Thursday, December 20, 2012

Getting Serious

So far, I have maintained a generally humorous and light presence on this blog. I do think, though, that my blog should reflect me, should reflect how I look at and interact with the world. I mostly interact with my world through sarcasm, silly jokes, and, while cooking, silly dances. Life is too short to spend the whole time moping about, and I have to agree with Dave Matthews when he says that he "can't believe that we would lie in our graves, wondering if we had spent our living days well".

But I do get serious from time to time, and I think my blog should reflect that. As much as I hope to make you laugh at me or at the parts of yourself that you see in my little stories, I also hope to influence you in some small way when I do become serious. I hope that I can push you occasionally to think about things from a perspective that you may not have considered.

With that goal mind, I need to say something about Sandy Hook Elementary School. I'm not the first to blog about it, and I won't be the last, but I do hope to say something that doesn't consist of trite or opportunistic assertions about the role of religion in schools, violent media in children's lives, or gun control. My friend Terese wrote beautifully about her reaction as a parent. She echoed my feelings, and judging by the comments she's received, I'm not alone in my agreement with her. 

We've had a remarkable outpouring of support for the victims' families. We have seen disgust, horror, and revulsion over the actions of the shooter. These responses have been nearly universal. I understand that in a nation of over 300 million people, there will be fringe groups like Westboro Baptist who either do not feel the horror that most feel, or who, despite the horror, choose to use the massacre to further their own agendas. There are also those who are considering enacting the same kind of mass killings that took place last week. We don't like to think about those people, but we know that this can happen again. In fact, our knowledge that this can happen again drives the fear that Terese wrote about in her blog and the determination she expressed not to allow that fear to rule her.

Our reaction to groups like Westboro Baptist or to the idea that some individual out there may already have plans to perpetrate their own crimes reaches nearly universal agreement, as well. At a deep and instinctive level, we recognize the fundamental evil not only of a person who could commit such a crime, but also of the people who would take advantage of that crime to make cheap political or religious points. Granted, the shooting will become another example that must come into our national discussions about the availability of guns to people of compromised mental states, about the state of mental health in the country, about the supposed role of violent media in desensitizing children to violence, about the role of religion in schools. These points have already come up in response to the tragedy, and I have my own strong opinions on all of them, but the tragedy should not serve as a tool to use in making broad and unsupported assertions.

I've paid special attention to the public reaction to the shooting because I want to make clear that the public reaction to it has been as nearly universal as is possible in a country with such a large and diverse population. Aside from the already mentioned fringe groups or individuals, nobody stopped last Friday and said, "Wait, I need to think about this. My political and religious background is not clear on the subject of school shootings." We didn't NEED to take time or debate anything. Whether because of our natures or because of our upbringing (encompassing a wide range of religious, political, and educational traditions), or in my opinion, through a combination of our nature and our upbringing, we automatically and instinctively understand the WRONGNESS of what happened last week in Newtown. Whether we believe that religion belongs in schools or not, whether we believe that violent media has an impact on our likeliness to commit violent crimes or not, whether we think that guns should be easier to get or harder to get, we all stand unified in our shock and outrage.

This public reaction gives me hope. 

Despite our disagreements over specifics and over the politics of our choices, our myriad traditions have taught the VAST MAJORITY of us the difference between right and wrong. I find comfort in this knowledge. It means that morally and educationally, we are doing something right. Society is not broken. Some individuals in our society are broken. But this is frightening to some, because it might mean that no single group has an absolute monopoly on truth or goodness, and some groups and public figures are now twisting facts, twisting statistics, and twisting decency to convince the public that their group needs to dictate behavior for all of us. Attacking my lifestyle or beliefs, telling me that my lack of active religious faith makes me in some way complicit in a crime like this is wrong. I've seen versions of this idea pushed by some very public figures over the last few days, and this is not the way forward.

To get through this event, others like it, and others to come, to find a way to prevent tragedies like this in the future, we have to recognize our fundamental unity, not our fundamental differences. I don't know what that means on a large scale. I don't know how that will work, but I DO know that as an individual, I can choose to avoid hostility toward those who disagree with my positions, and I can ask others to do the same. 

We're more alike than we sometimes realize.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Dad's Like That Too

A few weeks ago, shortly before I left work for the day, Jessika sent me a text. She knows that I pass a grocery store on the way home, so occasionally she'll ask me to stop and pick up a few things. I'm happy to do it.

This particular time, I walked in, grabbed a cart and started working on the list. Before long, I'd picked up what we needed and hopped into the express line. No worries, I had fewer than twelve items. The cashier was a teenaged girl, maybe seventeen or eighteen years old. You have to understand, once I passed thirty, I lost the ability to distinguish ages below about twenty-two or twenty-three, so my estimate could be off by a few years in either direction. She was friendly. She rang out my purchase, and I left. 

Of course, halfway to the car, I realized that I had forgotten to buy toilet paper. There are two important points here:

1) I was on my way home from a full day at work. In other words, once I get home, I don't plan on leaving again. I'll restate this for friends who, in the past, may or may not have been offended that I've turned them down for weeknight activities. Without significant notice (say, at least a few days), I don't do anything outside the house after I get home from work. Even with notice, I'm likely to turn you down. Unless you have tickets to a Dave Matthews Band show, or there's a midnight showing for something hobbity, I'm not interested in late night activities when all I can think about is the alarm that will go off in just a few hours. Nothing against you. I'm just done.

2) Nobody wants to live in a house with no toilet paper.

Fortunately, I remembered the toilet paper before I had gotten into the car and driven home, so I put the groceries in the trunk and walked back into the store, seeking toilet paper.

As luck would have it, the only checkout lane without a long line was the line I had just used. I stepped up to the register, put the toilet paper on the belt, and the girl said, "Hey, weren't you just in here?" I explained, that, yes, I had just gone through her line a few minutes before, but I forgot one of my items. I also briefly mentioned that I was on my way home from work, and I was glad that I had remembered the toilet paper before I drove home, because once I get home from work, I don't like leaving the house again.

She said, "Yeah, my dad's just like that."

I want to clarify something here. I did not have any desire or need for this girl to see me as a sexual or romantic option. If she's seventeen or eighteen years old, she's young enough to be my daughter. But I had never, up to that point, interacted with an adult (or near adult) who was really young enough to be my child. Sure, considering the age at which a male is sexually mature enough to reproduce, I could technically have a child in his or her 20's at this point, but I'm talking about an adult who I could conceivably have helped to create AFTER I became an adult. So this story is really more about the slow (but shockingly fast) march of time and not at all about how it's gotten harder over the years to score with eighteen-year-olds.

The tale doesn't really end here, though. Just this week, as I was telling my grocery story to someone at work, a coworker from a different department happened to be listening in. Now, as a thirty-six-year-old, I comprehend that I am in my mid-thirties. On some level, I realize that I'm approaching forty, and this is supposed to be a big deal. So as I tell the story about how this girl at the store thought that I was old enough to be her father, a coworker from another department leaned in. I suppose I could also be this coworker's father, but I'd have to have been a high-school dad for her to be my daughter. 

She says, "No way, man! You'd have to be pushing FORTY to be that girl's dad!"

On the one hand, my coworker told me that she thought I was probably in my late twenties to early thirties, so I'm apparently younger looking to some people than my actual age would suggest. On the other hand, I'm apparently one or two years away from forty (which is, by her tone of shock, only a couple of years away from adult diapers and a dirt nap).

Before you get too worried about my self image or my feelings about my slowly advancing age, I need to reiterate that I feel good. I don't feel old (and I shouldn't, since I'm not old), and I don't have any desire to return to my teens or twenties. I'm going to say that again, for good measure. I don't have ANY desire to return to my teens or twenties. I'm simply interested in how it felt to get absolute confirmation that I've apparently moved into a new phase of my life, a phase where the twenty-somethings with whom I've long identified myself start to see me as "older".

I saw a post on Facebook by a friend who has a few years on me. By the way, "few years" is not code for pushing sixty. He's got a few years on me. He recently started a new job and commented on his first Christmas party at the new job. He noticed that he spent his time with the senior management and executives instead of the twenty-somethings downstairs who invariably end up drunk and spreading all kinds of workplace gossip. Rightly, he enjoyed his new position. We all like to have a few drinks, and getting a little soused from time to time doesn't mean you're immature or that you have a drinking problem. But it's nice to feel like you're making some progress.

So, yes, my beard has some grey. My temples are starting to pick up a few grey hairs, too. But I feel like I'm exactly where I need to be. I graduated from college a couple years back. They like me at work. There are opportunities in front of me. I've got great kids and a wonderful wife who listens patiently to all my stories, even the ones she's heard before. It's pretty good to be me right now.

And in fifteen years or so, I'll get to be mistaken for someone's grandfather.