Silver Linings

“I’ve been looking all over the place for a place for me, but it ain’t anywhere. It just ain’t anywhere.” — Syd Barrett

I’ve  been told I complain a lot. It comes naturally I guess. Teachers as a group complain a lot. It’s our favorite pastime in the teacher’s lounge. It extends to time at home and then our time here. There’s nothing wrong with letting off a little steam and cussing under your breath a little. Yet, at some point we need a dose of positivity.

Everyone has their only personal stuff and I’m no different. My summer has been spent in one doctor’s office after another as I try to manage the effects of diabetes on the body. I look for silver linings anywhere I can get them. Combine that with COVID and it’s enough to make anyone go running to the funny farm.

Ironically enough, that’s where I found a silver lining. Mental health is usually something no one focuses on until there is a mass shooting. Then, it becomes a convenient crutch to lean on until the news cycle moves to the next crisis. While Washington and Austin dither, some localities have been making changes to address it.

My local district now employs two student support counselors in every high school. They made the move following the Santa Fe shooting. Someone apparently decided that simply giving lip service to mental health was not enough. Funny, but it is the go to response for conservatives. Quarantine was bad because it damaged our mental health. Remote learning was bad because it damaged our mental health. While these facts are not deniable, it invites us to step up and actually make lasting change like our local school district.

Additionally, we cannot deny the positive impacts that quarantine forced us to do. Zoom and other technology has helped us connect when we couldn’t before. Perhaps, other new adaptations can remain permanent. The second support counselor never went away. Some of the things we did this past year won’t go away either.

COVID is obviously not the only drag on mental health. Americans work more than most other countries in the world and families have fewer safety nets than most western nations. Add in other societal ills like prejudice and bigotry and you get a recipe for stress, anxiety, and depression.

Seeing the Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka stories from this summer further highlight mental health and our need to do something different. Their bravery hopefully will lead not only to lasting change within the athletic world, but also lasting change outside of it too. It will also hopefully lead to more of us admitting when we need a little help.

One of the most beautiful conversations I saw was an interview between Anderson Cooper and Steven Colbert. It’s a long video, but it is well worth the watch. Inside Colbert utters a seemingly paradoxical line about the things we most wish wouldn’t have happened being a gift from God. It was a brutally honest moment that brought Cooper to tears. He had learned to love the thing he most wished had never happened.

Understanding that paradox takes a lifetime and a ton of humility. It takes an understanding and appreciation for both how much culpability we had in those situations and the grace to understand we aren’t in control. Those painful moments have a purpose. We can’t see it at the time. Sometimes it takes days, months, and years to understand.

Our nation collectively has gone through a lot in the past five years. I definitely wouldn’t want to go through it again. However, maybe we can collectively learn what inside us motivated us to go that direction. Hopefully we can find the better angels of our nature. Hope is what keeps us going and hope is the best thing we can sell after all the suffering. It will take time to learn to love the thing we most wished had never happened.

Taking a Step back

“You raise the blade. You make the change. You rearrange me until I’m sane. You lock the door and throw away the key. There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me.” — Roger Waters

The Simone Biles story has shocked the world, but it’s been happening a lot more lately. Naomi Osaka was the story earlier in the summer when she withdrew from the French Open. Mental health and high stakes athletics normally doesn’t collide like this, but we might be witnessing the new normal.

The reality of the situation is that it really isn’t all that new. Jimmy Pearsall was a big leaguer that suffered from mental illness. He chronicled his story in a book “Fear Strikes Out.” The link for the book is included for those interested in reading his story. The cold, hard truth is that the psyche of a world class athlete is not as air tight as we were led to believe.

Those in the sports world often called it “choking.” The term is a ghastly term that refers to someone’s inability to do something simple that they have done hundreds of times in practice. We saw it happen to Chuck Knoblauch in the 1990s when he suddenly couldn’t throw the ball to first base. We saw it happen to Steve Blass in the 1970s when he suddenly couldn’t throw a strike to save his life.

The struggle is to see the humanity in the moment. I hate to pull the experience card, but it is something non-athletes may not have experience in. As a kid, I loved nothing more than playing golf. I played nearly every day and hung out on the driving range until I couldn’t swing anymore. On the range I could reproduce perfect shot after perfect shot. Move me into a tournament or with real money on the line and I turned into a basket case.

Most of my friends would assert that golf isn’t a sport and in some sense they are right. In most sports you don’t have time to think about what you’re doing. You have to react to the action and that always came naturally. Ask me to think about it and things go horribly wrong. It’s funny, but now I don’t have near the physical ability I had before, but the mental problems are mostly gone. There just isn’t nearly as much at stake as before.

The burden of expectations can be overwhelming. Here’s hoping that most people will take a deep breath and appreciate the difficulty of the moment. It’s most difficult when the whole world is watching and I suppose that’s kind of the whole point. Supreme athletes can do amazing things, but they are still people with the normal human frailties. Those can include anxiety, depression, and all of the other things many of us deal with on a daily basis. While their athletic ability might be superhuman, their psyches are not.

An unwelcomed battle

The wild world of sports and politics rarely collide, but they did so last week when two assistant coaches in the NFL lost their jobs because they refused to get the vaccine. One of them was former Houston Texans assistant Rick Dennison.

The NFL can’t fire players for refusing to get the vaccine because they have a collective bargaining agreement that bars such action, but you can believe if a player is on the bubble and refused to get the shot, he will likely be out on the street. While the league is not barring players from performing, they are highly incentivizing getting the vaccine.

If a player tests positive without getting the vaccine it could cause his team to forfeit a game. If that happens then no one on either team will get their paycheck. Money is always a great motivator and when you are talking as much as one million dollars in the form of a game check you better believe there will be peer pressure.

However, this is where we get to the point of asking how we even got here in the first place. There are people that are incapable of getting vaccines. They might suffer an allergic reaction or they have some other medical reason why they cannot. While I question it, there are also folks that have a religious objection. I’m not talking about these folks.

Other countries have both sets of folks within their borders and yet have found a way to get more than 70 percent of people 12 and older vaccinated. The U.S. isn’t quite to 50 percent. It is that gap that threatens to keep the virus going through the next several years. It is a merry band of idiots that are either questioning the safety of the vaccine or the efficacy of the vaccine. Then again, I don’t think they are using big words like efficacy.

At the heart of this debate are the rights of the individual and how far they extend. Everyone has the right to be a dumbass up until the exercising of their rights interfere with my safety. We’ve done this for years. Students have to have certain vaccinations by certain dates to be able to attend school. I’m not sure why COVID is so different.

I’m not sure why we have to be so stupid about this. In the past several months, the Texas Education Agency has decided to not fund virtual learning, but students under 12 can’t get vaccinated. Then, you have only 50 percent of those eligible getting vaccinated. If just one of those facts were mitigated somehow we would be okay. Yet, here we are stuck on freedumb. You can’t force me to do a solid for my neighbors and my community.

A party that is supposedly dedicated to life seems to be treating everyone’s life cavalierly. The irony if palpable. We made everyone get the polio vaccine and we eradicated it from the face of the earth. We did the same with small pox. We currently require measles and mumps vaccinations. They’ve even added one for chicken pox. I’m still struggling to understand why this is so difficult.

Anecdotal Evidence

“Hands and feet are all alike
But gold between divide us
Hands and feet are all alike
But fear between divide us.” — Dave Matthews

I was perusing through social media when I saw it. You’ve seen it before too I’m sure. A prominent African American scholar provided proof that systemic racism doesn’t exist. Their proof? Themselves. It’s what we call a longitudinal study in the polling business.

It’s all part of a master plan to put racism behind us. It must be a thing of the past. You see, that person was successful through hard work and perseverance, so you can be too. In the literal sense that is true. Everyone can be successful through hard work and perseverance. They also need to be perfect and therein lies the difference.

A lot has been made of racism in these spaces here. It isn’t simply a pet project of mine. The Texas legislature is focused on it too. Our history is already sanitized for our protection, so I’m not really sure why we need to continue to do it. However, some of the comments I’ve seen online can reveal a great deal.

Their complaint is that talking about racism and racist origins makes their kids feel guilty. Their kids shouldn’t be made to feel guilty. They didn’t do anything. I suppose there is a point embedded in there somewhere, but it is embedded in something that doesn’t exist. This is usually the way these things work. People complain about curriculum when they have no idea of what is actually being taught.

Now, we are passing laws to combat stuff that isn’t being taught in the first place. Teachers aren’t blaming their students for the ills of the past. Guilt and shame are complex things. All kinds of people can feel them for things they did not do themselves.

Good history curriculum causes kids to make connections between the history and the world around them. They can draw a line between the policies of the past and their present day effects. No one wants a kid to blame themselves for racism or racist policies. We want them to realize that they can become a part of the solution.

It’s a tough road to travel down with students. Admittedly, it is not one I’ve done effectively as a teacher. I always aired on the side of caution. I have gotten bolder as I’ve gotten older. That’s natural I guess as we gain more confidence and feel more job security. Obviously, the legislature is trying to pour cold water on that.

It can’t be a coincidence that they are doing this all the while they attempt to suppress voting. Who’s vote are they trying to suppress? So, we deny systemic racism while we perpetuate systemic racism. Then, we parade the exceptions to the rule to make you believe that the racism you see isn’t really there. The KKK was just a social club with homogenous membership. The burning crosses and the lynching’s didn’t happen. At least they don’t anymore and now everything is okay. Nothing to see here. Carry on with your day.

An Idiot with a gun…

“A bullet had found him
His blood ran as he cried
No money could save him
So he laid down and he died.” — Gregory Lake

I was perusing the aisles at HEB minding my own business. I came upon the periodicals aisle and stopped. Occasionally, I like to buy something. Sometimes it is a preview of the baseball season in the winter or a preview of the football season in the summer. I took a step back and took note of something I’ve noticed before, but never really cataloged in my brain.

There were eight separate magazines about guns and ammo. That was more than the sports magazines I had come to look at. It was more than the fashion magazines that stereotypically litter those aisles. It was certainly more than the cooking and food magazines even though we were at a grocery store. It was more than the home improvement and generic Texas culture magazines as well. In fact, it was more than any other single genre of magazine.

We were visiting with some people the other day. I will withhold other information to protect the innocent, One of them we will call Arnold. Arnold works in a technical field in information technology. He fits the profile of a stereotypical person working in that field. He was openly bragging about constructing his own AR-15 and going to the shooting range and shooting with his work friends.

Suffice it to say, based on his description of his performances, it was clear he had not gone through any formal training in how to use and take care of his weapons. I’m guessing he had not actually fired the AR-15 and there was no way of knowing whether it was operational. Still, it was a jarring moment in an otherwise pleasant conversation.

At this point, an intrepid reader would be wondering what these two anecdotes have to do with each other. The answer is pretty simple. My feelings on guns haven’t changed since I was a kid. We’ve never had them and probably never will. I rarely ever put my foot down on any issue, but this is one of the few where I do.

However, it is always been difficult to capture my feelings in simple phrases. Conservatives love to do that and it works for them. The NRA has some convinced that we need a good guy with a gun to counteract a bad guy with the gun. Westerns have been built on this concept. So people in our parents generation have this concept imbedded into their DNA. People in our generation have numerous action movies telling us the same thing.

All of these images and all of these slogans are forgetting one thing. They are forgetting the idiot with the gun. For our purposes here, Arnold is the typical idiot. He described connecting with exactly zero of the targets when he went to the range. This was somehow a source of pride.

Thus we come full circle to the periodicals at HEB. He wasn’t shooting guns because he wants to be a sportsman. He wasn’t shooting guns to better protect his home and family. He wasn’t shooting guns to practice for a hunting trip. He was shooting guns to belong to the crowd. He wanted to be cool. He wanted to be considered manly. Building that AR-15 was his ticket to respect amongst his peers. It makes you wonder where he would get that idea from.

The NRA and gun lobby have jumped the shark. They used to be a respectable organization that promoted gun safety while they also promoted the second amendment. Rank and file members still favor background checks and licenses based on public opinion polling. Yet, leadership has gotten in bed with the manufacturers. Manufacturers have created both the supply and the demand by pumping up this gun culture so that they can cast a wider net.

People that debate politics with me often consider me a radical on this issue. However, I can now boil it down to its lowest common denominator. I’m not afraid of a bad guy with a gun. I live in the suburbs. There are fewer of those people around and most bad people still have to have a reason to use that gun. I usually don’t give them one.

The people that worry me are the idiots with guns. They don’t know how to use them, protect themselves and their families from them, and they’ve seen one too many Charles Bronson films to have a handle on when it is appropriate to whip that sucker out. If we are all lucky they will only shoot off their big toe. The alternative is much worse.

Gun control is not about preventing law abiding citizens from their right to own a gun. It is about making sure they aren’t going to be an idiot. That means getting training in hos use and care for the gun. That means thinking long and hard about what we actually need to protect our homes, shoot at the range, or hunt on the weekends.

I know a lot of people who own guns. Some of them are responsible with their guns. They lock them up when they aren’t in use and they could easily pass a safety class if asked. Funny, but those people don’t conceal carry or open carry. The ones that do are the Arnolds of the world. Those are the ones that scare me and yet those are the ones those magazines at HEB are targeting.

Playing with Fire

“Someone’s always playing corporation games
Who cares, they’re always changing corporation names.”–Bernie Taupin/Martin Page

I’ve always found political Rorschach tests to be fascinating. I suppose it’s the political scientist in me coming out. For the uninitiated, a Rorschach test is also called an ink blot test. It is something psychologists sometimes use to determine conscience thinking.

The shrink shows you an ink blot that really just looks like an abstract painting and you tell them what comes to mind. Everyone will say something different because everyone is coming into the session with their own thoughts and feelings. I’ve never had them or used them myself, but I also don’t work as a therapist. I just play one here.

So, unless you tell me you see an axe murderer, I really don’t have the expertise to tell you anything. The most important lesson we learned in our counseling masters program was to know our own limitations. I can help if Sally is having problems with Sarah. I can’t help if there are deep seeded issues with Sally or Sarah. I can refer them to a specialist.

Well, the subject in this case was the picture of Democrats flying away from Texas to Washington D.C. Depending on your perspective, they are either heroes or villains. There really is nowhere in between. Naturally, your conception of them largely depends on your conception of the GOP and governor’s agenda.

This time around I seem to be cast into the role of Solomon. I’m not sure how I’m going to split this baby, but I’m sure going to try. We can start with the governor and lieutenant governor. This is as simple as it gets. They aren’t even hiding their true intentions and they took an entire session and absolutely wasted it.

The thought occurred to me as we were traveling earlier this week. It took us an hour and a half to drive three miles on I-45. Wreck? Nope, just road construction (or destruction). On the next day, we had to detour off the highway at another point because it was being “repaired.” Then, on the way home another portion of another highway was shut down for repairs.

It would be silly to lay this at Greg Abbott’s feet, but it serves as a tremendous symbol of what is going on. Basic things like getting from here to there and heating or cooling our homes seemingly hang in the balance while the governor and lieutenant governor worry about who goes to what bathroom, whether Cletus can legally shoot off his big toe without a license, or whether they can bring Jim Crow back.

Then, there’s the other side. Precedent is always important in politics and you don’t want to make the precedent of fleeing when you don’t like what is going on. The GOP will surely use it once the state turns blue. Make no mistake, the state is turning blue eventually. It probably would have this last time around without all the chicanery from the right.

That’s what makes this situation so hard. I don’t like what they did, but I understand why they did and certainly believe in the aims. The question is whether the gamble will pay off. If they prevent horrible voting legislation it might be worth it. Then again, it might not. Only time will tell I guess.

Excuse me?

Nobody watches Fox and Friends for enlightenment. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch. Obviously, some people watch for englightenment, but it surely isn’t anyone that is actually enlightened. Brian Kilmeade uttered pretty much the dumbest thing ever on the show and that is saying a great deal. You can enjoy the Seth Meyers video below. The Foxc and Friends segment is embedded inside.

For those that don’t want to go down the rabbit hole, I will summarize the brilliant comments from Kilmeade. It seems that his partner in crime was actually throwing out facts on the virus and vaccine. He admitted that 99 percent of the people currently being hospitalized for COVID were people that had not been vaccinated.

This is where Kilmeade pounced on his opportunity to offer his educated opinion. It’s not the government’s job to protect people. Yup, you heard that right. It is not their job to protect us. Somehow, I don’t remember that being the case, but it’s been a hot minute since I’ve sat through a political science class. Let’s double check.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…

Preamble to the U.S. Constitution?>

Okay, I was right. It’s right there in the preamble to the constitution. They even added promote the general welfare in case there was any confusion. So, let’s say that Kilmeade was right and that it isn’t the government’s job to protect us. Okay, why do we have a defense department? Why do we have branches of the military (including Space Force)?

Moreover, why do we have a Food and Drug Administration. Why do we have a Securities and Exchange Commission? Why do we have an EEOC? Why do we have an FCC? Why do we have a CDC? I could go on and on, but I think most Americans get the idea. Brian Kilmeade is an idiot.

His partner in crime inadvertently admitted the vaccine was effective. So, what’s the problem? Well, the problem is that Fox and Friends, other talking heads at Fox, OANN, and other conservative pundits have spent their time discrediting the vaccine even as they themselves got the vaccine. It’s a staggering example of hypocrisy that you rarely see on this grand a scale.

The goal I suppose is to make sure Joe Biden and the Democratic Congress is ultimately unsuccessful. That sentiment is normal. However, there have always been unspoken rules that both parties used to follow. Politics used to end at our shores and politics used to end when the public was in danger. You know, all the general welfare stuff.

Apparently, there are no more rules of engagement. We are fighting a vaccine we know is effective. We are fighting a 1/6 commission when we all saw a violent insurrection live on television. We are fighting the idea that everyone eligible to vote should be able to vote relatively easily. Kilmeade’s comments fit perfectly. It’s not the government’s job to do the only real job spelled out in the constitution. Makes perfect sense.

Deja Vu’

We’ll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone.” — Pete Townsend

It began innocently enough. A disease was spreading overseas and it was killing upwards of millions of people. Yet, everyone in America felt secure. These things don’t happen to us. After all, diseases don’t travel across oceans, so that was a problem for other countries to worry about.

Of course, we know that’s not how it turned out. Someone travelled overseas and brought the disease back home. It started with a few cases and quickly began to spread. Some people recovered and some didn’t. The government reacted with it’s best advice it could give. They suggested social distancing. They suggested masks. They suggested that people should wash their hands more vigorously.

Unfortunately, some people refused to follow these guidelines. “I’m from ‘Murica” they said. “Nobody tells me what to do.” Others didn’t say those things but they thought they were healthy. Weak people died from that stuff. Old people died from that stuff. I’m not weak. I’m not old. At least, that was the prevailing wisdom of the time.

Except, this virus attacked healthy people. Healthy people were vulnerable. Healthy people were the ones hit hardest. When all the dust had settled, 675,000 Americans had died. I’m sure many of you have caught onto the details of the story. This particularly tale involves the 1918 flu pandemic.

The parallels are unavoidable. That one started in Europe while the current one started in Asia. The current one hits the vulnerable harder, but otherwise the stories are eerily similar. When we learned about the 1918 flu in history we just chalked it up to people not knowing any better. Medicine was not nearly as advanced and the public was not nearly as educated about disease prevention.

We’re smarter now. We know more about hygiene. We know more about medicine. We have more advanced hospitals that can treat these things. All of these statements are true and yet it didn’t matter in the end. The currently pandemic has claimed nearly 610,000 lives in the U.S. alone. Families have been irreparably torn apart.

My great grandmother took it upon herself to care for her brother. He was a drunk that was down on his luck and health. He had caught the Spanish flu. Somehow he recovered. She didn’t. She began healthy, but succumbed in 1919 leaving my grandmother and her brothers and sisters without a mother. They would have to fight through the Great Depression with only one parent.

What’s remarkable is that after 100 years, this story is not all that foreign to us. Millions of Americans could tell a similar story about someone from their family back then and could tell a similar story today. The opening paragraphs could just as easily describe the current pandemic.

No one would dare deny the Spanish flu. It has become an integral part of our U.S. History curriculum. There are numerous events we don’t cover that we absolutely should. That is not one of them. Anyone who’s family has been in the country for over 100 years probably has their own story to tell. It is impossible to get through history without telling those stories.

Yet, here we are. We still have people denying the virus. We still have people that shunned the suggestions about wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and improving personal hygiene. We still have people that distrust the government enough to deny all kinds of advice and rules.

The sad thing is that those people were not the ones most effected. Somehow you knew that would happen. My great great uncle was a jackass. He somehow survived. There all kinds jackasses today that flout the rules and they end up fine.

So, we begin to take stock in what we’ve learned. First, we learn that there are parallels for almost everything in history. Sure, technology improves and knowledge comes with that, but history often repeats itself. Second, even though we discuss these things in history, there will always be those that don’t learn or don’t see the connection.

It seems impossible, but we are destined to pass the 675,000 mark. We are destined to do it because a group of Americans are too stubborn to admit they were wrong. You can hear them cry hoax all the way to their hospital beds and ventilator units. You can hear them cry hoax to their super spreader events. You can hear them cry hoax as they watch yet another loved one or family friend die.

You can also see a high school student 100 years from now learning about COVID. They will think to themselves that it was a shame how ignorant the people were back then. Why didn’t they learn from 1918? It might even be a history they are doomed to repeat themselves.

Questionable Sources

“Dirty little secrets. Dirty little lies. We got our dirty little fingers in everybody’s pie. We love to cut you down to size. We love dirty laundry.” — Don Henley

One of the more difficult things to grasp is the difference between fact and truth. As Lionel Hutz said on “The Simpsons,” there’s the truth and then there’s the truth. The key is in the inflection point and that simply can’t be done justice in the written word. As an educator, teaching this difference is our most difficult job. It is the most difficult because many educators don’t know the difference themselves.

It’s hard to even continue this discussion without a trip down amnesia lane. Back in the good old days, we went to the library to learn how to use the card catalog. We used encyclopedias, books, scholarly journals, and maybe even an periodical if we were daring. We learned how to attribute all of these in a bibliography. Hell, attributing and finding sources took a lot more time than writing the paper in the first place.

Now, if a student including a book in their bibliography it would be a miracle. We don’t need to go to the library for research. Students don’t need to learn how to do a bibliography. A simple click of the button and one is created for them. It’s impossible to talk about the changes in this process without sounding like “get off my lawn” guy. So, I won’t even try.

I suppose most of these changes are for the better. After all, all we want is for students to be able to tell us where they got their information. As tedious as that might seem, it is becoming more and more important as we move away from traditional sources and into more independent sources. In other words, if something sounds like bullshit it usually is.

This is where truth and facts come in. There are any number of truths out there. Truth is not provable or disprovable. Truth is something you believe. Facts are either accurate or not accurate. The trouble comes when we strive to prove our truth by finding facts to match it. That’s a lot easier with the internet.

What I’ve noticed more and more is the tendency to look for verification of our truth and to simply parrot it without verification. These events usually happen from people that should know better. The problem is that the more deeply we hold to the truth, the more likely we are to simply take a source at its word. What’s more, we actively choose sources that back up our truth. Our information and media sources do that now.

For whatever reason, these sources our allowed to continue doing this. It’s the sordid underbelly of free speech and expression. Absolutists want that to continue unfettered. If you make any attempt to insert responsibility into that equation you get accused of censorship. It’s paramount that students understand who can be trusted inherently and who can’t. It’s paramount that we all know that.

Pulling back the Curtain

“Darkness creeps in like a thief
And offers no relief.” — Peter Gabriel

The last few days of writing have opened up a few wounds that need to be healed. This is the way these things always happen. This space has always been about sharing my feelings, but it is always a way to get all of those things out of my system. It keeps me from hanging onto anger, but today I’m releasing the fear and pain.

Two events changed my life forever. Actually I’m sure it’s more, but two events are what you are getting today. In order to avoid just simply unloading I probably should make my point. I was considering the whole anti-vaxxer point of view and made a mental connection with those that are anti-welfare. In fact, we will just classify these people as anti.

They feel like it won’t happen to them. I understand it because I used to be that way. I watched some students waste time, skip school, and sluff off on their work and honestly felt they deserved the fate that awaited them. We shouldn’t help them. They chose to be slugs. Slugs get what they get. Even if they wake up at 20 and realize they screwed up they still deserve their fate.

The same was somehow true with health. I always took vaccines because I believe in their efficacy, but I was rarely affected by any of this. Those that are anti assume none of this will happen to them. Even if they do get Covid, it will be relatively minor. There always has been and always will be a subset of people that can’t fathom bad things happening to them and can’t be bothered to worry about bad things happening to others.

Halfway through my teaching career I was let go as an elementary counselor. Honestly, looking back it wasn’t a good fit. I know I would be better at it now, but I also know it just wasn’t what I was meant to do. I was just so desperate to get a counseling job that I didn’t consider the fit. Unfortunately, the state of Texas was going through financial issues in education and cutting back everywhere. I had lost in a game of musical chairs.

I floated for a year doing odd jobs and hoping for another opportunity. Then, I began the second year driving a school bus with a masters degree and teaching certificates coming out of every direction. In the middle of the year I transferred and became a teacher’s aide. Again, I was earning somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 dollars an hour with a masters degree.

The whole experience was incredibly humbling. I had always landed on my feet before. There was always another teaching job waiting for me. Today I recognize that as privaledge. Then, I just assumed that was the way it always was going to be.

A little less than three years ago, I had a major infection in my foot that ended up being made worse by diabetes. Health was another thing I had taken for granted. I never missed more than a few days of school every year. Suddenly, I was out from March through the end of the year.

The diabetes has been stabilized and I’m thankful for that, but it’s pierced the armor and given me a mortal wound to my confidence. I was deathly afraid of Covid. I had some vision problems that suddenly became alarming (that I have since gone to doctor for) and some other assorted health concerns that have frightened me. I’m still frightened that something else will happen.

These two things have taught me a bunch of humility. I spent time trying to heap DirecTV onto unsuspecting customers. I was the grossly overeducated guy at Barnes and Noble checking you out. These used to be the people who I would wonder what went wrong in their lives. Now, I don’t have to wonder. I also don’t have to consider them as “other people.”

I came to realize that everyone deserves a second and even third chance to get things right. People deserve to feel healthy and deserve to have their anxieties eased. Sure, we are all possibly a single breath away from meeting our maker, but in the meantime we can offer everyone peace of mind whether they are responsible for their health problems or not.

Along the way, I had people help me through both situations. Some were family and some weren’t. My coworkers picked up the slack for me when I was sick. I had others help me get back into the classroom as a teacher when I was out. We don’t exist in this world alone. This is even true when we have a hand in creating those situations.

I could have stayed in the classroom and not taken the counseling job. I would likely have never wound up in the situation I was in. I could have taken better care of myself and not wound up in the hospital. Unfortunately, wisdom comes late to the party. Every negative situation I’ve had, I’ve had a hand in creating. I know that now. I didn’t know it then.

In a similar way, millions struggle with their careers or health and don’t realize their own culpability at the time. The anti crowd seizes on that culpability without considering the fallout. They will realize some day and what will be done when that some day comes? Will we lend a hand to get them back on their feet or will we simply tell them they shouldn’t have put themselves in this position in the first place? It’s hard to say the cruelty isn’t the point, but I’ve been there on both sides and I know the thinking behind it. The anti crowd doesn’t see it as cruelty. They see it as tough love. I just can’t go down that road anymore.