Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Best Friends are the Ones You Met in the Seventh Grade

"To Grabber, My best friend and 100 proof nut! You always like the stupidest people! (Bob Marsh) Dag!  Well, never lose your sense of humor (?) I don't think I could get along without the crummy jokes!  Willie '71-'72"

This post is dedicated to my dear friend Dianne "Willie" Williams Whiteside who I met in seventh grade and who passed away yesterday, July 23, 2016.

    Think about yourself when you were 12 or 13 years old, in the seventh grade.  This was a time in life when everything about you was changing - bodies, voices, hair, skin.  Nothing was familiar - everything was in a state of flux.  You looked in a mirror and wondered who was looking back at you.
      In my town at this point in our education we left our isolated little cocoon-like neighborhood elementary schools, where we'd associated with the same kids since the age of 5, and were thrown together with hundreds of kids from other neighborhoods in a junior high school.  Add to that the confusion of puberty - the sudden urge to be liked by the opposite sex, while at the same time knowing they hated you.  You were unsure of yourself, trying to find a way to fit into this new social structure, to stand out and distinguish yourself from others, before you were lost in the hodgepodge of adolescence around you. 
    But then one day you suddenly found an island of safety - a friend. You caught someone's eye as they were laughing at a dumb joke you told.  Or you caught them scribbling the lyrics to your favorite song on their notebook.  You noticed they wore the jeans you had admired in the catalogue that your mom wouldn't buy you.  You felt a strange kinship....and so you spoke, hesitantly at first, but then the more you talked the more you realized that you were cut from the same cloth, experiencing the same feelings, annoyed at the same teachers, in love with the same rock stars, infatuated with the same group of boys.  Everything came rushing out until there was a river running between the two of you that flowed with all your thoughts and dreams and emotions.
    From that point on you spent more and more time together, shared more secrets.  You slept over at each others' houses on the weekends.  You ate lunch together, walked to classes together.  When you weren't physically together, you were talking on the phone.  And when you couldn't do that, you read over and over the notes that had been passed to each other during the day at school and composed new ones to pass tomorrow.
   If you were lucky you found 2 or 3 of these close allies, or even had a whole gang of them.  It was like a life raft to cling to in the teen years, a safe haven from the rest of the world around you.  Psychologists will tell us that in an effort to break away from our parents and become independent mature adults, during the teen years we form extra strong bonds with those of our own age group.  We form our own little "secret society" of peers to give ourselves an identity, and to try out different roles, test our likes and dislikes, explore interests, and learn who we are as people. (Horse puckey!  You were the coolest people on earth. That's why you had the best friendships!)
     But back to our story:  as you grew older and entered high school, you may have formed new strong bonds with others but you still kept the old bonds intact.  These were the people you did daring things with. You smoked cigarettes or pot, you stole bottles of alcohol from the corner store and drank them in each other's bedrooms unbeknownst to the parents puttering around down below.  You went skinny dipping, stayed out all night and told your parents you were at each others' houses.  You snuck out of the house at 3 a.m. and ran around the neighborhood.  You had parties and hung out with the whole extended gang of friends you had made.  You tested your wings and dared each other to go  further.  It was not all sweetness and light though.  There were fights, arguments, jealousies, and competitiveness.  There were break ups, hurt feelings and running away, but you always had your island of friendships to come back to.
    Suddenly and all too soon it came to an end.   You moved on to college, jobs, families, work and life.  If you were persistent you may have been able to keep in touch and see each other occasionally for a few years, but more often than not life took you in different directions and you eventually stopped talking at all.  You sometimes thought of your old friends  in fleeting moments and wondered how they were doing, or bumped into each other at class reunions, but it was never the same.  You could never recapture the intimate, innocent camaraderie of your youth.   You could never  go back to that world of your teens, when you and your friends were alone on that island, as the world teemed around you but you were safe as long as you were within each others' line of sight; when you were isolated from all the good and bad that would happen in your futures; when you spoke a language that only you yourselves could understand, and you had each others' backs, and nothing in the world would ever tear you away from each other.

       In memory of Dianne "Willie" Williams Whiteside 1958-2016


Friday, July 22, 2016

The Cowardliness of Terrorism

     Terrorists like to think of themselves as soldiers but they are not soldiers.  If they were soldiers they would fight a worthy opponent on a field of battle. It takes courage to go up against someone who is armed and trained for combat and ready for a fight.  It takes courage, no matter what cause you may be fighting for, to go into battle knowing that you may be the one who is wounded or killed, to know that your opponent has deadly weapons and knows how to use them.  It takes courage to put your life on the line and risk danger and even death to defend  your country, your people, your cause.  That's why we call our soldiers "heroes." 
     But terrorism does not require courage.  Terrorists don't fight against a worthy opponent. The terrorist takes advantage of the element of surprise on the most defenseless and unsuspecting among us.  The terrorist only fights when his "opponent" is unarmed and totally at their mercy.  It doesn't take courage to kill teenagers hanging out at McDonald's, who can't even run away, as they did today in Munich. It doesn't take courage to walk into an airport and gun down a bunch of travelers who are innocently waiting to board a plane, as they did in Istanbul and Brussels.  It doesn't take courage to murder revelers in a gay bar enjoying a few drinks on the weekend as in Orlando, or to storm into a concert halls, restaurants, and bars and gun down 130 unsuspecting people as was recently done in Paris.  And it doesn't take courage to get into the cab of a truck and drive through a crowd, killing 84 people who were out enjoying a night of fireworks, many with families and small children, as happened in Nice.
     Even suicide bombers are not courageous. They do not sacrifice their life for a cause or the greater good of others. They sacrifice their life for the promise of some great heavenly reward that awaits them in the hereafter.  They hide their selfishness behind black masks and disguises, afraid to show their faces to the world.
   Terrorist are not heroes.  Terrorists are washed up fanatics of a lost cause who's only aim is to hurt the innocent and most defenseless among us and wreak havoc before they die.  They do not fight their
opponent on the field of battle because they know they cannot win.   They are cowardly misfits whose lives are wasted and who are going straight to hell when their wretched life is over.  May God have mercy on the souls of their many innocent victims.       

Friday, July 8, 2016

Can't Put the Problem of Gun Violence Back in the Box

   America should not be surprised at the events of this past week - the killings of 2 innocent black civilians by police officers in Minnesota and Baton Rouge, and now the slaying of 5 police officers in Dallas, Texas.  Our society has elevated the right of gun ownership to the point that no one can interfere with anyone else's seemingly sacred right to own any kind of firearm they want and carry most of them in public.  Is it surprising that those who carry guns as a means of protecting the public are jumpy?  Almost everyone has their finger on a hair trigger these days and fully anticipates that everyone else does too.
    With the NRA as the high church of gun ownership, we have believed their mantra that the answer to the problem of gun violence is simply "more guns!"  We've been fooled into thinking that the only way we can protect ourselves and those we love is by matching firepower with firepower.  Whoever has the biggest gun and pulls the trigger first wins!
     So now we have 3 year olds blowing their brains out with loaded pistols found under granny's pillow while granny is downstairs cooking supper.  We have fathers accidently shooting & killing teenage sons at inside gun ranges during their "bonding" time.  We have deranged zealots wiping out dozens of victims at a time at movie theaters, bars, and office Christmas parties.  It doesn't even really surprise us anymore, does it?
     We have more gun deaths in our country right now that at any time in human history, but still we believe the NRA's lie that the answer is still easier access to more powerful weapons for anyone and everyone.
     So we will continue to reap the fruits of our society's misguided and reckless dependence on guns for protection.  Pandora's box has been opened, and the death and misery that has escaped can not be recaptured and stuffed back in.  Gun violence is with us to stay, and will only increase as more and more people feel the need to own a gun. There are now more guns in the United States than there are men, women, and children.  All we can do is grow numb to the daily news of accidental deaths, murders, and outright massacres, and pray that it doesn't happen to you or someone you love.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Gone With The Wind...and Glad Of It

     For a about the 40th time, I watched my favorite classic movie "Gone With the Wind" last night. Well, let's say, I watched most of it.  It's a long movie and though I've seen it in its entirety, I've never sat though the whole thing in one sitting.  I've seen it so many times I have many of the key lines memorized and can anticipate them, but with every viewing I still notice something new.
   For those unfamiliar with the story, "Gone With the Wind" is a historical fiction novel written in 1939 by Margaret Mitchell.  It's the story of  the O'Hara family who were American cotton plantation owners during the 1800's in Georgia.   It especially focuses on the family's beautiful, fiery, and cunning daughter, Scarlett and her unrequited love for the southern gentleman Ashley Wilkes, who by family tradition has married his  sweet, saintly, and mild-mannered cousin, Melanie Hamilton.
   The story plays out against the backdrop of the American South.  It opens with a written, over-romanticized soliloquy about the grand and "gallant" civilization of  slave-holding plantation owners, calling them "knights and ladies."  There are scenes of "darkies" peacefully working the fields, with no cruel overseer or bullwhips in sight.
     For some reason I never before realized how stereotypically the film portrays the black slaves owned by the O'Hara family.  They are for the most part portayed as dull, dimwitted, overgrown children who need the guidance and protection of their white, more intelligent owners.  Their dullness is emphasized by repeated scenes of them stupidly chasing around chickens, sometimes in the rain.  The only one who seems to have any sense at all is Mammy, the head house slave. Throughout the film she attempts to keep Scarlett on the right track, serving as her guide, conscience, and mother-figure, though she is often ignored.
   Prissy is the adorable but whining, hysterical house girl who enrages Scarlett with the lie that she knows how to deliver babies when Melanie goes into labor during the battle of Atlanta. After Scarlett returns to the house after an unsuccessful attempt to fetch a doctor, Prissy's confession that "I don't know nothin' about birthin' no babies!" reveals her as a liar and earns her a sound slap in the face from Scarlett.
   Porky the house slave is good hearted but slow.  When Scarlett returns home with a captive cow, he protests, "Whose g'wine to milk that cow?  We's house slaves!"
    The book was written in 1936, barely 75 years after the end of the civil war.  Perhaps we were not yet ready to admit the cruel and inhumane ways that the slaves were treated by the Southern plantation owners.  There may have been a few who were treated kindly, but even those were still human beings held captive in servitude against their will.  Most had lives of indescribable suffering.  But in 1936 it may have been easier to look back through a set of rose-colored glasses, and infer that their lives were happy and peaceful.  After all they were just slow dimwitted children who needed someone to look after them.
     I still love the move - the romance, the pageantry all played out against the backdrop of one of the greatest dramas of American history. But as for the inaccurate portrayal of the blacks of the era, newer films like "Twelve Years a Slave" tell the true horrific story. As for "Gone With the Wind"''s sugar coating of slavery - I'm glad it's gone with the wind and hope it does not return.