Violence Is The Problem

After posting about the school shooting in Kentucky a couple of days ago, the eleventh such shooting in the country since January 1, 2018, I had a friend ask me a question that stuck with me.

(By the way, every time I think it’s time to walk away from social media altogether, someone posts some question or some expression of kindness that draws me back in. I suppose that’s the beauty of relationships and being willing to talk to each other.)

The question that my friend asked was as follows:

Russell, as an educator, what are you seeing from young people in regards to the sanctity of life? Have they become desensitized, or is this more of a mental health crisis?

I’m not sure that my response was really worth saving and reposting here. I’m not sure that I’ve captured what I’m really thinking, but I think it is a start.
And sometimes a start is enough.
I do not believe that young people are desensitized to violence at all.
Nor do I think this can be blamed on a mental heath crisis (although, the stress of this life and our complete refusal to fund mental healthcare certainly exacerbates that.)
In my experience, they’re all too aware of the unpredictable nature of the dangers surrounding them.
What has happened is that they are losing their sense of safety and security. There are few places in their world that are untouched by violence.
This doesn’t desensitize them. I would argue that it has the exact opposite effect of making them hypersensitive to violence and death.
And it’s this sense of an absence of safety that harms them and causes a lost sense of the sanctity of life.
If even school and church are places of death and destruction, life doesn’t seem sacred at all, does it?
America’s love affair with violence as a cure for what ails us, our insistence that violence is the only appropriate response to anything less than adoration, our love affair with instruments of violence as our only recourse, is what I see as the central problem.
The mere possibility of infringement buries the art of peaceable assembly, of petition in seeking redress of grievances.
We’ve denigrated the outstretched hand and replaced it with the fist.
And we’re passing it on, everyday, to our children.

Life is Amazingly Good

When I take a step back
away from the mess of my desk with the precarious pile of bills
away from the house with the leaky tub
away from the bosses who seem determined to make education meaningless
away from the fears of what this country is becoming

When I take a step back
and watch them together
walking together, arm in arm—

I’m reminded of asking dad one day, when I was old enough to have learned of the complete nightmare that was the year of 1968,
“What were you thinking bringing me into that world?” and his reply,
“Well, your mom worried about it, but I thought you’d be okay.”

When I take a step back,
I remember, and
I believe he was right.

I am okay.

In fact, I’m far better than that.
So, thanks for your calm self-assurance, dad.
And your belief in the future.

They’re walking together in your steps.

What It Means to be an American

I am proud to be an American.

Mr. Trump did not have my support during the election. His policies are often the exact opposite of what I believe the country stands for and believes in.

I have been “giving him a chance” since he won the Republican nomination in the hopes that if he were to win, I could find a pathway through the next four years that wouldn’t be damaging for my family.

I have certainly been giving him a chance since he became the President-Elect.

His actions, his immaturity, his selections for cabinet members, and his public statements for where he is planning to take the country have only increased my concerns for the direction that he and the Republican Party are heading.

His policies, his actions, his attitude are directly hostile to my family. And so, in the tradition of the protests that have long made this country great, I will protest against the actions of President-Elect whenever he attempts to take the country in a direction that I believe harms people.

This is, for me, what it means to be an America: To stand in opposition to oppression, hatred, bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, and fear. To speak for the voiceless. To give comfort to the sick, the injured, the homeless, and the hopeless. To sing of this sweet land of liberty and justice for all.

What I will not do is what Mr. Trump did for most of President Obama’s term in office. I will not attempt to delegitimize the person in the office simply because I don’t like the color of his skin, the name he calls himself, or where he was born.

In short, after Mr. Trump takes the oath of office today, I will be hoping for him to mature and lead this country in a way that would bring honor to us all. I will also be ready to stand and oppose his actions whenever and wherever I believe it is necessary to do so.

I will, however, respect the office of The Presidency even if Mr. Trump does not.

And so, Mr. President, it’s time for you to lead, and to do so selflessly for the good of all the country, even those you call enemies. If you do, you will have my support wherever I can give it.

If you don’t, I will stand, armed only with my reason, to oppose you. Because that is what it means to be an American.

Dreaming Of Space and Acceptance

Dreaming Into Space And Acceptance

“O Me! O Life!”
By Walt Whitman

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?


That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

Leaves of Grass (1892)

Even as a child, even before I knew the name of the town, Huntsville was a place of dreams and acceptance.

Believe it or not, I was a kind of a loner as a kid. Growing up in the Deep South, loving books more than football was a bit of a barrier that was difficult to climb over. I didn’t get the passion over a sport that was, when I played it at least, the punishment you survived so you could go home and read the latest Star Trek novel.

And that’s where Huntsville came into play. My mom and dad decided one Saturday morning when we were visiting my Nanny in Opelika that we would take the drive up to Huntsville to visit the Space and Rocket Center. Yes, we were mere inches from Toomer’s Corner, and I honestly didn’t know it existed. I loved going to Auburn though since the Auburn Mall had a Waldenbooks. Having grown up in a town that barely had a library, the tiny (by today’s standards) Waldenbooks could absorb me all day for every day of our visits.

And so I prepared over the three hour drive to Huntsville by re-reading Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I wanted to go into space.

Space, for me, represented a place of dreams, a place where people worked together toward a common goal. A place where everyone’s skill set was crucial because usually you were one of a extremely small crew, and survival depended on being able to work together.

Space embodied the dream of being worthwhile, which was something I struggled with as a kid who didn’t fit in.

And in Huntsville, I was able to climb into the capsule that had taken people up there. I’m certain that the Mercury Capsule in Huntsville that I kept running to the back of the line to climb into again and again was just a mock-up, but it really did not matter. When I was reclined in the seat, I was in space.

And all was right.

Today, the boy climbed into that capsule. And all was right.

I didn’t prompt him; he wanted to. And then he, and Woody, flipped over, put his feet up in the air, closed his eyes, and dreamed.

I don’t know what he dreamed about. My boy, as a result of his being on the Autism Spectrum, doesn’t talk much. He doesn’t share his dreams with me often. But he did specifically, and repeatedly request this week, to go to “The US Space and Rocket Center to see the rockets, please.” So to see the rockets we went. Because when my boy goes to the trouble of asking for something, we try and get it for him.

And while he didn’t tell me what his dreams were, kneeling there, thinking about just how amazing humanity is when we work together, I thought about some of my dreams for my boy.

Like most parents, I dreamed of all the wonders of this world that I would get to share with my boy. All the books he would love. All the Lego Space Ships we would build. All the movies we would see. All the footballs we would toss (yeah, I became a bit more normal as I grew up).

But then his diagnosis interfered. And I spent a long time being angry that autism was screwing up my plans.

Until something weird started happening. The boy and I went to movies, and he liked them. We would read books and enjoy them. We would play with our amazing Star Trek technology that I could only dream of as a kid together.

And he would reach over to take my hand while he was crying from laughing so hard at a movie scene he watched over and over, just as I used to do.

And I realized that life was far, far better than my dreams could have imagined.

While I was looking at him today, sitting in a seat that was at least quite similar to the one that I climbed into when I was basically his age, I realized that my dreams have changed.

I’m not as angry at autism as I once was. It hasn’t taken nearly as much as it has given.

And so while walking among monuments to what humanity can achieve when we work together, I realized that my primary dream today isn’t to rid the world of autism. Don’t get me wrong: if there were something we could give him to make communication easier for him, I would absolutely consider it.

But that isn’t the main thing I wish for today.

Instead, I wish to make our world a place where even the most severely autistic boy or girl is seen as a gift to humanity rather than a burden because of the wonderful gifts that they bring to our lives.

  • The gift to completely live in the moment even when that moment calls for going to the carwash on a rainy day.
  • The gift to dance alone in the grass.
  • The gift to unconsciously laugh harder at three words in a movie the 50th time you watch them than you did the first time cause sometimes things just get funnier.
  • The gift to empathize with complete strangers.
  • The gift to realize that a toy can be the best of friends.

We don’t need space to teach us that we absolutely need one another, and all our one anothers to survive. Our sordid lives are sufficient to that task.

While we may never find a cure for autism, we can change our world so that even those who cannot speak can contribute their verse to this powerful play.