Millions celebrate the USA today. And, yes, I should, I suppose, be on the boat, or the wakeboard, or the paddleboard, or the kayak. Like everyone else, here in flawless Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, where it’s a dry ninety degrees, the water as transparent as glass.
Millions celebrate the USA today.
I sit here instead. For now at least. On a patio chair, enviously listening to the sounds of boats and laughing, watching everyone frolic in the warm sun.
Have you ever taken a step back, ask what we celebrate on July 4th? I mean, of course, we celebrate the “birth of a nation.” But precisely what is the nation?
What is the USA?
Because when I was a kid, on Independence Day, everyone seemed to be on the same page. Like other national holidays like Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day or New Year’s Day — or even on a birthday or wedding anniversary — never debate about what you were celebrating.
Millions celebrate the USA today. And they ain’t celebrating the same thing.
In fact, tens of millions seem to be celebrating very different countries.
On the political left, a celebration of diversity. Not just celebration, pride in diversity. Giddiness. Glee. Jump up and down and scream hullaballoo.
To the question, What is the USA? the far left, its core — American means not just diversity, but a celebration of it.
What is the USA to the far right? Most certainly equal Independence Day celebration. Parties and trucks with flags — lots of flags. Lots said about patriotism. Songs and memes about being proud to be American. Most certainly pride in “America.” But not so much pride in diversity.
Perhaps even fear of that diversity.
To those on the far right, I’m afraid America means something very different than it does to those on the far left.
What is the USA? This is not a political question; today, it’s a question with no easy answer.
Jack-of-all-trades. Hack-of-all-Trades. That me, if you want to know the truth.
Today I will spend time with my Leica. I still barely know how to use it (not enough time learn), how to utilize natural light (not enough time to learn), how to capture the right blend of uniformity amidst variety (not enough time to learn), who to shoot (nobody willing).
For no other reason than nine lives lore, I can find myself wishing to be a cat. Why? How else to pursue the nagging passions?
In trying to cram them into this one, earthly, life, like today I’m Paul-the-photographer, the result is the quintessential jack of all trades, master of none.
Paul, the hack-of-all-trades.
Fact is, I specialize at exactly nothing, other than the specialty of little bit of this and little bit of that.
Nine lives Paul, no doubt, would be posting today of the limitations of having only nine lives.
If I had to choose today? Most likely:
#1 Photographer: more of humanity than nature, in the Annie Leibovitz realm.
#2 Revolutionary: Going all-in like Jesus (more than anyone else) and MLK and Gandhi and Bob Dylan and Harriet Tubman and Wittgenstein and Saint Francis and Bonhoeffer and Luther and Céaser Chávez. (Please visit forthechildren.org to sign the pledge and help me on this one.)
#3 Botanist/zoologist: Because Albert Schweitzer.
#4 Philosopher: In the spirit of Aristotle. My BA and MA helped greatly, but only almost scratched the surface of understanding metaphysics, epistemology, logic, aesthetics, ethics.
#5 Geologist: I know almost nothing about how the earth is composed nor how plate tectonics work, and that bugs me.
#6 Gypsy: A full-time observer. And truth-teller, no matter the cost. Just to travel to and from, to lick the globe, minus the encumbrances of money, schedules, social pressures to be “responsible.”
#7 Cook: Not a chef — a farmer who spends as much time attending to the ingredients (soil, sun, water, freshness) as much as the cooking part.
#8 Historian: Not sure which era nor region. Eighty-one lives wouldn’t be enough to satisfy my craving to learn about all those people from all those places during all those times.
#9 Musician: I play bass (decently), guitar (average at best), trumpet and piano (below average at best).
Are you a hack-of-all-trades, too?
P.S. I forgot art historian, especially into the minds of Van Gogh, Chagall, Picasso… Oh, and a college professor (philosophy), oceanographer, architect, triathlete, yoga instructor, theologian, hermit.
Yes, I’m a white, educated, Christian, male. So what understanding could I have about racism, or anti-semitism, or sexual harassment — or any kind of discrimination?
Ultimately, nothing. It’s all theory.
On that note, I studied normative ethics in my 30s and 40s (when I received a BA and MA in philosophy). I’ve had a painting of Lincoln hanging in my office for 20 years. I bought it from my friend, Bradford Solomon. And my parents, each of them — I heard their stories.
Dad, a Mexican, remembers the “No Mexican” signs, right here in The OC. Mom, being a Roman Catholic and an Italian immigrant in the 1950s — no bueno.
It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day today. Grateful Ronald Reagan made it a national holiday. Happy to see all the posts and quotes on social media.
But most white, educated, Christian, males (who hold the handles of power in politics and business), like me, can’t truly understand. Whites can’t understand racism.
See the problem?
This post won’t move the needle. I guess I post because I feel it’s my duty. There are massive problems surrounding racism today, and they only got worse on January 6 when (predominately white men) sacked the capital wearing Auschwitz t-shirts and waving Confederate flags.
I read a book recently called “White Fragility.” (Written by a white lady.) She wrote, “For those of us who work to raise the racial consciousness of whites, simply getting whites to acknowledge that our race gives us advantages is a major effort. The defensiveness, denial, and resistance are deep.”
She’s so right.
In the end, more and more these days, with a little help from my friends, I look away from politics and look to Jesus. He understood. He was a refugee from the wrong neighborhood, hanging out with all the wrong people. And he wasn’t martyred on behalf of those like me with privilege, but those with none.
This is my daughter, Bree. She is a student at Columbia Medical School. Because she works in the hospital, she was able to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
Growing up, I indoctrinated my children. Often to their chagrin, there were lectures, tutors, and many conversations about philosophy, faith, politics, and science — the stuff that really matters in life.
But I never tried to never tell them what to think — I taught them HOW to think. I taught them that knowledge isn’t the same as belief. That truth and certainty are, also, very different.
They learned the difference between a priori and a posteriori, sound versus unsound premises, logical fallacies, and how to spot the ever-so-common false dualism.
They were to respect those of other faiths, no faiths, other political parties (and I never revealed to them who I voted for or which party I belonged to) — that it was easier to hate your opponent than to take the time to understand his or her point of view.
Finally, I taught them to trust the guilds of science — empiricism — and beware of the allure of trendy conspiracy theories (which are based on the fallacy of affirming the consequent). That the Center For Disease Control, The National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization, and The American Medical Association — tens of thousands of the world’s greatest scientists and doctors — develop and administer vaccinations for viruses such as polio, smallpox, measles, rabies. Countless lives, as a result, are saved.
I’m proud of Bree, and those like her on the front lines who study and trust science and give their lives to keeping us safe.
Why “new?” — because reports of child abuse have dropped. Why have they dropped? — because mandated reporters (teachers, pediatricians, coaches) with their eagle-eyes, aren’t able to see the kids. They can’t see the bruises or the dissociation or the trembling.
On average, 5 children die every day from child abuse. Because of COVID-19, that average is on the rise.
Incidents of sexual abuse are also on the rise. For the first time, over half of the visitors to the National Sexual Assault Hotline were minors. Of those who called with concerns related to the COVID-19, 79% said they were living with their perpetrator.
I’m writing today to raise awareness. I will write every day this month.
Writing is hard. You probably know what I mean. But writing about this new epidemic wasn’t hard. The words rolled off my fingers. There was a crisis. So I wrote about it on day two and day three.
But the writing got harder. Because every morning I receive an email from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). And the email lists news stories about child welfare. And I read about how – all across the country, and the world – children were suffering, in unprecedented ways. Sexual abuse and physical abuse — and I could help wonder what it must feel like to be locked in an apartment for months with your abuser. I thought about the children I’ve met. Victims.
All you’d see on the news every hour is COVID-19 COVID-19 COVID-19 but noting – zero – on those who live in the shadows. Children. Minor children of neglect, abuse, and abandonment. These ones not suffering from the virus, per se, but from something I believe to be far more dangerous: family-induced childhood trauma.
Writing about the children wasn’t a too much problem on day four or five, which I titled Urgent Versus Urgent.
In January, I visited my psychologist for the first time in over a year. I seemed to be dealing with symptoms of depression. Everything in my personal life was flourishing. At RFK, our work was expanding to new states and new countries.
There was no “reason” for the depression. But something was up. Have you ever felt that way? — you just now something’s wrong even though everything in your life is going really well.
My therapist introduced me to the term, compassion fatigue — a disorder known to those who work with ailing populations:
Those who have experienced compassion fatigue describe it as being sucked into a vortex that pulls them slowly downward. They have no idea how to stop the downward spiral, so they do what they’ve done since medical school: They work harder and continue to give to others until they’re completely tapped out.
I now had a name for my new pyschological state of affairs. Always a good first step. I soon went to the literature, working on self-care and awareness. More yoga and prayer and exercise.
Work intensified. We developed new programing. How do we reach these children? Who will help them in this time of crisis?
When I interviewed for this role, during one of the many interviews, I was asked, “What do you believe to be your greatest strength with respect to this role?” Without hesitation, I responded, “compassion.”
This is weird to write. I’m just helping it real. I’m most certainly not like Mother Teresa or anything. But I feel the pain of others. Many who know me know this aloof kind of logical socially awkward introvert; that’s just my exterior. It’s my personality. Inside of that exterior — I can be kind of a mess when I see people suffering. Literally — somewhere in my chest, I feel it. Sometimes I have to gasp for air. Especially when the pain is the pain of a child. I don’t know why. It could be because of what happened when I was a child, but I’m not ready to write about that.
Maybe you feel the pain of others, too.
I remained connected to our RFK chapters and to HHS. Our RFK team began working on a national partnership to help the new emergency first responders: social workers.
I wrote on days six and seven and eight. It was getting harder.
Day 10, the entirety of my post read, “I can’t write about the pain. Goodnight.”
I don’t want to read it, anymore.
The morning reports. About the children. Not your loved and sheltered and guided ones.
The millions shacked up with torture. Torture. In America. COVID-19 makes them illusive to the press. Who talks about them. No mandated reporters to help.
I feel for the homeless; I fear more for children of rampant neglect, abuse, abandonment, far more.
They will end up incarcerated unless we act.
Unless we act.
We can act.
I didn’t write again until May 17, day 17. Then day 19. Then day 24.
Today is the 31st. Last day of National Foster Care Awareness Month.
Last post for the month.
I will keep speaking and writing because the children are still at home and there will be a flood of new abuse reports in the upcoming months.