In the time leading up to my eligibility for Medicare and the big birthday, I wondered what kind of gift might make me happy. On my way riding home from running some errands it hit me that I always felt odd receiving gifts from others so I was going to give myself a gift. I decided that it would be a blog to write about peace as a spot-on solution to focusing on greater self-reflection. I smiled as I sped on my moped past the Atlantic Ocean where the sun was shimmering and the sails flapping in a crisp Key West breeze. I was going to give myself a challenge for my 65th birthday.
How did I ever end up where I am at 65, I wondered. Like everyone will tell you, it sneaks up on you. Most of my friends and family have quit asking questions about my nomadic lifestyle, whether it is my lively entrepreneurial bent, penchant for living in unique places, or political and social activism. But, in fact, I was led to the ends of two roads where Route 1 begins in Key West, FL and Route 6 ends in Provincetown, MA. Everything in between has become somewhat patches of life’s quilt. I like the thought of having these two end zones, as gathered around each are progressive people, artists, writers, philosophers, dropouts and more than a few drunks, workaholics and drama queens.
I grew up in a family where Pops was a football coach and my mother was the traditional French matriarch, with her strict and regimented rule over the home territory that was not to be questioned. So disciplined living naturally leads to rebellion for independent types like me but it can also build character. I was the chosen one out of the five kids designated to conjure up mischief, create spoofs and pranks, take action and voice my opinion, which oftentimes was a variety show of questioning authority. I was pushed without protest into leadership roles, some more rewarding than others but all forms of behavior certainly receiving notice. Let’s just say that in my formative years, I mastered the art of questioning why in a way that allowed me a position of popularity and leader of the pack.
Early on I reveled going each day to Catholic grade school with my overloaded personality; I was always the teacher’s pet and often the reason for a commotion around those ever so mysterious nuns. The priests were just the cool authoritarians who the boys liked to hang around and for which some got more than they bargained. Like all Catholic schools of the day, great myths kept us curious, like putting our spending coins into the slotted can that the nuns would tell us would buy us a “pagan baby” who was suffering in some far off land. Every year we spent hours on naming that baby. Status was gained by bringing the prettiest flowers for May services honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary, where some of us were highly skilled at weaving the blossoms of clover to make a floral crown for lady of our adoration.
The town where I grew up was French in heritage and hosted two religions, Catholic and Non-catholic. Many of my dad’s college friends from Tulane were Jewish, so they were also just Non-catholic. Life was full of simple pleasures: fishing, water skiing, mysterious escapades in the swamps and always fish fries on Friday and poker on Saturday. Growing up rich in my small town meant that you had an Oldsmobile. The town I knew underwent drastic change as the energy industry transformed a quaint Cajun town into a busting oil and gas exploration center. The new people who came to town were imported workers called “rough necks” who brought with them tacky buildings, racy women, hard living, heavy equipment and a crack in the folksy social order of life, where big wads of money began hitting the streets in search of black gold. It was my first lesson about American greed, where money was all that mattered. It changed my little town as big institutions would eventually change my big country.
I remember racism, laughing at off-color jokes, being cliquish, hanging with the cool people, feeding on gossip, terrorizing neighbors with pranks and spiking a campus security cake in college with Ex-Lax. Through it all, and considering my surroundings in the Bible Belt in college and the backwaters growing up, I was a prime candidate for the kind of redneck, born again, cross-bearing hatred I witness around the South today. My hometown and state embrace right-wing stinging behavior and classism with unapologetic fervor. As almost a badge of honor, people show off by going out of their way to say hateful things about our government and ghastly dark humor has exploded along with social networking. People are fired for their religious and political beliefs or what some call “bad habits.” The underclass is starved of healthcare and education, while every political campaign is spiked with rhetoric calling for better healthcare and education. This is all played out against a backdrop of a raw and aggressive political climate, a sort of conservative blood sport equating issues of compassion to a loss of American values.
My moral compass was honed around true American values based on the Golden Rule not around today’s rhetoric from a ruling political class who adds insult to injury with their chicanery. Case in point: during a time of budget shortfalls in my state, the raunchy pastor on Duck Dynasty received state funding in order to keep this quack pack in production, hundreds of thousands of dollars. This free ride on the back of tax payers was called a good investment, while health care, education, senior programs were put on the block for massive cuts. It’s all just taken for granted as a more entertaining and acceptable form of racism and anger directed toward women, gays, and “fanatical” liberals who, at the drop of a hat, will convert your children into ungodly sinners and outcasts. Repent, fear, shake in the name of the Lord who hates everyone but us, right? For the life of me, I can’t imagine Jesus selecting Duck Dynasty goons as his disciples, but onward these Christian soldiers march without a conscience or responsibility for the hurt they cause. They say, its politics, baby. But I know my constitution and had a dad who earned a purple heart the hard way and this is not what he and others fought for, baby.
But, back to me and my birthday. If asked, everyone will tell you that I could run for any office and win and I used to love pressing the flesh and being the coolest young politician you could ever meet. No doubt my affable personality was the reward of deep seeded insecurity, always trying to attract positive attention as the best little boy in the world. I was always the class president, student body president, student union president, key Congressional staffer and front man for a presidential campaign, just biding my time to make a next run.
For a young man I was a rising big shot in politics, no doubt the result of insecurities fueling a psychological need to be loved by the masses. Now, this is a subject for which I could write a lengthy book and it would be filled with many celebrities, church folk, sports stars, politicians and famous people who rode their insecurities to great heights, all along keeping a truth they feared hidden from the light. In most every case I know of someone having the stamina and stick-to-itiveness to make the climb to fame, there is brooding insecurity or the big hidden secret needing to be exorcised. For me it was simple, I am Gay and was petrified that someone might find out and end my skyrocketing political career. Little did I realize that it was the act of hiding who I was that gave me the uber ambition to climb those political ladders. And, once secure with the person who I am, all of the climbing seemed unnecessary and even odd.
Now, I’m not one of those to look at ambitious achievers and say that they are all Gay, but they may have had difficult childhoods, abuse in their past, bullying, sexual dramas, financial misdeeds, drug or alcoholism issue, or beauty queen moms or football star dads --- you get the picture –– a bunch of folks desperately making up themselves and trying on their best designer personalities to keep their true selves protected. The odd thing is truth has a way of unwittingly opening the closets, often by bizarre actions or misdeeds if you keep oneself hidden for too long. I sort of took the road less traveled and gradually grew into my true self, taking on work where I found great comfort and meaningful policy expertise to offer. I created and led large national initiatives to build positive public support around the tragedy of AIDS, help students gain more access to arts education, work to remove the stigma for psychology in America, assist the White House in creating youth programs at the turn of the century, and focus international attention on the tragic loss of wetlands in the Gulf Coast, which one day will mean the loss of one of America’s most important ecosystems. And in doing all of this I maintained a successful company and many side ventures with restaurants, retail, lodging, hospitality and most enjoyable, captaining my boat.
I don’t exactly stand on the sidelines but I have come to enjoy my true self and what I have and can accomplish. The process of moving from fear to personal strength comes with the realization that trumped up ambition is usually found around someone for a reason and often the results of such ambition are not productive, positive or honorable.
And so as I return to self, a modern religious journey must be part of a trek to look within. Most of us have had some foundation of religion to gain our moral bearing, and some kept the lessons and shed the skin. Now that the world seems poised for a new round of religious wars, I really don’t recognize the religion in which I was raised and other religions of the world. My religion espoused virtues like feeding the poor, aiding the sick, being kind to neighbors, and respecting your public servants. Today many religions have become politicized. Some religious sects have created interpretations that expel devout believers. Others have aligned with fundamentalist leaders who create vicious rumors that spark fear of others. Far too many church followers won’t help those needing medical care; are a helping hand. They seem very angry and fearful, spreading a word of God that is negative and targets certain individuals, racial types or entire classes of people. Endless incarcerations, failure of the family unit, loss of privacy, and low respect for political institutions have resulted from a society desensitized by an unending cycle of cheap political rhetoric, corporate consumerism, aggressive competition, and national exceptionalism. Welfare is too often spoken about as a sewer for the less fortunate; people categorized as taking money from hard working taxpayer’s pockets and stealing juicy steaks from the grocery store shelves with their illegal food stamps. Everyone wants to keep a lot of guns around to protect themselves from trumped up terrorists, even when accidental and purposeful killing by guns keeps making headlines and the U.S. holds the insurmountable lead in handgun homicides.
Billions are spent today in America by shady characters who are mega wealthy to demonize liberal notions, like the ones that made America great including public education, research & development, and advancements in the arts and sciences. Conservatism and fundamentalism is trumpeted as the way out, even though that only happens by looking in the rear view mirror while trying to move forward. And this way out relies on paying to play, changing the rules through gerrymandering or dark political action committee electioneering, not quite the stuff the framers of the constitution had in mind.
I do not recognize the place where I was raised or the people who have become in charge of the hateful lifestyle where scorn is directed at our President, our national allies, and minorities including blacks, Hispanics, Jews, gays, immigrants and the mentally afflicted, among many others. And aren’t women the largest part of the population but still grafted out of most decision and money-making? All of these folks make America exceptional….ALL. E Pluribus Unum, my friends, “out of many, one.”
So, in light of so many oddities and maybe confusion, why of all things, did I want a Peace blog for my 65th birthday? I’ve been successful enough. I am blessed with a wonderful life partner and meaningful relationships. So, why bother? Well, my life and work from low to high places has qualified me in a unique way to make some common sense of these odd times. I know many moms and dads who did not raise their kids to be locked in a vice of bias. I know that I had to have a turning point in my life to make me change course, to reassess my true beliefs alongside those who have been consumed by a populist wave of prejudice and discrimination. What is clearly wrong doesn’t deserve vaulted status because it is popular, gains media audiences and advertising revenue or has some nut case ego gone wild claiming it to be legit.
The reason I have to write the peace blog is in thanks that I have looked into the dragon’s mouth and popped back out. I am thankful for being able to delicately move through the minefields of sidestepping honor without truth to build my true person. We have all allowed some hate and bias to hang around us and I know many who regret how this has led ourselves and our country into a negative spiral. I realize that I can make a contribution by writing about truth and peace making sense to me because I have earned expertise in the contemporary battles for the soul that are on the horizon. And, damn it, these angry folks are squeezing the life and the fun out of everything.
I must also admit that some of my own sidesteps and lapses of judgment provided a stronger personal constitution, not as a born again anything but as a human being who has evolved to a place where I judge myself against standards of my personal integrity and not others. And, when I occasionally fall, I realize it and try to make good. I’ve also come to the good sense that it’s not too late. History tells us where more aggression will lead and I know that there is no future in conflict. I also find it stimulating to do the research, try to use my skills to popularize notions that have become tired and stale and have only predictable voices to sing some far too old songs.
So what? What’s the big deal about moving through life as a beacon of peace and honor when millions have done the same? Nothing. First, it doesn’t have to be a big deal; we have too damn many big deals already. For me this is an act of one that perhaps leads to another and another. Many more acts of peace in a world at war have potential. And were it not for the angry mobs out there who want to rule the world, maybe there wouldn’t be a need for a few more cool cats willing to take the heat for peace.
We have people around all of us who are both knowingly and unknowingly eating away at human values, liberties and freedoms. They are that insecure gang who need attention at all cost for ego, power and money and can always be found masquerading as pious leaders of church, state, and industry. Their savage weaponry turns people against one another and when their ruse is uncovered, they squeal like a pig and run like cowards to hide behind the cloak of political correctness – they feign astonishment that someone dare to call them out. And so, too often, we let them take the next step up, gaining more attention, and corralling more false prophets and rabble-rousers because too many respectable people stay quiet. Let’s call them out and unveil hypocrisy when we see it.
We are at a crossroads of integrity, honor, values and ethics. We face self-righteous proponents of a return to a world of which many worked and died to remove us from. It’s time we man and woman up, plant our feet on the new social pavements online and regain our sacred places, symbols and words that have been stolen, misused and abused to expose a place where none of us can be free. Many of us are working on our life’s quilt and can see clearly that peace, truth and honor create the warmth that Mother Earth and her people deserve.
If any of this feels familiar, take this journey, which is sure to be sometimes bumpy, hilarious, emotional, and hopefully and most important, meaningful. Together, we must be clever, strategic, and dedicated to a higher purpose than ourselves. Politically, purveyors of fear and conflict outnumber us. We will not be able to buy our way in. Peace is unpopular. There is a hidden truth, however. People want it. We can do this.
The Peace Man