Friday, August 24, 2012

Phrase of the Day: BACK TO SCHOOL

It is that time of year once again, when parents and students alike are preparing for the new school year.  No doubt the new school year ahead is invoking a myriad of emotions, from excitement to dread.  It is a time of both the known and unknown.

I remember when I was in elementary school, which included kindergarten, and what the end of August was like.  It was the annual trip to the store to get school supplies and, as I was in parochial (Catholic) school that had a dress code, any new dress shirts, dress pants, or ties I might need.  It was exciting for me, seeing all the new pens, pencils, notebooks -- they were called "composition books" with a black-and-white marble-looking cover -- and other supplies from which I could choose.  I wasn't crazy about the clothes part, however.  Having to try on pants, and maybe needing to get them hemmed, was my least-favorite part of this pre-school year ritual.

By the time I reached high school -- there were no middle schools then, just 1st through 8th grades, then on to high school -- this pre-school year time was still somewhat exciting for me.  Even though I knew my wish that Summer vacation would last longer would never come true, the shopping element was a reminder of new beginnings...including one final reminder that I had, indeed, made it through the previous school year.  (I needed that reminder.  More on that in a moment.)

By the time I had reached college, everything was much more "business-like" and matter-of-fact.  So, it was get this, this, and this...make sure I have that, that, and that.  College was the first time I was not attending a parochial school and the dress code was much more relaxed (i.e. no dress shirts or ties required, jeans were acceptable) than what I had known for the previous thirteen years. 

Now, back to what I mentioned earlier about my needing a reminder that I had made it through the previous school year.  When I began my postgraduate studies, and all throughout that time, I never imagined myself being able to finish.  Self-confidence has never been a strong suit of mine.  You would think, after my final paper was handed in, and my final class had ended that it would sink in.  It didn't.

I remember the commencement ceremony from when I finished my postgraduate studies.  While my fellow graduates and I were lined up, ready to process in, one of my fellow graduates, David, could see the look on my face and came over to me.  Here's how the brief exchange between us went.
David: "Are you all right?"
Me: "I'm just afraid."
David: "Of what?  Being in front of everybody?"
Me: "No.  That I'm going to wake up."
David: "It's real, brother.  It's real."
After all papers were handed in, all classes were finished, and even the commencement ceremony was over, I still didn't believe it until I received the diploma in the mail.

I cognitively knew that I had done the three years of study and had completed all requirements necessary to graduate, but I never believed that I could do all that.  At that moment, it was the known and the unknown converging.  (It was more like colliding.)  I cannot say that my self-confidence has risen dramatically to an enormously more constructive level, but it is far better than it was.  My decades of poor self-identity regarding how smart I was, at least in terms of formalized education, was finally shattered.

I remember the words of the woman who served at the time as Director of Admissions during her speech at the beginning of our time there: This is not the beginning of your journey; it is the continuation of your journey.  Very true.  To that extent, all of my time before my postgraduate studies, during my studies, and all of my time since then, including my sitting at my keyboard typing this, has been part of my journey. 

That reminds me of an old adage: "You learn something new every day."  While I cannot say that I am aware of learning something new every single day of my life, learning is an on-going, lifelong process.  To any readers of this who are younger and in the midst of their schooling, that might seem depressing.  It's not, though.  Going to school is formalized education and life is informal education, but both are education nonetheless.  I would also add this as advice: Be open to the lessons in the classroom as well as outside the classroom.  I have learned you need both.

I can remember telling a former neighbor of mine in the apartment complex where I was living at the time who was a med student -- and this was long before I ever entertained the idea of attending a postgraduate school -- that we both had classrooms.  Hers were in the school, and mine was outside my front door.  Learning can happen anywhere at any time.

One final thought: When I lived on campus during my postgraduate studies, I hung just a few things on my walls.  (Apparently, I was told that I was in line with bachelors who live alone...their walls are usually sparsely covered.)  One thing I had hanging up on my wall was a sign that really sums up my life.  Here's what it read:

"I am a full-time student in the course of Continuing Education at the School of Life."


Friday, August 17, 2012


A few months back, a rabbit had dug a nest in the front yard to have her babies.  I let cutting the grass go for several weeks so as to not disturb the in-ground maternity ward, as well as to help provide a little cover for momma bunny's young ones.  It was amazing watching the momma come and feed her babies and, when the time came, for the three of them to take their first steps (or first hops) out of their nest.  Finally, they had all left the nest, literally, and were on their way.  I did see one of the young ones several days later.

Nature doing what nature does.

Several days ago, we had the teenage son from next door, who regularly cuts the grass, finally give the front lawn a much-needed mowing.  About a week-and-a-half prior to that, I had noticed the momma bunny in the yard again a few times, but saw no new holes.  We have several wild animals in the area, including the usual birds and squirrels, but also chipmunks and even a groundhog (that I've nicknamed Gary the Groundhog), so seeing momma bunny again was nothing more than a pleasant surprise.  Around the time the neighbor's son had cut the grass -- I forget if it was just before or just after -- I had noticed a hawk was in the area.  (I first heard the screeching sound, which I initially thought was an injured bird, and then noticed the hawk high up in a tree across the street.)  The hawk was in the area for a few days, until one day, I look out the front window...and there was the hawk standing in the front yard!  I went to get my camera, but the hawk had flown off by the time of my return.

Several minutes later, the hawk had returned, but something was different.  As I readied my camera, I noticed the hawk looking down a great deal and standing somewhat oddly, more so than I thought it should on the ground.  It quickly snatched something -- it was so quick, I couldn't tell what -- and used its massive wings to whisk off airborne once again.  Many more minutes had passed and there was no return by the hawk.  The ground where the hawk had landed, however, looked different, altered, but somehow familiar. moved though a hole had been dug.  My heart sank.  I went outside and looked at the area more closely.  There was tufted grass and patches of fur.  The fur was also familiar; it was rabbit fur.  Just off to my right, a patch of displaced grass covered what was a fairly shallow hole, nothing like the one from several weeks earlier, not nearly as deep; it was not much bigger than the size of my fist.  The hole was empty.  My heart sank further.  The hawk had come to take the baby rabbits for itself to eat.

I felt so bad, especially after trying to leave the front yard alone weeks earlier so that the rabbit babies could be safe and secure until their time to go on their way arrived.  I felt good that I was able to do that.  This, however, was the opposite feeling.  Obviously, the momma bunny had given birth again in the front yard, and the mowing of the lawn had blown her young ones' cover.  A few days later, I mentioned this in a group setting and one person even mentioned that the hawk may have fed itself or perhaps some babies of its own.  The person echoed what I had thought to try and fully grasp the situation, "Nature doing what nature does."

Sometimes, as a human, it is hard to understand that phrase.  Add to the fact that baby rabbits are cute, increasing the "Awwww" factor, and the understanding is even harder to find.  Nature doing what nature does can seem harsh, even inhumane, to our eyes.  We may try to stop it or, if unable to do so, simply watch in horror.  We value life -- well, at the very least we do so cognitively -- and, granted, we value human life more so, thus we find this behavior shocking or saddening. I felt so bad for the baby rabbits, but my friend was likely correct: the hawk knew it or its offspring needed to eat, and that's all it knew.  It thought on a (surprise, surprise) totally animalistic level.  Hungry, get food, eat.

Humans tend to think of themselves as the protectors of...everything.  It's their job; it's their duty.  Sometimes, however, there are things out of our reach, or even not ours with which to tamper, that we cannot protect, correct, or fix....harsh, disturbing, saddening, upsetting, but true.  If I had known the momma bunny had given birth again, I may well have told to neighbor's son to hold off again and just done some weedwhacking around the yard, but leaving the grass surrounding that hole untouched.  Indeed, the hole's cover had been blown, and it was not my taking the baby rabbits out of the hole and leaving them exposed in the yard, but perhaps the hawk had not eaten in quite some time.  Perhaps the hawk babies, if there are some, may have not eaten for some time, or were screeching for their first meal.  Who knows for certain, but the fact remains that, as sad as that was, I needed to let it be. 

I briefly thought about what animals, if they possessed the same brain capacity as humans, would think about some of our behavior!  No doubt, they might see a lot of it as savage.  I did not struggle over this for days on end, but I needed to remind myself that life is very dangerous for wild animals.  When I drive around I see a squirrel or skunk or some other wild animal lying dead in the road, unable to get out of the way of an oncoming vehicle, I need to remind myself that such is the case with animals living in rural or suburban areas (and sometimes in cities, too).  This was, as sad as it was to see, a natural unfolding of the cycle of life for wild animals.  It was nature doing what nature does.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Term of the Day: SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

[Something a little different today: a Term of the Day, instead of my usual Word/Phrase of the Day.]

In mid-July, the president and Chief Operating Officer of the Chick-Fil-A restaurant chain, Dan Cathy, took a public stance regarding same-sex marriage in an article in the Biblical Recorder, a weekly newspaper published by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.  He opposes same-sex marriage:
"We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit.  We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.  We give God thanks for that."

On the weekly radio program The Ken Coleman Show, Mr. Cathy further explained his stance:
"As it relates to society in general, I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, 'We know better than You as to what constitutes a marriage.'  I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about."

For anyone who has ever eaten at Chick-Fil-A, or at least knows something about it, the restaurants are somewhat operated under religious principles, specifically Christian principles.  Its most obvious example of that is being closed on Sundays, the Christian holy day of the week.  It is not unusual to go to a food court at a mall on a Sunday and to see every restaurant in it open except for Chick-Fil-A.  I don't think it is such a shock to learn that Mr. Cathy -- or anyone else in the upper echelons of Chick-Fil-A management, for that matter -- has religious views.

Personally, I don't have a problem with Dan Cathy having religious views; that is his business.  I couldn't care less what his religious views are, since they are his and his alone; I have nothing vested in what he believes.  He did, however, decide to go ahead and make his business the business of others with his public statements.  That does change things a little.  What it does not change, as far as I'm concerned, is whether or not anyone can openly air his/her beliefs.  That is his right to do so.  Period.  All of the outcry to shut down or ban Chick-Fil-A restaurants is silly; it wouldn't stop him, anyway.  I say that if you don't like what his beliefs are to a huge degree, then just don't eat there.

When he did make that choice to go public, albeit many will call it now open to "public scrutiny", he now must enter into public discourse.  Anyone with their own beliefs, religious or otherwise (but I'm focusing on religious here), who keeps them to him/herself is not doing anything that puts them in a position where they have to engage in public discourse.  (Not that any of them need me or anyone else as a "referee".  They certainly do not.)  Anyone who shares their beliefs with others, but on a smaller scale than nationally/internationally, must be open to public discourse between him/herself and others in those however-big-or-small circles.  Exponentially, sharing one's beliefs on the public scale as Dan Cathy has must be open to public discourse on an even larger scale.

Being open to public discourse does not mean he is required to change his position.  It means he must be allowed to say his piece and others need to listen, and others must be allowed to say their piece and he needs to listen.

The initial public response has included a "Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day", put forth by former Arkansas governor and 2008 Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, on August 1st.  Two days later, on August 3, gay rights groups around the country organized "kiss-ins" at various Chick-Fil-A locations across the country.  (Although, the Appreciation Day attracted more individuals than the Kiss-Ins.)  I do not believe Mr. Cathy's stance will hurt Chick-Fil-A financially, not one bit.

Mr. Cathy's stance is based on the Bible's definition of marriage: one man and one woman.  Okay, fair enough.  After all, the Bible does say that; there are no examples of men marrying men or women marrying women to be found within its pages.  If that is what he believes, then that's what he believes.  No one has to agree with it.  Most people know that, but does Mr. Cathy?  I think so, but is he okay with that?  I don't know for certain.  Only he can answer that.

If he is not okay with that, then I have a few questions for him.  One question I have is about the law.  You know, that thing under which marriages are deemed legal?  Now, the Bible says nothing about forbidding or shunning marriage from having a legal element to it.  However, if one man and one woman get married in a church, but do not obtain a marriage license (including getting it signed by all perspective parties and returning it to the relative authority for it to be properly processed), is the marriage legal?  No.  Is the couple married spiritually?  Certainly.  The spiritual aspect is irrelevant to the law and other pertinent matters, such as all marriage rights (i.e. access to medical information, visitation rights), just as the legal aspect is irrelevant to spiritual matters.  Thus, marriage, as we have it today, has both a spiritual and legal aspect to it, but only the legal aspect opens the couple to the benefits of marriage.  Anything in the Bible arguing against that?  Not that I'm aware of. 

That alone, tells me that any exclusivity of marriage being for one man and one woman only is Biblically-based -- thus, by extension, religiously-based -- and has no legal leg on which to stand.  Yes, I know that same-sex marriage is not an across-the-board law of the land -- and you have the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the majority of U.S. states defining marriage heterosexually -- but I, personally, do not see any legal basis for it.  Not all laws are religiously-based, even if certain religious understandings are in sync with those laws. 

Civil unions are a joke.  (I mean that with all deference to my gay friends and the gay community at large.)  It was supposed to be akin to "equal", but was more along the lines of "separate, but equal".  In reality, they are separate and unequal.  Let me be frank here: civil unions are not equal to marriage.  I know a gay couple who are good friends of mine who have now been together over thirty years.  When civil unions became legal in their state a number of years ago, they were joined at a civil union ceremony.  One of the two has been in the hospital a lot the past couple years.  Does his partner have the same rights to his medical information as a married spouse?  No.  In any legal matters, even though they are legally joined in a civil union, are they always recognized as a "married couple"?  Again, no. 

The argument that giving gay couples the right to marry will destroy the institution of marriage is also bogus.  It doesn't seem to me that heterosexual couples are doing the institution any favors.  How does Mike & Steve or Mary & Sheila getting married really hurt marriage?  What if you get you think that hurts marriage?  Probably not.  (You're likely to be busy being angry at your ex-spouse, or at least just glad to get away from him/her, and figuring out who gets what.) 

Maybe those people are afraid that "the gays are trying to takeover everything".

With regard to the term "marriage" itself, I don't have any vested interest in it and I think getting hung-up on terminology bogs the process down.  If all of the rights and privileges that go with heterosexual marriage are also given to same-sex couples, does calling it "marriage" or "civil union" or even "mutually agreed upon same-sex couple conjoinment" really matter that much?  After all, this is not a religious issue, although there are religious angles from which to view it; this is a civil rights issue.  Same-sex couples do not have the same rights when it comes to marriage as opposite-sex couples do.  Period.  That's not doctrinal destruction...that's civil rights.

Here's my take:  If you really had no problem with gay couples getting joined together and sharing in the benefits of "traditional" marriage, but didn't want to call it "marriage", then call it something else and give them the same rights as heterosexual couples.  End of story.  However, if you do the proverbial "tossing a bone" to same-sex couples by saying you'll give them a legally-recognized rite, but that rite doesn't come with all the rights normally afforded heterosexual couples, then you really don't want gay couples to get joined together for life...and taking it a step further by using the Bible as your defense for your exclusion.  

Say, are there any homophobes in the audience tonight?