The Diversity of Fear

I spent the first 20 years of my life in the company of people of various ethnicities and differing nationalities. One would think that if I found myself today, alone in a room full of people of color, I’d be comfortable. I wouldn’t! Yet, there’s a contradiction, when I was 19, I found myself in a small Liberian jail cell, chicken wire walls and a five gallon bucket to piss in, with about twenty other Liberians, and it didn’t bother me in the least. In fact, I struck up a conversation with a one eyed thief sprawled next to me. The contradiction is familiarity. I had spent most of my youth in Liberia, most of my friends were Liberians. I recently attended a birthday party for a Liberian friends daughter, and I found myself comfortable in a room full of Liberians. If I were to find myself this afternoon in a room full of American blacks who were strangers, I’d feel out of place, and very uncomfortable in a way that would be different then if I found myself in a room full of white Americans. I’d like to attribute the difference to shared experiences, but I don’t have a lot of shared experiences with white people either. The explanation might be as simple as being most comfortable with people who look, and act as I do, shared life experience be damned. Regardless of who I find myself in a room with, I realize my discomfort. It’s not the fault of the people in the room, it’s who I am, for whatever reason. I own it, I don’t like it, but I accept it and I move on, refusing to let my awkwardness ruin my experience.

And that’s the thing about racism, it’s multi layered. I don’t consider myself racist, but why would I be uncomfortable in a room full of people of color?

I believe we’re all racist at some level, based upon fear of the unknown, the unexpected, or some perceived threat. It seems it’s easier to project those fears onto somebody that’s different then what you look like, onto somebody you think you don’t havemuch in common with. In fact, humans have a history, across many cultures, of utilizing that fear, of blaming others for their misfortune, or justifying their behavior. It seems to be rather easy for someone to step up to a podium and inflame a crowd of people.

Logically, I understand racism. Emotionally, not so much. Do we lack the introspection to dive, and it’s a shallow dive, to question our own discomfort, our unease, or our outright hate of a person who is different? I understand the fear of change, of the unknown, of what is different then the norm, but for the life of me, I cannot understand letting that fear dictate who I am as a human being, to the point where I would dehumanize another person, much less an entire race or culture.

Political Garbarge

Abortion is a moral choice, and legislation of morals is political garbage, in that liberal and conservative leaders know it’s nothing more than a divisive issue, used to motivate or shame, supporters or opponents. Alabama, and other southern states, are passing arcane abortion laws in an attempt to have their voices heard in front of our supreme court, with the intent to overturn Roe Vs Wade. All will face lengthy, and expensive court battles on their way there. Even if these states were to prevail, they’ll lose, we’ll all lose. Women will still seek abortions, unsafe and alone, without support, without compassion. I’m also of the opinion, that of the 25 white males that voted for Alabama’s legislation, that not one of them would step forward to help support a child of an unwanted pregnancy. As a man, I’m not comfortable discussing what I believe is a womens personal choice, rooted in their beliefs. Personally, I’d like every child to be born, if we lived in a perfect world, but we do not. To legislate that a women impregnated by a viscous, brutal rape must carry the child through to birth, is beyond my comprehension. Indeed, it’s an embarrassment to our compassion for others. I do not know what the answer is, I don’t know if a six week old clump of cells is a living person or not, I don’t know when life begins, and neither does anyone else. You might believe human life begins at the moment of conception, but your belief doesn’t make it a valid fact. Yes, there’s an argument for potential. It’s a valid argument, that a group of cells, might one day be a  human being, but if that’s your argument, every sperm I have carries that capacity, and perhaps vasectomies should be deemed illegal.

The Value of Balance

I stood before a judge once. An old judge. One who mumbled, and slobbered, spittle running from his mouth, and hard of hearing to boot. While I received justice, it was clear to everyone in his courtroom, his best days as a fair and impartial judge were in his days past. Justice is a funny thing, it’s not always fair and balanced as much as we’d like to believe it to be. It can’t be be. We’re humans, we’re fallible, we make mistakes. Judges, Prosecutors, Defense attorneys, and jury’s are all comprised of people with preconceived thoughts and emotions, and all struggle to balance those with what is right, the right decision based on facts presented. I do not believe a person reaches a conclusion in a court of law based upon their political leanings, but on facts, through argument, and deliberation.

I do not know what the truth is in accusations toward Judge Kavanaugh, but I have heard enough to believe in an investigation of accusations. More than that, after watching his testimony, I believe that he simply cannot be impartial, cannot be fair if he believes the accusations against him are a conspiracy put forth, without providing evidence, without demanding an investigation into the facts. I’m bothered too, by his temperament, by his indignant lack of respect toward those who oppose his nomination. If Judge Kavanaugh holds such disrespect for those who seek the truth of the accusations made toward his character, I do not believe he’ll show the needed respect for those issues which come before him as a Supreme court justice. That facts, that valued arguments, that deliberation of those things upon which our scales of justice are balanced, simply won’t matter.

Adrift

Image1Some years back, I lost my son, Sean.

There are a hundred different ways a person can die, and while death is horrible, the death of a human mind is a different type of personal tragedy.

The call came just as I was drifting off for the night. Sean had been committed for a psychiatric observation, he had been playing chicken with traffic on a major Interstate.

Just like that, a switch turned, moving Sean’s sense of reality from one world to another. One day a normal nineteen year old, the next morning, a strange, weird person possessed my sons physical body.

This person with a blanket cape, bawking like a chicken, talking to the universe about psy-balls and imaginary girlfriends was not my son.

Except he was.

And I should have seen what was coming, and so should have others.

When Sean was in High School, he was labeled a pot head, a class clown, disruptive. Not on a daily basis, but on an ongoing, substantive basis where he wasn’t even able to graduate.

Thing is, all those labels were red flags, red flags that no one, including myself and my wife, were aware of.

Sean’s last year at Sauk Rapids Rice was 2008.

I have another son who clearly has anger issues. I believe that anger is based in what happened to an older brother he was close to, and based in a fear that he too might wake up tomorrow morning a different person than who is is today.

Like Sean, my youngest son attends Sauk Rapids-Rice High School.

My son had an aggressive incident where his anger took over and became an obscenity fueled rant. There was no physical altercations involved. It was verbal, and it was posturing.

It was also unlike him, and also unacceptable.

I recently attended a ‘manifestation’ meeting to discuss if his learning disability was a cause for his behavior.

I had asked for a mental health professional to be present, knowing that Sauk Rapids had recieved a Department of Human Services Grant for School Linked Mental Health services. One of the targets of this grant, to ‘Improve identification of mental health issues for children and youth’.

The reply to my request from Erich Martens,

‘In regards to mental health services in our District, we do not have an on staff mental health worker and our services are co-located one day a week. This means that this service is provided by a licensed provider working in our building from another agency and students and families use their insurance to cover the service. Therefore, there will not be a licensed mental health provider attending, however information can be shared with you regarding options in the area to address needs that C**** may have’.

At the last minute, the School Psychologist had an opening in her schedule and was present for the meeting, and had valuable input not into my son’s behavior, but into avenues of testing that’s available within the District.

I was very forceful in this meeting, after all I am fighting for my son. I was extremely forceful in reminding Erich Martens how we had failed recognizing the red flags with Sean, and as painful for him to hear it, he owns that failure, as I and my wife do.

After the meeting, Erich shared with me that he had vivid recollections of conversations with me regarding Sean’s behavior, and that Mental Health was never mentioned.

I threw my hands up in the air, exclaiming, EXACTLY!

Perhaps, if there had been a trained mental health professional on staff my wife and I would have been saved a parcel of the grief we have experienced.

A son who went missing after a med switch, and was found three days later, mid January, without shoes or shirt, wandering fifteen miles from his group home.

Or visiting my son in a County approved Facility where there’s no staff to be seen, and drugs are sold freely.

Or spending our weekends traveling to Mankato, Wilmar or Fergus Falls or wherever the County was placing him for the next few weeks or months.

Or stopping to visit only to find he had been moved, and no one knew where, including the County.

I wonder how many young adults just like my son have passed through the locked, secured doors of Sauk Rapids-Rice -High, because this is the thing. I know at least two teachers on Staff who confided in me of their struggles with their children and severe mental Illness, as well as a close friend who has a daughter with a severe mental illness. I’m talking Schizophrenia in all three cases. All in my small world of friends and associates.

As a community, we don’t talk about it, and when we do, it’s in muted whispers. It’s an embarrassment.

Eight years since Sean left the High School, and I ask, what has changed in assessing those who need Mental Health assistance.

That DHS grant I mentioned, Erich Martens was googling it during our meeting, a meeting where Erich Martens and other professionals didn’t want to hear about how this district failed my son eight years ago, and how it wasn’t going to happen again.

But to their credit, after two and a half hours, they listened.

It should not have taken 2 hours of verbal tension, fist pounding and few outright F-bombs to get my point across that Anger such as my son displayed is indicative of a mental health issue. My youngest is not displaying schizophrenic tendencies, but he is sending out red flags for help. My wife and I will do our part, and the district will do theirs.

Mental illness cuts across social, racial, political, economic, & religious barriers. It doesn’t much care about the color of your skin, or who your God is, much less who you’re supporting in the next election. They are our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. Our mothers, fathers, relatives, and our friends. We should be aware, we should be doing a lot more.

Mental illness is a community problem. It is our problem. One we should be paying a lot more attention to because it is my firm belief, and god forbid if an actual shooting were to take place at our High School, a locked door and a camera isn’t going to stop it.

It’s going to come from a kid with a gun in his backpack that’s been sending out red flags.

And the real tragedy is, the day after such a shooting, the question will be asked, ‘What more can we do?’.

The answer is already there.