October 14, 2018

Pure As The Driven Snow

This is why I came to Minnesota.

No, it's not the whole reason.  Not even remotely.  But, two of the driving forces are in that video:  that little guy, and that white stuff.

As a driver for Uber and Lyft, I repeat myself very often.  Every time a native Minnesotan gets into my car and hears my southern accent, the same exchange generally takes place.

Passenger:  Where are you from?

Me:  I'm from Georgia.  I moved here X months ago.

P:  Why'd you move to Minnesota?

Me:  (Short Version) I needed a fresh start, and the Twin Cities were the perfect place.

P:  So, you haven't been through a winter yet.

Me:  Well, I lived in Milwaukee for six years.

P:  Oh, so you know.

It's then that I explain to the passenger that, during those six years, this southern boy got to really love winter weather.  Then, we moved back to Georgia, where winter doesn't exist.  Instead, the high temperature rarely gets below seventy degrees.  Rankin-Bass really did capture it well.

I know that many people love that kind of weather, and I'm happy for them.  But, fifteen years of everything staying pretty much the same has, to beg a moment of pure transparency, drained the life from my spirit and taken the smile from my face.

...And, to be clear, I'm not just talking about the weather.

The last three years, in particular, have been the hardest of my life, as I've seen firsthand, in my life and my family's reality, that the more things (and, far too often, people) change, the more they stay the same.  And, as I fight what seems like a very uphill battle with depression, financial hardship, and just plain anger, I often think to myself that things are never going to get better.

But, then I woke up this morning and saw that first snowfall.

I can't exactly explain it, but as the snow gently fluttered, as my little nephew caught snowflakes on his tongue, as I drove to church this morning and saw fir trees flocked with a light dusting of powdery white, my spirit somehow lifted.  I was smiling, shaking hands with fellow churchgoers, and greeting them cheerfully.

Now, it may or may not last long.  The snow will likely be melted by tomorrow, and I may also be the same depressed, repressed individual that my family here knows and lovingly tolerates.  But, for now--for this single moment in time--I feel very much like the man I used to be.

And, I'm relearning an important truth, one that I hear Minnesotans repeat often in an ominous tone:  winter is coming.

For many, winter reflects sorrow.  It's used that way in literature quite often.  "The winter of our discontent," Shakespeare called it.  But for others, myself included, winter reflects joy, light, and cleansing.  As the phrase goes, "pure as the driven snow."

Seasons change here.  No matter how long the summer of my discontent lasts, winter will always come

March 1, 2018

Guns, Government, & The Golden Mean

With the latest tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, we once again find ourselves in the midst of the never-ending debate about the role of firearms in American society.

In the private sector, Dick's Sporting Goods and Walmart have taken a rather bold approach to affecting change, adapting their policies to raise the minimum age to purchase firearms in their establishments to twenty-one.  Whether that move will stand against the almost certain judicial challenges that will come remains to be seen.

In Washington, President Trump has called for immediate, tough congressional legislation, is already in the process of crafting an executive order banning bump stocks, and has called out Republican lawmakers on their fear of and subservience to the NRA and the gun lobby in general.

Then, we have the American public, which has taken to its usual means of coping with tragedy in our society:  cling tightly to your chosen political extreme and argue that your side is absolutely right, while the other is abhorrently wrong and wants to destroy the nation.

One side claims that guns and access to them for angry, hate-filled, potentially mentally ill people is the problem.  

Yet, anger, hatred, and untreated mental illness will find a way and a means to lash out.  A look at non-gun related attacks globally will bear that out.  We've had mass knife attacks and mass automobile attacks that have resulted in mass deaths in recent months and years, after all.  On top of that, the Parkland tragedy is increasingly bearing out the fact that it's the blatant failure to properly enforce current protocol, rather than a lack of protocol, that allowed this to happen, in large part.

On the other side, you have those who adamantly claim their Second Amendment rights as currently crafted, and refuse to budge on even the slightest point.  

The main argument, aside from hunting and scaring away home invaders--the statistics for which show that the scenario is nowhere near that cut-and-dried--is that their guns are there to prevent the government from taking their rights away.  Yet, while this same subset complains heavily about the government infringing on its rights, we have yet to see an organized, armed resistance.  So, which right has to be infringed upon for them to put iron in their words, Heaven forbid?

While the current media talking point about the epidemic level of school shootings in America is clearly overblown when the facts are considered, this is still a muddy issue, to be sure.

I'm not in favor of the total repeal of the Second Amendment that the former side often calls for; but, I'm also willing to admit that our current societal makeup, in which owning a firearm is largely considered socially acceptable, while submitting to mental, behavioral, or psychological treatment largely makes one a pariah, isn't ideal.

Somewhere, somehow, I'm convinced that there's a middle ground in play that can satisfy both sides.  

Now, I can't say that I'm exactly positive about what that might be.  But, come to think of it, many hardcore conservatives are responding to liberal calls for firearm bans with the statement, "Well then, ban automobiles, too, since auto accidents claim far more lives than firearms."

Let's run with that comparison for a moment.

In order to own and operate an automobile:
  1. One must be of legal age and licensed to operate; and, when under a certain age with a probational license, may only operate with a licensed adult present.  Licenses must be renewed periodically.
  2. One must undergo thorough instruction and pass both written and live action examinations to operate.
  3. Safe operation violations are subject to fines and imprisonment.  When sufficient violations occur, licenses may be restricted, suspended, or revoked until such time as further training is completed.  
  4. One is required to register every vehicle owned, and renew that registration annually.
  5. One is required to carry insurance on every vehicle owned.

When's the last time you heard national complaining about this system of regulation of motor vehicle operation?  We accept it as a fact of life in these United States.  We still have the freedom to drive, but that freedom is carefully regulated so as to provide for the safety of the American public.  We did so because the reality prior to this system was incredibly chaotic, to say the least.

Now, I can hear the arguments already, if you bothered to click on and peruse that last link.

"Well, a fat lot of good that's done!  Look how many more auto-related deaths there are now!"  

Consider two thoughts:  first, the number of automobiles and drivers on the roads have increased exponentially, along with the capabilities of the automobiles themselves.  Second, picture 2018's roads and drivers with the early 1900s' lack of regulation.  Scary, huh?

"All of this regulation hasn't prevented auto-related deaths at all!"

True; but, it does make the roads safer when the rules are followed.

"But, I only own a firearm to hunt!"

Yeah, and you need a license, registration, and insurance to drive to your hunting spot, and a license to do the hunting.

"But, there's no guarantee that the rules will be followed!  And, even when we do, deaths may still occur!"

And now, we've finally hit on the heart of the matter.  

We're ultimately dealing with the beings behind the wheels and behind the guns:  people.  Flawed, imperfect, inherently evil (apart from God's grace) people.  People will make mistakes.  People will break rules.  People will be affected by substances, circumstances, and citizens, and rendered unable, in a moment of time, to operate a powerful tool properly, even with all the regulation that's present.

We can never prevent mass deaths.  Flawed humanity will find a way to carry out its baser instinctual desires, when we allow ourselves to do so.  But, we can determine to find the golden mean, the middle ground that will put forth best possible scenario to stem the tide.  And, ultimately, taking responsibility for our actions as a society starts with taking responsibility for our actions as individuals.

But, that's just one man's opinion.