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.”

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.

 

The Life and Death of My Creativity

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It is said that one of the prerequisites of creativity is to have had experienced childhood trauma. Read the works of any great Irish writer (Frank McCourt, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce) and you will clearly see that youthful pain and suffering fueled much of their creative genius.   And while I do not claim to be remotely on par with these incredible storytellers, to read any of my writing is to know that  childhood trauma played a significant role in the determination of my creative voice.  To be honest, my youth unfolded like the discarded first  draft of a story that could have been so much better. There simply weren’t enough stretches of peace or joy in it to attend to the edits necessary to have made it bearable.  It isn’t that I am filled with regret for all of the things that might have been.  It’s more that I am blanketed in a sadness for the sheer waste of it all.

Intuitively, I know that my broken juvenile years  can’t be the full measure of why I write the way I write.  Something deeper, more sinister, is afoot. Something bigger and more malevolent presses my pen to the paper. For me, the value of nothing out of nothing comes something. The nothing started even earlier than the moment when I began to write.  I have no doubt that what little creativity I possess is the function of some neurological quirk; that I have just enough of psychosis or depression to fuel an interesting poem here, an article there. That creativity (if that’s even the word for it)  is not, in any circumstance, the product of “talent” or creative muse, but rather arises more as a testament to a damaged mind that perceives the events of life from a slightly more skewed or twisted perspective.

Perhaps it was the combination of the two: an injured adolescence and a form of brain damage.  When I was four years old, I fell down the stairwell of the two story duplex my family lived in while my father was stationed in the Navy.  I was rushed to the hospital because the fall had resulted in a crushing blow to the frontal temporal region of my skull.  Surely, my brain was impacted, if not forever altered because of this accident.  Combine that blow with the endless physical and sexual trauma that rejoined the family the day my father retired from service, and then, perhaps  I can begin to put my finger upon my “creativity.”

Ask yourself…what can be more creative than scrambling daily throughout your entire childhood to find a place to survive.  Out of necessity, the damaged mind constructs a false reality in which to take shelter. It is this false reality that takes form in the expressive arts.

I may never know what truly fuels my creative process.  The sands of time that fill the hourglass of my life have nearly run out.  While I am by no means an old man, I am, nonetheless, a tired man and my time upon this tortured plane of existence called “life” can now be measured in moments rather than years. I will leave behind me no great works of art, no lasting legacy of poetic genius.  Even the memory of me will fade before the ink is dry on my final written word.

Mine has been a lonely walk: solitude whispers a silent story. And as we all know, life and living require interaction. But I was born alone, have lived alone, and will undoubtedly die…alone.  And that doesn’t require creativity.

Living for Today: Necessary Choices in My Emerging Journey – a Reflection by Dennis

Three Roads: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow.  Which one will you choose?

Three Roads: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. Which One Should I Choose?

The reason most people find themselves stuck in a rut is because they insist on seeing tomorrow as an extension of today, and today as an extension of yesterday.  This has been the most difficult, and necessary, lesson of the past year and a half of my life. My ignorance in adhering to this faulty belief invited me to voluntarily step into mental leg irons that have no key.  It has hobbled me in everything I have striven to achieve, for it is a false assumption and a dangerous one at that. 

Yesterday is a story that has already been told. The book is closed. The lessons, oh dear God, hopefully, learned. No amount of regret can change the ending of a story that is now complete.  How can I ever hope to begin a new chapter if I continue to dwell upon an ending that cannot be altered?  My past has served its only purpose, which was to instruct and to deliver me to today.  My only regret, my biggest regret, is that the lesson came at such a cost to another.

Today is all that truly matters.  Today, I  write the story, big or small, dull or incredible…the words are all there – and it is up to me to arrange them as I see fit.  I am the protagonist.  Only I can determine whether I turn left or right, whether I move forward, stand still or retreat backward.  I have come to the realization that to stand still or move backward is to settle for a weak plot.  Only in moving forward can the inspiring stories be written… and written well.

And what of my tomorrow?  It is nothing more than a blank piece of paper not yet ready for my pen.  If I live with one foot planted in today and the other in tomorrow,  all I will have managed to do is straddle the fence of possibility.  To be stuck on that fence is to surrender half of the possibilities of today.  I have chosen to get off of the fence and plant both feet firmly on the path of “ Now.”   The fallacy of tomorrow is the falsehood that I need to “plan for.”  Plan for what?  All the things I missed today?

This worldview is not clever or unique.  I did not come up with it. Smarter minds than mine have been advocating this for eons. I am just serving as the echo of their wisdom.  If I choose to live fully at this moment which is today, I have no choice but to surrender yesterday to the sweetness of memory, and tomorrow to the providence of faith.

Beginning now, I choose to immerse myself in the wonder and infinite possibility that is today. I do so with the humility to comes from the sacrifices of others who helped me find my way.

Defeated

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Like most people, I am caught in the web of learning  to navigate the constantly changing twists and turns of today’s fluctuating societal ups and downs.  It seems every day someone achieves their dreams while another is blown to bits by a terrorist’s bomb.  I celebrate a birthday with friends at the same time a mother buries her child.  This insidious balance of good and evil renders me near catatonic with a mixture of soaring joy and abysmal despair.  It just doesn’t make sense, and I am completely lost in a world I no longer understand.

The shooting at Sandy Hook and the resulting flood of grief as Death descended on this sleepy community left me in tears and shaking with sorrow.  No sooner had the bodies of these innocent children been pulled from their classrooms then I found myself out shopping for Christmas gifts in anticipation of a joyful family reunion. I watched the mix of loved ones waiting at the finish of the Boston Marathon, full of love and pride as their champions crossed the finish line, suddenly blended with the explosions of hate that laid low the lives of three people, one, a child who now joins the bitter fruit withering on the vine of life, not yet fully blossomed.  I have found that I am incapable of processing this confusing blend of despair and bliss.  My psyche is not wired to route the neurons of my emotions bouncing back and forth within my soul so randomly, and my mental landscape is muddled beyond words.

I am left feeling that I have personally failed in my journey upon this earth, this blue-green marble that spins wildly on a shaky spindle.  I don’t know how to proceed. No sooner than I fall on my knees in prayer that word comes of another senseless act of violence.  Is this how God answers desperate prayers for comfort and understanding?  Am I a fool to think that a simple act of Divine intervention might be suggested amongst all this violent loss of life?  So I stop praying.  God must be a sadistic voyeur for the silence of His absence in all of this is deafening.

My life does not slow down, however, to properly mourn, for no sooner than my heart is laid low by the killing of a dozen Syrian children, then the phone rings and I’m invited to a party celebrating the engagement of my best friend.  What cruel and atrocious mocking of life this all turns out to be.  Where do I find understanding amidst the laughter and the tears?  How do I proceed with any semblance of balance?  I retreat into the only sanctuary where I find an ounce of control: my writing.  But as the words pour out upon the page, my sadness and confusion only becomes more evident.  I start to write of hope and love, and in moments my words become dark and sullen.  I am the world I live in. And like that world, I am confounded  in both mind and body.  My pen stops and weeps uncontrollably.  My writing is exhausted and no longer makes sense.

I am caught in a bubble devoid of clarity, floating mindlessly through each demanding day. I cry out,  “Please, someone, pop the bubble!”;  explain this senseless woven tapestry of life so that I can chart my course, so that I can find meaning in this tower of babel.  To God and His perfect plan I say “Fuck You” – this pain is no longer bearable.  I cannot trust the joys I know when lurking behind the next corner is just another tragedy waiting to crush my spirit once more.  I need to get off this see-saw and find shelter.

I can no longer play His celestial game of ping-pong.

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.

For Better or for Worse: I Am a “Dark” Writer

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For better or for worse, I am a dark writer.

It isn’t something I wanted to be as I grew up…it is more something that had to be done to give my inner grief a voice so that the pain and suffering did not overwhelm me. The events of my life have consumed me like maggots feasting on the carcass of a dead child. Have you ever wondered why the best of Irish writers are so dark and depressing? It is because they were flayed by mental anguish  They were compelled by lives lived in abject poverty, disease and general disrepair and despair. Bram Stoker, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Frank McCourt, …all suffered from severe moral disintegration, from morbid ideations brought about by the unrelenting ugliness that this so called “good life” thrust upon them.

The French poéts maudits; François Villon, Baudelaire and Rimbaud? These were simple men forced to live their lives outside or against society, awash in the abuse of drugs and alcohol, insanity, crime, and violence. They all died pitiful, painful deaths. Or how about the Americans? Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Bukowski…each caught up in what life does best…grinding their souls to dust in the absence of any lasting hope until the merciful fist of death grabbed each by the ankle and pulled them under.

You may think I’m just cynical and indulgent…but I tell you, for every ray of sunshine you can conjure, I can show you ten bolts of lightning that rip and destroy. I am glad others have happiness….but I myself was pushed through this veil of insidious despair without my consent, and I’ve learned to navigate life in the absence of hope. And yes, I find some comfort there. It’s what I know.

People are always saying, “try and look on the bright side,” and to them I say, “ Look around you, for fuck’s sake!” There is an ocean of pain, agony, and suffering washing over the majority of the earth’s population…and you think platitudes and sweet rejoinders make a difference when the crows peck the eyes from a dead child who has starved in the Sudan? Or when 20 beautiful innocent children in Sandy Hook have their precious lives snuffed out, or when entire populations are being systematically wiped off the face of the earth for political expediency? Get real. Take off your rose-colored specs and take a deep look around you! Evil flourishes upon a people’s unwillingness to see. They are blinded by their blazing sunshine and forced optimism.

Yes, we live in the same world, but I see the shadows where you see the light. I don’t write this kind of crap because I have something to say…I write it because something which must be said has me to write it. My apologies for the rant…but I get so ill in my gut when people say, “there, there…the world is a beautiful place. Just try harder to be happy.”

The world is obscene and delusional. And it hurts.