Grown Men Do Cry

Grown men generally do not have tears in their eyes at the car wash.

It was the morning after a student shooter took 10 innocent lives at a local high school. Our community – and beyond – was raw from the shattering event. Emotions were shallow and easily accessible for everyone.

“It just goes to show you that you need to tell everyone that you love them each and every day,” he said. His eyes were read, his voice hinting at breaking, and heart broken.

My friend is a remarkable man. Strong, poised, and someone people instinctively want to follow. I feel the same towards him.

The morning sun began to heat the ground and air around us as a few seconds oddly move unnaturally slow. We are both hurting deeply inside and working to process how such a cold-blooded evil came to our community. Words begin to fail us and a handshake feels inadequate. Instead we hug.

The world changes when something like this comes to town. Being a coastal community we are somewhat prepared for Mother Nature to occasionally visit and bring with her flooding, winds, and periodically a full-on hurricane. And many times there is a loss of life.

But a student taking innocent lives inside the confines of a classroom is a much different emotion for us. Not that lives lost to Mother Nature are any less valuable than those lost in the classroom, but each day we expect the former to occur in our community; the latter happens somewhere else. Or so we believed.

My friend and I easily talk when together – local business, community developments, and family. We both share a drive to help our communities and those who call them home. When Mother Nature comes to town, my friend is always one of the first to step forward to help others put their lives back together.

Only this time all we can do is pray.

I consider myself blessed to live in a community where so many people are willing to step forward and do all they can to help others. I’m told that is a part of living along the coast – after a storm hits and you find yourself down and out, you never know who’s hand will be reaching down to help you back up off the ground. Coastal DNA so to say.

But standing in the parking lot of a car wash the school shooting has put all of us in an unfamiliar space. We hurt, we want to help, but we’ve never been in this place before. The shooter has trumped Mother Nature.

We let our embrace slowly evaporate and we look each other in they eyes.

“All we can do now is pray,” he said.

And with that there was nothing more for us to say. We part and wipe away any traces of tears around our eyes. But the one thing that will remain forever is the pain and feeling of helplessness we shared in the car wash parking lot.

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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

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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miner's cabin.jpg
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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