Monday, December 22, 2008

Pondering Loneliness

I don’t want to be alone anymore.

I want to have lots of friends, close friends who care for me and love me. I want friends who call to check on me, give me unexpected gifts, show up at my door unannounced, and inspire me to live a better life. I want friends who I can call in the middle of the night when I am feeling blue and say, “Whatcha doin” even though I know they are sleeping…and they won’t care. I want friends who notice when I’m feeling sad and try to cheer me up. I want friends who will laugh with me. I want friends who will cry with me. I want friends who will let me show the same love and care for them, too.

However, I don’t have many friends like that. In my 50 years of life, I have had a few friends who meet the description above, emphasis on the word few. For those people, I am grateful. My life has been, and remains, blessed by these good friends.

When I graduated High School, I thought my friends would be there for me all of my life. Yet, over the years things change and the few become fewer still. Life has gotten faster, more disconnected. Job opportunities have drawn us away to distant locations. Children have grown up. We have gotten busier. The strange thing is communication technology in 2008 is far superior to the communication technology of 1977 (my graduation year). Still, somehow, we have become more disconnected than ever.

In the late 1960’s, I watched a movie on television titled My Side of the Mountain. It was about a boy that became angry with his parents and decided to runaway to live on his own. His adventures in the mountains sparked my imagination. He had animals for friends. He fished for his food. He even lived in a hollow tree. I loved the movie, and I thought I wanted to live that kind of life.

Those deeply embedded, childish feelings continued into my adult years, and I suppose even now there are times that living in the mountains on my own without any human contact seems like a great idea…except, I don’t want to be alone anymore.

Not long ago, I watched people coming into my store and sitting down for a meal together. Couples sat next to each other, and instead of talking to one another, they were on their cell phones talking with someone else. Parents brought their children in and sat silently eating their food while their children sent and received text messages. My own staff served their guests with a sense of separation, doing what they had to do in order to get back to their phones and text someone and still get a tip off the table. Across the street from my store is a city bus stop. It is amazing to watch people stand there waiting on a bus either too afraid or too unwilling to talk with one another. They stand yards apart reading a book, talking on their phones, watching a movie on their portable DVD player, listening to their iPod, or staring blankly into space or at the ground. All of this made me feel desperately alone.

Have we gotten too busy for friendships? Are really close friends a lost relic of past generations? Do we think friendships are for children? Do we have to be alone?

It is no wonder suicide rates are up. We have billions of people on earth. We have state-of-the-art communication technology. And, in the middle of our sea of humanity, we are still alone.

I don’t want to be alone anymore.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pondering Elections

Elections are those "necessary evil" things that have helped to make our country great! However, I have been pondering a few questions about the election process that trouble me. These questions are not so much about "process" as they are about the "philosophy" behind the process. I am going to share my questions with you. If you feel like answering a question or two then have at it. If you feel like answering them all...I'm all ears.

Why is this a country in which the poorest among us can become President, but only rich people are elected?

Why do election campaigns start out discussing ideas and end up personal attacks about age, wealth, race, religion, etc...?

Why do we have to show our personal identification, register our name on a ballot number, and then claim the elections are by secret ballot?

How come the will of the people (popular vote) can be overturned by the will of the few (electorial vote)?

How can a process intented to bring about unity cause so much disharmony?

Why do people believe their "one" vote will not matter?

Why do people refuse to vote and then complain about the winner?

Why is it that ever single person elected, nationally or locally, is ridiculed?

Any answers to these questions are worth pondering, don't you think? I do.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pondering Racism

Growing up in the small, southern-Indiana, river town of Madison, I was fortunate enough not to know anything about racism. Well, that isn’t exactly true. My parents watched the news everyday, and since we only had one television, that meant if I were going to watch TV, it had to be the news.

I don’t remember much about the news except two topics: Viet Nam and the Louisville Race Riots. Viet Nam interested me because of the pictures of brave soldiers fighting for our freedom, the helicopters, and the wounded being carried away on stretchers through the jungles and the rice patties. I remember the Louisville Race Riots because I could not understand why black people and white people could not get along in Louisville. After all, black people and white people were getting along in Madison.

Integrated schools? I cannot remember a time when I did not attend an integrated school. My first girlfriend was black. We were the perfect kindergarten couple. We refused to play with each other on the playground—she was with the girls, and I was with the boys—but after recess we would hold hands during story-time. I did not see her as a black-person, but as the girl of my kindergarten dreams.

I think I can honestly say I did not know what racism was until after I graduated high school and joined the military. In the Army, I met people from across the nation. Few of the people I encountered shared my small-town values. For me, people were just people. For them, it was painfully obvious, people were hyphenated: black-people, white-people, asian-people, hispanic-people, etc… For me, people shared similar hopes, dreams, and desires. For them, shared hopes, dreams, and desires meant nothing…it was all about accentuating the difference in skin color.

Suddenly, racism was everywhere. All black-people were the same. All white-people were the same. All asian-people were the same. All hispanic-people were the same. And, “same” was almost always deemed a bad thing. I found the military to be an intense mirror reflection of what seemed to be going on around the country and the world.

At first, I tried to fit in with the crowd. Who wants to be different? I certainly did not, nor did I wish to fight the overwhelming tide of popular thought. Then, I was assigned a black-people room-mate. My friends suggested I get moved to another room. I requested another room-mate and was denied. In fact, the company commander sent me to “sensitivity” training instead. Talk about contradiction! In my sensitivity training classes they taught what I came to the Army believing: people are just people. However, what they taught and what was practiced were polar opposites.

Over the years, I’ve developed my own ideas about racism. My philosophy is the sum total of my experiences and my academic achievements. It is simple. It is profound. It is true. Racism can only exist when people are not viewed as individuals.

Consider the present presidential campaign. Would you say Hilary Clinton is most commonly viewed as an individual or as a white-woman? Would you say Barack Obama is most commonly viewed as an individual or as a black-man? Would you say John McCain is most commonly viewed as an individual or as an old, white-man? The unfortunate truth is that this campaign may be the most prejudice-packed election of all. Americans are not looking at the individuals running for president. Americans are looking at race, gender, and age—all of which are peripheral to the individual.

How do you view people? Do you see each person as an individual? Do you react to people based on your experience with the person, or based on your experience with that person’s race? Here are a couple of tests. First, you are sitting in your car at a red light. It is late in the evening and there are no other cars around you. A couple of (you insert the qualifier)-people are walking across the intersection in the general direction of your car. Do you check to see if your doors are locked? Would you have checked if the two people were of your own race? Second, are you ill-at-ease when talking with people of another race? Do you watch carefully what you say and avoid using words that you might otherwise use? Do you take offense at the words used by other individuals that if used in another way could be racist?

So, what is the solution to racism? Some would have us believe the solution to racism is complicated and will take generations to solve. The truth is that solving racism is simple and only involves two steps. First, stop seeing people as anything but individuals. You would want others to see you for who YOU are, not your skin color. People are just people. We want success. We want happiness for ourselves and our children. We all have hopes, dreams, and desires. I am not my skin color. You are not your skin color. We are so much more than just color. Second, stop using skin color for personal gain or to inflict injury. In the presidential campaign, all colors have tried to use their skin as an advantage. Each candidate has tried to use the skin color of another candidate against him or her. These kinds of actions promote and propagate racism.

In the end, regardless of how you look at it, regardless of how you believe, regardless of how people act, regardless of what people say…people are just people. We are made and loved by the same God for the same purpose: to bring glory to Him.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Pondering Success

I hate forwards to my e-mail. The reasons for my hatred are varied, but if I had to narrow them down to just one it would simply be this: a forward is the attempt by the sender to feel as if they are staying in contact with you although the contact requires little or no effort and is non-personal. For this cause, I seldom open forwards people send me. Keyword: seldom.

Recently, I was sent a forward that attracted my attention. I do not remember who sent the forward to me; I wish I could. In the subject line was the word “success.” Now I am interested in success and the questions that surround the concept. What is success? How is success defined? Is the word success a concrete term or a relative one? That is, can the definition of success be one thing for one person and something entirely different for another (relative), or is it the same for all human beings (concrete)? Is success a destination at which some people arrive and others fail to achieve, or is it a journey that humans embark upon that has no final stopping place? Is success tangible or intangible? How do I know if I am succeeding or if I am rationalizing? So, with all these questions in mind, I opened the dreaded forward.

What I found inside the e-mail delighted me. As usual, there was no personal greeting or expression of love. As usual, I had to scroll through dozens of e-mail addresses of people I did not know (and a few that I did). Finally, at the bottom, the following quote:
“The road to success is not straight. There is a curve called Failure, a loop called Confusion, speed bumps called Friends, red lights called Enemies, caution lights called Family, and flats called Jobs. But, if you have a spare called Determination, an engine called Perseverance, insurance called Faith, and a driver called Jesus, you will make it to a place called Success.”

You may be wondering why the above quote excited me so much. Frankly, it does not answer any of the great mysteries encircling the analysis of success. It does hint at the notion that success is a journey, but it also, with equal certainty, calls success a destination. It has no scholarly value. It offers no evidence of fact. But what it does do is offer the reader the hope of success. The quote even recognizes some familiar obstacles and some tested solutions to those obstacles.

While I am not certain what success is or what defines it, I am certain that everyone yearns to have the hope of achieving it. Perhaps people see success like I view it: something to build toward. In the following picture (which I am not smart enought to get loaded on this the architect, unknown to me or I would certainly give him or her credit, illustrates my thoughts well. The picture shows two circular disks. On one of the disks are several pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. There are four people lined up in an old pass-the-bucket-fire-brigade fashion passing along pieces of the jigsaw puzzle in a team effort to build a bridge to the disk which contains the word “SUCCESS.”

In this illustration, success has a definite starting place and a definite end. There are four people attempting to build a bridge to the same place: success. Each person is doing his or her part to achieve the goal. Each part of the bridge is made up of similar, yet diverse, pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, each piece representing an obstacle or a time in the builders’ lives.

What is not seen in this illustration is the vision dancing in the builders’ heads, the desire burning in their bones to reach their common destination, or the greatest motivator of all…the hope of achieving success. This illustration demonstrates the words Zig Ziglar has made so famous: “You can get anything you want in life…provided you help enough other people get what they want in life.

Here is my point. Success, whatever you determine it to be, is yours for the taking. Achieving success will not be easy, and, in some cases, acquiring it may not be fun. But it will always be worth the cost. So regardless of your circumstances, never let your desire of success or your hope of success fade. Set your goal. Keep your eyes on that goal. And don’t let anything…failure, friends, confusion, enemies, family, or job…get in the way. Instead, let your determination, perseverance, faith, and God drive you to that coveted resort called Success.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pondering Writer's Block

For years I've disagreed with those who would suggest that a writer could get to a point when he or she could not write, a condition many call--Writer's Block. My stance concerning the issue was simply this, it isn't that the writer COULD not write, but that the writer WOULD not write. I still believe as I have always believed.

Writers harbor many fears. For some the fear is of rejection. Others fear if they write their readers may not like the story or idea presented. Whatever the fear, it is the fear that keeps them from writing. I know this is true because I suffer from the ailment.

I have stories burning within me that I do not not write. I do not write them because I am afraid no one will publish them. Or if they are published, the only copies sold will be those purchased by me to give to family and friends on Christmas.

Another fear holding me back is that someone will think poorly of me because of the verbage I use or the nature of the content I write. As part of a writing group project, I once wrote a story that was published in a small anthology that we sold to raise money for the group. Do you know how many people asked me if the events in the story were real? I'm not sure the exact number, but I'm certain it was around a million.

Perhaps trying to list all the fears that lurk inside the writer's mind is too overwhelming. Besides it is not my intention of this writing to actually try and accomplish such a monumental task. My purpose is to confess that these fears are real inside me. The thought of facing my fears is horrifying. But, face them I will. Today I am slowly drawing my warriors blade from its dusty sheath, and I will slay the fears that bind me. I will write. I will communicate. I will spin my stories like a giant spider's web in an attempt to catch a listening ear or an inquiring soul.

I'm a writer. And by golly, I'm going to write!