How We Live, How We Die

My high-school friend committed suicide 5 years ago.

The event, and the circumstances around it, aren’t as present as they once were, but invariably on the anniversary of his death, something will trigger a memory followed by an acknowledgement.

We—his family and friends—collectively know more about why (although why is always extremely tricky when discussing suicide). He and his family suffer from a genetic predisposition to Huntington’s Disease, and he was experiencing symptoms. Again, causal connections that explain why someone would take his or her own life are always specious, but for many of his friends like me who could fathom no earthly explanation as to why he’d end his life, I found some solace in the deeper understanding of his circumstances.

Still. The obvious feeling that doesn’t go away is one of shocked loss. An abrupt realization that the person I knew and did some of my growing up with is gone. Five years hasn’t dulled that reaction.

In a similar way, recent end-of-life experiences with my wife’s family are making the turn of the year somber and reflective. I don’t spend much time thinking about death—or more specifically—my own death. Like I suspect many of us do, I shy away from the chaffing discomfort and outright fear of that event, that common denominator.

Age and circumstance and overwhelming evidence are showing me that it’s time to consider more than just the mortality of other people.

Thanks to the news-feed on my phone, I discovered some fascinating articles about the topic—and the practice—of dying. Stating the obvious, this is a specific (and Buddhist) perspective, but for me—someone who was more or less raised around a haphazard exposure to Christianity—I find that the disconnect from my childhood religious tradition makes it easier for me to consider the topic. It’s less…fraught.

Perhaps it will be for you, as well.

We Are Not the Normals

Whether because of age or circumstance, the place that writing--or really any creative act--maintains in my life has shifted, refocused.

I can now acknowledge that during my 20s, I needed others to acknowledge me as an artist, as someone different than the normals. Special because the writing I strove to accomplish every day set me apart.

I thought that's how artists of any discipline behaved.  

Now in my, ahem, mid-to-late forties, creative work and meditative practice are virtually synonymous, and the thought of being outwardly acknowledgement seems....odd. Wrong, even. The practice has become the reward, and I know that to be a creative person in no way separates me or sets me apart or makes me special. 

There are no normals. Just us. 

Yesterday in Charlottesville....

There is much to react to, much to be shocked by—much to be enraged by—so it’s difficult to know where to start.

The 'Unite the Right' protest was a glaringly public display of American racism’s ‘all-clear’ to crawl out of the shadows and dance in the daylight. These men and women brandishing their swastikas and their confederate flags and their message t-shirts sense that in a country that has voted Donald Trump into the highest office, their hatred is free—is welcome—to display for all to celebrate.

The president—a uniquely un-qualified non-politician who embodies the words ‘epic and embarrassing failure’ more than any president in the history of the office; a man who just two days before was taunting North Korea with rage and nuclear fire because that’s how temper-tantrum prone man-babies behave when they have no other skill-set—drew a false equivalence between the 'Unite the Right' demonstrators and the counter-protestors as if racial hatred and the reaction to that hatred are the same.

They are not.

Those marching in support of 'Unite the Right' are driven by a loathing (and by extension fear) for whatever and whomever is not them. It’s prejudice that was long-ago sewn into the fabric of American society, into our institutions, and into our individual lives. It’s racism that we’ve all learned and had modeled for us, it’s hatred that we ourselves have given voice to and have spread.

Our job—collectively and individually—is to acknowledge that this gut-level acrimony is wrong. It is evil. It is a response and way of being that one should in fact be ashamed of. Racism is a base human reaction that we must work on in ourselves and within the broader social fabric. Giving into it—celebrating it, killing in the name of it—denies our ability to grow and to evolve. It holds on to a retrograde way of being ‘white and right’ that is dead. Gone. The ghosts have not yet given up the body. But they will.

The ideas, theories, emotions expressed by those marching on behalf of the 'Unite the Right' are not of equal weight and value as those who counter-protested. A president worth anything would have seen and acknowledged this, but we don’t have that kind of president.

We have Donald Trump. And we live in his America now.

Suffering Suffrage

I don’t seek them out, per se, but when I encounter Trump Supporter ‘outrage’ over the investigation into the Trump’s administration conduct during the 2016 presidential election, what I hear is fear.

Fear that the obvious question before American citizens will be raised: Did Russia’s interference extend to the 2016 vote counts themselves, ultimately altering or negating votes intended for Clinton?

Once we ask that question, once we raise the possibility that our supposed democratic process is compromised, how do we shore up the flaws in the technology in order to re-gain trust in the results of future elections?

(I’m setting aside the just as consequential detriments to voting rights -- gerrymandering and voter suppression -- only because they are each topics too large for this post. And frankly, I can only take on so many depressing topics in one morning.)

Although I work with cyber-security experts, I am not one myself, and I don’t claim to have access to classified intel about how far the Russians penetrated our voting system. I am, however, a US citizen who thinks it’s time to tolerate the inevitable discomfort around this topic and address the concern directly.

Regardless of your political affiliation, regardless of where you stand with the current presidential administration, we can (and should) all agree that the sanctity of the American voting system is paramount.

Several recent articles and podcasts of late have shown just how vulnerable the technology supporting the American voting system is.

 

Fly Away With Me

I don’t often fly with my kids. When I travel, I’m most frequently boarding an airplane for work so that I can visit a client in another city.

But there’s something about being at the airport and watching those exhausted, stressed and strung-out parents with one or more freaking out children in tow that makes me—somehow—wish that I were experiencing my currently uneventful and comparatively stress-free travel with my own two sons.

Typically, any travel experiences with my kids culminates in the convincing decision that I will never, ever, travel with my boys again.

Then, when I’m back to again traveling solo, I find myself looking at these wrecked parent-child units and yearning for the chaotic, sometimes frustrating presence of my own offspring.

There’s probably a broader observation to make about parenting here. How before kids my mood could be altered by some (admittedly) trivial inconvenience whereas now the energy available for self-flagellation is no longer accessible because I’ve already spent that energy parenting.

Having children is a constant pull and push that singes the emotional receptors of your being every day until you collapse in bed at night exhausted, fulfilled and regretful. It’s the regret that is, for me, the most pervasive of parenting-hangover emotions. Regret that I didn’t get more time with them, regret that I didn’t appreciate their attention while I had it, regret that I didn’t do better.