My Friend’s Baby

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Yesterday, I watched a little girl in a box get covered with dirt.  She was two days old.  We tried to understand what happened to her, how she died, because we want to make some sense of what happened, to make our own evaluation of whether someone could have prevented her death.  Did she get good care?  Was there justice?  But we don’t know the answers to that.  We don’t know the answers to anything.

Our friends buried their baby and we stood with them and watched, because that was the only thing left we could do for them.   The grandfather of the child told us that she is not in that box; she is in God’s arms in heaven.  I believe that.  I believe our son is in heaven and their daughter is in heaven.  I can’t prove that to you.  You can believe that my belief is wishful thinking.

It’s a huge cemetery, much bigger than we realized.  It went on and on.  It’s simple and cluttered and crowded, mostly with wooden markers.  I read many children’s markers on the way to her grave.  It isn’t manicured, it isn’t laid out pristine in precision rows.  No one spent thousands of dollars to reserve a spot, to buy a casket, nor to chisel granite or marble as a reminder.

We surrounded the open grave.  They opened the top part of her tiny box so we could her face, embalmed and still.

Her father gives his kindness to everyone.  He always, I mean literally always offers his smile to me when I see him, and his smile is beautiful.  His smile is kindness and encouragement.  He used to work at our school but he changed schools, so I don’t see him every day like I did before.  He has been married for five years, and for five years they have hoped to have a child.  Then they learned she was pregnant, and carried that hope for nine months.  And then we were watching dirt cover the box.

I had never told my friend that our son died, because you don’t just bring that up in conversation.  But I told him as we walked back through the cemetery.  I don’t imagine it helped, because “help” is not a word that makes sense there.  Nothing makes it better.  There are no “right” words.  No words change anything.  But I wanted him to know I was with him, and that our friendship and our shared grief were why I stood out with there with him at noon on a Sunday, with his family, and his community.  Because there’s nothing you can do, but you still do what you can.

Somewhere out there, where I don’t and can never live, I have an 18-year-old son who plays with my 8-year-old boy.  He’s following his older sister, one year ahead, who’s in college already, figuring out where he wants to go, what he wants to do next year.  Though his little brother is blonde, he has brown hair like me.  Does he love to read and play ultimate?  Does he ignore us and roll his eyes and stay out late and drive us insane?  Is he going to use his passion and brilliance to make the world a better place, or just to make a lot of money?

In this world I live in, I still have the ashes of a baby boy in a tiny little box.  We’ve never felt like it was the right place to bury them.  The baby boy is in heaven, of course, and all my hope is there with him, but I still have the box.

That life and this life are what I recount to myself as I watch them shovel the dirt over that box and it disappears, as I watch the life here of that tiny girl disappear from her parents’ eyes, and all they will ever see of her here are reflections when they see children whose age she would have been, when they ask themselves “Would she have looked like that?” or “Is that how she would have laughed?”  I pray to God that my friends will have a child, a brother or sister to their little girl.  I pray that’s not the only time they will hold their own child here.

And I pray for the time when we will hold all our children again.

 

A Semi-Serious Discussion of New Year’s Resolutions

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So, did you make any?

Tis the season to make massive, life-changing pronouncements about the as yet unmarred calendar stretched out before us.

This year, I’m going to be good.

I’ve read a bunch of articles and blog posts mocking or dismissing New Year’s resolutions.  I get it.  Imagining we’re suddenly going to be different and fix all the things we dislike about ourselves because the page flipped from December to January is a bit of wishful thinking.  My friend Dan, who guest-wrote my last blog post, said this in a recent Facebook post:

“January 1st, 2016 has been an awesome day. I don’t believe in New Years Resolutions, in part because my first AA sponsor drilled in my head ‘one day at a time is all your little mind can handle Koenigs.’ Today was a great day, going to make tomorrow a great day when I wake up.”

I really like this approach, and everyone in recovery understands the wisdom implied.  Making big plans for the rest of the year–or the rest of my life–is often a super way to implement absolutely no change whatsoever.  Any of us who sin and repent have said, at least once, “I will never do that again!”  Uh-huh.  Wouldn’t that be nice?  Just swear off that pesky sin and be done with it?  The only “never” I can accurately report from my experience is that this never works for me.  Taking life on a day at a time, seeking to make changes a day, an hour, a minute at a time, turns out to be as much as we can handle.

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”  –Jesus

Continue reading

Fighting for Hope: Recovering from Addiction

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First, thanks for reading and for all the encouragement in response to my last few posts.  I often experience some inner backlash when I try to be that honest; hearing that it’s helping people makes the difference between keeping it up and gnawing on my spleen.

Part One addressed cynicism, Part Two depression, and Part Three overcoming our fears and naive faith to find hope in life’s depths.  Now we’re addressing addiction.

I’ve asked my friend, Dan Koenigs, to write this post.  Dan was two years ahead of me in high school.  We were casual friends then, each pretty messed up in our own ways.  Now we’re true friends, because we have the same hope in common.

Dan is changing the world.  This is how it happens, one day and one decision at a time.  Dan’s been sober for 24 years and works as a counselor for people with substance abuse issues.

If you think you are beyond hope, or doubt you can change the world, or have given up on ever recovering from your addiction, read Dan’s story.  Dan is a very good reason for hope.

onedayatatime


 

 Proverbs 20:1 “Wine is a mocker; beer a carouser…Those it leads astray won’t become wise.”

I have yet to meet an alcoholic who chose to be one.  This blog is not meant to be a discussion on the validity of the Disease Concept or a discussion on willpower.  Here is what I know: alcohol affected me at an early age in ways that I still have a hard time understanding.  Maybe it was my dysfunctional childhood, maybe it was the acceptance of underage drinking by my family, maybe it was a result of being sexually abused by a Catholic Priest at the age of 12, or perhaps it was indeed a genetic thing.

Here is what is important: I had my first real drink at the age of 12 or 13 and I learned early that I could drink and I forgot, forgot everything.  I would drink to forget the pain of being alone, the pain of being sexually abused, the pain of feeling like I was not accepted by others or the pain of not knowing who I was.

Relief drinking is what I was doing and like all addictions, the relief does not last long and then I would drink more.  I became good at hiding it or at least I think I hid it because no one seemed to notice that I was drinking on a regular basis.  At the age of 16 I was drinking more days than not. Continue reading

Guns and People

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Everyone, or seemingly everyone, is arguing over gun control versus gun rights.  It’s a crucial topic.  When I read the arguments, it feels like the people debating live in different realities.  In one, having more guns makes us safer.  In the other, having fewer guns makes us safer.

It can’t be both.  Mr. McAvoy, best teacher I ever had (with apologies to all my other great teachers), taught us logic and this one can’t compute.  We can’t have more AND fewer guns; we can’t be safer with more and fewer guns.  One is right.  The other is wrong.

Now, right this second, as you’re reading this, I’m guessing you are preparing for what I’m about to say.  “Does he agree with me?  Is he on the right side?  Is he friend or foe?”

So here is my position:  Stop treating one another hatefully.  Please.  Stop brutalizing one another in your online arguments.  Are you arguing that way face to face with people?  Calling them idiots and morons and expletive-expletiving expletives?  If so, stop that, too.  I’m serious.  Please, stop.

Because a)No one ever, in the history of history, won an argument that way–“best name-calling wins”–no one’s heart was ever converted through being called a (&@#%(&, b)We need a revolution of kindness and compassion and empathy and that could start with not demeaning strangers or Facebook “friends.”

Is the issue of how we handle gun issues in the U.S. important?  Absolutely.  It’s crucially important.  Lives depend on it, innocent lives, students’ lives, preschoolers’ lives.  It’s too important for us to keep behaving like this.

Recently, a few friends and I, who occupy different places on the political spectrum, started a Facebook group.  It’s private.  We are attempting to discuss the issue of guns in the U.S. with people with whom we disagree, in a respectful, intelligent, rational manner, including doing research, presenting our findings, and listening to one another.  We just started, so I don’t have any great testimonies yet as to how much we’ve accomplished.  And yet, I do: we have been respectful and we are listening to one another. “How big of a factor is mental illness in mass shootings?”  One of our folks works with the mentally ill and has experience.  We’re learning.

Here is the truth that most people don’t like, taught to me by one of my lifetime best friends, after he did…years of research:  the statistics DON’T make a clear case for one conclusion or the other.  There are too many factors, too many numbers, and while it is extremely easy (and tempting) to cherry pick to make one’s case, the overall picture is much more ambiguous and difficult to interpret.  If that makes you angry, because you want your side of the argument to be right and obvious, I hear you.  I felt the same when he sent me all his findings.  But it isn’t.  Have you noticed that there are “conclusive” arguments thrown around all the time, about which states have more restrictive laws, what the trends clearly demonstrate, how in other countries it is so OBVIOUS that [Insert desired conclusion here].  Australia had a mass shooting in 1996, made their gun control laws much stricter, and have not had a mass shooting since then; Switzerland has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world, and has very low rates of violent crime.  But neither of those proves anything in regard to the gun debate in the U.S.  They don’t, in and of themselves, even prove anything about Australia and Switzerland.  They are correlations, but those simple facts do not prove causation.  For countries with millions of people, crime rates involve a complexity of factors that interrelate.  Australia has 24 million people, Switzerland has 8 million, and the United States has 319 million.

Yet we argue as if a)Switzerland has many guns, b)Switzerland has low violent crime rate, therefore c)many guns results in low violent crime rate.  Or a)Australia had a mass shooting and adopted stricter gun control laws, b)Australia has had no subsequent mass shooting, c)stricter gun control laws prevent mass shootings.  AND THEN we scream at each other when this “logic” fails to convert people to our truth.  We spit our truisms and act shocked when the other side can’t grasp the obvious.

These are real people we are arguing with.  These are people made in the image of God and adored by God.  These people are us.  I mean, we.  We are these people.  I, along with all of you, want never again to see that children have been shot in a school.  I want us to find a solution.  I want us to change this undercurrent in our culture from being so violent, so hateful, so destructive and self-destructive.

I am guessing you are not a mass murderer.  You are not going to commit the next school shooting.  So what can you do to stop the next one?

Refuse to contribute to or participate in the culture of mockery, hatred and illogic that has become the public debate over guns.  Treat others as you would want to be treated.  Listen.  Read the arguments and evidence produced by both sides.  Think beyond sound bites.  There is no simple solution.  But propagating a politics of hate, of making people who disagree with us the enemy, is a cause, not a solution.

Here is a crazy thought:  how we treat one another may do more toward finding a solution than whichever political stance we hold.  No, murderous, mentally ill people aren’t going to stop because we start speaking politely.  But somebody knows the person who plans to commit the next atrocity.  I don’t care if that sounds naive, it’s actually true.  I believe that our acts of kindness can transform people and I’m willing to bet you have a story to back that up.  We do have a large mentally ill population, which I fear is increasing.  Thinking together and problem-solving toward solutions for their plight will do more than getting righteously angry that someone disagrees with our stance.  It’s not as gratifying in the short-term.  It takes a lot more effort and time and costs us a lot more than typing out a flaming comment that our sixty friends who agree with us will “like.”

Here is a crazier thought:  it may be more important for us that we treat others with respect and kindness and civility than it is for the people whom we are addressing.  We are formed by the words we use; we are formed by the way we disagree.  We form our collective culture in large part through the sum of our interactions.  In the same way that forgiveness can most benefit the forgiver, my decision of how I treat the fool jackass fellow human being made in God’s image with whom I disagree could be the key to my transformation.

That’s what I think about guns and people: we need to love people, and I’m thinking about the guns.  I promise.  I hope you are, too.

 

For more insights into how we treat one another within social media, read this:  http://jaysondbradley.com/2015/09/03/3-ways-social-medias-turning-us-into-monsters/#sthash.Sy5bgW0D.dpbs