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Relative Freedoms

On this day—September 11—eleven years ago, I spent the majority of it in front of the television watching Dan Rather report on a tragic event. When I wasn’t quietly seething, I cried my eyes out. On this day, over a decade after the terrorist attack occurred, I choose not to talk about it. So, I won’t.

What I will talk about is the collective response to the tragedy that befell America years ago. While the passion has tempered with time, the desire to hold onto that day has not. Are we afraid that if, as the old adage states, we forget history, it bears repeating? Our decisive vengeance did diminish the possibility that any violent, fundamentalist dissenter will darken our great land and attempt, much less succeed, destroying even a mere acre of it. If that truly is the case, and time does heal all wounds, why must we continue to pick at this scar?

We certainly are a sentimental lot. Hence, the reason networks in any medium—television, social, etc.—remind us to remember this day, on this day, as if we wouldn’t otherwise. Our freedom is apparently finite if we do not want to be deemed as heartless and not acknowledge this day in some maudlin way. The moment of silence is requested, quite loudly, regardless of individual beliefs or lack thereof. I prefer contemplation.

We don’t really know or understand hardship. As individuals, many of us do, depending on the circumstance. But again, I speak of the whole. As a group becomes larger, the collective intelligence decreases. That also can be said of tolerance, as well. The irony is lost on the masses; the fools suffer no fools if the freedom to abuse our Constitutional rights is compromised. The hypocrisy is loud and clear, but largely ignored.   

There are millions of people in multiple countries who are in the throes of tragedies that are comparatively equal, if not worse, than what we endured eleven years ago. The difference is that they do not have the freedom to remember tragedies; they just survive them and prepare for the next onslaught. There is no age-limit; children are not sheltered from those storms.  

The soldiers that fight to sustain our freedoms are coming back hobbled—physically and psychologically. Instead of gratitude and assistance, Veterans are thrown into a labyrinthine system that arguably expends more energy in putting up hurdles than providing much needed aid. They survive fighting one war on foreign land to be completely stymied by one on their home soil. In the midst of it all, anti-war protesters can hurl insults at them, willfully ignorant to the reality that the objects of their scorn fought for our right to call them “baby killers.”

Chicago Public School teachers have the freedom to pick up their marbles and picket in their own sandbox over comparatively petty grievances. This is happening while many people in the world have been out of work for years, or worse yet, living in squalor and sometimes dying because they don’t have the means to survive. The parents, as victims of this dispute, have their jobs put at risk to find alternate arrangements for their children since education is being denied them. Millions of people are working in worse conditions, but do not have anyone to fight their battles. All I will say about 9/11 is that eight children died that day. That statistic heightens the outrage; we have no tolerance for child mortality, and I concede, deservedly so. But yet, 350,000 children are being used as bargaining chips with this strike.  Apparently, ethics are relative and sometimes it is acceptable to turn them into weapons. We also put weapons in their hands. They strengthen our battles by holding up signs that scream our views. They have not had the freedom of time and experience to form their own opinion. But, it does not matter. We, as adults, have the freedom to decide what is for the greater good.

We are the salt of the earth with the ability to salt the earth. Perhaps we should reconsider what freedom really is.

How is that for a moment of silence?

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Celebrating the mundane

For the most part, I don’t attach more importance to what “celebrities” say than I do to anyone else’s words. I put that word in quotes, because it is a label that has always perturbed me. Any entertainer on television or the big screen earns that dubious honor. It invariable puts that person on a pedestal to be celebrated for being known by the masses. This would be regardless of their actual level of talent—anyone can become a celebrity these days. With the accessibility of the Internet to waste bandwidth in the endless pursuit of the proverbial fifteen minutes, as well as the plethora of reality shows that seem to glorify and even encourage stupidity, the whole concept is becoming over-saturated and possibly obsolete. Pity. 

That all said, there is someone recently who went beyond the usual sound bite that passes for wisdom, at least in the context of my own situation. It wasn’t particularly profound, but it certainly struck a resonant chord for me. Brad Pitt realized that he was spending so much time sitting on the couch, waiting for an interesting movie to do as opposed to living an interesting life. Basically, he admitted that his life was dull, and he laid blame on his marriage for a lot of that. He took some flak for implying that Jennifer Anniston was boring, but that is beside the point.

I struggle to suspend disbelief and accept this as an honest admission. Really, isn’t one of the prevailing reasons for celebrity worship due to the assumption that their lives are more interesting than those outside of that world? They have more money, exposure, and freedom to indulge in just about anything, or even engage in bad behavior. How could life be boring? Well, it depends on what one considers interesting.

This year, my father died, along with two of my animals. In addition, I spent a holiday at the emergency vet after my dog was attacked by a pit bull. She has recovered, thankfully. The credit card is almost maxed out from medical bills, and incurring interest fees as I write this. We are battling a large organization that is looking for every loophole imaginable to avoid reimbursing us for those costs. I could go on, but wouldn’t want to bore you with my problems.

Puh, what am I talking about? This is fascinating stuff. My professional life is vying for the limits of my tolerance, as well. Our annual raises have all but ceased, our pension and retirement plans have been chopped to bits, and the business is going through a re-structuring—my department being the latest victim. Re-structuring is a tidy euphemism for a re-organization that could result in the termination of employees. This has already occurred in three departments with seven jobs eliminated, so my colleagues are a touch on edge. It is happening while we are going through two audits. Since the powers-that-be deemed us high risk and misrepresenting the financial position of the company, one of those audits is so extensive that it smacks of a forensic witch-hunt. Exciting!

And that’s not all. There is a snake-tongued, reptilian outside consultant in my division who has a nasty habit of covering his ass at the peril of others, all while looking innocent and even magnanimous in the process. He tried to throw me under the bus twice, as well as get my staff in trouble. I had the choice of either modifying his behavior, or allowing him to toy with my livelihood. I opted for the former. My responses to him were equally calculating and manipulative. I am confident that I made it painful for him to try that crap with me again. Perhaps it is the wide berth he now gives me as he passes me in the office corridors. Riveting!

I believe I hit the thesaurus up enough with different words to emphasize how interesting my life is. In addition to my writing, artistic, and musical pursuits that I must squeeze in, quite often unsuccessfully I must add, life is never dull. Then, why do I feel like Brad Pitt allegedly did?

There are different degrees of interest, you see. Many thrive on controversy and negative stress. I am not one of those people. Therefore, while I do have enough to keep me on my toes, the energy it leeches from me leaves me having to tap into my reserves for any positive feelings. When your existence becomes a series of reactions to situations that make it more difficult to drive on the path of your own choosing, it can fall short of expectations. Mr. Pitt has the resources, i.e., oodles of money, to pull himself off the couch and find ways to liven things up in a good way. Due to my aforementioned financial problems, as well as being stuck in a stifling career, it appears I have additional barriers of contention.

George Carlin said that he wasn’t a glass half-empty person; sometimes the glass just isn’t big enough. I like that rationalization, and there are times that it is the case. I can’t use that as an excuse, though. I look back on the times when life was less vexing, albeit more mundane. Retrospectives can be a bit hazy, especially when viewed with a jaundiced eye. I strongly suspect that I was filled with ennui from lack of stimuli. Perhaps I am one who craves drama after all. However, as I mentioned above, that drags me down, as well. I am left with expending those energy reserves by griping about my situation, yet not putting forth the effort to actually change it. I can easily blame my lack of funds, and if I didn’t have debt, was independently wealthy, etc., I would be much happier. Yet, I must be realistic and admit that paying down one set of problems can leave me open to new and possibly more complex ones.

Cripes, will I ever be satisfied?

Aha! Maybe that is it. Satisfaction, contentment. I’ve got neither. Most definitely, the issues I laid out have a lot to do with that, and they should be managed appropriately. I am not experiencing a unique predicament; sadly, a large majority of the population is dissatisfied with their lot in life. I can’t speak for anyone else, nor can I often change what happens around me, at least when it doesn’t affect me directly. What I do have the power to do is alter my view of the world and how I respond to it. I am bored and discontent in large part because I let myself feel that way. I don’t need a large balance in my checkbook to transform how I feel. Perception is a free and unlimited resource. 

Besides, it doesn’t cost any money to get off the couch. Isn’t that half the battle?