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Archive for the ‘Changing yourself’ Category

Individual responsibility. You, yes, you, are accountable for actions taken in your life. And every action you take has a consequence. Or, to quote Sir Isaac Newton, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” Study hard, you get an A+ on the test. Slam your fist into a wall, it’s going to hurt like a son-of-a-bitch and you stand a good chance of breaking some bones. Take certain drugs while you are ill or in pain, you will feel better or get well. Continue to take some of those same drugs, you will become addicted and chances are pretty good that you will die.

Okay, so perhaps I took a bit of liberty with poor old Sir Isaac, but do you see what I’m saying? You are responsible for your actions, particularly when it comes to taking drugs in what today we are calling a world-wide opioid epidemic. If you are an adolescent or an adult and doing drugs has been your “thing” in life, great, that’s something that you have elected to do, and you are probably aware of the consequences of your actions. If you’re strung out all the time, you may not give a damn about the outcome. To hell with your family and friends who care about you because you’re doing what you want to do. Besides, if you happen to overdose, some EMT will probably have some naloxone, more commonly known as Narcan, to bring you around…maybe…or maybe not. So, if you wish to continue to get high on Percocet, Oxycodone, Oxycontin, or perhaps heroin because it’s become cheaper than some of those prescription medications, you just go ahead. I would remind you of one thing…you are the one who elected to continue to use opioids.

For those of you who may know someone with an opioid addiction, please, please do not give me excuses for their addiction. Yes, I’m certain that they had pain. Yes, I know that the doctor prescribed the drugs to which they are now addicted. Yes, I know the prescriptions ran out but by that time they were hooked. Yes, I know that they turned to the street drug, heroin, because it was cheaper and more available than Oxycontin. Yes, I know, I know, I know. However, who chose to continue taking the drugs? Who chose the feeling of euphoria over saying, “Wait just a minute here. I’m gonna be in some kind of trouble if I don’t knock this off?” It’s called individual responsibility. It’s called not-making-excuses-for-a-bad-decision. Oh, we can blame Purdue Pharma for creating the drugs, Oxycodone and Oxycontin as an alternative to morphine, codeine, Percodan, or Percocet. And we can blame our doctors who prescribed the pills for the pain, but…when it comes right down to the bottom line, did that individual really need to take something as powerful and addictive as Oxycontin? I have had over twenty surgeries in my life. My back has been invaded three times, both of my shoulders have been opened and closed, as have my knees, elbow, wrist, hand, and on, and on, and on. After my first knee surgery, I was given Percocet. It was terrific…took away the pain and the world was a great place…whoopee. I didn’t move my bowels for damn near a week, and when, after multiple doses of laxatives…well, I won’t tell you just how bad it was. When I asked the doctor why that had happened, he had one word…”Percocet.” No two ways about it, Percocet is a great drug, but I really would prefer not to have the cramps that I suffered getting away from it.

When Oxycontin came on the market, one of the advantages being pushed by Purdue Pharma was that it was “abuse resistant.” Later, when the company had been given the go ahead to create 80 and then 160 mg time release pills, its marketing materials claimed that the potential for addiction was “less than one percent.” Many articles have been written about how Purdue Pharma duped the FDA, built dossiers on doctors more likely to prescribe opioids, and segmented the country for its promotional campaigns to increase its profits. If you would like to read more about Purdue Pharma, I invite you to Google them but I will warn you ahead of time, I believe they bring ethical behavior to a new low.

Pharmaceutical companies and doctors who freely prescribe opioids as a pain medication are such a small part of the epidemic in my own mind that I just cannot bring myself to write more about them. Certainly, I have only my own experiences to go by, what some may call a single case study, but those people who allow themselves to be lulled into a false sense of easy pain elimination without regard to the addiction consequences are abrogating their responsibilities to themselves and to their families and friends. I really find having sympathy for them to be difficult.

It scares the devil out of me to think that we are becoming a society of people who refuse to take charge of their lives, who believe that there will always be others to cover for their mistakes. Pain is a part of life, both physical and mental anguish. Disappointment is a part of life; learn to live with it. It’s so much easier to place blame elsewhere rather than accepting the fact that the fault lies right at one’s own front door. Why do people get medals just for participation? Why are trophies given to everyone on the team? I’m all for teamwork and cooperation but within that team, each member must shoulder his or her fair share of the burden, responsibility, or whatever term you may wish to use. It is time we recognize that making excuses for others, defending the actions of others who create problems, is not what we are about. Big pharmaceuticals don’t care if you die. Doctors who continue to prescribe opioid pain pills obviously don’t care if you die. It’s up to the individual to know and understand the consequences of just how bad opioids are and to stay as far away from them as possible.

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When I asked about one of my high school classmates recently, I was told, “Aw, he drank himself to death some time ago.” I thought to myself, “Well, that makes two from our class that I know of.” It’s not a pretty picture. How many others, I wonder, abused alcohol? We had less than 80 people in our senior class, and while two out of eighty might not sound so bad, you go ahead and do the math as it may concern the teenage and adult population in the United States. Let me save you some trouble…there are more than 12 million alcoholics in the United States.

Hindsight is a truly wonderful thing. As the cliché goes, it’s 20/20. Looking back to my days at Northeastern and at Babson, I can now recall people I knew who always had alcohol on their breath and who would act confused at times. Naïve little me, I guess. Today, I can honestly say that I was really too damned dumb to notice erratic behavior. Perhaps that’s because there were more than a few mornings when I was nursing a hangover. Thankfully, Joan and I came to our senses before things went too far.

Looking at the statistics on alcoholism, I find that three-fourths of all adults drink alcohol, and 6% of them are alcoholics. That’s really a staggering number – no pun intended – of people who abuse alcohol. Americans spend $197 million each day on alcohol…and that’s not even counting moonshine. In the United States, a person is killed in an alcohol-related car accident every 30 minutes. Perhaps this explains why, even on my early morning drive to the gym or whenever Juli and I are out in the car, my eyes are always shifting to what’s going on in the oncoming lane. Sure, I’m going to die, but I’m not eager to have it be at the hands of some drunk I don’t even know! Two other facts that were somewhat surprising…people with a higher education are more likely to drink, and the same is true for people who are considered to be wealthy. I’m not certain what the correlation is, but it seems that if you’re well educated and rich, you’re more likely to be a drunk…for some reason, that just doesn’t compute, but it’s out there.

A friend of mine recently went to his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. He told me that he’d finally had enough and that it wanted to quit drinking. His feeling was that he couldn’t do so without help. He indicated that he was shocked when he went to his first meeting because he knew every other person in the room. As I’ve learned over the years, alcoholics are very well versed in how to hide the disease from others. Yes, alcoholism is a disease. It’s not a choice that most people make. It consumes the mind and body of the alcoholic, but it also affects those around him or her. While there are 12 million alcoholics as I’ve said, there are another 50 – 60 million friends and family members who are affected by this debilitating disease.

At this point, time has elapsed since the last paragraph was written. I became angry while writing it, and that’s when objectivity leaves, ergo I’m better off walking away and coming back when I’ve cooled down. My anger stemmed from the fact that I can remember, during my drinking days, of how my family was affected by my drinking. I didn’t like who I was or what I did, but thankfully, those days are long past and there don’t appear to be any residual effects.

Just because you or I may live in a ‘dry’ town doesn’t mean that alcohol isn’t easily accessible. There seem to be more “Town Line” liquor stores abutting the dry town lines than there are restaurants or any other type of establishment. No, liquor is a very easy thing to get one’s hands on. Drinking is one of society’s more widespread and accepted forms of addiction, so how do we spot the alcoholic? ‘We’ don’t have to spot someone with an alcohol dependency. Alcoholics know who they are. It’s one of the few self-diagnosable diseases there are. Asking one’s self a few simple questions can provide answers. Do you drink to relax or feel better? Do you hide your drinking or bottles of liquor? Do you drink to the point of blacking out? How often do you drink to this point? Are you unable to stop once you start drinking? Do you drink in dangerous situations, e.g., when you may have to get behind the wheel of your car? Is your tolerance to alcohol increasing? Do you find that you are neglecting things at home, work, or school? Have you tried to quit but find that you are unable to do so? These are just a few of the signs or symptoms that alcohol is no longer your friend but has become your master. I had a boss who, when we went out to lunch, had to have at least two drinks to get him through the afternoon. In addition, he would become upset if I didn’t drink with him. It made for a few awkward situations.

Why am I writing about all of this…again? It’s been done to death, and no one needs to be reminded about the dangers of alcohol. Well, maybe that’s wrong. Maybe we all need to be reminded of it. God only knows we see enough of the results of it on television…cars wrapped around trees or driving the wrong way and killing others just trying to get home. Yeah, we do need to be reminded of it…and on a fairly regular basis. Alcohol dependency is one of those things that for which we do have treatment centers and programs. Let’s make it personal…I used to drink to the point where I wasn’t very pleasant to be around. I used to drink and drive, but I got away with it. I no longer drink and I’m better off because of it. Every so often one friend or another will tell me that they are going to meetings or that they’ve been sober for so many days, weeks, or months. I understand that. I will always understand that. And I will always help anyone who seeks my help to quit. None of us wish to become one of the 100,000 who die each year from alcohol-related accidents.

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Less than a month after graduating from college, I was walking down the aisle of a Catholic church in Waban – that’s one of the many villages of the city of Newton – marrying a beautiful girl that I had met seven months before in one of those quirks of fate ‘thingies.’ I had been exercising my option on a second major and doing some substitute teaching and on the first day on the job, was smitten with an arrow from Cupid’s quiver. She was smart, beautiful, and the weird part was…she liked me! I’d already had one bad breakup over this Catholic vs. Protestant religion idiocy, and while I wasn’t certain about spending a lifetime together, I was damn well certain that that would not get in the way with this girl.

Fifty years, three children, and nine grandchildren later, we buried the girl who’d become a woman, a mother, a grandmother, and my best friend. But as you would know had you read “The Dash” by Linda Ellis, it was neither the date of her birth nor the date of her death but that little line between them that made our lives together so wonderful. If there was ever any truth in the statement that “opposites attract,” it certainly applied in our case. She was an only child from a reasonably prosperous family and lived in a large city. I was one of three from a family that struggled mightily after the Great Depression and who, by comparison, lived in a rather small town. Finding one another as we did, well…you could only describe it as quirky.

The first seven years of our marriage was a series of highs and lows. The highs came in attending numerous shows in Boston, having a place of our own on the Cape and attending every performance that the Falmouth Playhouse had to offer; dining in some of the finer restaurants around and generally enjoying our jobs. She became Director of Admissions at Tufts Dental School, and I was slowly moving up in my job at Northeastern. We commuted together, tried new recipes together, did a few crazy things together that you don’t need to read about and in total, had a wonderful life. The lows came as we lost three children before they were born…and if you haven’t been there, it’s pretty low.

The first two children might have been called Irish twins, they were born so close together. The third came along a few years later. As those of you who are married well know, life with young kids is a life unto its own. They become the center of your universe. We were no different. Elementary school, Cub Scouts, Brownies, PTA, Little League, and a host of other activities combined to eat up that time formerly dedicated to plays, movies, and restaurants. In our case, swimming became the dominant focus. I swear that our car could have gone from Newton to the Brown University swimming facility on its own. As parents, we maintained our “slim” figures by sweating it out at day-long swim meets where the indoor temperature seemed well into the triple digits.

Then…she was gone. The kids, by now, were married with children of their own. The house…well, the house was empty…except for a man growing older with little to do. A few years later, a new lady came into my life…all the way from California. Life became worthwhile living once more. This love was different…and so was the lifestyle. From restaurants and shows, it became craft fairs and drives around New England. It was learning the history of this part of the country and teaching me the history of her part of the world. It was a renewed form of education. From Boston Duck tours to a helicopter ride.

The rite of spring became building of raised garden beds – she did the building – to watching seeds turn into summer squash, jalapeno peppers – wow, could they be hot – and tomatoes. I was taught about heirloom, pear, cherry, yellow, and beau coup other types of tomatoes. We had radishes – who the hell eats radishes – cucumbers, and even a season or two of green beans and peas. All of this was totally foreign to me and to what my life had been like. Other parts of the yard were taken over by a variety and abundance of lilies, sun flowers, forget-me-nots, and hyacinth. Roses included Mr. Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth, cocoa, roses-within-roses, yellows, reds, whites, pinks, and on and on. Flowers were planted that bloomed in early spring, followed by late spring, followed by summer. It appeared that color appeared from April through October. My new love sprayed with her own concoctions of both fertilizer and bug killer. Diatomaceous earth, normally used in the pool filter, became a barrier against slugs; lily beetles were plucked with tweezers, and tomato worms quickly learned the errors of their ways if they were gutsy enough to get anywhere near our plants.

Why do I tell you these things? Why would I lay a part of my life bare for all to know? There are many answers, but perhaps the most important one is directed at those who are widows or widowers. Life does not end when your partner dies. It does not end when the nest empties and only the two of you remain, often as strangers because so much of your time has been devoted to children rather than each other. You may have to learn to love again, but it will be a deeper love and yes, it will be a different type of love. And then, as I have said, you will be alone. Friends will come and they will go; few, if any, leaving the footprints on your heart that were already deeply imprinted. If you are as fortunate as I, and you may well be, someone will come along, and you, you will find a totally different world…again, just as I did. Remember, life is worth living to your very last breath.

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The gym rat is an interesting species and comes in many forms.

While most would consider the gym rat a person who is constantly working out, this is a fallacy. I have been in gyms where, when one opens a locker – generally a bottom locker and one that actually opens without the use of a pry bar –  a genuine, a-number-one gym rat will jump out and slink away, finding some hole in a wall that has either been kicked in or punched out. These particular gym rats are not sociable, have little to say, but they will feast on athletic gear that has been left behind for any period of time…including sweat socks and old jock straps. You might wish to consider moving away from this nominally-named gym rat at a rapid pace or send it on its merry way with a good swing of your gym bag. Do not concern yourself that this particular species will fight fair if it decides to challenge your authority; it does not work out on either cardio nor with free weights. Its only form of protection lies in its mouth…a rather nasty set of incisors which can cause a surfeit of damage.

There are many more species of gym rats, some to be avoided at all costs, and others to be admired from afar…or up close and personal if you have no fear of being torn limb from limb by some crazed martial arts specialist who’s just been dying to try out her newly-acquired-skills on some unsuspecting fool. It’s also necessary that you understand that species of gym rats vary from facility to facility and name to name. For example, at some establishments it is possible to see a species of gym rat known as “Musculature-excessivitis.” The male of the species can usually be found around the free weights rack, admiring both the free weights and the image of himself in the mirrors that abound in this area. If you should espy one at a time when he is using these free weights, you will note that the weight is sufficient to cause each vein in the body to appear that it will soon burst through the skin and send a torrent of blood skyward. In all fairness, it should be noted that all well-muscled members of the species are not steroid users, merely men so in love with their own musculature that they are constantly attempting to improve the way they believe men or women will find them more attractive. The female of this species is exceptionally deceptive for their manner of dress differs markedly. It ranges from the floppy sweatshirts and pants to spandex that appears to have been spray-painted on the body. The former are generally friendly and will offer suggestions if asked. The latter are usually too busy admiring their own bodies to be concerned dealing with yours.

The species or category of gym rat that I have found to be most common in the several gyms I have attended are the “Preservationists.” These are what I might refer to as “my folk.” They or we, whichever floats your boat, are the middle-aged to seniors who attempting to preserve some form of dignity with whatever they have left on their decrepit frames. Most of us have suffered through some life-altering experience that has set us on a long-term plan to not suffer such an experience again in the near, middle, or even distant future. The exercise pattern is not complex by any manner of means. It is a combination of cardiovascular exercise, accomplished by use of a treadmill, elliptical machine, stair stepper, rowing machine, or some other sweat creating torture device, with either free weights – those dumbbell type ‘thingies’ – or machines that, when first viewed, scare the living daylights out of the prospective user. In total, the preservationist may spend as many as two hours in the confines of the gym, a minimum of one hour of which will be spent chatting with others of their type regarding various aches, pains, and lack of sleep. Preservationists are harmless. Their desire is to live a bit longer than others who do not exercise or, as in the case of some, live just to see another sunrise.

Many gym rats are hybrids, the only thing classifying them for what they are being that they are consistent in their use of the gym. Six days a week, generally at the same time, you will find them exercising. For some, it’s a regimen for dropping pounds in order to fit into last year’s shirts and suits; for others, it’s wishing to fit into last year’s bathing suit or skirt. For almost all, it’s an attempt to look and feel better, both physically and mentally. From over 20 years of experience, I can say that on those days when I return from the gym, I feel energized, and I find that my mind is just a wee bit sharper than when I don’t exercise…wisecracks about my state of mind are always accepted!

Are there other pure, non-hybrid gym rats? Of course there are. To classify most of them, however, would be insulting. The “Look-at-me-look-at-me” and the spandex crowd are more pathetic than pure, and those who use the gym merely as a hangout for an hour or so are just comedic. I have been fortunate in my years as a preservationist. I have met men and women from all walks of life; from drug dealers to headmasters; from police officers to doctors; from prosecuting attorneys to those involve with homeland security; from teachers and nurses and everyday housewives just trying to stay in shape; all have been nice to me, and I’ve enjoyed my conversations with each and every one. The heterogeneity of a gym is remarkable, and I love every minute of my time spent there…rats and all!

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There was a time when I was color blind. It’s only taken me something over 80 years to learn that perhaps I was mistaken. Perhaps I wasn’t color blind all those years after all. Black people seem to have a greater propensity to commit criminal acts than other races. Jeff, Beshama, Jimmy, Ernie, Joe, Sandra,and so many more black friends can feel free to call me out on this, but I’m sorry folks, check the Department of Justice figures. I don’t believe they have been skewed or fiddled with or offset in any way just to make the members of our black population look bad.

I watched the news recently as a disgruntled V. Lester Flanigan shot a white reporter and cameraman on a local television station. No, admittedly, I didn’t see the actual shooting; I just heard one gunshot. The camera was then dropped as V. Lester continued his rampage. Now, I don’t happen to be gay and I don’t happen to be black, but I do know what it’s like to be fired without cause and without recourse. Disgruntled? You bet your sweet patootie I was disgruntled. I guess knowing where the next university president was having his affair, with whom and on what day was just cause to him, but it certainly didn’t appear that way to me. What the hell, I’d known for a few years what he was doing. If I hadn’t told anyone before, what kind of a fool would I have been to tell others now. Therefore, yes, I was somewhat more than irritated when I was informed that my job was being abolished (can you say “bullcrap”?). However, I didn’t publish a manifesto and I didn’t go out and shoot people. I consider that my regard for human life is just a little higher than that.

On that same television newscast, another black man was fighting with police as they attempted to bring him into court for arraignment on a second murder charge.  When they read the charges against him, I wondered how one human being could do that to another. There are times when I wonder just how my black friends must feel when one after the other of their own race gets paraded before the television cameras for some heinous deed. Hopefully, they just let it bounce off in much the same way I do when I see a crime televised that has been committed by a white idiot. That’s what I consider all of these people to be, idiots. Nothing, nothing in this world with the exception of war, justifies the killing of one human being by another…nothing. Losing a job does not; racial slurs do not; nasty comments about one’s sexuality do not; a perceived insult is not a cause for killing. You want to kill someone? Kill yourself, but what others say and do, while somewhat painful, is no cause for ending their lives.

I’ve searched and searched and searched for accurate statistics regarding violent crime by race in the United States. One study claims that,  “… during the 2012/2013 period, blacks committed an average of 560,600 violent crimes against whites, whereas whites committed only 99,403 such crimes against blacks. This means blacks were the attackers in 84.9 percent of the violent crimes involving blacks and whites. Interestingly, we find that violent interracial crime involving blacks and Hispanics occurs in almost exactly the same proportions as black/white crime: Blacks are the attackers 82.5 percent of the time, while Hispanics are attackers only 17.5 percent of the time.

“Some observers argue that what causes the overwhelming preponderance of black-on-white over white-on-black violence is “chance of encounter,” due to the fact that there are five times as many whites as blacks in the American population. However, there are only about 30 percent more Hispanics than blacks, yet black-on-Hispanic violence is almost as lopsided as black-on-white violence. This suggests blacks may be deliberately targeting both whites and Hispanics.”

This is all well and good except that the organization releasing this data is a conservative think tank, known for its right-wing thinking. I’m not saying that the data is wrong or right; what I am saying is that I’ve seen too many occasions when statistics have been twisted and skewed. Nonetheless, just looking at the raw data presents a frightening picture of black crime in the United States. And it’s as frightening to members of the black community as it is to other ethnic groups. Civil rights advocate, Van Jones, wrote in a 2005 article, ‘Are Blacks a Criminal Race?’ “African American youth represent 32% of all weapons arrests [and] were arrested for aggravated assault at a rate nearly three times that of whites. A 2012 study by the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention revealed that in 2010 black youths committed six times more murders, three times more rapes, 10 times more robberies and three times more assaults than did their white counterparts.

Similar statistics were released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the “Uniform Crime Reports.” They determined, “In the year 2008, black youths, who make up 16% of the youth population, accounted for 52% of juvenile violent crime arrests, including 58% for homicide and 67% for robbery.” By contrast, the only categories where white youths surpassed blacks were in liquor law violations and driving under the influence.

I don’t know the people who make up these statistics. I know plenty of black people. They don’t fall into any categories in this statistical data. So where are all these black criminals? People like Al Sharpton and other ‘injustice collectors’ will find every reason in the book not to blame crime of any kind on blacks but on the white society in which they live. To me, that’s just plain wrong. Is there greater poverty among members of the black community in the United States? Yeah, possibly. The bigger question is why? Although he’s no longer the hero he once was, Bill Cosby has made some good points. Black fathers should be assuming more responsibility for the children they create. Black mothers should be saying, “No,” and meaning it when more sex is going to lead to more kids and they can’t afford to properly raise the ones they already have. I think there is an innate fear on the part of white people in this country to confront the social ills that affect the black community. Black gangs form because there is safety in numbers; well, screw that. Let’s cut down the numbers so that black kids won’t have to worry about walking down the streets in their own neighborhoods. If more police are required, let’s get them; if more prisons are required, let’s build them; if stricter enforcement of laws are necessary, let’s enforce them. At the same time, however, let us not paint every black person we see with the same damned brush that says, “You’re black, therefore, you’re a criminal to be feared;” that, too, is bullcrap. Let us eliminate the United Negro College Fund and make it the United American College Fund with just as much money going all ethnic groups. Let’s eliminate Black Entertainment Network and Miss Black America contests, and let’s begin to unite, integrate, and truly integrate all races into one giant community. I’m not proposing that we gather in the circle and sing Kumbaya; that’s nonsense. But whatever we’ve been trying so far sure hasn’t worked. The black community and the white community are still miles apart in this country. Let’s stop talking about why we can’t do something better and let’s start talking about how we can do something better. Please, before I die, I want to be color blind once more.

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I have come to the conclusion that hatred really isn’t worth my effort. Oh, certainly, it’s a good thing to do every once in a while I suppose, but it takes more out of me to hate, and the person or thing – thing is the worst – doesn’t even know that I’m hating him, her, or it; how dumb is that? And what do we really mean when we say that we “hate” someone or something? Is hate the correct word to be using. In the case of these terrorists all over the world and the horrific acts they are doing, well, yeah, they are worth hating. A better way of putting it is that we shouldn’t really hate them; we should cancel them. It sounds so much nicer, and it eases the pressure on us. We don’t have to use all of our energy hating them…we just cancel them and not have to be concerned any more.

While I’m certain that psychologists and psychiatrists would disagree with me, I can think of only two reasons for hating. The first is if you suffered humiliation or harm at the hands of another, then you might develop a hatred for that individual or group. The second form that I define is learned hatred. Your parents, for example, might hate something for some reason, and they pass that hatred on to you. There is a song in the musical, South Pacific, You Have to Be Carefully Taught; its lyrics are absolutely frightening when thought of in the context of today’s world. This is not to say that they weren’t a bit scary back when the show originally appeared, but just read the lyrics:

 “You’ve got to be taught To hate and fear, You’ve got to be taught From year to year, It’s got to be drummed In your dear little ear You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught to be afraid Of people whose eyes are oddly made, And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade, You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, Before you are six or seven or eight, To hate all the people your relatives hate, You’ve got to be carefully taught!”

 The song was first sung in 1949. It was considered too controversial for the stage at that time. We lived in a different world then. For Rogers and Hammerstein, two Jewish song writers who had just seen the atrocities of WWII, it must have been a painful song to compose. For the show’s first audiences, it must have been difficult to accept.

The truth of the matter has become all too obvious; hatred abounds in the world today. Much of it is born out of fear. We all have our fears, whether it’s of spiders, of terrorists, of making it to the end of the month with food on the table; of the crazy neighbor across the street who manicures his lawn with cuticle scissors; or, perhaps, it’s of that other neighbor with a differently colored skin or eyes that don’t look like ours, or whose cooking gives off different smells than our cooking. We don’t know who or what they really are so we develop a fear that easily – too damned easily – turns into a dislike that turns into an avoidance that turns into hatred. Sorry, folks, but it’s a fact of life.

The time has come for us to stand up, as a multiracial group in Chattanooga, Tennessee has done and learn from and about one another. If you haven’t seen the story, don’t worry, it’s somewhere on line. Briefly, an elderly man was tired of people not talking to one another so he invited a multiracial group to his house for dinner. Blacks talked about what it was like to grow up black; whites talked about how they felt different. The first few dinners, held at different houses….well, let’s just say everyone was happy the elderly man was there because they all respected him and he kept the discussions on track. As he said, “I never knew what it was like to wheel my carriage down an aisle in a supermarket and be followed by the manager because he thought I’d try to steal something…just because of my skin color. I just never knew.”

The point is that until we understand and respect one another in this country, we can’t possibly expect to goes through the minds of people we “hate” from other countries. Change is a bitch, especially such a radical change as learning to accept the beliefs of others. But then, change has never been easy; just ask the first settlers; the men and women who put their lives on the line so that America could become an independent nation, etcetera, etcetera. Yes, black and red and yellow and gay and straight and transgender people all have different lives. So do the traditional “white” people who inhabit this world. We have done a piss poor job – all of us – of reaching out to one another to learn our differences; to respect our differences; and to stop hating one another out of fear.

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So I get this e-mail that asks the only thing that is ever on my mind, “Are you suffering from facial wrinkles and sagging skin?” Hot damn, I’m 80 fucking years old and you have the audacity to ask me a question like that. If I’m that age and I don’t have those problems, I wouldn’t be able to move my mouth to answer because my plastic surgeon’s work would be completely undone when my face split open. What, are you crazy? These people show you pictures, one of an old woman with a frown, wrinkles, and hardly any hair. They say, “She is 70, but now…” and they show you the after picture with her hair slightly tinted and looking marvelous, and a not so subtle airbrush job with the lady smiling, and they add, “…she looks 40.”

She’s 70 and she looks 40; so what? Who cares? What’s your point? Are we looking for a massive ego boost here? You are what you are. Face facts; you’re friggin’ old. It’s not how you look; it’s how you feel. There are days when I feel 80; others when I feel 50. However, if I tried to do at 80 what I used to do at 50, (a) I’d probably have a heart attack and die; (b) if I didn’t die, the doctors might from laughter; (c) every muscle in my body would ache for months, and (d) I’d finally realize just how old I really am and would wind up a quivering mass of tears in a straight jacket somewhere. No, this is just not acceptable.

A man I know just died of a massive heart attack. He was 69 years old. A fine physical specimen of a human being; looked to be the picture of health; took a long walk every day; had a marvelous outlook on life…he died. He didn’t reach 70; he died. “So what?” you ask.  “So what,” is forgetting about trying to be something that you’re not. If you want to be a 70 or 80 year old beauty queen, that’s your business, but frankly I’m more interested in what’s inside your head and your heart than I am about how you look. If you’re a man and you want to look the way Jack La Lane did when he died at 92, great; more power to you, but I’d be more impressed if you could intelligently discuss the latest book that you had read or how you see the crises facing the United States in the next ten years…of course, if you’re 92, maybe you aren’t too worried about the crises facing the United States in the next ten years; five maybe, but not ten!

These television ads the promote youth and beauty are fine if you’re young and beautiful. Oh, wait a minute…if you’re young and beautiful the ads don’t mean crap to you. Yes, I know there are people who look in the mirror and see something completely different from what the rest of the world sees. “I’m too fat;” “I’m too skinny.” “My eyebrows are too thick;” “My eyebrows aren’t thick enough.” “My this is that, and my that is this and….and…oh, I’m a wreck.” Screw it! Get over yourself; you are who and what you are. If you’re a woman, ask yourself one question: “Am I a bitch?” You really have to think about this rather than give a quick and absolute, “No.” The same is true of a guy. Can you look in the mirror and tell that guy that you’re not a real asshole sometimes. Stop being a bitch and stop being an asshole and the world will take on a new and wonderful meaning. You don’t need phony creams or body sculpting or huge muscles. There is not a medicine made that can help you be a better you unless you begin with a bigger and better heart.

Let me tell you a little secret about feeling better about your own image. It’s called “volunteering.” Some call it giving back; others say it’s paying forward. It doesn’t matter what words you use. The minute you give time and effort to a cause that makes others feel better, you’re going to begin feeling better about you. If you’re young, you probably have so many expenses that you can’t afford to give dollars and cents. That’s of no consequence. Heck, on some volunteer jobs you’ll even get a free T-shirt. It’s the beginning of feeling good. If someone is interested only in your physical appearance, what does that actually say about them? For the most part…well…I don’t want to say they’re jerks ‘cause that’s not really fair, but for me personally, I’m more interested in who they are as a person; how they think; why they choose to give up time to help others.

Can someone have both? Can they be beautiful or handsome and still have a good heart? Sure, why not, but is it really necessary to have the perfect body; the best eyebrows, the toned arms and face and whatever? I used to be six feet, three inches tall and weigh 145 pounds; I’m now six, one, and weigh 250, and guess what…I couldn’t care less. I go to the gym regularly in hopes of preventing a fourth heart attack. I can’t give the time I once gave to some organizations, but, thankfully, I’m now in a position to modestly donate money to them…know something…the money is nothing when you can’t be with your fellow volunteers. Yes, it helps, but it’s not the same thing. It’s not, as some have called it, sweat equity, about the best kind of equity there is.

Forget the television ads that try to convince you that you look like shit unless you use their products. Give back; give back until it feels so good, you know that you’re making a difference…and you will be.

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