Black Lives Matter

George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the Minneapolis police was horrifying, but all too common. George Floyd’s murder isn’t even the most recent. David McAtee was killed in his business by either the National Guard or the police. Previously, Breonna Taylor was asleep in her bed. There are too many names. Not to list, but to contemplate. Too many black lives have ended at the hands of the police. You can find a partial list based on The Washington Post’s database at https://pittsburghfoundation.org/we-will-not-be-silent.

Over one thousand black people have been killed in police shootings in the last five and a half years. This is not a new phenomenon, but George Floyd’s murder has focused attention on an issue that has gone unanswered for far too long. If we, as a society, cannot find the will to change a system that has abused black people, indigenous people, and other marginalized groups for decades and longer, then we have given up the claim that we are, in fact, a civilized society. 

This blog has, since its inception, been reserved as a creative outlet. I have run other blogs in the past that took up social commentary and other topics. With everything happening, I cannot keep my creative outlet separate from the society that is so broken. There is a cancer in our society, and we must be willing to face it and deal with it. That requires listening to and believing people of color and others when they tell us how they are treated. It requires demanding solutions and working towards them.

If those of us who are white do not recognize the police in the stories that others tell, that is one indication of our privilege. If we think, what will do without the police to protect us?, that, too, is a sign of our privilege. We can think of the police as guardians. For too many Americans, that is not the role the police play. The system needs to change. We have the luxury to ignore racism and pretend it doesn’t exist, or at least isn’t as pervasive. That is a luxury we must give up. Lives depend upon it.

Protest. Talk to your government representatives. Donate. Talk to your friends and relatives. Use your voice. And don’t forget to use your ears, too. Listen. Learn. Let those suffering lead. Don’t speak for them, but support them.

Black Lives Matter. The problem is that, in America and elsewhere, they haven’t mattered. Black lives need to matter. They need to be treated as inherently valuable and with respect. Black Lives Matter. And we need to keep saying it at least until society actually treats black lives as though they do, in fact, matter.

I will resume posting fiction and creative works. But we cannot forget that our fellow citizens, our fellow human beings need us. They need us to listen. To stand with them. To fight with them. It is an ongoing fight, and we must be willing to support them, to amplify their voices, through the long haul.

Black Lives Matter (https://blacklivesmatter.com) has resources and accepts donations.

The Cut has a list of other nonprofits that you can donate to: https://www.thecut.com/article/george-floyd-protests-how-to-help-where-to-donate.html

You can find black owned businesses to support on Black Wall Street: https://officialblackwallstreet.com/directory/

Cut and Dry

Why am I always your scapegoat?

Wait, are we assuming you’re real, or not? My answer may change accordingly.

Curious. Just for fun, let us assume I am not real.

In that case, it is to satirize believers who claim that you are the source of good things but not the bad. A sort of dramatization of the problem of evil, if you will. Mixed with a healthy dose of pointing out the absurdity of the story.

Do you think you change any minds?

Probably not, if I’m being honest.

So why do it?

Blowing off steam, I guess. Against an institution that shaped me in so many ways, many of them negative. A way of working out some old issues.

Does it help? I mean, you have been doing it for all of these years. Have you gotten anywhere?

Perhaps not.

Maybe it is time for a new tack?

Maybe.

Okay, so what if we assume I’m real?

Then it is a direct attack on you.

 That doesn’t seem wise.

I have yet to be struck by lightning.

There is, however, the matter of your immortal soul.

A lot of bad things have happened; the pain and suffering have been immeasurable. If you’re willing to put up with all of that, I suspect you can handle a little criticism that no one pays any attention to. Furthermore, I don’t want to be on the good side of someone who allows all of the things that go on here.

But is it not possible that there are reasons for . . .

Stop. I’m not interested in that sort of speculation. There is no humanly recognizable reason to allow this much misery. If there is some reason, it has nothing to do with us.

That seems . . . uncertain? . . . at best. It certainly deserves more discussion.

Nevertheless.

So which is it? Do I exist, or not?

The jury is still out, though I suspect it’s a different option altogether. You do exist, but not like so many believe you do. Thus the real you isn’t my scapegoat at all. My target is those who mischaracterize you.

That seems like a dodge.

Does it? Maybe it does. Maybe I’m just avoiding taking a side. Still, the truth is almost never so cut and dry.

Sacred

Longest night of the year. A sacred time.

You don’t think anything is sacred.

Yes, I do. Humanity. This night, maybe more than any other, reminds us that we need one another. The darkness can only win if we try to face it alone. Humanity is sacred.

Humanity isn’t sacred. It is an insignificant blip in the universe. In the grand scheme of things, we just don’t matter.

I’m not talking about the universe, not saying it thinks us sacred. I’m talking about us. What do we hold dear? For my part, that’s humanity. It’s worthy of honor and respect. That is what we owe each other. And ourselves.

And God?

Who is more important? God? Or people? Listen closely to how someone answers; it will tell you everything you need to know about them. Does God need anything from us? If so, that’s not God. Who needs? Humans. We need others. God doesn’t need anything from us. Other human beings need help. And that’s where our focus should be. Winter reminds us how fragile we are. Look to your neighbor, to the stranger. That is where the sacred is. If we cannot see the sacred in each other, it doesn’t matter what else we call sacred.

Do you have any friends at all?

I have you.

I suppose that’s true. Happy solstice, then.

Happy solstice.

Rote Thankfulness

What are you thankful for?

I hate that question.

Why?

Because the answers always seem so rote. Family. Friends. Home. Health.

You aren’t thankful for those things?

I am, but that’s not the point. We have answers like that memorized. One day of the year, we give the most cursory thought to what we have before moving on to other concerns. We rarely stop to truly reflect on what we have to appreciate. Most of the year, we take things for granted. Then we set aside one day for token thankfulness.

Is that true for everyone? Or is that just your cynicism showing?

So it’s just me, projecting my own failing onto everyone else?

Is it?

I hate you.

Because I’m right?

… Maybe.

Set aside everyone else. What are you thankful for? And don’t give your rote answer. Don’t do the thing you hate. Really reflect. What are you thankful for?

That is a hard question.

Quit deflecting. What are you doing, right now?

Writing.

So?

I am thankful I can write?

Bragging, now?

No. I mean, I am thankful for the ability to hold a pen, the resources to own paper, the luxury of time. I am thankful I can write, whether or not I’m any good at it.

Okay. That’s a start. Anything else?

Ugh. I keep going back to negative things.

Look, it’s not a question of ignoring the bad. But you’ve got all year for that. Just a few moments for balance. You don’t need to pretend it’s all sunshine and roses. Just acknowledge some good.

I am thankful that there are other people who love and care for animals.

Really?

Yeah. It gives me hope. It connects me to other people, even if I don’t know them. I’m glad people feel something I do. And that animals are getting taken care of.

Okay, then.

For that matter, I am thankful for the internet, for showing me that there are others who share my values, my concern about the world. As much crap as there is, it’s good to know I’m not entirely alone.

You think it’s important to remember this more than one day a year?

Yes.

Do you think others might share that value?

… Yes.

Then – and I don’t mean to sound preachy – maybe dial back the cynicism a little?

… Yeah.

Just The Depression Talking

The world is a mess. People hate more readily, more broadly. Life is a chore. It’s hard to find any reason at all.

That’s just your depression talking.

I’m lazy and procrastinate. I’m unmotivated and squander my potential. I’m unremarkable and of no use to anyone.

That’s just your depression talking.

I’m inconsiderate, a bad friend. I’ve hurt people. I’m not good and shouldn’t be around others.

That’s just your depression talking.

So… what? All my thoughts are just my depression? Is that all anyone sees when they look at me? My depression? I have become defined by an illness. Nothing remains of me. My every thought, word, action is attributed to my depression.

That’s just your depression talking.

Unless it’s a happy thought, a positive word. If I act happy, people say that is the real me, even though I know it’s fake. The act lets other people feel comfortable, let’s them believe everything is alright. It’s necessary because if you show them how you really feel,

That’s just your depression talking.

So I lead a double-life. The life I fake for those around me, and the depression eating away inside. But neither is me. One is a fake, and the other is an illness that keeps me from trusting anything in my head. I don’t exist anymore. It’s all a lie. But I shouldn’t worry about it because

That’s just the depression talking.

Rituals

The sky was grey, and there was a chill in the air. Winter was not going away easily, which made a perfect setting for a cemetery visit. The stone in front of me listed a name and two dates, all the evidence that remained of a single life.

I know I could talk to her anywhere, but it always seemed important to come back here. I didn’t really believe that she remained in this place, but the tradition, the symbolism, was not easily ignored. Rituals become rituals for a reason. They have meaning. We imbue them with meaning. As much as I resist many rituals, this is one I still felt compelled to follow.

So I stood there, expecting snow or rain at any moment, and stared at the letters and numbers that had been carved in granite nearly thirty years ago. As I spoke, I found myself saying things I had said many times before. Apologies. Regrets. Even the occasional lame joke. Whatever came to mind to strengthen a connection that had lasted years.

I wondered, not for the first time, nor for the last, if she bothered listening, if she still cared. In the end, I decided it didn’t matter. If there was even a slight chance she heard, I wanted her to know she was not forgotten.

When the rain finally came, I said, my farewell, promising to return once more.

Mannaz and the Othering of God

Mannaz. The Divine Self. The aspect of the divine that resides within each of us. Split down the middle vertically, it contains Wunjo – Joy – on the left, and it’s mirror on the right. The Self is made of complexity.

When we other God – see God as external, as separate from ourselves – we deny our own divinity. We denigrate humanity and relegate the best parts of ourselves to something else.

Saint Augustine exemplifies this position very clearly. Human beings are so mired in sin and evil that we cannot choose the good without God’s grace. Unless God grants us a helping hand, we cannot even want to do good.

Thus if the Shadow is – according to Jung – those parts of ourselves that we deny in order to be acceptable to society, then the external God is where we place our highest ideals, the best parts of ourselves. Perhaps we do this because even though we deny our Shadow, we still feel the guilt and shame of it and refuse to believe we are good. Perhaps it is more superficial than that, that we are taught from a very early age that God is good, that all goodness comes from God, and that we are unworthy of God’s love (though God loves us anyway). Between the Shadow and God, it’s a wonder that there is anything left of us at all.

Gandhi explained that returning violence for violence was not human nature, but animal nature. Refusing to meet violence with violence did not make us divine; instead, it makes us more fully human. The import of this cannot be overstated. If we place nonviolence within the divine, and then treat the divine as other, we have an excuse to be violent. By othering the divine, we give ourselves license to live as less than. We are “only human,” after all, as though being only human is not, itself, a stunning thing.

When we acknowledge the divine within, we eliminate our excuses for not living as our best selves. We take full ownership and responsibility for our actions. What’s more, we must acknowledge the divine in others. When we see human beings as less than, when we other God, we license, not only our own shortfalls, but also mistreatment of others. If you are just human, my treatment of you is only important as far as it accords, or doesn’t, with God’s will. If you are divine – as am I – then I need no outside reason to justify showing you respect and kindness. You are important in your own being. If God is other, then you are insignificant.

Mannaz, then, is a reminder of who we are, not just ourselves, but everyone. We are, each of us, divine. We should act like it and treat others accordingly.

“Pull Up A Pencil”

It was late. Very late. But there was homework to do before tomorrow. It was the big contradiction of my freshman year of college. I always finished my homework, but I never started it before midnight. Either doing it earlier or not doing it all would have been better for my health, but I had too much fun socializing to seriously consider the former, and the latter was ruled out by my sense of responsibility for school, such as it was. So I was often up until four in the morning, trying to get things done before my 8 AM class.

Tonight was no different. My roommate was already asleep in our room, and there were people still watching TV in the lounge. As a result, I retreated to the only relatively quiet place I could find, the lobby.

It was getting hard to focus on the words, so I decided to take a break. I stood and walked around the lobby trying to wake myself up a bit. Near the door to the building sat the nightguard. They were on duty all night to make sure only residents or their guests entered the dorm. Her head was down, pencil in hand, working on something.

Without thinking about how creepy it might seem, I walked over to see what she was doing. She had a book of logic puzzles open, and she was working on one. When she noticed me, she slid the book over some so that the right hand page wasn’t in front of her. “Pull up a pencil,” she said as she held one up.

I had loved logic puzzles for years, so I took the number 2 and kneeled down in front of the book. She continued working on her puzzle as I made my way through the one she had offered me. When I finished, I thanked her and walked back to my actual homework.

And that is how I met one of my very best friends.

Judgment Day

“So on Judgment Day,” he could hear the preacher pronounce those capital letters, “God will confront you with all of your sins. Only those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior will be admitted into Heaven. Everyone else will be condemned to Hell for all of eternity.”

On the way home, he kept thinking about what the preacher had said. Finally he asked his mom about it.

“Mom, am I going to Hell?”

She looked at him in the rearview mirror. “No, honey. You’ve been saved. You’ll go to Heaven. You don’t have to worry.”

“What about you?”

“I’m saved, too. We’ll be together in Heaven.”

“Is Dad saved?”

There was a pause before she answered. “No, honey. He isn’t. But that’s why it’s important to witness to him, so that you might get saved some day.”

“Oh.” He didn’t ask anymore questions after that. But he also didn’t stop thinking about it.

Later that night, he made up his mind. When Judgment Day came, if his dad wasn’t saved, he would insist on going to Hell in his place. It was the best solution his eight-year-old mind could come up with. The only worry he had was that God would allow it, but insist that the person whose place he would take had to be randomly chosen. He would still make the trade, he decided. If his dad wasn’t going to be there, then he didn’t want to be there, either.