President Bill Clinton with Nelson Mandela, July 4 1993. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The social media have been filled with the prayers and well wishes of people hoping that former South African President Nelson Mandela will hang on after his latest trip to the hospital. Only rarely do you hear voices tell us that the frail shadow of President Mandela that we see barely resembles the man who inspired millions. Instead, he spends his life in and out of hospitals.
Who would want that for their last days? I saw a twitter message from Donna Brazile, a former adviser to President Obama calling for prayers and I told her that Mandela needs permission to say goodbye. He seemed so indestructible for so long it seemed he would never grow old. But as it does with everyone, time has taken its toll. I am glad that I have had Mr. Mandela throughout my entire life and I will miss him. We will all miss you, sir. Thank you for your long life.
On Memorial Day I heard an interview with a man who had written a story about the most lethal sniper in America. As a peace activist I tend to avoid listening to these kinds of stories but yesterday, thinking about the sacrifices military men and women make for our country, I decided to sit and listen and I was richly rewarded.
Chris Kyle was a Navy Seal who was credited with killing more than 100 people during his military service. But arguably the most important work he undertook was in his civilian life working with veterans who had experienced post traumatic stress disorder. Nicholas Schmidle, a staff writer for the New Yorker, wrote a story about Chris Kyle including the tragic ending in which he was shot by a deeply troubled vet he was trying to assist.
Listening to the story about Chris Kyle was part of my attempt to understand the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I also watched Democracy Now rebroadcast their story from last year’s veterans protest in Chicago outside the NATO meeting. I saw veterans ashamed of their military service returning their medals to the United States government. There was a powerful testimony from a mother whose son had killed himself on an American military base who was angry that the government had told the world he had died in combat. And I heard a song Hero of War about the horrors our government has told young men like Chris Kyle to inflict during our long occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
These stories are relevant during the ongoing debate over how much America needs to be involved in the destruction taking place in Syria. I hear about formerly middle class families sleeping in half bombed out buildings after fleeing their homes. I ponder questions of right and wrong, the President’s moral authority and whether and when solving our own problems at home will ever become important.
What are we really aiming at when we send snipers out? Who is the ultimate target of our drone attacks? When will we decide that the body count is high enough for us to be able to ceasefire? I urge my readers to ask yourselves these questions while you look into these stories that I have discussed.
Surely other peer specialists have encountered deeply depressed people who have tried and failed at multiple attempts at suicide. And they tell you, “it’s my life and if I want to kill myself, you can’t stop me.” At that point the side of you that thinks Dr. Jack Kevorkian was right comes out and wishes Dr. Jack was alive and helping people with his suicide machine.
However the rational part that dominates your brain may utter something about hope, as long as you’re alive, it still exists.How can you engage people who are so through with everything you know about living? I have heard from other peer specialists who tried and failed at suicide. I always seem to find something, some reason to keep living even in the deepest despair. Reasons emerge from the sublime to the ridiculous and I keep on trying to reach other people after I have convinced myself.
It can be a struggle but it is always worthwhile. I’m sorry but I always have to give you hope. It is part of my nature.
- If I had been held for more than 10 years without charge I would be a hunger striker.
- If I had started to hope when President Obama said he wanted to close Guantanamo and I was still being held I would be a hunger striker
- If I had been forgotten in an illegal prison, I would be a hunger striker.
- If I had been cleared for release and was still being held I would be a hunger striker.
- If I discovered that President Obama held me fate in his hands and had morphed into the worst possible imitation of George W. Bush, I would be a hunger striker.
- If I had been cut off by my family without contact I would be a hunger striker.
- If I had been an innocent man sold into prison I would be a hunger striker.
- If you break it, you own it. President Obama owns the horrible wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that victimized these hunger strikers.
- If you voted for Obama you should support the hunger strikers
- If you believe in freedom you should support the hunger strikers.
- If you believe in humanity you must support the hunger strikers.
I just had a wonderful time at the NAMI Wisconsin conference in Middleton, which is a few feet from Madison. I met with several enjoyable people including Amy a pastor’s wife. She sings, promotes marriage equality and is involved in a wonderful, inclusive United Church of Christ congregation. All of which makes her Pentecostal sister believe Amy is going to hell.
Everyone has their own vision of hell and who would be there. Some of my favorites include Richard Nixon and practically anyone he nominated to the Supreme Court; Attila the Hun probably has a private suite; Stalin, Pol Pot and Hitler are continuing to massacre innocents and in an ironic twist, John Wilkes Booth is assassinated by Abraham Lincoln night after night.
But as entertaining as that vision might be, it only belongs to me. No one has sent me a post card say,g, whew! It’s hot down here! Similarly, my Seventh Day Adventist Great Aunt hasn’t sent me a greeting card from heaven. Those of us us who seek and practice inclusion have no need for hell or heaven. Inclusion means “ya’ll come as you are!” We are all included. We would argue whether anything in any holy book makes any sense or has evidence to support it. But that won’t change any minds. I still have the same beliefs I developed as a child.
And those beliefs
English: Billy Joel at the 2009 premiere of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Photographer’s blog post about event and photograph. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
led me to understand that hell exists for the living as a scare tactic. It is there to frighten the questioning minds of independent thinkers. Well I’m here to say if there is a heretic among you, I am also one. I am plenty good now that I understand I have a mental illness. My ideas are too broad to be incorporated in any religious belief or even the concept of spirituality. I’d rather laugh with the sinners than pray with the saints, said the piano man, Billy Joel. And it still holds true today. We are going to enjoy this one wild and precious life and after that no one knows or has any proof.
Afro-American singer Richie Havens in 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I saw on Huffington Post that Richie Havens has died of a heart attack. He had been ill years ago and never fully resumed performing. However I saw him last year in a small Milwaukee club. He sounded good. It was the first and only time time I saw him, perform live although I have seen the video of his performance at Woodstock. He sang “Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child merging into a song about war and here comes Handsome Johnnie with his hand balled up in a fist marching to the Vietnam War. It spoke to the endless cycle of war that America has been wound up in.
The song Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child dates back to slavery. Because we African Americans were being bred for work, it was common to break up couples and sell them wherever one could get the best price. Certain modern social policies such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, also broke up families. We have a legacy of one-parent, usually the mother, families in African-American communities. If not for my mother, I probably would not have had any identity.
She did what she thought was best for me and I can accept that but the image of a motherless African-American child going off in the world of war to destroy Vietnamese families was very powerful. Even though I was drafted into the military I knew I could never intentionally kill another human being. These are the lessons that our elders leave with us. But now, Richie Havens is gone.
Where will we find the next song that will challenge us and make us sit down and listen? Where will motherless children find inspiration? When will Handsome Johnny come home to the farm and rest?
I was riveted first to my computer screen and then to the tv following the news of the Boston Marathon bombing. I was amazed at how quickly things had progressed from the tragedy of Monday to the capture. I had tuned out the conspiracy theorists and tried to focus on hoping that law enforcement and technology would win out. And my good wishes were answered. The importance of technology cannot be underestimated. I had no idea how widespread phone cameras were until a college graduation a few years ago. My classmates took out their cameras and began taking pictures of one another.
It’s hard to stay focused in the moment in America. We have such limited attention spans. I want to enjoy the feeling of having the city of Boston feeling safe again. I wanted to enjoy the cooperation of the people who stayed at home as the governor had asked so that law enforcement could do their job. I liked hearing the tip that came in from the boat owner who ventured out and noticed something was different. That tip was the the final clue.
So, none of the things I that I have said in this blog about the problems of law enforcement are negated by this one entry. When they act like lawless, brutal thugs, they need to be fired and even put on trial. When they sever and protect we should applaud them as the people of Watertown did.
We are all grieving in many ways with the pictures from the Boston Marathon firmly planted in our brains. I am listening to a story about the story about the victims on Democracy Now. I have learned about individual heroism by first responders. Their work combined with the hospitals helped make us proud. They helped save lives and limbs. Things could have been worse if not for people like Carlos Orlando who had lost one son in the Iraq War and another to suicide. Some runners went directly to hospitals to donate blood. It was America coming together.
Please come to Boston. Please remember these people. Do your mourning in the way that feels best for you. Hold your loved ones close. And by all means avoid the impulse to strike out seeking revenge. There is a history of violence in America but there is a system of criminal justice and I hope those who committed this act will be subject to that system.
After hearing about the tragedy at the Boston Marathon I went to the Transfer Pizza for Drinking Liberally. The crowd was very small but I felt a need to be social and express my feelings. We did not actually talk about what had happened which was fine. Feeling the need to be together was cathartic. We debated all kinds of stuff, global warming, coal, alternative energy, and drone warfare. It’s a guy thing. We seek out other men to disagree with.
So now will be the stories of Milwaukee people who were lucky to return home alive and the search for suspects. It’s sad and a reminder that time is not promised. Talk to me.
I saw something years ago about a presentation concerning inner city youths who were being considered “at risk” in the current jargon. They were likely to have bad outcomes such as, violence, early pregnancy, becoming involved in gangs and premature death. The speaker had coined a new term “at potential” that has stuck with me. I told a young man man this week we needed to raise his potential while decreasing his risk. And I believe he understood what I meant. And appreciated what I am attempting to do.
At many stages of their lives, our consumers are at risk. They are often undecided about which path to choose. There are ones leading to familiar grounds: drugs, illegal activity, or sleeping away their lives. But the unfamiliar ones may be those of their childhood. They might have dreamed about finishing high school, going onto college and becoming middle class. However the effort required might have made achieving that goal seem completely unrealistic. Almost like creating a moon colony next year.
I am not at all trying to be the egotist here. I am trying to say that even it was not me in a person’s life, someone like me would need to be there doing very similar things. I am very subtle and slow and sometimes this is frustrating for those in the fields. There is always hope, as all of the recovery books proclaim but even that seems abstract.
What is concrete is a place where I can feel safe, where I know my bills will be paid and that I am valued. And I cannot guaranty anyone that if they stay with me, that is what they will obtain. But I figure, what have you got to lose?