Seeing is Not Always Bee-lieving

About age 10, I was playing SPUD in the front yard with some friends. The game started with someone throwing the ball up and calling out a name. I ran. But no one yelled SPUD.

I looked back to see what went wrong. The ball was on the ground amidst a cloud of insects. My friends were disappearing around the side of the house.

“Where are you going? It’s just knats!” I insisted waving my hands at the bugs as I walked back toward the ball. Getting stung shifted my perspective. The noticeably larger than knat-sized bees rose in a cartoon like swarm from a nest buried in the ground, but why did it take me so long to figure out what was happening?

This past year, I thought a lot about the bees. Every time someone shouted “hoax” about the pandemic, or repeated it was “just like the flu,” I remembered that day. “Come back! They’re just knats!”

Beliefs are formed when experiences are filtered through personality. If feeling powerless is a trigger, avoiding that feeling is paramount, but some situations are unavoidable.

Perhaps I didn’t “see” the bees that day because when the ball was thrown in the air, I moved away from the safety of the house. My brain refused to register the threat because, if the bees were real, I was screwed. The denial held until the pain of being stung broke it.

When the pandemic descended on America, experts, and those with authority, presented conflicting information. Scientists couldn’t even agree how the virus was transmitted. The only facts were there was no cure, it was spreading, and despite wearing masks and taking protective measures, people were getting sick.

Not surprisingly, some refused to acknowledge the threat. The fear was too overwhelming. Discounting precautions as unnecessary panic was easier than facing the uncertainty.

Thanks to the vaccine, we are starting to come out of the pandemic now. As survivors, the experience has been programmed into our belief system, and I expect to be better prepared should another pandemic occur in my lifetime, but what about the deniers? Do they live forever in an alternate reality?

Note: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I have written this piece based on my understanding of the world (personality + experience = beliefs). None of the supposition presented above is meant to be taken as facts or advice, merely hypothesis.

When Life Imitates The Dukes of Hazzard

downloadDo you remember the television show “The Dukes of Hazzard” (CBS Jan ’79-Feb ’85)? Even if you aren’t old enough to have waited anxiously on Friday nights for each new episode like I did, you may have seen reruns on CMT. No? Well, it was a pretty simple premise-a family of cousins with the last name Duke get mixed-up in the schemes of County Commissioner Boss Hogg, who along with his sheriff, Roscoe P. Coltrane, enjoyed trying to put Bo and Luke Duke in jail for cause or not. Filmed in California, but set in a rural Georgia community known as Hazzard County, the show depicted a sleepy town where not much would happen without the money grubbing ploys staged by Boss Hogg to line his pockets. Does Hazzard County, GA actually exist? Not on any map, but speed traps targeting out of state drivers to generate revenue for Georgia towns are a reality. This vignette is my personal experience of being pulled over by a local county sheriff in Georgia.

Traveling in the middle of a three lane stretch of I-95, I cruised along with predominantly Georgia plated cars. When blue lights flashed behind me, I pull into the right-hand lane to allow the policeman to pass by and ruin someone else’s day. Inexplicably, he stuck to my rear bumper until I eased onto the shoulder. When the policeman insisted I was driving 87 in a 70, my jaw dropped, but as much as I wanted to call out his BS, I was wise enough to restrain myself from arguing with this local county mountie on the side of a highway. Few laudable accomplishments remain in my mid-life pocket, but a clean driving record was one I intended to preserve. After accepting the ticket, I scanned it quickly to find out which day I’d be returning to clear my name it in court.

 In my younger years, I received speeding tickets in other areas of the country, but in those instances, I was guilty. So, I paid the fine by mail and moved on with my life. This time I was ready to fight. Besides, the officer would not bother to show up and the judge would let me off. Isn’t that’s the way traffic court usually works? Well, not in Hazzard County and like that soundstage in Hollywood, this little Georgia town ran its circus a bit differently from most. The two-story brick courthouse was tucked off the main drag just behind town hall. After parking under the moss covered oak trees, I took the five minutes necessary to stroll around town. I read the requisite civil war placard, admired the tidy brick buildings with painted wooden calling cards above the doorways, and marveled at the solitude. Neither tourist nor resident strolled the abandoned sidewalks at mid- day and no cars needed wait as I navigated the four-lane main drag at a snail’s pace in my black flats. This little town was lost somewhere too far from either I-95 or the ocean to be relevant. 

After waiting on a hard wooden bench outside the court room where the other speed trap victims gathered, we were eventually ushered in a slow moving mostly straight line into the old-fashioned wood paneled court room like a chain gang headed for sentencing. Before court began, a jester-like bailiff explained how the judge would call each of us by name and ask how we chose to proceed. Since more than 50 anxious out-of-staters like me fidgeted on the now thinly cushioned benches, it appeared that proceedings might take a lot of time, but she assured us that things would move quickly. “You’ll see” she winked. The judge entered and everyone stood. After being instructed to sit, her honor explained that each of us would be called by name. When our name was called, we should stand, and let her know which if the two options we chose. Option 1: Speak with the prosecutor, or Option 2: plead “not guilty” and set a future date for trial. The crowd began to murmur, but she assured us that after the first few, the rest of us would “get the hang of it”.

 We learned fast that despite the illusion of choice, only one correct answer existed. “I’d like to speak with the prosecutor ma’am” is what her honor wanted to hear. If anyone insisted on pleading “not guilty” she re-instructed them to speak with the prosecutor. After every single person in the room relented, we were lined up in two rows and hurried through our chat with the prosecutor based on our violation. Anyone driving less than 90 mph (in a 70 mph zone) had their charges dismissed as long as they forked over the $180 fine plus court fees (a total of $240) in cash. Luckily, I came prepared after noticing the large bold print at the bottom of my summons indicating that no credit cards or checks would be accepted. Easily 85% of the culprits were set free after paying the fine, though I did see one woman escorted to the pokey (as Sherrif Roscoe P Coltrane of Hazzard County called it) after it turned out she had been speeding at 107mph and (I’m guessing), she was not so flush with cash.

After walking out of court, I felt certain to spy Boss Hogg in his white three-piece suit checking his pocket watch as he crossed the town square with Roscoe hot on his heels. I took one last look around the little town that was not named Hazzard but probably should have been, and thought about how I could have insisted on having my day in court where I called out the system for its unfair targeting of out of state drivers and questioned the legitimacy of my infraction, but that would have required a second trip to rural Georgia to defend a not guilty plea. So, myself, and most of my fellow victims (one man drove down from Baltimore, MD to fight his ticket) sold out for an expunged driving record and no need to travel hundreds of miles for a second court appearance. 

I believe we all do our best to stay on the right side of the road in life, but when the potholes grow deep and there is no money to fix them, blazing a new route is the most sensible way to keep moving forward. I could see that this town needed help to survive. It didn’t have appeal enough to draw industry or forward thinking to encourage innovation. Maybe they identified with Hazzard County a little too much. To an outsider like me, it seems unfair and dishonest to prop up a town with revenue gathered from unsuspecting passersby, but it is this subtle style of moral degradation that increasingly permeates current American society, and no one complains too loudly as long the targets are strangers  rather than neighbors.

What Do We Do Now?

It kind of feels like Dumbledore died all over again, and Voldemort has risen.

Sadness, fear, and uncertainty are pervasive, and one question lingers, “what do we do now?” The answer is we do exactly what Harry, Ron, and Hermione did-we hunt horocruxes.

The Republican version of a horocrux isn’t quite as hard to find as those in the JK Rowling series. The life blood of a red states is hatred, division, and lies (mostly lies told to kind, trusting Americans to convince them to support Voldemort). We destroy these with truth, love, and acceptance. Defeat the bad with good.

The trickier part of the hunt comes when faced with actual threats of racial bias, intimidation against those of different sexual orientations, misogyny, religious persecution, and a populace educated with an overkill of mis-information.

“If you see something, say something” takes on an additional meaning going forward. It requires each of us stand up for marginalized citizens being persecuted. Not getting involved is the equivalent of condoning bad behavior.

Remember that the final horocrux presents the biggest challenge. To eradicate bias in another person requires each of us to acknowledge our own bias. None of us is perfect. Everyone has a valid perspective. We can learn a lot from others, especially when their words are not the ones we want to hear.

Take a walk in the other person’s shoes. Send your love before you. Be respectful of all.

Give Some to Get Some

Most days I have better conversations with my 8 year old nephew than I do with other adults. Kids are pretty easy, though. Give them a little attention and you’ve secured a captive audience. The same rules don’t always apply with adults.

Some people never give up chasing flashy things, and not being an expert in attention grabbing, I tend to end up too easily overlooked. But, if I take a stab at self promotion, I feel like an imposter.

How can you be memorable without being famous?

I had been pondering this dilemma when I ran into an old childhood friend. I had not seen much of him as an adult, but we stayed in touch on social media and began to communicate regularly over email. 

As one conversation led to the next, I teased him for being so chatty, but in truth, is he is friendly. With very little effort he demonstrated the secret for how to be memorable, in a not-at-all-flashy-or-self-promoting way. He acknowledges people rather than waiting for them to notice him.

He is simply interested, and that makes him interesting. 

Lesson learned. Just like with kids, when talking to adults, all you have to do is give some to get some.

Scratch Below the Surface

The other day, my nephew was playing with his Lego figurines. His brow furrowed in concentration as he swapped heads and legs, helmuts and hair. The activity mirrored my niece swapping outfits and shoes on her dolls. Same game, different toys.

It occurred to me that adults focus so much energy highlighting the differences among us. Perhaps, if each of us looked more closely, we might notice more of the ways we are alike.

We all have opposable thumbs and pump red and white cells in our blood. We all cry the same salty tears. Too many tears, lately.

The next time hate, anger, doubt, or fear focuses the attention on what separates us, pause and take a breath. Then, try to note some of the ways we are alike.

Different hair color, eye color, skin color: same fears and insecurities. Different religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status: same hopes and dreams.

Scratch below the surface, and recognize we are all human.

Something is Missing

Last night I woke at 2:30am convinced that I’d forgotten something at the dry cleaner. What was it? And where was the little green paper slip I would need to pick it up?

In the dark, I scrawled a note to myself planning to deal with it in the morning, but I was unable to get back to sleep. After turning on the light, I stumbled to the closet, and started pushing through all my hanging clothes. Nothing was missing.

By morning, the incident was like a metaphor. It felt like a whisper from the past, reaching out to remind me of something I once had that was now missing.

Do I continue to search for it? Or embrace the loss knowing that having less makes room for more in the future.

Stumbling Toward Enlightenment

I attending a wedding a few weeks ago, and ended up cloistered at a table with other singles: all divorced or widowed, and at least 25 years older than me. I was able to make polite conversation, but often glanced around at the other tables full of my contemporaries. They were all coupled up.

My friend, the groom was beaming. After searching for a wife (including two engagements that never made it to the altar), he finally achieved his goal by getting married at age 44.

The newlyweds union was born from online dating. They seemed like a really good match. Not the same, and not without flaws, but two hearts that compliment each other well.

As the band played and I watched all the couples dance, I reflected on my own uncoupled conundrum.

My fatal flaw is obvious-I’m a sucker for a pretty face. Anytime a cute guy smiles at me, I let him sell me the Brooklyn Bridge, and I pay top dollar, too.  It doesn’t matter how many times this illusion has been proven completely, and utterly false, I dismiss my own history and believe THIS one is different.

On the drive back to the airport, I stopped to fuel up both the car and myself. The cashier tried to help me select something to eat, but I was distracted by the black, blue, and purple balloon where her left eye should have been. The fist that broke her face had struck not too many hours beforehand, but here she was hard at work. It looked painful, but she did not complain, a true physical abuse veteran.

I drove off wondering why anyone would stay with a man who speaks with his fists, but I quickly dropped my judgement. Who am I to point a finger? The emotional abuse I’ve suffered at the whim of narcissist companions doesn’t show outwardly, but it does leave a mark. Yet, I walked away only half of the time, and only after a long debate with myself. The other half of the time, I was left behind with my heart ripped to shreds.

Why do we tell ourselves we are not worthy?

I’d argue that I do believe in myself, but my reality tells a very different story. I want to blame the guy. I need to believe he doesn’t understand me, or he just wasn’t the right one, but the truth is I lack a clear understanding of my value in this world.

Since Ann Landers says I can’t accept my dog’s admiration of me as conclusive evidence that I’m wonderful, I’d better set my sights on looking within.

“He who knows others is wise, he who knows himself is enlightened.” -Lao Tzu

Mother’s Day Perspective

It’s Mother’s Day, but Hallmark doesn’t make a card for the children who don’t have June Cleaver for a mother. I am one of them.

I remember growing up both confused and awed by the close relationship some of my friends held with their moms. At the time, I couldn’t appreciate how my mom endured sickness, injury, tantrums, and the selfish, ungrateful energy from her four children. She packed picnics, wiped snot, threw parties, swabbed skinned knees, offered encouragement, and restricted empty calories often without a thank you from anyone. I took without giving back. I pushed, tested, and undermined, as my mom struggled.

It’s never too late to say thank you. My mother was far from perfect, but she gave me a gift of immeasurable value. She shared with me a blueprint of life’s pitfalls:

Do not let alcohol take over your life.

Do not use others as an excuse.

Do not say one thing and do another.

Do not double down and dig in when you know you are in the wrong.

Do not focus on the negative.

I spent my early years being afraid of my alcoholic mother while simultaneously mirroring her. Like a crystal ball, her mistakes showed me my future life.  Eventually, I paid attention and quit drinking. I learned to take responsibility, tell the truth, and apologize sincerely. Most importantly, I learned to be grateful. I learned to focus on the good, and find the silver lining during hard times.

Now I practice how to embrace love rather than be swallowed by fear.

As an adult, I witness children challenging their parents, and I understand how my mother’s insecurities plagued her, how her children and husband undermined her, and how her negative mindset fed the depression that pushed her further into darkness, away from the perfect person she so longed to be.

My mother died seven years ago, and I am grateful that in death she found peace.

Is My Dog Sexist?

KayleeMy dog loves me. She follows me around when I’m home. She sleeps on my bed. She obeys my commands (unless I tell her to stay and then walk out of the room. She can’t stand to have me out of her line of sight). None of this is unusual. Dogs adore their masters. I feed her. I walk her. When her paw hurts, she offers it to me to fix. When the skunk sprays her, she submits to me to rid her of the stink. I provide her whatever she wants or needs, but there is one exception. It’s my Dad. On a normal day, the dog doesn’t pay Dad much attention at all. If he reaches out to pet her, she will sometimes move away and other times allow it depending on her mood. She doesn’t dislike him, but he clearly makes her nervous. Then yesterday, I come into the living room and my dog is curled up on Dad’s lap as hail from the storm outside pelts the windows. A clap of thunder sends my dog running to find Dad every time. No amount of cooing or cuddling from me will do. I do not understand this especially when a storm rolls through in the middle of the night, and she jumps off my bed to find him.

She doesn’t seem to realize that he can’t protect her any better than I can. He is nearly 84 years old and has the physical strength of a 7 year old girl. He doesn’t see or hear well, and he smells like an old guy. How do I describe that smell exactly? Well, it is similar to the scent of rotting pumpkins or wet bales of hay in the Fall. Since smell is relied on by canines, I’m sure she understands the implications of his aroma, but still he is her ultimate protector. Is it because he is a man? Do dogs display gender bias? I Googled the concept and got zero hits. Why has no one studied this? Would a male dog gravitate toward a male or female human when feeling threatened? I would chalk this up to one of life’s unexplainables, but in the past 10 years, I’ve found my dog to be purely predictable. There is no mystery in her method. Therefore, I know there is some answer to my question. When she and I lived alone (without my Dad), she hid under the bed during thunderstorms (still not relying on me for comfort). I look down at her and then up at him. He is very tall. Does she think he can fix the thunder because he is closest to the problem? That sounds like dog logic. Get the tall guy to turn it off, and if he has trouble, offer him a ladder. By running to Dad, she is selecting the appropriate person to cater to her needs. My dog isn’t sexist, she is just smart!