In Distrust We Trust

To say things are out of whack would be an understatement.

The news is filled with stories about how we’re dropping bombs on radical factions in the Mideast, in response to the sick and inhuman beheadings of American and British journalists.  The right wingers were quick and vocal to demand that the president take action, that such brutal and barbaric slaughter of innocent Americans cannot go unpunished, and that if we stood by and did nothing, our enemies would be emboldened and more innocent lives would be lost.

They are, of course, correct.  We know this because of recent history.

On December 14, 2012, twenty six innocent Americans, twenty of them children under the age of ten years old,  were murdered by a madman in Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.   In the two years since, despite overwhelming public outrage, nothing has changed.  All attempts to tighten gun laws have been defeated by a small but vocal minority funded by the National Rifle Association and the mostly Republican congressmen they control.  These are the same people who two years ago threw up their arms and said, “Bad people do bad things.  There’s nothing you can do.”  The same people who   when madmen across the ocean kill, demand swift retribution and immediate action. And, of course, since Sandy Hook, we’ve only seen an increase in mass shootings.

But beheading an innocent victim is so brutal, so insane, so inhuman, that anyone with a shred of humanity would have the save visceral reaction.  This is true, but how can the same people not have the same reaction when twenty innocent children, children, are brutally murdered?

I personally know many people who dismiss the Sandy Hook killings as “the price of freedom” and are quick to criticize when the president doesn’t react swiftly and aggressively to perceived foreign threats.  They are good people, people who’d be the first to help if their neighbors were in trouble.  They’re not stupid.  The problem goes a little deeper than mere intellect.   I think the real problem is actually something that we all have in common, left and right, rich and poor, powerful and weak, the haves and have-nots, the blacks and the whites .

It’s all a matter of trust.  Or rather, distrust.

Nobody trusts anybody any more.  Conservatives don’t trust liberals, whites don’t trust blacks, religious people don’t trust scientists, libertarians don’t trust government, you can go on and on.  There are so many groups, so many labels we define ourselves by, and they are all so different except they are the same in one fundamental and powerful way:  they all have, at their core, a fundamental distrust of some other group or cause.

In many cases this distrust is warranted, in many it’s not.  I’m not so egotistical as to claim any super knowledge or all encompassing wisdom to pass judgment (although I have opinions!  Boy, do I have opinions!).  But there seems to be something in the air, something in the times we live in, that is fueling general feelings of discontent and distrust.

And where did all of these labels come from?  I’ve been called a liberal, a tree hugger, a skeptic, an agnostic, white, a 99 percenter.  I have friends who are tea-partiers, ditto heads, Christians, Muslims, atheists, black, Hispanic, Asian,  libertarians, republicans, democrats, independents, environmentalists, corporate officers, and on and on.   But  before I congratulate myself on the diversity and openness of my relationships, I have to be honest and admit that with each group or label I might use to define  my friends, there’s always at least one topic that isn’t safe for honest and unemotional discussion.

I understand why we can’t always agree with one another.  There’s nothing wrong with disagreement.  It can be healthy.  But distrust is personal, and  corrosive.

In the end, there is only one label we all share, the only one that matters – human being. Only when someone invents a way for us to recognize this will our distrust begin to dissolve.

Of course, the opportunistic bastard will probably be in it just for the money, and then where will we be?

Peaks and Valleys

I recently had an appointment with my Movement Disorders Specialist in Chicago to treat my instance of Parkinson’s disease.  She tweaked my Deep Brain Stimulator and gave me a wider range of settings to try.  The most interesting thing we’re trying involves a program she set up on one of the four pair of leads to decrease the frequency of the pulses but increase the voltage.  In other words, less frequent but stronger signals being sent to my brain.

The results so far have been interesting.  Many of my side effects, including voice and balance issues, have been much better.  At the same time, the meds I take are wearing off every three hours  compared to every four to four and a half hours before, and these “off” periods are hitting harder. Up to now, my “off” periods would slowly and gradually take hold, announcing their presence first in my toes and fingers and slowly moving over my entire body.  Now, it’s like a light switch being turned off, as literally one minute I’ll be fine and the next any movement at all is difficult and I am slowed to a nearly inanimate state.

So I’m learning how to deal with these new settings.  The good part is that during my “on” cycles, my peaks, while shorter in duration than before, are higher than they were, while the bad part is that I crash down harder and faster in the valleys of my “off” cycles.

Peak:  There are trade-offs, and today I was able to use my improved voice to appear on my writing group’s radio show, which I’ve been avoiding in recent months.  Today not only was I able to read a short piece I’d written, I was also able to conduct an interview with one of my favorite writers, Michael Perry.  For a half hour, we spoke about writing, and it was great, we talked and we listened to one another, and it was incredibly gratifying to have a conversation without having to worry about my ability to articulate and be clearly understood. I immensely enjoyed every moment.

Valley:  Tonight my wife and I were playing Scrabble and having our normal great time, when I crashed into a bad off period.  Suddenly, I couldn’t make my fingers work to reach into the little bag and get my letters.  She had to help me, which she did with her usual grace and good nature, and it wasn’t a big deal, because she is so good at preventing things from becoming a big deal.  But I’d be lying if I said that at least on some dark and deeper level it didn’t bother me.  The game was nearly over, we finished and spent the rest of the valley watching the Brewers lose again.

Peak: A couple of hours later I’m straightening up my office, with music playing, Frankie Valli singing “You’re just too good to be true,” and Tucker, our ten month old English shepherd puppy is lying on the floor, and I’m feeling so good I start dancing and lip synching “at long last love has arrived, I thank God I’m alive.”  Tucker looks at me and tilts his head in confusion.

Valley:  My wife is showing me some decorating she’s doing in our bedroom, and she is so animated and content that I am overwhelmed by how much I love her, and the lyrics “you’re just too good to be true” come back to me, and I realize that she is the truest thing I know. The past thirty four years we’ve been together flash in front of my eyes, and I see us as we were then and I see me as I am now and it takes all my strength not to burst into tears.

I used to get angry when I’d think of what this damned disease is doing to me and what it’s taking from us.   Lately, I just feel sad, and that worries me.  I want my anger back, I want to be able to tell my PD to go fuck itself.  There is strength in anger, and weakness in sorrow. I want to be strong again.

I need to work at that.

Readily A Parent

Twenty nine years ago this Friday, September 5th, I became a father for the first time. My oldest son, Jon, was born. Looking back on it now, I realize that I wasn’t prepared- the sleepless nights, the diaper changing, all of those inconveniences you hear about. But they were nothing, they weren’t a big deal.  What I really wasn’t prepared for was the spiritual sonic boom of love that struck me. a force of unimagined power, the first time I held my son in my arms. It was one of those rare moments in a life when I knew, as it was happening, that everything was changing, that nothing would be the same anymore.

There are things expected from a new parent that may be intimidating at first.  Things like responsibility and commitment. These sound scary at first, but they become second thought when that lighting bolt of love hits you. You know beyond the shadow of a doubt that there’s nothing you wouldn’t do on behalf of your child.  The trade off is the opportunity to see the world again through a child’s eye.  You’re given access to experience the wonder and awe of everyday living and breathing and being, and the realization of just how perfect and precious these things are.

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Jon and I cutting the grass. By the apple blossoms you can tell this is mid to late may of 1986.

Here’s an excerpt from a piece I wrote several years ago, on the occasion of Jon’s college graduation, previously posted on this site as part of a piece called “We Could be Heroes:”

* * * * *

Our first child, our son Jonathan, was born at about 8:30 on the warm late summer night of September 5th, 1985.  To say he was in no hurry to enter the world would be an understatement.  It took a pair of forceps and 35 hours of labor to bring him out.  But that’s Jon – stubborn and independent to this day, he’s always been his own man, and his entry to the world, like nearly everything that has followed, would be done on his terms, his way

I was, of course, thrilled beyond words when the doctor pronounced, “It’s a boy.”  Deb and I had been married just over four years, having bought our house in Pleasant Prairie the previous November, and we were ready for children, ready to begin raising a family.  We had purchased a modest house in what was still a pretty rural neighborhood, on 2 ½ acres of land that was once part of a large apple orchard.  When we bought the house, there were still 35 mature fruit bearing apple trees on the grounds.  Across the street from us was a large meadow that ended where 37 acres of old growth oak woods stood.  At night, in the winter, deer would make their way out of the woods and through the meadow to eat the remaining apples that had fallen on the ground in our yard.  One evening, Deb and I counted seven deer feeding in our front yard.  We were convinced this was the right environment for our children to be raised in.

The first night Jon was home with us, we put him in his crib in the bedroom next to ours and watched him fall asleep.  Moments later a severe thunderstorm hit that shook the rafters of the house for hours.  With each crack of lighting and boom of thunder, we were awake and in his room, the two of us, amazed every time to find him still peacefully asleep.

It seemed for the next two years that that would be the only night he slept through.  We had these cheap baby monitor walkie-talkie gizmos, one listening in his room and the other broadcasting in our room.  My ear was trained such that when the slightest sound of static would carry over these airwaves, I’d wake and shoot like a rocket out of bed into Jon’s room, and if he was in fact awake, I’d get a bottle out of the fridge, sit him on my lap in the wooden rocking chair we had put in front of the big window in his room, and rock him to sleep.  This was our nightly ritual for nearly all of the first two years of his life.  I almost always got up before Deb, even the nights when I’d lie awake and wait for either his crying to stop or Deb to get up, whichever came first, until I could stand it no more and got up, at which point Deb would stop pretending and fall back asleep for real.

But I didn’t mind waking up and spending that time with my boy.   I was head over heels in love with him.  There in the soft lamplight of the night in that rocking chair in his room, I’d talk to him in hushed, soothing tones, comforting him and reading to him.  Over the course of several months I actually read to him in its entirety Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild,” knowing full well that he understood little of it but happy to have an excuse to re-read the favorite book of my own childhood.


John and I in the rocking chair where I used to tell him the story of the Jon-Star. To our right is Paco, a St. Bernard-Collie mix that was always on guard for Jon.

When the night would get too long and it was time for him and I to both get back to sleep, I’d position the rocking chair so we could see the night sky thru the big window in his room, and I’d point to the bright star in the west and tell him the story of the Jon-star.  The Jon-star, I explained, was the one star out of the millions of stars in the sky that burned brightest for Jon and Jon alone, and no matter when, no matter where in the world he might find himself, if he was ever lost in the night, all he had to do was find that star and say, “Dad”, and no matter where I was, I’d hear him, and know he was lost.  And at that moment, I’d look to the sky, and the Jon-star would also burn brightest for me, and no matter where I was or how far away Jon was, I’d follow that star and I’d find him, and he wouldn’t be lost anymore.

 * * *  * *

Jon is an adult now, working and living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He’s a professional, with a job as safety coordinator for a regional airline.  Jon always loved airplanes and flying, having majored in aviation at St. Cloud State university. He’s turned out to be an exceptional man:  bright, confident, capable and caring. I sense sometimes when we’re together that he’s looking out for me, and I realize now that the light of the Jon-star shines both ways, and that if I’m ever lost, he’ll find me.

I am so proud of the man my son has grown up to be. I know that as a father, I can only take so much credit for how he’s turned out. I know I made mistakes, I know  I made my share of bad decisions, I have my share of regrets. Thankfully, Jon’s been strong enough to overcome my missteps.

But one thing has remained constant all these years – my love for my son is as pure and powerful as when it first struck, and I am a stronger and better man for it.


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Jon’s first flying lesson