his honor!”

Older brother, however, refused to acknowledge his sibling. His father even reminded him of his love and that all he had was his. But love, to the older brother was a zero sum game. There was only a finite supply. He couldn’t forgive.

That story tends to focus on the younger brother. In reality, he only did what young people have done for millennia. Be young and stupid. Only they didn’t have cell phones memorializing their foolishness for posterity. The focus however should be on the father and that’s really upon whom Jesus was focusing. He was embarrassed and disrespected by his younger son. Yet he welcomed him back. What’s more, he welcomed him back as his beloved son.

The older brother is oft overlooked but we need to be mindful of him as well. Too many of us are older brothers. Dutiful. Religious. But unloving. We can’t fathom a Father we claim to serve would welcome sinners and prostitutes to Him. In fact, elsewhere, Jesus says that hookers are closer to God than many religious people. I don’t claim expertise in hookers, but I have met a few strippers. I would agree with Jesus.

Both brothers were broken. Only the older brother remained so at the end of the story. I’m glad to cast my lot with the younger brother. I run away. God lets me go and then runs to meet me when I realize I have run too far. God’s like a good dad. Sometimes we dads know we must let our kids make their own eff ups. God is the same way only his forgiveness is perfect.

It’s time we stop using the rest of scripture to explain away the hard sayings of Jesus. This parable is one of the hardest. It reminds us to love unconditionally like he does. To not only wait for the broken but run to them. To not only accept them back but restore them fully.

If someone asks me why I follow Jesus. That’s my answer. I was welcomed by the God who ran to meet me.

For more on this parable, I highly recommend The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Henri Nouwen and The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller. Both are available wherever fine books are sold. Or Amazon.

 

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President, Who?

What a week! I’m sitting in doctor’s office with my youngest daughter. She’s 15 and has the respiratory crud that goes around every year about this time. I was a good doobie and didn’t rush her right in, but it’s been 5 days and now her cough is productive and yielding a pretty yellow/green material. Almost Christmas-like. Time for antibiotics.

I have three daughters. I am 53. With age sometimes comes perspective. (Not maturity, mind you, as I plan on being immature as long as possible). I remember the Vietnam protests, the Watergate hearings, Nixon’s resignation… and on and on. There is nothing new under the sun. The rain falls on the just and unjust and sometimes people with whom we disagree, even vehemently, are elected president.

I have to laugh at myself. Almost everyone for whom I voted… lost. The Arizona marijuana initiative lost. My support for you or your cause is the kiss of death. It’s like at the grocery store: you don’t want to be behind me in line. I guarantee you the person in front of me will have two price checks and try to pay with a declined credit card.

I also admit to a certain level of bemusement at some of the over the top reactions to the election. Amazing how people who claim to be open minded and enlightened can say such offensive and hateful things about those with whom they disagree. Maybe it comes from too many participation trophies. In real-life there are winners and losers. One Sunday you’re riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. By Thursday you’re under arrest. By Friday you’re crucified.

For the record, I am not enamored with the election results either. I didn’t vote for Trump. But, I do think I understand why people did. America did not suddenly become racist, xenophobic, homophobic, or misogynistic. At least no more than before. Those elements have always been with us and always will. If you disagree, remember this: millions of Americans who voted twice for Barack Obama voted for Trump this time around. They were perfectly happy to vote for the Black guy for the same reason they voted for Trump. They believed both actions were in their own self-interest. Only arrogance and willful ignorance would lead one to paternalistically believe they were somehow duped. People aren’t as stupid as we self-righteously like to characterize them.

Well then, what the hell happened?

This election will be dissected for a generation, but I suspect the following factors were at work.

  1. Blue collar jobs. One thing that is indisputable is that manufacturing jobs have continued to flee much of the nation. Whether and how they will come back is a subject of debate, but only two candidates really hit that issue this cycle; Trump and Sanders. In response to Bernie, Clinton tried to move left on the issue but she’s tacked more than an America’s Cup sailor. No one believed her.

Blue collar Democrats in so called rust belt states ultimately put Trump over the top. CNN had outstanding coverage on Tuesday. In county after county in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin Trump out performed Romney (or if you will, Hillary underperformed Obama). That’s the election right there.

While the rest of us (you know the ones with good jobs) were concerned about a host of other issues (some large, some small) these voters were worried about their paychecks. These voters don’t care much about which bathroom you use. They don’t care much about gay rights. They don’t hate gay people, they just don’t know any (they probably do, but don’t realize it). They served in the military and worked the now closed coal mines with Black men.  They get on fine with them, just as much as anyone else. They’re just people. Why all the hubbub? Their family needs a job just like his does.

And therein lies the rub. Working class Dems felt excluded by the collection of coalitions that form today’s Democratic Party. They were Trump’s low hanging fruit and no one but Trump really saw them as winnable.

  1. An historically unpopular democratic nominee. For all the novelty of a female nominee, Hillary is yesterday’s news. In the 24 years since her husband ran as an outsider representing a new kind of Democrat, Hillary has been pretty much continually in the public eye. Fairly or unfairly, much of that public scrutiny has been unfavorable. In my view, most of it is of her own making. She’s the mistress of self-inflicted wounds. This time around, the Democrats fell in line, led by a dubious party leadership, but behind the wrong candidate, long past her sell by date.
  1. Class and race: As a middle aged white guy, I believe president Obama squandered an opportunity as president to further bridge the racial divide. Hillary lost in part because of this. Too many working-class Whites, those whom the President derisively said in 2008 clung to “their guns and religion”, abandoned the Democratic Party because they felt he no longer represented them. They may well be back, but for now I would submit they look at the last eight years and see themselves left out. Chicago seems to be awash in murder and all the president talks about (so they believe) is gun control for people who are already law abiding.
  1. Trump did better with Hispanics and women than anyone expected. This one will take a while for me to get my hands around. No female Trump voters I know approve of his behavior. They just don’t consider it decisive in the larger context. I’ve had the discussion with several women on the matter. I don’t know any Latino Trump supporters so I can’t speak to that.

Time will tell what happens next. Ronald Reagan made a career of allowing people to underestimate him. Memoirs and other contemporary writing confirm he was fully in  charge of his own policy up until very late in his presidency when the early states of Alzheimer’s began to show. There is no questioning everyone underestimated Donald Trump. He may end up using that to his advantage. Or he may screw it up. No way to know, but to date he has not shown any inclination to discipline himself sufficiently to do what he will need to do. Maybe he can. My guess is he doesn’t think he needs to, but we have all been wrong before.

Trump must forge coalitions across party lines. There will be times when he won’t have a majority of Republicans on board. That’s not without precedent. Clinton often needed republican votes. Clinton had the experience to pull it off, but only after initially going it alone and getting his ass kicked in the first mid-term election. No way of knowing whether Trump possesses the skill or inclination to follow the same course.

It’s almost certain that Trump will be frustrated from day one by constraints he didn’t face in business. Congress. The constitution. Media scrutiny. Cabinet members and government bureaucrats. The Law! These will be a huge check to him and his greatest risk is that he will return to what he knows from business, bulling his way through, consequences be damned. Those consequences will doom his presidency if he doesn’t watch his step.

I agree with Hillary. We need an open mind. This is completely virgin territory, but Trump likes virgins so, who knows?

The nation has been divided before and the protests and the odd riot pale in comparison to Vietnam or any number of other troubled periods in America’s history. Whether time heals the wounds or they merely fester, remains to be determined. Most depends upon the new president. Either way, I ultimately believe in the goodness of the American people. We aren’t perfect but we are decent. We were faced with two indecent candidates and forced to choose. A Faustian bargain if there ever was one.

 

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Friends and memes

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I stole this meme (what the hell is a meme anyway? Is it even a real word?) from a Facebook friend of mine. Indecision can indeed be deadly. On the other hand, if you’re going in the wrong decision then speed is not an asset. The trick is to know when to wait and when to run.

That’s not what I wanted to write about, however. Seeing this got me thinking about my friend. We met while I was  in the process of getting drunk in a Las Vegas bar. Those can be the best kind of friends. No airs. No pretending to be someone you’re not. Just trading stories and laughter. Makes the time go by and the loneliness fade. 

 This friend and I have kept loosely in touch the past couple years since we met, but mostly we went our own ways. Life is like that. People come and go… and often too soon. Turn the page. 

 The best friends are those who are there when you are down. Who let you be you, but aren’t afraid to challenge your thinking, either. Who can tell you you’re full of shit and you take it. Even if you think they are wrong, they’re right often enough to cause you to keep listening. That and they buy the drinks as often as not. Those friends are most rare of all.

 Maybe that’s what’s wrong with America today. We don’t have enough friends that pay for their own drinks or who disagree with us. We each live in our own echo chambers; only friends with whom we agree. We live in our “womb to tomb” religious and political ghettos. Progressives watch MSNBC and Comedy Central. Alt-Conservatives watch Fox News and pretty much nothing else.  Maybe NCIS. We are afraid to speak of matters of substance because discourse descends into debate. Anger animates our speech instead of love leavening it. 

 My Las Vegas bar friend was no echo of my own views. We agreed on very little. But our discussions were informed and thoughtful, fueled by alcohol though they were, and maybe we gained a new appreciation for the other. 

 So tonight I lift a drink to my friend. Don’t know when I’ll see you again but when I do maybe we can laugh some more. I’d like that. I’ve got the first round or three. Same place at Mandalay Bay? 

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9/11 +15

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Every generation has its seminal moments; times when you recall exactly where you were and what you were doing when the event occurred. My parents could tell you where they were when Kennedy was shot. I was alive at the time, but I was only 6 weeks old and was likely beginning my life long obsession with boobs.

This generation’s seminal moment was 9/11. I venture a guess you know exactly where you were when the first plane hit the towers. I was in Kinkos in Manchester, NH when someone came in and said a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York, although the initial report was it was a small plane. I finished my copying and went out to my car to listen to the coverage on my way home. It was quickly determined to be a commercial jet and I was home in time to see the second plane hit on live television. I knew then we were at war. With someone.

The rest of the day is a blur in my memory. A third plane hit the pentagon. Another crashed in a Pennsylvania field. At some point all air traffic was halted nationwide. At least I was home. I had colleagues stranded all over the country.

Our family, like so many, went to church that night, trying to make sense of the incomprehensible. In the coming days we reeled as more information came out. I remember Courtney had a doctor appointment at Dartmouth a few days afterward and we saw people standing in line to give blood. We knew the world had changed in ways large and small, but we didn’t yet understand exactly how much.

Fifteen years seems like a lifetime ago and so many lives have been cut short in the wars since. I’m not sure we are any safer for all the blood spilled. We finally got bin Laden who, it turns out, had been hiding in a Pakistani compound spending most of his time playing solitaire on his Kindle and watching PornHub. Qaeda as a global network has been largely dismantled, only to be replaced by something much worse. Islamic State is now a shadow of its former self, thanks largely to the Russians who aren’t squeamish about killing innocents along with the enemy, but not before we got to watch IS burn alive a captured Jordanian pilot.

Even so, not much has improved in the region and if the Iraq and Afghan wars taught us anything it’s that modern and Western solutions like democracy can’t be imposed on medieval tribal cultures. You can beat them into submission no problem. It’s winning the peace that’s the hard part. We think in election cycles. They think in centuries and they’re STILL pissed about the Crusades, which like so many more recent foreign interventions, seemed like a good idea at the time.

I wish I knew the answer. I don’t think there is a single overarching strategy that can bring peace to the region and whoever wins in November will still be responding to events rather than shaping them. He or she will be the one living with whatever happens in Syria and Libya and whatever happens in Iran as a result of the nuclear deal. The Palestinians still don’t have a state. Neither do the Kurds, who desperately want to create one out of parts of Iraq and Turkey; neither of whom are particularly enamored with the idea. And should the House of Saud ever lose control of their eponymous nation , I’m not sure anyone could put the lid on THAT clusterfuck.

What is the lesson of 9/11? This is probably the one that I think resonates most for me: Americans remain a decent people. We love Lady Liberty enough to shed our own blood and spend our own treasure to help you gain yours. But keeping it is on you. We don’t have the heart to run an empire. Americans don’t view themselves that way. In fact, we invite you to leave us the hell alone, thank you. If you don’t, make no mistake. Americans will unite, at least long enough to punish whomever we think is responsible. After that…. Well, the next fifteen years will answer that question.

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Feces occurs

A woman I don’t even know and almost certainly will never meet, a veterinary colleague who is part of a Facebook group to which I belong, has had unspeakable tragedy. Six weeks ago she lost her mom. Four weeks ago, she had a miscarriage. As I write this, only hours ago her husband was killed in a bike accident.

What do you say to someone to whom this has happened? Maybe they should have just forwarded that damn meme and Jesus would have blessed them?

Why is life so un-fucking-fair? Visit any pediatric cancer center and you’ll ask yourself that question in your sleep. Times like this I am glad I am not a pastor. Not that I haven’t thought about it. I think I am empathetic enough and the world needs more non-judgmental spiritual leaders. On the other hand the world definitely does not need a foul mouthed, whiskey drinking cigar smoking preacher with a fondness for dirty jokes and Southern Rock.

Two works of ancient literature explore the theme of unfairness and meaning of life; the book of Job (pronounced “Jobe”) in great detail. We will get back to Job in a second but the other book is one of the most perplexing in the Bible: Ecclesiastes. Don’t read it if you’re depressed. It starts by saying “life is meaningless”. Put that on a bumper sticker and park it. The writer goes on to describe how he searched for meaning, spending much of his life in search of his next orgasm. Apparently it was good to be the king and he got laid more than Charlie Sheen. Ultimately, life left him empty and he concludes the matter with this: “Fear God and do what He tells you to do. And that’s it.” Wow.

Job is even darker. I mean it makes The World According to Garp look like Blazing Saddles. It starts with God placing a bet of sorts with Satan. Basically, Satan is taunting God about all the evil in the world. God doesn’t deny it, but instead points to Job who is a righteous and just man. Satan says “well no shit, Sherlock! You have given him everything he wants in life. He lives on easy street. I bet if he fell on hard times he would curse you to your face.” God then allows Satan to kill off Job’s livestock and family and eventually afflict him with boils. To satisfy a bet. Between God and Satan. So the winner can give the loser the cosmic finger.

Job is long and consists of a series of dialogs between Job and his friends. If you approach it right, it is a good read, but in a nutshell, Job’s friends mean well but attempt to convince Job that he must certainly have done SOMETHING to deserve all this calamity. Job protests he has not. Job is despondent (as we all would be) but doesn’t curse God nor accept blame for the circumstances.

The book concludes with Job and God having a talk. Job asks God basically “WTF?” Only it was in ancient Hebrew so it was more like “?FTW”.

God doesn’t answer Job directly, as such. Never reveals the bet. Never tells Job anything beyond “I’m God. You’re not. Feces occurs.” I am sure that wasn’t seen on too many chariots back in the day.

I find both Job and Ecclesiastes comforting. Not because they offer easy answers, but precisely because they don’t. We make a grave error when we attempt to turn these books into history. These books are poetry and use ancient literary devices to make a point. The writer of Job seems to go out of his way to create a set of circumstances so unjust that no one could possible blame Job since we know the whole back story. And that is just the point. In our lives, just like Job, we don’t. Life is hard and we rarely know why. We at best see bits and pieces, never the whole thing. Ecclesiastes helps us see that in life it’s hard to find meaning in the meaningless. And can’t know it here on earth.

Bumper sticker Faith will let you down. It’s shallow, like the seed that fell amongst the rocks in Jesus’ parable. What we need to make it through the times when shit seems to be flying all around us is a faith rooted deep underground. Job’s faith. The “Teacher’s” faith (the writer of Ecclesiastes is only identified as “the teacher”). Faith that says, this world is effed up and it seems meaningless but whatever happens to me, no matter how crappy or unjust, I will persevere. I will seek God, knowing I don’t have the big picture. And I will cry out to God with “?FTW” when I don’t understand. He’s big enough to take it. And grants us the grace to ask the questions.

I can not even fathom my colleague’s pain. I have lost both my parents and a pre- term son who fit in an emesis basin as I held him for the only time. But I have not lost a spouse, much less losing members of THREE generations of my family in a six week period. All I can do is sit in silent contemplation and remind myself that life is both unjust and fleeting. At times it will be meaningless. Sometimes you have to embrace the suck. And cry with those for whom life has come crashing down. After all that’s what Jesus did. He simply wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. Right before he raised him to life.

That’s what I must cling to. The sure hope that ultimately all will be restored to the way it is supposed to be.

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