Category Archives: compassion

More Simple Answers to Complicated Problems

Part A, Solving Racism

Minnie and my daughter.

I know… Saying I can solve racism simply marks me as something of an idiot. It is a complicated and deeply-embedded weakness of the human race. We are programmed with certain instincts that make us fearful of anyone or anything unknown to us, unfamiliar, or obviously different in some manner.

Consider allowing someone like Minnie Mouse to hug my young daughter. As people go, she is somewhat suspicious-looking. Notice the color of her skin on the neck, ankles, and arms. This is a black person apparently wearing white-face makeup. Is that not something suspicious? Something to be cautious about? In fact, look at the mouse ears and black, mouse nose. She’s not even human! She’s an anthropomorphic mouse-lady. Tucker Carlson would warn you against trusting her with the Princess. And if you point out how silly these arguments are about a Disneyland performer in a costume that represents Minnie Mouse, a character we all know and love, I would say, “YES! Exactly! An unknown person hiding her identity under a costume that will put adults and children at ease… and make them vulnerable to who-knows-what?” Maybe Florida Governor DeSaniflush was right to attack Disney by charging his Floridians more in taxes in the Disney name.

Yes, human beans are inherently suspicious, paranoid, and hateful when it comes to groups that are different than the one we identify with.

Of course, there is a simple answer if you are only willing to look at it that way. There should be no racism because we are not different. We are all one race, the human race.

That means, Mr. Toilet-Cleaning-Chemicals, that you and I are actually the same. You are not made, as I have believed incorrectly, of poop-dissolving chemicals as my demented and paranoid brain keeps thinking because of your DeSantis misnomer. You are not the saint you believe you are because of the meaning of your name in Spanish either. We are both human beans. The same race.

And you are the same race as the beautiful young ballerina I pictured before I added the photo of you thinking about eating too many baked beans, and then drinking Coca Cola while eating Mentos. You are not going to explode. Because even if you consume those ingredients you were thinking about, they can’t actually dissolve the poop you are filled with most of your time on Earth as a human bean.

As a teacher I learned the hard way that all kids are kids. They are all human beans. They all have blood and brains and wants and needs and loves and hates. No matter what color they are. No matter what culture they grew up in, or what religion their parents taught them, or failed to teach them. As a teacher, you have to be able to love all of them. Even the ugly ones. Even the ones whose names remind me of poop-dissolving chemicals and seem to be constantly full of fear and hatred and racism.

Here’s the skinny on those things racists need to hear;

The human beans you need to hate and fear and distrust, the truly evil people, come in every color, creed, culture, and calamitous character. Yes, rich white people, they even come in the color white. No matter what Tucker Carlson says… or thinks about a malevolent Minnie Mouse who may somehow be trying to “replace us.”

And the people you need to get more familiar with, whose culture you need to witness, whose stories you need to hear, and you desperately need to learn to love, come in every color too. Yes, rich white people, even in the color white. I am no more a reverse racist than I am a racist.

And there is a simple cure for racism.

Jesus taught it. So did Buddha, Mohammed, Zoaster, Walt Whitman, and Alan Watts. Jean Paul Sartre too, come to think of it.

The cure is to love everybody. Hate nobody. Suprisingly, if you do that simple thing, nobody will hate you in return. Racism is then cured. I know it is not feasible. Not everybody will even bother to listen to this advice. But the world won’t get any worse while you try to make it happen.

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Filed under commentary, compassion, daughters, education, feeling sorry for myself, finding love, forgiveness, humor, insight, Paffooney, racial profiling, rants, religion

Why Do You Think That? (Part Two)

In my short, sweet sixty years of life, I have probably seen more than my share of movies.  I have seen classic movies, black-and-white movies, cartoon movies, Humphrey Bogart movies, epic movies, science fiction movies, PeeWee Herman movies, Disney movies, Oscar-winning movies, and endless box-office stinkers.  But in all of that, one of the most undeniable threads of all is that movies make me cry.  In fact they make me cry so often it is a miracle that even a drop of moisture remains in my body.   I should be a dried-out husk by now.

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I wept horribly during this scene.  Did you?

And the thing is, people make fun of you when you cry at movies.  Especially cartoon movies like Scooby Doo on Zombie Island.  (But I claim I was laughing so hard it brought tears to my eyes.  That’s the truth, dear sister.  So stop laughing at me.)  But I would like to put forth another “Why do you think that?” notion.  People who cry while watching a movie are stronger and more powerful than the people who laugh at them for crying.  A self-serving thesis if ever there was one.

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Movies can make you cry if you have the ability to feel empathy.  We all know this.  Old Yeller is the story of a dog who endears himself to a prairie farm family, saves Travis’s life at one point, and then gets infected with rabies and has to be put down.  Dang! No dry eyes at the end of that one.  Because everyone has encountered a dog and loyal dog-love somewhere along the line.  And a ten-year-old dog is an old dog.  The dogs you knew as a child helped you deal with mortality because invariably, no matter how much you loved them, dogs demonstrate what it means to die.  Trixie and Scamper were both hit by cars.  Queenie, Grampa’s collie, died of old age.  Jiggs the Boston Terrier died of heat stroke one summer.  You remember the pain of loss, and the story brings it all back.

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Only psychopaths don’t feel empathy to some degree.  Think about how you would feel if you were watching Old Yeller and somebody you were watching with started laughing when Travis pulls the trigger on the shotgun.  Now, there’s a Stephen King sort of character.

But I think I can defend having lots of empathy as a reason for crying a river of tears during Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  You see, identifying with Quasimodo as the main character, hoping for what he hopes for, feeling like a monster and completely unloved, and fearing what he fears connect you to the story in ways that completely immerses you in the experience.  This is basically a monster movie.Original-Hunchback_of_Notre_Dame

But the film puts you inside the head of the malformed man, and you realize that he is not the monster.  Righteous Judge Frollo and the people who mistreat Quasimodo for his deformity of outward appearance are the real monsters.  If you don’t cry a river of tears because of this story, then you have not learned the essential truth of Quasimodo.  When we judge others harshly, we are really judging ourselves. In order to stop being monstrous, and be truly human, you must look inside the ugliness as Esmeralda does to see the heroic beauty inside others.  Sometimes the ideas themselves are so powerful they make me weep.  That’s when my sister and my wife look at me and shake their heads because tears are shooting out of me like a fountain, raining wetness two or three seats in every direction.  But I believe I am a wiser man, a more resolved man, and ultimately a better man because I was not afraid to let a movie make me cry.

The music also helps to tell the story in ways that move my very soul to tears.  Notice how the heroine walks the opposite way to the rest of the crowd.  As they sing of what they desire, what they ask God to grant, she asks for nothing for herself.  She shows empathy in every verse, asking only for help for others.  And she alone walks to the light from the stained glass window.  She alone is talking to God.

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Yes, I am not embarrassed by the fact that movies make me cry.   In fact, I should probably be proud that movies and stories and connections to other people, which they bring me, makes me feel it so deeply I cry.  Maybe I am a sissy and a wimp.  Maybe I deserved to be laughed at all those times for crying during the movie.  But, hey, I’ll take the laughter.  I am not above it.  I am trying to be a humorist after all.

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Things I Hate

Greg Abbott wagging his finger at me because I like the novels of Walter Dean Myers.

I don’t very often write about hatred. It is not my focus. I prefer to write about love. But the world I live in doesn’t very often acknowledge my preferences.

You may have already deduced from the picture of the current pontificating Emperor of Texas that I don’t really love him, but it is not the braying hate-cannon that keeps attacking the things that I love which I hate. It is his idea that he can retain his immense power by telling his minions that they are being hurt by something called “Critical Race Theory.” It is the idea… the lie that I hate. It is a lie designed to cut back on education that touches on black history, black literature, and the memory of what injustices institutionalized racism has created.

I hate excuses for bad behavior that punish the victims instead of the perpetrators.

Rich and powerful bigots claim that white children are being unfairly made to feel guilty about being racists by curriculum in schools that is actually cultural and historical awareness that can be demonized by the misapplied label of “Critical Race Theory.”

Many of my favorite students of all time were children of color.

I love the book The Glory Field by Walter Dean Myers. It is a book I taught in gifted classes at least seven times. It tells a story of several generations of a black family in the South It covers a time period from slavery through the Civil War and Reconstruction up to the Civil Rights Era. It is full of scenes of violence, death, racism, surviving racism, personal courage, victory, defeat, and most of all, Love. Unfortunately, it may make white kids feel guilty, especially if they have any empathy at all in their make-up. I know the book makes me cry at several points for that very reason. And so, the Emperor of Texas is against it. CRT! The book banning continues.

I hate lies that deprive black people, especially black school children, of knowledge of our own history. (And I should point out that Hispanics, Jews, and other minorities are hurt by this too, but the CRT purging does not actually touch on their history… yet.) There will never be a solution to racial hatreds until all of us confront this country’s actual history of race relations and things to be ashamed of.

I hate being told what is ultimately true… especially by people who will persecute you if you don’t accept whole-souled what they believe. It infuriates me that people who have power over my life, and have accepted an unexamined belief system instead of something that they have invested in a lifetime of searching for, tell me what I must believe in to avoid their manipulative onslaught. In truth, the average evangelical Christian has invested less than a tenth of the time wrestling with eternal truths that I have spent. I read and write philosophy. I have constantly gone back and revisited my choices and examined my personal morality inside and out. I will even carefully evaluate every hate-spewing comment I get here or on Twitter with a mind open to the possibility that they might have a good point, whether I actually block them or not.

Governor Ron DeSaniflush telling people what they are not allowed to think or teach.

I hate corruption. I hate hypocrisy. I hate lies and manipulation. So, obviously, I had considerable stomach troubles all during the Trump administration. But I believe in concentrating on positive things. Love not hate. Rewards not punishment. Looking for the good in people and encouraging that. Ignoring the bad in people when it is possible, and discouraging that.

But don’t think you have to accept anything I have said today. I am only suggesting. Because I hate being told that what I believe is not just wrong but evil. And I hate being told I have to accept toxic beliefs or be punished by society. And I would never do the same thing I hate to somebody else. I don’t wish to start hating myself.

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Do Not Crush the Butterfly…

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Art on the bedroom wall, with Christmas lights being used as a night light.

Talking to a school administrator the other day about the challenges my children and I have been facing in the last year, I had one of those experiences where you get a look at your own life through someone else’s eyes.  “Wow, you have really been on a difficult journey,” he said.  I just nodded in response.  Financial difficulties, health problems, dealing with depression… life has been tough.  But you get through things like that by being centered.  Meditation tricks.  Things you can do to smooth out the wrinkles and keep moving forward.

I always return in the theater of my mind to a moment in childhood where I learned a critical lesson.  My life has been one of learning how to build rather than destroy.  It has been about creating, not criticizing.

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Electric lights have come to Toonerville, helping to light the darkness.

When I was a boy, I was a serious butterfly hunter.  It started when Uncle Don gave me a dead cecropia moth that he had found in the Rowan grain elevator.  It was big and beautiful and perfectly preserved.  Shortly thereafter, I located another cecropia in the garage behind the house, a building that had once been a wagon shed complete with horse stalls and a hay loft.  I tried to catch it with my bare hands. And by the time I had hold of it, the powder on its wings was mostly gone.  The wings were broken in a couple of places, and the poor bug was ruined in terms of starting a butterfly collection.

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A cecropia moth

Undeterred by tragedy, I got books about butterfly collecting at the Rowan Public Library and began teaching myself how to bug hunt.  I learned where to find them, and how to net them, and how to kill and mount them.

I discovered that my grandfather’s horse pasture had thistle patches which were natural feeding grounds for red admiral butterflies (pictured top left)  and painted lady butterflies (top right).  But if you wanted to catch the rarer mourning cloak butterfly (bottom picture), you had to stake out apple trees, particularly at apple blossom time, though I caught one on the ripening apples too.

swallowtailBut my greatest challenge as a butterfly hunter was the tiger swallowtail butterfly.  They are rare.  They are tricky.  And one summer I dueled with one, trying with all my might to catch him.  He was in my own back yard the first time I saw him.  I ran to get the butterfly net, and by the time I got back, he was flitting high in the trees out of reach.  I must’ve watched him for half an hour before I finally lost sight of him.  About five other times I had encounters with him in the yard or in the neighborhood.  I learned the hard way that some butterflies are acrobatic flyers and can actually maneuver to avoid being caught.  He frustrated me.

The tiger swallowtail was the butterfly that completed my collection, and it was finished when one of my cousins caught one and gave it to me because she knew I collected them.

But then, one day, while I was sitting on a blanket under a maple tree in the back yard with my notebooks open, writing something that I no longer even recall what I wrote, the backyard tiger swallowtail visited me again.  In fact, he landed on the back of my hand.  I dropped the pencil I was writing with, and slowly, carefully, I turned my hand over underneath him so that he was sitting on my palm.

I could’ve easily closed my hand upon him and captured him.  But I learned the lesson long before from the cecropia that catching a butterfly by hand would destroy its delicate beauty.  I would knock all the yellow and black powder off his exquisite wings.  I could not catch him.  But I could close my hand and crush him.  I would be victorious after a summer-long losing battle.

But that moment brought an end to my butterfly hunting.  I let him flutter away with the August breeze.  I did not crush the butterfly.  It was then that I realized what beauty there was in the world, and how fragile that beauty could be.  I could not keep it alive forever.  But it lasted a little big longer because I chose to let it.

So, here is the lesson that keeps me whole.  Even though I had the power, I did not crush the butterfly.

 

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Special Snowflakes

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When conservative cultural warriors, Twitter Trolls, or dyspeptic gasbags like Rush Limbaugh call you a “Special Snowflake”, I have discovered, to my chagrin, that they don’t mean it as a compliment.  In their self-centered, egotistical world you have to be as emotionally tough and able to “take it” as they believe (somewhat erroneously to my way of thinking) they themselves are.  They have no time for political correctness, safe spaces, or, apparently, manners polite enough not to get you killed on the mean streets where they never go.  Being a retired school teacher who was once in charge of fragile young psyches trying to negotiate a cruel Darwinian world, I think I disagree with them.

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Have you ever tried to draw a snowflake?  Believe me, it is difficult.  Snowflakes are hexagonal star-shapes with enough lace and  filigrees in them to make it a nightmare to draw it with painfully arthritic hands.  The one above took me an hour with ruler and compass and colored pencils, and it still doesn’t look as good as a first grader can create with scissors and folded paper.  Much better to use a computer program to spit them out with mathematical precision and fractal beauty.  That’s how all the tiny ones in the background were created.  But even a computer can’t recreate the fragile, complicated beauty of real snowflakes.

You see how the fragile crystalline structures will break in spots, melt in spots, attach to others, and get warped or misshapen?  That is the reason no two snowflakes are alike, even though they all come from the same basic mathematically precise patterns generated by ice crystals.  Life changes each one in a different way.

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And that, of course, is the reason this essay is really about people rather than mere physical artifacts of cold weather.  Our fragilities and frailties are earned, and they make us who we are.  I have a squinky eye like Popeye from playing baseball and getting hit by a pitch.  I have a big toe that won’t bend from playing football.  They both represent mistakes that I learned from the hard way.

As a teacher, I learned that bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders are very real things.  I lost a job once to one of those.  And I spent a long night talking someone out of suicide one horrible December.  Forgive me, I had to take fifteen minutes just there to cry again.  I guess I am just a “special snowflake”.  But the point is, those things are real.  People really are destroyed by them sometimes.  And they deserve any effort I can make to protect them or help them make it through the night.

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But people are like snowflakes.  They are all complex.  They are all beautiful in some way.  They are all different.  No two are exactly the same.

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And I really think boorish bastards have no right to insist that we need to take safe spaces and sanctuaries away from them.  Every snowflake has worth.  Winter snow leaves moisture for seedlings to get their start every spring.  If you are a farmer, you should know this and appreciate snowflakes.  And snowflakes can be fascinating.  Even goofy ones like me.

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Why Do You Think That? (Part Two)

In my short, sweet sixty years of life, I have probably seen more than my share of movies.  I have seen classic movies, black-and-white movies, cartoon movies, Humphrey Bogart movies, epic movies, science fiction movies, PeeWee Herman movies, Disney movies, Oscar-winning movies, and endless box-office stinkers.  But in all of that, one of the most undeniable threads of all is that movies make me cry.  In fact they make me cry so often it is a miracle that even a drop of moisture remains in my body.   I should be a dried-out husk by now.

de la mano

I wept horribly during this scene.  Did you?

And the thing is, people make fun of you when you cry at movies.  Especially cartoon movies like Scooby Doo on Zombie Island.  (But I claim I was laughing so hard it brought tears to my eyes.  That’s the truth, dear sister.  So stop laughing at me.)  But I would like to put forth another “Why do you think that?” notion.  People who cry while watching a movie are stronger and more powerful than the people who laugh at them for crying.  A self-serving thesis if ever there was one.

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Movies can make you cry if you have the ability to feel empathy.  We all know this.  Old Yeller is the story of a dog who endears himself to a prairie farm family, saves Travis’s life at one point, and then gets infected with rabies and has to be put down.  Dang! No dry eyes at the end of that one.  Because everyone has encountered a dog and loyal dog-love somewhere along the line.  And a ten-year-old dog is an old dog.  The dogs you knew as a child helped you deal with mortality because invariably, no matter how much you loved them, dogs demonstrate what it means to die.  Trixie and Scamper were both hit by cars.  Queenie, Grampa’s collie, died of old age.  Jiggs the Boston Terrier died of heat stroke one summer.  You remember the pain of loss, and the story brings it all back.

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Only psychopaths don’t feel empathy to some degree.  Think about how you would feel if you were watching Old Yeller and somebody you were watching with started laughing when Travis pulls the trigger on the shotgun.  Now, there’s a Stephen King sort of character.

But I think I can defend having lots of empathy as a reason for crying a river of tears during Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  You see, identifying with Quasimodo as the main character, hoping for what he hopes for, feeling like a monster and completely unloved, and fearing what he fears connect you to the story in ways that completely immerses you in the experience.  This is basically a monster movie.Original-Hunchback_of_Notre_Dame

But the film puts you inside the head of the malformed man, and you realize that he is not the monster.  Righteous Judge Frollo and the people who mistreat Quasimodo for his deformity of outward appearance are the real monsters.  If you don’t cry a river of tears because of this story, then you have not learned the essential truth of Quasimodo.  When we judge others harshly, we are really judging ourselves. In order to stop being monstrous, and be truly human, you must look inside the ugliness as Esmeralda does to see the heroic beauty inside others.  Sometimes the ideas themselves are so powerful they make me weep.  That’s when my sister and my wife look at me and shake their heads because tears are shooting out of me like a fountain, raining wetness two or three seats in every direction.  But I believe I am a wiser man, a more resolved man, and ultimately a better man because I was not afraid to let a movie make me cry.

The music also helps to tell the story in ways that move my very soul to tears.  Notice how the heroine walks the opposite way to the rest of the crowd.  As they sing of what they desire, what they ask God to grant, she asks for nothing for herself.  She shows empathy in every verse, asking only for help for others.  And she alone walks to the light from the stained glass window.  She alone is talking to God.

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Yes, I am not embarrassed by the fact that movies make me cry.   In fact, I should probably be proud that movies and stories and connections to other people, which they bring me, makes me feel it so deeply I cry.  Maybe I am a sissy and a wimp.  Maybe I deserved to be laughed at all those times for crying during the movie.  But, hey, I’ll take the laughter.  I am not above it.  I am trying to be a humorist after all.

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The Nature of Our Better Angels

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I have friends and relatives that believe in angels.  Religious people who believe in the power of prayer and the love of God.  And I cannot say that I do not also believe.  But I also happen to believe that angels live among us.

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My Great Grandma Nellie Hinckley was, as far as I am concerned, an angel.  Born in the late 1800’s, she was a practical prairie farmer’s wife.  She knew how to make butter in a churn.  She knew how to treat bee stings and spider bites. She knew how to cook good, wholesome food that stuck to your ribs and kept you going until the next meal rolled around.  She knew how to cook on a wood-burning stove, and knew why you needed to keep corn cobs in a pile by the outhouse door.  Or, in the case of rich folks, why you needed to read the Sears catalog in the little room behind the cut-out crescent moon.

She also knew how to head a family.  She had seven kids and raised six of them up to adulthood.  She sent a son off to World War II.  She had nine grandchildren and more great grandchildren, of which I was one of the not-so-great ones, than I can even count on two hands and two feet, the toes of which I can’t always see.  Great great grandchildren were even greater.  Tell me you can’t believe she was a messenger from God, always knowing God’s will, and making the future happen with a steady hand, and eyes that brooked no nonsense from lie-telling boys.

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Mother Mendiola was an angel too.  I met her at my first school, Frank Newman Junior High in Cotulla, Texas.  She was the seventh grade Life Science teacher.  She had been a nun before becoming a teacher, and she was a single lady her whole life.  But she was a natural mother figure to the children in her classes.  She’s the one who taught me how to talk to fatherless boys, engage them in learning about things that excited them, and become a lifelong mentor to them, willing to help them with life’s problems even long after they had graduated from both junior high and high school.  She was not only a mother to students, but she nurtured other teachers as well.  She showed Alice and I how to talk to Hispanic kids even though we were both so white we almost glowed in the dark.  She went to bat for kids who got in trouble with the principal, and even those who sometimes got into trouble with the law.  She had a way of holding her hand out to kids and encouraging them to place their troubles in it.  She even helped pregnant young girls with wise counsel and a loving, accepting heart, even when they were seriously in the wrong.  When they talk about being an “advocate for kids” in educational conferences, they always make me picture her and her methods.  I can still see her in my mind’s eye with clenched fists on her hips and saying, “I am tired of it, and it will get better NOW!”  And it always got better.  Because she was an angel.  She had the power of the love of God behind her every action and motivation.  It still makes me weep to remember she is gone now.  She got her wings and flew on to other things a long time ago now.

Some people may call it a blasphemy for me to say that these people, no matter how good and critically important they were, could really be angels.  But I have to say it.  I have to believe it.  I know this because I saw them do these things, with my own two eyes, and how could they not be messengers from God?  I convinces me that I need to work at becoming an angel too.

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Building a Life from Memory

I write some science fiction, but I am a lot more about bringing the past to life in this day and age.

And I confess, I used to long to see Annette Funicello naked, at about the age of eleven or twelve. And she is closer to my mother’s age than she is to mine. But when I lusted after her in secret, she was always falling in love with Frankie Avalon and Kurt Russel in the movies.

The music of my life back then, in the 1960’s, was the Monkees singing, “I’m a Believer” and “Last Train to Clarksville.”

My heroes were astronauts like Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins.

And yet, I wanted to grow up to be just like Red Skelton, Danny Kaye, or Jerry Lewis.

Too often I am tempted to look back on a 60’s childhood and see a golden age, as if it were the best time of my life. But wait. The pain and fear and darkness of that time was certainly no better than now. I was sexually assaulted in 1966. JFK was assassinated in 1963. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were soon to follow. Grissom, White, and Chaffee burned up in an Apollo training accident. My Grandpa Beyer died young of heart failure in the 60’s. There was enough trauma in my life to make me want to kill myself in the early 70’s.

I believe I may have learned how to tame a fox for myself. It takes patience and understanding. Thank God for the people who helped me tame my monsters and keep myself alive. The Methodist Minister who taught me the facts of life on a chalkboard and assured me that I was not evil for what had happened to me. And the boy who was my friend in P.E. class where we were both bullied, because he was willing to listen on that dark day when I was planning to kill myself and all I could say was confusing nonsense, but he listened and was willing to be my friend anyway.

The point is, I learned hard lessons in my early life that gave me the insight into how to solve problems and overcome the darkness now when our government is flirting with fascism. People I used to know and trusted now want to punish me for being a liberal and wanting to help the poor and minorities rather than go to war against them. There never seems to be enough money. Climate change threatens our very existence. And people seem to care only about themselves and generally hate others.

There are reasons to believe we can solve our current set of horrific difficulties. There are good people doing good things, even if no one seems to notice. We have done similar difficult things before. We survived a Cold War, avoided nuclear war so far. We are probably on the other side of the Covid pandemic now And life can be a good thing again if we only let it.

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The Philosopher King’s Quest

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor, one of the good ones, not like Caligula, Nero, or even Commodus, his son who was emperor after him.

But what made him good? Obviously the fact that he was beloved by the Roman people, even the senators and the very people who would’ve benefitted personally by his failure and demise.

He was a good administrator that benefitted the people with public works. He was a good military leader who maintained the Pax Romana until his death in 180 A.D.

Of course, his son, Commodus, blew that all up by being such an incompetent dictator that his own Praetorian Guard assassinated him (as portrayed in the movie Gladiator, though that movie also made him out to be his father’s murderer, of which there is no real evidence.)

But my friend Emperor Marcus was so much more than just a good ruler. He was a good man. And this is due almost entirely to the fact that he was a well-known Stoic Philosopher.

He embraced the philosophy of Greek philosopher and Roman slave Epictetus. Stoicism is the belief that you, as an individual do not control anything in the outside world to the degree you can control yourself. It is not the things, people, and events around you that matter, since you can’t control those. It is your own set of principles that you have to put in place and adhere to that affect the outcomes in life. In fact, you should view the setbacks and roadblocks to your accomplishments not as a negative thing, but as a learning opportunity. Learn all you can while you may, and at every opportunity. The Stoic welcomes hardship, because the overcoming of hardships shapes the man or woman you will become.

I found this philosophy to be the only way forward some days during the course of my teaching career. I was always more successful in meeting challenges head-on as they arose in front of me. Delaying, making excuses, or running away are all easier to do than that. But those other wimpy tactics never yield the success you can have by defeating your opposition and hardships face-to-face. Of course, you have to remember too that overcoming opposition does not have a selfish quality if you are a Stoic. In fact, you must respect all men, even your enemies. Marcus Aurelius, in response to victory in battle won by having thirsty troops offer a Christian prayer and then have their problem solved by a fortuitous rain storm, told the Senate they must no longer persecute Christians. They started to be considered good Roman citizens no matter what their religion.

Marcus Aurelius made it clear in his writings, the Meditations written in Greek, that, “In order to win the day, you must first win the morning.” To him this meant you had to be an early riser, tackling each problem of the day as it came up in the order they happened, morning to night.

So, the Philosopher King’s Quest, by this Stoic philosophy, is managed by first putting yourself right. You must examine your beliefs, test your hypotheses, and prove yourself to yourself before trying to tackle the world.

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Filed under commentary, compassion, heroes, Paffooney, philosophy

Someone Heard Me

My name is Michael Beyer. That’s not a pen name. It’s my real name. And I was a victim of sexual assault on a child in 1966. I know that makes this essay hard to read in an awful lot of ways, but it is something I have to talk about. You see, I wasn’t merely seduced into having a sexual experience. I was tackled, dragged out of sight, warned not to yell for help, and then tortured. He got pleasure from hurting me in my private parts. He made me believe it was how I was going to die.

But I did not die.

In fact, now, almost 54 years later, I can honestly say I am healed. But it took a long time. My terrible secret almost killed me more than once, as trauma like that can cause suicidal depression. It messes up your ability to have intimate relationships. And the hardest thing about it is, you can never really be healed until you can tell someone. I mean, not merely say the words, but have someone hear the words… and empathize.

If you regularly read my blog or my books, and there honestly are a few who actually do that, you know I have written about this topic before. And you know that I have told people before. I told a girlfriend in 1985. I told a former student who needed to hear somebody else confess something painful that needed to be talked about in a moment of crisis. My two sisters both learned about it when I was able to write about it after the death of the perpetrator. And, of course, I found the courage to tell my wife about it before my marriage and we have told all three of our children. You need to be able to speak about these things after the fact to reassure and protect others in an increasingly dangerous world.

But, recently, my blog told somebody else whom I never really expected to hear it. Because I mentioned the incident in Saturday’s blog post called Every Picture Has a Story, and then I posted that post on Facebook, a classmate that I went to school with from kindergarten all the way through high school graduation found out about it and expressed empathy in a way that touched my heart.

The young lady in question was the one I gave a free copy of my novel Snow Babies to because I named the main character, Valerie Clarke, after her. She is a very kind and gentle soul. She has children and grandchildren of her own, and is well connected on Facebook.

Soon I was getting sympathetic comments from other people I went to high school with. One of them was a guy I played football and basketball with in high school. He was an excellent athlete. And he has admitted to me over Facebook that he too suffered from abuse as a child, though not the same kind of abuse I am talking about. Ironically, he too is at least partially the inspiration for one of my novel characters used in a number of different novels.

He was the model for the character of Brent Clarke, Valerie’s cousin and leader of the Norwall Pirates in novels like Superchicken, The Baby Werewolf, The Boy… Forever, and my most recently published novel, The Wizard in His Keep.

When someone like that, a good friend and comrade, says he knows what the pain is like, and he wishes I had told him back then… well, it means a lot.

But, for so many valid reasons, I couldn’t possibly have told any of my classmates back then. My high school guidance counsellor had a long talk with me about it, but I was unable to tell even him who it was or what they did to me. He only knew that I was suffering from something traumatic.

I was suffering from a kind of traumatic amnesia that often sets in with young victims. I could not tell anybody what was wrong because I didn’t clearly know myself. It is a defense mechanism children sometimes resort to in order to preserve their sanity. And though I couldn’t tell you why, it was the reason I wet my pants in 7th grade Science Class because I simply could not go into the boys’ restroom alone during class. It was the reason I called a friend in Goodell, Iowa from the pay phone on Rowan’s Main Street one Saturday Afternoon and tricked him into talking me out of cutting my wrists with a kitchen knife. He saved my life that night without ever learning that that’s what he was doing. God bless people who not only listen, but hear it in their heart.

And another high school friend on Facebook reminded me that I went on to pay it forward, making a difference for students… sometimes even helping them get over trauma as bad as, or worse, than mine.

Facebook is a very mixed blessing. It helps you make reconnections with people whom you haven’t seen or talked to in a long, long time. Yet it makes it hard for you to keep anything secret. Even terrible secrets. God knows, you can’t hide your political opinions on Facebook, or even the fact that you might be a nudist at heart. But if you have been brave enough to read all the way to the end of this very difficult essay to write, some terrible secrets need to be told. And the trauma doesn’t heal fully until somebody has heard it. So, thank you, and God bless you, for hearing me.

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Filed under autobiography, compassion, Depression, empathy, healing