Mouring 9/11, And Everything After

Now that I work with veterans, today was not an easy day

As I drove up to the 9/11 memorial this morning, I saw veterans outside greeting each other. I had to flee. I had to keep going. I couldn’t be in that space. I couldn’t be with men and women who had signed up to sacrifice it all – when I hadn’t. It felt… disrespectful. I felt as if I would be violating a sacred space.

All of my conflicted thoughts about 9/11 came to the surface at once. I found myself parked down the road, with tears in my eyes.

A vet asked me recently, why I didn’t serve. I told him that, being 18 on 9/11, I didn’t want to fight an insurgency…

He didn’t know what an insurgency was.

I’ve mentioned before in this blog how I had studied foriegn affairs for years, and that I knew jihad was coming to the US – I also knew that our military and our society hadn’t learned the lessons from Vietnam. That we hadn’t come up with effective strategies for dealing with an enemy who could blend into the populace.

The mess that followed justified my decision. The expanded war in Afghanistan. The war in Iraq. ISIS… Dying via an IED on some street in Iraq would have been far from an acceptable death for me.

I also see 9/11 as a catalyst, a catalyst that exposed the fissures in American society. Besides the death and misery of millions in the Middle East; 9/11 brought us Obama, and 9/11 brought us Trump. The deep divide in our culture, the big oscillations between extremes – I see as responses to 9/11.

What there is for me is to mourn all of it. Not just the events of 9/11, but the seventeen years that have followed. The swift death of the America of my childhood (the 90’s)…

Yet, even though I feel as though I made the right choices for me, I have guilt. Guilt for not taking direct action in the face of a trying time. Guilt for seeing the options in front of me, saying “not the military,” and then not finding another way to take action. Guilt that I only feel on days like today.

So instead? I’ll do what I’m paid to do. I’ll go out into Santa Cruz county to look for homeless veterans. Just for the game of it, I’ll look for someone specific. I’ll see if I can find a young guy who was on the streets of Fallujah. Maybe in the back country of Afghanistan. I’ll go put the light at the end of somebody’s tunnel.

That’s how I can serve my country today. That’s what’s in front of me.

And the tears in my eyes as I finish this post are tears for 9/11, and everything after.

 

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Evan’s Consensus Framework

a facilitation framework for running meetings that gain consensus among the participants

Below is a facilitation framework for running meetings that gain consensus among the participants. This is a living document, so it will be updated as need be. It is important that each participant at a meeting like this be committed to doing the work it takes to reach consensus.

-At least one day prior to meeting, request agenda items from participants.

-At least one hour prior to the meeting, send all the agenda items to all of the participants in order of priority.

-At the beginning of the meeting, record who is present.

-One person speaks at a time.

-Ask the group if they agree with the order of the agenda items, or if they would like to move anything forward. Let those who want to move items make their case, as well as those who don’t want to move items make their case. Make sure those who have opinions on the agenda items have fully stated their case. As the facilitator, check in with the group to see if everyone agrees on changing the agenda. If they do not agree, request that they agree with a proposal that halfway meets everyone’s stated intentions. If there is not agreement on some sort of compromise, it is time to stop the action and have a deeper conversation about what the participants are up to in the meeting.

-Begin the meeting, with the first agenda item.

-In this sort of meeting, it is important to have open conversations regarding each item. Allow for each participant to share their views on each item to their fullest extent, while being mindful of the time. Record all promises and actions to be taken. If there is a stalemate, ask bigger questions to move the conversation forward. Is this something that needs to be decided now? If we don’t agree on this, what do we agree on? Do we all agree that this is an issue that needs to be resolved? The role of the facilitator is to move the conversation to consensus, and this ability is more an art than a science. Also, to do so responsibly, the facilitator must also communicate their opinions regarding the topic of the conversation. Move on to the next agenda item when all present are in agreement that it is time to move on.

-Once all agenda items have been addressed, decide on a date, time and location for the next meeting.

-End the meeting

-Send all notes of promises and actions to be taken to everyone who has a stake in the meeting.

Unknown Today

Today gave me stuff to think about

I was walking down the street in my town, pulling my corgi in a cart because his back legs don’t work anymore, with tears in my eyes knowing that this may be one of our last walks…

And I saw a woman, sitting on the sidewalk across from the town bar, crying.

I was in no space to be emotionally present. But my corgi cheers people up just by his presence. So I figured if…

She said hi to him as we went by. I moved him closer to her so she could pet him.

As I was telling her about his condition, she recognized me. We met, maybe six weeks prior, one of the only times I’ve been to the bar this year. She is a really friendly older lady, and we just happened to have a great conversation the first time we met. We probably only spoke for ten minutes inside that loud bar, but we both had a good time. She asked why I haven’t been by, and I told her I have trouble getting out of the house at night.

“Wife and kids at home?” She said.

“Yep, both wife and kids” and I love them dearly.

We both agreed that it was good to see each other. She went back to the bar, composed, and I and my corgi went towards home.

Today I met an Iraq war veteran, my age, who is wrecked by PTSD. Did two tours, saw combat. Amazingly sweet and gentle. Thanked my intern and I for making him laugh, because when he feels sick he normally doesn’t laugh. So thankful, and ready to undergo whatever is in store for him to get to the other side. The kind of person that I just want to help with everything I have…

When we left, I said to my intern “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

I was 18 on 9/11. I was in great physical shape then. I didn’t join because I knew we were bad at insurgencies. I knew we weren’t going to know who the combatants were on the battlefield. I didn’t think my life would be valued by my commanders. I didn’t want to die for something that years later was meaningless.

This intern has been with me, 20 hours a week, for a couple months now. She’s seen the gnarly stuff I do to find homeless veterans. She’s seen the crazy. She was present when I had to drive myself to the ER to get staples in my head.

When I said to her “You know me. You know I would have gone straight into combat. You know I wouldn’t do anything else.” She agreed.

Today, there was a broken man in front of me. Who didn’t stay in one place or open up to people because he didn’t want to be a burden. Who was literally shaking. Who had trouble making eye contact. Who is clearly a great guy, that a lot of people care about.

Processing this day, what I see are tradeoffs. I see that we are all presented with tradeoffs in life. Sometimes we’ll know the outcome, sometimes we won’t. When it comes to the really important stuff, most of the time we won’t know the outcome.

And often, you gotta give up good things, things you want, in order to keep going the way you’re going. Even when you don’t know where the way you’re going is going to get you.

I’m gonna keep going.

When Does Someone Deserve Homelessness?

Is there a crime where homelessness is the appropriate punishment? I haven’t found one yet.

For those of you who may have missed it, I got a new job in November. I now am part of a team that gets homeless veterans into stable housing. It’s a great job, and I truly love to go to work every day. What has also happened, since I took this job, is I’ve been forced to reevaluate how I think about aspects of life. This is one of those aspects.

Before I fully address the headline of this blog, however, I’m going to ask you to consider something. What if we, as a people, have exactly the economy we have designed? If our normal way of thinking, that we are essentially powerless over how our economy goes, is simply a learned way of thinking and not actually true? What if, in the process of handing over the management of our economy to our government, we have forgotten that our government does actually manage the economy? And that, by working together, we have the knowledge and ability to change the economy in any way we see fit?

I’m going to assert that we do have the economy we have designed. I’m also going to assert that the powerlessness we feel over the economy is due to the powerlessness we feel over our political system. And that our political system has effectively declined to take effective action regarding our economy, or declined to obtain the knowledge to manage our economy as we see fit. Or declined to participate fully in the mechanisms that we use to make the economy work for us. That it is not a deficit of ability.

That homelessness is not an unhappy accident within our economy and society, but a feature. That homelessness could be a byproduct of the way we think about money, work, family and housing. It could be the byproduct of the broken way that we have all learned to work together.

So, if we consider that homelessness in one way or another is happening on purpose (even if the “purpose” is simply us declining to take action where we can), then my question is;

What does someone have to do to deserve homelessness? People who commit serious crimes (murder, rape, etc) get to be housed in prison. Not ideal housing, obviously, but they have a roof over their head. Do you deserve to lose housing if you default on a mortgage? I would argue no, you deserve to lose that house but not housing. Don’t pay your rent? Lose your apartment, sure. Housing? No. Medical issues that wipe out your finances? Absolutely should not lose housing. Break up with a significant other? Should not lose access to housing. Lose work and have trouble finding new employment? Should not lose access to housing. Struggle with addiction and/or mental disorders? Still shouldn’t lose access to housing.

At what point should someone lose access to housing? I haven’t found one.

On a practical level, this makes me wonder if there should be some sort of safety net. We have a safety net if you lose your job: unemployment. What about a safety net if you lose a place to live? What would that look like? How would that work?

But putting aside the practical for one more moment, there are deeper issues to address. Lots of homeless people at some point were made to be homeless. Maybe we should stop doing that to people. How we stop doing that, I’m not sure…