REFLECTIONS ON FREEDOM by D.L. McHale

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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.”

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I Bark, Therefore, I Am

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I’m not going to yank your leash – it’s been a busy month. A few weeks ago, my humans took me into the scary place with the man in the white coat. You know the place. It’s where everyone gathers around me as I lay on a cold. steel table and they poke and prod. Seems I had something called cancer and my human’s seemed really, really worried and sad. It couldn’t be all that bad, I thought, as the treats seemed to triple recently… but before I could whimper, “let’s get out of this place”, they left me and went away.

Now, I know I’m a brave boy…at least that’s what they told me as they left. But I certainly didn’t feel brave as the man in the white coat took me into the back room and put me into a deep sleep.

I dreamt of all the eight, wonderful, play-packed years I had spent with my humans. I must have chased ten thousand bouncy things in the park, and they always bought me squeaky things to keep me occupied as they went to work each day. I dreamt of the day they rescued me. I had been kept in a breeders cage since birth, and when I was freed, I had seizures brought on by the new flood of attention and love. But as they said, I’m a brave boy, and I was so happy when they took me home to share their kennel with me. Over the next 8 years, I learned to play and cuddle and found my utmost joy in the little humans that would pet me, cooing, “Oooh..he’s so soft!”

I confess, nothing was as much fun as Christmas at my human’s owners house in Grass Valley when I get my new toys and treats! Didn’t much care for the firecracker day each July, but I found my comfort behind Mama’s legs. Oh, how I dreamed some big dog dreams.

When I woke up, the scary man in the white coat was smiling, and there were my humans!! They had come back (as they always do). My tail thumped as I could see how joyful and happy they were! “I got it all,” beamed the white coated man. “It’s was a low grade cancer and I’d be surprised if it comes back,” he said. I don’t know what all the fuss was about, but my humans were no longer sad, and that was all that mattered to me. I’ve got a lot of living, chasing, and loving to do still yet.

As I left the room, I looked back at the white-coated man and gave a little bark. He wasn’t so scary after all, and I felt I owed him a bark of thanks.

 

We Are the Mercy We Seek…

The Victims of the Boston Marathon Bombings

The Victims of the Boston Marathon Bombings

Krystle Campbell. Martin Richard. Lingzi Lu.
Three orchids withered on the vine this week.  They never had a chance to fully bloom.

This week, a nation grieves after having once more stared into the bloody, gaping maw of death and destruction visited upon the city of Boston.  Promising lives and futures were swallowed whole behind a cowardly and senseless act of terrorism, and the survivors now begin their struggle behind the unanswerable “why?”

As a nation, we will rally around the families of the dead and maimed and will embrace our brothers and sisters in Boston with action, thoughts, and prayers.  And despite their heroic efforts, the first responders will need our support as the floodgates of emotions finally catches up with them. We will be there for them as well.  But what about us?  What does the average person across America do to navigate the hopelessness and despair we feel in connection with these continuing acts of horror?

What can we do but personalize it?  To extend our support and love to those within our own sphere of influence.  While there is little most of us can do to directly help those who were caught up in the actual nightmare of Boston, we can certainly look around us and see ample loss and suffering in our own communities.  We can take that sense of hopelessness and turn it around, extending our compassion, our strengths, and our love to those who can use it best.  To feel a broken, aching heart for the victims of the Marathon bombing, yet remain blind to the suffering and pain of those closest to us is a cheap, selfish emotion.  We are better than that.

I had a back and forth with a writer friend of mine this week, before the bombings, about the need for each of us to take our gifts, whatever they may be, and assume responsibility for confronting the evil that is so prevalent in our daily lives.  She made what I thought at the time to be a defeating comment about how little we could do to combat all the evil that surrounds us.  I responded to her, perhaps a bit more harshly than I intended, that to accept that and do nothing was, in my opinion, an even greater evil.  She is a powerful writer with a gifted, compelling voice, and I reminded her that with that gift comes responsibility.  She already knew that…but I think my words caused her to stop and reflect for a moment on how powerful her gift really was.  Through the power of her writing, she can galvanize and motivate others into action.  She can do something!  And I know she will.

I often turn my own readers off when I chasten them not to look to earnestly for God’s mercy in times like these.  It isn’t that I don’t believe in God. I do.  I just don’t think He’s as merciful as we are lead to believe.  I believe He expects us to be the channels of that mercy.  But too often, we convince ourselves that falling on our knees in prayer is action enough, and nothing could be further from the truth.  We keep searching for God’s mercy while withholding our own.  And the acts of mayhem around the globe march steady on.  God has no stake in this, or at least none that my weak mind can discern. And if I spend my time looking for his tender mercy in these horrific acts, I’ll be spending most of my day walking in circles.  His mercy is not evident.  But ours can be.

Wow!  As I write this, the radio news channel is reporting a massive explosion in the city West, Texas.  15 people, including first responders, are dead.  Entire city blocks are leveled.  There are over 150 people wounded, and the count has just started.  Say a prayer, if you must, but once you get off of your knees, take then a step toward just one person whose life you can impact and do something.  If you want to honor the victims of far off tragedies, do so by embracing and helping those in equal dire circumstances nearest you.  Figure out what your “gift” is…and extend it to others.  Then, and only then, can we each do something about the relentless evil that invades our lives.

The Reluctant Father: A Serial Novel Where the Reader (You) Determines the Next Chapter

What follows is my first attempt at utilizing WordPress to write a serial novel (a novel printed in installments.)  You, the reader will play a significant roll in the evolution of this story.  Read the current chapter and leave a comment briefly letting me (the author) know where you think the characters and story should go next.

FATHER

THE RELUCTANT FATHER

Chapter One: Tatiana and Irina

Had she shot me point blank in the heart, she could not have done more damage.

I met Tatiana eight years earlier.  She was sitting alone in an Armenian café on the corner of Santa Monica and New Hampshire.  This was the “Little Russia” enclave of Los Angeles. Not the safest place for a 28 year old red-headed Anglo to be perusing at fifteen after midnight.  People disappeared in this neighborhood for a lot less than satisfying a piroshki craving.  Reflexively, I patted my .32 Baikal pistol tucked beneath my sweatshirt. My stomach gurgled with hunger.

She was stunningly gorgeous. And well, she wasn’t exactly alone.  Clutched  close to her ample breasts, wrapped in a coffee stained tattered blanket with “LA Children’s Hospital” emblazoned across the hem, was a baby.  Normally, this is when I tune out and continue on my way, but she was too fucking beautiful.

“привет,” (hello) I whispered, not wanting to wake the child.

“ебать с,”  (fuck off) she whispered back, glaring at me with the softest brown eyes I had ever seen.

“Why?” I replied, in full voice, hoping I would wake the child just to annoy her.  “Is Daddy coming…ever?”  I felt mildly ashamed at offering such a cruel comeback, knowing full well she was probably a single mom struggling just to keep her sanity for one more night.  Now she had to further her misery with flirting from some asshole the likes of me.

As if it were possible, her soft brown eyes turned even softer, as tears started to well.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “you didn’t deserve that.”

“I’m sorry, too.” she replied, in broken English.  “My name is Tatiana.  This is Irina, and no, Daddy isn’t coming…ever.”

“Tony,” I offered. “So, where’s Daddy?”  I looked at the sleeping child.  She was so pink and I swear there was a smile on her cherub face.  A beauty, just like her mother…but without the stain of a hard life that her mother was wrestling with at midnight in an Armenian café.

“In prison, “ she replied.  “He doesn’t even know he’s a Daddy.”

“Well, he couldn’t have been in long.  How old is she?”

“One month.  We broke up when he was arrested.  I was two months pregnant.”

It was a bit of an uncomfortable introduction, but we meet people how we meet them.  It was obvious that Tatiana was starving for some contact other than the baby she held.  Without thinking it through, I offered:

“Do you need help?”

“Help?  How can you help me,” she spit.

“Do… You  …Need … Help? I repeated, softly.

She looked away for a moment, lifting the corner of the baby blanket to dab her eyes.  After about 15 seconds of silence, she replied,

“Yes…we need help.”

———————————— end Chapter One

Pirate, the Island Dog

Byron

Pirate is everyone’s, yet he is no one’s. Vacationers arrive, discover him, and dote on him for two weeks, then disappear. He is their holiday project – a story they’ll tell over dinner at home. On those soft, warm-winded Caribbean nights, some allow him in, to sleep at the foot of their beds, to guard their front door. In passing, some even toy with the idea of a rescue. Could we? Should we? Shots? Papers? Questions asked with the exuberance of the relaxed and the happy, but as the time to leave draws near, reality encroaches, the idea stalls.

There is an eternal sadness in Pirate’s eyes that comes from continual loss. People come and offer love, then go away, leaving him vainly searching for those he has loved so loyally in return. Yet his heart is enormous, and mixed in with his grief is boundless hope that the next one will be the one. He sits beneath the warm sun when the ships come in, panting in anticipation of the people off-boarding into his life. He lives in the moment, and the moment is glorious when the kids swarm to him, petting, cooing, and hugging. In that moment, he finally belongs…if only for a moment.

Every couple of weeks, Pirate sadly watches his loved ones depart, on the same ship that delivered them into his heart in the first place. A new band always takes their place, and he is robbed of his grieving as he prepares for the newcomers. This island dog waits, knowing it will take only one; one, to give him a name that won’t change, one, to call it out in the dark should he wander too far. One to call to him and him alone: Come home!

My Pagoda

pagoda

In my next incarnation,
I will dwell in a house
with a roof that curls like a smile.
Nestled in a flush of empurpled trees
and luminous clouds –
paths winding up
the velvety-green mountains
and ninety-nine steps
upward to my teak-carved door.

Shivering, I will rise in the morning,
blow on my hands like coals,
and squat to make tea in the teapot.
Slowly, the aromatic leaves will fill my heart
like a cup, the tea swirling,
knowing more than I know.

In the room’s far corner,
an altar, a few flowers, incense.
Buddha smiling.

My visitors will carry bright offerings
But how little will be necessary!
Like a beggar’s bowl,
each day will be full and empty

Awakening Our Memories

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We shall sail through the air a thousand country miles –
watch the falcons pirouette in the summer sky;
lunch upon bitter green apples and fermented mangoes
and nap beneath the cool luminous clouds;
quench our thirst with melodious wine
and toss stones down upon frozen lakes.

We shall immortalize poets against the echoing granite walls of time.
In bare feet we will land and dance in verdant green meadows
that carpet a bottomless valley;
trace our fingertips along the gnarled grooves
of a dying oak and bid it farewell.

We will bathe in babbling brooks that giggle at
our nakedness and dry ourselves in the wispy autumn winds.
Upon mountaintops, we shall squeeze sunsets between
our forefinger and thumb and slowly open them again to
the shimmering glow of a new moon.

We shall sleep beneath a canopy of universes and compose
our dreams against shimmering stars;
build wet sandcastles fit for kings on foreign shores
and feed them to the ravenous surf.

Beneath cascading waterfalls we’ll write tumbling
verse, while angelfish nibble at our dropped metaphors.
In the Mascarene Islands, we will fly kites built from
forest reeds and raffia palms until they are swallowed
by drifting winter clouds.

The return to a new day awaits us, and a thousand more
miles beneath our balloon before this life is drawn complete.
Awakening a memory, we close our eyes
and the colors of life’s possibilities explode beneath our lids.