Reuniting the US sounds like a Herculean task

How can I accept my country slowly, painfully tearing itself apart? A country who’s founding motto is “Out of Many, One.” A country that calls itself the United States.

A comedian friend of mine posted on facebook, that he wore a shirt that had some American flag themed decoration on it for his comedy set. That after his set, a lady came up to him and told him that he should not wear that shirt because he was obviously a liberal and liberals aren’t patriotic.

This is where we are at today.

We’ve been leading up to this for a long time. Way back in 2003, if my memory serves, I was working on a bond campaign for a local library. I was talking with a potential volunteer for the campaign, and he asked me if I was a Republican. I said no (I’m not registered with any party), and he said good – that he would never work with a Republican. But it was different then, than it is today. It wasn’t quite so… visceral.

I remember reading about a time when the political parties in this country could get along. Or at least, not view each other as the enemy. It seems to me that all that came crashing down when Newt Gingrich was the speaker of the house in the 1990’s. But the days of seeing allies across the aisle, if they ever existed, seem to be gone.

This is very upsetting for me. Because at some point, this state is a conscious choice for everyone involved. We choose to badmouth our political adversaries. We choose to lie about them. We choose to heap endless tons of criticism upon them. We choose to distort what we see to serve our political ends. We choose to tear down our fellow countrymen and countrywomen. We choose to shut out wide swaths of our own people from the political and policy making process. We chose this, and we choose it again every day. We are 327 million people (last I checked) choosing to do this to ourselves.

How does anyone turn that around?

I don’t know.

Maybe I have an idea, though. What I can do, is bring people together locally. Maybe that will make a difference. Maybe there are other people, in other parts of the country, who are doing the same.

Maybe getting people off of the internet, out from in front of their screens, and talking to each other – maybe that will make a difference. I feels, to me, that social media and media in general today is just designed to inflame. That we are all inflamed, and that’s why we don’t hear each other. That’s why people who think differently than us look like the enemy.

Normally, when I write about something that is bothering me, I write until I feel better. In this instance, I don’t know that I will be able to feel better about this. How can I accept my country slowly, painfully tearing itself apart? A country who’s founding motto is “Out of Many, One.” A country that calls itself the United States. A country where every man (and woman) is equal. The land of the free and the home of the brave. Maybe all that great stuff I was told about our country as a kid was hokum.

But that hokum is worth fighting for.

I don’t have easy answers here. Maybe all there is to do is to continue to move forward. To continue to try things, and to see what works. To continue to stand for what I believe our country should stand for.

Right now, that’s all I’ve got.

Llewy is still gone. Here’s what I’ve learned

They said grief comes in waves…

 

First and foremost, I should not have followed the vet’s advice and distracted him with peanut butter while she was giving him his shots. He got so focused on the peanut butter that he and I weren’t able to share his final moments together. There’s no way that the vet could have known that… I should have known that, but I was so wrapped up in my grief that I didn’t realize it. I may regret that decision for the rest of my life. Though I was able to say goodbye, in his final minutes he was focused on his food – and not on he and I being together. I hope one day I am able to let the pain go of watching the life leave him while he was eating when I so desperately wanted to connect with him one more time – but so far I have been unsuccessful in that endeavor.

In my grief and my pain, I did find myself wanting to re-write my memory of his last minutes to fit how I wanted them to go. In the midst of feeling so much pain, I tried so hard to make myself remember his last moments differently. That he did respond when I called his name, that he reacted when he saw me the last time. But he didn’t. I haven’t yet been able to put a finger on why it matters so much to me that he responded to me one last time – but it does.

Today, Ember told me how much she missed him. She told me that she missed how he was always watching over us, protecting us. She’s only 5, and he died 6 weeks ago. I feel like it’s a crap-shoot what she’ll remember of him. But hearing that today reminded me what a presence he was. He made us all feel cared for and watched over. He made us all feel loved, even if he irritated us with how he loved us sometimes.

I’ve never lost someone close to me before. Grief is awful. And, losing Llewy has given me perspective. I feel like I’m more sure to appreciate every moment I have with the people and animals I care about. I also don’t know that I’m ever going to let a dog in the way I let Llewy in. The thought of loving another dog only to go through this again…. right now that seems like too much.

It made a great difference to hear from everyone I heard from in the wake of his passing. Knowing how everyone cared was a boon at a time when everything seemed dark. Thank you, those of you who did that.

Llewy really is gone. I guess it’s still hard to truly believe, because his presence is still with me. I hope it always is.

Goodbye, My Friend

Today, Llewy was euthanized. It’s already weird being in our house without him. Always, his presence warmed my heart. To suddenly be without him…. well I guess that’s why I’m writing this goodbye to him now. So I don’t have to lose the idea of him yet, even if he is gone.

Llewy balanced me, when I didn’t know that I needed to be balanced. His unconditional love, spirit, and stubbornness, often reminded me of how to be the person that I wanted to be. Every dog is an emotional support dog, and Llewy was mine. Brenna would often say that he was my spirit animal, and that’s true. Having him in our family for these years made me a better person.

My spirit is dampened due to his loss, but what I learned from Llewy will live beyond the sorrow. When I had no one else, Llewy was there. When I needed someone to hold, Llewy was there. When I just needed to be with someone else, Llewy was there. I’ll never know if he knew when I needed him or not, but he was always there. Just his being there, and his irrepressible attitude while he was there, eased so much pain in my life. Llewy made it easier to process all the things I have gone through in the last 10+ years. He made it easier to make the choices in my life that I needed to make.

He made it easier when I got laid off. He made it easier when Brenna and I weren’t seeing eye to eye. He made it easier to raise two daughters. He made it easier to buy a house, and move to a (relatively) new region. Llewy made it easier to quell the demons that have always been in my mind.

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The first weekend we had him, we took him on a walk from our apartment in Campbell to downtown. Traffic literally stopped in the middle of the road when people saw him – I think shortly after we took the picture above. He was the cutest puppy ever. I’m slightly biased. When we got to downtown, where there was a farmer’s market that day, a crowd of about 30 people gathered around to see him.

I’ll never forget the day we got him. He was sad to leave his family, but after he had been with us for a few hours, his personality came through. I think it was at least a year before I was sure that he wanted to be with us.

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He always found comfort in my feet, from the first day we had him to the last day of his life.

Llewy was great with babies. He was always patient, always protective. He put up with so much from Ember when she was a baby, and was always sweet with Ash. With kids, Llew wasn’t so great. Thankfully he didn’t nip at their heels, but he didn’t appreciate them running around or any roughhousing of any kind.

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Here is one of the few photos of Llewy and Ash. She obviously won’t remember him.

Llew once ate half a pound of Starburst. We came home (I thought I had left the Starburst out of reach) and found him, on the floor next to a chewed through bag, so bloated. No matter how many times I took him out to walk and get things moving, he only barfed in the house. Reddish, sticky, watery goo came out of him – with Starburst wrappers. It was truly awful. I don’t think that carpet ever recovered.

There was the time he and Nacho got kennel cough from eating horse poop and dead crabs on a beach in SF. There was the time he got stung by a bee and his nose got all swollen – that happened when he got his vaccines as well. There were the many times he knocked over someone’s drink at a party so he could drink it himself. There was the time he ran through downtown Boulder Creek, and we found him eating garbage out of the dumpster by the old brewery. Or when we pulled him out of herding lessons because he lost interest in herding the sheep, preferring to just eat their poop. Before it became clear that the degenerative myelopathy was going to take him, Brenna and I really thought that he would manage to eat himself to death.

I love that picture above of Ash and Llewy. It really captures the dignity with which he finished his life.

He had no fear. The only thing I remember Llewy ever being afraid of was power outages (of all things). Bigger dogs, people, cars, nothing else I ever saw him back down from. Such a great lesson for life. Here he is, I managed to get a selfie of him when the power went out in our house:

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Llewy was a great pack dog, even if he wasn’t totally happy with additions to the pack. He watched out for all of us, and helped us train our new puppy in the last year of his life.

Llewy helped me to be whole. I had no idea a dog could do that before him. I feel like I could go on forever, but being that he has only been dead an hour and a half or so as I’m writing this, I think I’m going to stop writing for now. I may very well write more about him in the future as I’m processing his departure.

One more thing. Here are the photos from his last trip to the beach, the day before he died. I’ve never been able to take selfies with him, and yesterday was no different. He did get to dig in the sand one last time, something he loved to do. There were also a few dogs there, and I got to see how social he wanted to be as he dragged his back end across the beach to see them.

More photos:

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Goodbye, Llewy. You were my rock. I will miss you dearly, and I will always carry you in my soul. What you did for me and our family is immeasurable. In my heart, you will always be by my side.

It’s Me

Here this is, for you to read

If there’s ever a day
When you’ve found you’ve
lost your way
and you’re looking for
someone to reach out to

And you don’t know
who’ll be there and
who won’t
who’ll listen and give you
something to hold on to

I’m not so far
just a message away
if you’ve got something
to say
or need someone
to walk with

Who’s gonna be there when
you’re in your worst moment?
Who will watch you as
you cry and you scream?
Who will put out their hand
when you need someone to hold?
Who will rock you back to sanity?

It’s me

It doesn’t bother me
if it’s been a year, or two, or three
a decade, or more
since you spoke to me

You are my friend
I mean that to the end
As long as I draw breath
you are part of me

If you don’t have
a roof over your head
if you’ve got track marks instead
If self harm seems like
the best solution for you

If you’ve lost your last sense
of direction

It’s me

I will be there
when the darkness closes in
when there’s nothing left
but the feet your standing in

I will walk a mile
or a thousand more
to get to your door
or take you to a new one

You’re never alone
in this world
when it’s cold as stone
As long as I draw breath
you’ve got me

Who’s gonna be there
when you’re in your worst moment?
Who will watch you as you
cry and you scream?
Who will put out their hand
when you need someone to hold?
Who will rock you back to sanity?

It’s me

I was listening to “It Ain’t Me” by Kygo and Selena Gomez yesterday – which I think is a beautiful song – and was experiencing a sense of cognitive dissonance deep in my soul. It’s essentially a breakup song, the way it’s performed it comes across as a lady saying that she isn’t going to support a guy anymore in the moments where he can’t take care of himself. Which, is a sentiment I can appreciate. As the song went along, I realized that it is me. That I want to be there in those moments. That, though I may not be in the habit of communicating this to the people I care about, it is exactly my intention to be there for my friends in their hardest times and any time. That when I become friends with a person, I am making a lifetime commitment to them. That, though I’ve struggled with the logistics of that commitment, as I’m sure we all have – it has been my commitment my entire life.

So, even though I haven’t written poetry for years, this poem just sort of spilled out of me. I wrote it roughly to the tune of “It Ain’t Me.” Apparently I’m much more of a lyricist than a tune-writer. I didn’t go and re-write the song word for word though, I just wrote what came to mind. Since the words of this poem are what I am feeling deeply on a daily basis these days, I thought I’d share it with you.

Mourning 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 foreign 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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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.