The Homeless Are Among Us

What I’m Writing …

I am getting ready to self publish my first novel, SAINT JIM, within the next month. I believe it’s good enough, but finding an agent to represent it is difficult for an unknown author. Currently it’s with an editor going through a Copy Edit run to make sure all the typos are culled from it.  The novel is about a homeless addict.  His drug of choice is healing people.  He is bestowed the gift of healing and sees auras on those that need his gift, but when an entity appears in, on, or around people in need, it compels him to action.  He hears a voice in his head saying, “Help Them.”

rethinkhomelessness

So A Few Weeks Ago …

I had stopped at a local store to pick up something to eat on the way to work.  I noticed a couple of guys talking.  Upon leaving, one of the two, a high school kid, was passing me while telling the other that he had no cash but would pick up some food.  I glanced more closely at the guy.  He was wearing ratty coveralls.  We made eye contact.  Damn.

“Excuse me,  I need a ride … ” he said softly. I pretended not to hear him and got into my car.  He ran up the passenger window and waved and I shrugged my shoulders and pulled out and left.  I almost got out of the parking lot and I felt this pull on me.  It was almost like in my novel.  Don’t  know if it was my conscience or God or guilt that intervened, but I felt a force saying, “Help him.”

I pulled back into the lot and drove back to the store where he stood getting the food from the kid.  I pulled into the parking space and waved the guy to the passenger side.  He said he needed to get to a cross-street near the Tollway, because that’s where his stuff was. I thought about for a second and my gut instincts said he was harmless.  I told him to get in.

On the drive there he told me his name was Brett.  He had come back down to this area to get his coveralls because the weather was changing and he didn’t want to get caught in the cold,   I asked him if downtown had some shelters he could stay in.  Brett said that he rather be homeless in North Dallas. The homeless in downtown were hardcore and some were into drugs, and he did not need that temptation.

Brett mentioned that others had told him he was too young to be homeless.  I figured him for about twenty-four close-cropped hair and clean-shaven.  Unknown to him, he pointed to my neighborhood as we passed it, and said he used to live there.  He rattled off the names of my children’s elementary, middle, and high schools.  He continued saying that he had no family.  His grandparents had died and his parents had written him off.  His brother had got out of jail and he hoped he could team up together to get off the streets, but his brother was caught up in drugs now, too.

Being on the street was tougher than he thought.  He mentioned that he had to be careful to eat properly and drink plenty of water,  The ride was greatly appreciated and told me it made his day, because he said it would have ordinarily taken all day to walk it. I gave Brett whatever cash I had, and he left my car with a smile on his face.

We are all sinners and saints.  It depends on which voice we want to listen.  I have guilt about my initial reaction.  I was a jerk.  We can remain afraid and do nothing, or we can extend our humanity to others.  If a child is crying alone on the street, most of us would stop to help them. Homeless people cry out, but not in the same obvious way as children. They have emotions mixed with pride, shame, and helplessness that debilitate them. Sometimes a kind word, a sympathetic ear, and a few dollars are all that is required to make their day.

Don’t forget that they are out there.  They are not relegated to just downtown/urban areas. They are in the suburbs and may have once been your neighbors.  We are entering the season of giving.  We can all work to be more like saints and try not to ignore them.

I searched on “homeless in suburbs” and got this as the second hit in the list:
Hidden Homeless Grow in Number in North Texas Suburbs – Dallas Morning News

Is Tolerance Enough?

 

Tolerance For All

Tolerance For All

I read a story about a family reunion at a California campground being terrorized by a man threatening them with what appeared to be a shotgun and yelling racial slurs. The community there  established a GoFundMe page for the family and staged a protest to make sure that the world outside their community knew that this one jerk didn’t represent them. USAToday Article

One protester had a sign saying, “Tolerance For All” and said things like, “If you can’t tolerate people having a good time …  go home.”  The sentiment was pure, but being a wordsmith of a sort, I can’t help believing that we are using the wrong word, here.  “Word Choice” ( WC ) as my critique group would write on the page.

This is only one example of what is out there and I’ve seen it applied several times to people of other religions, race, or sexual orientation.  And it continues to bother me.

If I told a complete stranger that I tolerate them, do you think they would feel all warm and cozy with me in their presence?

If I told a Muslim friend that I tolerate his/her religion, would they be comfortable discussing their faith with me?

Declaring to a co-worker of a different race that I tolerate them, will that give them a sense of inclusion to my work family?

When someone comes out and reveals that they are gay, and I tell them that I tolerate that, will they trust me?

The answer is: no, No, NO and Hell No.  Tolerance is not enough and it is not the right word.  I believe it should be, Acceptance.

Acceptance for All

What’s wrong with saying that you accept someone’s faith, race, or orientation.  I am not saying that you claim to understand them.  I’m just saying that we accept, consider, and include their right to express their ideas and thoughts into our everyday lives.  Acceptance does not give anyone the right to infringe upon your right to pursue your own happiness.  It just means that if someone else is different from you and not hurting you, then accept them into your heart.

To tolerate someone I believe falls short of the mark. The world will be a better place if we accept more than we tolerate.

Five Whys versus Five Y’s

Five Whys versus Five Y's

The concept of Five Whys is for quality analysis and finding the root cause of a problem. Let’s take a software defect. You find the first “Why” for the bug.  Maybe it’s a missing test case. The second “Why” derives off the first so you ask why was the test case missed?  The answer might be that the test case was missing because you didn’t understand that your software feature interacted with another feature.  Once you go five levels deep on your “Why” analysis, you should find the true root cause of the issue.  I’m also a software development manager and quality of the product is paramount. Understanding how the bugs get there in the first place lets you catch them earlier in the process.  Once they get into the field they are exponentially more expensive.

It got me thinking that you could apply these same principles to your personal life.  For example let’s just say you are unfulfilled with your job.  You might go through this process and realize at the fifth “Why” that it was your choice of major to study or that you wish you had gone to different university.  You could use this analysis and figure out the root cause of things you don’t like about yourself.  Now for most people this may be a depressing exercise because it dwells solely on the past.

I had a thought about the reverse effect.  What if you looked forward but instead of using “Whys”, we use the Five “Y’s”. To me a “Y” is a fork in the road; a place to make a decision.  What if I looked at each decision each day and wondered what might be the outcome of my choice.  Let’s take my wife. ( Yes, take her please – Henny Youngman ) No, seriously, let’s say she asked me to help her with something.  First “Y”. I have the choice to say yes or no. Maybe I’m tired and I say no. The Second “Y” might bring me to an argument with her.  She may be hurt that I wasn’t willing to help, but now she’s hurt by something I said, because I chose (Third “Y”) to say the wrong thing in the heat of the moment.  ( Hey, I’m a guy.  It goes with the territory ).  Now, she asks me to sleep on the couch.  I could choose to apologize or sleep on the couch. Fourth “Y”.  My pride forces me to choose the couch which is not very comfortable.  Let’s say I get a crick in my neck from an uncomfortable night’s sleep and I don’t notice the step down in the den and fall, breaking my leg. Fifth “Y”.

The moral for me is to make better decisions in life and hopefully it will lead to a more fulfillment and enjoyment during my journey   A corollary lesson: Don’t piss off your wife or you’ll get your leg broke.

 

Life Rules of Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump – Letting the Wind Guide Him

Forrest Gump is making the rounds on cable again .  It has been awhile since I’ve seen the film, and I found myself mesmerized and pulled into its cinematic vortex.  Around the house, I start talking like him  to my family, and it cracks them up.  Later, I realized as I imitated his words that I wished that I could embody more of his attitude and spirit.

It got me to think that if Forrest could sum up his rules for life, what would they be?

1. … Life is Like a Box of Chocolates: You Never Know What You’re Going to Get – This is the essential quote from the movie and explains the core belief system that Forrest lives by.  You take what’s given in life and do your best.  If you’re like me, then anything chocolate is good.  I know that some choices in the box may be better than others, but hey, it’s all chocolate.

2. Keep your Eye on the Ball – To succeed in ping-pong or the shrimping business, Forrest knew to never take his eye of the proverbial ball.  His channeled an obsessed focus on what he enjoyed or believed, and in return it allowed him to transcend his mental shortcomings.

3. Love Your Family – Forrest loved his mother dearly.  She was the guiding force that drove him to see that life had some truly beautiful things to offer.  He realized that he was her whole world.  When Forrest met his son for the first time, he openly cried.  He asked if his son was smart.  Forrest’s limitations were clear to him and he did his best, but his love for family was paramount.

4. Be Loyal to Your Friends – This one come through loud and clear.  Forrest was fiercely loyal to those people in his life that he determined were his friends.  He ran out into an active battlefield to retrieve his best friend, Bubba.   When called upon to help his fellow comrades, he couldn’t let their cries for help go unheard.  Then later after Forrest established himself in his shrimping business, his friend, Bubba, was only a spiritual partner, and yet, Forrest took care of Bubba’s mother by giving her half of his share of the business.

5. Be Friendly No Matter How Disagreeable Those Around You May Be. ( See the Good in People Unless they Hurt the Love of Your Life, then You Pound Them ) – Forrest showed this best with Lieutenant Dan.  He saw beyond the pain and depressed spirit of the broken soldier that was his commander.  He allowed Lieutenant Dan to be angry and upset, but did not let his irascible behavior dull his dedication to him.  Forrest was his secret friend until Lieutenant Dan understood Forrest actually was his best friend.  But refer to rules number 2 and 3 if you decide slap Jenny, your Black Panther Party will get ruined.

6. Never Give up on Love – Forrest had his heart broke by Jenny time after time.  He knew his limitations in life, but his capacity for love was unflagging and unlimited.  In the end Jenny saw that quality and realized that he was the right man for her.

Conclusion: Regardless of the curve balls that life or fate handed him, Forrest took them in stride and endured certain difficult moments to arrive at those times in his life he could enjoy.  He fiercely held the promises he made to friends, the love for his family, and his undying dedication to his childhood sweetheart.  It wouldn’t hurt for all of us to live like Forrest Gump.

Dad Is Bad

My son’s protest sign,
“Dad Is Bad”

In the picture my son is eight.  If you read the cardboard sign he’s holding, it says “Dad Is Bad” and was born out of a grievance he filed against me.  My wife and I prepared to sell our old house, and we decided to paint a short white fence that surrounded the flower garden in our front yard.  The boy wanted to help, but I wouldn’t let him because we were in a hurry to get a number of things done, so I didn’t want to spend the time to supervise a slop-fest of latex all over the bushes.

He was not pleased, and while we finished the paint job, he prepared this sign.  When I went around back to cleanup, I heard this chanting from the backyard.  I looked over the fence and saw my son standing on the top of his plastic fort holding the sign up to the street running along the side of our house and repeated his protest mantra, “Dad Is Bad”. The audacity: he was conducting a protest against his own paternal unit.

This was one of those moments as a parent that I made the right choice.  It made me laugh. I got him to come down, took a picture of him, and commended him for using his words like his mom and I had always taught him.  The result is we let him know that we were proud of him.  This picture is part of a collage on my desktop PC.  I noticed this recently and remembered this slice of family time in our lives.  It still makes me smile. My boy is turning eighteen later this April.  As a parent, I have faith that he will apply the lessons learned while he treads down his new path in adulthood.  Happy birthday, my civil disobedient son.

 

The Reluctant Heroes

This summer’s Olympics brought a new set of heroes to the forefront.  Fierce gymnasts who hurled themselves into the air with what appeared to be reckless abandon, but represented hours of ritualistic repetition to perfect their routines.  Swimmers who flew through the water at break-neck speeds.  We saw a runner with no lower legs with the indomitable spirit of a champion to compete.  These are the heroes witnessed through the media’s eyes and to some we bestow our national pride.  They have worked hard and have earned that respect.

That said, there are a number of heroes that don’t get celebrated on a national level, but we recognize their sacrifice and the work they do.  Our armed forces represent those that sacrifice time from their families, physical injury, and risk the ultimate sacrifice of their lives.  They’re on the front lines to protect our country. Local, State, and Federal Police along with Fire Fighters risk their lives in similar ways internally to protect us.

But what about the reluctant heroes that walk among us?  The ones that if you put them on the spot and told them they were a hero, would wave that comment away as if you were talking crazy.

The single parent who plays two parental roles, struggles to make ends meet and still finds the strength raise their kids are heroes.  Maybe they’re not recognized by the any news organization, but the children who are old enough to understand their sacrifice know.

The teacher who has inspired generations of children to learn, instilled a sense of wonder, and challenged their students to step outside the boundaries of themselves and reach beyond what they believe they were capable.  Not every one of them are recognized, but any student that remembers those special teachers in their lives accepts them as heroes.

The person who doesn’t just talk about their religious faith, but lives it as an example to others every day.  These people are heroes and have the capacity to heal the souls of those around them.

Everyone of us have heroes that touch our lives everyday.  If you acknowledge their heroism, they may be reluctant to accept that mantle.  But if you take the time to recognize what they do for you and what they mean to you with heart-felt gratitude, the reluctant hero will always accept a hug.

 

Don’t Grow Up too Soon – James Taylor Knows the Secret

 

Child On Shoulders - James Taylor Knows the Secret

Walking through the mall the other day, I saw a father lift his child to his shoulders.  It brought back memories of my own children.  I can remember carrying them around on my shoulders and grasping their ankles to hold them tight, so they didn’t fall.  As they got older, they could balance better, and hold onto my forehead or around my neck.  Those were beautiful years.

Those days zip by so quickly. Someone told me to revel in every moment your child asks you to pick them up because one day they’ll stop asking.  I followed that counsel until my kids became too big and my arms too weak to lift over my head and set them on my shoulders.  I understand now, but it was also that I had NOTAS disease.  “NOT AS” Young as I used to be.

My son is a year from being an adult and my pre-teen daughter is growing up fast.  Sometimes too fast.  In this wonderful age of technology and information it’s hard to slow them down.  My advice to her was to enjoy being eleven and do as many girly things that she could.  Don’t worry about someone thinking that your acting immature.  If you want to play with dolls, then do it. 

I looked to the future and realized that before I knew it, they’ll be in college, starting their own lives, and moving on.  I couldn’t blink too long, or I’ll miss something.  Then it hit me. I should follow my own advice.  Not doing girly things, mind you, but try to live in the moment.  Enjoy my kids as they “are” and not how they “were” or how they’re “going to be”.

About this same time, one of my favorite James Taylor songs floated up in my mind.  The song is called, “Secret O’ Life”.  Certain lines of this song are so poignant and full of wisdom that I’ve played it whenever I’ve found myself worrying about the time I’ve lost or may lose.  Read some of these lines below, and take them out into the world with you:

“The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.”
“The secret of love is opening up your heart.”
“And since we’re only here for a while. Might as well show some style.”
“The time about time is that time isn’t really real. It’s just your point of view.”
“Try not to try too hard.  It’s just a lovely ride.”

The full lyrics can be found <here>

 So for now, I’m settling for giving piggy-back rides; I can still do that.