FROM THE DESK OF D

A SELECTION OF THE BEST WRITINGS BY BADORACLE

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2009

(MY PERSONAL FAVORITE - BEST I'VE EVER WRITTEN)


Forever


I was young in that place where we are all young, when the world seems larger, the fires seem to warm you better, and the fallen leaves and frozen world of snow just create new landscapes of adventure. I remember perfect, clear ocean water and the smell of salt in the air as spring finally gave way to summer.

And there are other kinds of seasons. There are the seasons of childhood and paper-glue constructions and grade-school innocence. There are the seasons of awkward glances and school dances. There are the seasons of the first warm blush of love, where the world will always be the clearest and the sunlight reveals only new endless moments, which you can time-travel within - because in that season we can all stop time.

There are the seasons of friendship and those of first duty and dedication where there’s less time for memories and where people rely upon us for their living and their life. There are the seasons of loss when we find that it is possible for endings to come abruptly and hit us with the power and weight of the whole world – maybe the universe. There’s the season of beauty, when we discover we can see the world through the eyes of our children, if we’re willing to try. There’s the season of strength and will, when we discover we can, indeed, overcome.

There’s a season for all of it.

Let the slideshow of your life spool through you. See the images of all those yesterdays, once so overwhelming – now so light and delicate, like pale tracings on fine tissue. Does any of it have enough texture to wash you back – even for a moment – so you can know, even in the Autumn of your life, what it felt like in that first summer kiss?

How many years – how many seasons before the boatman comes for us all? Or will we warriors be fortunate and be carried aloft by valkaries, flashing silver and gold in their ivory chariots, stiff battle harness, heavy horses clad in polished iron, unearthly breath clouding in the crisp air of our endings?

Give me the tall drinking mug and I will toast heartily your exploits and beauty – I’ll toast your future and exclaim in lofty words, your unending power and eternal, untouchable grace. We will wake the sleeping countryside with the great call of the living and certain immortals.

I know the way to the future. See it – it is just there beyond the next stand of trees, waiting for us, promising a new season and a new beginning. The promise is always new and always seems to shine with its’ own light and soul. Whether we choose to grasp it and breathe into it and make it real and whole – it is all there. See the birds, tilting amongst the heights and haze of our horizon. But are they birds or angels? Do they call for our action, or come for our release?

Compassion and forgiveness are the gifts of angels, should we choose to accept them. In our new seasons we can do that, and open our hearts, feel the smile warm us, and go to our sleep knowing that the day we have just been given has been truly lived as if it were our last.

And if given the chance, we will live it again tomorrow.

We can have forever.

 

 


TUESDAY, JANUARY 19, 2010

Light bearers


The fire of heroism has been reduced to a spark in the depths and grainy textures of a long winter night in our world today. Listen to the sad tales of those lost on the hidden paths, but also hear the gleeful laughter of the mad and twisted, their toxic words and venom blistering in its’ intensity.

Their cackling nearly glows with a dark light of its’ own. Their politician teeth flash menacing in the ink black of an age which seems to threaten eternity. But they are the only creatures, which can see in these dim environs, and they are only interested in the pain of others. The rest of us may feel simply lost in the dark, wishing or praying with voices thin and raw, that we will live long enough to see daybreak.

But there are light-bearers.

Sometimes those who bring the light and preserve our freedom are seen as giants. They stride amongst us as great and revered and we all know their names. Those who don’t know these names are missing such great stories and understanding, that they can’t possibly form opinions that make any sense in their lives. If we were to name some of these beacons to our shared history, we might cite Jefferson or Adams or Washington. If we’re a little more steeped in history, we may claim Jones or Barry – and so many others.

But the plain truth actually often comes in plain clothes. The light isn’t held only in the hands of the mighty, but often nurtured and protected and carried by regular people, unknowingly, until its' dim ember is given new life. Most of these regular people stumble through life, just trying to stay breathing from one moment to the next. Their threadbare clothes are the last thing they will ever wear, and the ground beneath the shifting fog around their feet, will be the cold place where they will finally find peace - just a moment and a bullet away.

Revolution must start somewhere. The fire of real hope is born from simple people like Francis Marion, who led a group of “irregulars” which was a living nightmare to their opponent’s the British. Marion was the “Swamp Fox,” arguably the greatest guerilla fighter in the American Revolution. He terrorized the British and ran hit-and-run operations, killing and disappearing like a ghost. To pursue Marion was considered to flirt with certain death. At one point, from an austere island fort he held off fifty warships, crippled the enemy fleet and saved the city of Charleston, achieving the first victory of the war for independence.

His men received nothing – no pay, food or ammunition from the Continental Army, but he fought on. And when victory was declared, Marion and his men were not asked to join the celebration their clothes were far to ragged and they weren't considered presentable. But plain truth, even wrapped in tattered clothes, is so very bright, indeed.

Or there’s the perfect light of Deborah Samson, who disguised herself as a man for three years in order to fight during the American Revolution. She fought hand-to-hand and was wounded twice, once by a sword-stroke to the side of her head . When she recovered, she was asked to deliver a letter to General George Washington, and she knew the letter's contents meant her secret had been discovered and her days as a soldier were over. Shaking and nervous, she was called in to see Washington - but In order to spare her embarrassment, the General said nothing, instead he quietly handed her a discharge, a note and enough money to get her home. After the war, Washington invited her to visit. During her stay she was the subject of a special bill in Congress, granting her a pension, land and acknowledgement as a Revolutionary Soldier. She shined so brightly.

Then there is a lonely statue on the Boston Common. Probably unnoticed and uncommented in the same glowing language of the great Founders of our nation, there is Crispus Attucks, an African former slave and dock worker, who fought no famous battles, but instead, was simply one of the biggest men in an angry crowd on a Monday evening in March 1770. After a British soldier injured a young boy, Attucks stepped forward to defend the child, and was one of eleven civilians shot. He fell in the snow in front of the Custom House on King Street, one of five who died in the Boston Massacre, the event which possibly touched off the inescapable – revolution. Attucks was called “the first to defy – and the first to die.” But his light shone so bright, the ideas of independence blasted outward from that moment, changing things yet again - even by the shine of his pooled blood on that snow-covered street.

And Attucks was far from the last – he was joined by nearly 26,000 other people – patriots all, and many never remembered and never known, though they each carried a spark of light which together lit a fire in the night like no other.

That fire has led so many others to the shores of our nation. And those flames would be fed by more sacrifice – at least 1,315,329 fellow Americans in as many as 29 wars and conflicts throughout our history since the Revolutionary War. But the spark hasn’t been carried by the military alone. We have seen great civilian sacrifice – even within our lifetime, and we can all contribute our own spark in endless ways and in an unending march into history, as long as we care enough and as long as we want to see our children live in beauty, strength and dignity.

There are light bearers – and they eternally carry the fire of determination for so many others. The source of that light is all of us.

It is the same fire held aloft by a famous sculpture, portraying a woman escaping the chains of tyranny, which lie at her feet. That sculpture has been given the very name the flames she holds, represents…Liberty.

And we, who live here beyond her light, live in the greatest country in the world. We are, like Marion and Samson and Attucks, all Americans – and our country is the United States.

And we are united by Freedom.

FRIDAY, MARCH 5, 2010

Heart and Truth


There’s a heart beating somewhere – someone who knows what is right and wrong – someone who understands the grain and texture of the cutting edge of freedom.

Somewhere, someone who can’t be anything but single-minded, is hunting the most terrible killers ever known. The man is out there on the edges of the known world. Around him are his team-mates – now fewer because the earth is all equal in its’ potential. It is a killing field and it is a graveyard. His buddy was sent home the other day to recover inside some hospital in a forgotten corner of the real world – if he lives that long or gets that far. The man stands in this dirt street, but can still see his friend's crooked smile and grey eyes – an image that remains despite the moment of burns and blood. A tire on the edges of the field of vision smoulders, acrid, but now almost unrecognizable as they search for truth in a third-world Hell.

They are a world away from another heart, beating just as fiercely as a woman pushes her way through the crowded streets of her city. She steps on a discarded newspaper with a headline suggesting another group of troops dead after a firefight in a place she never heard of. Signs and billboards scream bright messages of the marketplace.  Tires from a passing taxi splash dirty water onto sheer stockings. A curse, voiced low, is lost in the sound of the crowd as the woman angles toward the protection of the nearby sheer faces of the glass-fronted buildings. More advertisements featuring a green hillside complete with cattle are too idyllic to be real. The images are passed unnoticed except for the brief subliminal flash as tired eyes search for truth in the mundane.

And somewhere removed from that city another heart beats strong and slow. A day of hard work not yet finished still reflects in eyes set into a creased, weather-worn face. Cattle move ahead of him across the deep green hillside as the family brings them in yet again – a long day repeated season upon season – maybe back to a time close to the dawn of man. Truth is in the feel of the leather work-glove, the even steps on uneven ground. Truth is the fences and the young children being taught this ancient way the only way it can be taught - first-hand. He passes an old vehicle submerged in the ground where it was left. A rusted bolt pokes out from the curve of a fender.

Removed from the pasture by a thousand miles, a wrench turns steady on a stubborn bolt. It may have been in this place all the way back to the day that car first rolled off the assembly line. It may have been part of the work of the previous owner. But it stands in the way of a working machine – and the heart of this man is so attuned to machines that it may as well be made out of steel, itself. There’s something in the broken things that people bring him, and the perfection he creates is like some kind of new-world magic. Truth is inside his understanding of these simple things. He knows this even as he cleans the grease from his hands at the end of each day – but never perfectly. His face stares back at him from the smudged mirror. Every year older, and every year more distant. People are harder for him to understand than gears,  so his manner is gruff and his words short. His daughter doesn't come to see him anymore. She gave up the garage for a different kind of life. He misses her. Somehow there’s always a hint of black oil inside his truth.

A beauty undiscovered combs back waves of red hair reflected somehow not as perfectly in a bedroom mirror. Her heart beats lightly. She knows somewhere out there is the right life for her, but she hasn’t found it yet. Her eyes are an impossible blue – like the sky on a clear Southwestern day. She is filled with laughter and kindness. Maybe she’s a teacher, maybe she’s a student, maybe she's even a nurse in a local hospital or maybe she’s just the free spirit we all wish we could be when we consider our own truth.

Somewhere in a nearby hospital a child is dying of an incurable disease – his spirit almost truly free now. His favorite friend, the nice lady with the red hair isn't here today. His heart beats weakly, but the boy understands more than the adults around him have given him credit for. He knows his time is measured in days and not weeks or months. He doesn’t need to understand eternity because it lives with him every moment. He would like to have been a fireman or a policeman or maybe a soldier like the one in the room across the hall, but he knows he won’t get the chance. He peeks around the corner into the soldier’s room. The man turns his head as the boy approaches the bedside a crooked smile and grey eyes are just visible on the uncovered part of the man’s face. A rough hand reaches out and touches the smooth, unblemished skin of the young man’s head. No words are exchanged. They each understand the truth. It washes around them as invisible and infinite as time itself.

Somewhere someone understands freedom. Maybe we all do. We are all regular people just trying to get through our lives, but we don’t have to live within our politics or the things we think we own. We don’t have to live as captives to the darkness of our pain, our hatreds or our carlessness. We can be more. We can transcend. We can experience truth and recognize that there are others who experience it too – in so many different ways. We are woven together in ways we’ll never be able to see or understand. Can't you see it? Can't you feel it?

Give me a single heartbeat and a moment of perfect clarity and I will give you something of enduring beauty and wonder. I will show you a miracle and I will give you freedom as we all know it should be.

I will give you the United States of America.

 

Friday, June 17

2011

 

WHAT DO YOU SEE?

 

Look at the sky and clouds on a perfect day.

Somewhere else, that same view resonates like a kind of emotion, deep within another soul on the other side of the world.

 

But in our day-to-night lives we can’t see that.

 

Vibration in sound, familiar to so many, is unfamiliar when thought of as existing inside someone else. Sight and sound and even belief seem so obvious to us when we see ourselves in dreams and life, all the time accepting the lie that each of these things is separate. And that makes us alone.

 

And still we can’t see that.

 

Lay on your back in the cool grass as a child and look up at the sky – let memory take you there even now. Such peace connected to such longing. What shapes do great winds and water make in their wrestling, somewhere so far above you? Your skin tingles against the green and the Earth presses up against you and through you. From the void, solar winds and cosmic stuff so ancient it can remember creation itself,, move so fast, through everything. They don’t even know you are there, but they carry through the vast reaches and the clouds and the droplets so far above – with hopes to someday be rain - and having seen so much of the universe, they still become part of us, and we are connected to everything.

 

And we don’t see that.

 

The strata of stone and bone and lost civilizations beneath us hide impossible knowledge, and the stars, so far away can be our friends, even though they hide from us during the day. Somewhere else, in a different philosophy, they are friends too. We appear to each other – but we cannot see beyond the surface, and so only ever see color and shape and the lies of skin and clothes and unfamiliar faces. It is easier to believe in the fiction of a world in revolution around us, than to feel the alien texture of connection – and we certainly don’t want to see that; especially reflected within ourselves.

 

But we kill and cut and bleed and grasp for more – and we name all these things, as if by naming them we can give them order and reason and control.

 

Half a world away a child can’t sleep because she is too hungry – and down the street someone who was once relied upon to die for you if necessary – lays dying finally, in some forgettable room where so  many others have left this world without seeing the sky one last time. They can’t eat even though they are hungry, and they know even that won’t last – there’s a kindness there they can finally understand. No one will come to see them. Across the street someone has been given a final date – and another street over, someone has been given a different kind of date; and dread is their common thread.

 

And so many certainly don’t want to see any of that.

 

Squeeze your hands in that distant memory. Feel the Earth give way beneath your fingers, understanding the connection, perhaps – or in a moment, allowing a kind of gift. But that gift is connected through the sunlight and air and cloud and back again to other hearts and minds in so many distant places, you would never be able to speak their names. Yet the stuff of ancient peoples and even older things forgotten fills our hands, cool against the skin and we can almost feel a tear willing itself into being.

 

I talked to a woman once in Africa. She was a doctor, but so many had died, filling her hands with their fading  heat, her soul had eroded. So many mysteries were gone for her – so many hopes now replaced by oblivion’s comfort. She couldn’t imagine anything else because for her, the sky was only something she had to walk under on the way to hear more screams, smell more blood and witness more death.

 

She couldn’t see anything else anymore.

 

What is the greater despair? Is it more terrible that it seems like nothing can be done for the lost and tired? Or is the greater horror that so many of us could do so much – and refuse – instead focusing our short lives on the purposeless continuance of hate and hurt.

 

We can cut each other down to make ourselves seem bigger for just a moment – or we can recognize the infinite connections being made even now without us, and reaching out, become more than ourselves. We can leave our mark or we can become more than that. Sound and shape and touch all resonate in a shared world waiting just beyond each of us – and we don’t have to be alone. Tie your destiny to that of someone else and you together, become greater than you could standing alone. Add a third and a fourth and eventually we can all reach a greater destiny beyond the breeze and the clouds and the shores of that distant sea in which our world – a tiny island, is much less than a speck.

 

We can reach beyond all of it.

 

And today I wondered if anyone could see any of that.

 

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March 27, 2011

Sunday

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Steel doesn’t lie.

Some people have asked why I don’t write much anymore. Friends have questioned my absence – and my purposeful avoidance of the news. For some people, the fuel for insomnia is in everyday events. I am one of those people. Others would point at me and say it is incumbent on us all to know these things and our responsibility to act on this data and make a difference.

 

I know.

 

Someone a few months back lambasted me for making and selling knives, because in their view, the world needs saving. And it does. It always does.

 

However, I have developed a different way of looking at the world in past months. You might try it before dismissing it as foolish. I find it to be quite revealing.

 

You see, as a former Public Relations person, I can tell you with some authority when a particular piece of news is bunk – and when the shit will be hitting the fan in some kind of new and imaginative way. I could expound on the activities of our Commander in Chief as he lines up to go pro in the golf circuits as soon as he shakes his current title and digs. I could speak about any number of disasters and using info and training, identify the holes in the reported events – the very places where this will soon go very badly indeed.

 

If I worked for a publication, I would maybe struggle to find some grip on the days news and what it would eventually become.

 

I do none of those things.

 

I grind, heat and beautify steel knives. And as the grinding wheel turns I think of it as the globe. Turning and turning – so many problems and still I make blades. They are an expression of my belief in the human condition. It doesn’t matter how shitty things are, when you sit in a barrel full of excrement, it is only a matter of time before someone else stops in and craps out another loose one – perhaps on your head.

 

But the world still turns. Presidents act like fools or the insane, advisors and civil rights guys and racketeers would do better chained together and pitched off a C130 over ocean. They could negotiate with the happy marine life – discuss ways to save the planet, in person.

 

But it never happens that way. So I make knives – and will save the world one knife at a time. If you doubt my strategy, don’t look at the news at all for a month. Then take a quick peek. Are they still making dire claims - and are there still bad people doing bad things? Yes. And yet, my grinding wheel and the world still turns.

 

Is there an energy crisis? A hole in the ozone, a hole in the theory of ozone, or a hole in someone’s head, now sucking in ozone? No change there, then. Are there people worried that other people have guns – but not worried enough to get their own and learn how to use them? Yes. While legislators are arguing that we should only be allowed to carry plastic models of real weapons, they should also ask for mandatory firearm, field and terrorism training and orientation courses for all those who intend to legislate an overly restrictive firearm law on the rest of us. Just saying.

 

But in the end, the gun itself has more principles and honor than those who would seek its’ removal. The gun is simply a thing. A block of steel, it has no motives, and no wishes to be anything other that what it is, It is a piece of steel.

 

In my experience, steel does not lie. It does not cheat or thief or run off with boyfriends or girlfriends. It doesn’t seek public office – and it doesn’t think, so not making foolish comments in front of cameras, which can then broadcast across the globe. It doesn’t do anything until taken up and used. And yet, steel changed the course of history simply by its’ existence.

 

So I choose to exist. I doubt my time here will change the course of anything, but my steel custom knives just might. A good knife in the right hands can form the most unlikely things. Look at Jim Bowie. He and his legend cannot be separated from his steel. Look at so many warrior chieftains of our ancient history. Their efforts were the true markers for our shared frontier. Hell, look at television chefs. They make yummy treats with knives.

 

Steel doesn’t lie. It doesn’t share the frailties of human kind. It is something a knifemaker can trust and respect. Maybe it really was a gift from God.

 

“The sparks nested in his ears like fireflies – “ a truly famous quote about a blacksmith in a story once based on fact. I am that man, now. It is not for me to know the why of things, or to share the Captain's obsession – just to do the job – to perhaps provide a nest for fireflies and to provide the hardware needed to make the voyage, and no more.

 

Heat some steel. Pick up a hammer. Let it talk to you. If it wants to, it will tell you exactly the same thing.

 

 

 

JANUARY 10, 2011

 

AWAKE. OPEN  EYES – AND SEE.

 

I don’t know what it is, but I do know what it isn’t.

 

Two years ago I visited a college class and talked about zero-point – the moment when information transfer becomes near instantaneous. What kind of a world will it be when news travels the globe in seconds not minutes or hours or days or weeks? We already know.

 

We are living in it.

 

Shots fired are heard around the world so quickly, the shooter has a face anyone would paint on him. And in our zero-point world, any man is everyman. We dine more digitally and virtually than we do together, sitting across from one another. Our campfires have grown dark and cold. Our story-telling, the work of liars and those who would fashion for themselves an image, but fear to show their face.

 

Our ancestors once knew the night skies – now how few could really tell you where the sun rises and sets? Humankind was once bound by belief and the knowledge that something waits for us in the end , be it death, eternal life, or another kind of birth. Now, life is made cheaper and death reigns supreme.

 

I point no fingers. In this digital world I have none to point. And if I did, who would I point them at, officials? Would-be revolutionaries? Do I point at Godless misguided fools, or men and women with guns?  Or should I blame those who allegedly eschew violence, but don’t mind promoting hatred, which acts as a lens to focus more violence? Do I point to our flawed information stream – or digital world, which every day seems more sickness than cure; more curse than miracle? Should I recite the ways in which each of us find our own brand of failure every day in our modern dystopian nightmare?

 

I don’t need to.

 

Set down your smart phone, your digital tablet, your laptop and see the world around you with your imperfect human eyes. But don’t look too long – and don’t touch. Don’t try to have a conversation with a stranger, and don’t tell a story which might be attributed to you. In dystopian nightmares, even love – especially love – is suspect, because it cannot be controlled or contained or reasoned and metered. The mere truth that you are reading this commentary now, indicates yet one more small loss in a stream of losses, now becoming a flood.

 

Real human connection – reality itself is being filtered and colored. The vision is enhanced – the sound extracted and tracked. Your every thought provided by modern snake-oil salesmen. We never recognize them. How could we? We want so badly the things that they bring us. We want the illusion so much we would ask anyone to represent us. Our harvest is a grey field of living. Numbed and oblivious to our true surroundings we seek our daily compass through a haze of caffeine. And when the day is done, we seek our sleep through a hypnotic intermix of a chemical, visual and aural oblivion – until the next sunrise awakes us from a place in the sky which we can never seem to remember or notice.

 

Kill women and children and the elderly and take your place amongst the monsters. But tomorrow more will have forgotten you than remember you. The next day there will be fewer still who remember - until the name of today’s monster, is replaced by others. Even the most egregious crimes are given scarce attention anymore. Information is moving faster, and bad news was always so fleet of foot, anyway. The real travesty is the fading memory of the victims. But it is in our nature to forget.

 

I once rode in the back of a truck and promised a scared woman, over the sound of the rattle and roar, that she would be alright. The heart of a protector never beats so fiercely as when it has a cause to beat for. What cause do we offer in this new world – so less brave and so less pure than that which we once dreamed of? Are we even worth that protection anymore in such a place of eternal night.

 

I don’t know what it is. But I do know what it is not.

 

It is not a future I would have crafted given the choice. It is not the place for children, when so many die every day. It is not the place for the old, the hungry, the needy, the homeless, the infirm, the lost or the found, the innocent or even the pure. All of those people are devoured and spat out daily by a faithless, heartless, stainless machine; fertilizer for fields which sprout new nightmares.

 

It is not a world where “change,” means “change for the better.”

It is not a world where love conquers all or even holds its’ own.

It is not a world for heroes – even though they lend us their light and courage selflessly so often. It is not a place where truth or belief, are valued – but either will happily be sold to you for the price of your life.

 

It is not a place we can even call “home” anymore.

 

In fact, the more I give myself over to the grit of reality, the more I see what we are building on this good Earth. Please remember - in the beginning we were given Eden, but that is not what we have nurtured and kept.

 

Is it so hard for you to really open your eyes and see what place we are creating from those simple beginnings? Look at the pyres. They are stacked so tall now. I guess that is why you cannot see them. They are like the walls of an impossible maze ready to explode into flame around us. And who holds the match? Who would burn it all – and can they be stopped?

 

I lied. I know this place very well indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

December 20, 2010

 

WHAT THINGS ARE AND ARE NOT

 

I’m going to tell you a story.

 

It isn’t a pretty story – and it isn’t a story with a beginning or an end. This story only ever had a middle, suspended somewhere in the grey, half-lit world of the past or the future where birth or death manage to find us all.

 

We could call the story a lesson, for things were most certainly learned; and we could call it an expedition, because amazing and terrible, simple and complex things almost all people wonder about, were discovered.

 

But if it were a lesson, we would have used the knowledge for good or for ill. Somewhere something would have been gained – or something lost because of the teaching the events of our story allowed. The world would either be better or lesser because of it.

 

So it is not a lesson.

 

Our story could be termed the “will of God,” but then, the stage which contained both the play and the players, seemed God-Forsaken enough that the people there had long ago lost even hope itself. Much later, the name of the place would become synonymous with pain and loss and failure and everything base and horrible in the human condition. I once heard it referred to as Hell. Perhaps it was.

 

And so, if the stage is Hell, how then can we attribute this to any heavenly presence?

 

Maybe after all, it is better to leave it in the realm of the Void – the place between all other places. This could be a moment experienced once, yet never able to be passed on or set down; a burden, which can never be removed.  In that respect, perhaps it is like Jacob Marley’s chains – forged in life, one link at a time. Maybe the writer, Dickens saw that human Marley condition clearly, after all.

 

In fact the story is a dream – a nightmare. Share it with me….

 

A darkened street with tires burning,, conceals huge, angry crowds. A single military vehicle, driven by a young enlisted Sergeant, with two civilians and an officer as passengers – caught in the midst of the smoke – alone. The smoke so acrid, eyes watered making the scene seem even more impossible. A terrible moan transitioning to screaming and finally edging into a roar, as shapes even darker than the smoke, appear out of nowhere, charging the vehicle. The vehicle has no gunner or oversight that day. Urgency caused a dangerous choice to be made. No one knows the vehicle is even there, except for the crowd.

 

And they mean to burn it – and kill everyone in it in the slowest, most gruesome public way possible.

 

The sergeant doesn’t get an order fast enough from the Major sitting beside him. He nearly decides in a moment to drive the hummer as fast as possible through the surging crowd. He discards that as too dangerous – not for himself, and not thinking of himself. Only thinking of the other three – how badly they would leave this Earth if the crowd was more than 50 yards deep. But he knows this street – and all the buildings as if it were his hometown. He could navigate it in his sleep – or in the  smokey, synthetic  darkness created for the ambush. He wheels the vehicle into a hard left aiming toward the wall of buildings he can barely see. If he judges right, he will shoot through onto a small side-road. If he doesn’t, the hummer will hit the buildings, and the crowd will have them all.

 

Today, he cannot fail. And so, he does not.  Instead he runs directly into the second crowd – the one running down the side-street hill as the hummer races up to greet them. There is nowhere to go. The past, present or future never offered offer or will ever offer a way around what he must do. Everything led to this moment – and everything, which follows, will lead away to somewhere and some-when else.

 

For a moment, he can hear history’s waves crashing on destiny’s shore – or maybe it’s the pounding of his heart. Maybe it’s a little taste of madness, soon to become a full course meal.

 

But it isn’t those things. It is the bodies hitting the front of the vehicle.  It’s a humanitarian mission, he thinks. Killing shouldn’t have a place here.

 

But killing has always had a home here – and now the vehicle breaks through and hits an open road. The original objective is now a mile away in the opposite direction. But the sergeant knows another way, and now he is angry. His anger fills the vehicle – he curses in incredible gouts of strung phrases. No one else in the vehicle speaks.

 

He has made another instantaneous decision. He must reach the objective – and so he chooses a path to take him down into the city square. As he hooks the hummer around another turn, heading downhill toward a series of barricades he passes an overturned U.S. vehicle. It is on fire.

 

But the flames are as a cool breeze to the nuclear energy being compressed inside the driver of the hummer. And in a nanosecond, the connection trips and his foot slams down on the accelerator. Two barricades fail to bar his path. The third, standing nearly eight feet and constructed of rolls of concertina wire, however, is too much to hope to overcome. Wire wrapped around an axel will stop a vehicle as sure as a hundred other things.

 

He chooses to aim for the monument and its’ tall steps, reaching just above the height of the wire rolls. The wheels hit the steps and the hummer careens off the top, missing the spire by an inch or two, but clearing the barricade. The vehicle slams down hard. Everyone’s heads hit the roof. The helmet he is wearing, jams down on the sergeant’s head. The nose of the hummer is directly in-line with the locked steel gate of the objective. Over them and around them a firefight rages between two warring clans.

 

And so we awake – every night since 1993. I cannot remember people’s birthdays, numbers recently written down,  I stay away from crowds. I almost always see our grey-living existence as the veneer it really is. We can become those crowds. And many of us will be able to kill. These things I know and can see wherever I go.  How self-absorbed and self-assured are the passer-by folks with their cell phone stuck to their ear, gabbling bits of broken sentences to another self-absorbed person half a block or half a world away.

 

How little attention do they pay to the things around them, which can be gone in a year, a month a day – even an instant. Death for so many people, only happens to others. Sickness and injury and disability only happens to others. The chaos and trivial diversions of day-to-day living conceals everything from the gaze of those who have not stood on the edge of mass graves – or a million other experiences compressed and internalized, but which lose none of their power and horror.

 

What is a human when you strip away the civility, the society, the compassion and all possibility of hope? They are a shell – a perfect empty space that nothing will ever fill again. They are perfect demons. And we, who are caught in the sphere of their influence, are wandering lost in the flames.

 

I can’t remember a lot of things anymore – I can’t remember even the date on some days – on others I can’t even remember the year. I sleep – some nights not at all. I don’t dare make a habit of drinking – and I try to be kind; while often forgetting the way to do that. Doctors continue to make noises that resemble words, stating how they have found a possible answer to a condition which has a hundred-times as many shapes and faces as it has had names.

 

But some things I do remember. I clearly recall my rifle’s serial number; I remember how to arrange my gear – how to do many things in the field. I remember the  methods taught to us during tech-school and I remember details no one ever knew.

 

But mostly I remember the roar of the crowd screaming for our blood and the atomic nature of my anger cut them down .

 

And I remember so many worse things too.

 

On the back of my vest is a nickname I have worn for many years. It came from a conversation an old friend had with me after one of those harsh days during Operation Restore Hope, Somalia. I had made reference to a classic role played by Mel Gibson when he was young. I told Al that day was like Mad Max.

 

My buddy, Al just shook his head.

 

“Dave,” he said. “That was Madder than Max.”

 

 

 

 

 

SUNDAY DECEMBER 12, 2010

 

MY OWN CHRISTMAS STORY

 

 

I guess I have one final Christmas story for you.


It's a tale I haven't told much, because to tell it, I have to climb down into those dark spaces where people keep the material they would most like to avoid in their day to day lives. It's the place in the Mind's attic where shapes are hidden beneath ancient, dust-laden, abandoned sheets.


But the shapes are still familiar - even as you draw close. The edges of the forms beneath are sharp and cold and even in the half-light of the half remembered, they cast meaningful shadows onto the lonely floor.


I don't like this place. The denizens of it, cavort far to merrily in my dreams, making every night a new torture. "Real rest," they whisper, "is for the dead." They are right, of course. I have said those words before, back when I was a sergeant. I may have even said them in Africa.


Christmas Day 1992, Somalia: I was in Baidoa for a food distribution run. I remember the trucks loading up with whomever could be spared for security. It was still considered to be a lightly held area, and while food was getting through to the regular population at long last, the warlords were making problems, which had to be solved with force.


Next to our encampment were the French Royal Marines and the French Foreign Legion. I'd done a little work with them while there. They needed a specialist for some things. I had been volunteered. But that was two days ago. Today was Christmas, and I slipped onto one of the trucks, enjoying the anonymity and freedom afforded by being an Air Force NCO amongst mostly Marines and Army.


This was the cutting edge of the mission - making sure the food convoys got through and were not stolen by the thugs in the area. We bounced and banged out of the countryside on a dirt road which had, just last week, claimed the first lives when a mine took out a vehicle like this one. It was clear, but you could tell the driver was taking extra care not to stray even an inch off the long, dry brown scar which led through deep green into the city.


The city of Bones.


That's what it had become known as, because no one could be seen on the streets. It had been seemingly deserted. Houses missing roofs, burned out structures, vehicles which may have smoldered recently, or been set to flame more than a decade ago, added a random emptiness to it all. It was a place, which had long ago accepted death as if it had washed through in a wave, taking everyone in a single, gasp of relief. It was relief from the indignity of life in that place, but also relief from the decay of malnourishment and the maddening hunger and the hallucinations of dehydration.


We stopped in a wide field and set up a perimeter. Just the security for the NGOs to operate within, our job was to hold those who were not part of the food drop, at the perimeter. Easy it seemed, because there was no one in sight - until of course, there was.


They came shuddering and jerking across the five miles of open territory between this particular god-forsaken place and the next one. And although I prayed for the people on the trucks to hurry up and offload, it wasn't long before the first of the small group of sad humanity reached our perimeter. To my left, two Marines were keeping them back. Not hard to do, because most had given up standing. It was too difficult. They were pretty far gone.


The signal came finally to mount up and the perimeter drew in on itself, we clambered back into the trucks and took our lofty perches on the backs of those huge 925s. The Somalis that had made the trek to no avail, had turned back and dwindled away as I glanced back at them - now occluded by clouds of dust. Still, I felt relieved - a little triumphant. We had delivered 10 tons of food to the starving on Christmas Day. It felt like one of the best days I'd had in a while.


I focused again on my job, scanning buildings for threats. But in only one, did I see movement. The truck had slowed through a tighter section of town, so I had plenty of time to watch a skeleton with skin work his way unsteadily past a charred vehicle and dead tree to a dusty prayer rug in the back yard of a home. We drew abreast of him as he dropped to his knees. I describe him as male, but HE may have been a SHE - it was impossible to tell anymore. I knew he wouldn't be getting to his feet again - ever. I said something to the senior guy, pointing now back at the man. "Surely we can do something - leave him some food, water?"


He shook his head. Without great care in a modern hospital, the high protein content of any food we could leave him would only serve to kill him painfully. He was too far gone. He was better off meeting God on his terms now. And stopping amidst the ruins might place the convoy and the Marines at greater risk.


I wanted to scream, "stop the truck!" I wanted to set up a perimeter and get in that yard and evacuate that man if necessary. I wanted to do anything but keep on rolling away. The dying man never looked up and I don't know if he even could have. I don't know if he wasn't already floating on the winds of that other place, looking down on us from impossible heights - perhaps sad that he couldn't save us, as well.


I, who was a nobody - from a totally different kind of world, had flown halfway around the globe as part of the greatest expeditionary force the world had ever seen. In one more week we would have accomplished our mission - to restore the food convoys to the starving people of Somalia - to Restore Hope. And in that, we were successful.


But we would leave that country a long time from then, for very different reasons, and despite our successes there, the world would now view the operation as something to be ashamed of. We who were there would be forgotten - or if the subject came up in polite conversation, meet a shaking of head, a guilty glance quickly sliding away.


For me that shame is at least partly to do with that Christmas Day - and the single, lonely, man who seemed as much made from solid, pointed pieces of despair, as he was the bones and swollen joints and pendulous skull. He died there in the City of Bones, be it that day or the next. But he was certainly dead. No one left to care for him. No one left to even accomplish the burial. No one left to even know his name.


We couldn't save him.


On such a holy day, in such a forlorn place, we faced a darkness I cannot adequately describe. It was pure anarchy, but it was more than that - it was self-destruction, but it was more than that, too. There was evil dragging it's fierce claws across the stonework left still standing. It was palpable - tangible. The place reeked of more than death and tasted of more than blood.

We brought food to the starving, but not all of them.


I struggle with this one, because there is no answer. But these struggles continue and I see that prayer rug over and over again. I keep it in the attic spaces of my mind. The bent and broken charcoal shape which kneels on it has lost none of its' horror. I try to live better days. I try to help people where I can. I try always to be a better man because of it.


Perhaps God someday will answer my question "why." Or, maybe my Somali friend will come down from heaven and be the first to greet me or judge me when I too leave this place. I would welcome that.


I would like to think that we will smile and I will shake his hand finally, and he will be whole and well. And we will know each other's language in that place where all things are known, and he will tell me of his life, his loves, his children and grandchildren and we will laugh.


We will laugh at his stories, at the improbable perfection of the place in which we find ourselves. We will laugh at our silly mortal beliefs and misperceptions now fading and almost forgotten. We will cry together over our failings and we will talk of the subjects which once seemed so hard.


And I will finally be able to tell him I'm sorry.



- Dave

 

 

 

 

 

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2010

 

THE CEDAR STUMP AND TRADITION


We often look at tradition as a one-dimensional thing. I have seen this element of our lives from different vantage points – as a martial art teacher of many years and as a member of the military, on the honor guard at two of my postings. But my greatest lessons in tradition come from my childhood.


I learned what I really know from my parents and my grandparents. And I’m still learning those lessons as I look back on those times.


I find it interesting that we see continued degradation of the Christmas holiday in the States, yet the same intolerance is not shown for other holy days of other religions. But this is surface scrabble. Like ice after a hockey game it is only scratches on the surface of the thing – the real item, which is as hard and clear as that ice, is unchanged beneath.


Our traditions endure, if we want them to.


I remember Thanksgiving holidays at my Aunt’s house. The entire family would go, and both sets of grandparents, Swedish and Portuguese, would show up there. My father’s parents were Catholic and my mother’s were Protestant, but we were a family. There were Super Sundays and of course, Christmas, but I remember Thanksgiving distinctly because of a cedar stump.


After stuffing ourselves with the adults sitting at their table – and the children at theirs, my mother’s father would take us kids on a long walk.


It was a circuitous route, which wound through the neighborhood streets, down through a forest trail and seemed to stretch on for miles. But we’d always seem to end up at a little clearing – a sort of fairy's circle – in the center of the woods. There were patches of moss there and one simple stump from some tree long-ago cut down. My grandfather would peel off a piece of that stump each year and hand it to my sister and I.


“You smell that?” he’d ask, and we’d nod our heads. “That’s cedar,” he’d say. Every year we’d visit that stump – until it was at ground-level. And we’d visit a year or two longer, until there were no more walks at Thanksgiving, and I’d left for the promise of life in the Air Force and made room for my traditions of youth, to learn new traditions.


And there was more. My father used to take us on a drive the week of Christmas, so we could see all the lights at all the houses in the area. One street we’d leave for the last was the home of a friend of mine, Kyle Cordeiro. Kyle’s mom would decorate the house unlike anything you had ever seen. Lit up in a perfection no one else could match, the home looked like an ice-castle in the dark. We’d all agree that her light display was the best – every year, until there were no more drives at Christmas.


I miss that. I miss those drives, sitting in the back-seat of that green Ford, warm while the New England night cruised by, and the lights reflected in the window glass and our wide eyes. I am 43-years-old, and I still miss it – my father driving, his sure hands on the wheel, and somewhere out there at the end of the trip, knowing the Cordeiro’s lights would be there.


I miss the times at my father’s parents home, with his dad sitting in his chair – the smell of the cigars - the special flat Portuguese cookies, which his mom would make us. I miss talking to my Uncle Ben about fishing, admiring his amazingly perfect old fishing reels, the beautiful lures. My aunt’s clam-cakes in the perfect summers – and when she would say “ohh” and wince while cooking the eel I had caught, because the pieces would roll in the pan.


It was all tradition – and I can remember it and feel it as if it were only yesterday. It is an ache, which settles in my bones and will not shake free. I live in a desert – on the other side of the United States. I have not been back to New England for the holidays for many years, although I send a box each year. And it’s not the same. The boxes get lighter, but the memories get heavier.


I miss the cedar stump.


And all I can tell you, dear reader, is don’t get drawn into the arguments about whether the holidays are too commercialized, or whether the local government is banning this or that… it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter, because we all have some kind of tradition to honor, and we can all deliver the respect it deserves, so the future generations can find their own patch of woods and their own stumps.


And someday they will walk with their grandchildren when we are all long dead. And they will pull out a worn pocketknife and peel off a piece of wood and crouch down and look into their eyes. Their coats heavy, in the cold air they’ll hold out those small pieces of wood.


“You smell that?” they’ll ask.


That’s cedar.

 

----------------------

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2009

Like a storm.

I want to believe we will get beyond this stage.


I want to see things put right. I want to wake tomorrow and discover that this whole affair with our house-of-cards economy, government lies and discord and hate – was all just some kind of fevered imaginings. I want there to be room for belief and discovery and love and honesty.


But I know we are experiencing the fall of a very dark night indeed.


Breathe.


Nothing seems right. We charge our heroes with crimes and provide the criminals and monsters with deep respect, lawyers and well-appointed prisons – until their release, of course. Our government turns a blind eye toward those who have lost everything, yet props up the rich and powerful with backroom deals and plans to steal even more from the people.


I don’t pretend to understand any of it. I just know, in a visceral way, that it is wrong.

Breathe.


I have known much smarter people than myself – people of faith and people with dreams. I think we need those kind of folks right now. Times have moved beyond the artful deception, which has been politics. I believe we face a crisis requiring fewer lawyers and more men of action.


But even us common people can make a difference. In the most unlikely ways and under the most unimaginable circumstances we can give of our time and our talents and fight fabrication with the truths, which make us shine. In the midnight being thrust upon us, we can light the way for others, and we can be safe havens, guardians, providers of hope and goodwill.


I know there are those who would say to me that God will provide – and perhaps he will. But there’s no harm in being good people. There’s nothing wrong with hard work and compassion, flawed though we may be.


People have told me they are frightened. And I have seen epic endings and understand with my limited intelligence, tattered faith and tired dreams, that we can lose it all. Civilization is not a promise or a right. It is a responsibility and a complex burden for the free.


Breathe.


But know this. We are out here – those of us who have seen things - and although you feel alone, you are not. Demons and devils may walk among us and pluck us like ripe fruit from the face of the world, but I have seen Angels too, and felt their compassion. I have seen the courageous and beautiful and true of heart do amazing things. And amongst all of it, I have come to know a truth that many would give a great deal to understand.


It is simple and pure and there is nothing on this Earth that can sully it or destroy it. It is indestructible, impermeable and untouchable. Evil shrinks from it and those with peace in their hearts understand it completely and perfectly.


This thing has power so immense that it can reshape the world. It is unlimited and those who have experienced it and cling to it are changed completely and irrevocably.


It is of course love.


Breathe.


The worms don’t understand that we fight for each other. The gutless wonders, which have leveraged themselves into positions of authority can’t fathom the simplest truth, the lowest ranking troop learns in the field: we stand up for each other. This is not because we are noble or valorous; It is just because, we have to. Love requires the protector to protect. We care for the same reason we fail – we are human.


Those who forget it, regardless of their station in life have reason to fear. Those who remember it, stand together as brothers and sisters against the opposition’s darkness, and they will always win.

Someone once asked me to sign onto a group which would claim “they did not fight for this:” ie. this government and its’ version of change and warped hope.


But I will always fight for this because I will always fight for you. I will never give up, never give in and never surrender. When you are feeling weak, I and those lke me, will be here with strength. When you are tired, we will stand for you. When there doesn’t seem to be anything left – we will meet the opposition with glad hearts and power they cannot ever understand. And we will win.


Breathe. And feel your heart beat. Listen to all our hearts beat – all our breath as one - together.


It is like thunder.


It is like a storm.


TUESDAY, APRIL 13, 2010

Taking Flight


In the desert there is a horizon. It is always there and always unreachable – the thin line where the brown of the earth meets the blue of the sky – a reminder that there are limits to existence.

I remember times when those limits weren’t so harshly defined.

There was a time many of us remember, when televisions didn’t have a thousand channels and there were no remote controls or cell phones. There was a time when radios would be propped against sand dunes, the sound coming from them a gentle, tinny background voice, as out in the distance the waves rolled in – and in the further distance, ships navigated somewhere between the sea and the sky.

In those days, there were no ipods, ipads, home computers or internet. Newspapers could be seen unfolded in corner barber shops daily, and astronauts were visiting the Moon. There were all sorts of people whom you could look up to – and even if you didn’t agree with the government and the president, there was still a kind of respect you could find – a level of statesmanship you might someday hope to aspire to.

In those days you could recite the pledge of allegiance in school, and not wonder if someone was going to object. You could fly your flag in your front yard and not have to wonder if the day was coming when you would be told to remove it because it offended the family living next-door.

A kaleidoscope of images come to mind when I think about these things. Memories, some dark, some bright – all clamor for attention on the surface of my mind. I remember the call of gulls late in the day as the fishing boats returned. I remember when people used to receive their day’s milk in bottles delivered to boxes at their back steps. I remember when the mailman was trustworthy and had time to stop and chat. I remember when a ten-speed bike was a miracle of engineering and when having power windows on your car, meant you probably had an Olympic-sized pool in your backyard, a house filled with fine-china and finer furniture. I remember when housing developments seemed unusual – when it was strange to see so many places side-by-side, looking so similar. I remember seasons of salt-laden summer breezes, falls filled with bronzed, fallen leaves and new maple syrup and candy apples. I remember winters of cold temperatures, but warm family visits. There were holidays filled with strung lights and song and there were spring-times when the girls always seemed prettier and you just knew things were going to get better and better.

It’s a kind of sadness I feel, I suppose, when I compare the future we have traded for that past - which I know in my heart to have been somehow purer and more complete. We made that trade with our eyes open, grasping at the shiny magic beans – giving away a world of life on Earth for a hoped for place in the clouds.

But here in the desert, the world speaks few lies. Look at these things we have now. All the accoutrements of a modern age have cluttered our homes and our lives, and left us with less, not more. The progress of science and reason has made for greater technology, but a dearth of spirit. Like Orwell’s Winston, we are beaten down and left tired and sickly by the crush of our own personal institutional monsters. Many seek solace in the voices of big media concerns, but the men and women of those businesses always make their money on the controversy and carnage. It isn’t in their interest to have a better world.

Our answers seem always out of reach. Despite promises of change and progress we are always offered one more magic bean through technology and politics and science and religion. And despite living in the world promised by Frank Dille, in his Depression-era Buck Rogers cartoons, we seem no closer to that horizon. We can reach the shores of a new sea from our space-station foothold in the infinity of space, but are no closer to a better life. There’s no promise of a new diaspora. The horizon remains unreachable.

But remember, there was a time when the days ahead of us were endless, and this place held nothing but possibilities. Hope was real and change was a word, which had meaning. We had a future that was wide open to us all. There was room for heroes and explorers. There were great men and women of all kinds. We could believe.

The difference between then and now is really a simple one. We knew our world for what it was. Freedom was part of our being – we stood certain in our identity. We were Americans and we could be proud of our country’s short 200+ year journey. This has been a journey, which resulted in each of us alive today - walking and talking and running and screaming and laughing and crying in delight and pain and the range of all emotion in between.

 Believe in that place again. That’s all it takes. Believe in the country I saw from shore in 1976, as the Tall Ships gathered in celebration of the Centennial. Liberty isn’t in the titan’s flame, held aloft by a statue in New York. It exists small and always nearly flickering out, in the hearts of men and women everywhere.

As it turns out, we are as close to the perfect horizon as we want to be. We can choose to see it as an expression of our tired, earthbound nature, or we can seek our future with gladdened hearts seeing each day as a gift. We can keep safe that small light inside us. We live in the end-times only if we choose to. Dille knew it when he commissioned the Buck Rogers comics in the ‘30s and influenced a new generation of people. But it wasn’t technology he was selling then – it was the clarity of belief.

We can be so much more if we choose to be. And in that simple thought, the horizon disappears, and we understand that the line where the desert meets the sky wasn’t reminding us of our limitations – it was proof of the music of our immortal souls. Within that symphony we can finally know that we are completely free – and that we are truly alive.

TUESDAY, JUNE 30, 2009

Freedom is not Free at all

 

Freedom isn’t free at all. Some of us pay for it with our lives or the lives of our loved ones, and in the end, that can sometimes be the same thing. But still, scores of our young people take the oath and become part of our military services every day.

 

Some people who have never served or never really known anyone who has, question the motives, sanity or intelligence of those who have put on the uniform. But it is important to remember that the very freedom, which allows those questions to be asked is gladly purchased by those who swell the ranks of our military.

 

So many people, living so many different lives, all had the same ideals – and even if they were just trying to survive day to day and take care of their brother’s in arms, their deaths still bought what we have today.

 

Yet we still seem to have the ability to elect leadership which views service as something to glorify themselves. They take the oath of office; not with the humility and fear of a common troop, but with the anticipation and glee of a child with a new toy. Nor do they treat their office with dignity and respect, remembering those who came before, but instead cheapen it by self-serving trips, foolish antics, silly photo-ops and canned press conferences aimed at improving their own stature and position.

 

But are we really still free? What comes of freedom when civil rights can be ignored? What happens when questions and protests are met with ridicule and threats? How do we consider ourselves a free people when more and more of our country’s market system is absorbed by a swelling government? How far are we really from some dark Orwellian landscape when the government begins to dictate terms to its’ citizens?

 

National Socialism gave rise to the NAZI party, genocide and horrors untold. Germany has, since World War II, avoided anything resembling such ideas, yet our leaders and our government gladly take up the foundations for this. Warnings by Pravda, the newspaper of Russian fame, and the publishing flagship of the former Soviet Union, highlight our slip toward Marxism. Yet still, our leaders take away our money, our children’s money our grandchildren’s money, and follow up their thievery by legislating away our freedom. Like English, French and Spanish settlers in the New World trading indigenous people beads for land, they give us platitudes, marketing and lies in return for all that they take. Every day we are poorer, not just in wealth, but in liberty.

 

This is why the response to revolution in places like Iran, by our government, is so lukewarm. Members of our government don’t understand even the motivations and wishes of their own people – and even if they did, they are too certain of their own brilliance and too invested in their own self-interest and personal advancement to care.

 

And the people?

 

For so long, we have been told to obey. For so long we have been told that our dreams are in reach, as long as we follow the rules and as long as we try to do what our betters consider right. This is the road toward slavery.

 

So we serve and we bleed and we cry and we die – and none of it matters to most of our leaders. But it all matters to us – the people. We all remember, and we all care – and for those in our government who believe we don’t, you should know we are watching.

 

We will find you. We will remove you from office.

 

We are coming for you.

We are coming for you all.

 

Freedom.

 

 

-We the People

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2010

A final hope on this September 11

Never believe the sun has set forever and left us in darkness. 

Never forget the victims. Their names are only markers for things we cannot ever see in total - their lives and those they touched even briefly - the changes they wrought in the world, without even knowing it... that is the true monument.  

It wasn't the terrorists' acts which changed the world - it was the lives of the victims and the rallying cry which rose even as the dust settled. Some brave few answered that call and paid the price for all of us. Our warriors still hunt the animals who would continue to prey on the innocent the world over.  

So many people- so many stories and lives we will never know - given up for the rest of us. I hope those of us whose safety and security have been purchased at such a high price, have the wisdom and dignity and understanding to honor those sacrifices with our own lives. May we please live our days full and completely enough to give meaning and purpose to those lost since that terrible September day.  

And if meaning and purpose and balance is beyond our ability to attain, may we at least have the strength to face the days ahead without our brothers and sisters - may we be given enough mornings to wake and rise and make a difference in the world, so that someday those who live in the future may look back and say, "Those who were left at home - who remained at home, accomplished something - some measure of honor - some measure of peace and some measure of purpose."  

And us who have all followed the victims and the heroes into the next world, perhaps we can grasp a shred of happiness in our final moments, just long enough to fade from this Earth with a sigh of contentment - and they who come for us, we will recognize - even as they take us away. 

And the world will be brighter. And the sun will rise again without us. 


And even that final truth will be right and perfect and wonderful.

THURSDAY, MAY 27, 2010

Patriotism.


In 1991 I wrote an article about patriotism.

It wasn’t much. I simply explained that the flag waving and bugle playing and all that great stuff really wasn’t what it all was about. It was really about family and duty and caring for your brothers and sisters. Patriotism is the best things about being human.

I know these sorts of ideas may seem trite to some. I imagine there are plenty of folks out there who don’t believe in God or Heaven – or whatever you’d like to call either. Perhaps they believe in other things. Perhaps they believe in nothing at all. And that’s fine – belief or non-belief isn’t mandatory, but making some kind of choice to do something for other people is.

I can’t help but think of all those commercials and paid “news reports” – some with the President himself, extolling the need for volunteering – asking for people to give of themselves. And yet, half a world away, young men and women are doing just that. They are volunteering to protect the rest of us against a very real enemy. You just haven’t seen the faces of those killers, personally. You hear instead, the platitudes of a government led by cowards. You listen to propaganda – or worse – you believe total fabrications intended to ramp up the volume of hate and despair.

I know the face of hopelessness. I know its’ bitter taste, and can tell you personally what it is like to look into the eyes of the kind of creatures who caused the gaping hole and all the misery in New York. These individuals are no longer human. They aren’t fighting for their families – they aren’t serving any duty, holy or otherwise. They are in fact, insane.

Individuals like that, and all those who enable them – even to a large extent, many in our own government – are just husks. They are empty, lost individuals shuffling through a decaying landscape. For them, the suffering of average people is not real, and the sacrifices made on their behalf simply do not even come to mind. They can’t possibly see beyond their own needs, and so, in their mind, how could there be anyone else who does? How could there be any real kindness and any real giving – without a taking? For these people, how could there even be a God in the face of so much thoughtlessness and emptiness in the cold vastness of the universe?

It is within that barren landscape of soul, that hate and terror and oppression are born.

But there is an alternative and it is always within reach. You can simply choose to care. You can simply try your hardest to be a better person than you were the day before. You can be the one to say a kind word, to ask a simple question, to do a selfless thing and to honor those who are giving up themselves in every possible way, so you will be happy and safe.

I have had the greatest honor of wearing the uniform of my country. But it is as nothing compared to the greatness of those who have come before me and those who have come after. I have known both. I have had friends who flew gliders into France on D-Day. I have listened to the stories describing a sky on fire as gliders exploded in balls of flame and bodies of comrades fell to earth. I have known men who were officers in the Underwater Demolition Teams. Their stories are told in pieces – the pieces they are allowed to speak about, and the pieces which their voices will allow them to tell. I have known veterans of Korea and Vietnam and there’s a sadness there, too great for words.

And most recently, I have spoken to a number of my active duty brothers and sisters. I dread the future because it holds the chance – the day – when those voices will go silent and I will never know their fate. My time and my efforts were like a blink compared to these people.

And so we come to the meaning of it all. Patriotism is this: a belief and love for your fellow man, and for an idea that became a country and a people. It is about being more than skin and blood and bone. It is simply about transcendence, and hope, and the willingness to give everything up so that the person next to you – or someone you never met - will be free and live a full life. You don’t have to understand it, but you do have to respect it.

Michelle Obama once described a particular moment as the first time she was proud of her country. With her and her husband choosing to take yet another vacation as the annual wreath is laid on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I would have to say it is the first time I am truly and deeply ashamed of our President.

But this is still America, and those brave souls being remembered on Monday, died so he and the First Lady could do as they wish. That sacrifice and that gift – all given for nothing in return, is the true measure and meaning of patriotism.

MONDAY, AUGUST 24, 2009

Room 101 - The theft of freedom

Above: a post card requesting the release of a political prisoner from
the clutches of the corrupt Somali government which collapsed, leaving 
the country in ruin, and precipitating international
intervention in Operation Restore Hope 1992-93. This card was found
on the floor of the corridor of the vacant parliament building
amongst piles of millions of such requests.


Your health care is history. Your lives are being crushed. You just can’t see the ceiling yet, but it is falling, and we are all underneath it.

I’m going to paraphrase Orwell again – why? Because, we are living in a time where we are sliding faster and faster into the dark “future” of 1984. Orwell wrote that most of the material that you are dealing with has no connection with anything in the real world, “not even the kind of connection that is contained in a direct lie.”

Statistics, he wrote, are “just as much a fantasy in their original version as in their rectified version.”

So where is the truth? Truth is currently whatever those in power want to call it. We who live outside of Washington and all the groups connected, contracted and in collusion with the country’s alleged leadership, have no voice. No matter how many town meetings we sandbag – or how many Congressional offices we stand outside of, we are the Proles of 1984. We are the ignored. We are derided and dismissed.

Now, we are the re-educated, reformed and failing that, interrogated or tortured.

No longer will most of the old agencies be part of the political process. We have czars for everything. We have provided unlimited funding to hidden groups – and some not so hidden, like ACORN. Now, no longer will the Central Intelligence Agency have the ability to do a major part of its job. Someone else will be managing all interrogations. Allegedly the new unit will focus specifically on key terror suspects – and yes, it will have its’ own czar.

In 1984, Winston does not know why Withers and the FFCC are disgraced and disbanded. Heretical tendencies are at question, but “what was likeliest of all -- the thing had simply happened because purges and vaporizations were a necessary part of the mechanics of government.”

Many are saying that this change in the interrogation scenario will have a chilling effect – that is, new interrogators hired by the fledgling group will be very cautious – overly cautious, so as not to lose their jobs in the future and become the targets of prosecution.

But, the polar opposite is also true. By removing something as dark as detention and interrogation from a system which has oversight to one which only is answerable to the President – and subsequently no real oversight, you end up with the same kind of system which exists in Third-world countries. Don’t believe it? You don’t have to. The disappeared can’t speak for themselves. They have long ago faced the horrors of their torture chambers – the Orwellian “pain-giving dial,” and are now buried with thousands – perhaps millions - of their fellow citizens; and they are all buried in lost landfills around the globe. I know it because I have stood in the corridors of the former parliament building of the ousted President Siad Barre of Somalia. I stood knee-deep in postcards each requesting the release of a different particular political prisoner. The corridor was thousands of feet long, and filled from one end to the other.
I can still feel them against my legs – like the fingers of the lost dead.

And dear reader, you think it can’t happen here? What then happens now?

One thing is for certain, the cattle-like media will now follow this CIA topic and will allow their albeit meager attention to waver from the story of the failing health-care reform legislation. And of course, the administration knows they are currently losing that battle. Or are they?

With attention split between the hot-button of interrogation and torture and previous policy versus current policy, a possible window will open through which some version of health care reform will be stuffed through. Meanwhile, the CIA, which in recent months has gone head-to-head with skin-walkers like Nancy Pelosi, will be reduced in authority and power.

And all that power and authority will be delivered into the loving hands of Big Brother Obama, who could stop the impending prosecution of CIA personnel and others – a modern day witch hunt – in its’ tracks. But he won’t, because he only stands to gain from the avalanche his friend, Eric Holder, has put into motion.

Make no mistake, though. We are already in Orwell’s Room 101. We are strapped to the chair and are completely immobilized. We cannot move our head. And the interrogator O’Brien is with us.

'You asked me once,' said O'Brien, 'what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.'

What’s the worst thing in the world to you, dear reader? Is it the loss of everything that once made us America? For poor Winston, it was rats. Rats like we have in Washington right now.

'Do you remember,' said O'Brien, 'the moment of panic that used to occur in your dreams? There was a wall of blackness in front of you, and a roaring sound in your ears. There was something terrible on the other side of the wall. You knew that you knew what it was, but you dared not drag it into the open. It was the rats that were on the other side of the wall.'

But they’re not on the other side of the wall any more, dear reader. They are here with us all. They are in our government – by the dozens – by the hundreds or thousands. They are preparing us for Room 101. The worst thing in the world varies from individual to individual, wrote Orwell. And he was right – it could be burning alive, impalement, drowning or a thousand other things. But our rats are smart. They’ve found the most terrible thing to inflict on all of us – something truly universal, which every American dreads.

They are stealing freedom.

TUESDAY, AUGUST 4, 2009

Hate and faith and hope

The world spins and we live our lives day to day, and sometimes it seems we are awash in hate. Like ocean water made sluggish by sea weed, we float in the surf, but the things we can’t quite see grab at our ankles and wrap around our wrists.

We float - barely.

It’s a remarkable thing to find so much discord. Simpler times weren’t so long ago. They were times of lesser consequence, times when the world could be perfect and pure. These were times free of hate.

Yet, the fear and anger which leads to this darker path, is also woven into our lives, and permeates everything we touch. Because we fear, we become quick to anger. Because we build and compress anger, we give birth to hate. And that only leads to darkness – Hell on Earth.

What do we know about fear and anger?

There is a book written for the Samurai, named Hagakure. It contains many different short pieces of advice – most of them useful even today, hundreds of years later. These days I like to try to read a short piece from this book before practice. Perhaps it is age – or maybe I just want to set firmly in my mind some small pieces of wisdom. It helps to have these kinds of things when the days are dark. From the second chapter of the Hagakure, we are given this:

Covetousness, anger and foolishness are things to sort out well. When bad things happen in the world, if you look at them comparatively, they are not unrelated to these three things. Looking comparatively at the good things, you will see that they are not excluded from wisdom, humanity and bravery.

So when I read news stories, which so obviously slide into the territories of anger and foolishness, I’m saddened. It would have been a simple thing for someone to make a difference in some of these terrible events. A second-look at a situation – or a simple glance at a person who stands on the edge of some personal ruin can change the world.

But how often does that happen?

Instead we are fed with the worst the day has to bring every time we turn on the television or look at the news headlines in the paper or on the computer. We get to listen to talk radio personalities from the endless facets of political and social spectrums screaming their frustrations into the void. We are treated with disrespect and disdain by our selected leadership and day by day our world seems to erode around us.

But survival is key. The text of the Hagakure doesn’t miss this point, reading in part… 'If one were to say what it is to do good, in a single word it would be to endure suffering. Not enduring is bad without exception."

We are so capable of embracing darkness. As a creature of the Earth we have excelled in bending our very environment to suit our nature and needs. We have congratulated ourselves on our scientific advancements, and partaken of wonders created through ingenuity and hard work.

But where we have evolved technologically, we lag behind in spirit and faith. So many of us lack faith in any kind of supreme being and what is maybe worse – we lack faith in ourselves and each other. But we can be more than this.

The world spins and we live out our days, and sometimes, if you look real hard, it can seem like we are awash in hope.

***

When meeting calamities or difficult situations, it is not enough to simply say that one is not at all flustered. When meeting difficult situations, one should dash forward bravely and with joy. - Hagakure

SUNDAY, JULY 12, 2009

Angels in the Dark

Sometimes you just need to believe in something.
The saying “there are no atheists in the foxholes,” may be, for the most part, true. I know it because military experience led me to conclusions and connections, which I otherwise would never have made.

In today’s world, we are constantly being hammered down by dark happenings in our world and our country. We are faced with the hard truth, so frequently that we harden our hearts just to make it through the day. If we have good dreams, it is cause for celebration. After all, our days lately are like an acid ocean, their burning tides eroding the peace of our very souls.

But someone once said to me there are bad things in the world which we cannot see. Some African tribes call these bad things Shetani. Other cultures in other times had different names for them, but they all believed them to be dangerous, dark and evil. Of course, if you believe in such things, you likely believe in the opposite – that the balance is maintained by beings, which represent all, which is good and bright.

Before 1993 I would have shrugged all of this off. But by the time it was 1993, I had been in Africa for some time, driving the streets of Mogadishu and the surrounding countryside. I was a driver or a gunner most of the time, and no one of any importance. My friend, Al, was a U.S. Army enlisted guy. We swapped positions on the vehicle often – but always rode together. You just develop a trust with certain people. You just know that if the chips are down, they will have your back.

The chips weren’t looking too good one evening in a town called Afgooye. Our convoy had got stuck in a back alley late at night. We were boxed in, with high-rise buildings barely visible in the distance, just beyond the light of the street and the vehicles. For a long time, we couldn’t move forward or backward. I was sure this situation was an ambush, so I was scanning the distant high windows for a trace of movement, or the flash of an RPG, which I was sure would destroy the rear vehicle in the convoy and make retreat from the bottleneck impossible. Without night vision or any of the top-notch equipment being fielded today, the situation was similar to one in any conflict since Korea or Vietnam – maybe even WWII. In fact, my weapon had been made in 1971, never fired – and remained in a box until I was deployed to Camp Pendleton and from there became attached to the 1st Marine Expeditionary – and the Joint Task Force.

All this was going through my head at the time, as I stood atop that vehicle and eyed those distant windows. That assumption could have been the end of us, because right next to the driver’s window – almost close enough to reach out and touch, was a weathered wooden shutter with peeling turquoise paint. I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember suddenly realizing that it was there – suddenly understanding that a grenade flipped into the hummer from that window would accomplish the same ends as an RPG from the high-rises.

And as this dawned on me, the shutter began to slowly open.

The driver, my friend Al, was yelling up to me... “The window – the window!” I got a good sight-picture on the thing and flipped off the safety. I wondered how long I should wait – put my finger on the trigger, searched for any feeling about it all, and realized there was none. Suddenly understood that I was simply going to identify the threat and shoot, just as I had trained to do.

I put a little bit more pressure on the trigger. No nervousness, no nothing. The shutter kept gliding quietly open, but ever-so-slowly. I realized I would have to react very quickly. And as it came completely open, and I recognized that it was a human shape framed in the window, I knew I was prepared to finish it.

You see, for months we had lived amongst the Somalis. We knew the countryside and the people – even some of the language. We understood the mission and had accomplished most of the goals within three weeks of being in-country. By that night, we had been there for several months. Our time had been extended indefinitely.

I can speak for only myself in this, however.

I had long previously lost something important. I can’t put that in words. It simply is what it is. Some of you reading, you may know what I mean. For those of you who don’t, you’re very lucky.

But as I focused on that shape in the window, it seemed to light up. A woman was there, shades of blue light in a haze around her. She could have been Somali, but there was something unusual about her.

You see, I had the muzzle of that weapon sighted in on the center of her chest. We weren’t that far away from each other. She looked directly into my eyes. Al was screaming – “Do you see her? Oh my God, Dave, do you see her?” Her gaze was steady - impossibly so. With a loaded weapon aimed directly at her, she didn’t flinch, duck, yell out or say something harsh and accusing. In fact, she didn’t do anything a normal human would do. I could see her eyes and her face clearly. There was nothing there but compassion. We stared across the barrel of the weapon at each other, with Al still screaming and hitting my legs in the vehicle below.

She was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, and as the convoy again began to move slowly away, she kept her gaze on me. I watched her until we were out of sight and when the convoy turned around at the base of the road and we came back up and out of that neighborhood, she was no longer there.

But I felt something different. I was different, somehow. Something that I had given up on, or maybe something that I had set down or lost somewhere, had been found and given back to me.

So for those of you out there who need something to believe in; who have walked the dark roads for so long with nothing to give you light and faith and happiness, know this. The vision of that woman was a kind of proof that there is more than just beauty out there – maybe that there is more than darkness and demons looking for us, and maybe that there are some things real and tangible working on our side, and looking after us all.

To this day, and every day for the rest of my life, I have known and will know that I have seen an Angel.

And she offered me forgiveness and peace.

TUESDAY, JULY 7, 2009

In a single day

For more info on getting a copy of this print, email me at Blackstarfish@cableone.net

Nearly eight years ago, America was lost and found, all in a single day.

 

The terrorist attacks of 9-11 killed thousands and changed the lives of uncounted people across the globe. News reports saturated the airwaves, world governments promised justice or vengeance – maybe both.

 

 

Our new president stood on the crushed remains of a fire truck and delivered an impromptu speech to a scattered crowd of first responders and on-scene ground-zero volunteers. Many of us looking on from our living rooms across America railed at our inability to assist in any meaningful way. Flags sprouted up from porches and curbsides where only days before there had been nothing. Many went back to churches, long abandoned for the hectic, impersonal drive of every-day life. Some just moved along, barely functioning. But everyone suddenly looked around and recognized each other as Americans.

 

I remember. I was there.

 

 

I lived in a small town where a local police officer had only recently left to begin a new career in the airline industry. Al was on one of the aircraft, which hit the Trade Center. It was his first day on the new job.

 

 

But we lived day to day back then, and making the trip to one of the disaster sites to volunteer was impossible. We returned from work daily to a new helping of horror and a new feeling of impotence.

 

 

I was a graphic artist and a writer, so I painted and I wrote. And today, so many years later, I revisited the painting I did the week of the attacks, intending to make a print of it for a friend. I decided to make some additions – most notably, a complete list of names of every person who lost their lives in each attack.

 

 

So I ask you now – consider what is more horrible...

 

Is it that I struggled to fit the entire list on a 22 x 17 inch print? Or is it that I finally did?

 

 

Or maybe the most horrible thing of all is that with such a massive loss of life and a nation and world so terribly affected – with little towns filled with people raising and lowering their flags every day – with all that, we are here less than eight years later tearing each other down and struggling to maintain our national identity.

 

 

How mean and low and sick we have become that we so easily allow the very work those terrorists started September 11, 2001, to continue unchallenged. Our country implodes around us, a continuance of the work they started. And the very people who pulled together back then – the same people who stood united against a soul-less enemy, now stand in fractured political groups across the country.

 

 

So I’ll ask again, what is more horrible...

 

Is it that I felt a need to add those thousands of names to that painting? Is it that I was able to do it? Or is it that in time, amidst the partisan infighting, no one may even remember why those people died, and how America was both lost and found...

 

 

All in a single day.

For those interested, our knives feature a zero-grind style at between 7.5 and 11 degrees. We do each of these completely by-hand and by-eyeball. There are no jigs at work here. Our grinder features a ten-inch wheel with a variable speed controller - and we run it at high pressures with a 70 duro contact wheel and 2 inch x 72-inch blaze ceramic belts. 

We do not, however, weigh our knives. If you are worried about how much they weigh, you must be preparing to take them into space. Hope you have a good trip.

Our steels have been LaTrobe Dura Tech 20CV, ELMAX, M390, CTS-204P, Z-FINIT Nitrogen Steel, CPM-20CV and a couple in N690 and Cowry X. We are always experimenting - and always looking for new materials and treatments. 

Our coatings are also specialized stuff: We use Black-T and Black Diamond DLC. Our blades are sent out to those two companies to accomplish that work, depending on the requirements of the project.

We do all our own firing and cryo work. Everything by-hand and by-heart.

CURRENT TIMEFRAME

FOR KNIFE BUILDS...

 

5-13 Months

approx.

(yep. We are that busy)

AND REMEMBER:

Troops come first.

------

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