Friday, May 6, 2011

The Death of the Boogey Man!

Where were you when evil died?

It was the kind of spring day that you wait all year for. I had spent this Sunday doing projects around the house and yard, taking full advantage of this unusually warm first day of May. So when it was recommended we roast hot dogs at the fire pit in the back yard for dinner, the whole family was on board. With a house of full of girls, there can be times when personalities clash. But there was something about this day that created a nice family camaraderie. Everyone was playing nice.

I think we had all finished our first dog when one of the girls checked their Facebook news feed. My youngest daughter’s voice took on a higher pitch then normal when she said “we killed Osama Bin Laden”. I grabbed my phone to see for myself. The first post I saw was from a friend who wrote “just seems unreal to finally catch the Boogey Man”. Then post after post came across my phone about how “we got him”, “Hell Yes” and “God Bless America!!!” Bin Laden was dead and the world seemed pretty sure of it. I think when online people can be naïve some times, believing what they read from others to be the truth but this was different. There seemed to be a certainty in every single post that our greatest enemy was gone.

For almost ten years the name Osama Bin Laden conjured up visions of pure evil. I don’t know if he truly hated America for our beliefs or for something we had done but there was no mistake that he wanted us all dead. To me it’s unfathomable how you could plan the death of thousands by flying two planes into the Twin Towers simply because we are “infidels” and our way of life was so offensive to him. I know the lines of good and evil are usually blurred and I am not naïve enough to think we have always been in the right. But this guy would have gone to any lengths to see us pay for our “disgusting way of life”.

As we finished up our fire pit family time, I started to wonder what this victory might mean for us. It had been so long since we began our hunt for Osama Bin Laden I really wondered more than once if and when we would get him OR if he was even still alive. Naturally, the radical Islamist factions would hate us even more for his execution. No doubt there would be attempts at retaliation against us and our allies. The killing of the figure head of Al Qaeda would come at a price and would fuel the radicals’ fire even brighter. But how would America react? If Facebook represents the opinions of America then there was pride in making our Boogey Man pay with his life. But was it right to cheer so loud? Could we, through our celebrating his death, send the wrong message? To me, something was not right here. Then the fireworks went off… literally.

In the neighborhood, someone was celebrating with fireworks. And it was more than just one person. I could hear fireworks going off throughout the area. People were showing their joy by rejoicing like it was the Fourth of July. In my head I could see the people out in their front yards, cheering and hollering; but should we openly rejoice the death of a man, even one as evil as him? My mind wandered back to the hours after September 11th, 2001. I remembered the unbelievable visions of the Towers falling and then seeing on TV the crowds of people in countries like Pakistan cheering the death of US citizens. It sickened me that people would be so hateful that they would cheer the destruction of over 3000 innocent people.

I am not confused that Bin Laden was in any way innocent and was not in fact pure evil. But as it so often happens the lines become blurred in the right thing to do. Would someone in a Middle Eastern country feel a little sick to see us applauding Osama’s killing? Maybe we should have done a little more congratulating the Navy Seals for a job well done and perhaps more quiet hooray. I consider myself a patriot and I love the USA. I fly my flag on national holidays, I put my hand over my heart and say “Under God” proudly at the Pledge of Allegiance. I don’t condemn others for cheering loud at their pride of our country and what this incident means. I just think I would have done different. I did do it different. Nothing good comes from gloating.

There always needs to be payment for acts of evil and to the victor go the spoils. I remember the story of when Japan was surrendering at the end of WWII. They wanted to hold the signing in private but the US would not agree. America wanted the world to see how Japan was surrendering after waging a brutal and unprovoked war with us…and losing. The signing took place on the deck of the USS Missouri, right in Tokyo Bay, for all to see. But even within the exuberance of victory one needs to show humility. Bin Laden paid for his heinous crimes with his life and all the world will know without us being pompous. But I am glad he is dead. This will not only send a message to others about taking up arms against us but Osama’s death will hopefully bring some closure to the victims of the attacks on 9/11. Payment has been collected here.

But how will we act now that our biggest Boogey Man is gone? Will we be vigilant against terrorists that still want to kill us or will be overconfident about this long awaited but giant success? There has always been a bad guy to hate throughout history and to help us drum up our resolve. Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein all brought us together and helped march us towards victory. It’s much easier to hate an evil man than it is a faceless country. Who will be the next face of evil? It’s hard to believe anyone will come along as incredibly wicked as Osama Bin Laden.

Do you remember how the world came together after September 11th at the idea of fighting the evil of Bin Laden? Do you remember how we had resolve and common purpose? And for a while we were all proud again to be Americans. It would be nice to find that commonality without the need for the face of evil. But to think we can come together that way might just be naïve and that’s not my way. I don’t look forward to Bin Laden’s replacement but you know there will be one. Our world will always have a Boogey Man. Our job will be to take the high road when he arrives…and departs.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Is This Goodbye?

As I arrived in Palm Springs this February evening, I realized I was about 30 minutes earlier than I told her I would be. I was reaching for my phone to call my mother about my early arrival as I thought how comforting it was to be in such mild weather. Back home we were experiencing a bit of a cold snap so this temperate air was a welcome change. As I connected with my mom she told me that it would be a few more minutes before she arrived and that I should stay inside the terminal to stay warm. Due to her desert acclamation, anything less than 75 degrees was cold but still I had to chuckle to myself. Here I was flying into town to support my mom but true to her nature she wanted to take care of me.

It was only a week before my arrival here that I got that call that shook me to my core and was the cause of this trek. My oldest sister Cindy phoned to tell me that my mom had called in Hospice to help care for my dad. How could this be? I knew he was back in the hospital but he should be getting better by now. Calling in Hospice seemed to mean that this was the end of his life. He had just left Vancouver a few weeks before and I thought he was getting stronger. But I hadn’t seen this recent decline and as usual my mom had been insulating me from how bad it really was. Protecting me. But Hospice meant he was going to die and soon.

I didn’t know what to think. There were so many variables that I didn’t have the answers to. Was he really this sick or was my mom making a mistake? I know that there are others in her life who gives her advice all the time. Between her Palm Springs girlfriends and my sisters, there is no shortage of suggestions that comes her way. But was this counsel the right thing to do? Were these others coming from a platform of looking at both my mom AND my dad’s interest. I just didn’t know. But I knew I had to find out. If my mom was right I needed to say good bye to my dad before he died and give my mom support. But if she was wrong, this was going to get messy.

One part of the equation that really bothered me was hearing that my mom was not telling my dad he was in Hospice care. If this was the right decision why not tell him? One of the answers to this question could be he wasn’t sick enough to warrant Hospice. I knew this was a terrible thing to think but this is where your mind goes when you are trying to cope with the sudden news your dad will soon be dead. But I am not the type to except things I believe to be possibly wrong. So south I went.
It was great to see my mom as she pulled up to the airport. I am always impressed with how put together she is. Here she is dealing with the end of life with her husband of 55 years yet her shoes match her purse which complements her jacket which is accented by some sort blingy broach. She is always the perfect lady and it wasn’t until sharing a glass of wine later that night that she would drop her composure to show her stress. Yet it was this topic I was most concerned about that made her break down for the first time. She said she couldn’t even tell some of her friends that called with concern for my dad that he was in Hospice care. As she spoke the words her voice cracked and the pain of what she was dealing with rose to the surface. Clearly she was bothered by her choice but now was not the time for me to ask. I think you learn more sometimes if you just listen. I patted her shoulder but kept my silence. There would be time for questions tomorrow.

Waking up to blue Palm Spring skies the next morning was a contradiction to the gloomy day ahead. As much as I needed to see my dad as soon as possible I was dreading what the day would bring. The fact was that no matter what my discovery was this day, there would be sadness. And there was the idea of going to the Hospice facility that gave me pause. Both my grandparents on my dad’s side lived in a nursing home the last several years of their life. Sunday’s of my youth were spent visiting them and I remember how scary I thought it was.

Nursing facilities were akin to what I thought were insane asylums. As I would walk down the halls where my grandparents lived their final days I remember my fear of the others who seemed trapped in this hell hole. There were sounds of despair and moans coming from the rooms that scared me to my bones. And then there were the patients that would stand in the doorways wanting to reach out and touch me. It always seemed one of them would pull me into their room and then I would become crazy too. To this young boy there was not much worse than our visits to this place. I knew visiting my dad today in a like facility would bring back memories.

Walking into my dad’s room for the first time instantly answered the big question for me. He was in bad shape. He seemed to have less hair than he did just a few weeks prior. His mouth seemed pried open in an unnatural way and his cheeks were sunken in almost resembling a skeleton. The color of his skin had an unhealthy gray tint. But when he saw me he reached out with both his hands and his eyes reached out to me. He was aware of his surroundings. He tried to speak but nothing seemed to come out. I had always heard that with Parkinson’s it’s your body that betrays you…not your mind. So much that in the end you can’t even swallow. Years prior, I asked my dad if Parkinson’s would kill you. He said no but you get to the point you wished it would. This ran through my brain and I wondered if my dad wanted to die. And I thought of how ironic it was that there was a “Get Well” balloon hovering in the corner of his room. He was not going to get well.

Talking with my dad in this condition was hard for me. I guess I worry too much about other’s feeling in these types of situations. I felt terrible the few times my dad would try to speak that I couldn’t understand him. I hurt that all that effort he put into put forcing out a word was lost because I couldn’t hear him. Watching him mouth the soundless words was painful. But I figured I would try to hear him.
In a matter of moments the mission of this trip became clear and more focused. This was no longer a fact finding trip. This would be an exercise in support for my mom and my farewell visit with my dad. Over the years, my relationship with my dad has been strained. But I noticed that in a flash our past frictions became insignificant with no relevance at all. And maybe I was here for another reason. Maybe I could somehow make this dreadful situation just a little bit better, for him. My dad was soon to die but he didn’t know that my mom was ready to let him go.

After visiting with him for a while and helping him eat his meal, he fell into what I assumed was a common state of medicated sleep. This was a good time for my mom and me to leave for a visit. As true to her nature, my mom was worried about taking me someplace wonderful for lunch. Some might think it’s superficial but I think it’s her way to take care of others. She wants to make sure you have the best experience you can and she sees it as her job to help that happen. And her choice for our outside lunch this day exceptional.

My mom is great at keeping her “brave face” on. Seldom does she let others see anything other than a wonderful outward appearance. But I could tell she was badly stressed and needed to talk. We talked about what type of service she wished to have for my dad. We talked about needing to make arrangements for cremation. We even talked about the fact that she has never set up the voice mail on her cell phone. But then I brought up the big topic; telling her I thought it was a mistake to not tell dad he was in Hospice. I understood how it must be hard but she needed to think of how she would feel if the roles were reversed. She would want to know and he deserved the same. What if he had something he wanted to say before he leaves this earth? What if he had unfinished business that needed some sort of resolution? I told her that she thought she was making it easier for him but in reality she was making it easier for her. As hard as it was tell him it needed to be done.
Surprisingly enough she agreed almost immediately that he needed to be told. I think she knew this but perhaps just needed to verbal affirmation to make it happen. I could see a relief from her face that was almost beyond words. I didn’t think that her not telling him was a burden to her but it was. Her whole demeanor changed at the idea of telling him and she knew what she needed to do. I guess she just needed someone to say it was ok he was going to die.

After stopping to take care of his cremation arrangements, it was time to head back for to see my dad. But this visit was different from earlier in the day. He was less responsive to me. When he slept, his breathing was much more labored. I could visibly see a decline in the couple of hours since I left. I confirmed that his time with us was short.

Having a new found sense of what she needed to do, my mom wasted no time in telling my dad what needed to said. Within a few minutes of our arrived she made the announcement. “Chuck, do you know where you are? You are in HOSPICE!”…I almost bite off my tongue. I thought, Jesus, Mom, ease into it. But I think she was relieved to have made the decision to tell him and I think my presence gave her strength. But thinking back on how she blurted out this declaration in contrast to her trepidation makes me laugh.

My visit to Palm Springs involved more time visiting with my mom and taking about what needed to be done planning the passing of my dad. We also talked about the upcoming next phase of her life. I feel I was able to help by just allowing her to say the words that perhaps she thought were wrong to say. But I also got the satisfaction of doing some projects around her house. We men have our uses and we like taking care of our women folk..especially our mothers who we love like no other.
Before leaving town on my noon flight I told Mom I needed to see Dad one more time. I knew there were words that needed to be said. With time short, I knew there would be no other chance.

As we arrived at the care facility, his nurse, Sara, wanted to give us a warning. She was the nurse taking care of my dad and he couldn’t have been in better care. I think that if there are angels here on earth they work for Hospice. Sara told us that they had not been able to wake him this morning. She said he had not eaten nor had any of his pain medication. She said she didn’t want to scare us but she thought this was the beginning a coming decline. She said she was truly sorry.

I tried to wake my dad but nothing worked. Knowing this was the last time I would see him alive I decided to tell him what I needed to say, whether he was awake or not. Half laying on the bed with him I held his hand and his face at the same time. Leaning close to his face, I told him what needed to be said:

“Dad, I wanted to talk to you. I know the next time I see you we will be with Jesus. And that’s ok. I want you to be at peace. I love you and I want to thank you for all you have done for me and our family. You were a good father and a good provider. You have been a good teacher and the man I am today is, in large part, because of you. So relax and know we will be ok. I love you very much and I will see you again.”

I got some of the words out without breaking up. I could see my tears dripping down on his face as I spoke and I hoped that if my words weren’t actually heard by him that my feeling of love for him would somehow be absorbed through his sleep. This was it. This was the last time with him. I wouldn’t get another chance. I needed no regrets and I didn’t want it any other way.

After thanking Sara for all she did for my dad, we headed for the airport. Riding in the car through the city of Snowbirds towards my flight home, I realized that things would never be the same. My mom thanked me for not only for my help but for my positive attitude. She said that I helped her be more positive herself and she wanted me to know she loves me very much for the man I had become. Damn it! And I had just stopped crying.

Walking to my gate at the airport I got one last call from my mom. She wanted to tell me of her best memory of dad in the last few days. I had suggested to Mom that due to his limited communication ability she needed to ask him only one question at a time. He would then raise or lower his thumb in response. But mom would get busy and forget, again asking him two questions simultaneously, frustrating my dad. The day before I politely scolded Mom (for about the 10th time) about asking two questions at once and just then Mom told me to look quickly at my dad. He had a surprisingly big smile on his face and forced out a chuckle, all the while pointing at my mom. It was if to say “See Marilyn, someone else notices your foolish questions, too”. It made me smile, too.

As my plane took off I looked out the window to the mountains surrounding the Coachella Valley. I thought to myself that soon the snow would melt announcing the change in seasons as Palm Springs warmed up going into the summer. Just then I felt the familiar jolts of the desert “thermals”, causing turbulence through the plane. I thought of the irony of how turbulent the coming days would be for my mom and my entire family. But I am thankful for the chance to say goodbye. It will make the rest of my journey just a little smoother.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

My Life As A Facebook Whore!

“Your husband is a Facebook Whore!”

These not so kind words were told to my wife Laura at her 30th class reunion this last summer by one of her former classmates. Not that I disagree with the general idea that one might say that, at times, I am committed to frequent communication with this very popular social media place but these words sounded harsh. Whore? That term is usually reserved for persons acting promiscuously with some sort of indiscriminate nature. That very term might lend one to think I do what I do without purpose. And when this unflattering term was used to describe me, I wasn’t even around to protect my honor.

As it happens to us often, fate had double booked this evening for Laura and me. The night of her 30th reunion was also the night of one of my oldest friend’s daughter’s wedding and to me our friendship meant that I needed to attend. Laura would head to her reunion; I would go to the wedding and then meet up with her. I graduated from the same high school just a year before Laura so I know much of her class and call some of them friends. I also figured Laura going alone for the first part of the night worked well as this would give her some quality time with her fellow alumni. Little did I know that my Facebook activities would be such a hot topic for her chatty friends. She mentioned that many of her friends commented on how often I post on FB.

Now Laura couldn’t care less about being on Facebook. She is not on and she says she has no intention of joining. She is a fairly private person so she doesn’t get why we want to share the intimate details of our lives OR read snapshots of others people’s world. She loved watching recently when the 88 ½ year old actress Betty White bashed Facebook on Saturday Night Live as “an incredible waste of time”. The feisty Ms. White had the audience roaring when she joked that in her time it was a punishment to have to view your friend’s pictures from their last family vacation. So when Laura heard from her classmates that I was “all over Facebook”, this was fuel for her eternal teasing me of what I think she views as my love of the spotlight. She loves me but she has always mocked me that I have never met a stage or microphone I didn’t love. So hearing that some of her former school chums told her that I am “always on FB” was cause for what I can only imagine as the world’s biggest eye roll.

When I heard the term whore used to describe me I was taken aback just a little. Was I over using Facebook? Could I be the butt of many jokes about those that are addicted to posting the trivial and boring sides of their lives? This last year there was a hilarious TV commercial for Verizon that depicted a family intervention. But it was two teenage kids that were confronting their parents about their insistent and relentless trivial and inappropriate Facebook and Twitter posting. Could this be me? It made me examine and at least re-evaluate to myself why I do what I do and why I am here. As I always say, one must look in the mirror first.

Those that know me know that I want to have a purpose in life…I want to make a difference. This drive can be good and it can be bad. I hope that my kids are better off because I tend to have a reason for what I do and what I teach them but the bad side, for them, is that life is sometimes “one big learning opportunity”. I tend to over explain why I had them do what they did and I tend to give “lectures”. Of course, this is how they explain it and I think what I do makes sense. To me, I want clarity and I want all to understand why what was done, was done. To ensure this I communicate and I communicate often. I have said for years that 95% of the world’s problems can be solved with better communication. So it would seem that this natural tendency to communicate makes my FB contact easy for me. But my reason is more than just big communication.

Have I mentioned I like to make a difference? I don’t know why we feel the way we do but we are all driven by something that is actually bigger than who we are at this very moment. I read a book years ago called Now, Discover Your Strengths that explains we are wired the way we are by a very young age and that for the most part we have no control over it. Environment does have something to do with who we become but our core inner drive is written into us like some sort of never changing computer program. So my deal is being influential and I think I enjoy using Facebook to do just that.

My wife says I am a bit of a control freak but I think that most people don’t realize how much they can control the world around them. I am not talking about world domination here but we all have the ability to control our world to some extent. If you don’t believe me then try this experiment. Take a week and be extremely nice to everyone around you…your work, your friends and your family. Be helpful and kind, patient and go out of your way to be a really good person. Listen closely to those in your life and really show them that you care. Now, in the second week, do just the opposite. Be short and unfair. Don’t help others and make their life difficult when they are around you. Then tell me you don’t control the world… your world both positively and negatively. How we act in life helps us, to some extent, control the world around us. We all have influence and how we use it is different for all of us. But what does this have to do with FB, you say?

I am a very social person and I love keeping in contact with my friends. I also like to entertain. And of course I like to make a difference. Bringing a smile to someone or at least giving them some sort of positive inspiration makes me feel good. FB gives me a chance to fill these needs. Sometimes I make myself the butt of my own jokes but it’s all under the banner of entertaining and hopefully brings a chuckle to someone.

I also like to brag up my kids. But I do that for me as much as I do it for them. I am proud of who they are and I want them and everyone else to know. To me, recognition is very important. If you want someone to do more of a positive thing, make a huge deal about it. But there I go again with that control freak thing.
Facebook is its own incredible reality and it is now re-defining our world, even as we speak. But really what makes it special is what we do with it. Who thought years ago we would have a way to give so many others so much information about us and we think that they want to know. I don’t think Mark Zuckerberg is a genius for inventing FB but I do think how he has capitalized on its success is brilliant. It’s not what is there but what you do with it.

So I am ok with being called this less than flattering name about my use of Facebook. And to be fair, if this application wasn’t available on my phone I wouldn’t be connected nearly as much as I am. But I love being in contact with my friends and hearing about their lives. It’s great to hear about my friend Eric’s hunting trips to Texas or stories of flight delays due to an erupting volcano for my friend Zaira on her way back home to Costa Rica. Sure, there are those occasional updates from people telling us about their intestinal problems or complaining about their husbands but for the most part it is people just sharing their world and wanting to connect.

I will continue to share things about my life, my family, my job and my friends. I am sure there will be more attempts at entertaining my FB friends and I am sure there will be more tries at being humorous. There are many people in my life that regularly remind me that I am NOT as funny as I think I am. But that’s ok. I will still try to make a difference because that is what drives me. But I admit I like my FB world and thanks friends, for letting me share.

Getting up from my seat in the audience, I walk to podium. Nervously, I begin by looking out on the crowd, forcing the words from my mouth.

“Hi, I’m Scott…and I’m a Facebook whore”.