Category Archives: Arkansas

I Have A Question

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I’m still waiting for a reasonable, honest answer to this question: why did the State of Arkansas fail to require a Covid test for all healthcare workers?

You’ll note that the Governor goes out of his way to classify correctional carriers and other sectors. Notably absent? Healthcare workers – one of the single most important possible classifications to track.

It has always been in the public’s best interest to ensure that all healthcare workers are tested, yet proposals to do so have been unceremoniously shown the door like a drunken Uncle on New Year’s Eve.

We’re required to get flu shots each year, among other things.

We mandated that non-emergency patients be tested, yet did not conduct a baseline safety test to benchmark how many of the healthcare workers helping them might be carrying the virus.

Knowing how many healthcare workers have the virus would give us insight into the behavior leading to getting it. After all, healthcare workers are presumed to be the most cautious and educated about this sort of public health hazard. Their infection rate leads to immediate recognition of how well what we’re doing is working.

When I point this out to people, they get that recognizable and confused, puzzled look on their faces, the one that immediately indicates that they assumed that sort of thing had happened.

It hasn’t.

This kind of question falls under “public safety and worker safety” guidelines, so I of course am unconcerned about asking such a reasonable question publicly. I’ve asked it at least 500 times in the last two months.

I’m still asking.

It’s the right thing to do, even at this late date.
– X

It Watches

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A friend wrote a chilling account of something that happened to a family member years ago, in a place where most could easily imagine things unknown to us, ones which still move around in the old forests and marshes of the South.

For those of us who don’t believe in ghosts, apparitions, or supernatural forces, it’s a story that makes the doubters hesitate. Maybe we’ll get to see it, perhaps not.

Even though my friend’s last story was read by well over 100,000 people, she’s reluctant to share this one, even anonymously.

I just thought I’d share the fact that there’s an incredible story floating around that might never see the light of day, no pun intended.

I made a picture to convey the feel of the story, even though the story is told as it was experienced: through a lens of terror.

Whatever it was, I fear it still lingers in those forests, biding its time.

 

 

 

Pies and Such

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Like most of us, my mamma (pronounced ma’am maw) never wanted to “be a bother to anyone.” On the scale of what she didn’t like, asking someone to do something for her weighed near the bottom – hanging slightly above having her picture taken. As she got older, her reluctance to ask for anything grew.
When she simply couldn’t bring herself to ask directly, she became most creative at pointing a conversation in the direction she wanted it to go. Her hesitancy to ask and her creativeness in asking indirectly was quite endearing.
My favorite all time example occurred one Saturday afternoon when my husband and I made the quick one-hour drive to visit her. Always glad to see us, she seemed a bit preoccupied that day. As usual, we carried the bulk of the conversation, but this time, during a brief lull, she suddenly inserted, “Whada y’all find goodta eat?” Anyone from the South (or a true transplant like my Illinois-born and raised husband) understands that to mean “What do you like to eat?”
Since the conversation to that point was not even closely related to food, we were thrown for a minute. To buy some time, I asked, “What was that, Mamma?” She repeated, “Whada y’all find goodta eat?”
Still a bit confused, I asked, “Do you mean in general, or are you asking if we’re hungry now?” She replied, “In general.” Finally catching on, I told her we like all kinds of food and asked, “What do YOU like to eat?” Knowing two of her favorite snacks were pork rinds and potato chips, it was amusing to hear instead an enthusiastic “I like those McDonald’s pies!”
Now fully aware of the game we were playing, my husband asks “Mamma, would you like us to go get you a McDonald’s pie?” He almost didn’t get all the words out before she was exclaiming, “Naw!! I don’t need one, I just like’em! Unless y’all want one; y’all want one?!”
My husband and I smile and glance sideways at each other. We stand (while she continues to protest she doesn’t want one unless we do) and head out the door while she yells for us to come back and get some money.
We return with McDonald’s apple pies for all. It’s hard to say who devoured theirs first, but it was obvious no one relished that apple pie more than she did.
From that point forward, McDonald’s was our first stop when we rolled into town for a visit with Mamma. The pies were cheap, but the joy they brought was priceless, and the happy memories of shared apple pies linger on.
To this day, 20+ years later, when one of us is craving something and wanting a partner in crime, the magic question is “Whada y’all find goodta eat?”

 

They Call me Tater Equis

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I didn’t think it was possible there will still websites requiring names containing 3 or more letters in violation of federal law. Especially those that are critical to maintaining both public health and patient privacy. In response, I used “XXX” as my name, while technically committing a crime by affirming my identity with it. And a porn moniker, at that.

Anyone who has seen me knows that “X” should literally be synonymous with anonymous, and not merely for a reason eponymous. (I’m proud of that sentence.)

To make matters worse, I had to choose an answer that was wrong from my credit report, one which included a name I’ve never used: Equis. For those who don’t read or speak Spanish, “Equis” is how you would spell the letter “X” if you were drinking a bottle of Dos Equis beer.

I felt a little like Ron White during his telling of “They call me tater salad.”

It’s horribly amusing that while they wouldn’t accept the simplest name possible (X, one letter), they somehow have the oral Spanish translation (“Equis”) of a name I’ve never written on anything more official than spray-painted graffiti walls. I hope they never see the art piece I did. I titled it, “Orange Paintball President.” If they have, I’ll never be able to confirm my identity again.

No doubt XXX will now magically appear on a secret government list and permanent record, one I will have to recall for no apparent reason, to confirm my identity by incorrectly confirming it.

The website is huge, doing both government and private business for millions. Heck, even the IRS named me NFN X when I had just one name, and that was years ago. “NFN” means “No First Name,” at least for the IRS. They decided that using “Arkansas Idiot” would be an obvious signal that they thought I’d lost my mind. For a while, my Arkansas state driver’s license said my legal name was “Mr. X,” because our state had barely managed to figure out that computers had to be plugged in to function.

When I got a new birth certificate, I’m inclined to think that the director of the Department of Health was tempted to stamp “Accident Report” across the top of my new Birth Certificate.

I guess this virus really did take us back several decades. I did waste several minutes attempting to navigate the website’s ‘Help,’ section. It was amusingly hidden behind an icon of a laughing troll – never a good sign. I’ll get a series of emails designed to both demoralize and belittle me, I’m sure.

I guess I deserve this.

The “X” is where you’re supposed to drop the bomb. And maps always have an “X” to show “You are here.”

I’m here.

But now I’m not sure I have a legal name.

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P.S. By the time I posted this, I had already received three emails from the website, two of them completely contradicting each other and the other telling me it didn’t recognize my email as being from the planet Earth.

Lucille And The Witness Tree

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It was July 1976. Much of the country feverishly celebrated the bicentennial. In the small town of Pleasure Heights, Arkansas, Thomas Deerfield was anything but happy. He wasn’t unhappy because of the near-100 temperature or the fact that his neighbor’s dog stole one of his boots off the porch again. His Lucille died in February of an exotic cancer that erupted from nothing the week after Xmas. They were married for forty years, the day she died. Lucille expected 1976 to be a great year. She’d made plans to drag Thomas to see the American Freedom Train at least once. Thomas had no interest in seeing the train. He’d rather have put his feet up under the shade at his brother’s cabin by the pond a few miles east of town. Lucille loved fireworks, parades, rodeos, and the sing-alongs by the creek near downtown.

“It’s time to see the world, Thomas. We’re retired and the world ain’t coming to us.” Lucille had a way of telling her husband nicely what he was going to do.

“I can see  my entire world right here,” Thomas told Lucille as he grabbed her hand and winked provocatively at her across the table. “If I want to see the world, I’ll climb the Elm tree by the square,” he said, using one of his favorite and tired jokes. Lucille laughed and pretended to do a fake shot of whiskey as she rolled her eyes at him.

On July 4th, most of the town’s seven hundred and forty-one inhabitants stood on the square silently watching in awe as 72-year-old Thomas climbed one of the oldest elm trees in the state. It was a witness tree, and fifty-five feet tall. Unlike some other largest trees in the state, its circumference was twenty feet. Like so many other people in Pleasure Heights, Thomas had proposed to Lucille under the huge canopy of the elm tree. It had witnessed over two hundred years of different names and faces marching past it and sitting under its majestic foliage.

Most of the townspeople came to the square to eat hot dogs, watch the small parade featuring a mix of children and adults as they played their musical instruments and strode awkwardly around the expansive square. Afterward, the person voted “Most Civic-Minded” would take his or her place on the base of the absent Robert E. Lee statue. In 1958, someone had stolen the entire statue, a theft that everyone within a hundred miles still discusses heatedly. Some theories were wild, such as the one that Postmaster Evans often told. It involved both aliens and communists. No one could figure out how he’d combined those two unlikely groups. It was impossible to go to the diner for lunch without hearing the Postmaster Evans bring up his theory.

No one noticed anything unusual about Thomas as he walked across Main Street and toward the giant elm. I saw him as he walked, but thought nothing of his arrival. Everyone knew him, and many offered their hellos as he walked past them. Fire Chief Raymond used a ladder to stand on as he addressed the commencement of the parade. Thankfully, he didn’t sing his announcement this year. The Chief was one of the immensely likeable people who loved singing, but was tone deaf. He seldom noticed the pained expressions on people’s faces as he treated them to his latest rendition from the radio.

Thomas picked up the ladder, folded it, and continued walking until he was under the tree and about one third of the width of the overhead canopy away from the massive trunk. He propped the ladder and sat on the second rung. He removed his work boots and socks and laid them neatly at the bottom of the ladder. He removed his hat and stuck it on top of his boots.

Without fanfare, he grabbed the ladder and climbed it. As I watched from the edge of the street, his head disappeared into the leaves above him. I watched as one leg went up and then the other. I looked around to see if anyone else was watching. Most people were eating and talking a mile a minute as the kids of the town ran amok, filled with soda, hot dogs, and popcorn. Thomas slowly moved his way back and forth across the horizontal limbs. As he found a spot that supported his weight and allowed him to boost himself up, he climbed to the next limb up. As he climbed, he moved closer and closer to the middle of the tree. At that juncture, the largest limb went slightly to my left and became precarious.

As Thomas reached about halfway, Jim Peters saw me craning my neck and asked me, “Watcha’ watching? A movie?” I shook my head ‘no,’ and pointed. After a few seconds of staring up where my finger pointed, Jim excitedly said, “Who is that?” He said it loud enough for several people to take notice. Within a minute, about a quarter of everyone in that large cluster of people were looking up into the elm tree.

There was a collective chorus of “Who is it?” from multiple angles.

“It’s Thomas Deerfield,” I said, loudly.

“Bull! He’s at least 70,” argued Phillip Douglas. Phillip owned the tire shop and loved saying ‘bull’ or its more vulgar counterpart at least once a minute. “Yes, he’s 72,” I told him. I could hear the name Thomas being echoed across the growing crowd. There were a few gasps from the older ladies as they tried to imagine someone that age climbing a tree. They’d never be able to scold another rambunctious boy for climbing again, not after that day.

I gave up my vantage point and moved back. Instinctively, so did a lot of others observing the tree climb.

“We love you, Thomas!” someone half-jokingly shouted from behind me.

In a testament to the town’s spirit, it didn’t occur to a single resident that Thomas might be on a quest to hurt himself – or that he might fall, even though the likelihood of that outcome was obvious to anyone who’d dare climb any tree taller than thirty feet high.

Like a wave, the chant started from nowhere and subtly grew. “Thomas! Thomas! Thomas!” In a few moments, even the smaller children were chanting.

We all stood in awe as Thomas continued to climb the branch he chose to get as close to the sky as possible. When he could go no further, he stopped and braced himself against the bark of the elm tree.

“I can see the whole world from up here, Lucille,” Thomas shouted over and over. “I can see it! And ain’t none of it got you in it!”

It was a moment of pure collective joy, and most of us laughed.

We stood, watching, holding our breaths for something we couldn’t identify.

“I’m coming down!” Thomas shouted.

To my surprise, most of us below applauded, our hands thunderously giving our approval to the spectacle. It took Thomas thirty minutes to get down low enough to find footing on the ladder again. Several male townspeople were there to help him the last few inches. When Thomas stepped off the ladder, we all applauded again.

Pleasure Heights didn’t just celebrate the bicentennial of the country. It celebrated a life on that 4th of July. Even though we didn’t vote on it, we all started calling the elm tree “Lucille,” a name it still carries today, even in the book someone wrote describing all the old trees in the state.

Thomas lived to be 92. He spent the 20 years after Lucille died immersed in the social life of the small town his wife had loved. He sang, led the town’s parade a few times, and often sat outside the diner saying hello to everyone who passed. He died on Independence Day in 1996. My son June found him sitting under the Elm tree near the square, his hat pulled under his eyes, his back against the tree he stood under as he proposed to the love of his life all those decades ago.

I got a call from the new Chief of Police around 9 a.m. He told me June was at the square with his bicycle and needed me to come as soon as possible.

An hour later, after they’d taken Thomas’ body to the funeral home off Highway 37, June asked me what happened to Thomas. Since June was old enough to know the story, I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “June, love finally caught up to him. He went to the see the world.” Although June didn’t understand what I meant, he hugged me. We both smiled as we walked to stand a moment under the witness tree’s canopy. The heat was almost unbearable without a breeze. I looked up, and told June, “You wouldn’t believe it, but I was here when Thomas climbed almost to the top of this elm tree…”

For Lucille.

For love.

Not-So Super Tuesday

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I declined the GOP primary ballot this time because my vote against Trump would be meaningless, much like a vote for most of the Democrats. (Unlike 2016, when I voted against Trump twice.) In Trump’s name, I did trip someone, mocked a dozen people, and took another person’s wallet and flung it across the parking lot, so it was like Trump himself was there in spirit. Voting on the Democratic side, every candidate I chose was female. The one school board race without a female, I skipped. I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Bernie due to his desire to outlaw lined notebook paper and his refusal to nominate Tom Hanks to be the Vice President. That last part isn’t true, but we’re living in a post-truth dystopia, so I can say whatever I want. The truth is that Bernie never mailed me the check he promised to get my vote. Like all liberals, I’m in it for the free money and services. (As always, I put that in to irritate at least one liberal.)

I was relieved I didn’t have a poll worker ask me which name was my first name, as if the laws governing states IDs had suddenly been rendered arbitrary, or based on what kind of flower we feel like. I recited my name, address, and date of birth as if I were reciting poetry without any meter to it.

I did give strange answers to the questions the ‘pre-screener’ asked. “Do I have the right to remain silent?” isn’t something they are accustomed to hearing. She walked away very quickly, wondering why no one had noticed my dosage wasn’t sufficient.

The strangest moment happened as I walked away after voting, paper tally in hand, headed toward the ballot box. “Sir!” someone kept shouting. After four or five repeats, I turned. “Sir? Did you already vote?” I looked down at the completed ballot in my hand and then back toward the voting machine fifty feet away, the one I had stood at for sixty seconds while I voted. It took everything I had to not say, “No, this is my CVS Pharmacy receipt.” Instead, I just smiled and nodded. I wondered about HER dosage at that point. When I reached the ballot box, the worker gave me redundant instructions. I said, “The Phoenix sees the mouse, all clear” and winked at him. I suspect he was very sad to see me leave, even though he was laughing a bit.

In November, my vote won’t matter. You can howl and moan all you want to about it. G̶i̶l̶e̶a̶d̶ Arkansas is a solid lock for Trump. Even if the Democrats ‘win’ the popular vote by some impossible miracle after stumbling around while the GOP puts them in the ditch one by one, our beloved constitutional democratic republic will award the presidency to him for a second term, if the hysteria from the latest plague doesn’t kill us all.

We enjoy boasting that we voted as if participating in the process elevates us. That’s not the case. We pick our team, our camp, our tribe and throw knives from the sidelines. I’ll vote for a bad case of derriere acne in November if it keeps Trump from office.

But I’d give my middle fingers if the Republicans would have picked anyone to run in Trump’s place. And gave Tom Hanks the Vice Presidency.

If you’re a Trump fan, just remember that I’m a liberal in Arkansas, which is about as rewarding as eating lunch in the bathroom.

Fried Chicken Amen

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*I was hesitant to post this. People tend to jump over subtlety and substance by unforgivingly bringing their own observations to things unsaid.

On a recent Wednesday, in a town which can be found in several states across the South, I entered a local eatery to pass a bit of the time away from the blistering reach of the summer sun. I gladly surrendered in the fight against it. I could tell that the little place was a hub for all manner of necessary human activity: gas, small groceries, food, and tobacco. The place was packed with smiling faces, each focused on satisfying their hunger.

I went inside, ordered a bit of deliciousness, and sat down at one of the dozen rectangular white tables scattered on one side of the convenience store. It wasn’t my intention to get another bite to eat. I’d already had lunch across the street. Overcoming the scent of the food filling in the air, however, was impossible for a man of my age and girth. Bacon and butter are my beloved enemies.

I casually watched through the glass as a young mom ignored her little daughter as she strained to reach over into the ice cream case. Her short arm stretched, and her fingers moved like scurrying spiders in their attempt to reach the unattainable buckets of ice cream. Her brother watched from the opposite end of the case, undoubtedly anticipating that she’d either reach the ice cream or fall into it. They were all behind the ice cream case on the employee’s side. The mom looked up and noticed my gaze. Without hesitation, she turned and struck the little girl forcefully on the back. It seemed like an instinctive reaction to her guilt at being observed. The girl shrieked in a small voice, and the mom grabbed her by the nape of the neck. The scream died. I could tell it was a long-rehearsed dance between them. The young mom then looked to her right, toward a stern older woman with a scream of a ponytail at the other register. It turns out that the young mom was an off-duty employee of the store, there to feed her four children. The old lady with the austere ponytail was undoubtedly the young mom’s boss. I later observed the family huddled around one of the tables, each devouring their pieces of chicken as their fingers became increasingly greasy. Watching little kids lick their fingers in deep appreciation is one of the minor joys in life. The little girl didn’t seem to recall being hit like an approaching tennis ball. I silently hoped that the hits weren’t frequent. I could easily see how much the daughter loved her mom. I hoped she could maintain that love as she grew.

Atop the ice cream case was a placard, one of those telling the world that the owners love their god and country, stand for the flag, and for anyone who felt otherwise, they should use the door as quickly as possible. I had a feeling that many visitors of different customs or appearance had seen the placard through the years and winced, many of them understanding that they weren’t welcomed there and were simply tolerated for the purpose of commerce. There’s no nuance in such signs, even if the owners believe there is. It’s the equivalent of a harsh, angry shout; this world needs more whispers and gentle examples of encouragement.

It wasn’t until I noticed the placard that I questioned much of the content of my experience there. My eyes wandered around the store, finding confederate flags in more than one place. Such flags are not a guarantee of other sinister inclinations; their presence, though, tends to accompany such attitudes. People can fly confederate flags and be good people. I’ve learned that the combination seldom proves the exception, leaving those without prejudice to be lumped in and suffer with those who use the symbols as shortcuts for unforgiving opinions. It’s unfortunate and unfair for all of us. Each of us in our own private lives tends to embrace ambiguity and understand that people are a spectrum of conflicting ideas.

Inside the store, the air was thick with the scent of biscuits, gravy, and fried chicken. While I was inside, there was a constant, impatient line, slowly shuffling forward, and the tables were filled with people, each bubbling with a conversation. Unlike my adopted hometown, there were no faces of other color or snippets of foreign languages. There was no rainbow there and no spectrum of humanity. Once noticed, such absences are hard to unsee. There should have been other faces, though, because despite the small-town population, there were industries and occupations which were comprised of a majority of minorities. I was curious to know where those people enjoyed their lunch. I would describe the mood of everyone as happy and concentrated on their own bit of life.

Because of the recent tragedies, many of the conversations were about guns and violence. I could hear two distinct conversations ridiculing those who wanted things to change. The conversations merged into one, with the participant’s voices rising in volume. We all became involuntary listeners.

At the furthest table, a man in overalls and a plaid shirt leaned back and cocked his head toward the bulk of the tables and said, “Ain’t no one here going to disagree. Not in this town. We love our guns and those who don’t can leave.” Even though I was in a distant place, I laughed, the kind of raucous, loud laugh that makes my wife cringe sometimes. The speaker looked toward me with surprise, probably in an attempt to gauge my allegiance. Externally, I looked like them. Maybe my bright purple laptop case signaled a departure. Nothing else about me raised suspicion that I might differ strikingly from most of them.

The loud-voiced man’s false bravado revealed his temperament, one not accustomed to nuance or differing opinion. It’s a common affliction in places where the realm is small, and the courage to speak up is often swallowed to keep the peace. I doubt he was actually as harsh as the situation implied.

“You think they should take our guns away?” He challenged me. Several people turned their heads to look in my direction. I could see the owner standing next to the food counter, waiting to hear what foolishness would jump from my mouth.

All I could think to say was, “If you drink and can’t stop yourself from driving, you should lose the privilege of driving. But I don’t know who ‘they’ are.”

An older woman wearing a bright red shirt seated with two very young kids said, “That’s right!” as if she were in church and reciting a well-worn and enthusiastic “Amen.”

The original speaker abruptly leaned forward again in his chair as the conversations in the room went momentarily quiet. He wasn’t expecting a response to his oration, especially to encounter disagreement among his own tribe. Each table resumed speaking in subdued voices. I’m confident that several people were wondering how a traitor like me had entered their eating-place without being noticed. Truthfully, it gladdened me a little bit. I couldn’t get the smile of satisfaction off my face. The old lady who had invoked the informal amen smiled back at me and nodded.

Regardless of our individual opinions, each of us continued to eat our delicious food. Differences over guns seldom distract those with fried chicken on their plates.

A little later, I listened as the owner pulled up a chair and sat at a table nearby with one of his customers. He smiled and exuded friendliness. After a few seconds of listening to his conversation, I realized that the smile was a little forced. He had a lot to say about guns and the attitudes recently expressed in his eatery. I tuned him out. It’s unwise to strive to overhear words that you know will only serve to bait you toward a base response. We all vent, sometimes to the point of letting our mouths outrun our honest hearts. I’m afflicted with the tendency too. It would be unwise for me to paint him in a situation where one’s self-defense mechanism might override his ability to express himself honestly.

Not all the signs and symbols for these places are visible. That ideas and differences weren’t welcome somehow pervaded the room, though. The divisive placard on the ice cream case didn’t help much. Each of us loves our lives, our friends, and our families. Most of us appreciate our community. We don’t need code words or exclusion to feel like our lives are full. When I departed the store, I noted vehicles with confederate flags and harsh bumper stickers with rigid, us-vs.-them messages. Strangely, people don’t stop to think that at a certain level, we are all ‘them’ to other people.

The smell of fried chicken and gravy should be a sign of welcome for all those who appreciate a full stomach. Such a thing is a unifier, drawing us to places where each of us brings our differences and yet somehow joins in the spectacle of community.

If I could, I would ask the owners to remove their placard and relics of the confederacy. I’d ask them to instead let their smiles and kind words serve as both example and proof of their living creator flowing through them. The placard and things like it can only serve as whistles of perceived prejudices. Armed with love and fried chicken, it’s difficult to imagine a divided world. We preach our best sermons by example. I think that so many people feel cornered into a defensive position when the world stops seeing that everything is intertwined and complex. Except for love, few ideas worth fighting for can be encapsulated on a bumper sticker, placard, or t-shirt.

It is possible to love your religion and customs while also openly loving other people’s opportunity to do the same. Acknowledging their choices in no way denigrates your ability to live a good life in the way that you see fit. Only when we demand allegiance to our choices does our society suffer.

Let the chicken and gravy be sufficient to unite us.

We live in the United States of America, a place where all of us have an equal voice to be as proud or as ignorant as our own hearts require. There’s room for ignorance and intellect on all sides in this crowded room of togetherness. Let the best argument always prevail, though. Losing respect for the best ideas leads us all away from the truth and fried chicken.

All those in agreement say either “Amen,” or “Fried chicken and gravy.” They both come from the purest of hearts.
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Arkansas Baptistan Trigger Legislation

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I originally posted this on another social media site in February this year.

 

Only a fool writes about abortion. It strikes to the core of so much of our political choices. Many insist that it defined the 2016 election, the one which substantially proved that collectively we are quite addlebrained when the call arises. I’m still confused by the fact that a man who encouraged his paramours to have abortions when he was younger could galvanize the evangelicals to such a degree on this issue.

This post deals with the idea of using religion as one’s sole justification to ban all abortions. It doesn’t directly address the idea of abortion as an absolute. It’s a distinction that most will ignore. There are legitimate and genuine reasons to wish to abolish most abortion procedures. I’m poking at those sanctimonious legislators who hold up religion as their defense as if such a thing resonates with the spirit of democracy.

I would be a bigger fool to discount all arguments against abortion. I’m not refuting them. I’m refuting the insistence that religion dictates certainty in regards to personal or public policy. Religion as an argument for or against anything can be stretched to fit any issue. Its malleability is what makes it a dangerous tool for political uses. People can easily use it for political purposes, much like Trump has done with several issues.

Anyone watching the arc of current politics can see that Roe V. Wade is going to be abolished – at least for a generation.

Abortion isn’t a religious issue.

It certainly isn’t an easy one, either, nor one inviting an easy fix. It’s an issue that encapsulates so much human pain, agony, and economics. There’s a reason it’s both so personal and complicated for both the individual and society. Whether we realize it or not, it’s a fair bet we all have family or friends who chose abortion in their lives.

It isn’t a religious issue in the sense you say it is, though.

If this were true, it would follow that all religious people would wish to ban abortion in Arkansas.

They don’t.

Especially given the proposed prohibition of cases involving rape, incest, and viability in the recent ‘trigger’ legislation. It’s a strange twist that a gun metaphor defines the bill.

It’s possible to be both a person of faith and in favor of a woman’s right to choose, whether we’d choose the same option or not. Let’s be clear: cases of rape, incest, and viability are issues outside the scope of secular legislation using religious arguments.

Many of faith would never consider abortion as an option. Unlike their other religious counterparts, they tread with caution when they have the opportunity to insist that their choices be mandated as the only options for other citizens. This is doubly true when instances involving rape, incest or medical issues cloud the circumstances for the person needing options. If those with strong religious convictions wish to serve by example, they’ll simply choose to forego abortion services. History has shown that they don’t however, and seek abortion services like their non-religious counterparts. Banning abortion will result in only those with resources will be able to get them safely; everyone else will use the inevitable underground system with its inherent risk.

The ongoing insistence that abortion is within the scope of religious oversight weakens all religious considerations precisely because it falsely asserts that all those of faith will endorse it.

The hypocrisy of claiming to speak for all those of faith is ridiculous. Many people living here in Baptistan don’t abide by the politics of harshness

Watching people of Jason Rapert’s caliber preach to the entirety of Arkansas and women, in particular, is the best approximation of tomfoolery that I can conjure. I’ll give him a minute, though, because he’s undoubtedly planning some new affront to rationality as I write this. He’ll have heaven on his side, no doubt.

You’re going to have to get a better argument.

Opposition to abortion rights is one of choice and orientation, not religion. It’s convenient for you if you’ve convinced yourself that it is, as it relieves you or any burden of further thinking on the matter.

If you insist that religion indeed demands that abortion become illegal, you can’t escape the responsibility of telling all others of faith that they are completely wrong or that they don’t understand religion.

Other viewpoints don’t matter.

Other citizens? Ignored.

Conduct unbecoming for a legislator and of anyone of faith.

We all have friends and family who’ve had abortions, even if you’re unaware of it. There are better options than abortion in most cases – but not all. I can’t imagine judging someone’s life and heart with sufficient grace to be able to know anything with certainty. All of us can do better, starting with those tasked with making laws which reflect a conflicted democracy.

Bless your heart if you disagree.

Education Comes With A Needless Cost

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It’s strange to hear people say, “Most people don’t need college for work.”

Most people don’t need pants, either, but you won’t see millions of people heading to work tomorrow sans pants. Even if it happens, you still wouldn’t want to see such a sight, based on my wild imagination of what that might look like.

Is economic motive our best barometer for achievement? If we pursue economic interests above those of humanity, it’s my opinion that we’ve surrendered much of what grants our collective future any hope. Capitalism as we know it hasn’t been around for most of our human history. Whatever happens shortly, it’s a certainty that the economic system we currently experience will not be the one which dominates in the future.

Most people don’t need high school for a portion of the jobs that exist; trade or occupational training could replace it, but at what cost to our humanity? Implementing such a system demonstrates that we have lesser motives coursing through our veins. Whether you agree with me or not, I see our enthusiasm for education for all as an indicator of the health of our society.

If only the wealthy can easily take advantage of higher education, we’re going to see a decline in our progressive nature. As the number of jobs declines, we’re going to need to shift our perceptions of work.

We already demand that everyone fund the current educational system, even those who choose to have no children. It’s no stretch to ask everyone to pay for local college for anyone who wishes to attend. I can’t convince those with hardened hearts that an educated populace is a better populace, just as I can’t reach those who believe that we shouldn’t pay for universal healthcare.

Yes, we know it’s not free. Everything is redistribution.

If we can maintain a military capable of eradicating most life on earth, I think we can manage a way to ensure everyone who desires it can get a higher level of education (or training). It’s a strange world to me that so many passively fund an irrational arsenal of destruction, yet balk at improving our intelligence and reasoning.

We are not protected from external threats if we become a threat to ourselves. Stupidity is its own reward. Just ask a Congressman.

Whether a person ultimately becomes a plumber, nurse, or teacher, higher education is an invaluable benchmark for our commitment to society. A plumber with an educated mind is a much more valuable resource to our society. A member of society interacts on many more levels than simple business and commerce.

An argument that strives to provide only the required education to perform a job is one premised on ideals that are unbecoming to us as human beings. The amplitude and depth of our minds is one of the most valuable assets we have.

There’s no reason that we cannot establish an affordable network of responsible public colleges and universities – and pay for everyone to attend. We’re smart people. Most of us know that it’s possible to get an excellent education for a much smaller cost than our current per capita average. Eliminating the elitist demand that people attend colleges based on reputation is the first step. Private colleges could, of course, continue to overcharge for the same education that a public college can provide. The objective is supposed to be education and training for all – at a reasonable price. It’s lunacy to fund a system which doesn’t demand that education itself be the goal, rather than the path or the building in which it was obtained.

Likewise, “college” isn’t a fixed concept. We can re-design curriculum, courses, and content in such a way to eliminate fluff or graduation requirements which often only serve the education machine rather than the degree sought. We can fund community colleges which allow students to live in their communities. We can design course schedules which will enable adults to both work and attend school. We can demand that students be allowed to demonstrate knowledge without attending traditional classes and thereby sidestep the necessity of wasting time and resources by forcing them to go through the motions of the bureaucracy. There are better ways. We didn’t plan our current system; it’s a patchwork of implementations that are devoid of a cohesive objective.

We’re sending too many adults into the world with crippling debt. There’s a better way and a more natural way. We all know that college or vocational training can be done at a much lower cost to students and to society.

Whether we absolve the debt of those who preceded our proposed changes to our higher education system, it’s vital that we amend our system to course correct now that we’ve recognized the size of the problem. We can adjust accordingly as we learn more.

Much of our problem is that many are distracted by the demand for a perfect solution that doesn’t exist and isn’t directly attainable. We must be willing to listen and adapt the system as we go – which is precisely the foundation of education.

Using the benchmarks of the past to determine our path to the future is short-sighted and unbecoming.

Most of us also recognize that educated minds are more necessary now than ever. The perils of ignorance have already brought us sorrow.

I know I’m ignorant of many things. I had some experiences in school that perplexed me. One of my most significant issues was that colleges forgot they are running a business and that as a student, I’m a customer. The goal is knowledge or certification of the same for a reasonable price. As you can imagine, administrators, advisers, and professors had their ears burned by the revolutionary idea of mine that my role was not subordinate to theirs.

We can re-imagine college to mold it to meets its objective: knowledge and ability. We can do so by significantly reducing the time it takes, as well as the cost. And we can do it so that adults don’t have debt as a result of something so vital for our well-being.

It’s the least we can: demonstrate the importance of education without it being an empty platitude.

It’s Personal, With Love

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This is not a Father’s Day post.

On the other hand, it is. I just found out this morning that my dad had another child. Were he still alive, he would have found out this morning, too – and I would have been the person telling him. Life is a series of kicks in the face.

All my life, I’ve resisted the revisionist tendencies of much of my family. I revolted against the idea of secrecy and shame. Each of us makes our own decisions and is responsible for the consequences. People misbehave and make terrible decisions.

For the first time, this morning, I wrote, “every person in my immediate family has struggled with the demons of alcohol, drugs, or violence.” Some of their stories weren’t mine to tell, even as the consequences boiled over and tainted my ability to live a good life. Over the last year, I learned that my brother, despite his stunning intelligence, has been a victim for much of his adult life. On the Terry side of my family, every person in my immediate family has led a double life. Many have died prematurely as a result. Just writing this paragraph might have earned a beating in the not-so-distant past. The revelation that some of us lead secret lives (or smaller lives) controlled by our lesser natures is one that seldom gets a warm embrace. We prefer to hide our shadows away from questioning eyes.

None of this is a secret. Everyone close to those family members knew, of course. That’s part of the corrosiveness of alcohol or addiction. Part of my adult fight was trying to reconcile the fact that so many people stood by on the sidelines and angrily pushed me away as I tried to be open and honest about my parents and their brutal hidden lives. It’s my story to tell because I have an equal right to share my steps.

Since I was little, I’ve joked that I must have brothers and sisters out in the world. My dad was unfaithful in every sense of the word. He had notorious affairs with several people. I knew that one day I would be able to say with certainty, “I told you so,” even as a couple of my aunts and uncles angrily told me to shut up. “You ought not to talk about that!” Equally true is the fact that my father ought not to have behaved that way. People close to me have heard me say that my genetics are an infection. I don’t say it with disrespect toward my brother and sister; it’s a fact that is sustained by the carnage of our lives.

Years ago, I started genealogy. I didn’t think it would be interesting to me, even though I love to research. It opened a world to me. I helped many people find lost loved ones, discover their birth certificates, and unlock countless mysteries. Many of those mysteries were buried – or so those involved foolishly thought. I participated in the DNA system early and with optimism. DNA is the blueprint of truth that people can’t control. It is the genie which relentlessly tells us the truth, despite what those who preceded us might have written as history. Alongside DNA, I began to discover the historical record that buttressed my claims about my past. Much of the record contained people’s accounts of crime, abuse, violence and sometimes proud moments. Several of my aunts and uncles died before I compiled a record that would make them wince.

History devours all of us incrementally.

As the unofficial family historian, I’ve never shied from directly admitting what happened behind closed doors. It’s caused some discomfort and anger.

And so…

After years of relentless diligence, it finally happened: through DNA, I discovered that I have a half-sister out in the world. This discovery just happened. It’s raw and fresh in my mind. I can’t imagine what my half-sister is experiencing. I have a million questions, of course. Luckily for her, she can use my ancestry treasures and written accounts to jump right into the lives that she wasn’t able to experience. I warned her that demons possessed my father. I’m not one to gloss over the terrain that makes people uncomfortable. I’ve given my dad a long eulogy, one punctuated by bitter truth.

Her mom was very young when she was with my dad. The liaison happened in the early 70s after my dad was in prison and had returned to Monroe County, Arkansas. He’d barely survived a DWI accident that killed my cousin. I know nothing about my new half-sister’s mother or other family. It’s probably best at this point as she comes to terms with unintentionally finding an entire family in the world.

I don’t have all the details. Part of the uncertainty is that the woman in question didn’t expect to ‘find’ relatives, much less someone like me with a full arsenal of DNA results and extensive family history for her. I don’t even know her name yet.

Ironically, I found confirmation on Father’s Day, a holiday that was no more real than a unicorn in my family. My dad died over 25 years ago. He would laugh. Whether that makes him human or a monster I’m not sure.

I am both confused and happy. Most of my glee is for my half-sister who found the road she was seeking. What she does with it is entirely her choice. That’s entirely the point of DNA and family history. None of us had a choice regarding who brought us to this world, and many of us would desperately love to be able to change those choices. It’s not our fault. Whether our parents were doctors or assassins, we are guiltless in our existence.

I wish I could grant amnesty to all those children who grow up feeling responsible for the people behind them.

For those of you who have good families, it probably seems a bit exotic to think about these situations. Many of us flee in self-protection from our family. All of us would prefer the warm embrace of people who value and love us. Unfortunately, much of the world operates on a stranger wavelength.

It’s no insult to say that my original sister and I are incompatible. I’m not one for anger, drama, and instability. It might make her angry to see this truth written out – but it is true in a way that no one can deny. As for my brother, he wisely moved away when he was younger. Over the years, our connection lessened. A few years ago, we went through an intense and disruptive episode that broke something in me. I didn’t know at the time how much he was suffering from addiction. I knew but didn’t ‘know,’ much in the way that each of us later wonders how all of us avoided connecting the painful dots.

Now that the day has come that I might have a connection to another sister, it is news that I can’t share meaningfully. Mom and dad are both dead. My sister is in exile for my sanity, and my brother is struggling merely to live another year.

You might say, “None of that is your place to say, X.” You’re wrong, though. I have earned the right.

I don’t know what, if anything, will come of my discovery of a new half-sister. I wish my brother Mike were in his right mind, though. We share a deep and incisive bond of dark humor and irony. Since he’s been at the brink of death, he has passed a lot of time with me recounting the old stories. Shared history acquires a more profound meaning when you realize that your time in it is diminishing rapidly. In the last few months, Mike has read all my family lore and stories and relished them. He knows how strongly the gravity of what we came from has affected us.

I hope that my new half-sister waits a long time to meet my original sister. While I am by no means able to claim normalcy, I’m foolishly confident that I am the best ambassador to the family.

To anyone reading this, I hope each resists the urge to ‘find’ my new half-sister. She gets the right to decide when or if she opens the door. I wish her peace regardless of her timeline.

To the new half-sister I don’t even know by name, I wish that Father’s Day were one of joy for you. I wish that life had been different for us all and that all of us could sit at a table and wonder about what might have been. Each paid the price of our common ancestor. We never stop paying.

We also never stop hoping, though, either, not if we share a common humanity.