Saturday, November 10, 2018

Reliving the trauma

I failed to write a blog last weekend for a good reason. Actually 90 reasons. Our family gathered in Detroit to celebrate my mother's 90th birthday.

After a joyful celebration with 16 of her 17 great-grandkids dancing around the rented hall, we joined our matriarch for a service at her church. At the end of Mass, the priest paused to acknowledge Irene Stepien's milestone. Stepping forward toward her seat in the middle of the front pew, he asked, "How does it feel to be 90? I'm sure you've seen so much over all those years."

"Yes!" she replied. "I lived through the war and German occupation in Poland."

"You lived through the war and occupation," the clergyman repeated her words so the rest of the congregation could hear them. Then he prayed a  beautiful blessing.

Of all the things Mom chose to share in that brief moment, she recalled World War II and the Nazis taking control of her country. I grew up listening to her stories about the terror of soldiers invading her family home. She ran through the family farm fields as bullets whizzed past her head. Mom was only ten when war broke out. Once, she even escaped from the Gestapo. My late father had similar memories. Like the German soldier who shoved the barrel of a submachine gun under Dad's chin. Another guy pushed his Luger into the back of Dad's head to encourage him to work for the invading forces.

It's hard to forget the trauma of wanton violence. For survivors of the Holocaust, the memories are searing. You have to wonder about American kids who grow up enduring drive-by gunfire, street crime and the murder of neighbors and even friends. How do they cope with a war that never ends? It changes their perception of safety and rewires their brains and bodies with fear.

Imagine you escape a massacre in your school. One where a madman uses a military-style weapon to slaughter your classmates. How could you forget?

"Now you gotta take a test in a bulletproof vest. Scared to death that you might get shot," croons country singer, Kane Brown, in his new song, "American Bad Dream."

But it's not a dream. It's a real-world nightmare. And for many, an unshakeable memory they'll relive as long as they number their days. Even if the survive nearly a century.  Happy birthday, Mom.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Lord have mercy.

From time to time, I'll see a post on social media or receive an email poking fun at safety for kids. You know the one that says baby boomers grew up without wearing bike helmets, batting helmets, mouth guards and safety belts while running our neighborhoods unsupervised until the street lights came out. Yet we survived.

On the other hand, back then, we never considered training our teachers to pack heat in order to protect us from mayhem. Nor did our houses of worship hire security forces to watch the front and back doors for gunmen. We didn't wonder if someone in the theater would open fire with an automatic weapon during the double feature. The action was on the screen or at the candy counter.

There is no safety gear to protect a child or adult from the kind of trauma that occurred at the synagogue in Pittsburgh yesterday, where a gunman slaughtered 11 congregants and injured two police SWAT team members. Police said the shooter was armed with an assault rifle and three handguns. This was a hate crime against Jews. Coincidentally, next month will mark 80 years since Kristallnacht, "the night of the broken glass," November 9, 1938. Nazi's rioted in Germany and massacred nearly 100 Jews while they damaged their synagogues, businesses and homes. World War II and the Holocaust were brewing and about boil over.

Hatred always fuels mass murder. And because our media has become ubiquitous, we see it vividly displayed daily. I wouldn't dare compare my childhood to the insanity kids are exposed to in these times. The tragedy is, we boomers can't muster the courage to do something constructive about the madness. As children, we watched our nation send men to walk on the moon. But today, America, with all its financial power and ingenuity is unable or unwilling to solve this threat for our grandchildren and our neighbors.  So now, hatred, armed to the teeth, invades the places we pray, again and again. Lord have mercy.


Sunday, October 21, 2018

The nudge of an angel

I woke up bleary eyed Saturday but I needed to start earlier than usual to make my appointment. Before I put on my glasses, I checked the text on my phone. It was my cousin's wife sending me a picture of their son. He stood in military uniform, beaming alongside his army buddy. The scene was Camp Fuji, Japan. The two men smiled through tall grasses with the majestic, snow-capped mountain in the background. After training, they're headed to South Korea.

My cousin and his wife worry about their son daily. My best friend's son is in the U.S. Army Special Forces and another friend of ours has a son in army intelligence, deployed overseas. Those parents are living with one eye and ear on their phones and hoping no uniformed visitors come knocking at the doors.

Other mothers and fathers are praying tonight for sons and daughters confronting trouble at every turn. Lord, help them find a way to stand up to the pressure. Pass up the offers to make that easy money, selling drugs. Give them the courage to put down the handgun, or refuse to pick it up. Turn down that ride with the gang bent of revenge.

Whether your child is a role model or at-risk of becoming a statistic, parents worry ... and pray for grace and the gentle, swift nudge of their guardian angels.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Fearless Sally

I met a very brave woman today. We'll call her "Sally."

She wore a blue striped turban and there were grey hoses or wires jutting out from the fabric at the back of her head. They were connected to a device on a backpack she wore.

"I have a brain tumor," Sally explained. Yet, on this gorgeous fall Sunday in Chicago, Sally decided to spend her valuable afternoon in a violent community, attending a fundraiser to help at-risk youth and young adults.

Before her illness, she had volunteered at the nonprofit community center and was now looking forward to returning soon to serve again. Sally said her illness helped make her wiser. She had gained a better understanding of what was important. What she required. And Sally said she is trying to learn how to overcome fear. Not an easy task when battling a life-threatening illness.

So, imagine, a brain cancer victim came to a neighborhood torn by gun violence to serve young kids who were born into chaos. And her reward is fearlessness. The power to live courageously. Unselfishly. To live as if today were her last and she were willing to give it away to help someone else. Someone she doesn't really know. And to love them like family.

Sally reminds me of the Psalm of fearlessness. She is living it.
"The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?"
(Psalm 27:1)

Sunday, October 7, 2018

His middle name is delight.

"You want to be what you see," explained Quincy Delight Jones, Jr.  in the new Netflix documentary bearing his first name.

At first, he longed to be a gangster. No wonder. Jones grew up on the South Side of Chicago, during the Great Depression. What he saw was chaos. His community was run by gangs. His father, a carpenter on the payroll of mobsters who ran the ghetto. His mother, a schizophrenic, was dragged away in a strait jacket when Jones and his little brother, Lloyd, were just young kids. Yet somehow he found the grace to rise above the insanity and became a legend. A Grammy, Emmy and Oscar winner, Jones is a music producer, composer, arranger, musician and film producer. A household name.

How did he do it? You owe it to yourself to watch this doc, directed by Jones' daughter, Rashida Jones and Alan Hicks. Jones shares a lifetime of wisdom and his degree from the University of HK (Hard Knocks).

Kids don't choose to whom they are born. Where or when. Too often we are quick to write off those who squirm under the foot of oppression that is racism, poverty and the trauma of crime, dysfunction, abuse and addiction.

For Jones, the example of his hardworking father inspires him to this day. Quincy Delight Jones, Sr. taught him how to toil, tirelessly. His father's mother was a former slave and she helped her son raise the boys. It was while breaking into the armory that young Quincy discovered his passion for music, as he tickled the keys on a piano there. His suffering mother once told him to write his music for God's glory.

Jones' story, imperfect like the rest of ours, is, however, a masterpiece in human frailty and heavenly intervention, including more than one near-death experience. In the film, he ponders the meaning of his life, treasuring a Christmas celebration in the context of his mortality.

Endless reports from around the world, featuring at-risk youth begging on streets to survive, living in cardboard boxes -- or those just around the corner dodging bullets to get to school -- build calluses on our ears and eyes. But beneath that mayhem are the souls of God's children waiting to fulfill his divine plans. "Find your delight in the LORD who will give you your heart's desire." (Psalm 37:4)
Lord help us to help them to live like each of them was born with the middle name, "Delight."

Sunday, September 30, 2018

It's always time.

It was the middle of the night when the annoying noise began. Through my bleary eyes I peered into the living room at the source of the sound. It was our fire alarm. Something was making it chirp. I staggered toward the closet for the step ladder so I could reset the alarm. I knew there was no fire. It was that relentless peeping these safety devices make when it's time to change a battery.

Every fall, when we set back clocks to standard time, it's tradition to replace the battery in all smoke alarms. This is a simple, affordable safety practice to increase the likelihood we'll get a reliable, unmistakable alert when a house fire occurs.

Why not take the same approach to firearms safety?  Standard time resumes at 2 a.m. on Sunday, November 2018. Those who own weapons could make sure they're secure to prevent accidental shootings and deaths. In fact, why not double check when we spring forward to daylight savings time in March, too.  And repeat the process every fall and spring.

The esteemed Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, CHOP, has a research institute that has captured alarming safety data. CHOP says there are about 393 million firearms in the U.S. That's about 120 guns for every 100 people. Some 1.7 million kids live in a home with unlocked, loaded weapons. One out of three homes with kids have guns. Here are three eye-opening stats CHOP reports:

An emergency department visit for non-fatal assault injury make a youth 40% more likely for another firearm injury.

Those who die of accidental shootings were more than three times as likely to have a firearm in their homes.

Almost 90% of accidental shooting deaths among children occur in the home. Most of these happen because kids play with guns when parents aren't looking or aren't around.

Annually about 33,000 Americans die due to firearm injuries. Two-thirds of those are suicides. Law enforcement sources estimate about four times as many people, or over 120,000 per year, are injured by guns and survive. I've seen some sources that put accidental injuries at more than 70,000 annually.

Now imagine a gun that chirped when the safety was off or the lock wasn't engaged. Or a gun safe that chimed when security was compromised. Tech companies offer alarm devices you can use to arm any type of safe. And yes, you have to change the batteries.

One of the "wisdom books" in the good book says, "There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens." (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

A word to the wise is sufficient. It's time to pay attention to gun safety or it will be a time to mourn.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Praying in the blur.

This has been a busy news week.

So much buzz, I've had a hard time keeping track of it all, not to mention the stack of political stories. Two mass shootings, one in Wisconsin, one in Maryland. One cop facing trial in Dallas for killing her neighbor in his own apartment, which the accused officer says she mistook for her own. Another veteran police officer on trial in Chicago on charges of first-degree murder. He allegedly, unnecessarily shot a suspect 16 times, killing him in the street. That shooting was captured on police video and has played everywhere.

Visit the Web site of any local TV or radio news station or big city daily paper and you will find headlines like:

"21-year-old killed in shooting at Fort Worth party"

"1 killed, thirteen wounded in city (Chicago) shootings"

"Man, 64, shot in foot in Michigan Avenue (Detroit) drive-by"

Day after day, local media turns the valve on an endless stream of carnage from coast to coast. A good friend and former major-market TV anchor told me the marching orders at her last gig were to report just two things "weather and crime in your neighborhood." Animated storm graphics and police blotter are cheap and easy to report. You send a lone photographer out to capture the shots of the house and the yellow crime scene tape. The news anchor yacks over it or your reporter writes a few inches of copy. Done. Roll your two minutes of commercials or run the full-page ad adjacent to the blood and guts.

According the Associated Press, Chicago police officer, Jason Van Dyke, told the Chicago Tribune he prayed daily for the family of the man he shot, teenager Laquan McDonald. If convicted, Van Dyke is facing the potential of spending the rest of his life in prison. McDonald has been dead since 2014.

Both families of the officer and the deceased wait tonight as Van Dykes' defense team opens its case  tomorrow. The victims' families in Wisconsin and Maryland will endure the funeral and burial process. The shooters who attacked their coworkers in both states are now dead. Both suffered from mental illness. Their families and friends are in indescribable pain, as are those who lost their loved ones to the heinous mayhem.

When we line up to argue for and against firearms in our national  debate, how many of us stop to think about all those suffering in the crossfire? Those whose child or brother went on a crazed rampage and slaughtered coworkers? Those who sit in jail cells awaiting trials for the unspeakable? Those who were randomly hit by stray bullets? Those who never came home from a party? Those who shot a friend because they had too much to drink or lost too much in a card game? Those who saw it happen?

Who prays for the vilified? Or the father who forgot to lock up his handgun? The one his child used to shoot a friend.

In the blur of gunfire and all the news stories, so many are wounded. And we all need to pray for them -- all of them.