Wednesday, April 10, 2019

I'm a Meditating Hot Mess

I'm constantly on the prowl for ways to live a less-stressed life. I'm naturally an on-the-go, not-sit-still, mind-always-racing kind of gal and so it is really hard to try to train myself to slow down.

And if you've ever read the children's book If You Give A Mouse a Cookie, I often feel like that mouse. I set off to do one thing and I'm so easily distracted that I am led to starting something else, which reminds me of something else and sends me off another direction. And it happens over and over and over.

I often find it hard to focus. And two things that seem the very hard for me to focus on are 1) watching a weather forecast and 2) mediating. All my life, I have had this mental block in watching the weather. I'd sit and watch the news and as soon as the weather came on, my mind zipped somewhere else. At the end of the forecast I'd come to and think, dang, what did he just say? Once in a while I could stay with Jerry Taft long enough to figure out if I needed to wear a jacket the next day. But I finally found I was able to focus on watching a full forecast when I tuned in to Tom Skilling. Something about the passion he has about what he does was so interesting and although I still drift off from time to time when he starts talking about air masses and barometric pressure, I can pretty much stay engaged in Skilling's forecasts enough to learn what's in store for the next few days in the weather department. Now I need to find my Tom Skilling of mediation.

I've tried mediating a few times in the past and it was really a challenge. My mind goes toward overthinking something I did yesterday or what I'm going to have for lunch or that I need to clean my closet or that I have so many unfinished projects going or that I can't believe that they sent Bumbly home on American Idol - I love the skinny, gentle soft-crooning white guys and the pretty blonde country singing ladies, but come on, bring a little more diversity to the top 10 already. She was flawless and completely adorable. Anyway, where was I?

I decided to try again during this current 21-day free mediation experience from Oprah and Deepak Chopra. At day 13 I have only listened to three, so I guess that shows how committed I am. As I tried today I shook my head thinking that my mediation attempt could be a Saturday Night Live skit. That happens often in my life - when I'm in the middle of something ridiculous and I feel like I'm in the middle of a Saturday Night Live skit.

Here's how it went down.

I woke up before my alarm went off. The house was quiet. Hubby had already left for work. It was overcast and not much sunlight was shining in. It seemed like a good time. I fumbled with my phone for a few minutes trying to get to the app open and to the first available day. It's actually at day 17, but the last 5 days are available when you log in. So I went to day 13.

Oprah starts off following some brief instrumental music and it's a familiar voice. The first sentences make me really smile. "We cannot accept more into our lives without truly appreciating what we already have." "Some of us have the belief that success only comes with sacrifice. That isn't really what the universe wants for you. In fact, the universe is standing by ready to fill your life with blessings."

That line about success only coming with sacrifice really sticks and I contemplate how I work too much and make too little money and how I need to make that balance much better. "Am I really even successfu'?" I think to myself. And whatever success I've had, is it worth the price of often working 11 hours on a Sunday?

From there, it's like I'm watching a weather forecast. My mind waves a little, "bye, girl" and shuts the door while my mind drifts not toward thoughts of gratitude and inner success and grace, but a lot of other topics.

I start thinking about how I used to like to play hooky from school and lay on the sofa and watch Oprah in junior high and high school. And I'd sit next to my mom and squirm if the topic had anything to do with sex and just hope she wouldn't try to start a conversation. And how do you spell hooky - is there a 'y' or an 'ey' or an 'ie". I squash the urge to pause it at that moment and Google it. See what I mean about how I sometimes lack focus? LOL

I thought about when I went to see the Oprah show in the early 1990s with my sister, my friend and my niece - who wasn't yet 18 and who they wouldn't let sit in the studio audience. So, being Aunt of the Year, we left her in the lobby to watch an archived copy on a television with the Harpo security guard while we went in and sat through the taping. (***Note: And in a happy and ironic twist, she got to go to a taping later on AFTER she turned 18. It was the one where Tom Cruise jumped on the sofa!)

I thought about how much I missed my routine back when her show was on ABC-7 at 9 a.m. I'd drop all the kids off at school, come back home and squeeze in a 1 - 2 mile walk before the show started. Then I'd sit on my keister with that tingly feeling in my legs that they were happy from the physical activity and I'd watch intently. And I wonder if I can watch the old Oprah Winfrey shows from the 1990s on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime?

I thought, "Heck, yeah, Oprah, I'd be appreciative of your three homes and millions of dollars if I were you."

I thought about Maya Rudolph doing the Oprah Weight Watchers bread commercial.

I thought about the Drake and Josh episode where they ran over Oprah.

Next thing I know, Oprah is done and Deepak beings.

I start to drift. Deepak. Deeeee Pak. Kind of sounds like a rapper name. I snap myself out of it and really concentrate on listening to him.

I pay attention to my breathing.

I hear a door slam downstairs. I pause it. I text my youngest son, who is notorious for sleeping through his alarm to see if he's awake. I text again. He responds and get back to taking in some Deepak. Deeee Pak. What kind of rap music would he make? Ok, focus. Breathe.

I try to send my mind down the path of gratitude and internalizing it. It's working. For a minute or so at a time. I drift a little. I hear kids walking to school outside since the window is slightly open. Horns beeping. Birds squawking. Water running. A lot of distractions. I think maybe I should try later. But I know once I'm out of bed, it's on. I'll be busy and it'll be harder to get back to it. So, I try harder to listen. But I really have to pee.

Ok, I breathe slow, I start to focus on listening and now it's time for the quiet meditation. The part where there are no prompts. It's just you and your thoughts. The music plays and there's no one to listen to. I'm really in trouble now. No one to guide me. My thoughts are all over the place and I try to reign them back in. I suddenly realize that Deepak was saying "ego" not "eagle" when he was talking. Now it totally makes more sense. But now I can't remember the mantra. What am I supposed to be silently repeating to myself? Darn. I've got to find out. And I've got to pee. No. Focus. Finish this meditation. Come up with a different mantra. Just keep going. I wonder how much longer it lasts?

Grattitude. Grace. Success. Got it. That wasn't the real mantra. But that's what I was telling myself. And some good thoughts came to me. And I did start to relax. Then the bell rang. I know I'm doing it wrong, but I'll keep trying. :)

Sunday, March 17, 2019

So Exciting to Confirm Irish Ancestry Going Back Five Generations

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! There’s this line that everyone’s a “wee bit Irish” on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s a fun, little joke that no matter what your nationality is, you can claim Irish for the day, even if you’re not. It's your pass to don green and drink beer and party like you're from the Emerald Isle.

My dad has always told me that his roots go back to England and Ireland, with a little Scottish thrown in there. So, I was fairly certain there was some Irish there, but I never had a real confirmation. This past summer, I took a trip with my aunt, meant to help me learn a little about our family background.

My Aunt Marilyn is my dad’s older sister. She’ll be turning 89 this month. She’s the one in the family who has had a big interest in genealogy and I always wanted to learn more from her. Taking a trip with her seemed to be a good opportunity. Marilyn was a teacher and later a probation officer. She still has that teacher way about her - she’s gentle and patient and explains everything thoroughly and seems to know everything. She's traveled the world and has had amazing experiences that I so enjoyed hearing about. 

The purpose of the trip was to make our way through four states and she was going to introduce me to some cousins (2nd and 3rd cousins) who I have never met. I was very excited about it. She also wanted me to see the farm where my grandfather was born in Kentucky.

We first went to Dayton, Ohio to meet her first cousin, Carole. We left on Labor Day and visited her at her home with her kids and a nephew and niece and their kids and the next day we went out to dinner to celebrate her 85th birthday. Carole’s mother and my paternal grandfather were siblings.

Next it was on to Ashland, Kentucky to meet a cousin, Karen, for dinner. I believe her dad and my grandfather were cousins. The third visit was to meet a cousin, Grant, in Frenchburg, Kentucky. He was closer in age to me than the other cousins we were meeting (he's around 40). Instead of staying at a hotel this time, we were welcomed into his home with his wife, Ashley, and 8-year-old son, Jaxon. 

They were so hospitable and so happy to spend time with us. If I remember correctly, Marilyn had met Grant once as a very young boy on a visit to the area decades ago. The connection with Grant is that his great grandmother was a cousin of my paternal grandfather. While my paternal grandfather (who died before I was born) was born at the Oldfield family farm in Maytown, Kentucky, his family relocated to central Illinois when he was a child. 

It was amazing to learn that the farm where he was born is still there and still intact, although the once-tobacco farm isn’t producing tobacco anymore. Grant’s grandfather and then father had lived on the farm. He’s an only child and his father passed away last year. He takes the responsibility of carrying on that family history very seriously.

One day he took us for a ride over to the farm. On the way we visited two cemeteries and although some of the names were ones I had heard in bits of conversation, I really couldn’t make a connection to any of them other than the few that Grant specifically pointed out - like his parents and grandparents. The third cemetery we visited was actually on that family farm. Grant later showed us a land deed stating that the family acquired the land around 1830. 

The little cemetery sat at the highest point on the hilly farm. We couldn’t drive up in our car and had to hop in Grant’s truck to be able to navigate the terrain. Once at the top, we snapped a couple photos. The stones are old and worn and mossy, but you could make out the names and dates. Greenery covered some of the stones, but two were easily visible - the names on them were Dennie Oldfield and Martha Oldfield. Again, the names really didn’t mean much to me - I hadn’t really heard the last name Oldfield until this leg of the trip.

We went on with our visit. Grant took us to an out of the way farm-to-table restaurant in the Daniel Boone National Forest after he learned I was a food blogger. He took us by some scenic falls in the area. And on the final day we accompanied them to church before heading on to spend a night in the capital of Kentucky, Frankfort.

That night at the hotel, Marilyn brought in a bag of papers she’d had in the car. She had a number of photos she’d been pulling out to show relatives we met. As she went through the papers, she said, “You might like to see this.” It was an amazing treasure — a handwritten family tree she’d constructed probably a quarter-century or more earlier. It followed my dad’s paternal side back to 1761 to a great-great-great-great-great grandfather who had fought in the Revolutionary War. In looking at it, I saw the same names that I had seen on headstones in the cemeteries and it sunk in that at one - maybe two of those cemeteries, I was related to every person buried there in some way. 

I matched up the names to those two headstones that were in that little cemetery high on the hill of the Oldfield family farm. It turned out Martha, whose maiden name was Murphy, was my great, great grandmother, born in 1830. Another little booklet had been typed - I could tell it had been typed on a manual typewriter - and had more detailed history of the family. It ended with a paragraph about how this information was being recorded so that it wouldn’t be lost to future generations. I got chills reading that. It was dated 1958.

As I flipped through I came to Martha Murphy and it showed that her father was John Murphy. And the next thing I read was really life-changing. It said that John Murphy’s father, also named John Murphy, was born in Dublin, Ireland. He came to the U.S. as a stowaway on a ship at age 17 and landed in Virginia. I was just in awe. I really enjoyed learning so much about where our family lived and what they did over the past couple of centuries in the United States, but I hadn’t yet seen anything with a direct link to where they were before they came to this country. It was amazing to read in a little booklet typed by a relative 60 years ago the confirmation of where this one part of the family came from. It confirmed that in the late 1700s, my great-great-great-great grandfather came here from Ireland. It was late at night and Aunt Marilyn was asleep and I was reading all this information by a dim hotel light over the desk. I was on Eastern time, an hour ahead of everyone at home, so there was no one awake to share this amazing discovery with. I wanted to jump and up and down and giggle and scream, but I had to just sit there silently and read it over and over again. I sent a quick text to my sisters and my dad that I figured they’d read in the morning: “I traced us back to Dublin, Ireland. Now on St. Patrick’s Day I can truly say that I know that I’m Irish.

So, this is the first St. Patrick’s Day that it’s confirmed that I can truly say that I am of Irish decent. And it feels so cool to really know it’s true. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Word for the New Year

I've seen all kinds of post about picking a poignant, meaningful word for the new year and living up to it. I'm not all that into making resolutions. I try all year long to live life in a happy, positive way. I should set more goals and make them happen. So, I guess my resolution could be to make resolutions. :)

When I thought about words, first thing to come to mind was a simple one - wonderful.

One of my favorite movies of all time is "It's a Wonderful Life." I love how the movie portrays how much of a difference George Bailey has made in the lives of those around him, even though he doesn't recognize it.

One of my favorite songs is "What a Wonderful World." I remember many years ago - about 24 to be exact, we were at my sister's house. My brother-in-law was going through cancer treatments and a football game was on TV. The commercials came on and the room cleared and it was just him and I. In a commercial, they were playing that song and tears started streaming down his face. "This song just makes you feel like a little kid," he said. I hugged him and we both cried. A few months later he lost his battle with cancer at age 42. Many times when I hear the song I think of him - not so much of how tragically he left the world too soon, but about what a fun, funny and kind guy he was and the impact he made on those who knew him.

So, in 2019. I aim to have a wonderful year. One where I don't take things for granted. One where I see the value in those around me and show them what they mean to me. One when I embrace those feelings of youth and enjoy spontaneous moments. More fun, less work taking in all the wonder and wonderful things I can.

Monday, September 3, 2018

What I wish I'd said when I met Joe Madden

My awesome sis got me a great gift for my birthday - tickets to a fundraising event to meet Joe Madden. Her husband's birthday is not too far away from mine and it was his birthday present, as well, so the three of us attended. He's such an inspiring and cool guy. I was definitely a giddy little girl.

What I wish I’d said while meeting Joe Maddon:

“I agree with you that baseball is more exciting on radio than on TV. In fact, the reason I am a Cubs fan is because my Dad, who grew up in Central Illinois surrounded by Cardinals fans fell in love with the Cubs while listening to them play in the1945 World Series on the radio. He was 9 years old and has been a Cubs fan ever since and passed on that love of the Cubs to his kids, who passed it on to their kids.

My dad, who is now 82, spent about a decade saying “All I want before I die is to see the Cubs win the world series.” Thank you for your part in making that happen. Thanks for your role in giving that to all the Cubs fans who waited so long. Thanks for making Cubs fans proud to be Cubs fans and for making all the heartbreak worth the wait.

Wrigley Field is my happy place and other than being at home with my family, there’s no other place on earth I would rather be. The rest of the world melts away as soon as I step in the gates. 

I was THIS close to publishing a book about the Cubs twice

When they finally make the movie about the 2016 Cubs, I hope Bill Murray plays you.”

“Will you please run for president?”

What I actually said:

Me: “You’re the coolest. I love you.”
(I wanted to say, “I love the way you manage the team” or “I love how you have the team dress up for road trips” or “I love that you were the guy to help lead them to the first World Series win in 108 years” and all that I got out was “I love you.”

Joe: “Really?”

Me: “You’re so awesome.” 

Then knowing my window was closing, I rattled off the first thing I could think of so quickly - it was like the scene in A Christmas Story where Ralphie is about to go down the slide after drawing a blank while meeting Santa. He stops, climbs back up and gives a 15-second spiel about the Red Ryder B B Gun he wants for Christmas. I rattled off the following in about 2.3 seconds - 

Me: “I was there at your opening press conference at the convention when you called Wrigley Field the ‘greatest cathedral in all of baseball.”

Joe: “Well it is.”

Me: “You had me from that moment. You’re just awesome.” 

And with that, I walked away wondering if he thought I was a creep or a loon or just a complete dork.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Dear Sons: Don't Give Up

Dear Sons:

(Letter #28)

Who do you admire?

Who's the first person you think of?

A lot of people probably turn to celebrities. Those with talent. Those with a lot of money that has come from that talent.

Maybe a scholar? Someone who has spent years learning about their area of interest and working to teach others. Someone who has used much of their time in life becoming more educated.

A philanthropist? Someone who has had the good fortune and blessing of being financially stable and uses that gift to do good where they see a need.

Perhaps someone in your family or community that you look up to because you see that they care about the world around them and are trying to make it a better place.

Today I saw someone who I would put within my top five people that I admire. I'll tell you a little more about him in a minute.

If you ask kids who they admire, a lot of them may name athletes.

As a young kid, I really kind of despised athletics. It was because I was really, really bad at pretty much any sport. I was a short, frail little girl. I had no strength. I had no speed. And really I had no desire to try because I didn't think I'd ever be good at anything related to sports. I was envious and jealous of those who were good athletes because it looked so effortless and I didn't think they even had to work at all to be good.

I was literally the worst athlete in my class in school. I mean that. I was pretty much ALWAYS the last kid picked to be on a team in gym class. Sometimes I was next to last. And when I was I actually had a little confidence and did work a little harder. But 9 times out of 10, I was the the last kid picked. No one wanted me on their team. I would drag the team down and make them less likely to win. Gym class was such a dreaded part of my day. I'd get full of such anxiety before gym. I'd try my hardest to find a way to get out of it. Offer to help a teacher put books on shelf instead of going to gym. I'd ask for a pass to the bathroom or the library and waste as much time as I could. I'd conveniently forget my gym uniform or "accidentally" soak my shoes in mud at recess so that I couldn't use them on the shiny gym floor. I would do anything to avoid gym class.

I grew up wondering what the heck was wrong with me. How could I be such a terrible athlete? I had siblings who were athletic. My brothers were great athletes - no matter what the sport was. Basketball. Golf. Tennis. Baseball. Track. One brother was an outstanding baseball player who was scouted to play in the minor leagues. Another helped lead his high school relay team to state and they broke a national record. My dad talked about playing football and basketball and baseball as a youth and in high school.

To me, as I was in elementary school and junior high being a good athlete equated to popularity. All the popular kids were good athletes. They were the ones who always got those presidential fitness awards while I struggled just to finish the mile or whatever we were being evaluated on. That handful of kids that were always picked last for the teams in gym class - not popular. I hated being born with such poor athletic skills. And I really believed that 99% of my problems would disappear if I got picked first instead of last.

In my 7, 9, 12-year old mind I really resented people who got athletic scholarships. I thought that it was good genes that made you a good athlete and not that it had anything to do with work. They were just lucky, I thought. Why would someone get rewarded for being lucky.

Finally once I got into adulthood, I realized how much good athletes push themselves and work toward their goals. They sacrifice their time to improve. They sometimes sacrifice their health in pushing too much or in playing a dangerous sport. They may have been born with good genes and had an advantage over others because of their build, but they didn't get to where they are because of luck.

Today, I look at athletes and see the hard work and structure and grit that it takes to be a good athlete. I admire those who aren't natural athletes, but do it anyway and have the discipline to go for that run or swim that lap or do that workout. I know how now how essential physical activity is to good health, whether you are good at exercise or sports or not. And I've felt satisfaction of setting a physical goal and reaching it - or at least making yourself work toward it. When you grow up and it doesn't feel like competition all the time and you're not afraid of being ridiculed of for striking out or missing a basket or dropping a ball, it can be really enjoyable. I know now that I was so wrong in thinking athletes had it easy and I'm ashamed of thinking the way I did as a kid.

One of my most admired people today is Anthony Rizzo. He is from my very favorite baseball team, but that's not why I like him so much. Obviously he is a star player as a first baseman for the Chicago Cubs. His dedication to the game and his hard work toward improving himself is admirable. But there's much more to him. He's a good teammate and a good person off the field. He had cancer in his teens and from that experience he has played a big role in raising funds for cancer research and cancer-related charities, he visits sick kids in hospitals and he listens to stories of those who have been in his shoes and offers them words of encouragement and support. He's totally worthy of admiration for what he does in many parts of his professional and personal life.

So let me get back to that person I saw today that is right at the top of my list of people I admire.

I was dropping one of you off this morning for cross country practice and saw a kid that I watched during the last season. He doesn't happen to have an athletic build and natural strength or endurance that makes running easier for him than a lot of others. He struggles at it. You can see it as you watch him.

He didn't win any of the races last year. He didn't come in as one of the top 3. Or the top 10. He didn't place in the top half of the runners. He was always in that last bunch. He actually came in last in many of the races. I remember being at meets where the course was laid out in a loop and because it's a 3-mile race, you'd run the loop three times. Sometimes the top runner would be coming in for a finish and this young man was still on lap 2. Sometimes the flags were being taken down and the course was being dismantled as he still had a mile to go.

If I was in a race and on lap 2 of 3 and people were rushing by me at the finish line, I wouldn't even bother doing the last lap. I'd most likely quit right there. But this kid never did. He knew he was going to be one of the last runners to finish.

He never gave up. He knew he would probably be the last one on the team to finish the race, but he always kept going and finished the race. I don't think I would have. I would have given up and not even finished the race. I probably would have given up and not finished the season. I would have gotten discouraged and not seen a point in continuing to run and continuing to race and continuing to come in last or close to it every time.

I left some of those meets and sat in my car and cried because I was just in awe of this kid.

The team is made up some really wonderful kids. Some have natural athletic talent and they look like they are breezing by without trying, even though you know it is a HUGE effort to run a race even if it's a little easier for you than for the next guy. They are all to be admired in my book. But you know what? I left a lot of meets where I couldn't tell you who had come in first. But I could tell you who came in last. Because I always watched until the end and rooted for him and was ecstatic to see him finish. And it was cool to watch how he improved from he start of the season to the end. His teammates cheered him on as he continued. They gave high-fives and fist bumps after he finished. I held back tears when he'd cross the finish line.

So, this kid is at the top of my list of people I admire. There's so many lessons in what he does and how he carries himself and how the team and the coach support him. My biggest take away from it all is how he doesn't give up. He knows he'll never be the best runner on the team and he runs anyway. He knows it will always be hard, but he does it anyway. He's resilient. He keeps going. He pushes through when it's tough and it's raining and it's cold and he's the only one left on the course. He never gives up. I don't know many things more admirable that that.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Dear Sons: Surround Yourself With Good People

Dear sons,

(Letter #27)

It's been a while since I shared a letter on the blog to you, but I wanted to do so this week as we have an extra teenage kid in the house. I really like him. He's a sweet kid with a good heart, a surprisingly wise and mature outlook on a lot of things and he's polite and always has my back. "Just listen to your mom." "Yeah, she's kind of right." Moms like kids like that. The ones that display behavior they like to see. He's a good influence.

Although he moved out of the area over a year ago, I love that you've stayed in touch. Back in my day, it may not have happened. You had to write a letter on paper. Put a stamp on it and put it in the mail. Or make a long distance phone call and talk on your kitchen phone with a cord that only stretched as far as the basement stairway. That's one benefit of social media. It enables people to better keep in touch.

Over the years you've had some great friends who have hung out to play video games, stayed for dinner, spent the night or hitched a ride. Nearly all were kids we were happy to welcome into our home, to our dinner table or into the car. Another thing, besides social media, that I didn't have growing up that you do is a diversity in your community that is reflected in your friendships. Collectively between all five of you, you've probably had as many or more Hispanic friends as caucasian friends. You've had several African-American friends hang out here. A feisty Asian friend. And I couldn't be more in love with the Indian friend who was way smarter than me when he was in elementary school and looked the part. At 10 years old in a suit and tie, he seriously carried himself like he could be running a Fortune 500 company.

Now that you're getting older (I can't believe I have been a mom for almost a quarter century) your friends are too. I've even become a an adopted grandmother to a little girl who enjoys visiting our house and it's nice to have a little girl here on occasion.

Not every kid you've brought home has been a great influence. I remember the one that went in your room and stole your 8th grade graduation money. And I had to go back and forth with his grandmother to try and retrieve it. And I'd be lying to say that all of you were always the best influence of your friends. I can't say that you've never been in any kind of trouble.

But for the most part, the kids you've made part of our lives are ones that I adore and were happy to have around. Sometimes, for some of them, when they were here it was because they needed a place to go that wasn't home. A fight with a sibling. Parents not home. Escaping a violent situation. Our house isn't fancy. Not even all that comfortable. But it was a safe, dry place. I was happy to be able to be there for some of your friends when needed.

Sometimes there were friends who were around because they liked being around our family. And that warms my heart. Many of them didn't have a dad in their life. You did. And they were drawn to that and wanted to hang around a home where there was a fun and funny dad who was grilling and tinkering in the garage and watching corny movies. Or they liked being in a place where there were both a mom and dad who actually liked each other.

There were times you had friends here who I knew were hungry. And feeding one more kid was never a big deal. I never minded it. And was glad to have that opportunity to provide something for a kid that needed it.

And I'm glad for the friends that have been there when you needed them. When you wanted someone to talk to who wasn't related. When you just needed to get away from your brothers. When you needed a ride. Or had a friend who was the key to getting an 'A' on your group project. Or if they just were lucky enough to have the game system you didn't and you wanted to play the Xbox game that just came out.

It is true that it takes a village. Technically, parents may be able to do it on their own. But a child's life is only enriched for the better when intelligent, kind people who can share difference perspectives and experiences are part of it.

As you get older, you might find that friends aren't as easy to come by. While you're in school, you might make new friends throughout the year or when you move on to junior high or high school or college. Once you're out in the real world, you might find yourself in a profession where you meet new people all the time. Or you may find yourself in a cubicle surrounded by the same handful of people day in and day out.

When you find a good friend, hang on to them. Treat them well. Like you would want to be treated. There are a lot of good people in the world. A lot of them are your friends already. Keep yourself among good friends. And look to surround yourself with good people that will become your friends.

Friday, February 23, 2018

There's no one magic solution to mass shootings

I haven't been as productive with work as I should have been this week. My job requires me to spend time on social media and it seemed like each time I was on Facebook or Twitter, I'd get sidetracked reading posts, watching videos, reading articles related to the recent school shooting in Florida. I've been reading and listening to views and opinions on the topic. And there are two big things being blamed for the incident (in addition to the individual who pulled the trigger) - lack of gun control and lack of mental health care. Both probably contributed. Another factor that has been mentioned in mass shootings is the media attention that the killers receive - and crave. And while I agree that less coverage of the shooter is better, I took some time to go and look up those responsible for the Parkland, Florida shooting and many of the other most deadly mass shootings in recent years to see what kinds of similarities there are between them. I compiled a list of 15 shootings and shooters. All have been male. Most committed suicide following the killings. Many, but not all were white. Ages varied. Locations varied. Motives varied. Types of guns varied. Below is a list of those 15 shootings, in descending chronological order, including where they occurred, how many were killed, the year of the incident, the race and age of the shooter and if they died or were arrested after the shooting.

Parkland, Florida school shooting (17 died) - 2018, shooter was white male, age 19, arrested

Sutherland Spring, Texas church shooting (25 died) - 2017, shooter was white male, age 26, suicide

Las Vegas concert shooting (58 died) - 2017, shooter was white male, age 64, suicide

Orlando night club (49 died) - 2016, shooter was Afghani-American male, age 26, shot and killed by police

Sandy Hook (27 died) - 2012, shooter was white male, age 20, suicide

Aurora, Colorado (12 died) - 2012, shooter was white male, age 24, arrested and serving life in prison

Virginia Tech shooting (32 died) - 2007, shooter was Korean-American, age 23, suicide

Red Lake High School (9 died) - 2005, shooter was Native American, age 16, suicide

Columbine High School (13 died) - 1999, shooters were white males, age 17 and 18, suicide

Kileen Texas Luby's Cafeteria (23 died) - 1991, shooter was white male, age 35, suicide

General Motors Jacksonville, FL (9 died) - 1990, shooter was black male, age 42, suicide

Oklahoma postal office (14 died) - 1986 shooter was white male, age 44, suicide

San Ysidro, California McDonald's (21 died) - 1984 shooter was white male, age 41, shot and killed by police

University of Texas (18 died) - 1966, shooter was white male, age 25, shot and killed by police

Camden, NJ (13 died) - 1949, shooter was white male, age 28, died at age 88 in mental institution

This isn't a full list. Not even close. A "mass shooting" is defined by a shooting resulting in at least 4 victims. 146 have been recorded in the past four decades. The average number of victims is 8.

A listing of the 20 most deadly mass shootings actually lists 23 as there are some shootings with the same number of deaths. Some of the things about the shootings surprised me. Other things were expected.

From those I looked at the earliest was a World War II veteran, age 28 in 1949 who walked through his neighborhood shooting those he saw. He killed 13. At least two other mass shooters were military veterans. It was a long time before the next mass shooting resulting in at least 10 deaths. It happened in 1966 - 17 years later. There was then a lull of 16 years before there was another mass shooting of that magnitude.

Many people believe that Columbine was the start of mass shootings, but there were a significant amount of mass shootings in the 80s and early 90s. They did, however, happen mostly in places that were not schools.

24 died in a mass shooting in Texas in 1991.

22 people were killed at a McDonald's in 1984.
A post office shooting in 1986 resulted in 15 deaths and common use of the term "going postal" in reference to someone going on a deranged rampage.
A 1982 shooting in Pennsylvania had several shooting victims, including 5 of the shooter's own children. A total of 13 died.
10 died in a 1990 shooting at a GMAC office after the shooter's car was repossessed.
In 1990 and 1991 there were mass shootings where 9 people died. In 1982, 1989 and 1993 there were shootings with 8 deaths.

The decade from 1982 to 1991 was a very deadly one in terms of mass shootings. Then it was quieter for several years - or at least mass shootings did not occur with as great of death tolls. Until 1999. That's when Columbine happened and 15 people died, followed by an Atlanta shooting a couple months later where 10 people died.

Then it was quieter for nearly a decade. Until 2007's Virginia Tech shooting. Then in 2009 11 died in a mass shooting in Alabama, a Fort Hood shooting resulted in 13 deaths and 14 died in a mass shooting in New York.

All of the incidents above rank a s some of the highest in death tolls. However, other shootings happened with far more shooting victims, but ones who fortunately survived their gunshot wounds. One that sticks out for me occurred in 2008. I remember it well because it happened close to home at my sister's alma matter, Northern Illinois University. It, like the recent Florida shooting, happened on Valentine's Day with five people killed and 17 more injured.

After a couple quiet years, we moved into the deadliest period for mass shootings.

9 killed on a college campus in 2015
12 dead in the Aurora theatre shooting in 2012
12 dead in 2013 at Navy Yard.
14 were killed in a shooting by a California couple in 2015
17 just died in the Parkland, Florida shooting
Last year 26 died in a church shooting
27 died at Sandy Hook in 2012
49 died in the Orlando night club shooting in 2016
58 died just a few months ago in the Las Vegas concert shooting

You can look at the numbers so many different ways. And numbers are numbers. You see similarities. You see things that make you why so many happened within a certain time frame and then several years went by without large mass shootings.

When you dig deeper and read about the victims it becomes so much more personal and heartbreaking.

Some observations in looking closely at these mass shootings:

Of the 23 deadliest shootings, two of them were executed by a male/female duo. The others were carried out by a single person - a male shooter.
While many were white, there were also shooters that were Asian, Middle Eastern, African-American and Native American. Interestingly, I didn't notice any Hispanic shooters in those with the highest death tolls.
In the vast majority of cases, the shooter committed suicide in the end. A few others showed aggression or did not comply with police commands and were shot and killed by police
Of the 14 deadliest mass shootings since 2000, 6 of them occurred in schools - 2 in colleges, 3 in high schools, 1 in an elementary school. Schools are becoming bigger targets. While mass shootings have happened in a variety of public places, including churches, restaurants, workplaces, post offices and theaters, schools are becoming targets more often.
Ages of the shooters in the most deadly shootings have ranged in age from 16 to 64. While several of the mass shooters in the 80s/90s were males in their 30s and 40s, the shooters of the 2000s, with the exception of the Las Vegas shooter at age 64, have been primarily between 16 and 26. The shooters are getting younger.
A variety of guns have been used in the shootings. From the 20 deadliest shootings, some have used handguns. Others have used multiple weapons. Others have used a semi-automatic rifle. Others have used multiple semi-automatic weapons. 8 of 23 used one or more handguns. 7 used multiple weapons and it does not specify if all weapons were guns. One used a shotgun and handgun. 5 are listed as a semi-automatic weapon. 2 are listed as having multiple semi-automatic weapons (one had two shooters). Six of the ten deadliest mass shootings involved semi-automatic weapons. Four of the five deadliest involved semi-automatic weapons. The two deadliest involved semi-automatic weapons and happened in the past two years.

I didn't dig back into all 146 mass shootings. I also didn't look at how many total were shot in these incidents that included survivors. I also did not find how the weapons were attained, but several show accompanying reports as being guns that were purchased legally.

Looking at some of the trends in the shootings and at the most recent shooting, some of the actions that could be taken that may have been preventative in these situations are:

- A ban on semi-automatic would still leave a variety of deadly guns available on the market. 16 of the deadliest shootings of 23 did not involve semi-automatic weapons. These are shootings that occurred with less potentially-lethal guns although the death toll may have been smaller due to decreased firing power or ammunition availability.
- A license required for purchasing a gun. The license could have stipulations as to a requirement of a safety course, a waiting period before a gun can be in possession following a purchase, a background check for criminal activity, a background check for mental diagnosis (if HIPPA laws allow), a possible pharmacy data base check if one could be available (if HIPPA laws would allow) of individuals on anti-psychotic medications, a licensing fee that would go toward mental health treatment/school mental health programs/victims' funds.
- A limit of guns that can be purchased by a single licensee
- A raise in minimum age for purchase, possession, conceal carry to 21 or older
- Addition of metal detectors at schools
- National guard personnel assigned to secure school entrances
- Increased security systems in place in schools
- A system of renewal once licensing has been put in place with background checks duplicated at yearly or more often intervals
-  Keeping gun laws as they are but put regulations on ammunition, limits of how much can be obtained, attach fees that make the ammunition cost-prohibitive and use those funds for education, treatment, victims fund
- More thorough contact with students at risk of potentially violent scenarios from school officials

As far as what could have been done to possibly prevent the latest school shooting:

Nearly all shootings are done by males. This is not preventable.

Many of the shootings were done by white males. This is not preventable.

Several recent shootings have been done by teens and those in the early 20s age group. Age is not preventable. However, access to weapons at his age is something that could have been a factor in altering the outcome.

Some classmates are saying that they noticed odd behavior that could have been warning signs of future danger to the public and some reported it. Such reports can't justify arresting or detaining an individual long term. You can have a gut feeling, you may have heard second hand about threats or violent behavior, but law enforcement is very limited on what they can do even with such reports. Further intervention could have been sought by professionals within the school system and family that may have resulted in successful treatment.

He met requirements for purchasing a gun as far as age and background checks. Future restrictions could be placed on age. In some states, guns can be purchased at 18 and in some states they must be 21. Currently, individuals cannot purchase or consume alcohol before age 21. Individuals can not rent a hotel room in many places under the age of 21. Minimum age for car rental is 21 and for some companies, 25. To supervise a driver with a permit, you have to be 21. There is still a state where you cannot get married under age 21 without parental consent and there is a 3-day waiting period for a license in addition. Revising age requirements is a possibility and it would not be something completely new and unusual. The minimum age of 21 for drinking has stood for many years. Restricting gun purchases to those 21 and over is not impossible.

He may have actually had some firearms training at the school where the shooting occurred. According to classmates, the shooter had bee part of a JROTC program that involved shooting weapons (it wass also reported that he was removed from the program.) The program obviously has standards that he was not meeting to be removed. Maybe something could have been seen at that time that would have caused him to not be accepted into that program.

He owned multiple guns. He had been staying with a family that would not allow him to have guns on the property unless they were locked in a gun safe. The owner of the property thought he had the only key to the gun safe.

The shooter's mental health is in question and hints of violent tendencies may have been noticed many years ago. Further care could have been sought. Even with a diagnosis, permanent mental health facilities are virtually non-existent. Mental institutions as a whole ceased to exist in the 1980s, at least partially connected to the cuts in funding for mental health facilities at that time. That means that outpatient treatment and integration into society is the norm for those exhibiting mental health struggles. Admittance to mental health departments in hospitals is short term. Involuntary admission happens when the person delivers threats and thus, showing they are a danger to themselves and/or others.

The shooter was adopted and I have not found any reports related to his birth parents. Risk for several mental illnesses increases when a family member has a disorder. Long term issues such as depression,  learning disabilities and behavior disorders can result from babies being born addicted to drugs. Information related to birth parents that could have put him more at risk for certain behaviors if revealed could have led to therapies that could have lessened the effects.

Also possible contributing factors or motivations could have been rage caused by expulsion and a desire for revenge on school officials, the recent death of his mother, the uncertainty following her death and disruption to his life. He did have individuals who took him in and attempted to help him. The support may have delayed his inevitable intentions to do harm.

Mental illness has become a big argument/issue as a likely cause. As a country there's a lot to look at. Some of the changes that are being proposed would need to be adjusted at the state level. One possible cause of the buildup to this shooting could have been isolation, exclusion and bullying. Yet there are demands that people like him should be locked up if he had been deemed to have had mental illness and a call to remove anyone with a mental illness from society. Not all who have mental illness shoot people and not all who shoot have a diagnosed mental illness. We've learned from past history about the perils of witch hunts and removing people from society and into facilities to separate them - in inhumane mental institutions, POW detention facilities for Germans and Japanese in the US during WWII, even concentration camps. Locking up those with suspected mental illness or possible dangerous tendencies without diagnosis, proof or a pattern of violent behavior would be regressing as a society.

I also find it interesting that in the majority of mass shootings, the shooter either commits suicide (and plans to do as much damage as he can in the process) or is intentionally killed via police officer, but that this shooter did not attempt suicide or exhibit behavior toward law enforcement that resulted in his death. He carried out a mass shooting, but his death did not result from the situation.

There's a lot of discussion going on. Perhaps at the very least, there can be a temporary sales halt of semi-automatic weapons for say 60 days while politicians and school officials and society in general figures out better ways to keep kids safe. While metal detectors are unsightly, inconvenient and can give a feeling of unease rather than safety, it's a one-time expense that can help ensure that weapons don't get into schools. Kids that show red flags can be monitored more often, checked in on by social workers, school psychologists and staff as a whole can be made aware of who needs more attention. It may be a huge undertaking require more staff and funding.

Guns aren't part of my life. I can only recall 3 times in my life that I've seen a gun a real life. One occurred as a teenager when I was babysitting a toddler and when I leaned onto a pillow found a gun beneath it. It stopped me in my tracks and really freaked me out. Another time was about 8 years ago when I was stopped at a red light on the way to pick up my son from preschool. I watched as a man entered the minivan in front of me from the passenger side. The driver got out and the carjacker started to drive away. It turned out he had just robbed a bank down the street and was on foot and trying to get away. Before he could leave, he was surrounded by police cars and officers came rushing up, a couple of them with long rifles. The window on the minivan was down and an officer put his gun in the window pointing the gun downward toward the floor and directing him to get out of the vehicle. He didn't get out and they didn't shoot. He hit the gas, rammed police cars out of the way, sped through an intersection and lost control and crashed into a garage a couple blocks away and soon the car and garage were engulfed in flames. The third time was outside Wrigley Field last season - which by the way just added metal detectors in 2016 - after a game. An officer holding a large rifle stood at the corner of Clark and Addison. I thought it was a fluke and maybe in response to some large protests that had been taking place or someone important in the area (there happened to be a long line of black limos and SUVs with government plates going through the neighborhood) or to recent incidents of crime. But the next time I attended a game at Wrigley Field at the end of the season, he was there again. It was unnerving and incredibly sad that it's the new normal when you go to a baseball game.

The deadliest shootings have two things in common - males and guns. Those are the two things that are most important to look at. What is it that is causing males - particularly young white males to snap? Or what is causing so many of those who feel so desperate and in so much despair that they want to end their life to take out so many others with them? What can we do differently in how we raise them, treat them, educate them, love them to yield a different outcome? And guns will always be part of our existence. They aren't going anywhere either. But we do have a choice to create guidelines on who can possess them and what type and how many they can possess - or at least we have a choice to urge our lawmakers to make the choice we desire. Our government decided not long ago to phase out certain light bulbs. Not everyone was happy about it, but it happened. And 60-watt incandescent light bulbs are no more.

Only time will tell what kind of action comes about after this most recent shooting. But I don't see this one going away without action of some kind.