Category Archives: Life in general

Haters gonna hate

We’re just a couple of days from Election Day and the rhetoric and vitriol is ramping up to new heights.  Candidates for every office from Governor to Dog Catcher are telling anyone who will listen why votes for the other guy are bad for everybody…while somehow never getting around to saying why votes for themselves would be good for everybody.  It’s all “Vote for me because the other candidate is anti-everything good and wholesome. ”

Decisions, decisions…

The only problem with that approach is that the other candidate is saying the same thing but from the other direction.  How are you supposed to choose?  If either one said something like, “I’ve got X number of years in government at the regional level and I did A, B and C during my tenure.”…or maybe, “I’ve got a Masters in Economics and consulted with the Treasury Department for the last however-many years.” then you’d have something you could check on to help you make up your mind.

But what we have is just finger-pointing.  Well, that and what they say they’re for or against…and how they say it.  It’s really easy to stand up and say “I’m in favor of” or “I’m opposed to” a political hot-button.  But how they say it can be very telling.

Let’s use same-sex marriage as an example.  If a candidate comes out in favor of  or opposed to same-sex marriage but can’t, or won’t, say why…or maybe just sounds kind of meh on the subject, they might be just pandering to a demographic in search of votes.  That’s pretty much standard fare from politicians.  In that case, the only thing a voter can do is look at their voting record – assuming they have one – and decide as best they can.

But there’s a type of candidate commonly found these days that will express their views in more concrete terms.  And, from what I’ve seen, those terms are usually very strongly AGAINST.  Against a whole bunch of things…and that’s fine.  This is a free Country and everyone is entitled to their own opinion.  But it hides a problem.

The problem with a lot of these candidates and their supporters is that they are not just against certain things.  They appear to actively hate those things and anyone who disagrees with them about it…which kind of flies in the face of that whole, “It’s a free country” thing.  I mean, you’re free to believe any way you want…as long as you agree with me?    That’s not the freedom I grew up with.

Us vs Them

The thing is,  when you hate like that, you generally aren’t willing to talk about it.  Certainly, I’m not seeing a lot of conversation between people trying to come to a common ground.  Hate is dividing us as a country.  This is a bad thing.

And we’re letting the haters do it to us…and that has to stop.  We need to call out any person, politician or not, who is pushing hate as a doctrine.  If someone posts something on social media espousing hate, call them out on it.  If a political candidate pushes an agenda or law that demonizes a group or a right, call them on it, preferably in public and in front of the press.  If a religious leader preaches hate for…well, for anything, call them on it even if it means interrupting church.  The last time I checked, God is love.  It seems to me that hate doesn’t have a place in any faith.

Hate is insidious.  It can sneak up on you and get hooks into you before you’re aware it’s there.  So calling out someone about their apparent hate will bring that out into the open where they have to address it  and deal with it.  What they do or don’t do at that point will often tell you every thing you need to know about that person.  If they admit to it and try to mend their ways, they may just be someone who got snuck up on.  If they deny it or try to spin it or, even worse, admit it and act proud of it, they are probably not someone you want making decisions for you and yours.

And we can’t just point it out in other people.  Remember the old saw – “Whenever you point at someone, you have three fingers pointing back at yourself.”  There’s truth in that.  You can’t expect people to change their hate if you aren’t willing to change yours.  Stop hating.  Stop using the word “hate”.  I don’t care if you’re talking about politics or brussel sprouts.  Don’t hate.  Think about alternatives.

Maybe they’re not so bad…

I used to not like brussel sprouts.  I can’t really say I hated them but I certainly didn’t like them.  They were bitter, mushy and gross.  Then I found a way of cooking them that I did like…and suddenly, brussel sprouts are on the menu in our house.  Try to face political and religious differences the same way.

Don’t hate someone because they vote or worship or marry or think differently than you do.  Look for alternatives.  Look for common ground.  If you disagree with someone on the subject of same-sex marriage, maybe you agree with them about health care…or the economy.  Find the things you agree on and use that as a foundation to build a dialog about the areas you disagree on.  And when you come up against something that you can NOT agree on, accept that fact, agree to disagree but also, agree to live and let live…which means neither of you gets to tell the other person how to live.

If they don’t think abortion is a good thing, they they are free to not get one.  If they think same-sex marriage is a sin, they are free to not be in a same-sex marriage.  If they think there are only two sexes, fine.  But no one gets to force their views on anyone else.  This country was founded on the principle that everyone is created equal…which means that everyone gets to live how they want to and no one gets to tell anyone else how to live.

This country was founded on freedom.  Freedom of religion.  Freedom from religion if you so choose.  Freedom to act and think however you want as long as you don’t hurt others.  So don’t hate.  Hate hurts.  Hate hurts us all.  If someone chooses to live a way that you don’t approve of, you have every right to not approve.  But you do NOT have the right to dictate that they live in your approved manner.  That is not freedom.  That is tyranny.  That is slavery.  That is hate.  And that is not America.

Achieving immortality

It seems like a lot of people these days are very concerned about leaving their mark on the world.  They want to make sure that when their time is done they’ll have LIVED!!!  They’ll have made a difference and the world will be a better place for them having been here.  Certainly, no one wants to shuffle off this mortal coil without leaving some evidence that they’ve existed.

Personally, I applaud this attitude.  It encourages people to push their boundaries and explore and experience new things…which hopefully has the added benefit of opening their minds and souls to the wonder around them.  Too many people don’t open themselves up to new experiences and ideas – often through fear or apathy.  The end result is that they don’t expand their minds, don’t see new things, don’t think new thoughts and end up living worthless, pre-packaged lives circling the drain of their own fears and prejudices.

The thing is, everyone wants to be the next George Washington…or Sally Ride…or Leif Eriksson or <insert name of your personal hero here>.  They want to live life bigger and grander and have adventures and become someone who will be a household name.  Someone who will be remembered.  Someone who made a difference.

But living your life with that attitude is completely forgetting (or ignoring) the fact that fame and historical significance was not necessarily something those people sought out.  In many cases it was something that they didn’t want but that was thrust upon them by a world hungry for the next big thing…or person.

It also ignores the fact that fame is fleeting and a very fickle bitch.  It’s actually not that hard to be famous.  It’s much more difficult to be famous for something good.  And it’s even more difficult to stay famous for something good.  Today’s  great adventurer is tomorrow’s mass murderer and slaver.  Today’s great athlete is tomorrow’s cheating drug user.  Today’s TV Star is tomorrow’s washed up loser.  Then there’s all the people who go out to leave their mark and vanish without a trace.  I can’t tell you about them because the only evidence they ever existed is the shattered lives of the family they leave behind.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying you should never go out and do something adventurous or even dangerous or that you shouldn’t try to leave your mark on the world.  But go do it for the right reasons.  It should be an accent to your life, not a substitute for it – the cherry on top of the cake, not the cake itself.

Let’s say you enjoy rock climbing.  You’re out every weekend climbing bigger, more difficult rock faces.  You decide that you want to climb El Capitan.  Go for it!  Practice, expand your skills, push yourself and when you’re ready, go climb it!  But if you’ve never climbed anything harder than the stairs in your house, deciding to climb El Capitan is at best, stupid…at worst, suicidal.

Of course, there’s another way you can leave your mark, achieve immortality and never be forgotten.  It’s very simple, absolutely fool-proof and anyone can do it.  One catch most simple things it’s very difficult.  All you have to do is be the best you that you can be.

I know what you’re thinking, “But that’s so boring!  I want to explore, climb, fly, do…exciting things!  I don’t want to just be another <insert job title here>!”  Yeah, right.  You and everybody else.  But everybody can’t be the best exciting thing doer.  There can only be one “Best”.  That’s kinda what Best means.

But there’s only one of you.  And if you resolve to be the best you possible, you can do great things.  Abraham Lincoln once said, “I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my very best each and every day.”  He succeeded.  But you don’t even have to be Abraham Lincoln.  You just have to be you.  The best you.

My Father-in-Law was a meat cutter.  Not a Butcher.  A meat cutter.  Butcher was too fancy a word for him.  He worked almost every day of his life.  He married, had two kids, supported his family, paid his bills, raised his kids, worked more, paid more bills, lost his vision to glaucoma and still worked and finally died, just as he had lived, with quite, uncomplaining dignity.

Oh, he didn’t do it alone.  His wife was there by his side the entire way, sticking with him through thick and thicker.  But those few lines describes his life.  Except that they don’t.  Not.  Even.  Close.  There is so much more there than I could ever write down.  But he was at heart just a simple meat cutter from West Virginia.  A simple man from a small town…who was so respected that his funeral was almost standing room only.  Who was so loved that his family still talks about him and thinks about him almost daily.  So much so that sometimes it feels like he’s just stepped out of the room and will be back any minute.  That is achieving immortality.

And you can do it, too…from the comfort of your own living room.  Just be the best you possible.  Live, don’t exist.  Find someone to share your life with that loves you as much as you love them.  Do your job the best way you know how.  Have children.  Raise them to be better people than you are.  Don’t expect them to be clones or follow in your footsteps.  Expect them to be the best them that they can be and to find their own path.  And, most importantly, love.  Love your partner, love your children, love your life…and don’t forget to love yourself.

See, it’s simple.  And the hardest, most difficult, most challenging, most rewarding, most fun thing you can ever do.  But if you do it, you’ll make a mark.  You’ll make a difference and you’ll be remembered after you’re gone.  Do it and you’ll be immortal.

Livin’ the Life

Wow!  Almost three years gone since the last time I posted anything.  It’s been a busy time.  Nothing earth-shattering has happened.  Just life.  Kinda keeps you busy if you’re not careful to keep on top of it.

And it has been busy.  Sean graduated college and moved to Pittsburgh.  James has started his Senior year of college and has moved out for all intents and purposes.  At this point, Tami and I can consider ourselves empty nesters…and we’re OK with that.

We’ve raised our sons and done a fairly good job of it – especially when you consider how unprepared we were for the whole parenthood thing.  Anyway, the boys aren’t boys anymore.  They’re men.  And pretty damn fine men if I do say so myself.  That’s not paternal pride talking by the way.  That’s a cold, balanced analysis of the facts completely unbiased by any hint of fatherly affection…and if you believe that I have a bridge I want to sell you.  Yes, I’m so proud of them it hurts sometimes.

But where was I?  Oh, yeah.  Empy nesters.  The fact is, Tami and I are really looking forward to it.  We love seeing the boys and having them visit (did I mention I was proud of them?) but we’re just fine when it’s just the two of us.  I think one of the smartest things we did was wait to have kids until we were a bit older.  It meant we were a bit more mature and better able to handle the stress of new parenthood (HAH!  see my earlier comments on belief and bridges).  It also meant that we had a chance to get to know each other and live as just us two for a while.

There’s an old saying that you marry a stranger.  And like a lot of old sayings, it’s survived because it’s true.  Tami and I have known each other since High School.  We met up again through a mutual friend a few years after graduation (Thanks, Jeff.  We owe you big!), started dating, got engaged and got married.  And neither of us had any frickin’ clue who the other person was.  Waiting a few years before we had kids helped us get over that and it’s paying off big time now.

I know couples who got married and had kids nine months later…sometimes eight or seven months.  Regardless, they jumped or were pushed right into parenthood and never got a chance to know who their partner was one-on-one.  When the kids grew up and moved out some of them were just fine.  Other got a big surprise when they found out that they didn’t have a lot in common with their partner.  It’s not an insurmountable problem but Tami and I got it out of the way years ago.  We’re just going back to how it used to be, not figuring out something new when we’re in our fifties.

So now here we are, Livin’ La Vida … whatever you call it … and enjoying the hell out of it.  We still have jobs and bills and all that but we also have each other to lean against, worry with, laugh with (and at) and most especially to love.  Life is good.

Fear and Living in PA

I turned 51 about a week ago. My health is not bad, overall. There are areas that I need to work on and areas where the damage is done but in general, I’m in pretty good health. So why am I scared all the time?

Part of it is my family history. My father died of an apparent heart attack in his late-50s. His father died of cancer in his early 50s. Neither one lived long enough to see their grandchildren. That sound like a good reason for me to be scared but I don’t show any signs of having the same health problems they did. My Dad had his first heart attack when I was just 10 or 11 years old. He would have been in his 30s at the time. Later in life he had Angina and other problems.

My heart is healthy. Because of the paranoia of various Doctors I’ve had enough stress tests, Cardiac Catheterizations and Echo Cardiograms over the last few years to be sure of that. My resting pulse rate is around 60. My blood pressure runs on the low side of the normal range. My Triglycerides, Cholesterol, etc are all good with the exception that my good cholesterol level is a bit low. That’s all on the good side of the ledger.

On the bad side is the following: I’ve around 120-140 pounds overweight. I have Stage 4a Venous Insufficiency in my legs. I’m 51. That’s it. That’s all I have to be worried about.

Now, oddly enough, both the weight and the vein problem are both taken care of in part by getting off my fat ass and exercising…which I’ve started doing. I’m currently up to 55 minutes a day on the treadmill and plan to increase that to an hour. I’ve also dropped my portion size at meals to where it should be instead of … well, too much. And I’ve cut WAY back on snacks. In addition, I’ve started wearing compression stockings (support hose to old farts like me) to help with the circulation in my legs. And before I forget, one of the best ways to increase your good cholesterol is to watch your diet and exercise.

So why am I scared all the time. I went blithely through the first 50 years of my life without being scared about my health. Maybe it was BECAUSE my cholesterol levels, pulse rate and blood pressure were all good in spite of me sitting around all the time eating too much and exercising almost none at all. I don’t know.

What I do know is that about a year ago I went to the ER because of a pulled muscle. We had been to a family get-together in August and I had overdone helping with the cleanup. I pulled a muscle. When it still hurt after a week or more Tami told me to either get in to see our Doctor TODAY or go to the ER. I couldn’t get an appointment with Doc so into the ER I went…and ended up spending the night in Cardiac Intensive Care. Did I mention that the muscle I pulled was in my chest?

After being monitored overnight and put on a treadmill and given an Echo Cardiogram in the morning they determined that my heart was just fine. However, the very nice Cardiologist told me that even though it was nothing to worry about this time, if I continued like I was, it would be next time. That conversation planted the seeds of my fear.

Like all such things, it took a while to grow to noticeable proportions. By December, I was feeling uneasy about my health. I needed to exercise and drop weight so I bought a treadmill…which sat and collected dust. I made a couple of false starts with it but just couldn’t seem to keep going on it.

Then I started having panic attacks. The fear had been growing more and more and was now noticeable. I started having phantom pains in my chest and legs. I knew I wasn’t having a heart attack but what your mind tells you in a quiet voice can be completely overshadowed by what your gut is screaming at you in mindless panic. So back to the Doctor I went.

Doc prescribed Paxil and Xanax. The Xanax was fine for what he termed ‘Breakthrough’ panic attacks. The Paxil was to be taken daily and I hated it. Paxil may have evened me out a bit but the side effects were terrible. It was making me so tired that I had trouble functioning. He told me to try them out for a couple of months and then come back to see how things were going. We’d re-evaluate then.

Two months later I was back in his office where I told him that I wanted to stop taking both drugs. I had determined that part of the problem was stress from work where I was letting a moderately poisonous coworker get on my nerves. This was true, by the way. It wasn’t a made up bit of BS. Once I figured out what I was doing, I was able to get rid of that particular stresser by the ‘Mind over Matter’ technique – I don’t mind because she doesn’t matter.

Anyway, I stopped with the anxiety meds without any real problems. But while I was there, I asked him about some skin mottling on my lower legs. I had thought it was a skin tone thing – purely cosmetic – which is why I was surprised when he prescribed Compression Stockings and had me make an appointment with a Vascular Specialist. He also scheduled me for an Ultrasound test for the veins in my legs.

If you’ve read my other postings you’ll recall me relating how my wife almost died because of clots that broke away from a larger clot in her legs and went to her lungs. The Doctor who caught it and treated her told us that another 24 hours and she most likely would have died. So, just as I’m getting to the point where I’ve put the fear behind me it attacks from a different quarter. What fun!

The Ultrasound didn’t find any clots in my legs (Thank you, God!) but the Vascular Specialist took one look at my feet and calves and said I was almost a text book picture of Stage 4A Vascular Insufficiency. The mottling I had seen was hyper-pigmentation brought on by the veins in my legs not returning blood to the rest of my body the way they were supposed to. The rest of the diagnosis was a good news/bad news kind of thing. Good news – Vascular Insufficiency is not life threatening in and of itself and it is treatable. Bad news – it’s kind of like diabetes – once you have it you have it for life. It’s treatable, not curable. It’s also not reversible except in rare circumstances. And while it isn’t life threatening, if it’s left untreated it opens you up to stuff that is…like clots in your legs (remember my wife?).

So here I am scared again. But this time, I’m fighting back. I’m wearing my compression stockings all the time. The Vascular Specialist told me that unless I’m lying with my feet at the same level or higher than my heart, I should have them on. I’m also exercising. The treadmill is no longer gathering dust. I started off with 10 minutes a day twice a week. The next week I went to 10 minutes a day three days a week. After doing that for a couple of weeks to let my body get used to exercising I changed it to five days a week. Then I started adding five minutes each week and this week I’m up to 55 minutes. I’ve also dropped about 15 pounds and plan to drop more…slowly…the same way I put it on.

I’m doing something else, too. I’m writing about it. I’ve found that laying it all out on paper (or whatever) drags it out into the light and robs it of much of its power. Fear grows but it grows in the dark. It dies or at least atrophies in the light.

And I’m doing one final thing. The most important and most effective thing I can do. I’m praying. Asking God to help me face my fear and to stand beside me has gotten me through more than I can tell over the years. He’s helped me face my fears about being a good husband, about being a good father, about letting my boys go to stand on their own, about losing my parents. Without his help I’d never have made it this far. With his help I can face anything. To quote Mick Dundee, “Me and God, we be mates!”

So there it all is. The cause of my fear dragged out into the light to shrivel and die. I don’t expect it to go easily but go it will. I refuse to live in fear. As the Bene Gessirit say,

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

But I’ll amend that last line to read

Only God and I will remain.

Thing change

It’s Christmas evening. The presents are all open. The traditional Christmas movies have been watched (once again, Ralphie managed to not shoot his eye out) and all is at peace in our world. Tomorrow we’ll all pile in the car and drive 5 hours to have Christmas all over again with our extended family – my sister, Tami’s Mother and Brother and his family – same as we do every year. And it’s good that we do it every year. It helps keep our family close when the miles keep us apart.

But some things are different than they used to be. The family is smaller this year. A year ago tomorrow, when we were making the same trip that we’ll be making tomorrow, we were about half way there when my cell phone rang. It was the nursing home calling to tell me that my mother had died. This was not as big or as painful a shock as you might think. Because of a head injury, Mom had been declining slowly for years. She hadn’t spoken in at least 4 years. For a couple of years before that, she didn’t know who I was. So, in a sense, I had lost my mother several years earlier. I was just waiting for her body to catch up with the part of her that made her Mom.

Sorry if I sound callous there but we all have our little coping mechanisms. That was mine. The quiet, Southern Lady that I grew up with died years ago. All I’ve had left these past years was her was her beautiful corn-flower blue eyes and a smile that was…wonderful.

Dad has been gone since just after Tami and I got married so now the family is just my sister and I. I remember Dad telling Sue and I when we were fighting as kids, “One day you’ll only have each other.” Right again, Dad. And, in true father/son fashion, I’ve used the same line on my boys. And that’s another thing that’s changing.

Sean is home from college for Christmas break. He’s 20 years old now and we’re not going to have him around much longer. James is 16 and chasing hard on his big brother’s footsteps. A few more years and it’ll be just Tami and me around the house. We’ve talked about it and we’re both OK with it. Intellectually, we know that it’s all a part of the “Great circle of Life” (TM Disney). Emotionally, we know it’s gonna hurt to see them both go out and start their lives even as we’re bursting with pride as they go out and start their lives. And even though we’ll not see them as often as we might want, we’ll have a chance to do things together, just the two of us, that we’ve not had in a long time. That part we’re actively looking forward to.

Things change. And change, in and of itself, isn’t good or bad. What you make of it determines whether it’s good or bad. Tami and I have always tried to make changes work for us…for the good. And we’ve pretty much been able to do it, through layoffs, moves, loss of family…and we’ll do the same with this. And we’ve raised the boys to face change the same way (hope we did that right). It’s a change we’ll accept. But not yet.