Just Breathe

Just Breathe
What The Last Kiss teaches us about growing up before the day we really have to

last_kiss

Kim: “The world is moving so fast now that we start freaking long before our parents did because we don’t ever stop to breathe anymore.”

– THE LAST KISS (2006)

In The Last Kiss, Michael is a normal man who’s about to turn 30. He’s basically got everything that he ever dreamed of: a young and pretty fiancée, a great job, and cool friends. He even has a baby on the way, as well. One day, Michael goes to a friend’s wedding, meets a young college co-ed who sparks something within him, and begins to feel like the pressure is on him to start growing up right away. He views that day of either his future marriage or child’s birth as the day where he has to leave his youth behind. He doesn’t want to let go of his youth, and decides, haltingly, to try to re-discover his youth through Kim, the girl he met at the wedding. It results in his fiancée being angry at him, his friends leaving because of the same desire, and him trying to decide what he wants. And he does at the end of the film, choosing to grow up with his fiancée and finally leaving his youth behind.

What Michael faced in the film is what we’re all facing now. We don’t decide everything upon leaving college, choosing instead to defer that day of reckoning to the future and preferring to dwell on our glorious youth. What we fail to realize at that point in time is that all we’re doing is just pushing off the day we have to grow up for a while, and as a result when that day comes we’re completely caught off guard, just like how it caught Michael off guard. It’s a common occurrence, and maybe that has to do with the way we want to live, as opposed to the way we have to live. We want to live life the way we lived it in college; totally free, without worries, without responsibilities. And we want to live it without ever having to acknowledge that sooner or later we all will have to grow up; we just want to remain in that state of carefree youthful bliss.

Ironically enough, we do grow up without realizing it, or knowing it, which is why we think we’re living completely free. The modern world assigns to us responsibilities almost right away, in the prime of our childhood. It really depends on what kind of responsibilities we’re talking about; it could be physical, moral, mental, and so on. They can come in the form of chores or assignments; meetings or obligations; whatever else you can think of. And we have them while we’re young, despite our deep belief that we’re just living our youth without any responsibilities whatsoever. But it’s there for us all to see, embedded in our dreams of who we want to be. We unknowingly take on the responsibilities of who we want to be, and we grow up bit by bit through carrying out these responsibilities, while just simply living out our youth. We’re taught to think one way or another, believe one way or another by our elders, and we even sometimes subconsciously take on responsibilities and values and so on even while we think we’re rebelling against the Man or society at large. However, their lessons and delegation of responsibilities usually never become apparent to us until the day we finally grow up.

So how does all of this connect to the day we finally grow up? It’s because the day we finally choose to grow up is the day when we finally decide to leave our youth behind and start the final chapter, the big chapter, which is adulthood, of our lives for real. This is what Michael’s facing in the film, as we see him try to shy away from it, then dealing with it, and eventually coming to embrace it. There are many of us who will come to this consequence the same way Michael did, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude the possibility that maybe some of us will realize that before we have to, and take it in stride. All that matters is that we come to that day through whatever way we choose and make our own choices on that day, the way Michael did in choosing to embrace his fiancée and grow up, albeit after panicking for a little while.

Let’s consider our tendency to push away the act of growing up. Today’s world moves at a blindingly fast speed, fast enough that time always seems to move quicker than we expect it to. And so, because we perceive that life is moving at a breakneck pace and pulling us with it, unwillingly, we resist it with everything we have, because we don’t want to grow up. We want to extend our romantic and independent youth for as long as we can, because we also believe there isn’t enough time as it is. Is it because others say so, or we say so, as to whether there’s really enough time or not? Or maybe our society has a subtle way of applying pressure on us to grow up and move into the adult world. Whatever it is, it causes us to try to find time somewhere to as to push off that very day, and think we’ll have our youth for a very long time.

Lost in the fight to stay young and not grow up is the simple fact that we’re just making an artificial deadline out of that day by just pushing it back and not accepting the fact that we’re growing up. Our life expectancy is longer than ever, and the collective standard we’ve reached in terms of overall health is nothing short of astounding. What that really means is that we actually have more time than ever in which to grow up, and make our own choices long before we have to, while enjoying a youth that’s longer than ever before. So it’s contradictory for us to try to create more time for us to enjoy our youth when we already do have the time for it built into our lives nowadays, and as a result when we try to push the day we grow up away under nonexistent pressure, that day will come sooner than expected. That’s what happened to Michael.

Now, with time in which to grow up and live young at a leisurely pace, maybe we’ll take better advantage of the chance to better contemplate our dreams and futures, and make better choices before that day comes. We shouldn’t have to worry anymore about losing our youth to the march of time. Once we do that, really realize that we don’t have to worry about growing up so soon or staying young, we can all just sit back, and just… take a breath.

Advertisements

Dust to Dust

Published at http://www.deafnews.net (Deaf News Network) on August 28, 2013

Dust to Dust
Considering the legacies of two men with the last name of Armstrong, one year later
 
Fear no more the heat o’ the sun;
Nor the furious winter’s rages,
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney sweepers come to dust.
 
–          William Shakespeare, Fear No More
 
The Twain Shall Meet: August 2012
           
After a long, quiet but distinguished career as a pilot, astronaut and engineer, Neil Armstrong passed away on August 25, 2012, at the age of 82. High praise and fond reminiscences poured into the country from around the world, praising Neil’s quiet dignity and legendary courage. The world paused to remember where they were on the day he touched down on the moon, marking an epochal achievement for humanity, and appreciated his reluctance to embrace being a celebrity.

On the flip side of the coin during that same month, there was Lance Armstrong, he of the same last name as Neil’s, vainly trying to keep his crumbling reputation as a legendary biker together in the face of mounting evidence of illegal PED use and revealing testimony about his behavior behind closed doors. Back when he was winning the Tour de France on a repeat basis, Lance was eagerly surfing the fervent waves of idealization and profit which had been created by a partly-mythical story of his own making – that of a cancer survivor using nothing but grit and endurance to win the Tour de France seven consecutive times. That story began to fall apart piece by piece several years later, after his last race.

And so it came to be that the paths of two men with the last name of Armstrong would meet in August 2012, with one path coming to an earthly end and the other to a fiery, controversial end.
 
Neil Armstrong: For All Mankind
 

Neil Armstrong, 1930 - 2012

Neil Armstrong, 1930 – 2012


Growing up in Ohio during the Great Depression, it was already evident that Neil was focused on one thing only: getting to fly planes way up in the wild blue yonder. A nomadic childhood spent with his family in many different towns allowed Armstrong the chance to both witness and participate in aerial events, such as air races, held around the state, which then led to his first flight on a passenger plane. Along the way he became a dedicated Boy Scout and earned a flight certificate at age 15, essentially choosing flying over driving.

From there he went on to study aeronautical engineering at Purdue University, under a tuition plan that required three years of service in the Navy. Entering the Navy in 1949 (without completing his degree), he qualified as a Naval Aviator in 18 months and went into combat shortly afterwards, in Korea. He conducted multiple missions over Korea, and had to eject out of a damaged fighter jet during one such mission. Neil did not get injured or shot down, and completed his tour of duty. He returned to Purdue and completed his studies, moving on to conducting test flights of experimental jets with the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), which would eventually become the National Aeronautic and Space Agency (NASA).

Quiet courage was a big part of Armstrong’s mental and emotional makeup, and so it was used to great effect during his test pilot career. There were multiple accidents including the jets, all of which he and/or a co-pilot survived, and it served to build up his reputation as a cool-headed, analytical pilot. It was his steady performance and technical aptitude that gained the attention of the then-embryonic organization NASA, and he was selected for several programs involving space flight, where he continued flying test jets. His name was then selected once more, for the ultimate program of programs: the Apollo program. Thus began his long journey to the moon.

Armstrong started out as a command pilot for the Gemini program, Apollo’s predecessor, and reached orbit in Gemini 8. After completing the program, he went on to become a command pilot for the Apollo program, and was chosen to command Apollo 11, the long-awaited mission to touch down on the moon. He reached the moon on July 20, 1969, safely but not without a few tension-filled moments. It was Neil’s cool-headedness that saved the day, and ensured both a safe landing and takeoff. He was the first man out of the hatch, and upon stepping foot on the lunar surface he uttered the immortal sentence that would come to define him afterwards: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

It was the crowning achievement of his life, and the world’s most astonishing achievement. But, being just like the man he was before he touched down on the moon, he chose not to bask in the immortal glory and fame that befell him as a result of being the first man on the moon. He instead returned to his humble roots in Ohio as an engineer and consultant, and stayed out of the limelight. Neil Armstrong was the truest of true heroes, and the humblest of humble men.

Lance Armstrong: Of Fallen Heroes and False Idols
 lance-armstrong-story-10-22-12
Following in Neil’s footsteps as someone who knew what he wanted to do at a young age, Lance began competing in triathlons and made his mark early on as a gritty upcomer. After being a triathlete for a few years, he made the full-time switch over to competitive road biking, with every intention of competing in and winning the Tour de France, the biking world’s premier race. He put together a profitable and successful biking career, and put himself in prime position to go after the Tour de France. And then the weight of the world fell upon him.

He was diagnosed with stage 3 testicular cancer, which meant that the cancer originally located in his testicles had spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain. His biking career would have to be put on hold. Lance took immediate action, having his cancer-devastated testicle removed and a course of aggressive chemotherapy laid on along with a cocktail of drugs that he chose specifically to ensure that he would ride again. Doctors gave him a less than forty percent chance of survival. He beat the odds.

Armstrong then launched his comeback with the U.S. Postal cycling team, fully intent on making it to the Tour de France and winning it. This he did so in dramatic and dominating fashion, winning seven straight titles. All around the world, people praised him for his courage in beating cancer, and he sold himself as a cancer survivor who could still achieve great things with just courage and determination. He started a foundation and sold his famous yellow rubber wristbands, which had one word: “Livestrong”. Scarcely anyone questioned the suddenly meteoric rise of Lance’s post-cancer career, and it was chalked up to the same determination and grace he showed during his bout with cancer.

He was a hero to everybody. He was an idol to cancer patients and survivors everywhere. And then that same public image and identity, so jealously guarded and professionally promulgated over the years, dissolved into ash in the course of a year. His bitter rivals began to appear out of the woodwork, and the doping allegations that remained in the shadows for a long time suddenly came out into the open. It had been a cat-and-mouse chase for some time, and Lance eluded the trap several times while still maintaining his claim of complete innocence. The hunt was still on, however.

All at once, the legacy of Lance Armstrong was crumbling into pieces, and the final blow came when the United States Anti-Doping Agency announced that they had found evidence of doping by Armstrong, and witnesses who were willing to testify. In August of 2012, the agency officially stripped him of all competitive biking results (his Tour de France titles, and so on…) and banned him from riding competitively ever again. Giving up all claim to being both a courageous hero and an international idol as a cancer-surviving biker at the top of his sport, Lance finally admitted on January 4, 2013 that he had doped while competing.
 
Dust to Dust: At the Intersection of Courage and Fraud
 
And so the legacies of two men with the last name of Armstrong would eventually come to meet in August of 2012, at the intersection of courage and fraud. In America, more so than the rest of the world, we tend to passionately go the full distance in mythologizing our heroes and villains, even if they don’t deserve the attention or legacy that we choose to bestow upon them. In the case of Neil Armstrong and Lance Armstrong, one man completely deserved the public legacy and farewell that he earned in spades by daring to go out to the stars on a rocket made with 1960s technology, and the other man, in the end, in the bitter end, turned out to not have deserved everything that had been granted him by an awed and inspired world.

The legacy of Neil Armstrong will always remain with us as an example of what we can accomplish if we put our mind to it, and infuse that same effort with copious reserves of courage, and the legacy of Lance Armstrong will unfortunately remain with us for some time to come, in that it will continue to serve as a cautionary tale of blindly accepting glittering idols without putting out the sadly necessary effort to verify his or her claims and results. In August of 2012, two men with the last name of Armstrong met at an intersection where one courageous man’s body turned into earthly dust with his legacy secure in history’s pages as the first man who stepped foot onto the moon for all mankind and the other man’s reputation and legacy virtually turned into dust, forever consigned to be remembered as a fraud.

Whatever Happened to Amanda Bynes?

Published at deafnews.net on August 1, 2013

Whatever Happened to Amanda Bynes?
 Hollywood’s dark side claims another victim, and the need for a crackdown1355761293_amanda-bynes-lg
 It is a tale as old as time, that of the young, innocent child thrown to the wolves in a reckless push for wealth and fame and corrupted beyond redemption and beyond recovery. And it is that exact same tale that has just claimed another victim in Amanda Bynes, who was involuntarily admitted to an undisclosed mental health ward last week out of concern for her mental and physical well-being after having been discovered late at night attempting to set a fire in a stranger’s driveway. Bynes’ case is only the latest installment in a long string of publicized meltdowns involving young Hollywood stars, the most prominent among them being Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan.

Many reasons, and some excuses, have often been bandied about for their shocking and confusing behavior. Some will ascribe it to stress; others will pin it on their parents and their heavy involvement in their child’s career and life. And, conversely, there’s also the failure of their parents to be involved at all. And then you have the issue of peer pressure coming from their fellow young stars; the constant pull of Hollywood’s decadent social life is often too difficult for them to resist. Or sometimes it’s really just a case of a distinct lack of self-control, or an inability to recognize their limits when out in public. The reasons are sometimes understandable, sometimes not.

And then there is the real reason that’s gone explicitly unspoken all these years, covering all these cases and incidents: Hollywood’s dark underside. This is a story that we’ve barely heard of, and it’s a story that Hollywood and the entertainment media have every incentive to prevent from coming out in full. And the details behind the story would strongly suggest a definitive and overall reason for the public self-immolation of young child stars like Corey Haim, Shannon Doherty, Britney Spears and so on. It would be more than fair to assume that most of the self-destructive and bizarre incidents involving young celebrities are connected to what they all experienced as a child star growing up in Hollywood.

This story has been hinted at, however, in various films and shows. In 1972, Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo collaborated on a cinematic gamble that would make their careers – if they could pull it off successfully. That cinematic gamble is now known to history as The Godfather, widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. The story is simple: it is a tale of an aged mobster handing over control of his empire to his innocent, law-abiding son. Much of the story does not bear a direct connection to Amanda Bynes and Hollywood – except for the plotline involving Johnny Fontane and the Hollywood studio mogul Jack Woltz.

The film opens with a wedding – Vito Corleone’s daughter is getting married. On that day, according to an age-old Sicilian ritual, no father can refuse a request. And so Johnny Fontane makes a request of his patrone: can he help convince Jack Woltz to cast Fontane for a role that perfectly suits him? Vito assents, and sends his right-hand man Tom Hagen to Los Angeles. Hagen arrives, and is ushered into a sitting room. In the same sitting room, he sees a prim, arrogant mother and a scared girl, no older than 11, sitting on the opposite side. Tom does not make a complete connection about the girl, but it is clear that he has an inkling of what is causing her to act that way in public.

Hagen’s first attempt with Woltz fails. He, however, learns more about Woltz and the nature of the business, and ties it to the girl in the sitting room: Woltz is a drug user who molests young girls. As Hagen is about to depart for the airport, an urgent summons comes from Woltz – it is an invitation to dinner at his mansion. Hagen comes to Woltz’s residence, where Woltz tells him he knows about Hagen’s connection to Corleone and is willing to grant any favor – except for anything involving Fontane. Hagen asks for the favor once again, and is told off by Woltz, who refers to another young girl previously groomed by Woltz’s studio and then supposedly ruined by Fontane as “the greatest piece of ass I’ve ever had.” The following morning, Woltz wakes up in bed with the bloody head of his prized horse next to him, placed there overnight as a threat by the Corleone family.

This subplot is just one of the multiple plots that make the film, but it is a telling plot point nonetheless: it gently touches on a very taboo subject in Hollywood – the sexual abuse of its young stars. There has always been an undercurrent of suspicion regarding the seamy underbelly of the city and its celebrity-oriented culture, and it has been around for as long as the very concept of Hollywood itself, and it’s always been the one thing the powerful and the wealthy have managed to keep under lock and key. And it is exactly what caused the very public and sordid meltdowns of young stars like Corey Haim and Amanda Bynes.

Right around the same time Bynes’ slow-motion meltdown began a blog post started circulating on the less-trafficked parts of the entertainment section of the internet, in which it discussed the probable reasons for Bynes’ apparent breakdown. It detailed her strange antics on her old show What I Like About You, and tied them to potential sexual abuse by one of Nickleodeon’s more powerful producers from back when she was a star for the popular children’s TV network. The same article also suggested that the problem was widespread in Hollywood, and Bynes was only the latest victim of Hollywood’s dark subculture of pedophilia, sexual abuse, drug use, and corruption.

Several years ago, Corey Feldman, a former co-star of Haim’s, discussed their past together in frank terms, openly stating that they had been abused and passed around by major players in Hollywood and that a great deal of drugs had been involved in the transactions. It was most likely the past that eventually drove Haim to kill himself, unable to deal with the emotional and mental fallout from his torturous early years as a child star. Yet the admission barely drew much in the way of attention and was quickly shoved aside by the entertainment media. The admission still resonated in some ways, anyway, by corroborating other reports and rumors, including Bynes’ own.

And so where there is smoke, there is fire. There’s plenty of smoke to warrant a full-scale investigation into Hollywood’s dark side, and even a crackdown on moguls and celebrities alike. All of this has probably been going on since the 1930s, and there’s certainly been more than enough evidence of their heinous behavior over the decades to convict the perpetuators and put them away for long stretches of time, maybe even for the rest of their lives.  For every significant B-list or higher young celebrity who falls apart in the public arena, there are a dozen C- or D-list young celebrities whose names will go unnoticed everywhere in the world. They all deserve to be avenged, and a major investigation and/or crackdown would do the job.

But we’re not really going to see any of that happen any time soon, are we? Not with the way Hollywood’s been able to buy protection, in exchange for political support, from Washington for their sins over the last couple of decades. The horror of Hollywood’s dark world is just going to continue indefinitely, and young broken stars like Amanda Bynes and Corey Haim will continue to put themselves into institutions and caskets, having been driven mad by their slow descent into the heart of darkness that lies beneath the blue skies, green valleys, and whitewashed studios of Los Angeles.

The Great Escape

Written for Deaf News Network and published on June 21, 2013

The Great Escape
How Miami snatched its second straight championship from the jaws of defeat

In the wake of the historic 27 game winning streak, the sky was the limit for LeBron James and the Miami Heat. It appeared to the rest of the NBA and the country that the remainder of the season and the upcoming playoffs would likely turn into a coronation for the Heat, and the Heat’s critics were bemoaning the apparent fait accompli that had been imposed on them by sheer force. In the East, Chicago was without Derrick Rose; Indiana had lost Danny Granger earlier in the season, supposedly causing their offense to stagnate in his absence, and Boston was a hollow shell of its former self.

And in the West, only Oklahoma City emerged as the likely opponent in this year’s Finals, seemingly headed towards a titanic rematch with the team that had owned them outright last year in the 2012 NBA Finals. San Antonio was deemed a competent but aging team who would find itself drummed out of the playoffs by the Thunder, as had happened the previous year. And the mindboggling mess that was the Los Angeles Lakers was put down further on the list, with the Dwight Howard experiment now a miserable failure.

Thus the stage for the Heat’s second straight championship was set, with the world’s eyes all riveted upon LeBron and the Heat. Nothing less than a championship was expected; failure would only cause the virulent and loud critics to come out of hiding and rip both James and the team to shreds in public. It also would set back James’ quest for multiple championships by a year, maybe even more. For them, it was not a simple “win or go home” proposition; it was an explicit “win or be destroyed” challenge.

And so the playoffs began. It began on a good note for Miami, with an easy series win versus an overmatched Milwaukee Bucks team that tried their best but just didn’t have the firepower or size to keep up with the Heat. At that point, with the rest of the playoff field (and the teams’ trajectories) mostly locked in, it seemed like Miami would be taking a cakewalk to the Finals without running into serious adversity. It became even more so with the dramatic injury to Russell Westbrook; without Westbrook, Oklahoma City had to fight for its life afterwards and ultimately went down to a strong Memphis Grizzlies team.

Over in San Antonio, Tony Parker was having the playoffs of his life and a rejuvenated Tim Duncan was making the Spurs a complete force to be reckoned with. For the first time in a long time, the Spurs were a team people were looking up to as a potential, and worthy, Finals opponent. Miami put its head down and reassumed its march, taking on the wounded Chicago Bulls. What they found was a vicious and tough rival that pushed Miami to five games before finally falling. If things had turned out a little bit differently, it might have wound up going seven games.

After vanquishing Chicago, the Heat next took on Indiana. That was when the shocks of adversity finally made itself felt, in the form of the Pacers with an emerging superstar in Paul George and a 7-2 titan in Roy Hibbert. The cracks in Miami’s façade finally appeared, with an inability to get rebounds on both sides of the floor being the prominent one. For seven games, it appeared as if Miami was teetering, verging on total collapse and all the infamy that would come with it. For Miami to escape with a series win and make it to the Finals required everything and more from James and a now-hobbled Dwayne Wade. And it happened. Indiana proved unable to overtake the Heat in the end, and they escaped.

They escaped, only to run into the greatest threat to ever emerge against the proto-dynasty that was the Miami Heat: the wily, experienced and mentally strong San Antonio Spurs, headed by legendary coach Gregg Popovich. For once, the experts and the pundits and the fans were lost for words. No one had foreseen this coming, and everyone had written off San Antonio prior to the playoffs. Yet they kept coming on, and coming on until they were in the Finals. The Spurs were a patient team, steeped in fundamentals and balanced out by a superb mix of age and youth. In short, it turned out to be the best team out of the others to challenge Miami’s claim to a dynasty. Now the predictions started calling for a war to the bitter end – a 7 game series. What it required from LeBron and co. to match that prediction, with a victory, would be nothing less than the greatest escape of LeBron’s career.

And the ensuing series proved it. The Spurs gave Miami no quarter, and the Heat gave San Antonio no quarter, too. It was a battle to the end, with each game leaving both teams progressively exhausted and reaching into their reserves to finish the series out on a winning note. The Spurs put themselves in position to win the series twice, at 2-1 and at 3-2, and were prepared to issue the killing blow that would kill the embryonic dynasty. Suddenly, the whole world wanted in on this experience, savoring the looming kill and preparing to savage James and Miami on social media and in public. It all came down to Game 6. The narrative was all but written out for them, ready to be published and advertised from coast to coast and around the world in an instant right after the final buzzer.

Well, it didn’t happen. LeBron James happened instead. He took over the series by force, and with it Miami’s second straight championship. For a spectacular stretch in the second half of Game 6, the Spurs and the world were held captive by the sheer power and brilliance of LeBron, and it seemed like Miami had clinched the right to survive and advance to Game 7. The Spurs, however, fought back, and took the lead. The yellow tape was being spun around the court, the stage was being brought out, and the champagne was chilling on ice. Just about everyone had left Miami for dead. And that was when James and Ray Allen teamed up to stage the greatest escape of all: coming back from five down with 28 seconds left to tie the game in regulation and win it in overtime. The sudden loss left the Spurs devastated, and the whole world stunned.

And so the best two words in all of sports came into being: Game 7. Everything had already been written out, commented on, and contemplated upon. All that remained was the actual result. The two teams went to war one final time for everything, and left it all out there. Unlike Miami’s previous opponents, the Spurs never went away and stayed in the game right to the end, hanging with Miami at 90-88. And then… swish. That simple sound was the final dagger from LeBron James, a sharp dagger aimed at all the bad words, thoughts, and wishes aimed at him right from the start, and a jagged dagger aimed at ripping up all the narratives about him choking and not being clutch at the end.

Despite the Spurs having one more possession left, everyone knew it was over. James and the Heat would not let this game go. Manu Ginobili made his last, ill-advised turnover, and James ended the game with two more series-clinching points. The Great Escape was complete: Miami was now the world champion. The very long year of LeBron James was now, finally, mercifully over. Both teams picked up a lot of superlatives and compliments in the aftermath, and both teams were gracious to each other. The basketball world united as one to congratulate the champion. And the already-very-long and stellar resume of LeBron James was extended, with one new entry: Escape Artist.

 

After the Storm

After the Storm
The unflagging spirit of humanity at work, in the wake of sudden disaster

Tornado Alley has always been around since the dawn of time, and its’ natural and violent spawn, like regular clockwork, always comes sweeping down on the plains of Oklahoma and Kansas every spring, erasing lives from the face of the earth with nary a concern for the tears and wreckage left behind in its path of destruction. And then, after the storm, invariably comes the frantic search for survivors and the desperate effort to stay alive, which is then succeeded by the sight of broken families and towns picking up the pieces and moving on. There, however, is yet another constant about Tornado Alley: the refusal of the surviving residents to bow down to the mysterious yet powerful workings of Mother Nature.

Such scenes like the above occur in the midwestern United States every year without fail, and they stand as a testament to the oft-wrathful disposition of Earth’s climate. The annual losses the region suffers every year have been lamented to no end, and many have questioned the wisdom of continuing to reside in a vast region known for its frequent tornado outbreaks. And for the media, such scenes of great tragedy will always serve to compel massive, if fleeting coverage of horror and heroism in the midst of disaster. To them, Tornado Alley serves as a recurring, physical example of their unofficial “if it bleeds, it leads” credo.

In the wake of such devastation also comes the search for answers to questions like, why did we not get enough warning? Why didn’t they mandate the construction of shelters and basements everywhere in the Alley? And so on.  Every spring usually brings variations on the same theme, and more ink and bandwidth is usually accorded to covering the meatier aspects of the story, such as the meteorologists’ failed predictions and the government’s inability to provide prompt relief in the aftermath. The transition from covering stories of heroism and love to covering stories of negligence and corruption usually does not take very long, either.

And that’s where they’re missing the real story. The real story is humanity’s resilience in the face of constant tragedy, our determination to grit our teeth and rebuild, and our unceasing desire to keep on living our lives as if nothing had happened in the preceding hours and days. From Boston, Massachusetts, to Sendai, Japan, from Mumbai, India, to Moore, Oklahoma, we are always in constant motion, always taking blows on the chin from the worst of humanity and nature, and shaking it off with renewed vigor and faith. For every story about immoral looters or inept bureaucrats, there are five stories of bravery or sacrifice – maybe even more than just five.

That story showed up last week, in Moore, Oklahoma, where a devastating EF-5 tornado ripped through the southern suburbs of Oklahoma City and took the lives of 24 residents. The world’s eyes turned to the city, and to the views and sounds of rescuers and residents saving lives and delivering emergency supplies. We heard reports about the terrifying plight of the town’s two grade schools, and feared for the worst. It didn’t happen – and it was all due to the heroism and fearlessness of the schools’ faculty and the town’s firefighters. We were told about teachers throwing their bodies over the children and staffers quickly putting them under the sturdiest parts of the school buildings. And the same was done at the local hospital, too.

Some lives were lost, unfortunately, including some children and adults at Plaza Towers Elementary School. But the vast majority of residents survived – and what’s more, they actually survived the wrath of an EF-5 tornado. It’s a genuine miracle more lives weren’t lost that day, especially given the fact the tornado tore through the suburbs just south of Oklahoma City. And yet, despite having faced something no sane human being would ever want to face again, the residents of Moore, Oklahoma chose to return to their wrecked houses instead and assume the tedious but determined task of cleaning up and rebuilding.

This is humanity, in a nutshell: we face natural and man-made disasters head on the same way we face life every day, and we rebuild our lives and our world with astonishing alacrity and speed. In the wake of disaster, we automatically come together as one and help each other in all sorts of ways, consistently showing the best of humanity in the process. The worst of humanity also comes through, but what gives us hope for the future is the undeniable fact that the best parts of humanity can easily overwhelm the worst of humanity on most days.

Eventually, once the klieg lights go off and the volunteers return to their homes, the survivors are left alone to continue the hard work they started immediately after the storm. They don’t stop for anything – and they never stop, which is as pure an example of unflagging spirit that can be mustered here. All of this will take place in the background, even as the national media begins its next pivot over to the next big scandal or tragedy. And then, at that point our natural instinct for moving on will finally kick in, borne out of knowledge that Moore, Oklahoma will recover, just as a thousand different towns recovered quietly in the wake of disaster, always guided by the best of what humanity has to offer.

Do April Showers Wash Away Blood?

Originally written and published in 2008; updated and re-published in 2013

 Do April Showers Wash Away Blood?
The Boston bombings and the meaning of the cruelest month of the year

 April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing 
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain
 
–          T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland

 Yet another April comes to pass, with yet another April tragedy. This time it was the twin bombings at the Boston Marathon, in which three people were killed and over two hundred wounded by a cold-blooded act of terrorism, interspersed with scenes from the massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas and the recent earthquake in central China, along with the continuing civil war in Syria and al-Qaeda’s comeback in Iraq. It brought up, for all of us, memories of violent Aprils gone by, with the Columbine massacre the most prominent of all, and the Rwandan genocide the most haunting of all. And as it is with each passing year, it always seems that every April is fated to be punctuated by such scenes of horrific or bloody violence, and we are always left behind to pick up the pieces and wonder why.

The month of April, in history, can and should rightly be judged to be the most tragic month of the year. For it is in April we have witnessed shocking assassinations, bloody massacres, silent deaths, violent bombings, natural disasters, long wars and so on. We have the assassinations of President Abraham Lincoln and civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., the slaughter of innocents abroad and at home in Rwanda, Armenia, Cambodia, Columbine, Blacksburg, the Oklahoma City and Boston Marathon bombings, the quiet death of South Vietnam in 1975, the American Civil War of April 1861 – April 1865, and the Armageddon of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich’s final days of infamy in 1945.

Why do such heart-breaking moments occur in April, and why do we remember them more than we do with the other moments in the other months? Considering the latter in terms of memories, the other eleven months do have their tragic footnotes to history, but for the most part they do not stay with us long after the last drop of blood is spilled. April is always singled out in that we are always haunted by the memory of images from such days of drama, long after its occurrence, like the students running out of the school building at Columbine and the haunting yet gentle snowfall of the morning after, the firefighter cradling a dead baby in his arms in Oklahoma City, the helicopters lifting off the U.S. embassy roof during America’s indecent exit from South Vietnam, and the rescuers running towards the bombing site in Boston to get to the wounded and the dead.

We will remember these images for the rest of our lives and beyond, but once again, why do they happen in April? It is interesting to note that when they happened, people often couldn’t make any sense of it all, calling so and so senseless and sudden, like the Virginia Tech massacre, while also finding it incredibly difficult to conceive a clear metaphysical rationale, outside of the killers’ own, for them. At such times, we often think about why it happened in the immediate moment, but never about when it happens. We often don’t go far enough to consider the plain question of why it keeps happening in April. It seems strangely contradictory: April is supposed to be the month where flowers bloom, picnics happen, students graduate, everybody coming out of the winter into the sunshine. And yet instead of the joy of such events we have deaths and tears.

Maybe it is because it’s a futile exercise in thought. Maybe it’s because the question will never be answered well enough to satisfy us. Or, for the religiously-inclined, maybe it’s God’s will. However, in assuming such thoughts, we are instead clashing with our own tendency, in the wake of such atrocities, to seek such meaning in everything that happens in life and death. If we seek meaning in such lives and deaths, in such horrific action, in general, then shouldn’t we think it logical and appropriate to also seek the meaning of why, going outside the life, the death and the incident itself, and when it happens? And so, if we agree to such a postulation, then it should be logical to consider why it happens in April.

It happens, because death has to happen, and death, in its’ unnatural form, is always a reminder of human flaws and failings. Since April is supposed to be a month of joy, of our exit from winter, death intrudes upon our lives to remind us that somewhere and someday it is not a joyful time, because someone or something chose to exhibit the worst of humanity, or failed for a brief fleeting moment to display the best of humanity. If it’s not happening here, then it’s happening someplace else out there. It reminds us to be thankful for the joy we get, because one day there may not be any to be had wherever we are, in April, as we begin our spring.

And it happens, because it’s a warning to us. It’s a warning for those who survived or witnessed such death, to fix the physical, mental, and moral flaws within our modern way of life, like governmental incompetence, appeasement, glorification of violence, apathy, reluctance (in the case of the Rwandan genocide) and so on, or be fated to suffer the same fate these victims of Aprils long since past suffered. Such a warning lesson in April is cruel, because the warning itself comes in the form of death, not a note or email. And it is crueler still that with the passing of each tragic April we still have to keep realizing through such bloodshed that we have yet to take heed of such a costly lesson.

In finally contemplating such a question and finding a real answer, once we have advanced to such a point, that is, we will invariably find our own meaning for why it keeps happening in April. And with such a meaning found, then comes the search for closure and a final, long time in coming, end to the bloodshed and the beginning of many a peaceful Aprils. But first, before the search begins, we must ask ourselves one more question. Do April showers wash away blood? The answer, heartbreakingly enough, is no, at least for the moment.

No, because we still not have learned our lessons from their deaths, from their warnings. No, because we will always have to remember why their blood was spilled in April, at least up until the day when we can finally celebrate a string of many a joyful April, because such cruel Aprils will have by then become nothing more than a period of an awful time in history. Such joyful Aprils will only happen if we learn our lessons, heed our warnings, and along with that completely and irrevocably learn how to continually exhibit the best of humanity day in and out. Then perhaps we will be able to change our answer to yes on that glorious day, and enjoy a simple April shower outside, without the blood on the ground. And we will never have to ask ourselves again why.

LIVE BLOG: March Madness, Day 4 – The Empire Strikes Again

4:37 AM: Well, then. Upsets and close games galore last night. STOP TOYING WITH MY MIND AND HEART, MARCH.  By the way… Wichita State? TWO IN THE PINK, ONE IN THE STINK. (I will never forgive you for this, Joe Francis.)

1:03 PM: A late start for today’s live blog? Yeah, that’s my bad – Wichita State wore me out last night. SHOCKERS!!!

1:49 PM: Greatest bromance ever: “@NativeFlash22 (Ole Miss basketball player Marshall Henderson): @JManziel2 (Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel) preciate ya big dog!!! ima be in college station for chili fest if we dont make final 4, gonna have ta link up”

3:15 PM: Iowa State got screwed HARD on that charge/block call. Temple is going to get     screwed because they’re playing Indiana. MARCH SCREWNESS!!!

5:14 PM: Indiana’s Victor Oladipo: *makes game-winning 3-pointer against Temple* “Survive and advance, baby. SURVIVE AND ADVANCE!!!” *is reminded by the sideline reporter that he might get drafted by the Charlotte Bobcats later this year* “I don’t want to advance anymore.”

7:43 PM: North Carolina/Kansas. This is what resulted: http://www.sbnation.com/college-basketball/2013/3/24/4143086/sad-unc-fan-gif

10:06 PM: FGCU, now and forever.

LIVE BLOG: March Madness, Day 3 – Round of 32

12:15 PM: You know it’s been a crazy tournament when even the specter of a 16/1 upset (Western Kentucky/Kansas) gets overshadowed by a soccer game being played in the middle of a snowstorm. Still no buzzer-beater drama, though. But today? Today’s gonna be a different story. TODAY IS GOING TO BE AWESOME. And if it isn’t, then you can ask for your money back. First game up: VCU’s HAVOC defense vs. the high likelihood of a Michigan upset. By the way, I saw Anne Hathaway in HAVOC. She got naked in it, but, man, that didn’t even redeem the movie at all. Terrible, terrible movie.

12:45 PM: HAVOC!!! It’s only the first game of the day, but, damn, it’s already been a good start to the day (so far). Now, if we could just get a Wolverine to hilariously call a timeout without remembering that they don’t have any timeouts left…

1:12 PM: Anndddd not a good start to the day anymore. I thought we left the hot potatoes game back in kindergarten, VCU. Any more of this and I’m gonna have to open up a bottle of wine, curl up under the desk and weep to myself while muttering “snow soccer… snow soccer…”.

1:37 PM: Yeah, I might as well open up that bottle of wine now. Not even a Wolverine player hilariously calling a non-existent timeout is going to save you now, VCU.

1:59 PM: This is the world we’re apparently leaving to our children in the future: The Internet—the global system of interconnected networks that’s become an increasingly central means of commerce and communication capable of bringing far-flung civilizations together—reached its apex this week, after a man claiming to be the fiancé of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic character Twilight Sparkle contacted a user of online community DeviantArt to demand he stop drawing sexual pictures of his imaginary pony-bride.

LINK: http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-internet-finally-reaches-its-apex-as-man-marry,94206/?mobile=true

2:47 PM: Buffalo wings baking in the oven. Wine chilling in the fridge. March Madness and golf on TV. BEST DAY EVER. (Not really. Not after the horror show that was the AV Club article about that guy.)

3:42 PM: March Madness is now officially March Boredom. (At least for the moment.)

4:24 PM: This is the current state of March Madness 2013: Tiger Woods at Bay Hill >>>> March Madness.

5:45 PM: JOHNNY FOOTBALL! MARSHALL BASKETBALL! http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/ncaaf-dr-saturday/johnny-manziel-offers-encouragement-ole-miss-basketball-bad-210850694–ncaaf.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

/Twitter explodes /the world explodes /the universe explodes

7:19 PM: March Madness? More like March Blowout. EVERY MAN AND WOMAN FOR HIMSELF/HERSELF! *starts drinking heavily, picks out a movie to watch*

8:48 PM: BEST DANCE PARTY EVER. http://www.sbnation.com/2013/3/23/4140374/arizona-band-member-dance-gif

(I’m so sorry. I’M RUNNING OUT OF THINGS TO BLOG ABOUT, OKAY?!)

LIVE BLOG: March Madness, Day 2 – Electric Boogaloo

12:14 PM: Oh, hi. Sorry about last night. Yeah, sure, Harvard won, but it wasn’t a classic ending. I had to let yesterday’s liveblog die a slow and quiet death. *sniffles* I’ll miss you, Day 1 live blog. Okay! Duke/Albany coming up. One word for you: LEHIGH!!!

12:49 PM: DUCK FUKE. Seriously, Duke sucks. (Okay, not really, but it’s kinda fun to share in the irrational hatred of all things Duke.)

1:26 PM: To drink or to not drink? That is the question. Meh, here’s to hoping that Albany upsets Duke, which will in turn cause me to feel naturally drunk and happy… I really have no idea what I’m saying here, do I? MARCH MADNESS!!!

1:43 PM: You’re breaking America’s heart, Albany. Here, lemme take you out for some fishing, on Lake Tahoe, to make you feel a little bit better. [kills Albany Fredo Corleone-style] You broke my heart, Albany. *whispers* YOU BROKE MY HEART.

2:12 PM: *currently trying to make Marshall Henderson the Johnny Football of college basketball* MARSHALL BASKETBALL!!!

2:43 PM: MARSHALL BASKETBALL!!! The unnaturally powerful force that is Marshall Henderson just took down #5 Wisconsin. Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan is now showing his anger over the loss by flipping chairs, water coolers, referees, and Wisconsin’s cheerleaders. Meanwhile, Marshall is now sitting in the stands with a beautiful and nubile co-ed, snacking on her popcorn while talking on the phone like the badass athlete he is.

3:23 PM: Two bottles of Pepsi Max and two bottles of wine. I think I’m set for tonight. BACKUP OPTION FOR FUN: snorting several lines of grape fun-dip powder.

3:42 PM: N.C. State loses to Temple Deceased N.C. State head coach Jim Valvano: “Never give up. Never ever, ever, ever giv- oh, for fuck’s sake. What the hell was that? I’m outta here.”

4:22 PM: Denzel Washington actually does have some game: http://espn.go.com/blog/playbook/fandom/post/_/id/19910/meet-denzel-washington-the-hoops-stud (I know, I know – I still haven’t figured out the whole hyperlink thing yet. Shhhhhh.)

4:30 PM: Ladies and gentlemen, the wit of Marshall Henderson is now on display via Twitter – @NativeFlash22: “I SUCK AND GET A LEBRON TWEET!!! HAHAHAHA I DONT WANNA HEAR NOBODY SAY NOTHIN, IVE MADE IT!!!”

4:50 PM: Grab your asses and hang on, kids: La Salle/Kansas State is officially on UPSET ALERT. Let’s see what my joke book has to say about this… Welp. Nothing. Let’s just hope that La Salle wins the game in a bizarre but awesome way.

5:21 PM: LA SALLE. YOU HAVE SAVED MARCH MADNESS. AMERICA THANKS YOU.

6:32 PM: Y U NO MAD, MARCH? We’ve yet to have a classic buzzer-beater game. And we’re kinda in a lull right now, with the rest of today’s games coming up in 20 minutes, so… Rick Pitino adultery jokes, anybody? No? Aw.

8:43 PM: America: “GO GO GO FGCU GO G- wait a minute. Who the fuck is FGCU?” Florida Gulf Coast is up big on #2 Georgetown right now. Somewhere in America, a man named Allen Iverson is mumbling to himself, saying “March Madness? Serious, man? You talking about March Madness? MARCH MADNESS?! I don’t do March Madness, man.”

9:15 PM: FGCU!!! FGCU!!! FGCU!!! They just ripped out Georgetown’s heart with a massive alley-oop dunk and ate it on national TV.

10:11 PM: BRB BRB BRB taking a break from the certifiable madness that is the month of March to watch the U.S. men’s soccer team lose yet another winnable game vs. Costa Rica. AMERICA!!!

LIVE BLOG: March Madness, Day 1

12:34 PM: My very first post on this brand spankin’ new blog, and it’s a March Madness live blog? I really have no idea what I’m doing with my life, do I? This will not end well. MARCH MADNESS!!!

12:45 PM: MARGARITA MODE ACTIVATED. MICHIGAN STATE DOMINANCE MODE… not activated. Say, has anybody checked on the whereabouts of Bryce Drew yet?

12:58 PM: Just started marinating this big and beautiful piece of beef brisket. Normally, MARCH MADNESS!!! tradition requires us to eat buffalo wings by the bucket, but not this time. No, sir. I’M A REBEL. I’M AN UNIQUE WALLFLOWER. I WILL NOT BE DENIED MY BEEF BRISKET. In related news, Butler is letting Bucknell hang around. Do we have an… UPSET IN THE MAKING? (Probably not.)

1:18 PM: If you needed to know who Bryce Drew is… here’s your answer: http://www.sbnation.com/longform/2013/3/19/4119040/march-madness-valparaiso-ole-miss-buzzer-beater-history

1:35 PM: I’m like, what, a hour into this liveblog, and I’ve already had a hyperlink FAIL. The fail isn’t as strong as Valparaiso’s fail, though, because Valparaiso is getting its’ ass kicked hard right now.

1:55 PM: Hold on to your asses, folks – Butler/Bucknell just got good. UPSET ALERT INITIATED. By the way, Butler head coach Brad Stevens is only 36. And he’s been to two Final Fours already. I’m about to turn 30 this year. I hate my life. /sets self on fire

2:15: My beloved grill is ON FIRE right now. Can you guess another thing that’s gonna be grilled momentarily? That’s right, sir. Or ma’am. BUTLER. Butler’s gonna be put on the grill. Or Bucknell. I don’t know, they keep changing the lead like every five seconds or so. STOP KILLING MY JOKE, GUYS.

2:38 PM: Thanks for trying and failing to give us your ONE SHINING MOMENT, Bucknell. Just go home. This… is… not… MARCH MADNESS!!! If anything, it’s been more like MARCH CALMNESS. (joke stolen from somewhere)

3:00 PM: Come on, guys. You do realize Scott Madsen was kidding about today being March Calmness, right? Don’t take it so literally. GET MAD.

3:31 PM: SOMEBODY PLEASE SAVE ME FROM MARCH BOREDOM. I’m now legitimately terrified about the possibility of having to kill two full pitchers of margaritas just to even tolerate the rest of the afternoon games. At least Wichita State is slapping around Pitt right now, so I’ve got that going fo- oh, who am I kidding? /starts drinking heavily

4:04 PM: Worst MARCH MADNESS!!! ever. PROJECT X (the movie) is worse, though, so MARCH MADNESS!!! should feel lucky right there. I mean, seriously? Why the hell wouldn’t you charge $5 per head for a massive party like the one depicted in the movie? And the drug dealer with the flamethrower? What the hell, man? And a hollowed-out garden gnome with 383932 ecstasy pills? Seriously, worst party movie ever. Oh, hey there, Wichita State. UPSET ALERT INITIATED. The Shockers are about… to shock Pitt.

4:54 PM: MARCH MADNESS? More like MARCH TAKE A NAP NESS. I’m actually considering taking a nap. The whole day is starting to feel like a grueling marathon. Sigh.

5:15 PM: SAVE US FROM THE HELL THAT IS MARCH CALMNESS, DAVIDSON. #14 Davidson’s up 7 on #3 Marquette with just over seven minutes left in the game. DO IT, DAVIDSON. Get the announcer to say FATALITY! Maybe by then I’ll actually be awake.

6:02 PM: Oh, great. Go home, Davidson. You’re drunk. And it’s still friggin’ unbelievable that I’m not drunk right now. The boredom must be keeping me sober. NOT COOL, GUYS. NOT COOL. Do your job, Southern University. GET ME DRUNK AND TAKE ME TO BED. Well, actually, I kinda want Jennifer Lawrence to do that instead. So… uh… never mind.

6:32 PM: Oh, Southern University, you’re turning me on. I’m so horny fo- uh… Um. I… I… Let’s just never speak of this ever again.

6:48 PM: You broke my heart, Southern. YOU BROKE MY HEART.  I… I can’t even… I…

8:07 PM: Just took a 45 minute nap. That should tell you everything about today.