Mr. Shooter, get help, then help us understand

Mr. Shooter, I am not going to mention your name in relation to the deadly and repulsive event you wrought at Santa Fe High School. You do not deserve this acknowledgment in neither my eyes nor ink.

According to an arrest affidavit, your only non-random actions might have been to avoid shooting certain people so as to leave behind select individuals to tell the first-person story of your reign of terror. Guess what, Mr. Shooter, not going to happen in this column.

The only thing you deserve at this point is to live the rest of your life with a number attached. The crimes you are accused of are on an inhuman scale and I refuse to dignify you by using your birth name at this point.

I pray to God you get help. I even pray you one day wake up from what dangerous and delusional fog that accompanied you Friday to fully appreciate the irreversible and irreparable damage you have inflicted on individuals, families and communities across this nation.

That day, I promise, will be more painful than anything the justice system can place on you.

Look, I get it. You are not going to read this column but that does not mean these words should go unsaid. The sequence of events you put in place led people down a road of anger, confusion and slow, yet painful, healing.

For the record, I am like most in this community and woke up Saturday praying the day before had been a bad dream. I cannot tell you how painful the moment was when I realized otherwise.

Yes, you changed the world — but not for the better. You will forever be remembered as an individual whose biggest contribution was to bring great pain, carnage and evil into a place of peace. You really didn’t need anyone to tell your story — you wrote yours in blood.

I believe in God and that Jesus Christ is my savior. I have already and will continue to pray for you as well as all of those affected by your actions Friday morning. Your shooting does not remove me from being a human being with a deep love for others in this world.

Nor am I judgmental in life. I am accepting of others and their differences in beliefs, interests and ways of life. This is a big, blue planet and we all bring something to the table. That is with the exception of when the goal is to bring harm or do harm to others. The more innocent, the more heinous the value of the action. Well, maybe this week you finally made it to the top of one list.

I pray you get help. I hope you accept that help. Also, help us as a society understand what drives an individual to such a dark and lonely place. Believe it or not, there are lots of people who would have listened, helped and offered you a pathway back — many closer than you think.

You want a legacy? How about starting with helping us better understand and identify ways to keep this from happening again.

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  • The Daily News, Sunday May 21, 2018
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Desert Town Lives On Own Terms

No one ends up in Terilingua, Texas by accident.

Regardless of how many miles accumulate on the dashboard odometer, the town is a million miles away from the modern world. Terilingua is desert town doing a slow dance with the powerful grip of nature in one direction and while people searching for a brief reprise from an overly connected world pull from another. Instinctively you find yourself rooting for the former.

“By Terilingua standards I am well off,” said a man with bottle-dark hair leaning from a barstool in the fabled Starlight Theater. His words are both truthful and ironic.

The desert town, now only a generation or two from being abandoned by the world when the mining business dried up, still proudly wears the scars of time. Adobe and stone housing shells no larger than a backyard shed dot the landscape – some more recognizable than others. Whiles most have crumbled under the benevolent care of Mother Nature, others are slowing returning to life as small rentals for those exploring nearby Big Bend National Park.

Terilingua is an honest-to-God ghost town brought back to life – that is in relative terms. And those terms are completely at the discretion of local residents. Even the paved roads seem added more as a convenience to visitors than to locals where four-wheel trucks are as common as rattlesnakes.

While the nearest Starbucks is safely located hundreds of miles away, a small shed of a building serves coffee to both locals and guests. The ordering area generously allows room for three close friends to stand tightly next to each other. Outside picnic tables and a half-dozen or so small tables and chairs populate the space beneath sun-shading canopies.

The man at the bar continues to talk to a pair of women who obviously reside in a zip code far away. Shorts and shirt with a collar make him one of the best-dressed people in the restaurant. He could be selling real estate or himself – but here you never know.

And no matter how much the outer world tries to creep in, Terilingua remains a dusty town true to its roots. Outside on a bench sit four men each with a six-pack of beer between them. I overhear them debating if it is proper to pour the remains of one beer into a fresh one in order to cool it off. The problems of the world I know remain far away from the front porch.

There is a special kind of quiet in Terilingua. One where the soundtrack features birds excitedly talking back and forth, dust kicking up from the ground from a nomad wind, and being able to hear the hum of an overhead electrical wire from 50 yards away. It is quiet, but like everything else in this place, on Terilingua’s terms.

The truth is if rusty metal cans and white dust were valuable commodities, Terilingua would be a boomtown. But they are not – and to those who love Terilingua, this is perfectly fine.

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Abandoned miner’s cabin at sunrise. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning To Be Ourselves Threatened

Real life is getting less real every day.

Somehow the so-called reality shows or social media personalities have successfully skewed a generation of people’s view of what is, well, real. And for that, I am concerned.

Today’s world is an odd mix of media obsession – one where it seems better to be a part of the noise than on the outside looking in. With Facebook, Instagram, and other on-demand tools, we can share without meaningful context, any moment in our life. Contributors control the message, the volume, and the anticipated response by the receiver. Essentially narcissism run wild.

I often find myself wondering what American psychologist Abraham Maslow would say.

For those who may be rusty on his career-defining work, appropriately titled Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the pathway he described traces from the basic levels of needs (physiological) to one of fully formed independence (self-actualization). While the former includes basics such as air, water, and shelter, the road builds upon others such as safety and social belongingness. But it is here – after only three steps through the five tiers – I am progressively worried. The next step, titled self-esteem, is not only under great threat, but if undeveloped, will keep one from reaching the top tier of self-actualization – the place where we become confident, balanced, and resilient to anything the world can throw our way.

Today’s narcissism is a needle to the arm of an addict delivering an instant yet hollow high on demand. Imagine the benefit you get from eating cotton candy you get the idea. Swinging emotions and rotting teeth.

Previous generations needed to work through each of these levels based on real life experiences. Two steps forward, one step back. Repeat. Over time we built our life based on comparing ourselves to not those on a social media feed but the man or woman in the mirror. The journey of building confidence and acceptance runs right through a road filled with jarring potholes and occasionally dark detours.

But with each chapter, another solid paver was added to our pathway towards self-actualization. And when we arrived, we recognized it from the inside, not someone on the outside passing judgment. We were, self-actualized, comfortable in our skin, and resistant to the influences of others or the outside world.

What we are seeing today is a life dangerously careening down a road where our self-assessments are replaced by those of others – where we become more trusting and dependent on the opinions of others than ourselves. And by doing so we become highly susceptible to untrue influences, actions unmoored by principles, and making decisions more consistent with receiving the acceptance of others than from within.

What I worry is about a generation of people who, stunted by the overwhelming peer pressure of social media or reality-based lives, will find reaching the top of Maslow’s important hierarchy nearly impossible. And it is there, at the top of figurative mountain where we find self-actualization, we are able see more clearly the possibilities of life.

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Banana Spreads Seeds of Humanity

Glancing at the side driver’s rear view mirror, I noticed a yellow banana sitting on the mirror of the pickup truck behind me. The light ahead remained red and I found myself watching the image.

Bananas may grow on trees, but the gesture behind the banana reminded me of the hidden acts of kindness in the world.

Looking to my center rearview mirror the lights on the white pickup truck behind me flashed on and off – repeating the pattern twice. Knowing I was sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I didn’t know what the driver was trying to communicate.

Then the banana’s purpose came into focus.

A man, walking against traffic, passed my driver’s side window. Stopping at the truck behind me, he gratefully accepted the banana from the man in the truck and a few dollars passed. They briefly spoke and shared a smile.

It is moments like this that remind me the world is going to be okay, that good is waiting to get out and make a difference.

This can be a rather self-centered world. Social media feeds our thirst to put ourselves in the center of the universe, society fawns over celebrities who are famous for simply being famous, and we dismiss tragedies with the casual thumb stroke on a the newsfeed of our cell phone screens.

Fortunately there are still people who look outward, stubbornly focusing on others in the word around them. It may seem old fashioned to some, but our instinctive kindness to others is what the world needs most now.

For days now I have not been able to shake the image of the yellow banana in the rear view mirror and the hand reaching from out of view to accepted it. Behind the exchange was a beautiful under-the-radar moment of humanity. I feel as if God wanted me to see this as a reminder that I, too, can make a positive difference in the world around me with most humble of actions.

You do not have to be a billionaire to change the world. Most of us have been blessed with more material items than we can ever use of need. If you don’t believe this open a random closet in your home. For most, we’ll find shirts we’ve not worn in a year, shoes that have not left the house in months, and a scarf we are saving for the one day a cold front that never arrives. But for the most part, the items sit under our roof taking up space and not doing anyone any good.

I read of how in cities people will take old winter coats and tie the arms together around a utility pole for someone in need to take. The gesture is painless and heartfelt. A cold night can mean life or death to someone living on the streets.

The light changed, the banana gone, and I pulled forward. The fruit, however, planted a seed to never forget to make a difference in the world.

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Everyone Creates A Body Of Work

We tend to refer to the collective paintings by an artist or writings by an author as a body of work. And in doing so, we form opinions or project a value to their efforts. This exercise allows us to believe our conclusions are based on true substance.

While this practice is common, we should also have the courage to look in the mirror. Every day of our life, every decision or opportunity, every action or non-action, is a contribution to our personal body of work. We control the paintbrush, the keyboard, and the outcome.

I value concept more with each passing year. The lesson was underappreciated in my youth. I knew my actions were important, but I did not fully understand the world was keeping score.

Our society is an odd one. Material objects rule, short-term attractions tend to be glamorized, and the carcass of bad decisions are left behind. Under the darkness of the past, we simply smile and move on.

But like any artist, our body of work is always there, available for the same scrutiny a film critic projects onto the film director. We are always on display. And our decisions will define us in the end.

One of the most unusual benefits of walking around with head of grey hair is you increasingly see the world from a different vantage point. In this newfound scope, your life – or body of work – finds itself under a more introspective lens. Suddenly you realize you have nowhere to hide – nor did you ever. You recognize were only kidding yourself to believe otherwise.

When we get to the latter stages of life we begin creating our Greatest Hits album, one that we believe what represents us most accurately to the world. An award give to us by local organization, a school record established back in high school or the story of when we played in a cover band one summer. But in reality, these are not the pieces the most important people in life will remember us. No, the best tracks are hidden between the hits of life, the ones we believe no one noticed along the way.

The real body of work is the one resulting from who you are a person. Your relationship with your spouse, your children, those whose lives you directly touch.

The world is full of materially successful people living alone in giant houses. Or maybe surrounded by people nodding yes to his or her every word, but they’ve not shared a conversation with their adult son or daughter in more than three years. A family reunion to them is measured more by a headcount than an experience or making of a memory.

If one day someone looks over my body of work, I hope they see a good friend others could count on, a man crazy in love with his wife, and a father who loved his family with all his heart. To me, that is a body of work worth being proud.

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Gearheads Deserve Love, Too

I’m reading article about a new sports sedan coming to the market. Low-slung lines, throaty exhausts, lines that appear to be in motion while the car is in park. As happens with many males, involuntary sounds erupt from deepest spaces inside, eventually finding a way onto display in an open room. If you are one of us, you have no control over this reaction.

“Whoah. Top speed 165,” I said.

Without delay my wife replies.

“Wow, like everyone needs to go 165-miles an hour,” she said back. Her deadpan sarcasm, insulating from me from reality for the briefest of moments, led me to believe she was serious. Then I thawed.

And so goes the life of a gearhead.

My wife, for the record, does not share the gearhead gene.

Being a gearhead is an odd and distracting affliction. I’ve always loved automobiles. I can find something about every generation of cars and trucks to love. Tail fins still excite me. As of late I’ve began to secretly harbor a day when vinyl tops might make a retro-inspired comeback. And don’t get me started on T-Tops – leaks and all.

Fist thing people should know is gearheads see the world differently. Cars and trucks not merely items designed to transport us from point to point. No, we view the best ones as works of art standing on a canvas of asphalt. They are remarkable examples of human engineering. To us they represent how human emotions and raw materials can bend and blend into something both evocatively beautiful and powerful.

You may know us by our odd public behavior. We are the ones who when pulling up to a traffic light, turn off the radio and lower the window to allow the sounds of a nearby V-8 motor next fill the cabin. And we are the ones when walking across the parking lot will wander down a lane because we spotted a tail light to an old car we might not have seen in years. This is a sad affliction without any known cure.

Fortunately my family is understanding and supportive. This week our daughter, who lives in Georgia, began texting me photos from an outdoor car show she somehow ended up at. To her, a car is a point A to point B proposition. Does is start? Does it play music? Does it get me where I’m going? Her list is short. But for me, she knows few things make me smile more than a trip down memory lane with cars and trucks. I take this as a sign of love on her part.

My first car was a hand-me-down sedan with a 455-cubic inch motor. I promise you those afflicted with gearhead syndrome are already thinking what they’d like do with that motor. Others see the numbers as a meaningless reference points.

My eyes return to the article of the new sedan, my ego smarting a bit. But in the end I know my wife loves me like a set of tail fins on a 1959 Cadillac.

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Smallest of Details Prove Large in Life

“A lot of times its small things that are really the big things to people.”

My friend is in the construction business. While he will do any type of work, more often than not he finds himself helping put people’s lives back together after a storms or natural disaster. According to him, while some projects seem bigger than others in scale, everything he touches is a big project to the person on the other end.

“Doesn’t have to be a total house redo – it can be a simple piece of baseboard along a wall. But to the homeowner, that piece of trim could be the most important thing in the house.”

He shakes his head, his personal experience pouring out. Large, powerful hands clasp together on the small table in front of us.

“There are no small details in life,” he said. “They are all big.”

“There are no small details in life,” 

Earlier I’d asked him to come by and take a look at a small amount of storm damage. Compared to the tens of thousands who had lost their homes, cars, and other life-changing experiences, the repairs seemed relatively modest.

“I know it’s a small job compared to helping a family back into their home, but let me know when you can get to us,” I had said.

Small things are big things in life. And he’s right, we never really know how important what we say, do, or promise to another. And many times, we don’t know until we’ve followed through with our commitment.

We all know this from experience from us being on the receiving end of the equation. Could be taking our car in for an oil change and finding an oil smudge on the carpet afterwards. Or maybe a painter leaving behind paint drips on the driveway after painting the garage. These details, while seemingly small, tend to remain – festering into frustration or hard feelings. We never feel that same after discovering the smallest of details were not big enough to matter to someone we’d trusted.

Which is exactly why the best experiences are those where we are made to feel as if the time has stopped and we are most important person in the world. And most times it is the smallest of details that make us feel whole. For example, I remember how I felt getting my car back from a routine service only to discover the dealership ran my car through the car wash for me. Imagine how I felt. A small detail led to a big feeling inside of me. And to this day, I confidently recommend them to my friends.

Small details have a way becoming big details. And through them, the opportunity for us to impact the world around us is easily within reach. We should remember my friend’s words and make sure to deliver the unexpected, to over deliver, and to remember, you never know when the smallest of details – or words – can be the biggest indicator of how you value others.

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Guns and Monsters Lead to Questions

During my high school days, students brought guns to school without a second thought. Earlier this week students at my old high school in the Missouri walked out of classrooms in a plea against gun violence. What a difference a generation or two can make.

I’m not here to offer solutions or argue one way or the other. Rather I am painfully wondering what has changed since I last walked the grounds of the campus and why these violent actions are occurring against students.

As students we cobbled together wooden gun racks as part of the required shop class curriculum. Outside in the parking lot hunting rifles hung in the windows of old pick up trucks. Guns were simply a part of the social fabric of our world.

My high school was not in the sticks. My school sat squarely in the middle of a middle class suburb in a middle class city in the middle of the country. Norman Rockwell would have been right at home.

But life and attitudes towards guns were different from today’s world. Walking past a truck with a rifle hanging in the window symbolized deer season. The rifle being used as a weapon against a student never crossed my mind.

The recent deaths of 17 students in Florida reflect something is significantly different in the world today.

The helicopter shot video clip above the school this week showed nearly 700 students standing on the same outdoor rubber track I’d competed in the 440 and 800 in high school. Standing side by side and holding hands, I couldn’t help but feel closer to the event. In an unexpected way, this brought their angst and me closer.

Guns are dangerous – but I knew that walking by an old pickup truck on my way to a morning class. Yes, the AR versions are much more lethal, but which weapon is the real danger – the gun or the mind? Beside the given incredibly high value of life, what is the difference between 17 students shot with an AR and that of 4 with a less rapid-fire model? Both are tragic results but both point to something principally different in today’s world.

My wife learned to shot a pistol at cans in a quarry before she graduated the first grade. And her older brothers, all skilled shooters, drilled into her the responsibility and respect she should always show to a gun. Teaching and passing along the respect for guns in her family was an important rite of passage. To this day she carries this with her.

Which brings me back to my original question of what has changed? Is this a sign of the intoxicating draw and access to high firepower or the declining state of mental health or other another cultural / behavioral change?

I don’t pretend to know the answer. But what I do know is 700 students who share hallways of my former high school are genuinely scared of a monster – one who did not exist in my generation. Let’s find the true monster.

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Waitress Delivers Time Travel

“My boyfriend’s a skater,” said the waitress.

She’s old enough to carry and AARP card, wears her blonde hair tied behind her head, and her smile is one of a teenager in love.

You never know what you’ll find when you pick at a random string hanging from the universe. This day is no different.

Sitting in a small diner a block off the Pacific Ocean along the 101 in Southern California, I’d asked the waitress about the skateboarding stickers covering her black order pad. I knew the names well.

“Yeah, I know it sounds weird, but sometimes when we are at a skatepark someone will ask which one is mine – I’ll point to the old guy and say the big one out there.”

When I was fifteen years old I dreamed of skating the asphalt hills rolling out to meet the ocean along the Southern California coast. Posters and random pages torn from skateboard magazines replaced the kids wallpaper in my bedroom. The names of skaters, Jay Adams to Tony Alva – the notorious Z-Boys, were my heroes.

“Who is your boyfriend?” said a voice from the next booth. He could easily pass for the parent coach of a youth traveling soccer team.

She sheepishly shares his name.

“No way. That’s sick.”

The next booth joins our conversation proving that even in Southern California, a small roadside diner operates as under the same community conversation rules as one in Topeka, Kansas.

Our new friend in the next booth, he in his forties, knew the skater’s name instantly.

The waitress tells us about how her boyfriend traveled the world touring and is talking about building a new wooden ramp with some friends.

“He is pissed at the city’s skatepark,” she said. “Not enough vert.”

She tells us about how he came home one day stomping and sulking like a little kid.

“He’d jumped the fence when the park was under construction. He wanted to test it out since he’d helped design it with them. Found the city had made the vert only 8 feet instead of ten like they said they would. It was like living with a ten year old for an entire week.”

She laughed.

“When he told me he’d jumped the fence I was like, dude, how old are you?”

Our conversation, the one including our new friend in the next booth, turns to a local skateboarding shop down the street.

“McGill’s skateshop is just down the road,” she said. “Most legit shop around.”

The guy in the next booth speaks up.

“Yeah, he invented the McTwist, right?”

The waitress nods her head.

The coffee tastes a little better sitting here in the epicenter of skateboarding universe.

My fish tacos arrive. The waitress gets called away to another booth, her black notepad in tow. The veil on the universe begins to drop, returning us all to our adult lives. But for a moment, for all of us, we were nothing but a bunch of skate rats trading stories in paradise.

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Maternal Pride is Universal

“I always told my son when he dreams to dream with big wings.”

Sitting in the rear passenger seat of a silver Uber, the driver is telling me about her life. She’s friendly, she’s passionate, she’s only lived in America for a half-dozen years. In her accent, gently rolling with a hypnotizing melodic rhythm, she tells me is from Canada.

“My son has tried lots of things,” she said as we pick our way though the traffic. “But he always gives it his best.”

The last part of the sentence bubbles with the pride only a parent can project.

She’s been in the US for a short time, moving to California only after her 49-year old son finally convinced her to pull up stakes and join him in San Diego.

“At some point you also get tired of shoveling snow,” she said as we merged on to the parkway.

She’s young but she’s not – at least in terms of someone who is only measured by the dates registered on a driver’s license.

“My other son, he’s retired from the Army,” she said. “Lives down here.”

Mothers are remarkable. No one can project more pride than that of someone who literally brought you into the world.

She mentions a movie her son helped on after retiring from the military. The story is of Navy Seals going in to rescue a kidnaped American.

“He helped get the actors trained for their parts,” she said. “After watching the movie I got a better idea of what he did.”

She mentions watching the movie with her son and now being scared to death about what he did while serving in the military. She’s glad she didn’t know at the time.

Our silver SUV weaves back and forth as she darts between other cars. Her son’s confidence apparently comes naturally.

Both her sons carry her DNA and her drive to shape the world around them. As a mother, she has done her job well.

We pull into the circle drive of the hotel. A bellman walks out as she brings the car to a stop. She quickly hops out and heads to the back of the SUV. I offer to help.

“I work out at the gym,” she says. “This part is like getting in an extra workout.”

Grabbing the heavy suitcases, she effortlessly places them on the ground. The SUV quickly empties and she turns to say goodbye.

“Well, I hope you enjoy your visit.”

We shake hands. Her eyes are bright, her smile broad.

And like that, a force of nature, one beaming with maternal pride, boundless energy, and optimism, she slides back behind the wheel of the car.

As she pulls away I can’t help but feel as if God wanted me to meet this person. Life is an odd trail and if we pay attention, God puts the most interesting people in our pathway. I’m glad I met this woman who lights up the life of everyone she meets.

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