A Tribute to an American Hero:
U.S. Senator, John Sidney McCain III
August 29, 1936 – August 25, 2018
by Dennis L. McHale, 2018
Amidst the sorrow of this day
Voices whispering unspoken rage
An eagle sleeps, a nation mourns
A great man falls, a legend born
He lent his hand but not in force
He taught us grace in free discourse
And so today, we weep and pray
An eagle sleeps, yet we hear him say:
Keep closed the passions of your heart
Now comes your due, I’ve played my part
Seal your lips and plant the seed
Trust in this great democracy
Keep closed the hatred in your eyes
Brothers, sisters, come now arise
Blind your vision from fools’ false verse
Resist absolutes, the patriot’s curse
Keep closed the shadows within your minds
Keep closed the mouths, let your words be kind
Reclaim a nation’s blood-won imminence
Mute the all this hateful verbal dissonance…
Waste not your youth upon the spoken word
Speak “you’re wrong, I’m right” we are then caught
We are called to serve and not to be heard
Resist the cancerous growth of ego’s thought
Join hands if only this day of my death
Fear not America’s fate, despite this dark, dark hour
You can bear this your burden, be not bereft
You’ve been blessed with freedom, man’s greatest power
It is in service of each other that democracy is tethered
Though my talons grip no longer, and silent beat my feathers
Don’t worry for yourself, imprisoned in doubt and agitation
I pass now this final hour the future hope of our great nation
This is how I start my days.
At four a.m. I awaken with a start. It isn’t that I wasn’t sleeping well, but this is my witching hour. The first five seconds is the hardest, as in my waking dream, I reach over to gaze upon my wife and instantly realize … she is no longer there. She will never be there again. It is a fleeting and aching “awakening”, but this, too, is part of my healing. The pain dissipates quickly, and I realize that one day I won’t even have this. It’s a cruel way to start each morning, but it is a new morning, and that’s what really matters, isn’t it?
I stretch deeply and take a moment to gaze out the window into the moon-drenched early morning darkness. I am in absolute awe at the beauty of its silence. This moment belongs to me, alone.
I quietly swing my feet to the floor and sit for a moment. My muse is impatiently pulling me into awakening, but I do my best to resist. I want to sleep just a little bit more, but my eyes have already made out the flashing light on my hibernating computer and just like that, I want to be writing more than I want to be dreaming.
I gently close the bedroom door behind me and make my way into the kitchen. I put water in the kettle, light the stove, and grab my pack of cigarettes. I head out the door, inhaling the wet damp pre-dawn air, thick with the scent of pine and lilacs and the petrichor of moist soil and green grass. I sit on the second stoop, and light up. The ritual never changes.
Here, beneath the canopy of constellations, I look for my special star. I don’t know what it is called, and I don’t know why it is that star…but I need to start each day in a silent commune before it. Once I find it, I stare at it for a few minutes, emptying my mind of creeping thoughts. I slowly shut my eyes, inhale another drag – and listen. Deeply.
I am listening for the voice of this star. We often converse, as only a man and his star can. I ask this star profound, life-guiding questions. I ask about the width and the depth and the breadth of the “whys” and the “what nows.” It answers me in a dazzling array of pale blue twinkles. If I listen hard enough, the answers come. They always come.
Like little mice on padded feet, words start scampering around my brain. The writing has begun.
I toss the cigarette into the night, watching a spiral of red sparks ascend, then descend, as if to punctuate the purpose of this ritual. From the kitchen, the kettle begins to sing, and I rush in before it hits full crescendo. I pour the steaming water over a cone of coffee grounds and inhale the rising steam. In a seamless arch, I take my cup of coffee to the kitchen table, flip open the lid to my computer, and hit the resume button.
And then I write. And write and write and write.
At this point, what I write is irrelevant. That I write is the point. The wee hours of the morning are not the time to self-critique or to spin a plot. It is the time for the bleeding of words. And in these words, I find my way forward. I find the meaning that often eludes me in spoken words. I find my healing.
This is how I start my days.
Zenos Frudakis Freedom Sculpture
On December 10th 1948, the United Nations General Assembly ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration enshrined the principle that human beings could no longer be treated in law or public policy as mere tools of the powerful or subjects of the state, but that they possess inherent value, and must be permitted to live their lives according to the priorities they themselves identify, in so far as they do not infringe the rights of others. This enshrined the definition of freedom that extends beyond international borders and political regimes.
Personal freedom is “the legal allowance to do whatever a person wants insofar as he or she does not offensively harm or coerce other people against those other people’s wills”, and insomuch as the desired end does not constrain, suppress, or deny the freedom of others. Remember, this limitation is a logical requirement. Freedom obviously cannot include the legal right to limit other people’s freedom because that would be illogical. Ensuring the freedom and rights of others in pursuit of what we desire for ourselves is commonly known as the principle of self-control (or “self-ownership”).
Social Freedom expands the concept of personal freedom to include sharing equally and without general exceptions the rights and liberties of one’s fellow man. Taken a step further; freedom is not true freedom if one accrues such rights and privileges while turning a blind eye to freedom denied his fellow man. Freedom gathered to oneself while others are denied theirs is not in fact freedom. It is, rather, class privilege. For example, freedom does not include the legal right to enslave someone else because freedom includes the legal right to not be enslaved. In another example, freedom does not include the legal right to non-defensively punch other people in the face against their will because freedom includes the legal right to not be offensively punched.
Freedom is being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint, unless such restraint is in place for the protection of society as a whole, and insofar as such restraints are the minimal necessary to ensure society’s safety and does not excessively limit the human rights of the confined, and remaining freedoms not deemed harmful, of the restrained. Our eyes must always be cast upon the horizon; the day in which our words and our actions restore and enshrine full freedom for others. We must draw from the well of tolerance, acceptance, and, yes….love. In doing so, we find that freedom for which we so eternally thirst.
To this end, I would suggest that it is time to revisit the treatise of Animal Rights. The ascription of moral and legal rights to animals and their enshrinement in a United Nations Declaration of Animal Rights is a logical and inevitable progression of ethical thinking. Inasmuch as there is ample evidence that many animal species are capable of feeling, we should condemn totally the infliction of suffering upon our fellow creatures and the curtailment of their behavioral and other needs save where this is necessary for their own individual benefit and protection.
This 4th, we are all invited to celebrate the current state of our freedom and personal/national independence. It cannot escape the historical reality that we bear a responsibility to remember those we enslaved and those we continue to oppress as we continue to work toward “a more perfect Union.” We can never be truly free until we acknowledge the bitter lessons of slavery and the marginalization and exclusion of individuals and groups with whom we might take exception, be they gender, race, creed, sexual identification, or other “freely” embraced definitions of self-determination. Freedom is the inherent right not only to hold an opposing view, but ensuring holding one’s view is coupled with the responsibility not to impose such views at the expense of the freedom of others. We must resist arriving at an ego-centric idea of freedom, but instead move toward a definition of liberty that embraces full and unencumbered freedom for all.
In conclusion, it is helpful – in fact it is essential – that we view the concept of freedom and self-determination as an evolving and fluid pursuit. We have not arrived at, but are on a continuing journey toward discovering of ourselves and our collective values.
It is also helpful to acknowledge that the most important tool we possess in achieving persona freedom is tolerance. Equality means equal opportunity for all. It does not mean “the same.” We are individuals first, and members of a social network second. Respect for the unique individuality of others should be the unshakeable foundation upon which we build upon and define our personal freedom.
History is replete with the atrocities, pain, and horror of forming a definition of freedom and tolerance for others. We cannot, and must not, view this from a “Me” perspective, but rather a view always be in a state of embracing the “We.”
She spent half of her life
wearing the same pair of shoes.
When she first saw them, they were dazzling…
full of promise (and promises!)
Tightly laced and polished,
glistening like diamonds upon her feet.
They were immediately comfortable, and comforting.
At first, she walked through dark night forests
and midnight-winding streets; breaking them in,
smiling at the melody of new leather creaking
in harmony with the violin-sawing of cricket wings,
with the ruffling of the night owls feathers.
She dared to share her dreams, and danced in her new shoes
with abandon and trust and hope.
The shoes spoke to her or wondrous things to come…
making promises shoes should not make
but new love demands –
of forever cradling her…
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I am devastated about the loss of Robin Williams, as are the millions of his fans, and more so by the fact that he took his own life. Despite all of his money and all of his available resources, depression reached its bony fingers into his life (and dragged him to an untimely death as it certainly has for millions of others.) Drugs and alcohol are certainly a part of his story, but make no mistake…this is a story about the savage blow of depression. The pills and booze were only a symptom of this man’s sad demise. Depression was the death blow.
Anyone who has never suffered from the savage effects of deep depression will find it hard to comprehend his decision to take his own life. Depressed people don’t kill themselves out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life isn’t worth living. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. Depression is an invisible agony that for many reaches a certain unendurable level where life and death are near equal terrors and death becomes a lesser terror than living.
For those who decide to take their life, they spend their final days and hours in much the same way a trapped person eventually chooses to jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. For the depressive suicidal, it’s not the desire of death, it’s the terror of living. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.
In this same way, a person who doesn’t suffer the agony of depression will never be able to understand the torments and terrors suffered by those afflicted. Never. Just as depression is an invisible agony, so, too is the understanding of true depression invisible to those who do not suffer it.
We can, and should, have a conversation about depression, but unless you’ve ever stood on a ledge with flames coming closer and closer, you will never truly understand the agonizing decision to jump.
Rest in peace, Robin Williams..your Genie is out.