151 Band

Friday, May 01, 2015

I Hate Funerals

I was 14 when I attended my first funeral and it was devastating.  I sat in the front pew of the massive church with my little brother, as I recall.  It was the memorial service for my mother.  It was absolutely horrifying and I can't even begin to describe how frightened and lost I felt.  My brother to this day can only shake his head and wonder what in the hell happened.  It kind of shaped who we are today and neither of us are particularly proud of where we've ended up.  We own it, it's our fault and I assure you that I know without a doubt what the price of my sins has been and will continue to be.

I don't like funerals, never have and never will because of that.

A dear friend of mine posted a photograph on my profile yesterday of a poster inviting people to attend the funeral of a homeless veteran.  He had no family, no friends, but he was a United States Navy Veteran, so he had that brotherhood.  I fought every fiber in my being that didn't want to attend.  But, my sense of duty finally won out.

When I arrived at the funeral this morning, I was stunned at how many people were there.  Active duty military, retired military, civilians, and even police officers were  in attendance.  The Patriot Riders Motorcycle Club was there as well.  Looking out at the number of people in attendance, I was forced to obscure my face from the crowd because I didn't want anyone to see tears welling up in my eyes.

As I made the drive back home, I was just numb.  I hate to be reminded of my own mortality, yet this funeral was something more than just a reminder.  It was a revelatory event that underscored the fact
we're all just a few steps from homelessness.  It doesn't take much to completely devastate an individual and when it happens, there's not a lot of options left.  Putting the barrel of a gun in the mouth is one very final option.  Living out whatever days are left in a homeless shelter is another option, or one can load a few of his/her personal items and hit the road.

It was selfish on my part, but I found myself wondering who would be at my funeral.  I have family, some very wonderful friends, and a hope that they would be there to comfort my family in the event of my sudden departure.  It was a solemn and very quite ride back home.

We don't know the story of this homeless veteran, and we may never know.  What we do know, however, is that even though he was homeless, even though he had no family, people showed up to wish him "fair winds and following seas."

No one should ever die alone.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

There Is Still Hope

The Oklahoma legislature has had nothing but bad press lately, including Kevin Calvey saying he'd "light himself on fire."  I don't care who you are...that's some crazy, funny stuff.  Then, there was a follow up report that tried to cover the insanity in the effort to explain it away, and it was a colossal failure.  I mean, come on. When a legislator who is also a National Guard member talks about lighting himself on fire, people have to pay attention.  To Calvey's credit, he is a man who is willing to let it all hang out where his faith is concerned.  Good for him.  But the people elected him to legislate, not preach.

And of course, there were the God Squad bills that were supposed to "protect families," and "religious freedom."  Some were so ludicrous, so unconstitutional that all I could do was shake my head and giggle at the silliness.  And yet, again, Oklahoma was thrust into the national spotlight.  Yay, us!

There has been a bill that made it through the House and the Senate that was pretty good, however.  The bill to ban texting and driving is a good bill and there's not a lot of doubt that the Governor will support it.  Normally, I would raise hell over a duplicitous bill because we have the "distracted driving" laws, but those laws are terribly hard to prove in court. This bill, however, has teeth and will be much more enforceable, and thereby more effective.  Kudos to the House and Senate for passing this bill.

Kind of gives you a glimmer of hope, doesn't it?  Of course, there's the deficit we have to deal with here in Oklahoma, but that can wait, right?

I suppose that every election cycle, we see the process as presenting hope and an opportunity to create change and make a better life for ourselves and our communities.  The candidates get all excited about their position papers, they begin to believe their own boiler plate press releases and then, the promises come.  Promises, of course that never come true.  But we see it as hope and without hope, there's really no point in living, is there?

As long as we in this country make a conscious decision to to maintain open dialog, there is still hope.  As long as there are people willing to hold politicians accountable, there is hope.  As long as we have each other, there is hope.  As long as we embrace our sense of humor, there is hope.

I could be wrong, but I seriously doubt it.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Answer Is NOT Rioting

Imagine for a moment how our culture would be if every time we got angry about something, we rioted and looted.  A friend doesn't return a call?  Riot.  Someone takes your parking space?  Looting.  Coffee was too hot?  That definitely calls for a full-tilt-gonzo riot, for heaven's sake.  This thing in Baltimore just doesn't make sense.  Well, I suppose it does on some level - an African-American man, Freddie Gray, was killed in the custody of those whom our society has tasked with keeping order, to keeping us safe.  It's not a good thing when law enforcement so brutally breaks the law.

It's almost like Congress giving themselves a pay raise every year.  Wait.  That really happens.

Rioting and acting like a bunch of dill weeds is not the damned answer.  Ever.  Never ever.  

Law enforcement is not perfect because it is comprised of the human element and where there are human beings, there will be mistakes.  Sometimes, those mistakes are fatal as they are in this case.  Here's part of the story from the Atlantic:
The police say Gray didn't resist arrest and that officers didn't use force, which seems to be mostly corroborated by video shot by bystanders. Gray seems to shout in pain, and his leg seems injured as officers drag him to a police van. (Someone off camera shouts, "His leg broke and y'all dragging him like that!") Gray also had asthma and requested his inhaler, but didn't get it. Yet it's not the leg or the asthma that killed him. Instead, it was a grave injury to his spinal cord. Gray's family said he was treated for three fractured vertebrae and a crushed voice box, the sorts of injuries that doctors say are usually caused by serious car accidents. The van made at least two stops before reaching the police station, but there's no footage to say what happened during the journey or at those stops.
Yes.  It's true.  Gray has one hell of a rap sheet on him; he has not been a model citizen.  But law enforcement is to be law enforcement, not a hit squad.  Is that the kind of country we want to live in?  The people, ironically enough, who have rolled out the "gee, look at what a dirtbag he was" argument are typically those who want LESS government intrusion, but where "bad guys" are concerned, it's a free-for-all. 


Between this horrific incident, the recent story about the deputy in Tulsa who needlessly killed a man, and of course there was the police shooting of a man named Walter Scott in South Carolina, the public is unsettled, pissed off and justifiably so.  Police officers have an exceedingly difficult job on their hands and the vast majority of those involved in law enforcement are decent, hard-working men and women who feel that their job is like a calling.  These aren't the ones we hear about much because they are out there every day, putting their lives on the line.

These needless deaths at the hands of some "bad eggs" in law enforcement are sad, discouraging, and intensely frustrating.  But the answer is not rioting and looting.  I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but one thing that rioting does do is to feed into the stereotypes about the inner city.  Dumb asses.

Communities need to investigate the training measures and requirements to become a police officer to begin with.  And in my opinion, part of the reason we have some of these problems is that in many cases, law enforcement is morbidly underpaid.  Yes, that's right - morbidly underpaid.  If the incentive package is weak, the candidates for the job will be weak.  

We have to change this stuff now, but rioting isn't the answer.  Looting isn't the answer.  Investigating and prosecuting douchebags is, however, the answer. 

Of course, this is just my opinion and I could be wrong - but I seriously doubt it.


Monday, April 27, 2015

It Could Be Worse

Crazy bastard
Without question, we live in some of the most bizarre times in the history of humankind.  We have technology (such as this) to communicate with one another instantly, we have cascades of multi-family housing units but no "community", and we have a political system that while broken, it tries to work.  Well, for the most part.

There are a lot of naysayers, including myself at times, who like to tinkle on everything and just be contrarian simply for the sake of being contrarian.  On the other hand, there are folks who feed off of the negativity, who work hard at keeping us all ginned up about this topic or another.  There are people in this world who are hell bent on vengeance, for what they believe is a little piece of justice in light of all the chaos. It all sucks, but it really could be worse.  Take a look:

1.  Religious Legislation:  The fact that we have legislators who believe that there should be some theocratic hierarchy in the State of Oklahoma and across the nation is nothing compared to how bad it really could be.  We have the right and ability to vote out most of these dingleberries and usher in some real change.  They aren't making folks wear scarlet letters either.  Yet.

2.  Demise of Talk Radio:  What passes for national talk radio these days is pathetic.  It's the same bunch of talking heads spouting the same tripe as though they are reading from the same talking points memo - which they are.  And local talk radio?  It doesn't exist.  Not really, anyway.  On one station, it's now cantina music - you've probably heard it playing at Pablano Grill.  On another station, you have a shill for any neo-conservative point of view that might put money in the host's pocket.  It's little more than a sounding board for potential clients and amateurish pabulum and it really isn't good radio.  Then, there's the "big dog" - the station that used to be the gold standard in Oklahoma for talk radio with the likes of the legendary Mike McCarville.  Now, it's just horrid.  I mean, really.  Rick Roberts?  Really?  But you know what, kids, it could be worse.  We could have no talk radio at all.  Wait.  That might not be so bad.

3.  Dexter:  I had to throw this in.  The ending sucked.  Bring the show back and try again.  BUT, it could be worse.  It could have had an ending like LOST.  Blech.

4.  Freedom:  As mentioned previously, government is as screwed up as a soup sandwich and there are cases where one could easily say that Americans are losing some of their freedoms.  But over all, it's still the greatest country in the world.  Our freedom is the calling card for the joys of what America is all about.  Of course, we tend to treat veterans like shit - unless they are elected officials, but we are still worth fighting for.

5.  Mulligans:  In life, we all make a ton of mistakes and I don't care how holy you think you are, spend 10 minutes in a room with me alone and I can expose all of your darkness.  One thing that is great about life though is that many of us get second chances; mulligans, if you will.  Most of us don't deserve them, but somehow the Creator once in a while looks down from on high and gives us a chance to start over, an opportunity to love rather than hate.  Imagine an existence where no forgiveness, no mercy existed whatsoever.  It would be pure pandemonium.  I'm thankful and filled to overflowing with gratitude for the mulligans I've had in my lifetime.

6.  Country Music:  I tease a lot about country music because for the most part, I can't stand it.  But, I often tell myself that it could be a whole lot worse...we could be stuck with Michael Bolton 24/7.

7.  Judicial System:  Okay, we're not the Taliban by any stretch of the imagination, but we do have some problems with our judicial system that makes many of us vomit.  

So, you see my friends, it could always be much worse.  Life is generally good if we can live in a place where grace and mercy are at the forefront of importance.  I say this as a person who openly accepts the fact that I don't deserve mercy, but rather torment and agony for the rest of eternity.  But sometimes, we get a taste of freedom, a taste of forgiveness, and it gives us hope.  If a scumbag like me can get a mulligan, imagine the possibilities for you.

I confess - there have been times where all I wanted to do was put a bullet in my head or to swallow a bunch of pills to hold the hounds at bay.  Then, miraculously, something happens and I get a sense of peace, a kind gesture, a smile from someone, or someone's generosity stands out and becomes a benchmark for me to strive for in my life.

Where there is breath, there is life.  So, just breathe.

The artist formerly known as the 
"400lb Gorilla of Oklahoma Media."

Sunday, April 26, 2015

It's Never Easy

He saw his life begin to crumble, to fall apart all around him and the internal and external pain was unbearable.  His friends gave the standard, "cheer up" advice because, after all, people suffering from depression always respond well to that type of feedback.  He had found himself rather isolated because people don't want to be around others who are less than perky - it's as though some people believe depression is contagious.  At first, the solitude was refreshing and seemed to cut out the background noise of life.  The problem with solitude is that every second of every minute of every hour of every day, it forced him to see himself for what he had become.  The voices in his mind eventually became so rambunctious that he couldn't resist.  

By the time they found him, he had already been gone for three days.  His hell hounds had finally caught up with him and devoured him.  There were many who said that they cared for him, admired him, but these were the same people who couldn't handle his illnesses.  Not surprisingly, it took only a few short weeks for everyone to forget him.  

This story isn't unusual.  It is never easy dealing with individuals who have become a victim of depression, and if you're that person, it's even harder to explain away, or mask that depression.  The illness opens the door for bad behavior that hurts a lot of people through the course of time and slowly but surely the guilt and shame finally takes over and the descent into madness begins.

Constant physical pain often turns into emotional pain, which then presents itself behaviorally.  Everyone suffers and experiences pain differently.  Some have a very high threshold for pain where as others don't and the madness comes much more quickly for them.  For the depressed individual, it's a long road to normalcy, and it is a road that he/she has to travel - but shouldn't do it alone.

There are plenty of websites available that can help with identifying signs and symptoms of depression, so that's not what this blog is about.

It's important to understand that when a person suffers from depression, the first human response is for that person to do their level best to mask or hide the depression.  There does come a time when a man who has lived a less than exemplary life can no longer handle to guilt and shame - these are the
people who are most at risk, in my opinion.  The piling on and accumulation of physical pain, mental pain, and a lack of passion creates a short fuse that once it's lit, the end is inevitable.  And of course, there are those in his/her life whom he/she has wronged who feel the need to extract their pound of flesh as quickly and violently as possible. These are understandable, and probably more than deserved.  But it's not going to help matters.

Living with depression or other mental illnesses are never easy.  But yet, they can be lived with and managed - particularly the mental health issues that stem from a chemical imbalance because there are a myriad of medications available to combat them.  There are group therapy sessions, there are one on one therapy sessions, and even exercise that can help to combat depression.  But nothing seems to work as well as that one person who loves and cares for him/her and is willing to love unconditionally.

I could be wrong, and often am, but I don't think so.