Hits madness… the good kind

What a day I’m having… That little post I put together on the train while coming to work has caught people’s attention. My normally sleepy little blog has by now logged 1,646 visitors. Up from a high of 200-some, a few months back.

Suddenly, people are paying attention
Suddenly, people are paying attention

I’m pretty excited about this, and checking where the traffic is coming from, Alphainventions and Condron.us are both feeding me. Alphainventions mores0, but Condron is doing it, too.

It’s a pretty intense jump — a 10-fold increase over what I typically get. Dizzying. It’s kind of depressing, that this happened as a result of me talking about terrible things happening, but I guess in these times, everybody is paying closer attention to terrible things.

I think that perhaps we’re really trying to figure out how to handle it all. It’s not easy, living in these times, and I suppose it’s human nature for people to ponder imponderables. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good thing. Writing about terrible things isn’t the most pleasant activity, but if we can come away with some lessons learned, then we may be able to turn negatives into positives.

One can only hope.

I talked to my friend today about their nephew. People think it was a drive-by shooting. Stupid, stupid, stupid. What’s the point?! What does it give us — anyone — to strike out against others from a safe distance?! From the safety of a passing car… What is the point?

I can think of a number of reasons someone would want to do such a thing. I can think of a whole lot. In a small way and on a very limited scale, it certainly has allure. But on a grander scale, within a community context, it has on meaning at all, and it only serves to destroy what little connection we have with our world.

And I think about how this relates to TBI. And PTSD. I can’t help but think about it. I wonder if the people involved were cognitively impaired, in some way. If they were socially impaired. If they had been injured so often and so badly by a wrecked family system and a wrecked culture, that there was no way they could get through it in one piece. If they were so brutalized by the inequities of this culture we tend to adore, that there was no hope left for anything but violence. Shooting. Cowardice from a moving car.

Certainly, whoever did this was alienated from their community, else they wouldn’t have done this. People are by their nature self-preserving. They do most things because they get something out of it. My logic is getting all tangled around, I’m sure, because I’m so pissed off about this shooting — about all the shootings that have been going on. But it seems to me that people who feel they have a place in the world, who have a future ahead of them, who can clearly see how they are interconnected with one another, and who have positive, mutually beneficial relationships with others they care about, are not going to run around shooting other people from moving cars.

But, you may say, people are responsible for their life choices. They have to make wise decisions and act on them, and if they choose the lesser, then they should be caught and punished… possibly put away for a very long time. I’m not saying that isn’t true. I agree with it. Personal choice is critical in all this, and I do believe in finding, catching, and punishing wrong-doers. I hope whoever killed my friend’s nephew is found, tried, and sent away for good.

But if someone is so f’ed up by a long, long history of abuse and neglect, and thanks to many beatings and falls and fistfights, their brains have been altered in ways they’re unaware, so that they’re doing things and making choices whose reason escapes them, and their skills and abilities are eroded by lifetimes of neglect and misunderstanding and seemingly random punishment, what chance do they have of acquiring the ability, even skill, of assessing their behavior and their situation and figuring out how to set right what’s been wrong for so long?

I do think, based on my own experience, that head injury probably plays a much larger role in our society’s ills than we care to admit. Certainly trauma and post-traumatic stress does. We should probably look closer at it as a nation. I suspect we’ll have ample opportunities to do so, as our veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them with TBI and PTSD — and not all of them diagnosed and treated or supported in any way. I fear we are headed for social melt-down, even as our economic situation worsens waaaay past where we thought it would bottom out.

This is not to say that I think everyone who’s been hit on the head or suffers from PTSD gets a “pass” when it comes to bad — even evil — behavior. Some sh*t is precisely that — pure evil. The thing is, with brain injury, you don’t always know how evil your behavior is. It’s when you start to approach your injuries and deficits and learn to understand it and you get your broken head around the ideas of what’s right and what’s wrong and what you should and should not do, that you have the chance to examine your choices, become conscious about them, and become capable of taking responsibility for what you’ve done.

But until you can look at your injury and the after-effects, and come to terms with the person you’ve become as a result, you can’t really even start to approach the level of self-examination that’s so important, even vital, to responsible behavior.

My friend’s nephew is dead. It is a goddamned tragedy. Hearts have been broken, and some of them will never heal. This happens every day, all over this country… all over the world. And every time it happens, it is a tragedy. There’s no two ways around the awfulness of it all. But the worst thing of all is, this sh*t keeps happening, and we don’t seem to learn. We can’t seem to figure out how to stem the tide of this wretched self-destructiveness, and we can’t seem to figure out how to make our streets safe. Not just the nice streets in the nice neighborhoods, but all streets. In all neighborhoods.

I’m just one person looking on from something of a distance, but I am holding onto some hope. Maybe it’s easier for me to do it, because I’m not in the middle of my friend’s family’s pain. I’ve been in similar pain… and if nothing else, I cannot lose hold of hope.

I can only pray that maybe someday we’ll figure out ways to approach our social limitations with common sense and compassion, find the courage to reach out to ask for (and offer) much-needed help, and force ourselves to look at social ills not just as opportunities to capture and punish the anti-social dispossessed, but as gateways to greater understanding… Gateways that not only make it possible for us to understand, and sometimes forgive, but which force us to face up to the terrible things we have done… and change our ways.

Maybe I’m being overly optimistic. I’m sure on some level I am. But after all I’ve been through and survived, after having come through so much wretched difficulty in my own life, after having won so much and achieved so much despite my limitations, I’m convinced, there are such things as miracles.

More senseless gun violence

A good friend of mine lost their nephew last week. I don’t know all the details, but I do know he was shot. Apparently at a bar. I’m not sure they know who did it, but even if they did, it won’t bring him back. It all seems so random. I didn’t know the man, and I don’t know if he was in some kind of trouble, himself, but even if he was, being shot over something — anything — hardly seems like it can be justified. By anyone. For any reason. I know there are folks out there who  believe in payback and are hardened to the effects that the most extreme forms of payback have on the “debtors”…  but I’m not one of them.

For every person who “gets what they deserved” — if they “deserved” it at all, which is usually doubtful — there are family members, friends, loved-ones, who are crushed by that aspect of the world we live in. It’s not just about “paying back” the person who did wrong — it’s about devastating the lives and hearts and futures of everyone who was connected with the person who was taken out.

Gun violence seems to be on the rise, given news reports. And it’s happening worldwide. There have been several recent incidents in Germany of people taking out numerous others — a young man killed 15 people on a shooting rampage in southern Germany this past March, a man killed his wife and child around that same time, and just recently, a court shooting in Bavaria left two people dead.

In the States, we’ve seen shootings, too.  In Alabama this past March, a man went on a shooting spree that left ten people dead, many of them children. And just recently, 13 people were shot dead in New York, and a nurse and seven elderly people at a nursing home in North Carolina were gunned down. It’s everywhere. And it happens all year round. Last year during the holidays, shoppers in an L.A. toy store had to duck for cover as a fistfight between two women turned into a pitched gun battle between their men.

Everywhere I look, these days, there seems to be gun violence. Explosive destruction on a small scale that ripples out with baffling waves of shock.

The philosopher in me wants to find some deeper meaning to this. The engineer in me wants to find the root causes and figure out a solution. The mystic in me wants to lift my eyes unto the hills and focus on Eternity. The citizen in me wants to run and hide. The social reformer in me wants both stronger firearms controls, limits on what kinds of weapons are commonly available, mandatory licensing for anyone who buys ammunition, and mandatory training in gun use for all individuals, starting at age seven (or when they’re old enough to fire a gun without getting knocked over, whichever comes first). The friend in me wants to just sit with my friend in total silence for hours on end, just being quiet, just being there for them and whatever they need.

The TBI suvivor in me is glad I don’t have a gun. I have specifically chosen not to own a firearm, not to use firearms, not to go down to the firing range to blow off steam, not to go out hunting with my dad and brother and uncles. Now, I was raised in a family of hunters, and I was taught to shoot from when I was about seven or eight years old. My dad took me out to the stubble-covered cornfields with his brothers, ’round about the time when hunting season was about to start, and we all practiced our aim on tin cans. I learned to shoot shotguns, 30-aught-sixes, and 22’s.

I went out hunting with my dad a few times, too. Deer hunting, when we went out to a cabin in the woods, got up before dawn, and I sat up in a tree stand, while he circled around to drive the deer my way. We went rabbit hunting, too. But I had a hard time seeing the rabbit, and he had to kill it for me.

Now, ever since I was a little kid, I looked forward to being one of the family hunters. One of the providers for my tribe. One of the ones who went out and did what needed to be done, to make sure my kin were fed. But I had trouble seeing, I had trouble hearing, I had trouble with my coordination. And as hard as I tried, as much as I wanted it, the whole hunting thing never “took” with me.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. I learned to track, I learned to clean a gun. I learned to shoot. I learned proper handling of rifles and shotguns. I learned how to carry a gun while I was walking around other people. And I did it all enthusiatically, from a very young age. Even  before I was able to carry and fire a real gun, I was pretending to do that, dressing up in my dad’s orange hunting vest, making sure the hunting license was clearly visible on the back.

But I think my better angels have protected me from handling guns — even in legitimate sport. I have issues with motor coordination. I have trouble with my sight and hearing at times. I also have trouble with figuring out exactly what is going on, sometimes. And I have — when I’m fatigued and/or stressed — a tendency to “go off” on raging temper flares which I manage with varying degrees of success.

Quite frankly, I make a terrible candidate for gun ownership. And even if every citizen in the United States were allowed to “pack heat”, as I’ve heard it recommended (so that we can all protect ourselves in the moment from a crazy shooter on a rampage), I doubt very much that  I would do it. I would rather duck and run for cover, than take my chances with a gun. I would be far less safe with one, than without one — as would everyone around me. I know my limits. Handling firearms is strictly out of bounds for me.

As is being around other people who carry firearms on a regular basis. When I was younger, I ran with a kind of rough crowd. And some of them carried weapons of numerous types. I’m not sure if there were guns in the midst of us, but I wouldn’t be surprised. There were drug dealers and career criminals in my immediate social circle. At the time I was running around with those hell-raisers (and worse), I was often intoxicated, and when I wasn’t intoxicated, I was definitely impaired from the aftermath of some chemical ingestion. Plus, I had a lot of unresolved TBI injuries to deal with. It wasn’t good.

Frankly, I count my blessings, these days, as I look around me and I see everything going so terribly wrong in so many ways. In my youth, I easily could have ended up like my friend’s nephew — dead after an inexplicable shooting. I could very well have had my life cut short, with my family wondering what went wrong… how they might have helped… and devastated by that inexplicable loss. Any of us could end up in that situation, really. These days, with the violence being so extreme and seemingly so random, it’s hard to know exactly how long any of us is going to make it.

But for now, for today, in this moment, I am alive. I am living, breathing, going to work on the train, and counting my incredible blessings. The world is going to sh*t in so many ways, and yet I’m still here. I’m still standing. I’m still going on with my life, to the best of my  God-given ability.

In the face of all that’s wrong, all that’s unfair, all that’s tragic and terrible and just friggin’ awful, perhaps the most exciting thing I can be is normal, boring, regular, and blessed with a delightfully uneventful life.

God bless, everyone. Stay safe.