Crazy start, wonderful ending

I started work early last Thursday, thanks to an extra assignment. As a driver for adults with developmental disabilities, on this particular day I was to pick up a wheelchair-bound person at his temporary residence in a nursing home and transport him to a nearby hospital for early morning surgery.

Another staff person was to meet me at the day program center where I work in Elyria, Ohio. She would lead me to the nursing home, and to the hospital.

It was cold outside. I started my van at 6 a.m. to warm it up.

Blizzard strikes

Almost immediately, it started snowing. Hard. I had to run the windshield wipers so I could see.

This was the first week of April, after Easter. So much for an early spring.

Ten minutes later my co-worker arrived. She drove her personal vehicle and I followed in my wheelchair-accessible van.

We got on eastbound Interstate 90. Traffic was heavy – and going 25 mph. The highway was slick. Several vehicles, mostly pickups, had buried themselves down the embankment on the side of the highway. This winter storm came quickly, without warning.

I trudged along at 25-30 mph, two hands on the wheel, wipers activated for the blowing snow.  The news station I listen to in the morning reported numerous wrecks throughout the area. Traffic stopped completely on one interstate, and slowed to a crawl on several others – including the one I was on.

I kept my eyes forward, on my co-worker’s vehicle up ahead. She had told me which exit to take, so we caravanned off the highway and eventually reached the nursing home just over the Bay Village line.

She went inside and retrieved our patient. I loaded him into my van.

We got back on I-90. Traffic was moving a little faster now, thankfully, but snow continued to fall. We got off a few exits later and before long arrived at Fairview Hospital on Cleveland’s west side.

His surgery was scheduled for 7 a.m. We arrived about 7:10 a.m. It’s the best we could do.

Here comes the sun

Normally I start my shift at the day program and head east. Since this was Thursday, my first stop was in Columbia Station. Then, I pick up an individual in Strongsville.

Since I knew the day before about this extra run to the hospital, I told the Columbia Station individual’s mom that I’d be late this day. Good thing. I’m usually at their house about 7:15 a.m.

Instead, I changed my morning route a little. Starting from Fairview as the sun was supposed to come up, I jumped on southbound Interstate 71. Northbound I-71 heading into Cleveland was stopped for several miles, due to a couple of those weather-related wrecks I heard about on the radio. Southbound, we moved fairly well – not at highway speeds because it was still snowing, but at least we were moving.

I got off at the appropriate exit and arrived at my Strongsville destination on time. I took a deep breath and gave a prayer of thanks.

From there, I drove west to Columbia Station, arriving at about 8 a.m. They were very understanding, and appreciated my heads-up that I’d be late.

Oh, yes. Since I was south of Cleveland by now, the sun was shining and the roads were clear. The snow didn’t reach this area at all. With this storm, only the northern regions by Lake Erie were affected.

Were they ever.

I finished my route uneventfully and arrived at the day program center relatively on time, grateful for a safe drive.

A special outing

That day, we had an outing scheduled in Brunswick, about a 40-minite drive away. Since Brunswick is south of Strongsville, the weather was fine in that direction.

I took two individuals – one in a wheelchair, one ambulatory – to Scene 75, which offers arcade-style games that our individuals could enjoy. We had planned to take more individuals but our bus was in the shop, so we didn’t have the transportation for a big group.

The three of us arrived at 11 a.m. when Scene 75 opened. We ate lunch first, like we often do at our outings, then spent the rest of our time enjoying the games. Both individuals had a good time, playing games each enjoyed. Money was put on a game card for each of them, and when the cards were used up, we cashed in the tickets they won for a few prizes, then drove back to the center.

Because our bus was unavailable, I had to make an extra run to take several of our folks to their home before making my regular afternoon run.

I ended the day about 5 p.m., which is typical for me. A busy 11-hour day (I don’t often stay all day; four days a week I get several hours off midday so I don’t go over 40 hours), with a crazy first hour on the highways.

Of those 11 hours, I spent a total of less than one at the day program center. All of it was on the road or at Scene 75.

Some days are like that.

The reward

The next day, the snow was long gone and all was back to normal. When I returned to the day program in the afternoon, something happened that makes this job worth doing. The ambulatory individual I took to Scene 75 put down the tablet he enjoys when at the day program, walked over to where I was standing, gave me a big smile, then gave me a side hug.

I’d never seen him do that before, with me or any other staff person. He is non-verbal, but I felt he was thanking me for a good time the day before.

After the hug, he returned to his seat and picked up his tablet, continuing on with his day.

My heart was full. The fact that only three of us went on that outing meant that I could give almost undivided attention to both individuals. I think they appreciated that.

That’s what our day program is all about. Connecting with the community. Connecting with each other. Sometimes it’s hard. Plans don’t always go smoothly.

But when they do, even on a day that gets off to a crazy start, it makes this job special.

Got to go. I’ll get lunch here at home, then head back to the center shortly thereafter for my afternoon run.

We’ll see what today holds.

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Yes, taxes are necessary

What are the purposes of taxes? What should be your attitude toward paying them?

Those questions came up in a weekly Bible study I’m in. Our discussion leader skipped them, probably because the answers are – or should be – obvious.

We pay taxes for projects that you and I need but can’t afford to pay for on our own. Taxes pay to build and maintain roads, including plowing snow and fixing potholes. They pay for water and sewer projects (homeowners often have to pitch in for those). Our tax dollars pay for trash and recycling pickup every week. They pay for parks and recreation – we have awesome public parks where I live, and I don’t have to pay an entrance fee every time I visit one. They pay for libraries (remember those?). And public transportation.

Taxes pay for police and fire departments to protect us, court systems (including jails) to provide justice, and kindergarten-through-12th grade education to help our children prepare for adult life.

And that’s just local taxes (including countywide, in some cases). Here’s the 2016 fiscal year report for the city I live in, taken from the city’s web site. Page 18 includes a flow chart of what the city is all about.

http://www.cityofelyria.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/2016_City_of_Elyria_Ohio_CAFR.pdf

At the state level, taxes pay for other things, too. The biggest spending item – just over half the state’s budget – is “health and human services.” Second is “primary, secondary and other education,” followed by “higher education.”

https://obm.ohio.gov/Budget/operating/doc/fy-14-15/bluebook/budget/Section-C_14-15.pdf

At the national level, the three biggest federal programs are health care (including Medicare and Medicaid), pensions (including Social Security) and Defense.

Next come welfare, interest on the national debt, transportation, general government and protection.

https://www.usgovernmentspending.com/federal_budget_detail_fy19bs22018n

Communication crucial

What should our attitude be toward paying for such services? Hopefully, we pay willingly, since all of these services are needed.

At the local and state levels, those in charge of the budgets are required to balance income and spending. This often requires tough decisions because voters do not automatically approve taxes for every project – nor should we.

Sometimes voters get nitpicky or reactionary. Sometimes leaders ask for a Cadillac project when a Chevrolet version will do just fine. Our local school district in Michigan discovered this a number of years ago: Many school buildings were outdated and new schools in new locations were needed, and since voters had approved many previous school levies, leaders asked for a very expensive plan – which got shot down. They pared it back, asked voters for a smaller yet effective plan, and got that one approved.

Where we live now, voters recently approved a millage to build five new kindergarten-through-8th grade buildings around the city. We learned a couple of weeks ago that cost overruns led the planning consultants to recommend constructing only three buildings – on the north, east and west sides of town, leaving the south side without a neighborhood elementary/middle school.

As you might imagine, that plan isn’t going over so well. Meetings are being held, petitions are being circulated and pressure is mounting to keep the south side school in the plans.

This is the way democracy works. We expect leaders to follow through on promises. We expect budgets to be met. Creativity is required here.

This is why we pay taxes. Every local citizen has the right to express his or her viewpoint on this crucial issue. Our leaders will make the call, but they are accountable to us. And we will be heard.

The benefits of taxes

If we have a job, and if we own a home or even pay rent, we pay taxes. When our Founding Fathers set up our country more than 200 years ago, they set it up this way. We can tweak the system – are property taxes the best way to collect local funds? – but taxes will get collected in some form.

So often, we focus only on how much we pay. We need to be reminded of what we receive. We take trash collection for granted, for example (unless it’s not collected for some reason, in which case residents will howl very loudly). We want our street plowed in the winter, and complain when it’s one of the last to get cleared. (Hopefully traffic volume determines the priority for street plowing.) We recently learned that our city has only 10 employees that plow snow and fix potholes. For the entire city. No wonder they can’t clean every street the moment it snows.

We get what we pay for.

At the state level, they’re talking about combining the K-12 education budget with the higher education budget, creating one huge education department overseeing all of it. State leaders want to streamline everything; opponents say K-12 and higher education have different purposes, and should remain separate.

Not sure that plan will fly, but we’ll see.

No balanced budget, no decisions necessary

The federal government is not required to balance its budget, so Congress often avoids the tough discussions that local and state legislators must have. That skyrockets the federal debt. Is that sustainable?

I’m one of those who would like to see a mandated balanced budget, forcing legislators (and the president) to actually do their jobs. Not every constituent will be happy. Welcome to the real world. (Pork projects might actually get eliminated, since priorities would have to be set.)

We need a federally funded military to defend us across the world. I don’t think anyone would object to that. But how big should the military be? What weapons do we need, and which ones cost more than the benefits they provide?

I wish we could debate those things. At least, I wish our elected leaders would debate those things.

Are they spending our tax dollars wisely?

We have a right to ask that.

Taxes are a given. They pay for goods and services all of us need.

As we debate how our tax dollars are spent – locally, statewide and federally – let’s give thanks for the government structures that our Founding Fathers established.

The system is good. The devil is in the details.

Peace in the midst of injustice

If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Romans 12:18

 

Such a simple statement, and yet so profound. You’d think everyone would want to live peaceably.

If it is possible …

The apostle Paul wrote this statement in a letter to a specific group of Christians. He didn’t write it to a nation or a government. He wrote it to us. We aren’t to point fingers at others with this sentiment – or any other sentiment in the Bible, for that matter.

Paul was writing to me. And to you.

I am not to take revenge. Ever. That only escalates any situation, and hurts me as well as the other person.

Road rage

Example: road rage. Just yesterday, I was driving the company van at 20 mph through a school zone. Slightly ahead of me in the right lane was another van. Without warning, the driver of the other van jerked into my lane. Had I not slammed on the brakes (and hit the horn), he would have sideswiped me.

He continued on as if nothing happened. Then, a couple of minutes later, he did it again, swerving unexpectedly into the left lane (thankfully, there wasn’t anyone beside him then).

I let him go. I could have flashed my lights at him, honked repeatedly or pulled up beside him, rolled down my window and yelled at him. Right?

Then what? He might have apologized. He might have given me the finger and cut me off again.

To what end? Likely a crash involving him, me or both.

Because I drive for a living, such an incident would probably cost me my job. That’s a steep price to pay for getting angry in the heat of a moment.

So far as it depends on you …

Facebook anger

Example: political thinking. I’ve been ostracized by a close relative whose political views differ from mine. She wouldn’t let up on my Facebook posts after I asked her to chill out, so last fall I had to de-friend her. She blames me for rejecting her. That feeling of rejection goes back much farther than last year, by the way (and is not justified, in my opinion).

How do I respect someone who thinks differently than I do, and is not shy about saying so? In the short term, we need a cooling-off period, I think. I’m not adverse to a respectful conversation at all.

If it is possible …

I’ve apologized a couple of times for offending her, and she has not accepted my apologies. In real life, she’s a much nicer person than she is on Facebook (she’s not the only one I know who fits that profile). We live in different states so we don’t see each other often. Perhaps a face-to-face is in order. I’ll have to think about that.

False accusation

Example: Joseph in the Old Testament. If anyone has ever understood injustice, it’s Joseph.

After getting sold to a trader by his brothers, he was bought by Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh in Egypt. Potiphar’s wife wanted to have an affair with him, but Joseph said no – because he respected Potiphar and he followed the principles of the living God. As a result, the revengeful wife of Potiphar falsely accused him of rape. Potiphar, without asking Joseph his side of the story, had him tossed in prison.

Then forgot about him. For two years.

So far as it depends on you …

Joseph never complained. He wasn’t happy about it, but he tried to make the best of a bad situation. Eventually, he got out of prison and served Pharaoh very well. Read about these events in Genesis 39-41.

Joseph also eventually forgave his brothers for selling him years earlier, when he could have turned the tables and had them thrown in prison, or worse. Read about that in Genesis 43-45.

Joseph’s attitude?

“Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”

Genesis 50:20

If it is possible …

Defending truth

Example: Stephen in the New Testament. Stephen is one of my heroes. We first hear about him when he, “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit,” is appointed with six others to meet the physical needs of people so the 12 apostles could spend all of their time preaching. He was a behind-the-scenes servant.

And yet, he “did great wonders and signs among the people.” Some of the religious leaders of his day didn’t appreciate that – nor could they defend themselves against Stephen’s wisdom.

As with Joseph, Stephen was falsely accused, Stephen of blaspheming against the temple and the law. In response, Stephen gave a phenomenal history lesson to the leaders who should have already known what he was saying. But instead of understanding their own history, they stoned him.

As Stephen was dying a painful death, he “cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’.” Read his story in Acts 6-7.

So far as it depends on you …

Remaining true

Sometimes, when we try to live peaceably, there are consequences. Just ask Joseph and Stephen. Both paid a huge price for their faithfulness to peace and to the living God – Stephen with his life.

In the end, I’m sure both would say that living a peaceable life was worth the cost. Other people benefited greatly from their peace-loving ways.

Even if they didn’t understand why they had to suffer, they trusted the God they worshipped for the results of their peace-loving ways.

Joseph saw those results: restored relationships with his brothers, for one. Stephen did not. He became the first martyr to the Christian cause. The results came later.

That was good enough for Stephen.

Wow.

This life often is not very peaceful. What can you and I do to help make it more so?

Daydreams, aggression and creativity: They are linked

I daydream a lot. Always have.

Most of the time, I play the hero in my dreams. When baseball season starts, I’m the star pitcher or the batter who gets the big hit to win the World Series. I’m the defensive back who busts up a wide-open play by the offense. I’m a war hero in a battle for the Middle East. I’m the dad in a big multi-cultural family who helps rescue kids from horrible environments.

I’m just a big kid, aren’t I?

I don’t know any other adults who dream like that. Of course, I’ve never had an “adult” conversation about daydreams with anyone.

I’ve never asked. Probably because it seems so silly.

Maybe that’s the point.

We take ourselves far too seriously.

Never happy

Look at all the troubles that fill the 6 o’clock news and the front page of the local newspaper. School shootings. Tariffs penalizing people trying to make a living (in other countries, true). Scandals in sports. Scandals in politics. Abortion. Sex everywhere, of all types, including harassment. Road rage.

We’re not happy with our jobs. Our spouses. Our roads. Our neighbors. Ourselves.

And on and on.

We’re always angry and never satisfied.

Will we ever be?

Perhaps we need to take a deep breath, look up, and realize that the world isn’t as bad as we make it out to be.

Or, perhaps it is. Because we make it that way.

Children know

Can we dream of something better? Instead of playing the hero, like I often do, can we dream of a better society?

Are such daydreams real?

Here’s where children can lead us – as long as they haven’t grown up yet.

I began mentoring a 9-year-old boy in Cleveland this week, who said his dad wants to move the family to Arizona because the inner city is too violent.

Wow. I’m sure this 9-year-old has seen things that I can’t fathom.

How is he supposed to dream?

I’ve been involved with an after-school creative problem-solving organization called Destination Imagination (DI) for more than a decade. I’ve been a regional “challenge master” for the Fine Arts challenge for two years now. It’s wonderful to see how creative elementary, middle school and secondary school students can get when solving problems placed before them.

This year, the students had to create a two-act musical that features a “spectacle” – combining two production techniques from a list that includes dance, pantomime, illusion and parody, among others – and design a set change into the 8-minute skit. They had other tasks to perform as well during their presentation.

The challenges – DI offers eight of them, with Fine Arts being only one – were announced last summer. Teams formed last fall, and students worked on their solutions for months.

The students dreamed up all kinds of solutions. They worked as a team to come up with the best skit they could.

Our regional tournament was last weekend, with the most creative teams earning the right to compete at the state level in three weeks. The national, actually global, finals are in Knoxville, Tenn., in late May.

No two solutions were the same. I didn’t get to watch most of the performances, because as the head honcho, I was dealing with logistics, problem-solving (there was very little of this; the event ran smoothly) and handing out scores to the participants.

The props and costumes I saw were awesome. I’m sure the story lines were as well. (I couldn’t share details even if I knew them because other regional tournaments are still being held, and we can’t give away secrets.)

Solutions must be creative

Wouldn’t it be cool if our corporate leaders and politicians could work together like that?

Yelling, screaming and pointing fingers are not options at DI events. Ever. That’s not how you solve problems. Our young people know that.

How did we adults forget?

Where did our creativity go?

The Destination Imagination Facebook page posted this story awhile ago, on helping older children develop a sense of imagination.

https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/50429/how-to-help-older-kids-develop-a-sense-of-imagination

It offers suggestions like tell collaborative stories, try improv (also one of Destination Imagination’s challenges) and lighten up.

Play. Get outside. Dream. Think outside the box. Get creative. Work together.

Releasing aggression

I’ve become too serious myself recently. A thought hit me the other day that might help explain that.

For more than 20 years as an adult, I played slow-pitch softball. For nearly 10 years, I also played Ultimate Frisbee – not in a league or anything, just for fun.

I haven’t done either for five or six years.

I try to walk/jog once or twice a week (with no headphones; I let my mind wander where it wants to go), so I’m still getting some exercise. So, what’s my issue?

I’m a guy. By definition, the male species has aggression. It’s the way we are wired, including extreme introverts like me.

With softball and Ultimate, I threw things. Literally. That’s how I released my emotions.

As an outfielder, I threw that softball as hard as I could into the infield. Sometimes I gave a loud “aaach.” My teammates sometimes asked, “Are you OK?” They though I hurt myself. No, I’m fine. I’m just letting out my aggression on that softball.

Or, I threw a flying disc (Frisbee is a trade name). Sometimes, I threw that disc as hard as I could.

Why do guys play with guns, race cars, take advantage of girls, hack computers and do all sorts of other inappropriate things?

We aren’t allowed to show aggression at all in today’s society. We have to play nice.

But we have to let it out somehow.

Seriously.

A better world

But if we could dream of a better world, a place where we had positive outlets for our aggression, seek creative solutions for problems …

We are all on the same team, really. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.

If only we could respect each other, live with each other, work together, celebrate (not criticize) our differences …

That’s a dream worth pursuing.

The future of our country, and our very lives, may be at stake.

And our children just might hold the right keys.

Sure sign of spring: Play ball!

Reds Indians Spring Baseball
Cleveland Indians first baseman Yonder Alonso (17) celebrates his home run against the Cincinnati Reds with Melvin Upton Jr. during the second inning of a spring training baseball game Friday, Feb. 23, 2018, in Goodyear, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

It’s officially spring.

Not by the calendar or the weather, but by the only measure that really counts.

It’s time for baseball!

I heard the first spring training game of the year on the radio yesterday afternoon. When baseball starts, spring has begun and summer is not far away. The groundhog is forgotten and irrelevant by now.

Emotions drained far too often

We need perspective from all the rough events flooding our news feeds these days – Russian indictments from the 2016 election season, the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., potholes galore (it’s not the city’s fault the freeze-thaw cycle is bad this year), the unstable stock market, massive federal debt – and on and on.

Even many sports have become social platforms: taking a knee at NFL games, LeBron James and others speaking out on politics and other issues, the USA gymnastics/Michigan State/Larry Nassar fiasco, talk of paying athletes and/or families in elite college basketball programs …

Here in Cleveland, baseball averted such a situation by leaning hard on the Indians to eliminate the Chief Wahoo logo before the 2019 All-Star Game at Progressive Field. Perhaps that was a cop-out to political pressure, or perhaps it was a wise move to keep the focus where it belongs: on the playing field.

America’s Game

Baseball is America’s Pastime for a reason. It pioneered free agency (remember Curt Flood in 1970?), but for the most part baseball is celebrated for what happens between the white lines.

(The exception: steroids and the Hall of Fame. That’s for another day.)

Many people say baseball is too slow. Football and basketball are headed that way with endless “this play is under further review” situations. Baseball also has instituted replay reviews, but they are limited and very fast. I can eat dinner in the time it takes the NFL to review a wide receiver’s catch.

Ah, baseball.

Video (did not) kill the radio star

As I was driving for work yesterday afternoon, I had the van radio on the local AM station that carries the Indians broadcast. This points to another problem with society: We are too visual. We’re all about television, video games, and “if you didn’t take a photo, it didn’t happen.”

We’ve lost our imagination.

Baseball is best consumed with our ears. I still have a transistor radio set to the Indians’ station, and I’ll turn it on as the summer goes along. I enjoy Tom Hamilton, the Indians’ lead announcer since 1990:

It’s a long fly ball, a-wayyyyyyy back, gone!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jqOASqRXYs

Gives you goose bumps, doesn’t it?

Every baseball announcer has a calling card, a special phrase or moment he is known for. Growing up in Michigan, I was spoiled with Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey:

He stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched that one go by.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vGEcx4RSZU

Now when we visit our sons or my parents in Michigan, we’ll listen to Dan Dickerson and Jim Price:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0azRYW9I38

During my high school days in the Pittsburgh area, I listened to Milo Hamilton, who broadcast for seven teams over a 65-year career. He’s most well known for broadcasting for the Houston Astros:

Holy Toledo! What a finish!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KrdS0Jn7dk

Take me out to the ball game

I’ve attended Major League Baseball games over the years that provided great memories:

  • I saw Earl Wilson, a Detroit Tigers pitcher, hit a home run in old Cleveland Stadium in the late 1960s. The Indians beat the Tigers, 2-1, in that game.
  • I was in Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh the day Rennie Stennett, the Pirates’ second baseman, got his first major league hit in 1971. He had 1,239 hits over an 11-year career, mostly in Pittsburgh.
  • My oldest son and I attended a Detroit Tigers playoff game in 2006 when Kenny Rogers outdueled the great Randy Johnson, then with the hated New York Yankees. The atmosphere of that game was nothing short of electric – from the opening pitch through the final out. I’ve never experienced anything like that before or since.
  • For my birthday in 2014, my family treated me to a baseball game at Progressive Field in Cleveland against the Detroit Tigers – which just happened to be the day Omar Visquel, an outstanding shortstop and then (and now) a coach with the Tigers, was inducted into the Indians Hall of Fame.

The games we play

Perhaps another reason I enjoy baseball is because I played it. I was a Little Leaguer as a youngster – I couldn’t hit, but I played the outfield because I could catch the ball.

As an adult, I played slow-pitch softball for about 25 years. As my three sons grew up, they played too. That’s one of my favorite memories from my sons’ childhoods: playing on the same softball team with all three of them.

(They were, and still are, much better athletes than I ever was. But softball sure was fun.)

Baseball is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Pitch the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball. Run the bases.

Even if you don’t get into all the analytics – which many baseball purists do – it’s a simple game, really. Difficult to play (try hitting a pitched baseball with a 32-inch bat if you haven’t done that in awhile), but a game that many Americans – women as well as men – have played, and still play as adults.

Some of us pseudo-athletes do better with softball, fast-pitch or slow-pitch, but the idea is still the same. Pitch the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball.

Baseball season is here. I heard it on the radio. That makes it official.

And that puts all of life in the proper perspective.

Changing laws not enough; we need a new mindset

It happened again. Another school shooting with multiple casualties, this time north of Miami.

We’re getting good at knee-jerk reactions to these situations. We aren’t good at figuring out how to prevent them.

Grandma saves lives

A grandmother in Washington state, of all people, has the right idea.

http://www.heraldnet.com/news/grandmother-turns-in-teen-who-allegedly-planned-shooting/

The grandmother of Joshua Alexander O’Connor, 18, found alarming journal entries Tuesday at her home in Everett, Wash., according to reports filed in court. She called police. An officer pulled O’Connor from class at ACES High School, an alternative school he began attending in the fall, to arrest him, reported the Herald newspaper in Everett.

The Herald continued:

O’Connor wrote that he wanted the death count to be as high as possible so that the shooting would be infamous, according to court papers. He went into detail about building pressure-cooker bombs, activating inert grenades and deploying explosives for maximum casualties.

“I need to make this count,” O’Connor reportedly wrote. “I’ve been reviewing many mass shootings/bombings (and attempted bombings). I’m learning from past shooters/bombers mistakes” …

On Tuesday police took a glance inside the teen’s room, saw two grenades and left the area to get to safety. Officers applied for a warrant to search the room. The high school was notified and O’Connor was arrested, reportedly carrying a knife and marijuana. A search of the home led to recovery of the journal, a rifle, the grenades, masks …

On Wednesday in court, deputy prosecutor Andrew Alsdorf told a judge that O’Connor bought a rifle because it was the same style as a gun used by one of the shooters at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in 1999 …
School officials learned of the threat Tuesday.

“Our main thing right now is gratitude, especially to the grandmother,” said Andy Muntz, a spokesman for the Mukilteo School District. “That couldn’t have been easy for her to do. The Everett police also did a wonderful job. That combination may have saved a lot of lives.”

Warning signs in Florida

In Florida, reports say there were warning signs about the Valentine’s Day shooter, Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

I can’t say I was shocked,” Joshua Charo, a 16-year-old student at the school, told the Miami Herald. “From past experiences, he seemed like the kind of kid who would do something like this.”

School Shooting Florida
A woman places flowers at one of 17 crosses placed for the victims of the Wednesday shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

“I think everyone had in their minds if anybody was going to do it, it was going to be him,” Dakota Mutchler, a 17-year-old junior at the school, told The Associated Press.

“A lot of people were saying it was going to be him,” Eddie Bonilla, another student, told CBS Miami. “A lot of kids joked around like that, saying that he was going to be the one to shoot up the school. But it turns out everyone predicted it.”

https://www.yahoo.com/news/plenty-warnings-florida-school-shooting-suspects-past-missed-signs-154926468.html

“Everyone” predicted the Florida massacre, but no one acted on those beliefs.

The shooter remains responsible, of course. He will have his day in court, as the laws of our land dictate.

The teen in Everett, Wash., also faces a day in court, but not with murder charges – thanks to his grandmother and quick follow-up by the local police department.

The blame game

We can debate gun laws all we want. We won’t eliminate them from our country. It just won’t happen. Certain types of weapons can be outlawed and perhaps they should, but the teens in both cases this week obtained their weapons legally.

We can blame politicians, including the president and Congress, but they cannot legislate morality. They can change laws, but they can’t change hearts.

Studying the connection between mental illness and lethal weapons possibly could lead to ways to prevent some mass shootings from happening.

But not all. Not even close.

“I need to make this count,” the Washington teen admitted. How can we change that mindset? Where does that mindset come from in the first place?

A different mindset

My worldview provides an answer to these questions, but it’s not a popular one in today’s America.

The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” … The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

Genesis 3:12,13

We’ve had that mindset since the beginning of time. It’s not my fault. I screw up, and I blame you. You blame someone else.

And on it goes.

We think the world revolves around us, and we get upset when we don’t get our way, when someone puts restrictions on us – such as, you can eat from any tree in this beautiful, lush garden except this particular one (Genesis 3:2).

Why won’t we outlaw semiautomatic firearms? We don’t want anyone telling us we can’t have something. It’s that simple. The cost doesn’t matter. It’s all about what I want, or think I want.

Freedom. Liberty. My rights trump your rights. Damn the consequences.

We’ve clung to this value since we first walked the Earth.

When do the consequences become too much?

Will they ever?

It’s not about me, or you

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends …

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

The Parkland, Fla., shooting tragedy took place on Valentine’s Day, the day of love. I wonder if that was a coincidence. Was the shooter mocking love by carrying out a supreme act of hate on that day?

Love, when done right, solves everything. Which tells us how far off from “right” we are when it comes to love.

Who hates those words from 1 Corinthians in the Bible? Is that not the definition of love at its best? If all 300 million of us in the United States followed the views of just that paragraph, imagine the problems that would disappear. Instantly.

It’s a mindset. Patient, kind, no envy or arrogance, respecting your views without malice …

Why is that so hard?

Many of us are clamoring for change to prevent further mass shootings from occurring. Yes, absolutely.

We can change laws, but until we change our mindset, serious crimes will continue. As will other situations that hurt people.

It’s not about me. It’s not about you. There’s a bigger picture here, a much bigger picture.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:11-12

It’s time we grew up.

Featured photo caption: Joshua Alexander O’Connor, 18, appears in court Wednesday. He is accused of plotting to bomb and shoot classmates at ACES High School in Everett. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)

Perspective with the wild ride

The stock market took a ride this week worthy of Cedar Point’s “Steel Vengeance,” its newest roller coaster opening this year.

For the week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 5.2 percent, marking its largest weekly decline since January 2016, reported Market Watch, a financial information website that is a subsidiary of Dow Jones & Co.

Twice during the week, the stock market dropped more than 1,000 points in a single day.

According to the Washington Post, investors lost $3 trillion – with a “T” – in stock market value in one week.

A little bit of that lost value belongs to me.

It’s happened before

I’m one of the fortunate people who has a 401(k) from 24 years working at one company. It’s still 100 percent vested in stock mutual funds, a very aggressive plan, especially for someone my age (57). My wife and I have other, more conservative, investments as well, so I’m OK with a risk-taking 401(k).

In 2017, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 25 percent for the year, its best showing since 2013, said cnn.com.

Neither this week’s big decline nor last year’s big gains were unique. Both scenarios have happened before, and relatively recently, too.

Investors, who set a monthly record for sinking money into the stock market in January, pulled their money out at a record pace in the week ended Feb. 7, reported EPFR, a Cambridge, Mass., data firm.

Yikes. Too many investors bought high and sold low.

Take a deep breath, everyone. We’ve been here before, and survived.

Investing for the long term

I opened my 401(k) in the mid-1980s when I was in my mid-20s, and contributed to it for more than two decades. A small company match certainly helped. So did a wonderful stock run-up throughout the 1990s. Easy money, I thought.

I can live only in the moment, but if I live only for the moment I will miss so much.

Then the stock market crashed in September 2008, losing more than half its value by March 2009. My 401(k) lost about 40 percent of its value.

It took several years, but my 401(k) did recover, and his since grown much higher.

It’s a retirement account. I’m in it for the long term. In 2008, I knew I wasn’t going to start cashing it in for another 15 years or so, at least. So, the losses were only on paper.

That $3 trillion in value lost this week is on paper also. If you’re living off of that money, you probably should be preserving capital in more conservative investments. The stock market is for long-term growth, in general. (Some stocks are more volatile than others, of course, which is why every financial adviser will say we should diversify our portfolios.)

I haven’t checked my 401(k) balance recently. Neither has my wife (she’s more on top of it than I am). I’m sure it lost value this week.

But I’m not ready to start cashing it in yet. So I’ll just ride the wave.

Risk tolerance

Part of this equation is risk tolerance. Did I lose sleep this week when the stock market got volatile? No. I have a fairly high risk tolerance.

If you’re an investor and you did lose sleep – or you pulled a lot of money out of the market this week – then you probably are investing too aggressively. There’s nothing wrong with being a conservative investor. You won’t make the big gains in a boom market, but you won’t lose big during a correction or recession, either.

Each of us needs to determine our own risk tolerance. And also determine what the money we’re investing is for. Retirement? A nice vacation? Christmas gifts? Something else? It’s all good.

With the stock market, we need to take the long-term view.

Bigger rewards later

That goes against today’s instant gratification mindset.

We’d rather spend the money we make, all of it, rather than save some for a rainy day. We buy the latest technology – does every child, much less adult, need the latest smartphone every time a new one comes out? And I know people who buy lunch at a fast-food restaurant every day. A brown bag lunch is much more nutritious and costs a lot less. Eating out every so often is great – we do need to treat ourselves – but every day is an extravagance many of us can’t really afford.

Of course, if everyone acted like this, the economy would slow down because we wouldn’t be spending so much money. But we’d have more savings to spend on more meaningful, and possibly bigger, things. Saving money for a nice vacation or a new vehicle takes time and effort, but the rewards are so worth it.

Not going into debt for those things is one of the biggest benefits.

The future will come

Life in general is a lot like the stock market. It has its ups and downs, successes and failures. I’ve had great jobs and been fired. I’ve had emotional highs and lows (although I don’t often show them publicly). I’ve had great health, but I know I won’t live forever.

How do we handle the “life is not fair” moments, as well as the good times?

My retirement is much closer now than it was 30 years ago when I began investing. Starting to plan for my retirement when I was in my 20s will have a huge payoff very soon.

A big-picture outlook on life is so worth it. I can live only in the moment, but if I live only for the moment I will miss so much.

Take a deep breath. Plan ahead. Think long-term.

On average, Americans can expect to live 78.6 years, according to 2016 data published by the National Center for Health Statistics. Women can expect to live five years longer than men: 81.1 years vs. 76.1 years.

People who die young make the news, but chances are good that you and I both will reach retirement age. We should plan for it.

If we do that well, the roller-coaster ride of the stock market won’t cause us to lose sleep.

Not too much, anyway.

 

Going after the easiest target

I’ve been ambivalent on the Chief Wahoo logo of the Cleveland Indians. Some native Americans find it offensive, but protests are infrequent and not strong. Many fans of the baseball team support the logo.
The Indians announced the other day that they will drop the Chief Wahoo logo from the team’s uniforms starting next year.

The team will continue selling merchandise featuring Chief Wahoo after that time to protect its trademark. Otherwise, anyone could use the logo for any purpose they desire.

I have an Indians T-shirt with Chief Wahoo on it. I’ll continue to wear it.

I’m not making a political statement. I’m supporting a baseball team.

Perhaps one reason I’m ambivalent is that Indians owner Paul Dolan also hasn’t taken a strong stand on the logo. He agreed to drop it from uniforms next year only after persuasive talks – over several years – with Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.

The fact that Cleveland will host the 2019 All-Star Game forced Dolan’s hand, I’m sure. Baseball doesn’t want to offend anyone. Manfred doesn’t want to see protests outside Progressive Field during baseball’s marquee event (outside of the World Series), so he convinced Dolan to avoid that possibility.

Manfred, like the rest of us, has seen what divisive issues have done to the National Football League in the past couple of years. A simple kneeling during the National Anthem has taken on a life of its own, and cost the league viewers and untold goodwill.

Whether the kneeling was correct, politically correct or wrong doesn’t matter, at least to baseball. The issue became divisive, and the NFL is the lightning rod.

Baseball wants to avoid that scenario at all costs.

But not all team logos, including native American logos, are treated equally. Not by a long shot. We’ll stick to professional sports here.

The Redskins

Exhibit A, and you knew this was coming: the Washington Redskins and their Indian head.

Washington Redskins v Oakland Raiders

Most people are not ambivalent about the Redskins name and logo, calling them racist. Why do activists not push harder to change them?

It’s simple: politics.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder adamantly supports the Redskins name and logo. Opponents would face a loud and protracted fight against him.

The Indians became a much easier target.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in response this week to the Indians’ announcement, said he won’t pressure Snyder to change anything about the Redskins.

Goodell repeatedly cited a Washington Post poll in which the majority of native Americans surveyed said they do not find Washington’s team name or logo offensive. He added that the league doesn’t “hear this very much from our fans” on the issue and said Snyder is unlikely to change the name.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/redskins/2018/01/30/roger-goodell-sidesteps-redskins-issue-shifts-focus-owner-dan-snyder/1078238001/

Seriously?

The league must not be listening very hard. Or, more likely, with Snyder’s strong position, opponents are looking for more winnable battles.

So, they turned to the Cleveland Indians, where the opposition (team owner Dolan) was lukewarm and the league is less combative.

Are Chief Wahoo and the “Indians” name truly more racist than the logo and “Redskins” name of Washington, D.C.’s football team?

I’m not buying that.

The Blackhawks

Here’s another one: the Chicago Blackhawks. Its Indian head, like Chief Wahoo, is decades old.

Chief Wahoo’s origin is murky; the Blackhawks logo is not.

Some say the Indians were named after native American Louis Sockalexis, who played for the team in the 1890s. Others say that’s not the whole story.

Joe Posnanski, executive columnist for MLB Advanced Media, offered this commentary on Oct. 13, 2016:

 

Best I can tell from all the research, there were two major factors in choosing Indians.

  1. Native American names were all the rage in 1914 because that was the year of Boston’s Miracle Braves, who were in last place on July 4 and then somehow won 70 of their last 89 games to win the National League by 10.5 games. Boston then swept the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series. The nation was whooping for the Braves, and so a Native American nickname made a lot of sense.
  2. Cleveland did have that Sockalexis connection from the 19th century when the team was often called the Indians. This from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

“Many years ago there was an Indian named Sockalexis who was the star player of the Cleveland baseball club. As a batter, fielder and base runner he was a marvel. Sockalexis so outshone his teammates that he naturally came to be regarded as the whole team. The fans throughout the country began to call the Clevelanders “the Indians.” It was an honorable name, and while it stuck the team made an excellent record. It has now been decided to revive this name.”

People will argue forever about whether the Indians name was created in a cynical ploy to both mock and cash in on Native American culture or if it was a way to honor a pioneering Native American baseball player who, for a short time, thrilled people with his play. People will forever argue if the Chief Wahoo logo, which apparently was inspired by the “Little Indian” cartoon that would run in the newspaper, is a harmless caricature or a racist one. The split is fierce and passionate.

 

The Blackhawks’ logo has a much simpler history.

blackhawks

According to the New York Times, the Blackhawks’ founder was Maj. Frederic McLaughlin, whose family owned Manor House Coffee, a popular brand in the first half of the 20th century. McLaughlin named the team after the Blackhawk division, a unit he helped lead as an officer in the Army. It was formed during World War I, but the war ended before the unit, or McLaughlin, saw action. The unit was named for a Sauk and Fox American Indian leader who fought against the United States government in the War of 1812 and in 1832.

The team’s immensely popular Blackhawks Indian head logo was created by Irene Castle, wife of McLaughlin, in 1926 at the team’s inception into the NHL.

https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/culture/sports/why-is-the-chicago-blackhawks-logo-okay-but-washington-redskins-racist/

The national stage

Does that history play into today’s controversy, or lack thereof in the case of the Blackhawks’ logo?

If native Americans truly find these professional sports logos offensive, why not protest all three with vigor?

The Chief Wahoo argument gained steam in 2016 when the Indians reached the World Series, giving the issue national prominence.

The Blackhawks won the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015, so they’ve had a high profile for the past decade. Why has their logo not been a topic of national conversation?

The Redskins, as a team, haven’t played in the Super Bowl since they won it in 1992. Should they become relevant again on the field, would the name and logo debate gain more intensity?

I just see these three team logos treated very differently.

Perhaps all of them should be retired. In the meantime, I wish activists would pursue the worst offender, and not the easiest, first.

Pledge a way to revive civility

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

 

Remember that? Many of us “old-timers” recited the Pledge of Allegiance to start our school day.

Students at the Lorain County Joint Vocational School in Oberlin, Ohio, recently began reciting the pledge after not doing so for generations.

The effort is student-led and voluntary. It was a student’s idea to recite the pledge, and that student leads his peers in the recitation each morning.

“Students have been very respectful,” Principal Jill Petitti said in an interview with The Chronicle-Telegram of Elyria, Ohio. “For the most part they’ve been participating. I’ve heard multiple people say that they love to start their day this way.”

The student, John Owen, offered this explanation:

“With so much going on in the nation, in news, and even in the NFL, I think the pledge will instill in students that it’s OK to be a patriotic person.”

http://www.chroniclet.com/Local-News/2018/01/25/Pledge-of-Allegiance-starts-morning-at-Lorain-County-JVS.html

What a refreshing story.

Our young people offer a wonderful hope for America’s future.

We adults often focus on the negative:

  • Reciting the pledge must be voluntary so no one gets offended.
  • The words “under God,” added in 1954, violate separation of church and state in the eyes of many.

Students, however, focus on patriotism.

The themes of the pledge are worth pursuing.

Are we indivisible? Do we offer liberty and justice for all?

Indivisible

The ongoing debate in Congress to even pass a budget questions our ability to be indivisible at the moment. Our president is divisive in his tweets – even his own party gets blindsided by his words on occasion.

But it’s not only our political leaders who can’t get along. Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP, explains it this way in the current issue of the AARP Bulletin:

 

… the divisions in this country are exacerbated by the fact that so many people get their news from only one source – and sources that have differing viewpoints often don’t even share a common set of facts – which makes it difficult to have a meaningful discussion and debate.

 

In that light, are we still one nation? Are we indivisible?

Indivisible means not divisible; not separable into parts; incapable of being divided:

one nation indivisible.

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/indivisible

Are we incapable of being divided?

That’s a strong word.

Democrats and Republicans still vote in the same room. Men and women still live and work together. People of differing races and ethnicities work, play and socialize together, to varying degrees.

Despite our differences.

Yes, we are indivisible. We survived a Civil War. We will survive the current divisiveness. And we will be a better country for it.

Liberty

“Liberty,” according to my hard-cover Webster’s dictionary, offers this definition:

  1. The quality or state of being free; (a) the power to do as one pleases (b) freedom from physical restraint (c) freedom from arbitrary or despotic control (d) the positive enjoyment of various social, political or economic rights and privileges (e) the power of choice

“The power to do as one pleases” is not unlimited. Taken to the extreme, that might mean I’ll show up for work whenever I want to. The boss wouldn’t appreciate that because my job wouldn’t get done.

Having said that, we are free to choose our relationships, careers, where we live, how we worship, what we do in our spare time, etc. Much of this we take for granted, even though people in many other countries don’t have these liberties.

We also are free from physical restraints and from arbitrary or despotic control – which is why we are shocked when these liberties are taken away. The couple who tortured their 13 children in California come to mind. Larry Nassar also does. Sickening. These adults violated everything our nation stands for.

And we have the freedom to get involved in whatever social, political or economic causes we choose, or not.

Justice

My dictionary defines “justice” this way:

  1. (a) the maintenance or administration of what is just esp. by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or judgments (b) judge (c) the administration of law esp. the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity
  2. (a) the quality of being just, impartial or fair

Google offers this definition:

Just behavior or treatment. A concern for justice, peace and genuine respect for people.

Dictionary.com talks about moral rightness and lawfulness as well.

We debate morals all the time and we can add or delete laws, but “genuine respect for people” should be the guiding principle for how we decide them. We can’t be just, impartial or fair if we do not respect all people.

In public arenas, I don’t see much “genuine respect for people.”

Civility

Jenkins, the AARP CEO, sums it up:

 

Restoring civility to public discourse begins with each of us individually: how we talk to and relate to one another, taking the extra step to understand why a person believes differently than we do, and being able to disagree with one another while still respecting the other person.

 

Are we indivisible, offering liberty and justice to all?

Perhaps we should revive the Pledge of Allegiance, not just in schools, but post it on a wall in workplaces and public spots as well.

It offers a message worth adhering to.

The reason to live

President Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un recently traded barbs about who had the largest “nuclear button.”

Soon after, an emergency missile alert accidentally went out to everyone in Hawaii, sparking panic as thousands of people, assuming they had only minutes to live, scrambled to seek shelter and say their final goodbyes to loved ones.

Mudslides in southern California killed at least 20 people.

And there was a fatal school shooting in Kentucky.

Lots of fear. Life at times flashes before us, unexpectedly.

Which leads me to this question: Are we ready to die?

What if one such emergency visited your neighborhood?

No guarantees …

We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. None of us is.

We know this.

We eat nutritious foods, exercise and live a healthy lifestyle to try to prolong a happy, healthy time on Earth. Often it works.

I’ve been blessed with a healthy body, which I don’t take for granted. I enjoy ice cream or a chocolate chip cookie as much as anyone, but I don’t overindulge in them. I try to get some exercise once or twice a week.

All things in moderation.

It’s worth the effort. I rarely call in sick to work. I don’t sit on the sidelines because my body won’t let me do what I enjoy doing. I know many of you can’t say this. Each of us does our best with what we’ve been given.

… except death

But even in the best of situations, it won’t last forever. Our bodies eventually will wear out. It’s inevitable.

I am ready to die today. I’m not hoping to die or expecting to die; I’m not fatalistic about it.

But I’m ready.

It might not happen for another 40 years. That’s great, too. I’ll serve God on this Earth for as long as I’m here.

We all think about what might happen in the next life. We’re wired that way. We know we’re mortal. Some of us try to suppress those thoughts, but we all have them.

Especially as death nears, so I’ve heard.

Preparing for forever

Why wait until then to address the issue? There are things we can do now to prepare for forever.

I will be with Jesus Christ in heaven when I die. This I know. Whether it’s today or 40 years from now, it will happen.

The God of the Bible is not the same as the gods of any other religion or belief system. We do not have our own truth. Sorry, Oprah. There’s a bigger picture here, one that men and women must adhere to. (Men who abuse women will not be excused in the next life, that is certain. Even if justice isn’t served on Earth, it will be in heaven.)

The God of the Bible is the only god who cares about our welfare – on Earth as well as in the next life. That’s why we should look at this issue now, before we reach our deathbed.

 

God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

 

We don’t have to follow a list of rules before God will accept us. He takes us just as we are. Christians aren’t perfect people – far from it. We don’t have our act together, necessarily.

What makes us different?

We are forgiven. That’s all.

 

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10:9

 

That’s it. There’s no magic formula or ritual that must be followed.

Living forever

Of course, living that out isn’t easy. That’s why we attend church every week, and why we should participate in Sunday school or a small group for support and encouragement. It’s why we should read the Bible often – every day, if possible – to learn what’s in there.

Even Bible scholars, which I am not, have plenty of things to learn about God.

Does that turn you off?

It should excite you.

God is bigger than we can possibly imagine. At the same time, He is smaller than the tiniest detail of our lives.

He cares. To the point of death. His death. Our deaths.

His life. And our lives.

Am I weak or ignorant if I say that there are things I know about God, but there’s plenty I don’t know?

“Salvation” is knowable. That’s one thing we can be certain about.

Why does God save some and not others? That we will never know on this Earth.

All of us are sinners. No one deserves “salvation.” No one earns it.

Why God saves some, why He shows mercy, proves that He loves us and wants the best for us.

Including you.

Instead of asking why bad things happen to good people, we should ask:

Why do good things happen to bad people?

All of us, every single one of us, is “bad.” You can find fault with me rather easily, and a few of you do. I could find fault with you as well if I wanted to look at you that way.

How do we break that cycle?

Only by following God’s example.

He sees the good in each of us, and wants to draw that out. He offers “salvation” as a gift.

But it’s not a gift until we accept it.

I can offer you a Christmas present, but if you return it to the store, you’ve rejected it. So, it’s not a gift.

God doesn’t do that. He offers us “salvation” even though we don’t deserve it.

Then, we spend the rest of our lives getting to know Him better.

It’s worth the effort.