Where Are We in America, Now? (part 4 of 4)

Personal Experiences

I get to the rumbling steps and climb them. My bus seat is where I left it. Right there it is, six hours from one place and six hours from another.

My hands smell like canned food. I think about the toilet at the back of the bus. It is one-half of a port-a-potty.

I think of the luxury of water and soap.

“You heard it! You heard what she called me!” I hear from the front of the bus.

A black man walks past me. He’s frowning and shaking his head.

I look up. A new bus driver climbs the steps. He snatches the intercom. He faces us, and his head nears the roof of the bus. Sun glints off his grey crewcut and his black sunglasses. He stands with his feet far apart.

He twists the intercom up to his mouth at a hard angle.

“There are rules on this bus,” the speakers above all our heads tell us.

The bus driver turns away and jams the intercom back in place. He faces us again and plants his feet. “There will be no alcohol.” His voice shoots over all 50 seats and bounces back to him.

“There will be absolutely no drugs of any kind.” Pause. The black lenses stare at the back of the bus and don’t move.

“Some drivers will ask you to leave.” The black lenses don’t even jiggle as he plants his feet an inch further apart. His hands remain fists at his sides. “I am not like some drivers. I will pull this bus over. We will all sit and wait for the police to arrive.”

An Asian man stands up. He is toward the front of the bus, and I can see him over the seats. His flannel shirt is new, and the blue squares peeking through the design are nearly flourescent. He steps into the aisle and points back at a seat.

“She said I am not an American!” he yells. His black beard touches his chest. It has no straggling hairs.

“Sit down, sir,” says the bus driver.

The engine fires to life, and we all rock back as the bus pulls forward. The bus turns, and the freeway entrance opens up toward us. We begin to climb the up.

“I’m getting my gun!” She is loud. We all hear it. We have all heard this colorful woman’s voice before.

“She said I am not an American!” a man’s voice bounces off all the seats.

The intercom crackles as we get to the top of the onramp: “We are getting off at the next exit.” Click.

At another parking lot at another gas station, we all sit and idle.

The driver yells.

The  woman yells.

The bearded man sprints down the aisle.

He leaps left and right. “Do I smell like alcohol to you?” the bearded man yells. He leans down and exhales in a passenger’s face. A head presses back against the top of the seat. The head’s response is silence. “Do I smell like alcohol to you?” he yells again. He darts across the aisle and repeats the process.

The driver yells at the bearded man. The bearded man yells back. The driver yells at the colorful woman. Soon, the three of them are nowhere in sight. The bus door hangs open.

We all sit and wait.

The driver returns. He cuts off the engine and the intercom crackles to life: “If you hear strange sounds underneath the bus, it is the police searching the cargo area with drug-sniffing dogs. I trust that everyone has packed their bags wisely.” Click.

A large policeman climbs the steps. He announces a name. He then attempts to march toward the back of the bus. The walkie-talkie mounted on one hip catches a seat. He stops, and leans to the other side. He attempts to march again. His sidearm catches a seat on the other side and bounces in the holster.

An unshaven man in his 20’s steps off the bus with the officer.

We all wait. The officer and the young man return. It takes a long time for a backpack to be emptied. Then the walkie-talkie and gun bounce off the seats again heading toward the front of the bus. The young man stays on with us.

“I will tolerate no alcohol on this bus,” says the intercom. The engine starts. Much louder, we hear: “I have no tolerance for racism.”

The driver’s voice comes down from the speakers mounted above all 50 seats. “I have absolutely zero tolerance for racism.”

He continues: “I  tell people something when I hear those things.” Some people are looking up at the voice above our heads. “You are laying in the hospital bleeding. You are laying there and the doctors say you are going to die. They say the one thing that can save your life is the heart of a dead black man. Would you take it?”

Some people are climbing their seats and looking around at each other. “Everyone I ask says yes. Every single person says yes. If you pull all the skin off of us, we are all the same color.”

The bus rumbles on.

 


I was born in the midwest and it felt like I grew up there. We moved near Seattle and I grew up more. I thought I found “The Woman I’d Spend My Life With” a couple of years ago. Then my life exploded one day. After that, I got on a bus. These things happened, and made me think about America.

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Where Are We in America, Now? (Part 3 of 4)

Personal Experiences

If you were a mouse on a toy boat in the ocean, the waves would look like giant hills.

You’d glimpse the slope of a hill in your peripheral vision. You could just barely see it over the shoulder of the massive slope in front of you. Wyoming looks like that, only the waves are dust.

A junkyard is welcome in the endless window of a bus. Amidst the waves, the crest of sparks and metal catches the eye. Chrome glints by the side of the road. The bus keeps moving through the swells.

Another junkyard in the window. This one is a wrecking yard for mobile homes. Some trailers are ripped in half. Strips of aluminum painted white poke from the ground at odd angles. The bus driver looks out at them. One mobile home is intact in the middle. “That guy isn’t married,” he says.

The bus pulls into a parking lot and I’m ready to get out after six more hours. Outside the window, a Burger King and a gas station were born conjoined. I’m sure their mother loves them both very much.

I cross the parking lot. The yellow sun told me it should be warmer than it is. I walk in the gas station and see a pot of drip coffee like at a rest station or a breakroom. I ask how much the small cup costs. The answer is more than a dollar, so I walk outside.

I stand in the cold yellow sun and suck from the filtered tube of my water bottle. It is filled with  bathroom water from 3 different states. Various notes of subtle metals dance across each other in my mouth.

The colorful lady walks up to me. The stripes of her shirt are lit by the cold sun. “How far you headed?” her brown sunglasses ask.

I listened to her in another state. She was talking to somebody else. That man had an infant son whose ears he wanted to protect. That was hundreds of miles behind us. Here, it is just her and me and dirt.

“Quite a ways,” is my offer.

She pauses and her sunglasses angle down at my feet and up again. “You think you’re so tall.” She says. “You and the black man, you think you’re so tall.”

I sip my metals and look out at the waves of dust.

“I know you.” She says. “I know what you are. You come over here from France.”

I look at her sunglasses. They don’t cover her mouth. The skin is the color of dust.

“You come over here from France. You come to my country,” she says. “You come over here to my country. You take everything. You take everything back to Europe with you.”

I wonder if Burger King still sells anything for a dollar. I try to picture what that might be. I can’t imagine it being worth a dollar to me.

As I walk away, I hear her call after me. “When I get home, I’m getting my gun and my brothers. We’re going to ride. We’re going hunting.”

I’m standing outside the corner of the Burger King and fumbling with opening a can. A bus driver yells “4 minutes!” from across the parking lot. I cram two bites in my mouth with a plastic fork. I hear the bus engine rumble to life.

I spill food on myself, and the door to the convenience store opens. The world’s coolest convenience-store employee saw me spill food on myself. She sticks her arm out of the door with a big cup.

I cough on the last bite and start jogging toward the bus with 24-ounces of caffeine. Now I look like an American. I’m shuffling fast and trying not to spill my coffee.

 


I was a kid in the midwest and it felt like I grew up there. We moved near Seattle and I grew up more. I thought I found “The Woman I’d Spend My Life With” a couple of years ago. Then my life exploded one day. After that, I got on a bus. These things happened, and made me think about America.

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Where are We in America, Now? (Part 2)

Personal Experiences

Wherever we were, we were still six hours from Wyoming. Wherever was six hours before this, we stopped at a bus station. It was still daylight then.

We were loading more people into the bus. One of the bus station employees could be heard outside. His voice sounded like John C. Reilly. I imagined him up there, all enthusiastic and flummoxed. His cheeks would be bobbing up and squeezing his eyes shut. He’d be ushering people up the steps and asking them where they got their shoes.

A tall man climbed up the steps and paused at the front of the long aisle. He was not the bus station employee we had all been listening to. This man’s cheeks had never bobbed once. Nothing about him would make you smile.

He held a walkie-talkie in a fist. His shirt was official. His moustache was white. Just outside the bus stood a man who was identical. Except for the brown moustache.

The tall man strode down the aisle to the back of the bus. When he crossed again to the front, he came with a man who was dragging a suitcase. The tall man looked back at the other man as he walked. The suitcase-man was talking a lot and was tough to understand. They stepped off together.

The man in the official shirt climbed the steps once again, alone. He leaned down towards the passenger just behind the driver’s seat and said something.

Seat by seat, he braced his arms on the padded tops and narrowed his eyes at the faces below. His white moustache moved up and down. As he got closer, I could hear the question. His voice was soft and it was clear and he clutched the walkie-talkie at his side. It was the same question every time.

“Where were you born?”

He asked each of us, passenger by passenger. There were many different answers. Some answers came with an offer of papers lifted up. The tall man was slow as he unfolded them. He looked at some papers for a long time.

“Where were you born?” He was leaning down and looking at me.

“Indiana,” I said. He leaned closer.

“Where were you born?”

I looked up at him. “In Indiana.” My birth certificate was in my backpack. I thought of the zipper it was behind.

He leaned closer. “I asked you, where were you born?”

I thought about my picture ID, which was hundreds of miles away. “I was born in Indianapolis, Indiana,” I repeated again.

He stood up. “Have a good trip.” He stepped to the next aisle.

The man worked toward the back of the bus, and said something to his walkie-talkie.

He joined the identical man outside, and the engine rumbled to life again and we moved.

In each row of seats, people craned their heads and looked around at each other. Some people stared. Their eyes were sharp and tight while they watched other people put papers away.

Wherever we were and wherever we were going next, the man who had dragged his suitcase was not going with us.

 


I was born in the midwest and it felt like I grew up there. We moved near Seattle and I grew up more. I thought I found “The Woman I’d Spend My Life With” a couple of years ago. Then my life exploded one day. After that, I got on a bus. These things happened, and made me think about America.

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Why I Don’t Hate Cancer

Personal Experiences

My father died screaming. It took him 6 years to die.

For the last 3 years of his death, I watched him melt. His body seemed to sag and drip. Pieces of him came off, one by one.

The first to go was his hair. My father’s hair had always looked healthy. It had been shiny and brown. Unlike my brown hair, his was straight. A part on one side allowed a broad splay of it to recline across his forehead. It was the most calm thing there was about him.

During chemotherapy, it all fell off. The doctors said he was a good fighter, and his physical size was an asset. I watched him fight.

His muscles left him. He dropped from 285 pounds to 150 pounds. That took 6 months.

After that happened, some of him remained. He would still have stood 6-foot 4-inches. But he could not hold his head up straight.

Everything slumped and caved in. His body  seemed to hang off of him like a cheap coat on a metal hanger.

He had been a firefighter. He would no longer be the one chosen to break down doors.

He had a bone-marrow transplant from his sister. Tests showed she was a perfect match. The idea was to take non-cancerous tissue out of a donor, and put it in him.

The first step of the process was for doctors to completely destroy my father’s immune system. They attacked it with radiation and poisonous chemicals.

They cut open his bones, and transplanted marrow into him. After this process was completed, he woke up. He tried to smile at me.

I will never forget that smile. He looked up at me from the hospital bed, and his lips pulled back.

His teeth were black.

His mouth glistened with obsidian jewels. I tried not to make a sound.

I found out later: layers and layers of blood, pouring from his gums, had dried over his teeth.

His body was supposed to work with the new tissue and fight the cancer. His body and the new tissue did not get along.

They began to fight each other.

His skin became thin. The color of his face shifted from the warm hues of frequent rage, to a spectrum that was drained and cool. Standing in the sun, he was pasty and blue.

Soon, he could no longer stand in the sun. His skin made irregular, rough patches wherever the sun touched it. When the sun hit him, his skin fought.

After his hair and his muscles and his skin, came his eyes.

He could not focus to read. White blood cells attacked his retinas. He squinted at the TV that was just beyond his feet.

He had goggles that looked like the protective eyewear he wore when using a table saw. The ones my father wore outside were black. They covered most of his face.

He could no longer hear much of what happened around him. He asked people to repeat what they said. He was 42 years old. He sometimes gave a small smile as if he had understood.

My father could not lay down. His bones hurt.

He did not sleep. He sat up in a recliner and sometimes closed his eyes. He drifted off in an opiate haze. Sometimes, he was quiet for an hour before you could hear him groan. He heard the groans too, and his eyelids would flutter and part and he would look toward the television.

When he attempted to eat, he suffered. The foods he had always loved, his body pushed up and out and into the toilet. He could not keep calories down. His stomach pushed acid into his throat and burned it.

His body fought everything calorically-dense except peanut butter. My father hated peanut butter. He would not eat it.

His massive recliner had once cushioned his bulk. It engulfed his bones. When it was dark outside he was in his recliner. The TV blared in the night.

My father was diagnosed with cancer before his 40th birthday.

Out of everyone who is diagnosed with cancer, 1% of people have the form of cancer that killed him.

My father had first seen a man with that form of cancer in the 1970s. He was 25 years old when he met that man. He told me about that melting man when I was young. The two of them had talked about cancer. They talked about why the man had started melting.

In the 1980s, my father saw another man with the same form of cancer. My father watched his father-in-law die. I remember looking at my grandfather’s casket.

For the last 6 years of his death, as my father melted away, he fought.

I watched him fight from the time I was 12 years old, until I turned 18.

He was diagnosed at the age I am now.

I watched as his body fought against cancer. I watched as his body fought with healthy cells. I watched him fight against food. Against the sun.

The doctors said he was a good fighter.

I do not believe fighting is always effective, even if you are a good fighter.

I do not believe hate is effective.

When is a groan a scream? When the door of the hospital room is closed, and you can stand at the other end of the building and hear it.

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Where Are We in America, Now? (Part 1)

Personal Experiences

 

Custers Last Stand Dark

“I’m getting my gun,” she said. The bus idled in the dark. “Excuse me?” said the man sitting next to her. The voices were clear over the muffled hum of the engine.

“When I get home I’m getting my gun.” Her shirt was a rainbow of horizontal stripes. It hung from her body. A colorless beanie was pulled low on her head. Her eyes were sunglasses lenses. The big brown circles went up her forehead over the beanie’s edge and down over her cheeks. “I’m getting my gun and my brothers. We are going to ride,” she said.

The man next to her put an arm around his infant son. The man’s eyes were round and his black goatee glinted in the bluish lights of the bus. His facial hair scraggled like two inches of mangled velcro. “I don’t think this has anything to do with me,” he said. “You are disrespecting me and my one-year-old son.”

“I’m an American,” said the woman. “I remember nine-eleven.”

The man’s voice got louder. “You need to stop disrespecting me and my son. I’m a black American.”

“I know what you are,” she said. “And I know what Americans are. When I get home I’m getting my gun.”

“Bus driver!” yelled the man.

“I can’t hear you!” we all heard back from the bus driver. Heads bounced back as the bus pulled forward.

The woman stood up and moved to another seat. She flopped in the one already pressing on my knees.

We all moved through the night. The bus headlights caught a sign in the dark. “Big Horn County” shone in white letters across reflective green.

Many of us had started off in Washington. We had rolled together through Idaho, and waited together in a bus station somewhere in Montana at midnight. That town had consisted of a McDonalds and an empty motel that said “No Vacancy.”

We had waited for the bus we were on, and we were all moving again. In another six hours, we would be in Wyoming. One bus after another had rumbled along for a long time before we got to this place.

Somewhere outside the window, general Custer and 267 of his men had died. They became war heroes in old history books. We rolled past that spot in the dark.

 


I was born in the midwest and it felt like I grew up there. We moved near Seattle and I grew up more. I thought I found “The Woman I’d Spend My Life With” a couple of years ago. Then my life exploded one day. After that, I got on a bus. These things happened, and made me think about America.

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Happy Easter Harmony

Spirituality
Happy Easter from Chris

If you are a child in France, you wake up this morning knowing that flying bells brought you chocolate. The bells flew to Rome last Friday. That’s why you couldn’t hear them. Today the church bells fill the air. The bells have returned, with eggs and chocolate bunnies for you.

If you are a child in America, you know that’s ridiculous. Bells cannot fly. Only a large rabbit could have laid the plastic eggs on your lawn. The American chocolate inside tastes a bit like wax.

Some cultures believe that rabbits do not bring eggs, and that bells do not fly to Rome to pick up chocolate. We look at bells, and see no source of thrust. We see no wings that could create lift. We think bells don’t fly to pick up chocolate, or for any reason.

Some of us look for congruent patterns in the world around us. We limit our beliefs to prickly, precise patterns congruent with those we have observed. We tell ourselves stories of molecules and mass, even though stories of science can be boring.

Yet even a scientist will tell you that each and every bit of you has died and been reborn.

Did all of your cells experience apoptosis last Friday? Not all at once. But the bones that carried you around the yard on your Easter Egg hunts are no longer there. Those legs are gone. Those childhood feet that felt the wet grass are not with you today. Those physical bits aren’t even in the same city you live in, if you moved 11 years ago. Most of your cells will die and be created again within 7 years. All will refresh and renew.

This Easter, let’s not get caught up in our symbols. Bunnies enjoy reproduction as much as the next guy. Eggs open and bring forth life in a beautiful spectrum of amino acids. All that lives dies. All that lives rises and sprouts forth from this universe. We all renew, no matter what stories our minds happen to tell us.

The symbols of language and belief cannot contain what we truly are. Let’s not let them tempt the mind, and limit what we experience. Let us allow the mind to find harmony. Let us renew and be vital.

“What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” – Romans 6:21-23 KJV

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Through the Windshield

Personal Experiences

skid marks cropped 4

I cried when I wrote this. Part of my father’s job was to pick up pieces of people. I knew that when I was very young.

He saw twisted metal and shards of bloody glass. Many people do not know it takes 160 feet to skid to a stop from 60mph. He saw skid marks on the highway that drew straight lines 100 feet directly into other cars.

My father tried teaching people to use their steering wheels and avoid accidents. Drivers of other cars could not hear him screaming at them through their windows.

One day, my family drove the streets of Indianapolis together. My father sat in the driver’s seat. My mother sat in the passenger seat. I climbed up front between them and sat on the lump of leather in the middle. They let me sit between them and look out the clear, thick windshield at the world rushing toward us.

As we traveled down a long line of road, a car pulled out just feet ahead of us. Then it stopped. My father did not swerve left into oncoming cars. He did not swerve right into parked cars. We screeched to a stop inches from the taillights ahead. My forehead hit the hard solid glass of our windshield. I bounced off and fell back between my mother and father. I put my hand on my head.

My father’s face turned red and his eyes were big. He examined my head. He put his hand on my neck, and asked me to look down at the floor as slow as I could and then up at the roof of the car. He began to swear. His dark eyebrows moved towards each other. He opened his door and jumped out. I pushed myself up on the leather lump as far as I could and looked over the dashboard. I watched my father march past the nose of our car and past the taillights in front of it.

He stood for a moment. His head looked like it was feet above the driver’s side of the car in front of us. He put his hands on the open sill of the driver’s side window and crouched down. I saw the muscles of his face bulge and twitch. He lifted one arm and pointed back towards our car. It looked like he was pointing straight at me. I saw him move his head forward toward the open window and look inside. His eyebrows moved down. “I’m okay!” I yelled at the windshield. “Mom, I’m okay!” I looked at my mom. She was looking straight ahead.

My father reached into the other car. His feet were planted wide apart. His left hand gripped the door, and his right hand reached in through the window. His arm looked like it could stretch all the way through and unlock the passenger side. His eyes burned into the car. There was a burst of motion. His arms and shoulders and chest thrashed. His feet stayed planted. His left hand gripped the car door. The rest of him thrashed back and forth. I screamed “I’m okay!”

My father thrashed back and forth and back and forth for a long time.

He stopped moving. He withdrew the length of his arm inch-by-inch. My father turned and took slow steps toward us.

We drove home in silence.

Hoosier Dome in 1982

In an Indianapolis newspaper, there was an article about an unexplained accident. An adult male had been found parked in his own car across town from his home. Police found blood spattered across the dashboard and windshield and steering wheel. The man was taken to the hospital. He was treated for a broken jaw, nose, cheekbone and orbital bone. No investigation into the accident was planned. The man’s blood alcohol level was tested at the hospital and was found to be twice the legal limit.

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My Father – Blood and Red Lights

Personal Experiences

I want to tell you why my father once put his belt in my mouth while blood streamed down my leg into a bathtub. First, I will tell you about who he was.

My father loved cars. He loved knowing how they work, and how all the parts fit together. When he was a child, my father spent days alone in his room building model cars.

As a teenager in the 1960’s, he took engines apart and put them back together to make them faster. He raced musclecars straight down the streets of Indianapolis.

 

My father’s best friend was a street racer. Bob was flying past flat houses when the boy he was racing against veered toward him. Bob was doing over the speed limit when he ran into a parked car.

After Bob died, my father trained to be a medic. He became a paramedic for the city of Indianapolis. When people wrecked cars and had heart attacks, he drove ambulances through red lights to get to them.

You know the scene on old TV where a sweaty doctor is doing CPR on somebody, and after a few seconds the other doctor walks up? The calm doctor puts his hands over the pumping fists, and says “He’s gone” and everybody slumps, right? Every time I saw this scene with my father, his body would explode out of his big recliner. He’d leap and tower and shake fists and yell profanity. “You can’t stop! They start breathing again after six minutes! Your arms are sore for days! You can’t show this shit! Real doctors watch TV and believe it!”

When he was a paramedic, my father worked on bodies. He opened airways and allowed oxygen to flow into lungs. He could take a ripped leg and make it stop spraying blood on the ground. With blood inside a body, oxygen can flow between lungs and brains. He took hearts that had stopped pumping blood, and forced them with his hands to start pumping again.

After he was a paramedic, my father became a firefighter, like his father was for 35 years. He drove a firetruck through red lights.

Randall Shelby weighed 285 pounds, so his team used him to break down doors. He taught me what the wrong way was to break down a door, and what the right way was. He busted doors and grabbed people trapped in smoky rooms. He used the Jaws of Life to open up cars that had clamped shut on people. It is a huge vice-grip that works in reverse. He measured skidmarks on the highway while red lights flashed over his face, and collected body parts from the shoulder of the road. He taught me to use my steering wheel and not my brakes to avoid accidents.

When he was driving our family car, my father tried teaching the drivers of other cars. He shook his fists and pounded the steering wheel and yelled, but they did not listen. He screamed at the windshield as loud as he could, but the other drivers did not learn about how to avoid accidents. My father did not want to find their parts or put them back together.

I once dove after a basketball that was shooting towards a street and ripped open my knee. The flesh came apart under my kneecap in ragged curls. There was blood, and something white underneath it. My father picked me up and we got in the car.

He put my leg in a bathtub. He wrapped his belt around his fist, and put the belt in my mouth. “This will hurt.” He used large tweezers to pick gravel out from underneath my flesh while blood streamed. “Bite down.” He poured hydrogen peroxide into my knee, and red fizz bubbled out. He continued pouring until the fizz turned from red to pink to clear liquid running down the drain.

My father bent a long sewing needle into an L-shape, and cooked it with a lighter. He poured rubbing alcohol over a length of fishing line, and tied a tiny knot at the end of the needle. He sewed my flesh in a room that smelled like a penny tastes. The ragged curls of my knee tugged toward each other and the blood stayed inside me. I healed, and that scar can barely be seen.

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Leadership and Hope

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responsibility-and-liberty

However you feel about the news, you may have noticed that our new president has been following through on his campaign promises about immigration. During the campaign, he stated: “Countries in which immigration will be suspended would include places like Syria and Libya.”

He put that in an executive order. After a period of suspension, this order would change our immigration procedure to: “prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.”

Muslims aren’t “banned”… we’d just let everybody else in first. Since the order specifies 7 countries, all of which have a Muslim-majority population, this order could be interpreted as a “legalese” way of keeping Muslims out of the US.

You might imagine that “Muslims” would be angry about this.

Have you heard how “they” have responded to our government’s recent actions?

By asking for help.

 

“The OIC calls upon the United States government to reconsider this blanket decision and maintain its moral obligation to provide leadership and hope at a time of great uncertainty and unrest in the world.” (from the official OIC AP statement)

 

While no person or organization can speak for “Muslims-in-general,” The Organization of Islamic Cooperation does have permanent delegations in the UN and the EU, representing 1.6 billion people in 57 countries. Their statement represents something as close to an “official response from Muslims” as we may get.

Are “Muslims” different than “we” are? While you might say that “they” are led in matters of religion in ways that “we” are not – they have asked us for leadership and hope.

Because everybody is scared right now.

We have believed ourselves the “Bestest and Most Powerful Country on Earth” for a long time, and this grand self-identity has helped us be grand. Whether by self-delusion or high expectation, this country has done big things that humanity had not seen before. This same “big” identity has also helped us to get involved in other country’s problems, whether they asked for it or not.

When those around the world look at us – we are seen as both powerful and possibly “good.” Even by “Muslims.”

How can we be “good” to a whole world? Many cultures do not seem to want the same things that our culture wants. Do “they” hate our religion? Our freedom of religion? Many threats have been made, and US citizens have been killed and harmed. It’s difficult to choose what you know is best for everyone, when it feels like what you love most is in danger.

We seem to  observe one another across a chasm. Those on the other side often seem to be sneering. How can we, as individuals, even be considered “good” by those in our own country? Do we have power, as individuals? Does it matter what we or our neighbors do?

Many states do not seem to want the same things that our communities want. The world and the country do not feel safe.

When protection and argument and battle feel like the only options to us – this is the time to consider what we want most as individuals. It is time look around, to see what everyone is creating by their words and actions. This includes looking in the mirror. You may feel powerless, yet the mirror is the most important place to look. If you see trouble on your left, or trouble on your right, how are you responding to it?

With fear? Indignation? Anger?

What do you want?

If what you truly want most is war, simply respond to dangerous people with the defensive attacks that come naturally. Name-calling feels good; it is natural. Righteous anger feels good; it is natural. Practice it, and your defense cues attack. This is ancient. This is mankind. War is within us all.

If you’d prefer peace… somebody has to be the first to practice peace. Someone has to be the first to listen to the other side. If you look around, and other people don’t seem to be ready to choose peace, guess who the responsibility falls to?

This is tough. It is a challenge for anyone, to not lash out at those who are wrong and who put us in danger. It is a challenge for anyone who cares. The more we care, the more challenge we face in creating peace.

We have been asked by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for leadership. They asked us really nicely. To paraphrase: All the people in all the countries are scared right now, and it would really be helpful if your people could be less-scared because we all look up to you in some ways even if we don’t want to.

Leadership is not the same as being the Boss. Our culture often gets these things confused. We tend to like a big boss with a shiny tie. We tend to each aspire to being a boss. Being a boss means making sure things get done “your” way. This often boils down to making people do things that make you feel good. Leadership goes beyond what makes you feel good.

Leadership asks that you do what you know is best, even if doing something else might feel more satisfying to you. Why is this important? Leadership allows other human beings to see that what you say is best is truly possible for human beings to do.

 

We are being asked to open our arms when we feel like we must cross them to protect our hearts. 

We the people may provide leadership and hope, even when being cynical seems to be the only option because we are not the boss.

We are being asked to find our compassion for the non-compassionate. This means actively pursuing an understanding of the non-compassionate people who wear turbans AND the non-compassionate people who wear ties. If we the people can practice compassion, we provide this possibility to the world.

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Sometimes, you can’t even smell the turkey that is on your own back.

Personal Experiences

My Dolly picture Resized

Dogs can do things that most of us can’t. Their senses give them more information, and with training they can use that information to take action.

A dog can smell when your blood sugar is too high. And somewhere in America, there’s a dog named Rory who will fetch the insulin kit when he notices it. (according to National Geographic)

Imagine if you got on the elevator with someone, and you could smell what they’d eaten for lunch. Last week.

But we all miss things, regardless of our abilities to perceive what is going on or our efforts to do something about it.

A minute ago, while I was standing in the kitchen and wolfing down a package of flappy processed turkey, our dog Dolly came to inquire. I tossed her a piece, which landed on her back.

She checked the floor all around her. Searching and sniffing. Then she looked up at me.

I pointed to the turkey. She tried craning her neck around, and spun in a circle. Then she looked up at me and waited for more instruction. I pointed again. She checked again.

Then she looked up at me, hoping I’d give her a damn piece of turkey already.

I pointed, she turned. Point, turn, search. Wiggle. Sniff. Point. We repeated the process many times, until she shimmied enough that it tumbled off. Woohoo!

This process reminded me of a boy I once knew, who seemed to be able to sense things that most people can’t.

 

I’ve had turkey on my back for decades.

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