In Conflict

familyThis morning, on a walk with a friend, he mused, “Your stories always put things in perspective.”

I said, “I know, but lately the words won’t come out.”

“And yet,” I said, “I feel more and more like this is one of my core purposes.”

To take it in. To examine it from all angles. To offer perspective.

But lately, every time I start: nothing.

* * *

This all started back in late September at an impromptu back patio “happy hour” I threw on a Friday after work.

A huge crew showed up and while, in my brain, I was all “PAR-TAY!,” as I bounced from group to group to catch up with friends , I noticed a much different dynamic.

People were struggling.

These are smart people mind you – highly educated and many of them with excellent careers. Families, children, vacations in the summer. All the things you could ever “want.”

And yet here they were coping with marriage troubles, with jobs, with health issues, with what they were supposed to do with the second half of their life.

The mid-life crisis? It’s terribly, terribly real, apparently.

The hits just kept on coming in the weeks that followed.

My son’s math teacher lost her newlywed, 25-year-old husband to an unexpected stroke. A very close friend and his wife – with two young kids of their own – were both diagnosed with cancer just days apart from each other. Another friend lost his job. Yet another suffered a very tragic and unexpected loss of a child.

In fact, when Beckett had another massive seizure on October 23 after we got home from a charity event, it barely registered as noteworthy in the grand scheme of things.

Even as he wailed like a banshee (seriously, the screams …) in the throws of the tonic-clonic spasms, Heidi simply caressed his back – babysitter looking on – and told him he’d be okay. I calmly watched and waited for it to pass.

It’s funny how scars heal, providing the rougher skin to help you cope.

But the larger funk I can’t get out of.

Last Saturday, I hit a place so low, a place I haven’t been in a very long time. I literally had to have an out-loud conversation with myself – though Heidi was in the room.

“I have everything going for me: a job, my health, you,” I said to Heidi, continuing, “a beautiful family, an opportunity to continue to expand my education.”

“If I’m to get out of this, it’ll come from me. I’m the only one who can change this.”

But, sometimes, I can’t.

Not alone, anyway.

* * *

I’ve struggled with the aftermath of Paris.

Sporadic sections of my Facebook feed are now filled with a mix of fear and legitimate concern from friends fueled by a 24-hour media cycle gone haywire.

They argue many points of view; but I trust the nature of my friends when I say this: it is not driven by hate.

At least I hope it’s not.

I want to delve into the politics of this – but this isn’t the time or place. I mention it only because we’re facing, I think, a crossroads in the very nature of who we are, globally, as a people.

And I don’t say that lightly. In fact, after years of careful news analysis (and many years in the business of making the news), we face an adversary unlike any other. Even as Al Qaeda emerged as a global threat, I didn’t feel quite this way.

ISIS is a group that believes it is their mission to bring on the apocalypse. Hate by the masses; hate that leads to war and irrational decision making, fear that leads to the suspension of human decency – this is the stated goal of the organization.

And so when we demonize a population – Muslims – that total 1.6 billion worldwide; when we get to such extremes that legitimate contenders for national office argue that we should consider “closing down mosques” or banning “5-year-old refugees of war” from our country, we play into that mission.

We advance their goals.

I only ask that all of you consider this – that number – 1.6 billion. This means that 23 percent of the world’s population identifies itself as a practicing Muslim.

That’s roughly 1 in every 4 people in the world.

If Islam was the problem – and not fringe viewpoints within that religion’s context – wouldn’t we be completely hosed? Wouldn’t we already be in the throes of domestic chaos?

Right here, right now, smack dab in the middle of the United States?

* * *

I recently completed a project at work in which I was tasked with partnering with the military veterans in my 5,500-strong corporate workforce.

The objective: help active duty and veterans of the armed forces get jobs at my company.

I learned many things – primarily that this transition is difficult for many. The switch from a world in which service and selflessness and mission above all else is paramount is tricky, especially when the U.S. workforce is a place of “me first.”

The conversations were hard.

As I sat with the people on this team, I was overwhelmed. How could I pay respect to them? How I could be a respected peer?

They willingly sacrificed their lives – risked not being there as a mom, dad, brother, sister, son, daughter – for an ideal.

I do nothing but punch code into a computer or draw up boring requirement documents.

But over the course of six months, these men and women turned out to become trusted coworkers and, in many cases, friends.

Through the course of weekly meetings, we found the things we shared in common vastly outnumbered our differences.

We didn’t need to share combat stories and personal tragedies; we found common ground in other, more appropriate places.

In short, I learned, we learned, that our collective desires – safety, family, appreciation of a good beer – made us more similar than our selected career paths made us different.

Here’s the rub in the larger context of which I speak:

Time and time again, despite my fears that my differences would make me appear like an idiot, a poser, an imposter, with every group I’ve had to work with in my life, I’ve often found the opposite.

Individual people, despite the labels we place upon ourselves, often find common ground when they meet face-to-face.

It’s why, I think, that my friends range from gun collectors to gun abolitionists, from vegans to meat fanatics, from Republican to Democrat, from Christian to Jew to Hindu to Muslim.

At our core, we all want similarly surprising things for ourselves and our families.

And yet it’s so hard, on a global scale –or even on an individual level – for us to sort that all out.

We’re knee jerk.

We adopt philosophies based not on our own personal experiences; but events as reported by the media and fueled by politicians.

My one, meager, stupid blog can’t overpower that. Nor can my will to make us “all just get along.”

And so I feel all is lost.

I can’t overcome that. I can’t win.

Psychology is clear: We are easily lead by messages spewed en masse.

Why argue? Why fight?

You’ll think as you’ll think.

Let the war begin.

Let the war wage on.

*  *  *

It’s within that context that I found it so hard to get out of bed on last Saturday.

A part of me said: “Just detach.”

Detach from the world; detach from caring; focus on your own little corner.

And slowly – maybe because of the pressures of school, maybe because I’m feeling I can no longer make a difference – I’ve been moving in that direction.

I’ve isolated myself into the cocoon of my family. Found solace in the one thing I know – I know – is pure:  my wife, my kids.

I cancelled my annual bocce tournament. Limited socialization to a minimum.

But then, like it is so often wont to do, forces beyond my control intervened.

Sickness, death – all of it unplanned – jumped up and appeared and said, “You cannot.”

So this morning, after hearing the news about a coworker’s tragic loss, I started writing again.

I made a mental commitment to get up from my desk at lunchtime and walk.

And during that walk, one of my very best friends, the one who has been diagnosed with cancer – and dealing with a ton of complications – came out of his hospital-drug-regiment-induced -haze to let me know: he’s been getting my texts and they’re making a difference.

These texts are lame, petty, typical Ed B.S., by the way.

I told him about how Beckett is obsessed with getting permission to see “Krampus,” and how I’ve already determined if, and when, Beckett has kids of his own, I’m going to dress up as the cane-ridden edition of this evil demon-goat-person one day and scare his kids, in costume, as “Grampus” (the old man Krampus).

It was only fitting that earlier that day, I had a conversation with his wife – and she empowered me with the authority to help their family through the road that lies ahead.

And at exactly that moment – exactly that moment – when I was wondering where my purpose lied, I was infused with the realization that each of us, individually, can make monumental change.

But with a caveat.

We can only make monumental change if we believe, to our core, with the mission we are charged to do.

* * *

I hope some of you are sitting back, thinking, “Geez. Way to drop some rocket science on us, Ed,” with a most sarcastic and cynical voice.

No genius insight here, for sure.

But as I waded in that Saturday darkness (a darkness that had building over months and weeks, and is only slowly fading), I had a thought:

It’s easy to know to that, as a dad and husband, I have a clear purpose: to provide safety and security and a loving home for my wife and kids.

But the human mind is a funny thing.

In the hyper-charged world of today – where we must be something more than that – that wasn’t enough.

It should be. God, it really should be.

And the fact that it couldn’t be last Saturday – that it can’t be today – is a clear sign of my mental sickness.

I’ll have to deal with that.

But the fact is, as we age, as we approach the second half of life, we all want to matter. We all want to have a purpose.

In a world where our individual voices are drowned out by personalities and conglomerates much larger than ourselves, that sense can be harder to find.

I can’t argue acceptance with you at the corner store anymore.

I’ve got to convince you in the global marketplace of Facebook, where anybody with $5, an idea and a catchy slogan can collectively sway you from a lifetime of human experience.

I know this because I get paid, at the end of the day, to sway your opinion.

So now, more than ever, I ask you to think for yourself.

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