Saturday, November 24, 2018

Pass the compassion, please.

A  few days before Thanksgiving, a friend shared his concern about getting together with family for the  big holiday. The issue at hand was the side dish of politics that might be served up mid-meal.

Seems like many of our divided countrymen and women forget to hang up their partisan caps in the coat closet, and happily wear them to the feast dedicated to gratitude and blessings.

Even mobsters, as in the Corleone family of "The Godfather" fame, had rules about not talking "business" at the table.

Truthfully, kitchen table talk is where political campaigns are made. We should be able to respectfully share our opinions about hot topics and tough questions, at least by the time we're squirting the whipped cream onto the pie. For example, why do so many mentally ill live on our streets? That seems like appropriate conversation for the holiday season, when so many people make donations to help the suffering.

Why are so many of the homeless veterans of the U.S. armed forces? Did you know, the Veterans Administration routinely visits street villages under overpasses and at other make-shift shelters to conduct a census of vets? It's true. How do we support these troops?

Why do so many of our houses of worship restrict meals for the homeless to Thanksgiving and the holidays when we know they're hungry and in need of help all year long?

That's a conversation worthy of any holiday table. Season's Greetings!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The space between humanity and insanity

The hot lather hit the back of my neck marking the beginning of the end of my monthly grooming. My barber, Mike, glided the straight razor through the foam, slicing hairs closer than any clippers could. I conjured up retro images of groomers striking blade to strap to sharpen the edge that would clean a week-long growth off the cheeks of hard-working dude, a guy's guy, grabbing a Saturday afternoon shave and cut before his weekly bath. It took steady hands to manipulate the razor without leaving bloody nicks.

Though I sat up a little straighter yesterday, because the conversation at the barbershop had gone to a frightening place. One guy mentioned a friend who slipped into a coma after his girlfriend stabbed him near the clavicle, above his heart. They had been at a party. Another patron, waiting for his trim spoke up as he recalled a couple of college buddies who accidentally got into a "sword fight." Seems one roomie was showing his pirate blade to the other and stabbed him in the side. It was unintentional but the swashbuckler spent a month in jail because he couldn't pay restitution to his roommate for drawing blood.

I couldn't help but recall a kid I met this summer who was stabbed in his neighborhood. He didn't share much about his story except, "I was stabbed yesterday." He had bandages on both arms.

In America's debate about guns, there is one, undeniable truth -- some people are irrationally violent. And firearms are our weapon of choice. According to, in 2017, over 10,000 were shot to death in the U.S. People armed with handguns killed more than 7,000 of those. Compare that to nearly 1,600 who died in stabbings.

My take is, to kill someone with a knife, you have to get close. Razor close. Guns can help make murder impersonal, rapid and very efficient, especially automatic weapons.

There is no doubt that a madman or woman can murder with the even the most primitive objects. Over 460 died from blunt force trauma inflicted with clubs and hammers. Our best bet to stop the mayhem is changing the hearts and minds of those who could step through that hair-splitting space that separates humanity from insanity.

Only love can do that.

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.