It’s amazing what can happen to a society when you threaten their concept of the afterlife. Humans are so terrified of death and the unknown, especially the finality of it, that many turn to a faith which insures their continuance of life. Even if historically and that faith tortured, raped, murdered, and continues to do so. Many if not most of these incidents aren’t even isolated, they are widespread and extremely well documented. Yet organized religion has this fail-safe that I find fascinating and I have spoken of so many times before… “follow blindly and dare not question your creator.”
Organized religion is a form of government that extends well beyond geographical boundaries which makes it extremely powerful. It’s the governance of a persons very essence, their immortal soul. Just like a political body, it’s extremely competitive, with each group stating their version is the best, and similarly, a source of war, confrontation and death. Those whom do not participate are easily and successfully labeled as outcasts. Even in our modern society, atheists are often looked upon as odd or somehow felt sorry for. Those that wish to acknowledge the forces of nature and balance for their spiritual fulfillment, are usually considered “witches” or worshippers of the devil. “Opting out” of organized religion is not something that’s well received among the masses, surely there must be something untrustworthy of an individual that doesn’t consider their status after he or she perishes from this Earth.
If you’ve ever doubted the power of organized religion, the huge sums of money and wealth behind it, look no further than your local television and Joel Olsteen at work. With a smile that looks like the work of a cosmetic surgeon, he peddles hope, books, videos and of course faith to thousands upon thousands in his stadium sized “church.” His wealth is clearly visible to others, and instead of attempting to hide it as traditional religion often does, Olsteen uses it to propagate his notion that through God and Jesus, “you can too.” When in reality, a positive outlook and eagerness to work, will often result in the same level of success.
While it may sound like I’m an atheist or discouraging participation in religion I’m not. I actually follow a multitude of faiths, as so many aspects of light and how it’s perceived by others fascinate me. There’s way too many examples of kindness and humility in the religions of our planet to acknowledge just one following. What I wish is that more people would be aware about the history and purpose of religion, and act in a way to shift it in the right direction if possible. I wish more people would remember the words of their prophets and deities and act on them, instead of listening to the institutions attempting to represent them, often with ulterior motives.
“Remember the source of your faith is available to you without a building or a dot com, it exists completely and wholly within.”
Organized religion reminds me of coveted ocean front real estate that someone realized people would pay for. Instead of turning it into a park where everyone can enjoy it freely and without cost, they built a hotel on it and charged for the opportunity to engage it. The ocean doesn’t change, it stays the same, but your experience with it is now determined by those that operate the hotel. Your view, the amenities, all arranged by the price you’re willing to pay. Make no mistake that many organized religions operate in the same fashion, monetizing a faith that existed thousands of years before them, in order to profit from the benefits. In the case of cults, they often just make something new up, creating a market where it never existed before.
Remember the source of your faith is available to you without a building or a dot com, it exists completely and wholly within. Find comfort in your own personal connection, don’t feed the monster trying to exploit it for its own financial gain. If asking questions and searching for answers is frowned upon, that’s a good indicator your desire to learn the “why?” is perceived as a threat, and you should probably move on. Your desire to learn should always bring you closer to your faith, not trigger retribution or separate you from it.
Time is truly perceived in the eye of the beholder. When I was just a young kid and my world consisted of cartoons and playing outside after school, the concept of a decade was unknown to me. It was impossible to understand this unit of time since I hadn’t even existed on the planet for ten years, let alone be fully aware for even half that amount. By the time you reach drinking age, you feel like you know everything there is to know and people in their 30’s are considered old. Holidays like Christmas and New Years become reasons to party and it becomes perfectly acceptable to stay awake the entire night, engaging in behavior you might learn to regret later in life, and of course bragging about it until then. You look forward to the newness of the upcoming year with optimism, excitement and wonder, speculating what it might bring. Then, suddenly, often with little notice or warning, things begin to change. Staying up past 9:30 becomes more of a chore than a luxury, and your view of things, now with a much more larger, detailed and complex data set, begins to change. You start to notice patterns, cycles and the concept of a decade, once this huge block of unperceivable time, becomes shorter, familiar and forms into a much greater perspective of life. Next year I’ll turn 49, and while many complement me on still looking like I’m in my 30’s, I sure as hell don’t feel like it, and the way I view life has changed even more.
I’ll always remember, as I suppose most will, how horrible and anxious I felt the first time I stopped seeing someone I was interested in. As a young closeted gay man, I latched onto the first guy that reciprocated sexual attraction, especially since you didn’t know when you might run into one again. The world was completely different, and meeting other gay men was often risky at best. There was a very real possibility of being physically harmed should your suspicions have been inaccurate, and they ended up being straight and not very understanding of your dilemma. Breaking up, or the gay equivalent, was a horrible process and it seemed like life was over. Now, with a much better frame of reference, you realize that sometimes things just don’t work out, even at times for the better. While at times you may be in the worse emotional state of your life, eventually you will heal and things will improve. You learn that being alone isn’t so bad after all, and when you do have that special someone in your life, you learn to appreciate the time you have together so much more…knowing that life is completely unpredictable, and sometimes that’s a good thing.
I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my 40’s, was just only realized this past year or so, and that’s to live in the present. I got around to reading the book The Power Of Now by Eckart Tolle, and then a friend offered to take me to one of his speaking engagements here in Miami. I started to look at life much differently and began to appreciate the “nowness” of what is. And while I still look into the future and hope for a much better one, I have a set of tools to recognize what I’m doing and focus on what’s in front of me before I miss it. This takes practice of course and I’m still very much learning, but I’m getting so much better at identifying everything around me that’s actually going great, and trying to stay in that place of appreciating it. Going for a walk and enjoying trees and sunshine has taken on a completely different feeling, because I’m not wondering if life will be great next month or how I’ll get this or that accomplished, I’m thinking about how nice the warm sun feels on my face and how beautiful the trees are. I’m staring in awe at a humming bird or listening to birds sing and realizing there’s a cardinal in the tree next to me. I’m enjoying and living in the moment itself, not worrying about a future that may never even be available for me to experience. The only bad thing about this frame of mind, is the tendency to wish you discovered it sooner, having wasted so much time thinking and worry about things that never came to pass.
The Universal Law of Attraction has also been huge for me the past couple of years, enabling me with further insight as to why certain things happen and what I can do to change. It has answered many questions for me and created some more in the process. It’s the only principle that seems to fill in the holes of so many belief systems, or at the very least, bridge them together. It doesn’t satisfy every need for me, but it’s come much closer than anything else. It also seems to be a concept that so many practice already without even knowing, and yet illusive in your awareness until you’re absolutely ready for it. I’ve realized the hard way you can’t explain it to someone, they just won’t get it until they’re ready, so I won’t even try here. However I couldn’t write about what I’ve learned during the last ten years without mentioning it.
” I know that my goal won’t give me happiness unless I learn to be happy before reaching it. “
I’ve also learned not to care so much about things I can’t change, to pick my battles more carefully and the power of saying no. I’ve learned that people often don’t have your best interests in mind and the only person that will never intentionally let you down is yourself. And if you do manage to screw yourself over, holy shit it feels bad. I’ve learned I can’t fix the problems of the world or be all things to all people. I continue to learn every day, practicing what’s already come into my awareness… because knowing something is much different than actually applying it… and so I’m learning that as well. Of course I’m also learning there’s so much left to learn and I’m hungry for more. I’m not concerned about being the best at something anymore, I’m concerned about forgetting I’m still a student.
So what do I expect for the next decade? Nothing. Expectations are the mother of all fuck ups, not to mention I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and it wouldn’t matter anyways. Which is totally bizarre because it seems the moment I became aware of the decades I’ve lived and what I’ve learned from them, is the moment I realized to stop counting them. Live in the now and live your best life to the best of your abilities. Enjoy every moment for what it has to offer, be thankful for the days that your back doesn’t hurt and when you have an hour to spare with nothing to do, but to just be. I still have goals but I’m also aware of the many milestones I’ve encountered on the way to them. I know that my goal won’t give me happiness unless I learn to be happy before reaching it. I’m open to changing those goals as my awareness changes, knowing that being flexible will make you a much happier person. So I end this by wishing you all the same for the upcoming year, may you be blessed with knowledge, love, prosperity and health, and the awareness of its presence in your life. So many have everything they could ever want in life, but are completely blind to it.
Hurricane season is just about to end, and that means plenty of people like me living in South Florida, have lots of canned goods left over. This year we had a close call with Hurricane Dorian that left supermarket shelves empty and our pantries busting out at the seams. Consequently, I came up with this surprisingly easy and yummy recipe, completely by accident, while looking for new ways to enjoy an old favorite…Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup. It’s super rich, hearty, and leaves you craving for more just days later.
1 10.5 oz Can Campell’s Chicken Noodle Soup (Home-style Preferred) 1 Teaspoon Sesame Oil 1 Egg (Free Range Organic: Happy Chicken = Happy Soup) 1/2 Package Uncle Ben’s Long Grain and Wild Ready Rice (Optional) Salt and Pepper to taste
Add a can of water to the soup as directed in instructions (if condensed) and bring to a simmer. Add sesame oil, Ready Rice (cooked according to directions), salt and pepper and stir well. Remove from heat. Crack the egg into a small bowl to make sure it’s not spoiled, then gently pour (the drop in egg drop) into soup. Allow the soup to sit and cook the egg until the whites have become opaque.
The year was 2001 and I had just found myself single after a brief but tumultuous relationship. Everyone has that one person in their life that fucks them up, and this was mine. The timing couldn’t have been worse as my best friend had passed away only 18 months prior, and I was still trying to adjust to life in his absence. In fact, it was one of the reasons this relationship messed me up so bad, as I was hyper aware of the void in my interpersonal circle. Weekends were just an additional reminder that I was more alone than ever… not something to look forward to in the least. That’s when I discovered another person just as alone and afraid, facing a new life much in the same way that I was. I began to look forward to our time together every Friday and Saturday evening, and in the same instance, I started to fall in love with someone I least expected…. myself.
Humans are social creatures and it’s just natural instinct for most to seek out others for companionship, love and friendship. For some, being single is a worse case scenario, involving feelings such as extreme loneliness, lack of self worth and even identity issues. The idea of existing through life without a significant other is equivalent to hell on Earth. While for others it’s really not such a big deal. Either they choose a life of solitude for purposes of growth and introspection, or they’re so independent they couldn’t care much either way. If a relationship manifests, they welcome it, but if not, it’s not the end of world. Still, even some seem to just know they will find someone, and simply view being single as a stepping stone or “pause” between the next relationship. During this time in my life, I saw the prospect of a partner as a way of escaping my world as I had come to know it… empty and somewhat without any kind of direction or maybe even purpose. The relationship I had just experienced left me wishing it would miraculously and suddenly work out somehow, as if waking up from a bad dream… yet at the same time, never wanting to date again and make myself vulnerable.
I remember watching the news one day, showing kids and adults alike, being so excited regarding the release of the latest Harry Potter book. Several were already in print and this latest edition in a series of best sellers, was already flying off the shelves. I decided that I would purchase the book and see what everyone was taking about. The idea of doing something special for “me” seemed to also supplement my desire to do something different and exciting. I found myself visiting a local Barnes And Noble the next day, enthusiastic about partaking in an adventure so many on the planet were experiencing. Walking into the store, the smell of so many books combined with coffee and pastry seemed healing just by itself. My mother used to take me and my siblings to book stores often as a child, so I’ve always associated the sights, smells and sounds with warmth and comfort. It wasn’t difficult to find the Harry Potter books, they were arranged in such creative displays, stacked to attract attention and interest, which only added to my sensory buffet. I grabbed a copy of the first book in a series of four, and took it to the cashier.
Reading a good book is almost like a ritual for me, I like to be comfortable and have everything I need close by. My immediate space is configured so that refreshments and possibly snacks are within an arm’s reach, with adequate lighting and pillows being an absolute necessity. I think this is because I always saw my mom reading in bed, and she always seemed so content while in a world completely her own. Before Kindles were a thing I had to position the book so I could turn the pages without them rubbing against something, they required calculated clearance. As I’m writing this now, I’m being made aware of possible OCD behaviors in my practice, something which actually makes sense considering at the time I felt like I had little control over my own life. Needless to say, that night I locked myself away in my room and begin to read all about the life of the boy that lived in a cupboard under the stairs.
Almost immediately I began to see parallels in Harry’s life and my own… the loss of loved ones, being bullied and trying so hard yet unsuccessfully to fit in. The imagery of the text completely pulled me away from the nightmare I was experiencing and into a place filled with promise and of course, magic. The impossible became reality for Harry and that brought me the promise of great hope. That weekend I finished the first book and couldn’t wait to get the next. I was completely addicted not only to the magical world of this child, but to how I felt while reading. The pain I was experiencing did not have room to exist in this alternate reality, and I was more than happy to see it vanish. Book two came and went, and then book three and The Prisoner Of Azkaban brought in an unexpected angle… the feeling of being reunited with a long lost friend you never knew you had, something I so desperately wanted at the time.
You stop sending out the “I’m desperate to date someone” vibe and start sending out the “Are you really what I’m looking for?” vibe.
Then it happened. I’m not sure when or how, but I remember mentally acknowledging it as a huge light bulb moment. I was happy, but I was also single. I was enjoying time with myself and only me. I was learning about myself through the words and stories of J.K. Rowling… and it was awesome! I didn’t need another person to enjoy life, I just needed me. I began to look forward again to the weekends, because it was a time where I literally loved myself. I treated myself well and I enjoyed the quiet time alone, living the adventures with Harry and his friends. I stopped looking for other people to fulfill my life because I realized I could do it on my own pretty darn well. I knew that eventually I would want someone physically in my life, but I was comforted in knowing I would be good until that happened… I had become my own best friend.
Something else starts to happen when you come to this realization. You stop sending out the “I’m desperate to date someone” vibe and start sending out the “Are you really what I’m looking for?” vibe. People begin to approach you for dates without you even asking and your tolerance for bullshit and falseness is at an all time low. I clearly remember going on a couple of dates with someone extremely good looking and fit, and realizing that they were way to aloof for my taste. When he abruptly cancelled our third date I decided there wouldn’t be another one. He began to accuse me of being in another relationship, and that’s why I was calling it quits. He couldn’t understand why someone would turn him down… he was so wrapped up in his own vanity, he chose a reason he could wrap his head around. What he didn’t realize is that being with him wasn’t as fun as being with Harry and his friends… yes I’d rather be alone than with someone that didn’t make me feel good. And that’s when “the bar” was created and raised for me. Something I wouldn’t have done unless I realized how to love myself.
As I mentioned earlier, people are social creatures and I know it’s hard to be single. But it’s even harder when you haven’t learned to love yourself and don’t have a healthy level of self respect. You don’t need to be arrogant, you just need to know what it is you want and the type of person you’re looking for. And when you meet another person with those same qualities and aspirations, your relationship rises way above insecurities and jealousy that can break even the strongest of loves. Love yourself first and watch love come to you. Stop searching so hard and let it find you instead. It so pains me when I see other gay men putting themselves down, wondering why they’re still single. They’re so eager to find someone, but haven’t realized the person they need to love first, is staring back at them in the mirror.
Most people don’t like uncertainty. They prefer a life of 30 day billing cycles, along with a fixed rate mortgage on their fixed sized living space which they return to daily. We work on a schedule, have some days off, then go back to work. During this lifetime we’ll have interactions with others, fall in love, make friends, get hurt, and variety of other experiences we value or hate as humans. Much of our time will be spent on ensuring that our journey here is stable and certain… predictable. For many of us, the allure of material possessions keeps us striving and moving forward, while for others, happiness is obtained through constancy and simplicity. Nothing more and nothing less, a no frills kind of existence with the least amount of variables requiring any kind of management or manual intervention. Still, through all these examples, uncertainly is the thorn in our sides which threatens to disrupt and remove any kind of joy we’ve obtained through whatever means.
Society goes through a lot of trouble to avoid uncertainty. We purchase insurance policies to take care of situations or incidents which haven’t yet occurred, we start saving for college when our children are born and we even make arrangements for our loved ones before we die… death being the one uncertainty that’s very certain. We also form huge organizations which set forth to guarantee certainty through supernatural means. As technologically advanced as we are as a species, most humans on this planet believe in some kind of supreme all-knowing being, whom will actually grant us certainty… on the condition of praise / worship and or ritualized behaviors. Although we may no longer sacrifice our fellow man to sun and rain gods, we easily opt for a fate just as bad, or even worse, for those that dare to cross the deities which guarantee our certainty… and happiness. Entire cultures and civilizations have been built and destroyed in the process of garnering a sense of security, peace and joy… in other words certainty, by pleasing some kind of deity.
Sometimes bad things just happen to good people and that’s a fact that many find hard to believe. It blows our concept of certainty right out the window when we realize that all the worshiping and sacrifices we do through our lives has little or no bearing in what happens to us. We uses phrases to help us cope with this unsightly truth by saying things like “only the good die young” or “it was just his time.” Perhaps we even suggest that a person’s right to live and exist peacefully was somehow removed by cosmic forces such as Karma, which instantly eases the fear of those practicing what they believe is a righteous path. It soothes the human psyche to know that your kind neighbor, who took care of all the homeless cats in the area, was a ruthless ancient leader in her previous life and that must by why she was killed by a hit a run driver. Yeah it sounds pretty stupid, but even a stupid answer is better than none at all for those seeking closure or absolution.
Although we may no longer sacrifice our fellow man to sun and rain gods, we easily opt for a fate just as bad, or even worse, for those that dare to cross the deities which guarantee our certainty… and happiness
I know this may sound depressing as hell, but there’s actually a silver lining to it all. You see the fear of uncertainty relies on your perception of time and expectations of what’s to come. In other words, the future. In fact the future and uncertainty are almost sisters in relation to their meanings. Not knowing what’s to come and the events which have yet to come, are pretty freakin’ close… if not first cousins. But what if you didn’t have uncertainty because it didn’t have a place in your way of thinking? What if you just lived in the present and enjoyed each moment for what it was, learning what you can and moving forward as time must actually do? If you’re living in the present, then uncertainty really isn’t a thing anymore because every thing that’s around is pretty darn certain. You take in the available information and there you have it. When the information is pleasant, take it all in and enjoy the moment… every last second of it while it lasts. Bad situations may arise, but there’s still information in the experience, and that information may provide useful and offer solutions you didn’t know were there while distracted by the “happy” stuff.
Yeah this sounds a lot of like Eckhart Tolle‘s the “Power of Now,” and even some Law Of Attraction mixed in for good measure. It’s also just me being sick and tired of trying to work against everything for a desired outcome. I’m down right exhausted. I still have hopes and dreams of course, I’m still working towards them… but I refuse to believe any longer that there’s some magical way to doing it all that makes you exempt from tragedy and or disappointments. Life happens and shit happens… there’s no way around it. Don’t spend your days and nights worrying about the future and uncertainty when right this second, you probably have what you need to survive… especially if you’re reading this blog post. Any more than that is icing on the cake. So many forget their existing blessings while pursuing the ones they desire, only to recognize them when they’re no longer present. Don’t ever put yourself through that misery. Live in the now and give uncertainty a big middle finger. When shit happens, learn from the shit, weed through shit… get your hands dirty looking through the shit because maybe you swallowed a pearl at that all you can eat seafood bar.
As for faith, how about having some in the mathematical principles which dictate the eventual conclusion to your losing streak? I think sub-consciously, a person’s belief that a deity will somehow help them, means the opposite belief exists in them as well. Somewhere in the recesses of their brain, the grey matter is doing some spiritual math which states some all powerful being can knock them off their horse as fast as it helped them on it. Why even bother if it’s causing you more pain than it’s helping? Please don’t confuse my anger and frustration with a desire to become an atheist, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m just trying to sort out the emotional from the logical… you know, like Commander Spock. I’m just thinking if we remove the construct of living with expectations to just living and being happy with what we have, we’ll all be a lot more satisfied. And probably in the process attract more positive people and experiences?
I’ve only been on mainstream social media for a little over two years now, and I’ve noticed some patterns, some of which are pretty darn cool and some of which are just plain frightening. Social media allows regular individuals, such as myself, to share information with the masses, with the intention of dispensing ideas or even influencing others. This can be an amazingly powerful tool, as we’ve found out with our last presidential election and the well documented interference by a foreign government… who used social media to in an attempt to influence the outcome. Whether or not they were successful, remains to be seen by some, however there’s another angle to social media that in my opinion can be just as, or even more dangerous than fake FaceBook accounts spreading “fake news” about Hillary Clinton. I’m speaking of “social media science” and its impact on our every day lives.
This morning I was thumbing through my news feed and I saw a post regarding vaccinations and how they cause autism. The person who posted this article was wowed and amazed by the facts which revealed the “truth” about autism and the cause behind it. No one wants to find out their child has a developmental impairment, especially when it’s not really certain how it happened. And this is how social media science is effective, it’s completely fear based… fueled by speculation and misinformation, giving people an answer when one is so desperately needed. Despite many scientific studies pointing to the contrary, people choose the answer that is preferred, because it is in fact an answer, and not “we really don’t know.” These “answers”, based loosely on data from the same studies that proved the opposite, are defended with an incredible degree of assertiveness. Sound familiar? It should. Social media science is modeled similarly off another fear based construct… organized religion. They share a very deep rooted commonality… people seeking answers to something that potentially scares the shit out of them.
Just like religion, social media science can look really pretty. It can look like real science by showing graphs and charts, and make the reader feel pretty darn good. It makes them feel safe because if they don’t get their kid vaccinated, they’ll be perfectly fine and grow up to be happy productive adults. Right? This is along the same lines of “If I don’t sin and I go to church, I’ll be in God’s favor and my family won’t be killed off.” Of course, we all know bad things happen to good people, but there are still those comforted in knowing that God must have killed our neighbor’s wife because surely she had some skeletons in her closet. Again, fear based questions answered with fear based conclusions, none of which have any merit… but they’re still an answer which satisfies our ego’s (thank you Sigmund) desperate quest to constantly feel safe and secure.
“And this is how social media science is effective, it’s completely fear based… fueled by speculation and misinformation, giving people an answer when one is so desperately needed. “
Social media science also helps people feel better about frightening global issues… the stuff of blockbuster Hollywood films that brings people in mass to theaters. The same reason people choose to believe that an evil government plot is affecting their children, is what makes them want to believe there’s really no such thing as global warming or climate change. It scares the crap out of them to know we’re on the verge of self destruction… take the concept away and wallah! No more nightmares. People can’t wrap their head around the idea that if the right ice shelf collapses, sea levels would instantaneously rise six feet or more and millions of people around the planet would die. They really don’t want to know about the Twaites Glacier and the fact there’s a huge crack in it… which is growing. So let’s spread the notion that the science is all wrong, and there’s nothing to fear, maybe even throw in some “God wouldn’t let that happen, he promised with a rainbow.” to really ping our religious core.
Now some people might read this and think “Mike is talking about pseudo science and that’s already a thing… Mike it’s called pseudo science you dumb ass.” I would respond by saying that the name, pseudo science, is actually part of the problem. You can’t identify something that’s hurting you if you don’t give it a name that accurately describes it. Pseudo science is much too generalized a term, and can be used anywhere with anything. Social media science is adapted perfectly for cyberspace, where information can be rapidly shared and spread “virally.” You can teach pseudo science in a classroom or textbook, but social media science looks great and it sounds even better thanks to snazzy video and audio production tools. It provides enough answers, albeit with no basis in reality, to calm and soothe the scared parent, the elderly smiling at their grand children and to the kid that can’t sleep at night. Unfortunately with deadly consequences… for all of us.
The Centers for Disease Control website notes that in 1964-65, more than 12 million Americans were infected with the German measles (rubella), which killed 2,000 babies. Another figure shows that more than 15,000 people were killed by diphtheria in 1921. Of course there’s polio, cervical cancer and a host of other illnesses which can be prevented by vaccines, and which could potentially kill thousands or even millions each year. You would think that the “fear” of these diseases alone would want people to be vaccinated against them, with so much evidence of their effectiveness. The CDC states that only 15 cases of German Measles have been reported since 2012…. a dramatic reduction and one would think, proof enough to convince people that such precautions work. However my guess is that the lack of the disease in the general population, in combination with social media science, redirects the fear to something much more simple and easier to digest… a conspiracy. Because once again, no one wants to believe these things happen. People choose to believe something completely false, rather than the cure itself. Fucking amazing. But hey, the article they saw on FaceBook was written incredibly well, had an awesome sound track, got 4,000 likes, and only took them three minutes to read… and to make a decision which could potentially kill their kid. Thank you social media science.
I’m always confused with this statement, what part of America should be great again? The statement itself implies that “greatness” actually occurred at least once, albeit in the past, but doesn’t really clarify what we’re trying to accomplish. We had less technology in the past, but I’m sure we all don’t want to ditch our flat screen televisions and go back to a twenty-one inch cathode ray tube. Technology also gave us lots of advancements in medicine, and we’re fighting disease better than ever before. Cars are nicer too… and what about Alexa? Do we really want to start using light switches again? Isn’t that so 1900? So yeah it must be something else. So what part of America, and when, does this campaign slogan refer to? Has anyone ever really asked?
In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue and discovered the new world. Not too long afterwards, the indigenous people of this land began to die from newly introduced diseases, and those that survived, were forced to covert to Christianity. Those that refused were killed, tortured, or a combination of both. Entire civilizations and cultures were wiped off the map, and any that remained were scrubbed of reminders which connected them to their past. Most of the Mayan texts written in “glyphs”, were destroyed because they looked like satanic drawings according to a Catholic Priest named Diego de Landa. All but three remain, however he succeeded to the point where the knowledge to understand and interpret these writings were lost until just recently. So yeah, the beginnings of the America’s weren’t the greatest. Okay so let’s move on and continue our search for the “great” part.
The Declaration of Independence gets signed in 1776 and our country is off to a brave new start. The thirteen colonies begin to build the greatest nation in the world using… slave labor. So not such a great time either. African slaves were a huge commodity, and according to teachhistory.org, as much as twenty percent of the population during the American Revolution was African American. The White House itself was built with slave labor and in some states such as South Carolina, the amount of slaves outnumbered whites. Thankfully the horrors of slavery were recognized by many, including Abraham Lincoln, and the abolitionist movement gained momentum. Not so great was that much of our country thought we should keep slavery going strong, and we went to war over it. Hundreds of thousands of people died defending the right to keep human beings as slaves… a scary thought.
As we continue to look through history we come upon the days of the American Pioneer. This was the time of Conestoga wagons and brave souls eager to build our nation into something… great. So this must be it! This is when America was great! Oh wait, there’s one small problem… Native Americans. Yes, the glorified days of “cowboys and Indians” was really a genocide in progress. Having been pushed further and further west, the native populations that survived first contact were being brutally slaughtered and pushed into reservations. This kept occurring until the very last were all rounded up and forced off their lands. Okay so maybe this isn’t the great America we’re looking for, maybe it’s somewhere else.
Let’s move past this… ah yes, finally I think this is it. It’s 1969 and the first man lands on the moon and he’s American and our country is truly great. That must be the “great again“… it most definitely has to be. I knew beehives and flattop hair styles were coming back, but I didn’t know this was the reason. Yes… let’s all make thistime, the time of the giant “leap” of mankind… the great time, and we’ll all be one happy family again. Unless of course you’re black. Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot only a year before and there were still bathrooms labeled “whites only.” Elizabeth Ann Thompson from progressive.org wrote that even after Brown vs The Board of Education, she was attending segregated schools 12 years later. To this day, racism is alive and well in this nation, something that many, including myself, thought was finally coming to an end with the election of Barack Obama as president. So unfortunately for us as a nation, this wasn’t such a great time for all people… although we were working hard at it.
As we continue to move closer to the present day, perhaps we’ll find our “great” period that we’re trying so hard to get back to again. We’re in the 1980’s and we have a reusable space craft called the space shuttle and things are looking up. However, there’s a disease that’s mysteriously killing off a very select group of people in our nation, most of which are homosexual. The disease ravages the human immune system and people die slowly as the body’s ability to fight off the slightest infection is destroyed. The disease is easy to spot in the later stages, as mostly gay men begin to waste away and develop skin lesions all over their body. The cause for this disease is unknown and extremely scary, so much so that mass graves exist to this day where bodies were carelessly disposed, since funeral homes refused to work with infected corpses. It was labeled acquired immune deficiency syndrome or AIDS, and along with it came a huge stigma…. world wide. The religious right boasted that AIDS was a punishment from God, something that even today is repeated by those that claim to be persons of faith and preach the unconditional love of Christ. Homophobia was at an all time high in the 80’s thanks to AIDS, and the future didn’t look so good for millions of LGBTQ Americans across the country. So much for the 80’s being the target for “great again.”
I kept trying to find the “great” in America and it was tough. There are so many countless examples of how this country has screwed its own citizens over or even experimented on them. We have intentionally infected black men with syphilis, detonated atomic weapons just outside of populated areas, given massive corporations the ability to poison our water and our air… so when WAS America great?
And then I realized it.
America being great isn’t some ideology or even some time… on the contrary it’s about people. It’s about the people that saw what was wrong with the way we were thinking and put everything on the line to change it. That’s what makes America great. It’s about Rosa Parks refusing to take a seat in the back of the bus, or Madame CJ Walker starting her own line of cosmetics and becoming the first female millionaire despite racial inequality. It’s about men forming a group called “ACT UP” to raise awareness about AIDS. It’s about the courage of people to march and be heard. It’s about the countless men, women and children that crossed oceans to call America home with nothing in their pockets but a dream… many of whom we call our grandparents. It’s about the men and women that gave their lives to confront fascism and keep our nation free. It’s about how we have overcome darkness and continue to move towards the light in countless ways. That’s what makes America great and if you want to make it great… again, then open your window and look outside because it’s here and it’s now. People make America great, especially the ones that have worked hard to overcome our dark history.
It’s easy to become discouraged by watching the news and seeing what’s going on. As I’m writing this, there’s so much non-stop anger and fear out there. However, if you change your perspective, you’ll realize that the absence of anger and fear would indicate we’ve stopped moving toward the light. And that’s not the case. We’re mobilized and we haven’t slowed down in the slightest amount. We have young people with amazing voices spreading a message to end gun violence. Right now, there’s over twenty Democratic presidential candidates and they include six women, a gay man, people of color and multiple ethnicities! How GREAT is that? We have followers of the Islamic faith elected to public office and there’s so many of us screaming “NO KIDS IN CAGES!!!” Now that’s great!!!!! And how great is it that so many are upset about current environmental policies and the numbers of people that are talking about climate change? It’s unbelievable!
America being great isn’t some ideology… on the contrary it’s about people. It’s about the people that saw what was wrong with the way we were thinking and put everything on the line to change it.
The slogan “Make America Great Again” is really about going back to outdated ideologies and dark times. No matter how strong our military or how good our economy is, if we can’t strive for equal rights and safety for all, regardless of the many different attributes that make us unique, then we’re not even near greatness. If you think referring to the days where opportunity and rights were basically only for straight white men, then your goal has nothing to do with making America great again, it’s about pulling it backwards. The truth is, everyone who’s ever fought to overcome those kinds of ideologies and practices… theyare the great ones. They are the reason we were always great and always will be. And there’s more of them now than ever… that’s why there’s so much noise. It’s actually a really good thing, silence would mean death to our democracy as we know it. As long as we continue to push the envelope and bring the darkness into the light, we will win and our nation will thrive.
Keep fighting the good fight. We owe it to the many that paved the way before us.
I was at work one day going about the business of figuring out why our accounts payable system wasn’t behaving, when I received a phone call from a friend I used to volunteer with at the zoo. I glanced at the phone and although excited to see Patti’s name, I was apprehensive to answer for the news it might bring. We had both donated our time along with a number of amazing human beings, many of which were elderly. It wasn’t uncommon to get emails informing us of someone’s untimely or unexpected passing, so I had grown accustomed to receiving bad news from people that also enjoyed spending weekends at the zoo alongside me. When I answered the phone Patti quickly explained to me the reason for her call, and it wasn’t what I had expected, at least not in the capacity of losing a fellow docent. It was instead a notification of sorts… a mutual friend was gravely ill, and wanted to see us before he died in only days time. Patti told me that his caretaker would be contacting me shortly to make arrangements, and to expect a phone call soon. I was taken back in both horror and in honor… I would be seeing our friend for only the second time in person, and yet it would be the last. And thinking in that very context, what sort of impression did I make that he would want to see me before he died?
I met John on a social website for gay men and we pretty much hit it off instantly. He was handsome in his pictures and I liked his way of thinking. Although there was hope we’d eventually meet in person one day, and with him being local that was certainly possible, our online friendship evolved into a sort of we’re all in this together kind of thing. We would chat online and discuss the perils of the gay world, and then on occasion we’d have more personal conversations about what I did in my spare time… and for me that was volunteering at the zoo. John seemed to really enjoy hearing my stories about how rewarding being a docent was and also the funny experiences that just happened naturally, especially with other docents I worked with. I think I was telling him about Patti and I heroically springing into action one weekend and looking for a lost child, when he asked me about her last name. My first reaction was that I was actually typing to Patti and she had some kind of alter ego. Being online since I was a 14 years old I had seen my share of crazy. However, after John explained that he worked with a lady named Patti that also volunteered at a zoo, and she often spoke about a “Mike“… the coincidence was too obvious to ignore. When I confirmed his suspicions it seemed as though we instantly became closer, while the planet simultaneously became smaller.
This revelation of shared friendship felt really cool because I had already thought Patti was amazing. John eagerly shared that she often spoke fondly of me and I was touched deeply. It’s perhaps the biggest compliment you can receive when someone you respect and admire talks favorably of you when you’re not present in the conversation. I consider that a very special acknowledgement and I greatly appreciated John mentioning it. Patti and I also began speaking of John when we were together, totally enjoying this experience of sharing a common friend and learning more about them through each other’s eyes. John would often tell me things about Patti that warmed my heart, and I’m sure he’d do the same with her. Here we were three people with three different lives, just enjoying the presence of each other in our awareness. Looking back, it seemed like a very love filled, very basic and wonderful human interaction. Simple, and yet fulfilling in a small but significant way.
Finally, during a Memorial Day Weekend visit to Chicago, I ran into John in a hotel lobby and finally met him in person. He was much older and shorter than I had expected, but I felt extremely comfortable in his presence. Our interactions feeling very normal and almost like we’d seen each other many times previously before. We chatted for a while and came across even more people we both knew in common, which begged the question, why hadn’t we met sooner? I didn’t realize John was an avid photographer, and I posed for a few pictures when he asked… apparently he thought I was pretty photogenic… yeah I can totally see how he saw that. We promised to start seeing more of each other in Miami and we went our separate ways. We continued chatting online afterwards, sharing stories of our time in Chicago and once again discussing plans to meet up again one day soon.
Here we were three people with three different lives, just enjoying the presence of each other in our awareness.
One weekend while at the zoo and Patti was transporting me to my next shift via golf-cart, she informed me that John’s health was declining. Patti explained that many people at her job were doing the best they could to help him out. He was a kind and spunky soul and everyone enjoyed his funny and frank disposition. He was the kind of person that helped define a particular place or environment, the kind of person that would be talked about whenever that place was mentioned. When the threat of losing someone with such presence is real, the void they could potentially leave behind becomes something to be feared… by everyone. Clearly his absence would affect the dynamic of all that worked with him and it was something Patti was dreading. I was saddened that I may never see John again, that our friendship would just end in some cold and empty chat window, some bytes of data representing our last interaction. I was completely wrong.
I wish I remembered the name of John’s friend that contacted me after Patti’s phone call. He was very solemn and soft spoken, exactly what you would expect from someone making such arrangements. He took his job very seriously, as if it were a sacred task, and he explained to me that John was very tired and weak, and was not expected to live more than a day or so… two at the most. John had told him to contact Patti and I because he wanted to see us before he died. I almost started crying when I heard this, having never been in the position of honoring a dying man’s wish. I knew I had to be there for both of us, since Patti was battling a severe case of bronchitis herself. I also knew that I had to bring my favorite picture I had of Patti, driving a golf cart, wearing a smile ear to ear. At least he could finally see us together, even if it she couldn’t be there in person.
Later that evening I arrived at John’s loft apartment and met his dear friend. It was decorated exactly and appropriately as I would have imagined… a large high ceiling room, modern and industrial, looking a bit like it belonged in San Francisco or some other big city. There was a blue light shining on the wall, giving an almost bar effect, something John and I talked about in depth online and the reason I do the same at home. It was a very cool place and I was happy that John was able to end his journey surrounded not only by friends, but by representations of his life and what he loved. There was a small raised platform in the back of the room, and that’s where John laid in his bed. He had just been medicated and his friend informed me that John might seem to fade in and out of consciousness as a result. As I approached his bed I recognized the small frail man I once met years earlier. With a large camera by his side, he welcomed me and I sat next to him. Only minutes later, two of his co-workers arrived, a pair of very funny ladies, and we all instantly became a kind of family.
John’s friends and I were given a gift that evening. As the four of us sat around talking to him, we knew why we were all there. We each held a special place in his heart and he wanted to share the last moments of his life with us. Knowing that we were the recipients of such a request, filled our hearts with love and admiration. During our conversations John would fall asleep for several minutes at a time and wake up to find us still there, smiling back at him. This continued as he tried to take one last photo of all of us in his bed… we laughed as it almost seemed as he was making a game of it. Eventually his naps grew longer in length and we knew it was time to leave. We said our last goodbyes, thanked his friend and left. In the elevator on the way downstairs, we stood mostly silent, barely speaking except to acknowledge how sad the situation was. At the same time we knew what a special experience we all had, one that we wont ever forget. Two days later John’s friend called me to let me know John passed away. He had waited for his family to arrive from their long journey from Australia, as his came to an end.
I saw Patti the other day at the zoo and I thought of John. I’m no longer a docent but was speaking at the volunteer general meeting about bees. It was wonderful to see her and remember the common friend we both had, the friend that made us love and respect each other even more through his stories. Every now and then I think of John and although we didn’t have the friendship that people write books and movies about, it was a beautiful human experience just the same… a common bond of love and respect shared by three people that never once all met at the same time. The experience of seeing John off to new horizons made me believe more than ever that we continue living even after our physical bodies die. It didn’t really feel like an ending at all, it was really just a “so long for now“, and “see you all on the other side.”
Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of the Bible is that a single verse can be translated in hundreds of ways. Indeed there are over 450 translations of the English Bible alone… that’s 450 ways to word the same phrase. Then your favorite pastor, preacher, bishop, priest, rabbi, etc. will come along and tell you what he or she feels it means. With this is mind, it can be said with utmost certainty that there is no absolute truth in religion, it’s just a matter of perspective. There isn’t a way to actually prove anything in a faith based practice since it’s exactly that… faith based. Some take it to the point of often stating “it says in the bible that you shouldn’t (insert potential sin here)” and that alone has to suffice for everyone in the room. A single sentence, plucked out of the middle of scripture without regard for context, carries enough weight to determine everyone else is absolutely wrong, and are subsequently doomed to hell. As it was once made clear to me… “the bible says the dead know nothing of the living..” when I wondered as a teenager if my relatives were proud of me in heaven. Indeed, Ecclesiastes 9:5 does seem to state that fact, however it was actually being used to describe a particular perspective and not to be taken in the literal sense. I didn’t offer a rebuttal… heaven help anyone who ever disagreed with a bible verse quoted by a Southern Baptist holding a glass of sweet tea, while sitting on a plastic covered sofa cushion. It’s just not done.