Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Fear Makes Us Do Irrational Things

Fear sometimes makes us do irrational things.

Fear isn't all bad, of course. When our human brains are functioning properly, fear is a natural instinct that helps keep us safe in dangerous situations. It prepares our bodies to physically respond for fight or flight action. A healthy amount of fear is...well, it's healthy.

However, sometimes our highly-evolved hominid nervous systems malfunction and cause irrational fear responses, blowing perceived dangers completely out of proportion.

Like when we run screaming from a room because we saw a tiny spider.

Or when we gather in droves to put an end to mass shootings in public schools.

On Saturday, people took to the streets in Washington DC (and 800 other cities) to demand stricter gun control laws in the United States.

The "March for Our Lives" was organized in response to the February 14th shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. That tragic event, where 17 people lost their lives to an armed psychopath, sparked heated debate about the safety of our schools and guns in our culture. Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S., along with some major media support and the organizational skills of the Women's March, have inspired a movement.

I am impressed with how effective the voices of these young students have shaken so many voters out of complacency. Although I'm always concerned by mass marches. They tend to represent a sort of group think that probably frightens me because I've read too much dystopian teen fiction.

But they've sparked conversation. The subject of both school safety and gun violence has been the subject of social media banter, public forum discussions, and media coverage for weeks now. Voters from all over the political spectrum are expressing views and looking for solutions to the rapidly expanding epidemic of public school shootings.

From the March for Our Lives website:

...We cannot allow one more family to wait for a call or text that never comes. Our schools are unsafe. Our children and teachers are dying. We must make it our top priority to save these lives... 
...Every kid in this country now goes to school wondering if this day might be their last. We live in fear. 


Photo Credit: Mathias Wasik


How can we strap on our kids' backpacks, kiss them good-bye, and send them off to school when the threat of them being gunned down by a madman is so high?

Boarding the school bus has apparently become the equivalent of playing a dangerous game of Russian Roulette.

From the messages on the signs to the mission statement on the March's website, you can tell these kids are convinced that once they enter their schools, they are entering a war zone. With bullets flying left and right, how can we expect these kids to learn?

On their path to gun control, these kids (and the adults who are using them for political purposes) have inadvertently triggered societal panic. I have a friend whose 8 year-old son is afraid to go to school because he "might get shot." 

While it is stupid to wallow in comfortable complacency thinking, "That could never happen here," and every child lost to gun violence is a cataclysmic loss to society, the risk of experiencing a mass shooting in a local public school is a statistical anomaly.

It may be hard to believe over all of the shouting, demanding, and marching, but children do not actually "risk their lives" every day when they climb aboard those yellow school buses. They are actually at a greater risk of dying from falling down (1 in 122) or being hit by a car (1 in 611) on their way to school. They are actually three times more likely to die from choking on those disgusting school lunches (1 in 3,461) than they are of being gunned down in their classrooms (1 in 11,125).

Yet here we are...





This is what mass hysteria looks like. It's like the villagers going after the monster, only they've traded their torches and pitchforks for pithy signs with rhyming chants... and the monster, while unarguably terrifying, isn't exactly running amok.

Perhaps we are so angry and afraid because the media has been feeding the panic, stoking and fanning the flames with inappropriate enthusiasm. For them, tragedy means big ratings, especially when children are involved. The 24-hour coverage that mass shootings provoke usually leaves us glued to our screens for hours on end in a vain attempt to make sense of the horror.

The media is also guilty of feeding us inflated statistics to push an agenda and reinforce a paradigm. In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, progressive activists and media outlets repeatedly reported there had been 18 school shootings since the beginning of the year.

Horrible, right?

Except it isn't true. When we think of school shootings we think of Columbine. We think of heavily armed, masked lunatics spraying bullets as they go, gunning down innocent, unprotected children by the dozens.

The thought that this had actually happened 18 times in just under two months is enough to strike terror in any parent, teacher, student, or basic and decent human being. 

But this figure is a gross exaggeration. In an attempt to push their anti-gun agenda, Everytown for Gun Safety  inflated its numbers by including every single incident of gunfire, even if it was only in the vicinity of a school.

For example, included in the 18-shooting figure was the very first incident of the year. On January 3, a 31-year-old man parked outside a Michigan elementary school and placed a phone call to police saying he was armed and suicidal. Several hours later, he shot himself. While his suicide is indeed tragic, this hardly counts as a "school shooting"...especially considering the school had been closed for seven months.

It was shuttered and inactive. There were no teachers or students present. Not one single innocent life was at risk.

In reality, there have only been eight mass shootings in American schools...

...since 1996. 

Go ahead and read that again.

Time magazine reports that a total of 6 adults and 35 children have been killed in school shootings since 2013. That is 41 people who tragically lost their lives.

However, there are, on average, 51 annual deaths due to lightening strikes. Since most of you probably attended questionably effective public schools, I'll do the math for you.

You are more likely to be killed in a thunderstorm than a school shooting. While the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was definitely heartbreaking, it is not part of an epidemic and it is downright deceitful to call it such.

Our nation's schools do not resemble war zones. They are, in fact, incredibly safe considering their soft target "gun-free" status. According to new research from Northeastern University, "schools are safer than they were in the 90s, and school shootings are not more common than they used to be."

Here is a little visual perspective for you:



The truth is, there is no “school safety” crisis in this country. We have a gun violence problem that consists primarily of suicides, accidents, and single-victim homicides, most of which are committed with handguns, not the dreaded AR-15.

But it must be true. It must be true because large numbers of people are shaking their fists on national television. It must be true because there is so much media coverage, and general yelling, and so many small children afraid to go to school.

Fear, even when it isn't based in reality, is a powerful motivator. In this case, fear fueled by the media and organizations with an agenda, mobilized masses to demand tighter regulations on weapons they don't even understand.




So, like...yeah...let's all get together, and like...demand that the government ban something we like can't even define.

Shaping public policy with emotion rather than common sense,  no matter how strong the emotions, is just plain juvenile (So, I guess the teenagers doing the angry demanding are acting age-appropriately). But common sense isn't as marketable as passionate, sanctimonious teenagers shouting profanity and raising their fists. Common sense rarely inspires marches.

Here's the deal. Grief and anger are all understandable in the face of what happened in Parkland. These children have a right to mourn. They have a right to be angry. Anger is actually a healthy part of the grieving process.

However, surviving a tragic event doesn't magically make you a leader. It doesn't suddenly bestow magic policy-making talents. PTSD does not automatically instill wisdom or grant miraculous oracle-like understanding. You don't get special powers, although the media is likely to make you an instant celebrity (at least if your politics agree with their agenda. Don't believe they pick and choose their victims of tragedy? Have a conversation with Parkland survivor Kyle Kashuv. I wonder why he didn't make the cover of Time?)

Ask any parent of a teenager and they will tell you that teenagers have a limited ability to make rational decisions. Teenage brains have not fully developed. A study conducted by the McLean Hospital Brain Imaging Center in Boston, Massachusetts suggests that while adults can use rational decision making processes when facing emotional decisions, adolescent brains are simply not yet equipped to think them through.

There is a reason that adults get to do things like take out mortgages and vote and influence public policy. It's because we are less likely to be ruled by our emotions. We have fully developed frontal lobes and can usually approach decision-making from a place of rational thought rather than heated passion.

I understand the desire to DO SOMETHING. But it's important to approach major decisions, ones that could have long-lasting and wide-reaching effects, with caution and a level head, something these new celebrity children and their devotees seem to be lacking.

"Ban the guns" sounds like a great way to end gun violence, especially since it makes a catchy chant for D.C. marches. But like filing your income taxes, as well as most things in the adult world, it's actually much more complicated than that.

Most of the policy ideas that the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S. and their fan club have proposed are vague. Most would be ineffective, and in some cases, they would be downright harmful. I guess we shouldn't be surprised, though. Public schools are too busy prepping kids for standardized tests to actually teach them critical thinking skills.

For example, raising the firearm purchase age to 21 sounds like a great idea on the surface. This would keep guns out of the hands of the irrational teenagers that are currently demanding they are rational enough to influence public policy. (oh, the irony!) But maybe...just maybe...it would have kept a gun out of the hands of the Parkland shooter, who was only 19.

But let's take a quick look at some facts and statistics.

Of the 64 mass public shootings that have occurred in the United States since 1998 (not all were in public schools), ten were committed by people under age 21. Five of those shooters were already too young to legally purchase a firearm. That means only five of those 64 gunman would have been affected by raising the purchase age.

Maybe. 

Maybe they would have been affected. It is quite likely the shooters would have obtained weapons illegally, since they weren't deterred by those pesky murder laws in the first place.

But do you know who a raised purchase age would affect? The 20 year-old frightened woman being stalked by a potential rapist . The young college student dealing with an obsessed and violent ex-boyfriend. Sorry, ladies. You're too young to defend yourselves. Better luck next year. If you're still around, that is.

Disarming law-abiding citizens, leaving them with no way to protect themselves, has life-threatening consequences.

People will still die. They just might not be the same people.

I understand the need to protect our children. They are our greatest gift, our nation's most precious asset. But radically changing the founding principles of the United States over a minimal risk is drastic, and won't keep guns out of the hands of criminals and deranged psychopaths anyway.

Before we start disarming the populace, maybe we should look at other ways to keep our children safe. Maybe improve security measures at our local schools. Invest in school-based mental health services. Let's consider placing more armed law enforcement officers and security guards on campuses. Perhaps we should try enforcing the gun-control laws already in place before we pass more.

Too much is at stake to make trendy political decisions fueled by the emotions of loud-voiced teenagers. We all want to save lives, but being well-meaning isn’t enough. Plenty of mistakes are made by well-meaning individuals who rush to act without considering all of the nuanced consequences.

This subject needs careful consideration of the long-term repercussions to both the individual and society. It should be approached with caution, examination of facts, and thoughtful deliberation.

Let's not make rash decisions just because we are afraid, or else there might be bigger things to fear.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Do Scones Really Need a Gun-Free Zone?

I was super excited when a real live bakery opened up in our small town. Before the grand opening of this local business, fresh bread and baked goods required hours of kneading, rising, and patient waiting. While totally worth the labor efforts, I am not a particularly patient person. So, the fact that warm, delicious, gluten-filled goodness was within walking distance of my home, made me giddy.

I felt like I had hit the jackpot. Suddenly, I was reaping the benefits of small town life while having almost immediate access to an amenity usually only found in some progressive urban area.

I quickly became addicted to this bakery's fresh scones. Those scones are "to die for." Warm and buttery, they came in all kinds of flavors - chocolate espresso, sweet potato ginger, cranberry walnut. Asking me to choose a favorite would be like asking a mother to choose her favorite child. I loved them all for different reasons. Typically, my favorite flavor was whichever one was in my hand.

Like any good junkie, I needed a daily fix. I began to view this cozy corner bakery as my dealer, dishing out the only thing that  could calm my intense desire for buttery scone goodness. That corner bakery was my dope peddler, and I was more than happy to dish out my hard-earned dough to purchase their deliciously flaky dough.

I am not ashamed to admit I am addicted to scones. Some people might call me nutty.

Some people might also call me a gun nut. I grew up around firearms, support the Second Amendment (Although I equally support the other amendments. "All Amendments Matter" is my motto), and am more than proficient when it comes to shooting.

I also regularly carry a firearm. Not because I think it makes me macho, or because I want to make a statement, or because I think it is a great accessory to my outfit. I carry because I want to be able to protect myself and my family. Period.

We initially moved to a small town because the low crime rate was incredibly attractive. We live in a "good" neighborhood in a statistically safe county. However, in recent months, we've seen a surge in gun crimes. A few weeks ago, a shooting occurred in the church yard right next door to our home. A few weeks before that, shots were fired at the house across the street from us, breaking our neighbor's living room window.

It has started to feel like we are caught in some inner city cross fire, only without the traffic or urban decay. I still contend, however, that we live in a "good" neighborhood. The problem is our "good" neighborhood backs up to a "bad" one and individuals are starting to cross those invisible boundaries.

Recently, two young men verbally threatened me with violence. I was simply walking in the neighborhood, minding my own business (an anomaly in a small town), and enjoying the warm weather. Two strange men crossed the street toward me, and as they approached, one yelled "BANG!"

Then the other threatened, "You're dead, Bitch."

The two of them walked past me, traveling on down the street. Both of them were doubled over, laughing hysterically at my expense.

Not my idea of fun, but I truly believe these two young people were only trying to frighten me for some twisted sadistic amusement. I am not one to take chances. That is why I carry a firearm. Luck favors the prepared, after all.

Back to the scones...

One recent Saturday, my family and I wandered up to the neighborhood bakery to stock up on some of those addictive pastries. We bought giant cookies for the girls and beautiful scones for me.

We had a pleasant exchange with the staff, smiling and making light of my very real scone problem. We talked about the weather. My husband used his teacher discount. While there, we even chatted amiably with another customer.

The whole visit was like something out of an old episode of Andy Griffith. If it had transpired in black and white, I would have been convinced we'd been lost in Mayberry. The entire encounter had been polite and charming and uncommonly neighborly. We were simply a happy family buying baked goods from a local business, coexisting in harmony and friendship and intense community. It was rather lovely.

We had been carrying our sidearms that day, because some of our other neighbors are not quite so congenial. But we had noticed another customer big time eyeing my husband's handgun while we purchased our bread products. For that patron, I suppose the sight of our weapons had somehow smashed our image of friendly, neighborhood, nuclear family.

When the bakery reopened after the weekend, there was a sign plastered to the front door.





I thought, "Well, this is new."

I couldn't help but wonder if this was in direct response to the weapons we had carried (without ill intent) into the establishment on our most recent bakery run. And because I am an individual with a rampant imagination, I worry there was a highly negative conversation after we departed with our pastries. It would have been a conversation we weren't privy to, one that painted my family as nefarious, my husband and I as monstrous and depraved. Even though we were friendly, chipper, and polite. We even held the door open for a sweet little old lady as we left and wished everyone a good day.

While I hope that the new signage had nothing to do with me or my family, I'm skeptical. The timing is just too coincidental. 

Now, to set the record straight, I sincerely respect the rights of this business owner to declare his place of business a gun free zone. Have at it. This is (at least for the time being) a free country. I'm all about freedom. If that is how you want to operate your business, if guns are so evil and scary that you don't even want to see them in the hands of good people, you have the right to make sure they never enter your bakery. (No guarantees on the ones that might be in the hands of bad people, though. Those people tend to do what they want. Signs be damned.) 

As long as you don't refuse to bake any wedding cakes, you should be good to go. 

However, I don't have to shop there. That's the great thing about freedom, right? All of us get to exercise it. And while there are many things I'm willing to lay down my life for, scones are not particularly high on the list. Even though they are incredibly tasty.

I'm not willing to disarm myself for baked goods I could theoretically make at home. Because, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center, 98.4 percent of mass shootings have occurred in gun-free zones. Meanwhile, just 1.6 percent occurring where armed citizens are allowed. So when at all possible, I'm sticking to places that care about my safety rather than how uncomfortable someone might decide to feel about the presence of a simple inanimate object.

Pelting an armed robber with healthy wholegrain breads seems ineffective. Facing violence armed with nothing but a french baguette seems comical, cartoonish in fact.

And since I'm also walking through my questionable neighborhood to get to this gun-free utopia of wholesome baked bread, the same neighborhood where I was so recently threatened by passing strangers, I don't think I can feel completely safe shopping there. 

Nope. I'll be making my own scones, feeding my own buttery, gluten-rich obsession, thank you. Because while the ones from the local bakery are admittedly delicious, and I did once describe them as "to die for," I don't really think I'm willing to do that.



Friday, February 2, 2018

Thinkers, Doers, and Free Speech - A Response to Gregory Salcido's Anti-Military Rant


California teacher and Pico-Rivera councilman, Gregory Salcido has made the news for an anti-military tirade he recently made in a public school classroom. After publicly humiliating a high school student for wearing a Marine Corps sweatshirt, Mr. Salcido went on a major rant that insulted everyone from active military members to Blue Star families to your stupid Uncle Louie.

If you haven't heard the audio recording from Mr. Salcido's classroom, it is definitely worth the listen, if for no other reason than to witness a major waste of time in an average American classroom. I won't go so far as to claim that every school teacher uses classroom time to push personal philosophies, but it is probably far more common than we want to believe.

Bullying students, insulting their families, and issuing ultimatums ("Don’t you ever freakin' bring the military into this freakin' classroom.") is not the way to make a classroom environment conducive to learning.

Plus, I'm pretty sure the military will have to come up in conversation...considering it is a HISTORY class. Call me crazy.

I will warn you that Mr. Salcido's diatribe is full of expletives and gross racial stereotyping (“We couldn’t beat the Vietnamese — they’re a bunch of people this freaking big throwing rice at us.”).

You should watch it anyway.


Since the teacher's hate-filled speech hit the internet, and the proverbial poo hit the proverbial fan, Mr Salcido has disappeared. He is understandably worried about his own safety since he literally ticked off every member of the world's finest fighting force as well as most of the American population. He poked his head up briefly to make a brief comment on social media claiming support of Free Speech.

"I want my friends, family, and students to know we are fine and we respect the rights of free expression for all individuals."

And while I agree that Mr. Salcido has a right to free speech, I'm not sure that right completely extends to what he can lawfully say in a public school classroom. And it certainly doesn't protect him from any public backlash.

But I also might add, that Mr. Salcido violated the student's free speech rights. As a teacher in the classroom, Salcido speaks on behalf of the local school district. He told the student not to wear any clothing supporting the U.S. military. That command could be interpreted as a violation of the student's First Amendment rights.

"Don’t you ever freakin' bring the military into this freakin' classroom."

That doesn't sound particularly respectful.

Personally, I think the student has a better claim to First Amendment protection than Mr. Salcido, but I am admittedly NOT an expert in the law, so take my opinion with the grain of salt it deserves.

However, there is at least one area in which I can claim expert status.

I am a Blue Star mother.

My son is a U.S. Army soldier. He is one of the dumbshits Mr. Salcido spoke about in his filthy rant.

Meanwhile, my oldest daughter, a senior in high school and top of her class, is contemplating a career in the U.S. Navy.

Not only are they two of the smartest people I know, but they are also the bravest, strongest, and most driven people I know.

Salcido told that classroom of high school students:

"If you join the military, it’s because you have no other options because you didn’t take care of business academically, because your parents didn’t love you enough to push you and you didn’t love yourself enough to push yourself…So now you’re thinking what do I do now…and your parents even encourage [joining the military] sometimes because they want to get you off of their ass.
" Why would anyone ever sign up for that… Think about the people we have over there. Your stupid uncle Louie or whatever, they’re dumb shits. They’re not like high-level thinkers. They’re not academic people. They’re not intellectual people. They’re the freaking lowest of our low."

I call bullshit, Mr. Salcido. You don't know Jack. Perhaps you need to come have a conversation with my two oldest children. You should probably also ask them if their parents love them or pushed them. You now? Just for shits and giggles.

First let me throw a few stats at you, Mr. Salcido, just to prove you're an idiot. And I'll even post it in graphic form so even a dumbass like you can understand it.

Sources: 

That's right. The United States military is actually more educated than the population it serves. And since Gregory Salcido only has a Bachelor's degree from Whittier College, I'm not sure where he gets off ranting about the lack of academics and intellectuals in the military. 

Perhaps a rant about the lack of academics and intellectuals in education would be more apropos. 

Listen up, Mr. Salcido. Here's the thing. There are a lot of "thinkers" and "academics" in the world and they sit around doing a lot of thinking without actually "doing" anything. They sit behind desks and think big thoughts. They teach classrooms full of captive students. But unless thoughts are put into action, they are worthless. 

Thinking and doing are two very different things. Our military does more than think. When the rubber meets the road and action is required, they do not hesitate to act. And that action is what has protected your right to stand up in front of a class of high school students and spew misinformation and outright lies.

My oldest son announced that he was joining the military at Thanksgiving dinner two years ago. 

It was a goal he had for years, and in the months leading up to his enlistment, he was up at dawn, hitting the gym or the track to increase his pull-up reps or decrease his run times. At night he cracked books, studying for the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) with intensity and focus. I watched that young man push himself harder, both physically and intellectually, than anyone I've ever seen stretch for a goal. 

So, Mr Salcido, you don't understand what it is to love yourself or push beyond your comfort zone toward a goal. There are just some goals you don't understand.

After my son announced his intentions to the family, one person casually asked him what he had scored on the ASVAB. When Daniel told him, this person attempted to one-up him by reporting a significantly higher personal score.

But you know what. It didn't matter. That "higher-level" thinker with the impressive ASVAB score wasn't doing anything with it. For various reasons, that person never joined the military. 

My son took a huge step and vowed to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. He took action.

Whose score mattered more?

What does it matter how well you score on a test if you never do anything with the knowledge or ability the test measures?

There are valuable characteristics that have nothing to do with intellect or education level or test scores. Action, hard-work, ambition, loyalty, integrity, perseverance, initiative, communication, and confidence just to name a few. 

These are all qualities that are valued by members of our U.S. military. And these characteristics often have far more to do with success than education level. Although, our military isn't exactly lacking in that area either (see previous graphic).

So you might want to think again when you claim our military is comprised of the "lowest of the low."  Because you're quite wrong. 

About 75% of America's 17-24 year-olds are ineligible for military service due to lack of education, obesity, and other physical problems, or criminal history. Of those eligible, only a fraction actually have the drive or the desire to serve.

Nearly one in four students fail the military entrance exam. That suggests that maybe teachers like Mr. Salcido should shut up with the personal diatribes and do what they were hired to do. Teach our kids.

The United States military is actually comprised of this country's "best and brightest." 

And just because I can't let this comment go:

“It’s a lie that our military is freakin’ bitchin’.” 
In response?

This....











Friday, January 5, 2018

Why We Hunt

Photo credit: Adventures Plus Outfitters

Just before Christmas, hunter Michael Taylor shot and killed a massive black bear here in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. At 640 pounds, this black bear weighed 150 pounds more than the average black bear. It yielded over 300 pounds of processed meat.

A kill like this is big news in a small rural county like ours. We see black bears from time to time, sometimes crossing the highway, or out in a farmer's field, or sometimes casually strolling down some small town main street. News of this monstrous black bear traveled and was even picked up by a big news outlet from Raleigh.

As pictures of the hunter and his kill plastered local papers and social media outlets, the self-righteous came out in droves to criticize this hunter (and hunters in general) and to whine and cry about how black bear lives matter. #blackbearlivesmatter #BBLM



Photo credit: Eva Shockey
It isn't unusual for hunters to receive this type of backlash. In 2014, professional hunter Eva Shockey killed another North Carolina black bear. This one was a measly 510 pounds but apparently still warranted massive repercussions, including some 5,000 death threats.

According to much of the loud and ranting public, the lives of human hunters are worth far less than the animals they harvest and eat.

I can't help but wonder how many of the individuals slinging death threats at the likes of Eva Shockey and Michael Taylor have recently enjoyed a chicken sandwich or picked up a package of hamburger from their grocer's cooler. Because if you think attacking hunters for harvesting big, cuddly, unpredictably dangerous bears is okay, while exploiting acceptable "meat" animals, often raised in inhumane and dirty conditions, is perfectly acceptable...well, there is a deeper moral issue here than I thought.

I understand that the general public doesn't understand hunting. We are so far removed from our food sources that most people have never looked their dinner in the eye (unless you've picked a crustacean out of the tank at Red Lobster). We tend to think of meat as something that comes sealed in neat little plastic and Styrofoam packages. It is easy to forget that the meat between our hamburger buns was once an actual living, breathing animal.

The thing is, if you aren't a hunter, it is difficult to explain why we hunt, and it goes far beyond meat. Words fail to describe why we get up before the crack of dawn to sit for long hours in often uncomfortable conditions to harvest game, when we could just roll on down to the local Food Lion and pick up a pack of steaks. We wouldn't even have to wear sensible shoes.

I am a hunter.

In fact, the day this bear was killed, I was hunting in another part of Edgecombe County.

I won't apologize. I won't act ashamed because you think I should. And I will proudly take pictures of the game I've been lucky enough to tag.

I hunt because I love hunting.

Not because I love killing, although that is definitely a part of hunting.

I'm lucky to have spent large portions of my life in the woods. My father started toting me along on his hunting trips as soon as I was old enough to sit on a five-gallon bucket, pink-sneakered feet swinging inches above the ground. Yearly the woods call me back. Stepping into the forest on opening day feels like coming home.

Sitting on a deer stand, I thrill at every new morning, watching the darkness turn murky gray. Hearing the first songbird chirp out a song so strong it starts up a whole chorus. There is overwhelming satisfaction in knowing that the majority of the world is missing it, tucked tight in their comfortable beds in their climate-controlled buildings waiting for the shock of the alarm clock.

Sitting alone in a tree stand, you become part of the landscape as the creatures around you either forget you are there or accept you as one of their own. And you know that everything good. There is no wasted time in the woods, whether you release on arrow, squeeze the trigger, or go home with nothing more than the experience.

I've heard people wonder why hunters can't just take pictures. Couldn't we enjoy nature and the experience of being outdoors without harming any wildlife?

Pictures are nice, but taking pictures isn't hunting.

As a photographer, you are an observer of nature. As a hunter you are a participant. Hunters are part of the drama and the dance that is life in the wild.

We are predators, but the humane sort. Nothing dies easily in the circle of life. Don't let The Lion King fool you. It's not some sunshiny musical in the wild. Animals die every minute, with or without the help of a hunter. Most lives end in violence. Whether by the jaws of a coyote, the talons of a great horned owl, the claws of a cougar, or by merciless disease and starvation. All life comes to an end. Often death caused by a human hunter is the most humane. I choose to make my kills quick and clean, something Mother Nature isn't particularly good at.

While it is true that hunting is an essential part of wildlife management, that hunters are the largest source of funding for wildlife agencies and conservation efforts, I won't use these reasons to justify why I hunt. These are just side benefits, the reasons that sound good enough to justify hunting to the uninitiated.

I hunt because I love it.

Plain and simple.

With every fiber of my being.

And I know that these are just a smattering of words that you will read on a computer screen, and they are unlikely to change one single mind. Because mere words can never explain the magic or the drive or the feeling of being alive that accompanies the hunt.

If you are a hunter, you already know. We are kindred spirits, you and I, a misunderstood minority that will continue to be spat on, hated, and threatened. The masses will try to humiliate and threaten us. They will try to outlaw the sport that we love most.

But to be honest, I feel sorry for those people. Because they have no idea of the common yet breathtaking beauty that is alive in the woods. They have no idea what it feels like to have every nerve in your body thrumming like a live wire as you line up your sights on an animal you've been waiting for your whole life.

I hunt because I am.

I am proud to be a hunter, and I'm not going to apologize for it.


Thursday, December 14, 2017

5 Ways Not to Sexually Harass Your Co-Workers at the Office Christmas Party.

'Tis the season for office holiday parties. Normally when this time of year rolls around, we don those ugly sweaters, get drunk on the company's dime, and engage in some "Dirty Santa" shenanigans.

But the times, they are achangin'.

The most sacred traditions of the holiday are in jeopardy. This year, when everyone from Harvey Weinstein to Matt Lauer to Al Franken have had their careers end in flaming wreckage after accusations of sexual assault or harassment, everyone everywhere is wondering who is next.

Many companies have decided to just do away with the holiday office party altogether. Others have watered them down so that an evening spent answering the customer service line seems more fun.

Who actually wants to hang out with their co-workers when there isn't any alcohol involved? Most of those people are the reason I drink in the first place!

The solution seems fairly clear: "Don't sexually harass your co-workers." But it may be a bit more complicated than that. The lines are still being drawn between what is acceptable social behavior and what is vile, unacceptable, and will send your ass straight into the fiery pits of Hell (aka the unemployment line care of Human Resources).

Things are fuzzy right now. I understand everyone's apprehension and confusion. Don't worry. I'm here to help. Here is the short list of Ways Not to Sexually Harass Your Co-Workers at the Office Christmas Party.

It is a short list, because time didn't allow for my 45 minute Power Point or 378-page Resource Guide. Expect those at the next business meeting.

1. Imagine your incredibly attractive co-worker is actually Doug from Accounting. You know the dude. Every company has one. Doug from Accounting is super awkward, never really knows what to do with his hands, and smells faintly of anchovies. Doug from Accounting has droopy man boobs, wears glasses that were stylish in the mid 80s, and pants that went of style before that.

Now. When you are tempted to comment on how totally hot your female co-worker is in that tight red sweater, ask yourself if you would make the same comment to Doug from Accounting. Would you tell Doug from Accounting, "Wowza! You look hot in that sweater" while staring at his moobs? No. No, you would not.

Would you instead say "Good evening, Doug from Accounting. That's a nice sweater" while maintaining eye contact. Perhaps.

Or maybe you just wouldn't comment on Doug from Accouting's sweater at all, because that's weird and you wouldn't want poor awkward Doug to feel uncomfortable or get the wrong idea about your sexual preferences. Yeah. You probably shouldn't say anything.

The bottom line? Ask yourself "Would I say that, do that, give that to, or otherwise think that about Doug from Accounting?" If the answer is no, then don't do it.

2. Drink responsibly. You aren't at a college frat party. You are an adult now and this should really go without saying.

I'm not about to suggest you shouldn't drink at all. That's the whole point of an office party, and after the year we've had, I think we all deserve to down a few (just be sure to hand over your keys and maybe call an Uber). However, if drinking tends to lead to sexual assault for you, it's time to step away from the cash bar.

If you see your attractive co-worker in the tight red sweater passed out drunk in the corner, just picture Doug from Accounting. Are you going to feel up Doug from Accounting while he's passed out in the corner?

Ladies, this one is for you, too. Having a few glasses of wine is one thing, but getting passed out drunk in the corner of the office party is never a good idea. Too many women have been groped or worse after they've had a few too many cosmos. Besides, that sort of thing isn't exactly professional, and this IS an office party. Drooling on that pretty red sweater while your co-workers watch isn't going to land you that next promotion.

And yes, I realize this is "victim blaming" so go ahead and send your hateful emails. I will continue to believe the person ultimately responsible for a woman's safety is the woman herself.

3. Limit physical contact. Handshakes are always appropriate. A hand on the shoulder might be okay, but let's keep this professional. Don't let that hand linger. Don't start rubbing. And I don't care how soft her red sweater is...

No! Don't let it drift any further south!

ABORT! ABORT!

And you should definitely NOT grab her by the you-know-what. Unless you are the President of the United States, you're definitely not getting away with that.

If you have trouble keeping your hands to yourself, just shove them in your pockets. Sure you might look awkward like Doug from Accounting, but he's never had a sexual harassment charge, has he?

4. Get rid of "Dirty Santa." I know it's just a fun office gift exchange, but playing anything called "Dirty Santa" is just begging for someone to be inappropriate. The minute someone gifts a dildo, the entire ship is going down. Even Doug from Accounting.

5. Make an early exit. Like Mama always said, "Nothing good happens after midnight." Hanging around until the wee hours of the morning while the alcohol flows is just begging for trouble. The minute someone says, "Hey, Doug from Accounting! Hold my beer while I grope this passed out chick in the red sweater," it's time to hit the road.

"Hasta la vista, co-workers. I'm off to work on my end-of-the-year reports."

Because even though sexually harassing co-workers might sound like fun, there are consequences now.

Finally.

There are consequences.













Thursday, August 17, 2017

What Do You See When You Look at a Confederate Monument?

The Durham monument before it was vandalized.
I was in Rochester, NY enjoying mild temperatures and low humidity when "protesters" clashed in Charlottesville, VA last weekend. On Monday, when Durham, NC vandals tore down a Confederate "monument", I was driving through picturesque Valley Forge, PA. I don't often head "up North" unless it is to visit family, mostly due to a serious lack of sweet tea.

In spite of enjoying weather that made me question my decision to live in the sweltering South, I was in a hurry to get home.

I am a Southerner through and through. I say "y'all" and "yonder" and often drop the "g" on the end of words like "huntin'" and "fishin'." Southern pride is a very real thing, even though it's hard for those of you without several generations of Southern DNA coursing through your veins to really understand. And surprisingly enough, it has nothing to do with white supremacy or racism, in spite of what the media might have you believe.

Over the past several days, we've witnessed a frenzied hysteria surrounding our Confederate symbols. Large "news" conglomerates like The New York Times have claimed that "Confederate monuments have always been symbols of white supremacy."

I understand some of the arguments for removing some of these symbols of the Confederacy. I can see the point often made about monuments to war criminals and conquered governments. Perhaps it is true that war monuments to Confederate generals are inappropriate additions to government spaces. Even if you attempt to rationalize the War Between the States being motivated by state's rights, it is hard to deny that the subject of slavery is intricately woven into the fabric of Southern motives for secession.

But these monuments and memorials that dot our Southern towns and cities aren't seen as symbols of hate by everyone. They haven't always or only been symbols of white supremacy. That is oversimplifying a complex issue.

Although the saying has been grossly overused, sometimes those symbols actually represent "heritage, not hate."

Stay with me. Hold your hate mail until the end.

Heritage, by definition, is the full range of our inherited traditions, monuments, objects, and culture. Southern heritage and culture is a rich tapestry of values and morals and way of life. It is far more than Confederate monuments, reenactments, and rebel flags. It is also courage, work ethic, family values, loyalty, and knowing your neighbor. It is honesty, front porch sitting, pecan pie, and sweet tea. And yes... it is Civil War battlegrounds and small town Confederate monuments. It is respect for our Confederate dead.

It is part of our Southern identity, and it is so entwined with the smell of jasmine and magnolias that you just can't pull one thread without the average Southerner being afraid the whole sweater will unravel.

And maybe the whole sweater will unravel. After the incident in Durham, the city of Baltimore removed their confederate statues under cover of darkness. And just this morning, we learned that a statue of Robert E. Lee was defaced in Duke University's beautiful chapel. Plus we are seeing petitions circulating all over social media feeds calling for the removal of memorials to fallen Confederate soldiers. There are threats that they will be removed by force if necessary.

In the small North Carolina town that I call home, we have our own Confederate memorial. It is a fountain that sits prominently on our lush green Town Common. The fountain is a symbol of Tarboro itself, and has adorned postcards, brochures, and magazines.

It was placed by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1910 in memory of Henry Lawson Wyatt, the first Confederate soldier killed in the War Between the States. He once called Tarboro home, too. I wonder if he looked over his shoulder at Tarboro when he marched off to war. Did he have any inkling that he would never see it again? Did his mother?

The Durham monument that was toppled on Monday wasn't dedicated to Southern glory or military prowess or even secessionist ideals. The inscription on the front read "In Memory of the Boys Who Wore the Gray."

Boys who mostly never owned slaves. Boys who left home and never came back. Boys who suffered unspeakable hardships on the field of war and faced horrific deaths. Boys who believed they were honorably defending their homes and families.

So if all you can see when you look at a Confederate monument is hate, racism, and oppression, maybe you aren't looking hard enough. Some of us see death and senseless loss of life. We see husbands, sons, and brothers who died senselessly and horrifically. We want to remember them. It is the main reason we hold to our Southern Pride.

Because those young boys, the 620,000 of them who senselessly lost their lives on both sides, were really just pawns in a war for political power. And not one of them deserved the fate they received.

Here is what a lot of us see in those memorials and monuments that are being vandalized, kicked, and toppled amid screams of racism and hate...








Thursday, July 27, 2017

The High Cost of Transgender Persons in the Military - And It Isn't What You Think

Yesterday, Trump announced via tweet that he was reinstating a ban on transgender people serving in the United States military. This is a reversal of an almost last minute policy President Obama made on his way out the Oval Office door.

“Effective immediately, transgender Americans may serve openly,” then Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced, on June 30, 2016. “They can no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military just for being transgender.”

He said that the Pentagon would cover the medical costs of those in uniform who wished to undergo gender transition, and that it would begin a yearlong training program for service members on the changes.

I can't help but wonder if that yearlong training program for service members was included in the Pentagon's predicted policy-change cost of $4.2 million dollars a year.

Even though I am the mother of an army soldier, which gives me a specific perspective on military current events, I am no military expert. Claiming to be an expert on the grounds that my son is active duty military would be like giving advice to brain surgeons because my uncle is a brain surgeon. That would be stupid. (Although I did read American Sniper and even saw Lone Survivor in the movie theater, so I am obviously more qualified than most, right?)

Anyway, please be advised to take my opinions with a grain of salt. Certainly not more than several grains of salt. And maybe some tequila and lime. It will be more interesting that way.

It didn't take long for lines to be drawn and sides taken over this policy announcement. As news of Trump's transgender ban hit the internet's social media shit fan, people either joined in a virtual standing ovation or started screaming fits about taking away transgender rights.

First, I would like to remind everyone that the avatars you are insulting are actual human beings. Sure they may not think like you, and maybe they didn't vote like you, but they are in fact people. Most of them get up each morning, drink a cup of coffee, drop their kids off at school, and worry about how they are going to pay the bills.

Even people who are different than you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Isn't that the whole concept behind LGBTQ rights? I'm talking to you here, Liberal Left. You shouldn't have to belong to some trumped up marginalized group in order to be treated with at least basic common courtesy.

And to the Right... this isn't a sporting event. And even if it were, taunting the opposition when you score is really, REALLY poor form.

But here's the deal:

No one has taken away anyone else's rights.

Military service isn't a "right".

Nowhere in the Constitution is "military service" listed as an inalienable human right.

You see, you don't get to join the military just because you want to. It isn't some summer recreational activity you just waltz into the local YMCA and sign up for. It isn't a summer soccer league or swim class. The United States military is one of the most selective organizations on the face of the planet.

Everyday, Uncle Sam discriminates on the basis of age, intelligence, education, fitness level, body composition, drug use, medical history, and mental health. The United States military can deny your enlistment for anything from ingrown toenails to low scores on the ASVAB ( Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery).

According to the Pentagon, approximately 71% of the 34 million 17-to-24-year-olds in the U.S. do not qualify for military service.

The vast majority of those who want to serve are denied. Currently, the U.S. military only takes about 20% of the eager applicants who walk through the door of their local recruiting office.

The number of citizens serving in the military is a very small slice of the American pie. Military personnel make up LESS THAN ONE PERCENT of the total U.S. population.

That's not very fair, is it? Well, war isn't exactly fair, either.

Uncle Sam is not an Equal Opportunity Employer, and military service isn't a right. It's a privilege.

A privilege is something enjoyed by a group of individuals beyond what is available to others. It is something often regarded as an honor, although in today's culture the word "privilege" is almost a dirty word. In spite of that, not everyone who wants to serve in the armed forces actually makes it past the aptitude tests, physical assessments, and psychological screenings required for service.

It's like this: You may have a right to use the bathroom, but you don't have permission to use this particular bathroom. Individuals may have the right to employment, but that doesn't mean he/she/they have to be employed by the U.S military. (And yes, I'm using the bathroom analogy on purpose.)

When the United States military claims to have an elite fighting force, they really mean it.

The reason there are so many screenings and tests and evaluations and hoops to jump through is important. Military service is a privilege only given to those best equipped to defend us against those who wish to do us harm.

There are barbarian and savage forces knocking at our door, bent on our destruction. Even if it may be true that we're worthy of their ire. They don't want to hug it out. We can't keep them at bay with good intentions, inclusiveness, political correctness, or fluttering rainbow flags.

No, what keeps those forces from busting down our door is an elite fighting force. And it needs to remain elite to be effective. The card-carrying members of our armed forces should be mentally and physically capable of beating back the wolves at our doorstep. The more selective, the better in my book, because I enjoy sleeping soundly at night.

But before you send me hate mail bitching about how bigoted I am or call me awful names because I'm condoning the dehumanization of a subset of the population, let me clarify something.

I don't care if you claim gender dysphoria. I don't care what you do to your body. I don't care if you play with your own hormone levels, or undergo gender reassignment surgery. I don't care whether you float from identifying as a boy to a girl to a frickin' toaster on a day-to-day basis. I just don't care. I won't think you are less of a person because you may slap a "Transgender" label on yourself. I will treat you with all of the respect and dignity I can muster. I am Southern, after all. I'll hold the door for you, smile and comment about the weather, and even "bless your heart." That's just common human decency.

However, I don't think thrusting individuals with gender dysphoria into the military is a wise idea, and it has nothing to do with treatment costs, social stigma, or backwards bigotry.

It is common knowledge that people with gender dysphoria have higher rates of mental health conditions. Some estimates say that at least 71% of people with gender dysphoria will have a mental health diagnosis in their lifetime. That includes mood disorders, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, and suicidal tendencies.

Whatever the causes of these often traumatic mental issues is immaterial. Will acceptance cure these mental issues? Maybe. But we shouldn't be gambling on it by tossing these individuals into an environment riddled with its own epidemic of mental health issues.

According to a 2014 study published in JAMA Psychiatry, nearly one in four active duty military members show signs of a mental health condition. With rates of depression five times higher than non-military populations, and suicide rates almost three times those in the civilian world, military life is obviously mentally stressful.

Why would we want to thrust someone with a potential predisposition for depression and suicide into a situation that breeds depression and suicide? That, my friends, is a recipe for disaster. For everyone involved.

This isn't just about what is politically correct. It isn't just about military morale, either. Perhaps the military isn't the safest place for transgender individuals.

I suppose if that makes me a bigot, I'll just have to wear the label. I'd rather be a logic-driven bigot than a blind idealist if it saves the life of even one fragile person.

And there's way more on the line here than the lives of these "marginalized"people. Because in comparison to the barbarians lurking at the door, we're all pretty fragile.






Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Just a Girl

On Monday and Wednesday afternoons, just before dinner, I teach a karate class. It is a small class of rambunctious 4 and 5 year-olds that keeps me on my toes and often stretches my patience. But it is usually the highlight of my week.

I've been teaching this class of small children for two years, and it has been overwhelmingly populated by boys. I don't know if it is because more boys want to learn to punch and kick with skill and authority, while maybe their female peers are wanting to dress in pink tutus and learn to pirouette. Maybe it's because the mothers of boys desperately want an activity that will burn off some of the excess energy that drives their sons to climb walls, knock over furniture, and ride the cat.

I don't know. But for whatever reason, until very recently, my class has been almost entirely boys.

And then in walked one little girl and like a dropped domino two more followed her. Now there are three girls forming a minority at the end of the class line-up.

I don't treat them any differently than I do the boys. They get high fives when they succeed, are encouraged when they don't, and told to "suck it up" when they get hurt. As far as I'm concerned, there is no gender on the training mat.

Last week, we were working on forward rolls, a skill that the little boys who've been around a while can mostly execute with an amount of clumsy confidence. But one of the little boys seemed concerned when it was the newest girl's turn.

"But she doesn't know how to do it," he said. Whether to me, or himself, or the boy next to him, I'm not sure. Then he added...

"Well...she's just a girl."

Just. A. Girl.

As if to dismiss her or excuse her potential failure. Do even small boys expect less of their female peers?

Three little words from a boy who has yet to reach 3 and 1/2 feet tall. And yet the weight of them fell heavy on my soul.

I reminded him that I was "just a girl." And that my younger daughter who helps with the class (and regularly mops the dojo floor with grown men when she spars) is also "just a girl." And then I told him that he was, in fact, "just a boy."

And then that new little girl executed an almost perfect forward roll in front of the entire class.

Thank you, Universe for your well-timed poetic justice.

She got a high five.

I know that little boy didn't have any feelings of ill will toward his female classmate. He didn't say those words to insult or demean or ridicule, at least not intentionally. It was likely an innocent observation. But his choice of words has hummed around like a swarm of angry irritated bees in my brain for days.

Because this sweet little baby-faced boy is only five. He has yet to be subjected to the mind scrub that is public school. Too young to understand sexist programming, or gender stereotypes, or to see women as mindless objects. He must still think his mother is a super hero.

And yet somehow, it seems to have already crept like some dark scourge into his young and impressionable mind. To so easily dismiss someone's ability to succeed because they are female seems like it could have long-reaching effects, like the creeping tendrils of a pesky choking weed. Who is to blame? Parents? The media? Other children? The evil marketers of children's toys? How is sexism passed on into the subconscious of nursery school children?

There is a good possibility that I am over-reacting. Preschool children are just beginning to understand their own gender identities. And since small children tend to think in rigid terms of black and white, it makes sense in their developing brains to compartmentalize males and females and what they are capable of doing.

As they mature, children's thinking tends to become more flexible. Chances are good that he will grow out of the strict stereotypical views that he now holds in an innocent attempt to make sense of a confusing world.

In the mean time, a karate class led by strong and capable female instructors is right where he needs to be Hopefully, it will also help those three little girls believe that they are capable, strong, and able. And when those capable, strong, able little girls in class start pushing his small 5 year-old body around the mat, well that's only going to bring home the message that women aren't weak and frail, that they aren't something to be dismissed, that they can command their own respect.

And just to be on the safe side, I think I'll kick the bag extra hard before class. Because that's how I plan to fight sexism. One powerful roundhouse kick at a time. Powerful role models are the only thing strong enough to combat both the subliminal and the overt messages our children are pummeled with relentlessly.

I'll do my best to be a good one.




Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Remembering the Pulse Nightclub Shooting One Year Later

My family had the recent privilege of spending two days and three nights in sunny Orlando, Florida. While Florida is often painted as some sort of tropical paradise, I'm afraid we often fail to place enough emphasis on "tropical". Especially in June. I didn't realize how being 650 miles closer to the equator would magnify the heat of the sun. I have never been more thankful for sun screen and air conditioning

I was there for the BlogHer 2017 conference and thought it would be a blast to drag along the family. There's nothing quite like spending 10 hours in a vehicle, cruising 75 mph down I-95, for family bonding. Despite his best efforts, my husband has yet to convince the offspring of the real artistic value of music from his 1980s techno phase. Sorry, Hon. Maybe next trip.

When friends and family and total strangers learned we would be visiting Orlando, there was an automatic assumption that we were going to visit at least one of the many overpriced mouse-themed amusement parks.  But we didn't. Mostly because I am "The Meanest Mom Ever", but also because I don't enjoy the prospect of supporting expensive capitalistic tourist traps. (You can read that as: "We can't afford the admission tickets." Those two things are basically synonymous.)

Instead, the kids and their dear ol' Dad hung out at the resort swimming pool, played video games in the resort arcade, and generally enjoyed the resort's fantastic air conditioning while I rubbed elbows with bloggers from all over the country.


A picture from our brief visit to Pulse Nightclub
But don't think I didn't take the kids to see any of the Orlando sights. On the contrary.

We made a trip by Orlando's Pulse Nightclub, the site of the worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history.

Don't let anyone tell you that I don't know how to show my kids a good time.

We were in Orlando just a few days after the one-year anniversary of Omar Mateen's violent rampage that killed 49 people and wounded another 58. The entire country was turned upside down. It left us all questioning our safety in public places and sparked a national debate that blamed everything from gun culture to men kissing for Mateen's heinous act.

We even blamed masculinity, forgetting that it was mostly men who rushed in to eliminate the threat, secure the area, and treat the wounded. (Shameless plug: I wrote about it here.)

I'm not sure why we felt the need to go there, but I can tell you it moved us. I don't know if it was the murals painted with words and images of mourning and loss or just the mundane surroundings. Maybe it is because occupying space where so much chaos and hate erupted and rippled through our culture is a humbling thing.

I was most struck by the size of the place. Pulse Nightclub isn't particularly large. I think I expected more from Orlando with its giant theme parks and reputation for the grandiose. But there are much larger clubs back in Greenville, NC where I went to college.

There is nothing particularly impressive or fancy about Pulse, or the business that surround it, or the bustling street that it occupies. It is difficult for me to understand how something so utterly commonplace and unremarkable could stir up such hate and disgust in one human being.

Seeing the size made me realize just how packed it must have been. Dancing with throbbing music and pulsing lights with more than 300 of your closest friends must have made those first shots so very disorienting.

For Omar Mateen, it must have been like shooting fish in a barrel.

I figure somewhere in their adult lives, my children will probably recline in some therapist's office and tell the story of how their family went on vacation to Florida. Their therapist will look baffled as he or she scribbles notes about how their mother wouldn't even let them go to Disney World. Instead she took them to the scene of recent history's worst mass shooting.

But empathy is a difficult thing to teach, especially to teenagers. For them, too much of life is viewed filtered through a screen. Constantly connected to phones and tablets and laptops, it sometimes becomes difficult to distinguish news stories from video games and the latest season of their favorite Netflix series.

It is one thing to watch the aftermath of violence and death played out on cable news and quite another to stand in the spot it happened. To see the people still milling about the fenced-off parking lot in somber reflection. To see the teddy bears and candles and flowers piled at the base of a wall scrawled with messages of good-bye, messages of love and loss and pain,. That makes it more real than watching news footage of crime scenes and flashing lights or people running frantically down Orlando streets in the middle of the night.

We saw the exit doors that the revelers attempted to open in panic only to find them locked or barred. It was easy to imagine frightened people piled against them as each one realized there was no way out, hearing the gunshots that were systematically killing the people piled up behind them.

Being in that space made the fear more palpable. It was easier to imagine it being you or someone you love lying frightened and bleeding inside of those unassuming walls.

The children were absolutely silent while we were there.

Later, I asked them what they had thought about seeing the Pulse Nightclub.

"I don't know," they told me, shrugging their shoulders with typical teen dullness.

I counted it a success that they didn't roll their eyes.

"How did it make you feel?" I asked, pushing a little more.

All of them were quiet for a long stretched-out moment. I felt almost defeated, which is often how mothers of teenagers must feel.

Then the youngest said in a small sighing voice, "Just really sad."

It wasn't apathy at all that made them silent. It was heaviness. A heaviness born out of sympathy and feeling... and empathy.

I'm not high-fiving myself on this one, though, because it doesn't really feel like a parenting success While I think I succeeded in orchestrating a teachable moment about empathy and respect toward our fellow humans, I'm just really sad, too. I'm just really sad to have to prepare my children for a world that can be so cruel.

And while empathy is one of the most important characteristics we can cultivate in the next generation, I'm also cultivating other things, too. Because empathy, while powerful, won't save them if they ever find themselves jammed against an exit door as gunshots ring out behind them.

Call me paranoid if you'd like, but my children also know how to be cautious and aware. To always have an escape plan whenever they are in public. To know how to disarm an attacker or go down trying.

Because even the most empathetic fish is still just a fish swimming laps in a barrel.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Fitting Farewell for an Old Salty Fisherman

This past weekend we spread my father's ashes.

Only half of them actually. His wish was for half to be spread over his favorite fishing spot and the other half spread in his favorite deer hunting spot. That means he'll be split between the Chesapeake Bay and the Blue Ridge Mountains. It's completely appropriate since that is how he spent his life -  split between two loves, separated by the seasons.

So, on the first Saturday of the Virginia cobia season, I boarded my dad's boat, the Alice Grace, for the last time. We sat the little black box containing what is left of my father's body in the Captain's chair while my uncle drove along Buckroe Beach standing behind the wheel and leaving my Dad to sit in his favorite seat. It was a beautiful day for fishing, with the wind turning mid-day to blow from the South West.

The old Buckroe Pier
When I was a kid on summer break, back before we had instant access to weather apps, I would religiously watch the afternoon news. Not because I was particularly interested in current events, but because I needed to check tides and wind direction.

When Daddy's truck came pulling up the gravel road in the late afternoon, I would meet him in the yard.

"South West at five miles an hour."

That was all I had to say. We'd throw the heavers and a bait bucket in the back of the truck and head for Buckroe Pier.

I can't tell you how many hours my dad spent on that pier. Some of the earliest memories I have are of me riding his shoulders out to the end or of my tiny body wrapped around his leg like a vise because I was afraid I would fall through the cracks in the boards.

I know he fished long before I came along. There are old black and white pictures of him with large cobia and the red drum that held the pier record for decades. But I know that half my childhood (the summer months of cobia season and the early bluefish run) was spent on that pier with him, watching storms brew up over the Bay, catching fish, getting sunburn, laughing at stupid jokes.

Most of the time we spent there wasn't spent catching fish at all. Fishing for big fish is a bit of a waiting game. You bait the hook, toss it out, and wait. We would go weeks without catching anything. But when a big cobia grabbed your line and headed for deeper water, the sound of a screaming drag would make your heart race as you rushed to grab your pole. You have to let them run just long enough to get a good hold before setting the hook and starting the fight.

Waiting for the cobia run
Photo Credit: Buckroe Fishing Pier
So, we scattered half his ashes, the half that loved to fish, just off of Buckroe Pier. It seems like a place he would want to be. It's a spot that must feel like home.

My father's sister has a bad back. For her, climbing into a boat was out of the question. Instead, she took her walker all the way out to the end of Buckroe Pier. She planned to watch from there as we spread his ashes from the boat. It takes time to launch a boat from a public marina on the first Saturday of the cobia season, so she got there long before we did. Which gave her plenty of time to chat with the cobia fishermen parked on the end of the pier hoping for a big one. Some of the older guys remembered my dad. There are still pictures of him up under the shack where you pay to fish.

It was pretty quiet fishing, not much going on in spite of the beautiful weather and favorable winds.

On the boat, I pried open the black box with a filet knife and sliced open the plastic bag inside. I had a moment of panic as I held the bag poised over the port side remembering that Daddy couldn't swim. But I dumped him anyway, figuring it was time, and his ashes floated on top like a good chum slick across the end of Buckroe Pier. Then he slowly dropped through the water and out of sight as we rode off down the beach.

Meanwhile, on Buckroe Pier, my Aunt watched from the railing. As the ashes hit the water, the lazy quiet of afternoon fishing erupted into excitement as people dashed for their poles. Because the reels that had been still and quiet all day were suddenly screaming with the first good cobia runs of the season.

And while you can chalk it up to coincidence if you'd like, I think it was probably something else entirely.  It was like a farewell 21-rod salute for an old salty fisherman. A fitting exit, don't you think?

Rest easy, Daddy. See you when I see you.

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