And on the first day

One dog licked her back paw, the other chewed a bone. The washing machine whirred from the next room.

It was the first day of the rest of his life.

He scoffed under his breath. “Cliche much?” he muttered. But it was true. He had awakened very much aware of his mortality. His neck ached. He walked slowly and gingerly through the house. His body, never particularly athletic or toned, felt worn.

He had listened while Bob Goff read his book Everybody, Always over the last couple of days. It was a book about love and forgiveness and the supernatural power of Christ, and overcoming through persistence and that forgiveness and love.

“Persistence,” he scoffed, thinking of his lack there. Still, today was the first day of the rest of his life.

He remembered writing about the second day, a long time ago — how if you stumble on the first day, then you can start on the second day of the rest of your life, or on the third day, and all you’ve lost are a couple of days.

Or — and the insight crashed against him like an ocean wave on a windy day — was the idea all along to treat every day like the first day? The first day of any new venture is full of promise and hope and energy and “You can do this” because nothing has gone wrong — perhaps a little bit of anxiety because it’s new and unknown, but there’s all the excitement of a new beginning, a new hope, a new direction.

“Today is the first day …” and it’s always today. Every day is a new first day, a new promise, and a new hope.

Every day is the first day of the rest of your life — and suddenly he was excited, and he knew how to live, and to love. He wasn’t sure he could be that refreshed and ready every day, but it was the anxious optimism of the first day on the job, the eagerness of the first day of vacation, and the joyousness of a wedding day. It was the discovery of a cliche turned over and examined to find a new meaning, perhaps its intended-all-along meaning.

He saw at last, and every day became the first day from then on.

To honor the fallen

We set aside this day every year to honor and remember the people who have died in war. From time to time someone points out that the best way to honor the fallen is to work to ensure there is no war.

But war goes on, and perhaps it always will as long as we turn for leadership to disturbed people who would violently take land from and kill those they perceive as enemies.

Life is a precious gift, too precious to leave in the hands of death merchants. To honor the victims of war, may we raise a chorus of “Never again. May we resolve our future differences in peace.”

Would you rather be safe or free?

From the archives: I wrote this in 1999, not long after the infamous shootings at Columbine High School. I really can’t add anything 24 years later.

Would you rather be safe or free?

Those are the choices, you know. There are ways you can try to protect yourself and your children from the possibility that the events of Littleton, Colo., never again happen. But the only way to do it is to lock us all in cages.

You can have a society where no one tells you what church to attend, where no one monitors what you read, write or say, where no one keeps you from going to a Packers game or driving to see an old friend in Missouri.

But you run the risk that someone else may worship Satan or Hitler, that someone may read, write or say persuasively hateful things, that someone at the Packer game may try to sell you a $40 ticket for $250, that bad people will use the Interstate to transport illegal goods or kidnap your daughter.

So the solution is to regulate what church you can go to, what you read and write and say, and place checkpoints at city limits and state borders.

You can have a society where you are free to protect your property or defend your person, or to hunt and feed your family.

But you run the risk that someone with a sick mind will arm himself and kill you or your children.

So the solution is to make sure only the police and military have weapons.

You can have a society where, if you obey the law, no police officer or military unit will ever knock on your door and search through your personal belongings or drag you down to the county jail.

But you run the risk that your next-door neighbor is manufacturing narcotics in his basement or scheming to overthrow the government.

So the solution is a police state.

You can have a society where, if you are accused of a crime, no one can throw you in jail without proof, or torture a confession out of you,  or force you to testify under oath that you did it — even if you did it.

But you run the risk that murderers will occasionally escape justice, or criminals get out of prison and commit new crimes.

So the solution is to lock us all up.

When you have a free society, there will be times when someone abuses his or her freedom and harms someone else, perhaps even kills someone else.

The only way to try to prevent such abuses is to take away our freedoms.

And the bad things will not go away.

Confiscate our guns, and criminals will use knives or bombs made of pipe or fertilizer — or steal guns — and we will be defenseless.

Regulate what the media reports, and you lose the right to know what’s happening. Regulate the Internet and you depend on the government to inform you. Regulate what singers can sing, writers can write,  and painters can paint, and you begin to lose life itself.

And even then, you will not be safe. You will only have built a cage and crawled in. It will be easier for evil to find you when it decides to look.

So how to prevent future school shootings?

Teach children right from wrong. Teach them to cherish life and other living things. Teach them good choices from bad. And punish them when they do wrong, when they harm living things, when they choose badly.

Our nation, this bold experiment, has thrived because of the notion that the only limit on my freedom is that it not impose on yours. The most defining speech of our history concludes, “Give me liberty or give me death!”

Sometimes the people of the world look at America and says, “How can they tolerate such things!” But most of the time they envy America and wish to live in a society as tolerant as ours. Immigration has always outpaced emigration because of our promise. 

We must live free. Or we die.

– – –

This essay and more have since become part of my book Refuse to be Afraid. Just sayin’

Laugh hard, run fast, be kind

I am not a lifetime fan of Doctor Who — Matt Smith was chasing dinosaurs on a spaceship when it finally clicked — but of all the moments I have experienced in my limited experience, my favorite moment is Peter Capaldi’s last moments as the 12th doctor.

“Never be cruel, never be cowardly, and never ever eat pears! Remember, hate is always foolish and love is always wise …

“Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind.”

What a wonderful set of last words. What a wonderful way to live. Well, except that I really like pears.

It may not be easy for me. Red is still in the hospital and fighting to live — although she is better than she was a month ago. I have become a septuagenarian and running can be a bit of a challenge.

But I can laugh hard sometimes, I can be kind almost always, and I can run fast if I really have to — at least for a few seconds.

So let my goal for the coming weeks and months be to laugh hard, run fast, and be kind above all. (“How hard could it be?”)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think for breakfast I’ll have that can of pears from the pantry.

7 things I’ve learned along the way 

Seven things I’ve learned along the way to posting 1,000 consecutive daily blog posts, of which, in case you were not counting, this is the 1,000th:

1. I can do it, one day at a time.

2. A person tends to repeat herself from time to time over 1,000 days, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.

3. The universe in general doesn’t give a flying flamingo about you — but some people do, and they make all the difference. Thank you for that.

4. Theodore Sturgeon said 90% of everything is crap, but if you look carefully, you’ll find much more than 10% of what you’ve done was worth the effort — and so, perhaps, 90% of Sturgeon’s assertion is crap.

5. A person who sets out to do something, a little bit at a time, can exceed his own expectations many times over. After all, my intention was to post every day for three months, 92 days in all. Nine hundred and eight days after that, here we are.

6. There is a force that hates success. Is it Satan? The Dip? The Resistance? I lean toward calling it Satan, because such evil lurks there. As the last 10-20 days loomed, the distractions that kept me from sitting down to write, from writing, from even thinking about writing, became close to overwhelming. Even as I write this 1,000th piece, I have not yet finished numbers 997, 998, or 999, and so I continue to stagger toward the finish line. (Yes, yesterday’s post was the actual 1,000th daily post, but I presented it 999th — kind of like the second Star Trek pilot was presented third, or the first Firefly pilot was aired last.)

But know this:

7. I am just a more or less ordinary human being, with aches and pains and big dreams and big shortcomings — so, if I can accomplish something, one day at a time, SO CAN YOU.

The madness on pages 210-211

So one morning, before I began writing on page 210, I proved to myself that my 240-page journal actually is 240 pages long, by numbering pages 211 to 240 once and for all. And I found myself with only 30 pages to fill before I complete a 20th journal. (Note to self: Almost time to buy a new journal.) 

I started a number of journals over the years; I started the first journal I ever finished in October 2011, and it took me until June 2015 to get to the last page. Truth be told, writing every day in the journal did not become a habit until mid-April 2015, when my words started sprawling across the pages almost unbidden and I found it was something I needed to do.

Here we are now, after almost eight years of journal-journal-journaling through 20 previously blank books of scribbles and ideas and rants and all. 

(And for some reason, the next thing I wrote was the following.)

I’m feeling a little crazy this morning, my pen wandering free over the pages — wait, did I just use something free to illustrate something crazy? Is freedom is a crazy concept? Are we nuts when we want to be free? No! No! I refuse to believe it!

Is there a meaning and a purpose to all of this, and what if there’s not? What if we’re all just making it up as we go along, and life is merely one long meandering stream of consciousness? You’d like that, wouldn’t you? It gets us off the hook for all the madness we’re responsible for. What a laugh. What a joke. What a jolt.

“He doesn’t mean it, folks; he’s just doing a mental exercise letting his brain fly wherever it wants.”

Who was that, expressing himself between quotation marks? That, my friends, is the self-editor/self-censor who reaches into my free-journaling brain and says, “OMG, what will people think if they see me writing something like that?” instead of just letting loose. Good grief, do I hate that. Off I go on a flight of fancy or some ridiculous notion and this bonehead brain of mine breaks in and says, “Uh oh, tut tut tut, mustn’t fly too high or explore dark thoughts, love, oh no, stay safe, don’t cross any lines that someone may misunderstand, none of that now, dear, no no no — YES. Just YES. Enough of the no.

(When the self-censor strikes, sometimes we need to resist. Sometimes our darkest thoughts lead us into the light. In this case, the light was this: We are conditioned to believe that freedom is a crazy concept, but we are born free; we need to be free in order to be healthy.)

Who is most to blame today

I woke up Monday morning with a completely random fragment of a song playing in my brain.

“When the masquerade is played the neighbor folks make jokes at who is most to blame today.”

Who is most to blame today — that’s the game nowadays, isn’t it?

Who made this mess?

No mirrors in the building. It must be someone else’s fault. I know it’s not mine, because.

Look, life is an endless series of choices. 

Choices have an endless series of consequences.

Another song fragment:

“There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.”

Those are choices, too.

You can make jokes at who is most to blame today.

Or you can accept the choices that brought you here, where you’re meant to be.

Which choice gives you more power: Blame or acceptance?

I’m thinking that if it’s my fault, I can dig my way out.

I’m thinking that if it’s someone else’s fault, I may be stuck.

So who is most to blame today? 

It’s me.

I can fix this.