Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

I wonder

Anyone who has ever driven a car probably knows two main routes in the United States, particularly if they happen to live to the east of the Mississippi. The first is US Route 66. It’s outdated now because of the superhighways, but historically, well, it has a great deal of history. I drove parts of it back “in the day” when the superhighways were still just a dream. Motels, restaurants, big gas stations, and all sorts of touristy shops dotted that old route, but if you needed to get from point A to point B going west, it was a great road. The other route that most “easterners” know is US Route 1. It starts in Maine and goes all the way down to the Florida Keys. Hell, for all I know, maybe someday it will extend all the way to Cuba via a 90-mile bridge. Like US Route 66, US Route 1 has been replaced by US Route 95, and that will probably be replaced by some other superhighway Anyway, US Route 1 is the road I want to talk about.

The gym that I go to early in the morning is located on Route 1…in a shopping mall…across from one of what we call a “big box store,” in another shopping mall. Maybe that’s why some of these old routes have been bypassed…the new super-duper highways don’t have malls and such, just rest stops that host restaurants and gas fill up stations; oh, and stops for truckers. Well, anyway, I’m getting a little bit off base here, so let me get back to my original point. Here is US Route 1, passing right by the mall where the gym is located, and here I am, generally getting there around 4:30 in the morning. Sometimes I’ll break out the Kindle and begin reading one or another of the more than a hundred books I have on that device, but sometimes, just sometimes, I’ll sit with the driver’s side window rolled down and watch the cars and trucks rolling by on US Route 1.

A couple of days after the recent shooting in Las Vegas, I was sitting in the parking lot, thinking about all those people who just wanted to hear some country music, just wanted to enjoy themselves, and just, instead, got killed. It’s really difficult to process something like that because there’s no way to pass it off and say, “Well, that’s life,” “Shit happens,” or any of those stupid clichés. And then that stupid bastard has the audacity to take his own life and deprive the world of knowing what the hell was going through his mind. I want to know what he was thinking. However, if he hadn’t offed himself, he probably wouldn’t have been doing the killing in the first place. But, I want to know why, but I’ll never know…and that really pisses me off. So, I sit in my car, with the window down because it’s a warmish morning, and I watch the cars and trucks go by, and I think “Are any of you crazy enough to pull some shit like that?” “Are you driving along, hating the world and yourself so much that you would even consider stockpiling weapons for more than ten years, just so you could kill a group of strangers?” Why would anyone do that. How could someone, anyone, harbor that much hatred in themselves that they could do such a horrific thing.

So, I sit in the car and I ponder, but I also ponder where some of those trucks are heading and what they’re carrying, and when they’ll reach their destination. I wonder about the people in the cars on US Route 1 who are heading to or from work at 4:30 in the morning. What are they thinking? I’m pretty darned certain that they aren’t thinking of killing people, at least I hope they’re not thinking of that. It’s kind of crazy the things that I think about as I sit in that parking lot at 4:30 in the morning. One thing I don’t think about is my workout. Heck, that’s become such an established routine that it’s like I’m on autopilot. I know, I know, you’re supposed to change your workout regularly, and I guess I do that, but I really prefer to think about those people in their cars and in those big trailer trucks, and I like to wonder what they are thinking about.

Who knows, maybe one of those drivers looks over at the parking lot and sees this single car with a driver whose arm is resting on the open window, and they ask themselves, “I wonder who that damned fool is and what he’s thinking about this morning?”
Interesting, eh?

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I overheard someone say this morning, “I don’t have a life.” If I were to take that literally, of course, I would probably conclude that they should lie down because if one does not have a life, they must be dead. Yes, yes, I know, that’s not what the expression means, but I find it rather sad that someone would reach that point where they have that feeling. On the opposite end of that spectrum is another expression, “Get a life.” I’ve heard a number of explanations for that one, including “You’re boring; You’re spending too much time with the person who made the statement; you’re too serious about life; or you live too much in the past or worry too much about the future.”

Being concerned about “not having a life,” or “getting a life,” when you look at it objectively, is really depressing. Life, itself, is a thing of beauty and a joy for however long you hang on to it. Think about this for a minute: Life offers you the opportunity to listen to bees as they go from flower to flower, pollinating so that something new can be created. Life allows you to look at clouds in a blue sky that remind you of the old car your dad used to drive, or maybe it’s the silhouette of your dad…or mom…or that first boss you had who was such a rotten bastard…or, as in my case, was such a great teacher…while still being a bastard…whew, Sy, you were hard! Life offers you the opportunity to listen to the sound of waves crashing on a beach, a fog horn while you’re trying to go to sleep, the smell of those flowers that the bees were sniffing around earlier in the day. Life offers you sound, smell, taste, touch, and sight. If you have these, you have “a life.” Think for a moment, if you will, about those who have lost any of these senses, and then compare them to you. Wow, you’re pretty fortunate, aren’t you? You have five things that many other people do not have. We had a friend with no sense of smell. If something was burning on the stove, she couldn’t smell it. If there was smoke in her apartment, from another room, she couldn’t smell it. She didn’t know if her apartment smelled sweet or rancid. Kind of a bitch, when you think about it, eh? Do you know anyone who is blind? I don’t, so I ask the question out of sincere interest. I don’t pity blind people. They are who they are. But take the time to recognize that you, if you are reading this, have a sense that eludes millions, and that means you have a gift in your life that you should appreciate.

Is this another one of Bishop’s soapbox rants? Nah, I’m just a bit tired of people who say things like, “I have no life,” or tell someone else to “get a life.” Forty members of my high school class of about 75 are no longer living. Are they better off? I don’t have a clue. Well, that’s not entirely correct. I know that several of them died of debilitating diseases, and having watched that happen to my late wife, I’d have to say, “Yes, they are better off.” I don’t know whether cancer, ALS, MS, MD, or any of the other horrible diseases are plagues sent by God or what, but being the care giver and watching the pain which so many must endure to leave “life” behind makes me feel darned lucky about my own “life.”

When you come right down to it, we all view our lives through a variety of lenses. Juli maintains that I always look for the good in people while her background…well, let’s just say that she has another way of looking at the folks who come into our lives. Enough of that, however, because the lens I’m using at present says that I have a life that is terrific! It allows me to do just about anything I desire. I’ll never run a road race but that’s okay because I did it once, and if I should go to one, I can always applaud those who still have the legs, upper bodies (and no brains) who still enjoy doing it. Think about what I just wrote: “I can go to the race and I can see the runners, hear the applause, smell the sweat, taste the beer, and shake hands with those I know who just finished.” All five senses of my life being used on just that one occasion…how great is that? I figure if I can haul my butt out of bed in the morning, pee and poop at my leisure, brush my own teeth, meet friends – or at the very least, other nuts like me – at the gym, and actually use the equipment for an hour and a half or more, then drive home, my day has started out great. I can sit at the computer and write, or I can read a book. I can watch TV, or I can latch hook one of my rugs. I can drive to the lake up by St. Timothy’s Church and watch the water or sit in a chair in the backyard, close my eyes, and feel the sun on my face. Do I worry about money? Doesn’t everyone? But, if I can’t afford it, I don’t need it. If something’s broken and I can’t afford to have it fixed, I’ll find a way…don’t know how…but…I will. The way I look at it is that I haven’t gotten this far without having a great life. Of course, there has been tragedy and setbacks along the way. Life isn’t a bed of roses. For many, it’s been a bed that’s been largely composed of thorns. Somehow though, we still manage to have our “life.”

It’s your call, really, but if you ask me, I would say that as long as you have those five senses, and as long as you don’t have one of those “plagues,” you’re doing pretty darned well, so suck it up…because you do have a life. Maybe you just haven’t found out how to appreciate it quite yet.

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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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“Everyone wants to live longer. Now you can by taking our $%^&@, you can be with your family longer.” What horse manure is that? Sure, we’d all love to live longer and Optiva or whatever the hell it’s called tells us that we can. Okay, but what about the quality of our life. If I take this or whatever other placebo they’re offering this month, will my quality of life be what it was before I contracted whatever the hell it is I have that’s killing me? I may be a bit cynical on this point, but my answer is, “fuck, no!”

Coarse? Of course, it’s coarse. So am I when it comes to talking about television ads that show drugs that can prolong one’s quantity of life without describing exactly what the quality of that life will be. Nine years ago, my wife died of cancer. She was told that she was in Stage IV. There is no Stage V. They told her that chemotherapy would allow her to be with her family for a longer time. She went through two – I think it was two – sessions of chemo before she said, “Un-huh, thanks, but no thanks. Take me home and just ease my pain.” It was an absolutely horrible 13 months, for her…for me…for everyone who ever knew or loved my Joan. Yes, perhaps chemotherapy might have prolonged her life, but would she have been the same bright, smart, funny, intelligent lady we all knew or would she have suffered even longer. They, the doctors that is, told us after her diagnosis that there was nothing they could do. They told us that she was terminal. Why, in the name of God, would one wish to take drugs to prolong the quantity of life without preserving the quality of life?

I see the ads on television foe these life-prolonging drugs and I have to believe that the pharmaceutical companies aren’t telling the whole story. “Oh, but new cures are being found every day,” doctors will say. It may be tomorrow that we’ll find the cure.” No, no you won’t…because the minute you think you have the cure, particularly in the case of cancer, it will mutate, and it will strike again, and your supposed cure will not help that next person.

Fact of the matter is, I see ads on television now, and most of them make me sick. So, a young person is about to graduate from college. In all probability, they have incurred a certain about of debt. That’s fine, but why are these car companies enticing them to buy a new car by offer a certain amount of the MRP for new college graduates. They don’t tell you that the excise tax on a new car can be a back-breaker, or that whatever the amount is, you’re still increasing your debt…and they aren’t as polite about collecting their money as some of your college loan folk might be. Just another bunch of half-truths to fleece you out of your hard-earned cash.

But, enough about television ads and the crap that they try to push on it, let’s get back to the whole living thing. Families should really talk together – as a family unit – about the seniors and how they want their lives to be lived. You, yes you, have you talked with your Mom and Dad about what they want in their senior years. Do they want to be kept alive by all means possible? Do you want them kept alive by all means possible and how do that feel about that? Oh, and Mom, Dad, have you made your wishes known to the children? What do you want, because, after all, it is your life we’re talking about…yes, and your death as well? People don’t seem to want to talk about these things anymore. Look, let’s get one thing straight…you, me, the kids, everyone, we’re all going to take that last breath someday. Okay, so maybe you don’t want to think about it right now. After all, you’re only, what, I dunno, how old? Maybe you still think you or your folks are among the immortal few. It’s not unlike people I know who are in their forties, fifties, and yes, some who are even older, but who yet to have a will drawn, have never appointed anyone as an executor, don’t even have a health care proxy. Sounds a little stupid, doesn’t it?

In this day and age, when you can actually go online and find examples of wills and other important documents, it would seem that anyone with any kind of assets, would want to make things clear. “If I cannot speak for myself, e.g., I’m in a coma because of an accident and there’s little chance I’ll come out, pull the foolish plug and reduce the hospital bill,” this is what I want you to do. “Make certain that the antique chair in the living room goes to Mary because I told her years ago she could have it.” Ah, but unless it’s in writing, Mary could be left in the dust because brother George has had his eye on that chair for years…even though he’s never told anyone! Are you beginning to get the picture?

There are so many end of life decisions that can and should be made ahead of time, and that will solve a great many problems, that it seems foolish not to discuss them when everything is still hunky-dory. No, I’m not trying to be a wet blanket; I’m trying to be practical. And in answer to your unasked question, yes, I have a will; yes, I have a health care proxy; yes, I have made it plain that I do not wish to be kept alive by artificial crap that may prolong my life while ruining my quality of life. It’s your call, but which is better, to be kept alive as a vegetable or just continue to be a nut and then go out hell bent for leather?

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I have a serious problem with aging, that is, I don’t particularly care for it. “Exercise,” they say, “you’ll feel better if you exercise.” That’s wonderful, so I exercise most mornings during the week and at least one of the weekend days. Yes, I feel better after exercise, but it doesn’t last, this euphoria of having busted my ass riding a friggin’ bicycle. Within an hour or so, I’m ready to climb back under the covers and sleep the day away. But that’s not the proper way to do things either. The whole thing leaves me somewhat confused. Am I tired because I’m old, or am I old because I’m tired? Ask the question of five doctors and you’ll probably receive ten different answers.

I believe it was the late Andy Rooney who said, “It’s paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone.” Getting old seems to mean that what one thought of as a pretty good body and mind begins to deteriorate too fast for one to actually comprehend. “So how does this aging process work?” I ask myself. The first answer that I receive from this wonderful Internet of ours is, “The human body goes through a variety of changes as it gets older. In general, muscles, blood vessels and other tissues lose their elasticity. The heart becomes less efficient, bones become weaker and the metabolism slows down.” Aha and eureka, that explains why I can no longer bench press the weight I did when I was 60 or even 70. It probably also explains why I get up so often in the middle of the night to pee, but that’s a bit of information overload that no one really wants to hear about…discussions of my bladder are rather…well, you know. As far as my heart’s efficiency is concerned, it, hopefully is as efficient as six stents will allow it to be. I find that my heart rate on the bicycle I ride appears to be getting lower and lower, which, as I understand it, is a pretty good sign that all is well.

It’s really just that getting older is a pain in the arse, as the Brits might say. My mind tells me that I should be getting the garden ready for planting, yet when I step outside, the very thought of mixing peat moss, manure, and garden soil exhausts me, and I have to sit and rest. It is written in Matthew (26:41) that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” This fits my situation on the one hand, but on the other, it does not. Jesus thought that his disciples should be praying rather than sleeping. My mind tells me that I should be doing one thing, but my body asks, “Are you kidding me?”

I remember back to the days when our kids were in elementary school in Newton. My late wife and I were part of a team of parents that built a new playground for all of the children. Actually, it was the men (and this is really sexist!) who moved the heavy truck tires and screwed all of the giant timbers together. Joan and her colleagues were busy preparing the pot luck meal that we would enjoy at the end of a hard day. And it was a hard day, but the playground was great, the kids enthralled by their new things to climb on, swing from, and slide down. The meal was terrific, and the soreness went away in a couple of days. Today, the very thought of tackling such a project is enough to cause me to pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep…even dreaming about doing such a ridiculous thing makes me tired. As Mark Twain once remarked, “When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened. It is sad to go to pieces like this but we all have to do it.”

The good thing about aging is the very fact of doing it. Many are denied the opportunity to do so. Therefore, I guess that I am somewhat blessed to be 82 and still writing, reading, crafting, and exercising at the local gym. I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoy the quote from best-selling American author, Brandon Mull…“The curse of mortality. You spend the first portion of your life learning, growing stronger, more capable. And then, through no fault of your own, your body begins to fail. You regress. Strong limbs become feeble, keen senses grow dull, hardy constitutions deteriorate. Beauty withers. Organs quit. You remember yourself in your prime, and wonder where that person went. As your wisdom and experience are peaking, your traitorous body becomes a prison.” Yes, I still dream of hand-over-hand on the monkey bars, being able to press 200 pounds, doing the 50 pushups that I could do when a drill sergeant screamed, “Drop and give me 50, pig shit;” but those days are long gone. It’s nice to dream about what was, but it’s wise to remember that those are just dreams.

My real dream now is to reach 90. It’s the age at which my Mother said her last goodbyes, and it’s a nice round number. I see all of these ads now that promote new cancer drugs that enable those with that terrible disease to live longer. I have to ask, “Why, why would you wish to live longer if it means that your quality of life is shot to hell?” I prefer to have a good quality of life, free from pain, for a shorter period of time. As one wag put it, “I want to slide into Hell with a martini in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and a horny blonde in my lap, and shout ‘Wow, what a ride!’” Of course, in my case, I stopped smoking and drinking a long time ago…and I really don’t remember…what’s a horny blonde?

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Richard Steeves has killed six people, yet he believes that he should be a free man. The last time he was released from prison was in 1984. He had gone on a three-state killing spree that maxed out at five victims. It appeared that he had regained his sanity and was sufficiently rehabilitated to be out on his own. Less than six months later he killed a shopkeeper in Maine, his final victim. Wheelchair bound and 75 years of age, he’s asking to spend his final years in freedom. What do you think? Personally, I’d rather just see someone take him out in a field, give him three deep breaths of fresh air and then put a bullet in his head…but that’s me. Six people? You do not deserve to breathe the air that your victims never got a chance to breathe.

Our legal system is flawed. It always has been and it always will be. There are innocent men and women locked up for crimes they did not commit. There are guilty people roaming the streets who will never be caught and convicted. We try to do the very best we can, from the police who catch them to the district attorneys who try them to the defense lawyers who attempt to defend them to the judges and juries who listen to the cases and attempt to be fair and impartial. One prosecuting attorney once told me, “It depends entirely on whose whores you believe, those of the prosecution or those of the defense.” Wow, that’s a tough call.

No, our system of justice isn’t really fair and impartial. It’s because our justice is dispensed by people, and people aren’t fair or impartial. Oh sure, most of us will say that we are but, truth to tell, we’re only people and we have chinks in our own armor, whether we admit it or not. In my personal experience, which is somewhat limited, I believe that 86 percent of law enforcement people have untouchable integrity. There is always that fourteen percent that are questionable, and most folks I’ve met in law enforcement will admit to that. Jurors, too, generally find some axe to grind during a trial, and while they may try their damndest to be fair, there is always something in their mind that niggles away until they swing one way or another.

Steeves is not the only one who has been freed only to kill again. After a bit of research, I found that a number of convicted killers have been released and gone out only to do the same thing over again. For example, the case of Dwaine Little. In 1964, he was convicted of raping and murdering a 16-year old girl and received a life sentence. Ten years later, the State of Oregon granted his request for parole. Good old Dwaine went right back to work and it is considered highly likely that he murdered a family of four while they were on a camping trip. He was never tried for the murders but went he went back to prison on a parole violation, the skeletal remains of the family were finally found. Three years later, Dwaine was once more on parole and out on the streets. This time he waited until 1980 before he raped and killed a pregnant hitchhiker. He is now serving two life sentences, so the likelihood of his being paroled a third time is rather unlikely.

Cases such as those of Steeves and Little really give me pause to wonder why the death penalty has been abolished in so many states. Between them, it is highly likely than ten people paid the ultimate price for their being free. We have a problem with prison overcrowding. People who have been convicted on more than one murder, should themselves be removed from our population. I’m pretty liberal on most things (as many of my former students would tell you), but the senseless killing of others assures me that the murderer has forfeited his or her right to continue to live. Take the case of Howard Allen. He beat 85-year old Opal Cooper to death while robbing her. That was in 1974. A decade later, the State of Indiana granted him parole. He made it until 1987 until he really began to kick up his heels. In August of that year he was linked to twelve robberies and assaults on the elderly as well as two new murders. Although sentenced to death, that sentence was vacated after it was determined that Howard was mentally ill…excuse me but what does his mental illness have to do with whether he lives or dies. Perhaps Opal Cooper and another victim, Ernestine Griffin, might just have something to say about that.

Had enough? Staring to feel a bit nauseous? Allow me the privilege of telling you about one more serial killer who was paroled and went on to lead a less than exemplary life. John McRae was only 16 when he slashed the throat and genitals of eight-year old Joey Housey in 1950. He was sentenced to life but Michigan governor, William Milliken commuted his sentence and in 1972 John was paroled. He married, had a son, and – get this one – became a prison guard in the state of Florida at a facility for youthful offenders. Over the next several years, McRae tortured and murdered four more boys before being caught and convicted and sentenced to life in 1998. In 2005 his sentence was overturned, but, fortunately, he died in prison the same year.

These are not isolated cases, but neither are they a majority. For the most part, our justice system, for all its perceived failures, does it right. Nancy Mullane, author of Life After Murder, said that, “…she was able to determine that 988 convicted murderers were released from prisons in California over a 20 year period. Out of those 988, she said 1 percent were arrested for new crimes, and 10 percent were arrested for violating parole. She found none of the 988 were rearrested for murder, and none went back to prison over the 20 year period she examined. I guess there’s hope after all.

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I am a man, just a man. I bear the burdens of all other men. I have the flaws of all other men. And yes, I even have some of the assets, skills, and intelligence of all other men. I have seen my grandparents die, and I loved them both. I have watched cancer kill my Dad, and I loved him. I loved my Mother, but we had quarreled over a period of time, and I was not there when she died. I watched my wife die at home of the same disease that killed my father. I loved my wife as only a spouse can over a fifty plus year period. I still speak to her every night as I’m quite certain other spouses speak to their own loved ones who are deceased. Love is love is love, and loss is loss is loss.

There is one loss that I have not experienced, nor do I believe I could ever survive. It’s the loss of a child. Yes, Joan and I lost three children before our first was born. However, these were miscarriages. We never knew our child or even its gender. Our first is now in her fifties and has three of her own. Our second is a year behind her, and he and his spouse have three of their own. Our youngest is also blessed with three. If any of these twelve people died, I know I would soon follow. The spouses? Yeah, they’re great, but they aren’t mine. My children are mine. My grandchildren, strange as it may sound, are mine…and I would die.

Where am I going with this? I’m going where, perhaps, I should have gone a long time ago. We see on television and in the newspapers that this 16-year old was killed walking on the railroad tracks, and we, or at least I, wonder, “What the hell was he doing walking on railroad tracks…oh, well.” And I think little more about it. Then my eldest calls and asks if I saw the news. “Oh, shit,” I think, and she goes on to explain that he was the only child of a young woman I knew very well when she was a student. She goes on to explain that the boy’s uncle and his wife were at dinner with my daughter just a couple of nights before. I knew the uncle, too, as a student. Then it dawns…what are these people going through? What could possibly be said to comfort them? The answer, of course, is nothing. There is nothing you can say to someone who has lost a child. There is no “closure,” oh God, how I hate that word. “Closure” implies to me that something good is going to come of what happened. A child is dead, not just that, but in this case, an only child, and I sincerely doubt there will be another for this family. What will they do? What can they do? How the hell will they get through the rest of their lives together? Will this make their bond stronger or will it turn into a blame game ending in divorce and two more lives destroyed? Pause for a moment and consider this…every time, this young couple sees a train while they’re out driving, every time they hear the mournful whistle of a train as they are going to bed or getting up in the morning, they will probably be reminded of their son’s untimely death. Not a particularly pleasant thought, is it, to have such an obvious reminder of this terrible tragedy.

If this is all too morbid for you taste, tune out now because I’m just getting started. Over 20 years ago, friends of this same eldest daughter lost their first born to SIDS. He was under a year old. I had held that child and then he was gone. I guess I was just trying to be a good Dad when I accompanied my children to the funeral. I remember thinking that I was going to have to be the ‘good’ one, the one who held my family tight as the funeral progressed. Pall bearers carried the tiny white casket to the front of the church. The Mass began. Everything was fine. My kids were weeping and I had my arms around their shoulders in comfort. “Stay strong,” I remember repeating to myself, even though I was fully aware of just how close I was to not staying very strong. Then a soprano in the balcony began to sing Michael Joncas’ On Eagles Wings. That was the end of my ‘stay strong’ period. It’s one of my favorite hymns, and, frankly, I fell apart. When the service ended, it was my kids propping me up as we made our way to the car.

Children who die before adulthood, think of what the parents have actually lost. There will be no pictures of high school or college graduations. There will be no pride of having a son or daughter join the military because it’s something they had always dreamed of doing. For Dads, there will be no walking her down the aisle or the joy of seeing him standing at an altar, watching his life partner walk toward him. There will be no grandchildren to love and to hold…and, of course, to spoil rotten. No, all of those things will be denied, and that means that the word, “closure,” is a nothing word. It connotes nothing to the parents who have lost everything.

Perhaps this is my way of saying that I will never, ever, take the loss of a child quite the same again. Whether it’s because the kid was speeding and he/she survived while others were killed, or because all were killed because the 17-year old had found someone to buy booze and was drunk at the wheel. It just doesn’t matter. It’s a child or children who are lost and cannot be reclaimed. The SIDS death mentioned above was, in its own way, favorable in that the couple went on to have two more kids who are now young adults, but that’s just not always the case. So whether it’s a child shot in a drive-by, or a teenager who overdoses on fentanyl, it’s still a child who is lost to this world, and that’s a burden that you or I never wish to shoulder. To every family who has ever lost a child, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that it took me so many years to understand the depth of your loss.” May the Good Lord find other ways to bring positive blessings into your lives.

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“From the day you’re born, you begin to die.” I have heard this so often from so many bloody pessimists, that I’m rather disturbed by the statement itself. Furthermore, nothing could be less truthful. It would be better if it was said that, “From the day you are born, your destiny is to die.” Not one of us can foretell whether or not we will be a great chemist or teacher, mathematician or bus driver, doctor or physicist, but we all know that from the moment we begin to understand life, our final destiny is death.

Obviously, I think about death. What 82-year old do you know who doesn’t consider it to some degree or other? Oh, don’t know any 82-year olds? Hell, you don’t know what you’re missing. We are, alternatively, joyful, cynical, hypocritical, positive, negative to a degree you wouldn’t understand unless you were 82, and at times, we are absolutely youthful and playful. In other words, we’re just about as screwed up as the rest of the world’s population…but we can be one whale of a lot of fun at a party…as long as it ends by 7 pm.

So no, we do not begin to die when we are born. In fact, we begin to grow. As usual, I’ve bounced around the Internet to learn when we actually do begin the process of dying. It appears that our brain, lungs, and skin are the first to go. According to a column in the London Daily Mail, and confirmed by a few others, “As we get older, the number of nerve cells – or neurons – in the brain decrease. We start with around 100 billion, but in our 20s this number starts to decline. By 40, we could be losing up to 10,000 per day, affecting memory, co-ordination and brain function.” Now, I don’t know about you, but the math would indicate that it won’t be long before I become a blithering idiot. No, of course that’s not true. Our neurons can regenerate, if only in certain portions of the brain. Hey, and guess what helps this ‘neurogenesis?’ There are a couple of things, and one of them is physical exercise. I’m not going to ask my neurologist why this is so, but I would add this: On days that I exercise really hard, I have more energy and can attack with greater success such things as crossword and jigsaw puzzles, and have more interest in taking on new challenges. In addition, I find that my attitude is more positive than on those days when I don’t make it to the gym.

Like the brain, the lungs also mature at about age 20 – 24, yep, even those that haven’t been messed up by smoking. Since I happen to be one of those jerks who didn’t heed the Surgeon General’s warnings when they first appeared in 1975, you can just imagine how bad my lungs are. Hell, I didn’t quit until 1998. I now have emphysema as well as COPD, and I can tell you firsthand, it “ain’t no fun!” If you happen to be a smoker, give quitting a chance. I know it’s a bitch, I’ve been where you are, but believe it or not, you will feel better in about three weeks.

As far as our skin is concerned, let’s face it, most of us treat our skin brutally. We’re sun freaks; we don’t ‘lotion’ up to keep the skin soft and supple, particularly men, so it really is no wonder that our skin, by the time we’re 20, is ready to rebel…can ya blame it?

Let’s talk about the heart. The heart begins to age at around 40. Referring again to the article in The Daily Mail, The heart pumps blood less effectively around the body as we get older. This is because blood vessels become less elastic, while arteries can harden or become blocked because of fatty deposits forming on the coronary arteries – caused by eating too much saturated fat. The blood supply to the heart is then reduced, which can result in painful angina. Men over 45, the time of my first heart attack, and women over 55 are at greater risk of a heart attack. What can you do to prevent becoming a victim of the number one killer in the US? This one’s going to hurt so hang on tight. The first thing you can do is to watch your diet. I didn’t, but I sure as hell do now. The second thing is exercise…yes, I know I’m beginning to sound like Bob Harper or the male equivalent of Jillian Michaels, but it’s truly impossible for me to tell you just how much better you’ll feel. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass to begin a regime of daily exercise, but it works. I didn’t begin regular workouts until four years after my first heart attack. I didn’t have the time. I didn’t want to join a gym. It was too much work. You think of the excuse and then recognize it for exactly what it is…you’re lazy. Start off by taking a walk around the block three times a week. Okay, so you have to get up half an hour earlier to do it. Your loved ones as well as your heart will thank you. Oh, by the way, before you do it, check with your Doc. After all, he’s the one who’s been telling you for years that you don’t get enough exercise.

I’m not going to go through each and every organ in the human body, but I was a bit surprised that our breakdowns occur a bit earlier in some cases and a bit later in others. Our hair begins to leave us after age 35. The eyes begin aging at 40. Men, you can expect your gut to become noticeable by 55, and ladies, sorry but the boobs begin to age at 35. All in all, while death may be our final destiny, it’s probably a good idea to take care of what we’ve got while we’ve got it. But whatever you do, enjoy life; far as I know, it’s the only one we’ve being given.

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Make a better life

And so…in keeping with the philosophy that Mother – with a capital ‘M’ of course – always knows best, I am pleased to inform you that I have now been on this earth for 82 years, three month, 19 days, seven hours, and 27 minutes, give or take a second or two here or there.

In all of that time, I have gained a little wisdom, lost a lot of knowledge, loved in many ways, made a number of very good choices as well as several that left something to be desired. I have learned that every time I wish to speak is exactly the time when I should keep my mouth closed and listen. I have learned that the person you love the most is, all too often, the person you will lose all too soon. Only then, after that person is gone, and I mean…is dead…only then will you realize precisely what you had held in your arms. And it hurts. No one can ever describe to you the pain of loss. Unfortunately, it is something that you will experience, and for that, I already feel badly for you. The pain of suffering that loss does lessen, but then, there will come times when the pain comes rushing back and you find yourself having to urge it back into its place in your heart and in your memory, and move on.

This is not, to use the old cliché, “life’s a bitch and then you die.” No, no, no, no, it is nothing like that. For one thing, the loss you suffered is the last thing that person would ever want for you. Every minute of every hour of every day is worth living and worth living to the greatest extent possible, no matter the memories or the pain of those memories. Maya Angelou wrote, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” Amen to that.

To those of you who still have your parents, I would offer this bit of advice: Use them as a resource. Ask them the questions you think you or they will be too embarrassed to answer. Ask them anything. Ask about growing up. Ask about ugly Aunt Hilda they always whisper about. Ask, ask, and ask. My parents are long gone, and even today, there are questions that I have for them that I should have asked when I was younger. One of those questions is, “How did you guys make it through the Great Depression with two children under the age of five?” That may not seem like a very important question to you, but then, you weren’t a Depression-era kid. Your folks probably never stood in bread lines or had to seek work when there was no work to be found…anywhere. I remember a young woman from Hanover (MA) who borrowed by pocket tape recorder because she wanted to interview her elderly grandmother. It’s impossible to tell you the gratitude she showed after learning so much about grandma’s life. Older people are the raw jewels, polished to a fine finish, who can both enlighten, brighten, and increase the wisdom of the young merely by speaking a few words.

American actor, Bradley Whitford said, “Infuse your life with action. Don’t wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope. Make your own love. And whatever your beliefs, honor your creator, not by passively waiting for grace to come down from upon high, but by doing what you can to make grace happen… yourself, right now, right down here on Earth.” You don’t have to accept every word, but accept this: To the best of our knowledge, we only pass this way once…that we know of. Why then would we want to do anything else but make it the very best ‘once’ that could ever be?

Kevyn Aucoin was an American make-up artist, photographer and author. In his forty short years on this earth, he lived every moment as if it was his last. His mantra was simple: “Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.” Aucoin died, officially, from a prescription drug overdose. His pain came because of an undiagnosed tumor, yet, he still embraced his life.

If every morning you get up and look in the bathroom mirror, be certain that you smile. That person looking back will carry that smile the entire day if you let it. Take it from an old man who has learned to love life, even through the pain of loss. Oh, yeah, one more thing…while you’re having a great time with your own life, try to make life better for someone else. You’ll make for yourself a better life by what you give rather than what you get.

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Is this a black thing? It seems that any time a black person is killed, whether by a black or white police officer or under any unusual circumstances, some people in the black community look on it as an occasion to riot. I mean, c’mon, it happened in Ferguson; it happened in Cleveland; it happened in Milwaukee, and I could keep on going. “Hey, somebody got killed, and I need a new television. Let’s go down to the store and break some glass so I can get one.” Truthfully, that seems to be the mentality of some of the people in these communities. “Oh look, a car. Let’s burn it!” What the heck is wrong with this type of thinking? All it does is perpetuate a certain stereotype in the minds of others.

The people who do these things generally have no connection to the individual who was killed in the first place. It’s merely an opportunity to destroy whatever they wish to destroy. I don’t understand it. You can’t afford to buy a bottle of booze? “Well sheeeit, let’s just break the windows in the liquor store and grab what we want.” Excuse me, but these are usually businesses in your own neighborhood, and if you get the television set or the bottle of booze, you might just drive the owners out of business. Do you call that “living in the moment” without thinking of the long-term consequences? Is that what this is? Because, quite frankly, it’s pretty messed up thinking.

Politicians scream, “We have allowed these ghetto areas to spring up and we have done nothing!” What a bunch of bull crap. You can do nothing if the people who are living in these areas don’t want you to do anything. Who the hell is going to start a business in a neighborhood where the first time they open their doors they get robbed? Then they close up at night and the place gets broken into and robbed again. It does not take a genius mentality to figure that the business owner is going to say, “Uh, uh, no more. I’m outta here,” and they are absolutely right. Business goes and what’s left behind? C’mon, you know the answer as well as I do…what’s left behind are the gangs and the drug dealers, and the ghetto becomes more of a ghetto. Whether it’s Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Memphis, or New Orleans, there are areas of those cities where the police don’t want to go and will not go into. They are both outnumbered and outgunned…and the politicians scream…and they don’t have a clue!

The real kick in the teeth is that there are generally more good people in those neighborhoods than there are bad people. Unfortunately, the good people aren’t as organized or as armed as the bad. The good people who live in these depressed neighborhoods can’t move away because they cannot afford to, and they’re just as frightened as every other ‘good’ person who has to live there. They are one on many, and if they attempt to organize the ‘good’ people, they generally pay with their lives or even the lives of their children.

It seems to me that there is an unspoken law in the black community and that is, “If it wears blue, you can’t talk to it.” That’s true even if the one in blue is black…and that’s wrong. That just exacerbates the troubles in these black communities. Yeah, yeah, I know…snitches get stitches or wind up in ditches, so how do we overcome these fears? I wish to God I knew. People living in black areas complain that “the man” is holding them down, and “the man” is looking for reasons to kill people of color, and “the man” is responsible for all of the problems in the community, and guess what, that’s bull crap. Is “the man” still around? Oh, yeah, racism is still rampant in America, but you don’t solve the problems of racism by doing things that will only make “the man” say, “See, I told you. All ‘those people’ want to do is riot and burn and loot.” But, it’s not “those people;” it’s a minority of the minority, but because the majority won’t speak out, they get tarred with the same brush.

The time has come to stop being silent; to stop allowing the minority to push the good people around. Yes, it is not an easy road. Just ask the spirit of Dr. King how easy that road is, but it’s a road that’s worthy of travel. It’s a road that is worth the hard work and sacrifice. I only wish that I could live to see the day when there were no more ‘black neighborhoods’ or ‘Asian neighborhoods’ or ‘Muslim neighborhoods,’ or neighborhoods that had to be labeled in any way. I know that I won’t live to see this, and chances are that my grandkids won’t live to see it. Oh, but how I wish someone, somehow, somewhere, would just take the first baby step toward its accomplishment! What a much better world we would be.

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