‘Tis the Season

Another Christmas is right around the corner, and this holiday feels different from so many others that have come and gone.

I suspect some of you may be feeling the same way, considering the stress that too often accompanies the holiday season.

christmas-tree1I’m not sure why I am having a harder time getting into the spirit of the season this year. The awful part of this is that there is no good reason for my absence of holiday cheer. I am incredibly blessed; more than I should be.

I have a loving, beautiful and supportive wife (Don’t ask me how I pulled this off, because I have no clue).

I have two healthy, wonderful step children, a beautiful home, modern appliances and a good job with benefits, funny co-workers and a flexible boss.

I have two dogs that love me unconditionally and two cats that keep me on my toes.

I have an extended family that is more supportive than dysfunctional. Heck, I even have new tires on my truck, not to mention access to health care and a set of tools that I don’t know how to use.

So, why shouldn’t I feel jolly and bright as this holiday approaches? What has me feeling cynical and ready to scream, “Bah Humbug” at random strangers?

Maybe, just maybe, I have too much. Maybe, just maybe, I have forgotten why we celebrate this holiday.

This realization came to me as I began to reflect on Christmases past; on Christmas celebrations that did not come with so many expectations of the so-called perfect holiday.

As I contemplated these ghosts of Christmases past, it occurred to me that two particular Christmas holidays stood out as my favorites.

1.) Homefries with paprika

It was the Christmas of 1997, and I was 33 years old, virtually unemployed and living with three roommates on the third-floor of a Munjoy Hill apartment in Portland that was much closer to the bottom of the hill. I did not own a car, nor did I have a girlfriend.

I was, in every sense of the word, a loser.  At least, that was my opinion of myself back then.

These aforementioned roommates of mine were unruly slobs who liked to drink, stay up late and delighted in terrorizing my cat. They were lovable guys, actually; but it grew wearisome picking up after them and tolerating their frat-boy behaviors. On the other hand, they were covering my portion of the rent. So, there’s that.

Luckily, my three roommates were all headed to their respective homes for the holidays, and I was not. To me, this was the ultimate Christmas gift: I would have the entire apartment all to myself for a few days. I spent almost an entire day cleaning the place, lit some candles and then planned what I would do on my solitary Christmas.

Only a few weeks before, my sister gave birth to my oldest niece, Kaitlyn.  I had a little more than $20 in my pocket, so my Christmas shopping was going to be limited. So, on December 24, I trudged down Congress Street and stopped at the CVS store. I bought a rather inexpensive frame and some parchment paper; and then trudged down the hill toward the Hannaford store, where I bought a thick ham-steak, half-dozen eggs and some egg nog before heading home.

I loaded my word-processor with the parchment paper and drafted a poem for my niece; a poem to celebrate her first Christmas. Satisfied with the third version, I placed it in the frame and wrapped it.

I opted to attend Midnight Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and by the time I walked back home, a quiet peace and serenity enveloped me. I was exhausted, but content.

I fell asleep reading Ben Bradlee’s autobiography and awoke on Christmas morning happier than I could recall. I boiled some potatoes, setting them in a skillet with globs of butter, chopped onions and doused with paprika. In a separate skillet, I fried that ham-steak, while working to scramble some eggs and coordinate the timing of my toast.

It was a kick-ass breakfast that I washed down with a quart of egg-nog. I fell asleep again in front of the television, with my cat curled on my chest.

I had not only survived a solitary Christmas; I relished it.

2.) Reindeer tracks

It was the  Christmas of 2001. A few weeks prior, I met Laura Kidman and we began dating on a regular basis. She owned a small home in Old Orchard Beach and had two young sons that I had met just a couple of weeks before Christmas. I was the editor of a small, local newspaper. I drove a 1993 Ford Escort wagon with a really bad exhaust,

Between us, Laura and I did not have two nickels to spare, but I remember how warm and cozy her house felt when she invited me over on Christmas Eve. Looking back, the “cozy” feeling probably had something to do with the house being 550-square-feet.

The boys were still young enough to believe in Santa Claus. Tim was six, and Matt was four. I bought them each several presents, which were wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree after they went to bed. Laura’s sister had helped me pick out a necklace, which I would give to my future wife on Christmas morning. But as midnight, approached, I opted to give Laura a more significant gift.

A few years earlier, my mother had given me the Nativity set that I had grown up with. From that Nativity set, I removed the Joseph figurine and wrapped it carefully. When I gave Laura that gift, I explained that I would do my best to match Joseph’s love for a child that was not his own.

Before driving home, I went out to the front porch and leaned over with a broom to create reindeer tracks in the snow.

I went back to Laura’s home on Christmas morning to watch the kids open their presents and to point out that the reindeer had landed in the front yard. They believed it for a little while, but were relentless in interrogating me about it. It was a magical day, and I felt as if I had truly turned some kind of corner that could never be reversed.

Neither of these stories are intended to diminish the wonderful and magical Christmases of my youth. My parents outdid themselves at Christmas. We decorated the tree as a family, listening to Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis sing about the magic of the season. There was always, and I mean always, a giant orange tucked in the bottom of our stockings; my sister and I were often given matching pajamas on Christmas eve. We each had our favorite ornaments to hang on the tree. Fond memories, that must adapt to changing realities.

And what I realized today is that the more I have; the more comfortable I am, the more the magic and splendor of Christmas escapes me.

Because Christmas is not about stuff, credit-card balances, news headlines or any of the other things that can weigh us down throughout the rest of the year.

Christmas is a reprieve for those who choose to accept it.

No matter where you are, no matter your circumstance or fortune, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas

 

‘All I know is that I know nothing’

imagesBy Dawn Carey

Socrates was a classical Greek philosopher who has been credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy. It is believed that his knowledge is only conveyed through his students, among them, Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon, and Aristophanes

.

According to Plato’s ‘Apology’, a friend of Socrates (Chaerephon) asked the oracle at Delphi if anyone were wiser than Socrates; the Oracle responded that no one was wiser. Socrates challenged this answer, (because he believed he possessed no special wisdom) by questioning the wise men of Athens (poets, politicians, etc.). His conclusion was that the Oracle may be correct; while the experts claimed themselves to be wise, they were not. This, he decided, explained why the Oracle had made such a conclusion; he was the only person aware of his own ignorance. Because of his non-conforming behavior and his challenge to authority, Socrates was put on trial for ‘wrongdoing’. He was found guilty of corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens and of impiety and sentenced to death by drinking a mixture containing hemlock (1).

While there is MUCH more to the story of Socrates and his philosophies, which have had a significant influence on Western philosophy, I think his belief: “All I know is that I know nothing” encompasses every aspect of current society and ideas, or lack thereof.

We have a problem in this country, and around the world… we all think we KNOW everything; don’t we? I believe this is the reason for the gridlock and insanity we see in Congress, and all around us. People are too busy knowing it all to listen to anyone else. Before a person can even begin to share their thoughts, recipients of communication shut down; they tune out and immediately distract themselves by formulating a rebuttal to a preconceived idea that they haven’t even heard. I see it regularly, a group of people actually TALKING at the same time, over one another… totally in their own reality, having their own dialogue with themselves; it’s quite comical, actually. They’re all speaking at once, and don’t even recognize that there are three other people doing the exact same thing! I’ve also noticed people asking questions, but not listening to the answer, instead, they answer their own question, aloud, interrupting the person of whom they’ve asked the question. Again, it would be almost comical, if it weren’t so distressing.

As much as we’d like to believe that we are oh-so-wise, wouldn’t we become even wiser if we listened to others ideas? No one person knows everything, we are ALL wrong, on occasion. It’s okay to be wrong, its okay to not know. It’s okay to change one’s mind… as they say: “change is the only constant”. Don’t we attain and education, and read, etc. to learn new concepts and ideas? What kind of information are we cheating ourselves out of by being close-minded and falsely assuming that no one is more knowledgeable than we are; that we are the wisest? We are not, but by being open-minded enough to shut up and LISTEN to what others have to say, we could become wiser than we are.  When we shut ourselves off, because we think we have all the answers, we suffer greatly, individually, as well as, collectively. Sometimes, we need to just ‘shut up’ and listen (hear).

This, I think, is what Socrates was suggesting. And THIS is why the Oracle at Delphi deemed him to be the wisest of all.

1. Fallon, Warren J. (2001). “Socratic suicide.” PubMed. PMID: 19681231. US National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. 121:91-106. Retrieved September 12, 2013.

Et Tu, Journalism?

By Dennis King

jourPlease don’t call me a journalist.  Just because I contribute once in a while to a friend’s blog does not make me a journalist.

If you consider me a journalist I will jump off the next bridge I see. I don’t know how to “journalize” or “journalate” or whatever it’s called.  I tried keeping a diary once but my life was so boring I wound up doodling on the blank pages.    I can barely spell, as it is.  I play guitar and when asked to spell it once I left out the letter “U” and added an “H.”  I have never lived that one down.   I also read a lot, and by that I mean…um..well… I take books out of the library and start reading them.

I made the mistake once of telling my youngest son (who is a gifted writer and avid reader) “I have read a lot of books front to cover”  I wish I was making that up.  I still get grief over it.  That being said, I am good at a few things.  I screw up pretty good.  I am an expert at excuse-making.  I am a savant when it comes to procrastination and I am highly opinionated.  (uh oh, maybe I AM a journalist)

All that being said, I want to express my opinion regarding the venerated and highly esteemed vocation of journalism.  Websters Dictionary defines the word “Journalist” as “One who practices Journalism”  ok that didn’t help.

All joking aside, I know what a journalist is supposed to do. He or she writes down as story.  Something big happens.  A truck hits a utility pole and the power goes out in the neighborhood.   Suddenly the driver gets blamed because someone thought he saw him texting while driving so the headline reads “Texting Driver shuts down power to neighborhood”  The anti-texting folks come to town and picket in front of his house.  He is denying it.  “My cell phone was turned off I swear !” he laments in protest.  It’s too late.  The police start an investigation but it is doesn’t matter at this point.  Al Sharpton is already on his way to offer his help to the victims of this heinous crime.

Businesses are burned, cars overturned, mayhem ensues.  Two weeks later a video surfaces showing the real culprit.  A little cat crosses in front of the big truck.  The driver swerves into the utility pole missing the poor cat.  ohhhhhh THAT’S what happened……and in the words of Rosanna Rosanna-danna “nevermind”.  That’s Journalism !!

Sometimes journalism can be that way.   Something bad happens and journalists. in their zeal. start to write what they see and hear as if it’s the gospel truth.  They report it while it is happening not considering the consequences.   Is it true?  Is it false?  What is going on here?

The question that never gets asked or perhaps gets answered prematurely is “Should we wait until we get all the facts ?”    Such is the case time and time again.  For as long as there have been journalists, there have been stories published that later turned out to be untrue, or at least not fully told until the fires go out and everyone has gone home and the damage has been done.

There have been countless stories published as truth, too quickly to be retracted that have embarrassed and sometimes even harmed folks when the truth came out later.

Richard Jewell the so-called “Olympic Bomber” was first hailed as a hero and then became a suspect in the bombing.  He went through a “Trial by Media” and his name was dragged through the mud by the media mob.  This kind of journalism has always been going on.  Did you know that Marie Antoinette never said “Let them eat cake” ?  Did you know she was just an regular girl (well at least overly pampered)  who was accused of things she never did ?  Pamphlets were printed that accused her of all various vices, which were untrue.  Death by Journalism.   There are many such modern day published headlines that have colored our view of the truth.

Just look the stories up and read about them yourself.  The list is long and the damage done was severe.  Reputations were destroyed. (The McMartin pre-school fiasco,  The Tawana Brawley story, The Duke Lacrosse scandal,  The UVA Rape story,  yes even Michael Brown’s death was full of journalistic assumptions that fed the flames, destroying people’s businesses.   Mark Twain once said “A lie can go halfway around the world while the Truth is putting on it’s shoes”

Much has been written about Journalism. From the humorous to the severe.   Dave Barry once wrote “We journalists make it a point to know very little about an extremely wide variety of topics.  This is how we stay objective”

The French poet Jean De La Fontaine once penned ” Every journalist owes tribute to the evil one” Ouch !

All I know is that in today’s fast paced media-driven world where what happened two minutes ago is already old news, we should not listen to these voices until the truth comes out.    I have stopped tuning in to these late-breaking news stories.    I keep my opinions to myself until the very end and the jury has reached a verdict based upon evidence.  Then will I say what I think.

Unfortunately, by then, the truth really doesn’t matter.

Peace

Facts are stubborn things

A protestor in Ferguson.  (CBS News photo)

A protestor in Ferguson. (CBS News photo)

I am at a distinct disadvantage writing these words.

I am white. I am also the husband of a former police officer, thus I am somewhat biased.

But I will proceed regardless; because all the news, all the commentary, and all the passionate debate about what happened in Ferguson, Missouri has sparked my memory, jarred my thinking — all the way back to my junior year in high school when I wrote an essay about the Boston Massacre.

The similarities are striking.

History has a funny way of repeating itself; and as George Santayana said, ” Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

The Boston Massacre happened on March 5, 1770.

Five colonists were killed by British soldiers, who were serving as law enforcement officers to uphold the rule of law (including unpopular taxes) and other provisions of the Townshend Acts

On that fateful evening, Hugh White, a British private soldier, (Police officer Darren Wilson) stood on guard duty outside the Custom House on King Street. A young man, Edward Garrick, insulted another member of the British Guard, Capt. John Goldfinch, saying that Goldfinch had not paid a bill.

Private White injected himself into the debate and told Garrick that he should be more respectful of British officers. White, in fact, left his post, challenged the boy, and struck him on the side of the head with his musket. This attracted a crowd.

Tensions were already high between the British and the colonists. The boy’s insult and White’s reaction touched off a powder keg of resentment.

Within minutes, more than 50 colonists pressed around White,  throwing objects at him and challenging him to fire his weapon.

The crowd grew in size and the British dispatched more troops to quell the colonists, who were throwing rocks and snowballs at the officers. And  then muskets were fired. Five colonists were killed and six more were injured.

The first man killed was Crispus Attucks, an African man, who was labeled later as an instigator.

In the days and weeks that followed, there was a propaganda battle between the two sides. Everyone had an opinion.

Of the eight officers arrested, six were acquitted and two were charged with manslaughter because they fired directly into the crowd.

The attorney representing the British convinced the jury that the officers were in fear of their lives and acting in self-defense.

And who was that attorney?

John Adams, the man who would go on to become the second president of the United States, took the case because he wanted to ensure a fair trial, despite his patriot leanings.

Adams received threats and daily harassment. He feared for his life and for the safety of his family. Many colonists regarded him a traitor for representing the British.

At trial, witness statements were contradictory, and Adams seized upon those contradictions to paint an utter scene of chaos for the jurors, despite the fact that his clients were wholly unpopular.

But Adams also played the race card. Adams called the crowd “a motley rabble of saucy boys, ‘negros’ and ‘molattoes, ‘Irish teagues’ and outlandish jack tars.”

Popularity did not matter to Adams. He knew the stakes were too high to cave into the pressure of political expediency.

What John Adams said during his closing statement at trial should cause us all to pause before offering our own amateur speculation about the intent, competence or procedure of the Grand Jury in Ferguson, Missouri:

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

Flash forward to today and  yet another young man is dead, and a community is ripped apart.

We will probably never know what happened on that fateful night in August. Most of us (God willing) will never know the pain of losing a child, or the haunting nightmares of a police officer who felt out of options.

But what we do know for certain is this: that the rioting, which followed the non-indictment was not at all justified, but completely understandable. That there is still a rage and level of mistrust in many of our communities and it is there because of undeniable history.

We also know for certain that more than 100 police officers have been killed in the line of duty this year.

So let’s stop speculating and debate the things we know.

Let’s talk about how we move forward; because as history shows us, things can come apart very quickly.

 

Hearts & Minds

th-1How can you change someone’s heart and mind, if you don’t believe they possess a heart or mind?
Recently, in a closed Facebook group, we were discussing certain members, and the difficulty of tolerating political differences in thought… here’s my thought for the day:

I’ve made friends from different political affiliations, and have been debating with them for years, and as frustrating as those interactions can be, I’ve chosen to deal with the madness (on a LIMITED level: only at my will, patience, time, desire) because I believe that unfriending, blocking, etc. is not only immature (like junior-high), but unrealistic, and equates to burying our heads in the sand.

In the beginning, my sole purpose was to challenge and defeat those opposing ideas… I thrived on the debate and the ‘one ups’; if I was looking for a little adrenaline rush, I sat at my computer and started typing away with my clever self, sharing my superior (yeah, yeah, I know, I know) thoughts and links.

After years of this mindset, and arguing my points, sometimes, to little, or no avail, I started to notice something. I noticed that no matter WHAT you present to some people: websites, facts, news articles, statistics, etc., they will stubbornly remain vehemently adamant in their beliefs. During these years, as I developed closer friendships with some of my opponents, I noticed something else: that we really DO have things in common, we all have families, friends, desires, fears, misconceptions. I was reminded that as cold, or as wrong, or as uneducated we perceive people to be, they have hearts and minds too.

The reality IS, that people believe the way they do for REASONS… and how can we possibly learn to compromise, and discover the things we DO have in common, if we pretend, and wish away the reality which exists within the people with whom we disagree?

During the recent conversation within that facebook page, I was slapped with the reality that as much as we yell and accuse the ‘other side’ of, exhibiting bigotry, being intolerant, uncompromising, etc., we ALL do the VERY same thing! “You are wrong and stupid; come on, how can you NOT see this?!” We’re NEVER going to change hearts and minds by telling people they are ‘stupid and wrong’… by doing this, we define them as having no heart or mind. Who want’s to hear that? I don’t.

Some were surprised, and shocked that the country turned blood red on November 4th, 2014. I was too; at first… but then I started to think… what did the GOP do? They appealed to… wait for it…. hearts! (which is where fear, and love, and emotion begin). We can fantasize that people ONLY vote with their minds, but it just isn’t so. We ARE human BEINGS. I find it so ironic that liberals have been labeled with the term ‘bleeding-hearts’… well, apparently the GOP aint dumb, because they made hearts bleed; didn’t they?

I believe that we need to move away from the mindset of ‘right/wrong’ and strive to move beyond the false and perpetuated division that has so forcefully and recklessly washed over us.

We have much more in common than we are led to believe, and I have discovered that I have some VERY important issues in common with a few conservative peeps. I’m thankful for those moments… it’s really exciting to discover those commonalties exist with people of whom you’d NEVER expect!

Should we continue to argue our points? Of course! But I think it’s imperative that as we do so, we try to remember that as false and misleading as that story, article, or meme may seem, SOMETHING within it has resonated with the person sharing, and they, most times, BELIEVE it… in… their… HEART. Calling people names, attacking a person, because we disagree with what they believe, will NEVER convince them to change their hearts or minds.

A hidden message

Maine_Capitol_Building_ba9aaba7950196e822e4_1My friend Alan Caron has some sage advice that each and every newly elected member of the Maine Legislature should read.

Alan’s column regulary appears in the Portland Press Herald, and an excerpt of his latest piece  ( Last election had a hidden message for Maine’s leaders) can be found here:

“Given the many challenges Maine faces today, nothing is more critical to our future than a nonpartisan, commonsense economic plan.

We’re a small state with limited dollars that’s in bad need of new economic energy. We spend more on government, as a percentage of our incomes, than just about any other rural state in America.”

If you want to read the full piece, you can find it here.

A New Look at Warning Labels…..

By Dennis King

warningI love those warning labels that manufacturers feel they need to put on their products.   I purchased a sun visor once and the warning label said “Do not put in windshield while driving”  Silica gel packets get the traditional “Do not Eat” printed on them.  I saw a kid’s Superman Costume that warned the wearer “Wearing this will not give you the ability to fly”

I love to laugh at these silly warnings and wonder who the poor soul was that made them put these things in place.  Who was the guy that set up his gas grill in the dining room?  Who was the person that decided to dry his or her hair while relaxing in the bathtub?  Who grabbed the wrong end of the chainsaw ?  Who put the Silica Gel on his salad to make it crunchy?  Warning labels can be very funny.

There are many warning labels that surround us every day.  I live in a somewhat remote neighborhood in the rural countryside outside of Nashville.  Last week a city worker stuck a sign at the edge of our front yard out by the road.  It reads “Please Drive Slowly…We Love our Children”  Apparently a child from my neighborhood was struck by a car prompting the new warning sign.  There are signs everywhere.  I remember the song “Signs” that was a big hit decades ago.  It lamented all the signs that we have put up  “Do This Don’t Do that…Can’t you read the signs?”

It is easy to become oblivious to some of these signs as we plow through our daily lives.  We try to do good things and to make it through without messing up.

Today I happened upon a document that after I read and re-read sort of hit me as a warning label. It was clear and concise.

It was written by a man who at one time carried the burden of our nation on his shoulders and is considered to be the greatest of our leaders.

When King George the 3rd of England asked Benjamin West what this leader would do after the Revolutionary War was won he said “He will return to his farm…”  Of him King George responded  “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world”  Of course I am talking about George Washington, The Father of our Country.    The document I came across is something many of us have heard about but I wonder how many of us have actually read.  I never have read it until today.  I have not fully grasped it yet.  I will probably read it again and again for a long time to fully understand what is in it.

Hot-Surface-Equipment-Warning-Labels-67947-baIt is George Washington’s Farewell Address and it is a warning label written to a young nation that had dedicated itself to liberty and self-reliance.  It warns us of things that could happen if we strayed from the  course.  I think in many ways we have not heeded the warning label and gone in a different often destructive course.  Below is a brief excerpt that I found

Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

There are lots of warnings like this.

Some I wholeheartedly agree with, some made me say “How Dare you Mr President” and then after thinking about them…I had nothing to say.     There are “Warning Labels” written by great men and women in the past and the present.  Common folks who are full of wisdom and know human nature.  They are not afraid of the Divine that is so desperately needed today and that is so disparaged today.  I challenge you to read Washington’s Farewell Address and see how those words were written for today’s America, just as they were written for our earliest days.

Peace