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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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.

Oh Man, What The Heck Am I Doing?

My last blog post received quite a few views (for me), and quite a few comments on facebook. I found myself dreading the comments. Like, “oh crap, who is going to be terrible in the comments now?”

Yet this is what I set myself up for, this is what I asked for in a way. I want my stuff to be read, I want people to be thinking about it. In our world, the best way to do that is to write stuff that gets a lot of comments. But if I’m deliberately avoiding facebook because I don’t want to see what people are saying now, even if it isn’t directed at me, that’s a problem.

I took this on for a variety of reasons. I wanted an online presence to establish who I am and what I’m about. Over the years I have felt that the real me doesn’t get communicated in short bursts, nor do I really get captured by the tools we have to capture who people are: resumes, social media profiles, business cards, etc. I wanted to have a place where people could see the different sides of me.

I also wanted to have a place where I could affect the way we talk about the world around us, even if it is just among my very small readership. I think most, if not all of us, today would agree that there is crazy stuff going on in the world around us. I wanted to have a place where I could assist, in my own small way, in us finding solutions to our seemingly insurmountable problems.

I also wanted a forum to start conversations. There is so much going on in our world, and a limited time to actually talk about it. For friends of mine to say “I read your blog, and here’s what I think about it…” gets us to the heart of the matter real fast when we have a limited amount of time to talk. It also gets me thinking in new ways about the subject. Invariably, every time I talk with someone about one of these topic I’ve written about it changes the way I see it.

Of course, if I’m going to be engaging in the discourse that exists around the problems of today, I’m going to have to deal with the vitriol that exists in our current political discourse. In fact, that is exactly what I want to be addressing with my writing.

But holy crap guys, sometimes witnessing that on my own feed is really hard. And I’m sure that one day I’ll write something that ends up getting that vitriol directed at me, and those few days will be hard as well. Honestly, I’m afraid of that day. That’s really what it is. I’m afraid of that day when it feels like the whole world has turned against me. I’m afraid that one day I’ll write something, and people will lobby my employer to get me fired over it. I’m afraid I’ll write something, and I’ll feel like people I love and care about are judging me over it. I’m afraid that I’ll lose friends. I’m afraid that my intentions, which are ultimately just to calm the dialogue around our divisive issues, will be lost.

There’s more to what I’m feeling than that, however. I think I’m also really coming to grips with exactly how much work there is to be done. How calloused we all are to each other’s points of view that we skip all of the lead up and cut straight to the arguing. Or we skip the arguing, and go straight to taking action against each other.

What we have in our culture today is a failure to diffuse negative feelings towards one another. We have a failure to help each other move past anger. A failure to address issues before they become causes, a failure to listen and take action before people become calloused. We have an inability to perceived injustice when it affects people we don’t identify with. Our initial response to people who don’t share our worldview is one of not trusting their intentions.

And now, violence feels much more common in our political discourse than it did say, 20 years ago. It certainly feels much easier for people to rationalize violent acts.

Yet I also know that this is just a period, and that this period will pass. Since our world has become interconnected, it has always suffered from periods of “unrest” – for lack of any better vocabulary. World War I and II were extreme examples. The 1960’s were another. We are in one now. How long it will last, I don’t know. When will it peak? I don’t know that either. But it will pass. What will the world look like when it’s done? I don’t know that either.

Sometimes I wonder how far I want to put myself out there. How much am I going to risk getting burned? Yet the time has come for me where I can no longer live with inaction. I cannot sit by and watch the world burn.

Yet my contribution is not… normal? I don’t yet see how going to protests or calling my representatives is actually going to further what I’m up to. I’m concerned with the dialogue, and I’m concerned with the lack of listening happening in our culture.

Behind every political position is at least one unaddressed concern. Immigration, in our country, is a great example. Someone can be against immigration because they are concerned about it’s impact on our economy overall, because they don’t want the people who are already here to lose their jobs, because they don’t want our culture to be diluted, because they don’t want immigrants who are going to take from us instead of contribute, because they don’t want criminals to come here… OR they could be biased against people that don’t look like them, or racist. Anyone who comes up with an immigration policy that demonstrates that it mitigates against those first five concerns, while meeting the goals of people who are in favor of immigration, is going to end up with the great majority of the US populace behind them.

But what doesn’t make it into the national conversation, is anyone actually attempting to alleviate the concerns of people who are anti-immigration. What we hear from the pro-immigration side is “Those people are racists!” Or, people who are against immigration are hopelessly biased or simply ignorant of the economic facts about immigration. Maybe we’ll see frustrated speculation wondering why people don’t understand what is such an obvious, to them, truth.

What I want is for people engaged in our national conversation to start listening to, and alleviating, the concerns of the different groups that make up our population. I haven’t the slightest idea how to achieve that. That, and reinforce and strengthen our democratic institutions (ie; make sure everyone gets a vote and every vote is counted equally). That also means refraining from purposely distributing false information, and giving up achieving legislative agendas through undemocratic means.

This is a big ask. I understand that. As a people we’re so used to doing things the way we have been, to suddenly actually “do democracy” in a democratic way would be a big change. But for me, this is what’s worth wading into the public discourse for. I would consider myself remiss if I did not take action on this issue. This is why I’ve been writing and podcasting recently. This is my overall goal.

Lol, and yes I have always taken on things that are too big. But I know what this is. I know, that if it is ever achieved, that it may not happen in my lifetime. There is no manual for this. It’s ultimately going to take millions of people taking up this cause in one way or another to have a noticeable effect. But what the heck else is worth doing?

It’s time to put a black dog to sleep

Blogging has opened up a new well of anxiety for me. It’s time I addressed it. I wasn’t originally planning on this blog being personal – but this is what I have to write so I may as well write it.

Let me give you some of the backstory of why this feels the way it does for me.

I have always loved to write. I have been writing my entire life. The sweet spot, as I think of it, of communication in general is when what you’re communicating resonates with the audience and the speaker or writer at the same time – and I love to hit that spot.

During my sophomore year of high school I needed a change. I was really unsatisfied with my high school experience at that point. So when I found the opportunity to take college courses held at Stanford during the summer on things I really cared about (Comparative Politics and Rhetoric, right up my alley), I jumped at the chance.

I loved it. It opened my eyes to a lot, I met a lot of people, and made a life long friend. And, I didn’t do as well on the essays in my courses as I wanted to.

When I came back to school in the fall, I was ready to take on the world. I signed up for Honors English (because I wanted to improve my writing) and AP History. I became an editor for the school paper. I tried out for the school play. I volunteered for student government.

I did well at it all… except Honors English. I could not get good grades on the essays. In fact, I was getting the worst grades of my life. Worst of all, was I didn’t know why. Nothing my teacher said about the grades I was getting made sense to me.

I failed Honors English that first semester, while getting straight A’s in all my other classes. While co-editing the student paper and writing a bunch of articles for it, performing in the school play, and volunteering for the bond campaign to raise money to upgrade the school facilities. I failed the next semester too. I never understood why my teacher gave me the grades he did. I never understood what was missing from my writing.

It was the first time, maybe the only time, that I wanted to improve something about myself and wasn’t able to do it. I had failed plenty of times at plenty of things, but before I had always learned something from the failure. This time I learned nothing. It has haunted me ever since. It didn’t matter that I later had a regular column in the local newspaper, or that I had a handful of poems published each year in the school poetry publication. Or that people told me my whole life that I was a good writer. I always felt that there was something missing. I could never shake the feeling that there was just something that I didn’t get.

Now, whenever I go to write for my blog, I feel this feeling again. Time has not healed this wound. I found myself today in a milieu of emotions. I have so much to write – I’m not even close to writing all the blogs I wanted to write before I started this blog, yet alone the ones I’ve thought of after – yet I found myself questioning stuff I’m very clear I want to say. I found myself doubting my ability to write anything well. I found myself… wanting to give up.

Now you can see what I do when I have a feeling that I can’t resolve myself. This is how I confront it, let it wash over me, and move past it. By writing about it. This is why I must keep writing.

That, and I have a lot to say. Thank you all for reading.