Peace

News has hit the airwaves that Fred Phelps Sr., the founder of Westboro Baptist Church, is now in the care of a hospice in Topeka. It has been reported that he was voted out of the church he founded in August of 2013 and last month went into hospice. Yesterday the news reported that his estranged son, Nate Phelps, had announced that the elder Phelps had stopped eating and was completely unresponsive. To me, an EMT (who recently said goodbye to my own grandfather), that spells the end of life.

Many in the media, milbloggers, and gay activists are having a field day right now. When I first read the news I thought about a lot of things I wanted to say, but nothing I can reflect on right now is really appropriate. Nothing that I or anyone else thought of him matters in light of the fact that Fred still has a family that loves him.

Of the 70 or so members of his family, about 20 had left Westboro. A few were forced out; most left willingly. Those who made the decision to leave knew that they would never see any of their family again but still hope to have the chance to see the man they know as “Gramps” one last time.

Fred was a different person to his family than he was to us. His granddaughter Grace, who left with her older sister Megan last year, wrote a beautiful missive about her love for her grandfather today. Nothing that he did or said that made him a different person to me can change the fact that he obviously loved his grandchildren, and they deeply love him.

I refuse to take part in any celebration over this. I will not rehash his wrongs. All I will say is directed squarely at those of his family who miss him the most, those who had to leave because they no longer agreed with the teachings of the church. Nate, Mark, Dorotha, Libby, Josh, Megan, Grace, and the others whose names I do not know, I am sorry. I wish you could see him again. I wish things hadn’t gone the way they did in your family. I wish you could mourn privately, without the media deconstructing everything your Gramps has ever done. I understand how much it hurts to lose a grandfather that you haven’t been able to see or speak to in a long time because of family issues, and I hurt for you. I was at least able to see my Pawpaw before he died; I cannot imagine how I would feel if I hadn’t been there when he left this life.

I hope you all find some peace. I wish I could do or say more, but I can at least say there is one small corner of the new media of the internet where you will not find anger or hatred while you grieve. I cannot be happy for Fred’s pending death because all of you still wish for one more minute with him.

(On this post, I will break my rule about not deleting comments intended to inflict pain. Any comments posted against the spirit of the main article will be deleted. Continued attempts to re-post such comments will result in your IP being blocked.)

Ghosts

What I’m about to write is difficult to the point of being agonizing, but I think it’s still important, even if only a few people read it. Maybe sharing my experiences as a kid will help me find some modicum of peace. It’ll be a hell of a lot easier to write than it will be to say it out loud, regardless of who I’m talking to. Believe me…I’m sitting here with a glass of single-malt scotch as I write.

The whole world saw a video this week that stunned them. The video was of four junior high school students brutally mocking their 68-year-old bus monitor, Karen Klein. They were so vicious in their taunts that they brought her to tears – then made fun of the fact that she was crying. The kid who shot the ten-minute video wanted to submit it to a Comedy Central show because he thought it was funny.

I got exactly a minute and a half into it and couldn’t watch anymore.

Less than one minute into that video, I was in tears. The things those kids were saying to Karen were almost identical to the things that my classmates used to say to me on the bus. When I was at CD Landolt Elementary in Houston, I walked to school every day. Bullies would target me and a couple of other kids on that route. Kids at school would make fun of the way I dressed, the way I talked, the way I sang (a small group of girls liked my singing but even some of them were absolutely cruel about everything else). They’d ask me why I pulled my socks up to my knees. They’d ask me why I acted like a boy. They’d joke that I was going to have a sex-change operation and gave me disgusting tips on how to do it. Those were the nicer things they did – I was frequently pushed around, beat up, even spit on. I was 12 when Jared Close announced to everyone that I was such a loser that I’d give free blow jobs just to have a friend, then pantomimed the act. I had to ask my teacher what a blow job was. When we all went on to Webster Intermediate (which has since been sold to a private alternative school), it only got worse.

PE was always a nightmare. I still remember the far corner between bays of lockers where a chunk of concrete was missing from the floor. I remember it because I was tossed into that corner on multiple occasions. I still don’t know why some of the kids at school hated me so much. I don’t understand why Theresa Baylott would call “big girl!” out to me from across the quad in a dragged-out falsetto voice and later scream just inches from my face that she was going to tear my effing head off.

I don’t understand why the kids on the bus, many of whom I didn’t really know, always targeted me. My parents would tell me to ignore them, but the more I ignored them the worse the abuse got. I once tried to put my head back and pretend to be asleep, but they all roared and started making fun of my nose – one kid even sneaked up to me and stuck a pen up my nose. And, just as the kids in New York did to Karen, they’d tell me I was fat. They’d “joke” that I took up the whole seat. I tried to sit in the only single-seat bench on the bus to avoid having to sit with the bullies (who loved to sit down next to me, then throw themselves into the aisle and yell at me for being too fat). The funny thing was that I really wasn’t very overweight back then. They convinced me that I was, though.

In high school, there was a running joke among most of my classmates that my nickname was “O.G.” I never knew what it stood for; they tried to tell me it stood for “original gangster” but I was never into rap and they always said it when I did or said something that appeared or sounded masculine. The more “manly” my actions, the more I’d hear, “1-2-3, this is O.G.!” Eventually someone told me that I was right – it was their inside way of making fun of me for being too butch. Someone started a rumor that I was a Satanist despite my heavy involvement in church.

Oh, church. I was bullied there, too. In Houston, my family went to Grace Community Church. The building they used to own now belongs to another congregation (most people on the East Side would immediately recognize the huge red-brick and white-pillar building with the ginormous steeple). One kid from our neighborhood also went to church with us, and he and his friends treated me like dirt. Nathan Scott Hutchison may never be forgiven in my mind for the things he did to me. His mother thought he did no wrong and no amount of challenging by other parents in the neighborhood ever convinced her that he really was a violent bully. He’d beat me to a pulp and then lie to my mother and tell her that I started it – when my mother would keep me home from church, he’d go and brag to everyone in our youth group that he’d beaten me up.

Church didn’t change until my family moved to Louisiana. Church in DeRidder didn’t change the fact that I was bullied at school, though. I just had actual friends for the first time in my life who I could stay close to so I didn’t get beaten up as often. Not that it stopped jocks in the hallway from picking me up and bodily throwing me into the lockers. Demopolis, Alabama was only marginally better, and I think only because everyone liked the fact that I could play guitar. There I had classmates calling me “church lady” after a character on Saturday Night Live. Pretty soon, though, they also started calling me “Pat”, also after a character on SNL. I wasn’t allowed to watch the show so I had no idea what it meant; someone told me it was a sketch about a character who never said if she was a man or a woman. Years later, when I finally did see a Pat sketch, I was horrified. I can’t watch anything on SNL now.

Seeing Karen Klein reduced to tears as the kids on that bus tormented her brought all of that rushing back as if it were yesterday. I’m one of those freaks who remembers every detail of everything; I can’t forget this crap no matter how hard I try. I can barely scratch the surface of the things that were said and done to me as a kid because most of it doesn’t bear repeating in polite company. There are a few facts that strike me, though, every time I go over this stuff in my head. First of all, not one of the kids who bullied me based their abuse on anything in the Bible. The kids who would walk up to me in the cafeteria and loudly ask, “are you a lesbian?” so everyone could hear didn’t go to church. They were just bullying me because I was different. When I was that age, even if you knew you were gay you did not admit it. Doing so invited disaster. The kids who bullied me at church weren’t Christians, they just had parents who either didn’t believe their kids were bullies or didn’t care. Not one of the punches, kicks, gobs of saliva or hurtful words I ever took was delivered by a person who believed it was their Christian duty to do it.

The bullying didn’t stop when I reached adulthood. I was working as a corrections officer for the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections when I finally came to the realization that I was gay (something I staunchly denied all my life up until about age 24). I was just hitting that depression when my unit got a new lieutenant – a former sergeant named Paul Rivas. This guy had serious anger management issues, to the point that he would yell and throw things at the drop of a hat when things didn’t go his way. I was his target. When something went wrong, I was always to blame. One night, I was the only officer on my unit and I had been tasked with entering incident reports into the computer (never mind the fact that I still had to do rounds and make sure all the delinquents were sleeping and not attempting rape or suicide). The system was down, so I was never able to get it done. When he arrived the next morning to find the reports still sitting in the bin on his desk, he pulled me into his office and ripped me a new one at the top of his lungs. He didn’t want to hear about the system issues. After screaming at me for ten minutes about how completely inept I was, he told me that he would get rid of me the next time I failed. Trying to tell his boss, Lorene Petta, about the situation changed nothing.

It was Rivas’ bullying that pushed me over the edge. I was already in my own private hell over the dichotomy of being a lifelong Christian who was a lesbian. Rivas had me convinced that I was useless as an officer and that I was going to lose my career. I couldn’t handle the fact that, from childhood to age 24, I had been a complete loser; now, as a grown woman, I still couldn’t do anything right. One day in November of that year, I put my gun to my head and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. The round never discharged. I immediately told a couple of fellow officers who helped me check into a hospital. I never did tell them just how close I had come to killing myself. Dr. Petta, Lt. Rivas and the assistant director used their knowledge of what I’d been through (limited as it was, since it was another officer who told them) to fire me. I later went back to corrections with a very different perspective on things.

While I refuse to be a victim – I refuse to play the specialty card to get what I want – those experiences still haunt me. I’m still hurt by all of that. I’ve never revealed the details until now, but they have always been with me. Unless I live long enough to develop Alzheimer’s, they’ll always be with me. I still feel like a loser, even now. I hate that I feel that way, but I don’t know how else to feel. I still feel like that kid who wanted to be part of the in-crowd and is being humiliated in the attempt. It has kept going that way. After my parents divorced, I stayed with my mom to try to help her out but I had to move on at some point; in 2005, I moved out on my own. I met another lesbian who had bought a home and needed a roommate because she and her girlfriend were about to break up. She was a very attractive girl and we became very fast friends, but it didn’t last. When she eventually told me she didn’t want me in her life anymore, several years after I’d moved out of her house, the only reasons she was able to give me were very superficial – the way I dressed, the music I liked, the fact that I was too butch.

I rarely, if ever, let anyone new in now. I feel as though I have been useless my entire life. I’m no angel…a long time ago, I was an honest-to-god pious little jackass. I would never try to blame my actions on my childhood because no matter what I went through, I still knew right from wrong. I don’t think I ever deserved to feel the way I do now, though. I don’t deserve to fear that everyone around me is secretly thinking about how much they can’t stand me. I don’t deserve to be afraid to go out and meet people because I don’t believe I’ll ever feel worthy of being loved. I sure as hell don’t deserve to hope that I’ll get the chance to die in some heroic act so my life will make sense to somebody.

The kind of people who say that bullying is no big deal have never had to wake up with those ghosts.

The Toughest Story Ever Told

Just a few days ago, I posted about parents who don’t know how to set limits for their children. Tonight I’m going to address the opposite end of the spectrum. A friend forwarded me a link to a video that made me nauseous. I will warn you, the following is not safe for work nor is it safe for children. It is the full, unedited footage of Arkansas County, Texas judge William Adams beating his then-16-year-old daughter over downloading music and video games online in 2004:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wl9y3SIPt7o]

From what I’ve been able to piece together, his daughter Hillary had been told to remove the file-sharing service known popularly as Kazaa from her computer. In fact, he apparently didn’t even want her to have the computer in the house in the first place. Hillary has ataxic cerebral palsy, which is a condition that affects motor function and balance. Typically it causes tremors in the hands and feet. Hillary, against the odds, learned to play piano (and she has some pretty amazing talent) and developed a keen interest in computers and related technology. Against his wishes Hillary signed back on to Kazaa to download games and music. Her mother found out and punished her for it, but when her father came home, he doled out the abuse you see in the video.

What I am about to say is not easy, but I think it speaks to my experience.

When I was a kid, I wasn’t all that bad. My mother had some pretty impossible expectations of me, but I never sneaked out of the house, never stole the car, never smoked or drank – pretty much the worst that can be said about me when I was a kid was that I wasn’t interested in school work. I loved reading, writing, and studying music, but not what I was being taught at school. I was caught stealing gum on a couple of occasions when I was little. I remember stealing baseball cards once. That was the worst I did as a child. Now, if you had asked my mother, she would have told you that I was violent, dangerous, disrespectful and incorrigible. She even went to Tough Love meetings when I was a kid (and you have no idea just how embarrassing it was much later to read about the founders of the group and the quandaries that parents who attend meetings really face – kids who drink, party, use narcotics, commit grand larceny, that sort of thing, none of which I ever came close to doing). I wasn’t innocent…I did things from time to time that genuinely deserved a spanking or being grounded. I also wasn’t the demon my mother made me out to be.

My father quite obviously did not like to punish any of us. When we had done something that merited a spanking, he didn’t chase us down – he told us he was going to spank us, turned us over his knee, gave us three swats and that was the end of it. In fact, the only time I saw my father shed tears was on the few occasions that he spanked me or my siblings (he cried the night before he told my mother he was done, but that’s a different story). All three of us knew as kids that dad did not like doing things that hurt us and that was the part that made us straighten up. My mother, on the other hand? She may have loved me as her daughter, but she has never really liked me. The majority of her aggression, when not directed at my father, was directed at me.

She crossed the line from discipline into abuse on several occasions. At one point she took a swing at me with a cooking spoon and broke the spoon. One evening, my parents came home to find that my siblings had finished their chores, but I had slacked off all day and was rushing to get mine done when they got home. My father took my siblings out for a reward and left me at home, an act that I protested in my room in tears. My mother came thundering into my room with one of my father’s leather belts, swinging wildly, hitting me everywhere from head to foot. I went to my first day of the fifth grade with belt-sized bruises on my neck and forearm. To this day I cannot explain why I answered as I did when teachers asked me what happened: “I fell.”

That was not the first nor the last time my mother lost her temper in such fashion. What’s more, my teachers thought my father was the abuser. Fifth grade was my first year in the D.A.R.E. program, and when the officer teaching us asked if we’d ever seen our parents consume alcohol, I raised my hand only to find I was the only one with my hand in the air. That afternoon, my mother raged at me for telling them that my dad was an alcoholic – an accusation I had never made. To the day my parents divorced she never stopped bringing it up. Well into my adult years, she would pull that incident out of her hat and dangle it in front of me as if to say, “see? You were a major pain in the ass when you were a kid!” Well into my adult years, I feared correcting her.

The one time I tried to remind her of the times she had beaten me, screamed insults at me, or grabbed me by my shirt collar and shaken me until I saw stars, she again lost her temper. Even now she would vehemently deny that it happened. Maybe she really has forgotten that she did those things; I don’t know what her frame of mind is and I can’t make that accusation. What really confused the hell out of me as a kid was how she could blow a gasket at home and, once we got to church half an hour later, she could turn on the charm and nobody had a clue what was going on at home. When other people were around, my mother had a great sense of humor. She was very witty and was a lot of fun to be around. Once we got home, though, she wasn’t happy unless she was angry, arguing with my father, or going over some drama with me.

In my EMS work, I go on a lot of domestic violence calls. Every time we go to another one, I always walk away from the victim who has just been beaten half-senseless and still refuses to press charges against her animal of a boyfriend and wonder to my partner how so many of them can return to their abusers so willingly. One night, we got back to the station and I crawled back into my rack and it suddenly made sense. It’s not just because they have nowhere else to go. It’s not just because they have no money. They genuinely love these men and they believe even as they are being abused that they can fix them.

I love my mother. I wish more than anything that I could have a relationship with her but she became so vengeful and vitriolic after my parents divorced in 2004 that I simply couldn’t be around her anymore. My therapist has since remarked that in the two years since I stopped trying to force myself to work things out with my mom, I’ve become a much more easygoing person (yes, I see a therapist – I think everyone should see a therapist). Like any person in a bad relationship, though, I had to recognize the situation for what it was and remove myself from it if I hoped to maintain my sanity. Loving a person does not mean we need to do all we can to fix them, even to our own detriment. Eventually we have to say goodbye and hope that they fix themselves in the interim.

I have no trouble believing that Hillary, too, was a good kid. What I fail to understand is why, after being told not only about the offense but that she had already been punished, he felt it necessary to go off the deep end over a file-sharing service. My father never threatened me, he never growled at me, and he certainly never cussed at me. This man says some pretty unbelievable things to his disabled 16-year-old child while literally beating her until she screams for him to stop. Then he jabs his finger in her face and threatens to beat her again over slight offenses.

Incredibly, when answering for the video, he said, “it was a long time ago…I really don’t want to get into this right now because as you can see my life’s been made very difficult over this child.” He had the temerity to make light of the incident. William Adams has no business being a judge. Hillary has said that it’s “a heavy thing to do” to ruin her father, and she is correct – but the man has reportedly ruled that the testimony of children is “fantasy”. I would not want him on the bench any longer than I would want my mother on the bench. There is a tremendous difference between a spanking and a beating, and this man has obviously not learned that difference yet.

Teach Your Children The Limits

In my July post Put the Candles Out, I wrote about the murder of 15-year-old Lawrence King at the hands of 14-year-old classmate Brandon McInerney. In that piece I talked about what led up to the shooting; I said then and I still say there is no justification for what Brandon did. He should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Something else I said at the time, however, was that Lawrence’s behavior was unacceptable. I had long since removed my personal email address from the website, but two liberals that I have known for a very long time sent me very hateful messages for what I said and severed all ties with me over that post. If they read what I’m about to write, they’ll be sending me death threats.

Yesterday, Tammy Bruce tweeted a news story from Denver about a seven-year-old boy named Bobby who essentially lives like a girl. He wants to join the Girl Scouts. His mother had apparently contacted the Girl Scouts about it and got a positive response – sure, bring him! We’re an inclusive organization, and if a child identifies as a girl, they can be a Girl Scout! Well, Mrs. Montoya took Bobby to the local troop only to be turned away by the troop mother, who said he couldn’t join because he “has boy parts”.

Okay…lemme speak from experience here.

When I was a kid, as far back as age five, I wanted to be a boy. My mother dressed me up in dresses and cute stuff but I wasn’t interested in girl stuff – He-Man and GI Joe were my heroes. Later I got heavily into Voltron and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. My sister started an impressive Barbie collection, but I was more interested in going to the shooting range with my dad. I traded baseball cards with my brother. I practiced hard pitching with my grandfather. I wanted to be a Boy Scout; in fact I wished, after my friend’s older brother did it, that I could become an Eagle Scout (but to this day a girl would not be accepted, and it should stay that way). I got into politics and philosophy, learned to play guitar when I was 10, and if allowed I never would have worn another dress in my entire life. When grunge became popular I stole my dad’s old combat boots and wore them to school with my slashed jeans (actually, I had to sneak them into school and change because if my mother saw what I was wearing she’d have had apoplexy). The worst that my parents can say about me as a kid was that I was more interested in music and recreational reading and writing than I was in doing schoolwork.

My mother went way too far on a lot of things, but the one thing I can say for certain that I’m glad she wouldn’t budge on was the fact that I was not a boy. She could have gone about it much differently, but I’m glad that she insisted that I wear a dress to church. I wouldn’t be caught dead in one now, but that’s beside the point. My mother knew what I was too young and dumb to realize: when you deviate a little bit from the norm, it’s rebellion; when you deviate too far from the norm, you’re an instant target. And when you’re a kid you really don’t know what you are or want to be.

I wanted to be a boy when I was a kid, but now that I’m an adult I like being a woman. Yes, I’m a lesbian. I like women (as long as they are also lesbians). I lost interest in changing my gender when I was in junior high school. While I wish my mother would have enforced the rules just a tad differently, I have to say that I’m glad she didn’t wantonly feed into the fact that I wanted to be a boy.

It is important to let a child explore and, to some degree, be who or what they want. It is far more important, however, to set limits on children. What this little boy and his mother do not realize is that just by dressing and acting like a girl, he’s made himself a huge target. By going on the evening news for a feature spot, however, they’ve made him a pariah. In the feature, he admits to being bullied. Do you think that’s going to get better or worse now? Parents will tell their kids to stay away from him at school. Kids at school will be more merciless than before. He’s not learning limits – if his mother doesn’t rein him in quickly, he’ll end up acting like Lawrence King, prancing around school in stiletto thigh-high boots and wearing makeup, flirting with boys in the hallway who are not of that orientation and don’t understand what’s going on. If he survives that, he’ll go on to learn the hard way that the real world of adults can be just as cruel, if not more so.

Childhood is definitely a time of exploration and questioning. It is also the best time to set limits and teach rules. Bobby doesn’t know what he wants or what he is just yet; the greatest injustice his mother can commit is to fail to teach him that the real world has expectations no matter who or what you are and if you don’t have some semblance of normalcy in your life, the world will eat you alive. It is very unhealthy to allow any child to live as the opposite gender. He is going to grow up being loved and accepted at home and not understanding why the kids at school can’t stand him – and you’ll never be able to explain it. He will, however, grow up and get over having a few rules in life.

The Amazing Disappearing Middle Class

America is the only country on the planet where the poor have cars and cable TV. If you’re listening to the so-called “99%”, better known as Occupy Wall Street, the middle class in America no longer exists. They say it was decimated by the financial crisis. If the middle class is truly no more, though, then I’m about to have a serious identity crisis.

I’m pretty sure I’m not poor. I’ve seen what poor is and it ain’t me. I have two good jobs, I make decent money, and I have a great little apartment where my only complaint is my noisy neighbors. I have uninterrupted electricity, clean running water, a washer and dryer, a refrigerator, and air conditioning in the middle of the desert. I have a nice little Ford pickup truck that I can take up to Sedona or Crown King when the mood strikes me. I have a big TV, a PS3, a sizable movie and game collection, a custom computer, high-speed internet access and three guitars – including my dream guitar, a Taylor. I have a cat who only gets Iams or Science Diet. I’m a TAM (Tammy Army Member) and I make donations to the ASPCA, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, the 100 Club, and the Anthony Holly Foundation. I’m certainly not hurting.

On the flip side, I wouldn’t consider myself wealthy, either. I can treat myself once in a while to a good steak, but it isn’t at Donovan’s. I don’t wear designer clothing (unless you count Black Helmet and RangerUp). I have a Taylor (top-of-the-line, hand-made guitars built right here in America by a fantastic capitalist named Bob Taylor), but it’s not made of solid koa and I can’t afford one of those in the near future. I’d love to have a fully restored ’67 Shelby GT Mustang and a Harley-Davidson VRSCDX Night Rod Special, but both are a pipe dream. I can’t just blow money on whatever my heart desires no matter how much I drool over these things.

So we’ve established that I’m neither poor nor rich, not by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not alone; the majority of my friends and relatives don’t fit into either category. If I’m not middle class, then what am I?

I’ve said many times that the liberals in this country are masters of misinformation. 9/11 happens and patriotism ends up being warped into Islamophobia. After eight years of tacit refusal to obey the terms of his 1991 surrender, we go take out Saddam Hussein and we’re called murderous warmongers who need to give peace a chance. An economic crash brings us to our virtual knees and it’s all the fault of the president who warned that it was coming – and the career politicians who blew him off are swooping in to rescue us. A Tea Party movement finally stirs to combat all of these lies and they’re pegged as racist, hatemongering bigots who goose-step to a capitalist beat – never mind that the REAL Nazis were actually cut from the same socialist cloth that today’s liberals are (hence the Nazi party name, in English: National Socialist German Workers’ Party).

The Occupiers are typical emotional Americans who have no idea what “poor” really is. Even when I was making half what I make now, pinching every penny to make ends meet and find some way to save something, I wouldn’t have called myself poor. Not being able to go to the movies, have a smartphone, carry a Coach purse or get your nails and hair done does not classify as poor. Go to Mexico, Jamaica, or Haiti, where you have to know someone or have money to get a job – qualifications be damned. Nobody earns anything on merit in those countries; if you’re not connected or greasing a few palms, you’re doomed to a life without plumbing or electricity. Basic education is spotty at best. College? Yeah, right.

The reality is that this movement isn’t about “the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer”. It’s not even about equality of opportunity. It’s a group of people who feel they’ve been cheated out of an equal outcome with those who are wealthy. It’s being funded and supported by avowed communists and union thugs – and like the Bolsheviks and Nazis before them, many are getting paid to make this statement. Buy a revolution and lie enough to the right people and eventually the truth is lost.

The middle class is, believe it or not, thriving. Don’t buy the hype. I am among the last of a dying breed, but that breed ain’t the middle class, and I can be proud enough to say that I have earned what I have and didn’t take it from anyone else.

Oh, The Possibilities

Most folks who are not in my line of work don’t realize how a capitalist society helps me thrive in my job. EMS is more difficult than it sounds; I once had a liberal chastise me in an argument about education, saying, “why should I listen to you, an EMT, when probably all you have is a certificate from a vocational school?” When I pointed out that I had quite a bit more than that (and pointed out that I could actually pronounce ‘nuclear’ properly, which he couldn’t) he found something else to turn into a personal attack.

These are the people who have lately been screaming for federal aid for “teachers and first responders”.

Anyhow…injuries frequently sideline people I know and respect. Several companies work hard to produce clothing and equipment that make our job easier and put less strain on our bodies. Back injuries are common, as are pulled/strained muscles, sprains, and broken bones. It’s not just treating a patient that can be dangerous – lifting and lowering them is actually even more so.

Stryker is a company that has produced some of the best equipment I’ve ever used in the field. I promise that companies like this would not exist were it not for capitalism. A universal health care system run by the government would not hold up the kind of research and innovation that is helping me do a better job…and come back to do it again on my next scheduled shift.

So click on that link and take a look at some of the things that they have built in the past two decades. The next time you see an ambulance roll by, you should wonder how much time both of the medics driving that tank have had to take off because of injuries that could have been avoided with better gear.

The Forgotten Principle

This Sunday, we’ll mark ten years since 9/11. Ten years since 2,977 innocent souls, including 343 firefighters and 60 police officers, lost their lives in a breathtaking terrorist attack that we still haven’t recovered from. 13 more later succumbed to their injuries, bringing the total death toll to 2,998 – a number that should be raised as more first responders die of various cancers they’ve developed after breathing the toxic ash at Ground Zero. Ten years since even the hardest of us openly wept at the incredible loss of life. Ten years since 19 animals used their ultimate faith in jihad to prove that America is not untouchable.

In the weeks following the attacks, people rallied to prove we were better than the terrorists. We gave blood, donated water and food, posted pictures of those who were unaccounted for, and mourned for every set of remains carried out of the burning pit draped with Old Glory. Incredibly, we were nicer. We were nicer to our families and friends, nicer to the people who serve us, even nicer to other people on the road.

How quickly we forget.

About six months after the attacks – we’d already invaded Afghanistan by that time – I read a blog post that broke my heart. An Army wife, pregnant, crying child in tow, was writing about an unbelievable experience at a grocery store. Her husband was among those deployed to Afghanistan. She badly needed a few items, so she gathered what she needed quickly and ran to the express lane. During checkout she discovered she was one item over the limit. According to the post, the people behind her immediately lost their patience and began complaining loudly. The cashier offered no solution, only telling her she needed to go to another lane. At the end of her rope, the poor woman ran from the store, leaving her groceries unchecked. She wondered how we could have all gone to caring about our fellow man right after 9/11 to scolding a woman in a grocery store over something as simple as an item limit.

It never ceases to amaze me the way people will treat others sometimes. Those who consider themselves middle- or even upper-class can be outrageously mean. I cannot say who I work for, but in my main job I investigate fraud for a major financial institution. I talk to people all day long. Occasionally, a customer encounters difficulty using their account because of our attempts to stop fraud before it starts, and I’d say at least 75% of the time they’re typically civil. Today, however, I had people screaming epithets, insults and profanities at me over being stopped.

I left work feeling completely defeated. I didn’t do anything wrong, but people occasionally hear what they want to hear (as opposed to what’s actually being said), misinterpret what’s being said, and demand the impossible. When that happens and someone finds out that they’re not going to get what they want, they will revert to pitching a fit like a two-year-old (one with a far more extensive vocabulary). Today I was called names that I wouldn’t call another person myself even if I were enraged. They don’t understand that I can’t tell them why we might be suspicious of a charge being made; if we give that information out, the bad guys will use it to improve on how they get away with fraud. Yes, we will protect ourselves – your interest rates and annual fees are all part of the fraud prevention system, and the more the financial industry loses, the higher your rates will go. Fraud drives up the cost of all goods and services. So screaming that you’ve been inconvenienced and it’s not fair is actually self-defeating because that very system protects you in ways you will never understand.

As we come up to the ten-year anniversary of the defining moment of my generation, I hear these people losing their cool over things that aren’t worth it and mistreating me and my colleagues and I wonder what must go through their minds. I also wonder if they’d still behave that way if they knew who they were talking to.

If you knew the young woman you were talking to was a military widow, would you still call her a bitch?

If you knew that the young man you were talking to had a titanium leg in place of the one he lost while serving in the Marines in Iraq, would you still tell him to go to hell?

If you knew that the older gentleman you were talking to was a WWII veteran who’d been awarded the Navy Cross and two purple hearts, would you still tell him he was incompetent?

If you knew that the young woman you were talking to had lost an eye to a roadside bomb in Iraq, would you still call her a f—ing c–t?

If you knew that the young man you were talking to was in the US Army Reserves and had just come back to work after his third tour of duty in the Big Sandbox and he came home this time with shrapnel in his hip, would you still call him a pu–y and a dumb MF’er? Is a single moment of inconvenience and perceived embarrassment really worth abusing a man who fought so hard for you?

I’m not making any of that up. It makes my adrenaline surge and my hands shake when someone talks to me that way because when a person gets that way with me in my other job, it means they’re about to get violent; it’s a response that I can’t turn off. When I hear the people I know and deeply respect being abused by people who are angry about not getting their way, knowing what those friends have survived, it makes me absolutely furious.

This year, don’t just volunteer. Think long and hard about the way you treat your fellow man. Convenience is not a right – it is something that countless men and women have fought to give America the ability to provide. Don’t let respect become the forgotten principle. If you can’t imagine someone else talking to you that way, don’t do it to someone else – regardless of how inconvenient the situation is.

Atheism: The New Religion

Today, it was announced that a group calling itself “The American Atheists” filed a lawsuit over a particular item at the 9/11 memorial. Particularly, they are suing to stop the now well-known 9/11 cross, discovered still standing at Ground Zero during the cleanup and made of steel beams from the frame of one of the towers, from being prominently displayed in the soon-to-be-opened 9/11 memorial museum.

In the weeks after the attacks, the fires were fought and human remains were carefully recovered and respectfully removed. In some cases, all that was found was a handful of bone fragments or some clothing. A mangled helmet belonging to one of the Engine 3 firefighters will be on display, as will the mangled Engine 3 itself – it has already been lowered into the museum by crane. As the smoke cleared during the recovery efforts, however, the only beams found still standing had formed a cross. That cross offered a great deal of comfort and inspiration to those who lost and those who helped work on 9/11.

Considering the fact that the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation is a private organization and is tax-exempt (not to mention the fact that the property is privately owned), the group isn’t likely to win their lawsuit. They are basing their lawsuit solely on the fact that the organization has received government grand funds. That tactic has never worked in the past. The group claims that they favor absolute separation of church and state, meaning that they believe that no mention would be made of religion whatsoever during any event or in any facility that has the slightest fingerprint of government on it.

Most telling about their position, however, is the press release offered by leader Dave Silverman: “The WTC cross has become a Christian icon. It has been blessed by so-called holy men and presented as a reminder that their god, who couldn’t be bothered to stop the Muslim terrorists or prevent 3,000 people from being killed in his name, cared only enough to bestow upon us some rubble that resembles a cross. It’s a truly ridiculous assertion.”

That’s not a legal position. It smacks of religious undertones, whether it was meant or not. When I posted the link to the original story on Twitter, I wrote, “atheism: the religion created by those who wish to prove that God does not exist.” User @HatefulAtheist was apparently quite offended. He still hasn’t let go of the fact that I called the move quasi-religion.

He refuses to admit I have a point. Here are a few definitions, taken directly from Merriam-Webster:

RELIGION: 1: the state of a religious 2: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices 3 archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness 4: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

Note that there are a few varying definitions, and not all are spiritual. The poster then said that religion must contain “dogma” in order to be a religion. Let’s take a look at that definition…

DOGMA: 1: something held as an established opinion; especially : a definite authoritative tenet 2: a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church

Note that the church reference is secondary in this instance. To be sure, let’s take a look at the definition of another word used here…

TENET: a principle, belief, or doctrine generally held to be true; especially : one held in common by members of an organization, movement, or profession

Religion isn’t even mentioned here. My point in all of this is that my opinion is that atheism has to some degree become a religious movement in and of itself. The ardent refusal to believe that God exists has become so important to some that it trumps all other pursuits. You can see multiple open insults in Dave Silverman’s comment; his choice of words is not unlike those of religious leaders in Christianity and Islam. There are leaders in every religion on the planet who take verbal swipes at other faiths and those who openly hold to no faith. In fact, some are quite well-known for such insulting behavior.

When a group is willing to persecute another group so vehemently that they refuse to allow any vestige of that group to be experienced in public, it has become a religion, regardless of the values or beliefs of others who belong to that group. Entire organizations of atheists have been built for the purpose of tearing Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and other religions down until the public no longer sees references to any established spiritual belief.

To @HatefulAtheist and those like him, I say this: Christians aren’t all anti-gay. There are “open and affirming” churches all over the world, Christian churches that believe that homosexuality is not a sin and congregations that welcome those who are openly gay. Jews aren’t all anti-gay, either. In fact, the IDF – the Israeli military – has long allowed gays to serve openly. These facts do not change reality. The reality I speak of is the fact that most gay people see both religions in an extremely negative light because of the members who really do believe homosexuality to be a sin, some of them preaching borderline hatred against us.

You are entitled to your opinion just as I am entitled to mine. You are as likely to change my mind as I am to change yours. Since I am a believing Christian and you are an atheist, we both know how far that’ll carry us. The difference between you and I is that I don’t see my faith as a religion and, in fact, I bristle at being referred to as religious. You would disagree and pigeonhole me as religious just for believing in God. You can argue with me all day – but I see it this way: if I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.

Letting Go

In just a few days, a grim milestone in my life will pass. June 13th will mark two years since one of my closest, most trusted friends committed suicide. Since then another friend, a paramedic that I worked with, has also taken his life. It’s been about eight months since that happened.

Everyone has their past, myself being no exception. I had my issues before I learned to accept my sexual orientation and everything came together for me. When Aaron killed himself, though, it brought up a flood of emotions I hadn’t thought I would experience. When Mark did the same thing I felt similar things albeit on a smaller scale. I have thought long and hard about these two events, as well as the suicide of a guy I knew mostly through other fire/EMS workers I’d known for a long time. In my line of work, unfortunately, this kind of thing happens; a corrections officer who helped train be committed suicide back in 2003 and that was rough, too. When it’s someone you have known for half your life, it’s different.

During the course of my duties I’ve counseled people who were depressed and suicidal. I’ve heard a lot of things, ranging from those I strongly believed were putting on a show for an ex-significant other to those who were having serious issues and had many, many reasons to be despondent and ready to die. The ones I have always worried the most about are the ones who never talk about it. They act like nothing is wrong, then out of nowhere, they’re simply gone.

My personal opinion – personal, not professional – is that people who are suicidal can be treated, but if a person is genuinely determined to commit suicide and they do not wish to harm anyone else they should not be forcibly hospitalized. I believe that is a direct result of those who have sued police, fire and doctors after a loved one has killed themselves. I loved Aaron and Mark and would have readily done anything I could to help them. If either of them had asked for my help I would have dropped everything, even left work on short notice to do whatever I could. Both of them, however, were very good at masking their inner turmoil and were determined to die. I am angry at them both. That’s perfectly healthy, even though I feel guilty for being angry at them. I often wonder if I failed in my duties to recognize warning signs that probably weren’t there.

In the end, I believe that even though some people may really be sick and need help when they start talking about suicide, some are really making their own decisions. That is not an easy thing to say. It’s an opinion I may one day change my mind about. Both Aaron and Mark had small children. I’ll never understand why they would have left their kids, and it’s tragic that their kids will never know the courage and dedication that their fathers had.

What I really wish is that suicide wasn’t connected with so many stigmas. So many people I know see suicidal behavior merely as a cry for attention, and with some people, it is; in many, however, it’s a dangerous game to play by getting mad at a depressed person. To anyone out there who has a loved one who is struggling with multiple issues, I implore you, talk to them. Let them know how much you love them. The ones you love who struggle and still put on a smile are often most at risk. Pay attention. You may well catch something that others have missed.

Til the Last Shot’s Fired

Tyler Prewitt was the kind of kid everyone loved. I didn’t go to school with him – I went to church with him. He and his best friend Jeremy were always into something, whether it was playing a prank or trying to do something nice for someone covertly. He, like my brother, joined the Army right after 9/11 out of a desire to fight for our country. I didn’t hear about it until after he’d left. I knew his older brothers and I didn’t think this was something Tyler was likely to do.

I was even more stunned when, in September of 2004, I got the message that he’d been killed in Iraq. He was his unit’s medic. His humvee had been hit by an IED; he calmly directed his fellow soldiers on how to care for his badly mangled leg and was airlifted out in good condition. During transport a piece of debris from the wound formed an embolism (it lodged in multiple blood vessels in his lungs), choking off the oxygenated blood supply to his brain. By the time he arrived in Landstuhl, Germany, he was braindead. His mother and one of his brothers were able to get to his side before he passed. In death, Tyler was able to continue saving lives – his organs were donated at his previous request.

Just eight months later I was living with a police officer and got up early on my day off to attend Memorial Day services at the National Memorial Cemetery where Tyler had been laid to rest. My roommate asked why I was up so early. I figured she knew; I gave her a quizzical look and said, “it’s Memorial Day. I’m going to military services.” I was stunned when she told me she had no idea what Memorial Day was about…so much so that I couldn’t avoid offending her with my jaw-drop and comment: “how the hell could you not know what today is about?”

She’s not the only one. Sadly, I’m afraid that at least half of the kids in today’s public schools are completely unaware why we have tomorrow off of work and school. As we move forward more and more people forget that we are remembering the men and women who paid for our freedom with their very lives. I’ve noticed something in our culture, though; every single offering of the Country Music Industry, live shows like the CMA’s, there is always a very respectful tribute to the troops.

I can’t remember the last time the Grammy Awards held a tribute to our troops, whether past or present.

That’s very telling about our culture. Self-sacrifice is not a natural thing. We are hardwired to fight to live, no matter how badly wounded or sick we become. The reason why the sacrifice of so many for the cause of freedom is so foreign is because the vast majority can’t comprehend being willing to die for others. If you compare the respect of those in the Academy of Country Music to mainstream pop, rap, or Hollywood names, you’ll find plenty of differences that go well beyond the music or the fashion. The biggest can be seen in how they treat our fallen heroes. Hollywood barely knows how to pay tribute. Modern pop, rap and rock are too busy being liberal blowhards to consider paying tribute. You’re hard-pressed, though, to find a single country music show that doesn’t include a well-thought tribute and profound respect among the fans.

You will never see this on the Grammys:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqjpG9xYjOc]

Metal pays tribute, too – Disturbed has done incredible work with the USO. Think the MTV VMA’s will use some of the damn good music they’ve written for the troops for a tribute?

Nah. It’d mess up their “war is evil” narrative.

It’s up to us to shape the culture. If we are the culture, then we can change the way things are done. I personally refuse to support any artist who has taken part in anti-war protests or has become too politically active because of the current wars. You won’t find a single album by Springsteen, Bon Jovi, or any rap artists in my collection (and my collection of music is pretty extensive). I also love movies, but you won’t see anything with George Clooney or Sean Penn on my shelf. If an artist, actor or director has disrespected our fallen heroes, I won’t buy their product. We don’t need a massive boycott – just a personal commitment to our troops that we have more respect for them than we do for our own entertainment.

It’s unfortunate that I have to admit my friendship with Tyler had drifted off shortly before he left for the military. I think of the friends and family currently serving every day and hope and pray as hard as I can that I see them again. For those I’ve lost and those who went before them, I thank God that they had the courage to do what so many couldn’t. I also keep my rifle skills fresh so that if I am allowed to one day serve my country, I can ensure that a few more will come home safely.