Monthly Archives: September 2012

Guest Post: With God’s Love I’ll Be Okay

Most mornings start like this morning: I wake from dreams where I’m stuck in the past. In these dreams, I’m trying to run, talk, plead or beg my way out of a remembered time or place, real or symbolic, from childhood.  My childhood, as captured in my dreams, is a prison my mind, my past, and my family once put me in.  I try everything to escape, but the only way out of that hell is by turning my eyes to the morning light  . . .

To read the rest of today’s blog post, please go visit me at The Monster in Your Closet, where I’m guest posting for my dear friend Deb Bryan.
By the way, I’m really, really excited to be over at Deb’s virtual home. She’s like a sister to me. So really, please click HERE to read today’s blog post.

 




Dark Knight Lawsuits, Surveillance and Freedom

Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: David Levy

Survivors of the Aurora, Colorado “The Dark Knight Rises” theater shooting have filed suit in the U.S. District Court of Colorado against the theater owner.  In two lawsuits filed in federal court on September 21, 2012, the plaintiffs allege that the theater, Cinemark USA negligently failed to provide adequate security.  According to the plaintiffs, the theater should have taken more measures to prevent James Holmes from killing twelve people, and wounding fifty-eight others.

Here are some of the measures the theater should have taken, according to the plaintiffs:

Employ and have present security guards (including, but not limited to, off-duty law enforcement officers);

Provide reasonable protection against surreptitious, unauthorized entry into the theater;

Erect door entry security devices, one-way security doors, automatic locking doors, alarms, warning signals;

Develop and institute emergency or first-aid response and evacuation plans and procedures;

Train employees on the use of surveillance devices, monitors, cameras and human monitoring procedures.

There are a number of problems, both practical and philosophical, with the measures the plaintiffs would have the theater (and by extension, all theaters) follow.

First, it would cost a prohibitive amount of money for all American theaters to provide the heightened security as outlined above.  Theater owners would have to eat the increased costs or pass the costs down to consumers.  Ensuring perfect safety is, by its very nature, expensive.

Photo by: E. L. Farris
U. S. Supreme Court

Second, at what price comes freedom?  While some would argue that there is no price too great to pay to save a human life, I think that the increasing use of surveillance cameras poses an unfortunate and in some cases unacceptable threat to our freedom.  I don’t exactly know what the balance should be between security and freedom, and for sure, a theater is a public place where one should not have an expectation of privacy.  Like many Americans, I became more accepting after 9/11 of public surveillance.  After all, what we do in public is by definition not private.

And yet, part of me shivers at the implication of constant and ever-broadening spying on our everyday activities.  I imagine that more and more of my life will become recorded somewhere, by someone.  As our expectation of privacy erodes, what will replace it?  An all powerful government?

Third, will increased security stop a determined mass murderer?  Surveillance, awareness and security measures have increased over the past century.  So too have acts of private (as opposed to governmentally-sponsored) terrorism.  In a free society, sociopaths like James Holmes will find a way to kill innocent people.  Is the cost of saving lives worth the cost of depriving us of our expectation of privacy and even of our freedom?

After all, when the state records our every action, it also limits our freedom to act and derails the boundary that protects an individual’s freedom to act unimpeded by state action.  And would turning our country into a police state truly deter serial murderers?  Or would it merely give control of the weapons to a centralized dictator, who could kill the innocent with the legal sanction of the state?

What are your thoughts? Does increased surveillance curb our freedom, or merely decrease a criminal’s ability to murder innocent people?




Defining Evil: Insanity, Hatred and Demons

I’m confused and frightened by evil.  I’ve seen it at close quarters.  I grew up around it.  I’ve lost people I loved to it.  And yet, I still don’t understand evil, and to combat it, I think we must first understand it.  I’ve been thinking about these issues a lot lately, and at some point I will explore them in depth in a book tentatively titled, Alien Enlightenment.  For now, I want to ask a few questions.

Evil.  What is it?  And why does it fuel some people?  Can feeling hatred turn you evil or insane, or does being evil or insane make you feel consumed by hatred?  What is the difference between a sociopath, a psychopath and a demonically possessed soul?

Perhaps we all have evil inside of us.  If you believe in the concept of original sin, we were born with it, and we need God’s love to fight it or overcome it.  If potential evil takes the form of temptation, then evil actions occur when we fail to fight the temptation.  Under this theory, we must use the free will He gave us to choose to do right, to resist the temptation to sin, so that we don’t commit evil acts.

This still doesn’t explain how a person becomes evil.  We all sin, or taking the religious context out of it, we all say and do things we shouldn’t.  And yet, one bad act does not turn a woman into an evil one. 

Even if you’re an atheist or an agnostic (or, I suppose a Buddhist) and don’t believe in the Biblical definition of sin, I bet you believe in evil.  You know it when you see it right?  Perhaps the concept of evil is a simple one: it is evil to base all of your actions on hatred, right?  It’s evil to kill someone with premeditated malice, for example, or with the intent to cause harm, but it isn’t evil to kill someone in self-defense.

Are you still with me?  I feel like we’re about to dive down a rabbit hole, but that’s the nature of philosophy.  I think I’m going to define evil here as either hatred of the good or the purposeful act of allowing hatred to fuel your actions.  With that definition in hand, how about the next question: what comes first—feeling hatred, or being evil?

I’ve watched people I love lurch from good thought to evil action and back and forth until I couldn’t make sense of it. I’ve seen others friends and relatives struggle with mental illness. So this got me thinking.  I have as much mental illness but I never turned to evil. Most of us don’t. Even those of us who hear voices still must struggle to overcome evil, and to turn away from destructive impulses–but so too must those who do not struggle with mental illness.

Can sane people be evil?  I think so.  I’ve seen sociopaths in action.  I’ve seen it when a man sexually assaulted me.  There was no crazy in his eyes.  Just lust, misdirected.  Can one really evil act, like rape, turn a man evil?  I think so, but perhaps that question is, as a priest once said to me, above my pay grade.

What about psychopaths?  Isn’t that another word for an insane person who commits a lot of evil acts?  At some point, hatred mixes with insanity and blossoms into a degree of evil that is pretty much beyond rational comprehension.

Speaking of evil that is beyond rational comprehension, I believe in demonic possession.  Yeah, I know, I fell down the rabbit hole, but here we are.  I’ve seen or at least heard them. I knew what they were. Thank God I’ve seen lighter beings too. I’ve seen angels, or felt the light of their protection inside me.  And I’ve observed a woman curse God as she spoke of the call of demons summoning her to kill the baby she did not want to carry to term.

Weird?  Yes.  Crazy?  Perhaps.  Demonic?  I can’t prove it, but I am intuitively sure of demons and the battle we must all wage against them.

See you on the other side.  The better side.

 




Tales of Woe from the Soccer Field

It’s Tuesday afternoon.  He runs into my room wearing cleats, shin guards and socks that are so long on his still tiny legs that they reach up over his knees and need to be folded over.  I sigh and follow him down the stairs and out into the garage, and before I get in and turn the key in the ignition, I put a hand on his cheek.  “You going to have fun and listen, right?”

He nods.  I take a deep breath and hope it will be different, but some things either don’t change, or aren’t going to change for a long time.  He’s no more a soccer player than I’m a soccer mom.

Jim.

That’s part of the problem: me.  I’m an abject failure at this so far.  Last Tuesday, we had three kids that had to make it to practice at 5:30 p.m., and the practices were in three locations.  Our daughter rode with neighbors, and I drew the easiest lot: taking our middle son, Jim, to his practice.

I paced around and fidgeted and tried to watch Jim run through his drills.  I talked to other moms.  And then, at 6:15, I checked my watch.  Practice was ending at 7, which meant I had time for a 3-mile run.  Twenty minutes later, I paused in the thick early September air and checked my watch.  It was 6:33, which gave me plenty of time to make it back to the fields with ten minutes to spare.  I smiled.  Damn, was I on my game, for once.

As I loped back onto field eight a little bit later, a sense of panic overtook me.  Those aren’t the same kids, I realized.

Then I heard a little voice screeching my name, “Mom!”

I caught a glimpse of my son standing on the running board of a tan SUV.  What the hell is going on, I muttered, and before I could ask the coach what happened, my husband drove up in his black sedan, and smiled at me.  The coach had called him because, well, practice had ended at 6:30.  I apologized of course, but I felt awful.

At Wendy’s an hour later, I looked over my diet soda at my husband.  “How did it go?”

He shook his head.  And then, with a bemused smile, he replied, “Ben went searching for fossils.”

I chuckled.  “Fossils?”

“Yeah.  And when the team scrimmaged, he walked off the field, in search of four leaf clovers.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah,” he nodded, his facial expression switching between laughter and frustration.  “And then, when the coach told the kids to run around the field, he was in the lead.  Then he stopped to look at something.  And then, when he ran next to his teammates, they turned left, to follow the field, and he turned right, ran down a hill, and in the opposite direction from everyone else.”

I covered my eyes and giggled.  “Wow.”

Ben.

“Will you please take him next time?”

I looked over at my children, who were busy eating and elbowing each other. “I’ll take him to his game Saturday.”

Fast forward to Saturday’s game.  I fidgeted and paced and observed Ben doing anything on the field but playing soccer.  He never even touched the ball.  When it came his way, he seemed to run in the opposite direction.  He bent over in search of bones, fossils, pretty crystals (rocks) and four leaf clovers.

Seeing a couple of dads running around the fields, I joined them.  Maybe if I help out, I can get Ben engaged, or so I thought.  I had no effect on Ben, other than to confuse the hell out of him.  The other dads ignored me.  It felt like I was invisible.  And then the ball flew toward me, and I’ve replayed this over and over again, because I’m not sure if I did this on purpose or was completely passive when the ball hit me in the hip.  I suspect that it was a little bit of both.  I’m a lifetime athlete, and when a ball comes my way, my instinct is to go and get it.  This instinct to go for the ball is every bit as strong as a border collie’s instinct to herd, or a golden retriever’s inability NOT to chase after an object in flight.

Whatever I did or didn’t do, I wasn’t expecting what happened.  The other dad on the field helping our team, an assistant coach, yelled at me to get off the field.  “Let the kids play.”  And so, with my head down and my face and neck turning even redder than the sun was making them, I headed off the field, where my in-laws sat.

“That was your fault,” my father-in-law snapped at me as he caught me muttering a protest under my breath.  “You should not have gotten in the way of the ball.  This isn’t your game.”

I stood there, several feet away from him, and tried to listen to this friend of mine, this dad who always has a story to tell, but I couldn’t follow him.  Tears were falling down my face, and even though my dark sunglasses hid my eyes, he could see me shaking all over.

“Hey,” he whispered, as he reached out and put a hand on my shoulder.  “It’s okay.  I’ve been ordered off the field before.  To be honest, you did get in the way of the ball.”

“I know,” I sobbed, barely able to speak, “But I’m so embarrassed.  Why did he have to do that?  Yell at me in front of everyone else?  And then my father-in-law has gotta pile on, and he’s never said a nice word to me, not ever.”  I cried harder and harder, and my friend listened and tried to make me feel better.

“I’d give you a hug,” he added, his eyes moving from the field to me and back to the field, “But I don’t wanna embarrass you.”

“Thank you,” I whispered.

Sometime in the middle of this, my daughter had arrived, still wearing her soccer uniform from her earlier game.  She tried her best to make me feel better, and I tried my best not to cry in front of her.  After the game ended, I tracked down the assistant coach, and with tears again falling, I asked him not to ever yell at me in public, and explained about my son, and how he’s doing his best.  And so was I.

Maddie.

As I touched Ben’s cheek on Tuesday afternoon, all of this flashed through my mind, and I knew it wouldn’t be any better at practice, but I knew I wouldn’t love my son any less.  Sure enough, we couldn’t find the practice field, and I was too anxious and nervous to ask anyone.  We were a few minutes late.  And we forgot our ball.  And Ben ran in the wrong direction of the ball, searched for four leaf clovers, hung off the goal posts, and barely a soccer ball.

When it was over, he asked me how he did.  With his gray-blue eyes looking very blue, he chirped, “Am I a good soccer player, Mom?”

I looked down into his eyes and thought of my friend, the dad who put a hand on my shoulder when I cried tears of humiliation and frustration at Ben’s game on Saturday, and I smiled.  I wrapped my arm around his shoulders and kissed his head.  “I love you.”

“But am I a good soccer player?”

I’m not a fan of lying to my son.  The truth is, he’s no more a soccer player than I’m a soccer Mom.  And in the grand scheme of things, that’s okay.  And we’re going to be okay.

I smiled at him.  “I love you.”  With eyes shielded from the setting sun, I held his hand and we rambled off to face the close of another day.




Friendship and Politics

As my Facebook newsfeed fills with snarky barbs, I sigh and fantasize that the 2012 Presidential Election on the sixth of November has already passed.  I could write about the decline of manners; after all, it’s a time-honored pastime to lament how nasty elections have become.  The problem with this focus on the decline of manners is that it ignores just how rude, if not downright defamatory our American forebears were when engaged in political debate.

Take the Presidential Election of 1800, which was one of the most insult-filled in American history.  In John Adams, historian David McCullough painted the following picture of the opposing campaigns:

If Jefferson was a Jacobin, a shameless southern libertine, and a ‘howling’ atheist, Adams was a Tory, a vain Yankee scold, and, if truth be known, ‘quite mad.’ See John Adams at 544.

 Civility did not improve in later 19th Century elections.  In the 1884 election between Grover Cleveland and James Blaine, Cleveland was accused of fathering a child out of wedlock.  Blaine supporters chanted what became a national slogan: “Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa?”  The response to this, after Cleveland won the election, was: “Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!”).

If public political civility has not declined, it has not improved a great deal either.  Perhaps it is impossible for us to maintain polite discourse when the issues seem so important.  Utter the word “abortion,” for example, and a wide swath of society loses the ability to hear what individuals with opposing viewpoints think.  So many of us are ruled by our passions, and so terms like “baby killers” and “women haters” get bandied around, and all the noise and vituperation drowns out calmer considerations.

Don’t get me wrong: philosophy matters.  It governs how we behave.  And it often dictates our political opinions.  Sometimes I’ve wondered if it’s possible to really love someone whose philosophy and governing principles differ a great deal from my own.  In fact, a friend of a friend posited as much last night, and it made me sad, because many of my closest friends hold dear beliefs different from my own.  Are these friendships real and enduring?  Will they last until November 7th?

As I’ve advanced in age, I’ve forged enduring friendships with people of diverse beliefs.  I think friendship can and should transcend political and philosophical differences.  For that to happen, a few things must occur.

First, each person must really listen to what the other has to say.  That’s not always easily done, but so often, I’ve learned something from my friends.  For example, I am a staunch opponent of health care socialization, because I oppose governmental interference with the economy.  Setting aside the fact that the health care system has been partially socialized for decades, I’ve learned from my friends who support the President’s health care plan that the current system often fails the indigent in a heartbreaking way.  Indeed, I’m no longer 100% certain that socializing health care would hurt both individuals and the economy.

Second, we must assume that our friends are benevolent and mean well when they formulate their respective political philosophies.  Take my views on health care, for example.  I want the best for everyone, and I truly think a system based on the free market would lead to lower rates and better care for everyone.  One of the big assumptions I’ve made is that in a free market, charity will cover the indigent.  I wish for no one to fall through the cracks.  In other words, my intentions are good, and I both expect and hope that my friends who support Obama’s plan see that.

Third, we must admit there is a possibility we’re wrong, and that means being confident enough in our own beliefs that we can set aside our egos and consider all viewpoints.  Continuing with the health care example, I realize I might be wrong about private charity covering the indigent.  People may well fall through the cracks in a private system, and this troubles me.  What if I’m wrong?  People could be hurt—they even could die if they cannot afford health care, and this seems unacceptable, does it not?

Fourth, we must seek commonalities rather than emphasize our differences.  As a Libertarian-Republican, I believe in economic and social liberty, which means I agree with the Democratic Party almost as often as I agree with the Republican Party.  While I’m not dishonest about my views, I tend to discuss social liberty more with Democrats, and economic liberty more with Republicans.  Maybe I should argue more with my friends, but my friendships surely would deteriorate if I turned every chat into a debate.

That gets me to my final point: friendship is important.  My friends make me feel loved, valued and connected.  They make me a better woman.  And I’m in these friendships, I hope, for the long haul.  Political differences seem to fade over time.  After all, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams rekindled their friendship in their final years, I suspect because of their shared experiences and love of country.  They were both great men and patriots.

Next time you’re tempted to say or write something about politics, think about how it will impact the people you love.  Let that love guide you to focus on commonalities rather than differences.  And as you choose what words you use, remember: words matter.  And all of this will be over on November 7th.




Mysterious Marathon Memory of Paul Ryan

Thanks again to WordPress for “freshly pressing” my post on media distortion last week.  I’d like to welcome both new and longtime followers alike, and to reassure you that I’m not a political blogger.  Not really.  In fact, I swore off the mere mention of “abortion,” “politicians” and “President Obama,” along with many other words in any way related to politics after last week’s exhausting barrage of mostly civil responses to my non-partisan examination of media bias.  As one friend of mine said, I must have done something right because folks were swinging at me from both sides of the political spectrum.  And yet I’m grateful, I really am, because from this heady experience, I learned to avoid writing about politics.

That’s right: I swore off politics like I swore off baseball after the strike in the summer of ’94.  I stayed so mad at baseball, I ignored my beloved Baltimore Orioles for almost the entire 1995 season.  I took baseball back just in time to watch Cal Ripken break Lou Gehrig’s Ironman streak on September 6, 1995.

I stayed mad at baseball for the better part of 1995.  In the case of politics, I lasted exactly a week.

It’s Paul Ryan’s fault, really.  You see, I think he lied, and I’m irked.  I was liking not loving the guy, despite his social conservative leanings.  You know what I liked most about him?  His athleticism and his bounding energy.

This blog, and my upcoming book, I Run is about how running has helped a character heal from and cope with abuse.  I was inspired somewhat by my own life. What does it have to do with me? Because I have been affected by sports. I’ve run several marathons. I’ve played sports competitively for my entire life.  Playing sports may well have saved my life, literally.  It kept me alive when there was little else to give me hope.

Which is to say that for me, sports, and running, is pretty serious business.  In a recent interview, Paul Ryan was asked about the marathon he ran.  Here is the relevant quote, taken directly from the transcript of his interview with Hugh Hewitt:

HH: Are you still running?

PR: Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don’t run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or yes.

HH: But you did run marathons at some point?

PR: Yeah, but I can’t do it anymore, because my back is just not that great.

HH: I’ve just gotta ask, what’s your personal best?

PR: Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.

After this interview on Thursday, August 23, 2012, a reporter from Runner’s World got curious and looked up Ryan’s actual finishing time.  Ryan ran one marathon, the 1990 Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota.  According to official results, Ryan finished in 4 hours, 1 minute, and 25 seconds.

When asked to explain this discrepancy, a spokesman for Ryan told Runner’s World the next day:

The race was more than 20 years ago, but my brother Tobin—who ran Boston last year—reminds me that he is the owner of the fastest marathon in the family and has never himself ran a sub-three. If I were to do any rounding, it would certainly be to four hours, not three. He gave me a good ribbing over this at dinner tonight.

I’ve thought about this for a few days.  As I ran 14.7 miles on Sunday, struggling to breathe due to seasonal asthma, I looked back at the marathons I’ve run since I sustained serious injuries in a accident in 2009.  In my first marathon, I crossed the line in 5:01:50, just missing breaking the five-hour mark.  This race was a warmup for the Suntrust National Marathon a month later.  I was aiming to break 4:30 but I turned my ankle at the 5-mile mark and limped across the finishing line, yet again, in 5:01 and change.  I’m not going to bore you with my other finishing times.

But I will volunteer a few other times: in 1995, I ran the Charlottesville 10-miler in 75 minutes.  In 1989, I ran a 10K in Baltimore in 50:53 (approximately).  My fastest mile time, ran in 1988, was 6:20.

I apologize to the non-runners reading this, and trust me, I’m not bragging about my PRs or even my extremely pedestrian finishing times.  I could go on and on here, listing my highest scoring total in a basketball game (17 points); how many no-hitters I tossed in fast-pitch softball (one); my maximum bench press (150) and you know what?  This is normal for a competitive athlete.  We’re almost universally aware, especially we runners, of our splits, PRs for every distance, average minutes per mile, max heart rate, farthest distance run . . . athletes simply are (must be) aware of how much, how far, and how long in their ever-ending quest to be faster, higher and stronger.

I don’t know if Ryan lied on purpose.  It’s unlikely that a workout junkie forgot his PR.  It’s highly unlikely but it is possible he forgot his finishing time.  Even more likely, it’s possible that he exaggerated it once, and the response he received from other athletes made him feel good.  Maybe he exaggerated a little more the next time.  Maybe he exaggerated so much, and for so long, that he believed it when he said he ran a 2:50-something.

And maybe President Clinton believed it when he said he did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky.

I’d love to hear you views on the issues raised above.  Please keep your responses polite and avoid ad-hominem attacks and personal insults, and if you do, I’d love to discuss and debate the mysterious marathon memory of Paul Ryan.

 




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