Thoughts at a fire

Yesterday morning I wrote a post in this space bemoaning the lack of good news stories this year. I had a realization later in the evening, though, as I was watching the fire in my fireplace burn. And it’s worth sharing it here, before it crawls back into the recesses of my mind. This is why I started this blog, after all.

If I start a fire in my fireplace and it burns all night and it goes out, there’s nothing “newsworthy” in that. But if my house were to somehow catch fire, then not only would the fire trucks come, but the news vans, as well. And the bigger the fire, the bigger the story would be.

So I realized, as my fire burned without incident in my fireplace, that “the news” wasn’t good for a reason. As Don Hendley once sang, it’s interesting when people die. And apparently, that’s the only time.

So I’m not waiting for the news to be good anymore. There’s good things all around us every day, and there’s nobody looking to tell us what it is. That’s apparently our job to determine what it is.

And my fire went out, and it was a happy time, indeed. I’m glad that nobody else got to hear anything about it.


The gift of light and heat


About a year ago, I made an unusual find at an estate sale. The guy who had just passed away was apparently fond of going to Las Vegas and picking up matches while he was there. I bought hundreds of these things in a big ziploc bag for two dollars.

They sat in my house for nearly a year, until a couple of days ago, at an office-based drive for typhoon relief in the Philippines. For some reason, matches were on the list of needed supplies, and I was glad to give them away so that someone who has lost everything can cook some food, or perhaps light the darkness for a little while.

There will be thousands of fires in the Philippines soon, all because of some dead guy’s match collection. I was just an intermediary along the way, but I wish them well. They certainly need all that we can send their way. As Bono sang all those years ago, “Tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you.” Well said, indeed.

The good that people can do


A few days ago, I read about an effort that the Chicago Cubs were making for tornado relief in Central Illinois. Rather than asking for money (although I’m sure they accepted that, too) the Cubs were gathering up supplies and then driving what they collected down to the Washington/Pekin areas where they are needed.

I grabbed a few paper goods from my basement, and dropped them off at Wrigley Field on Thursday morning. It wasn’t much, and I freely admitted that to the world. But at the same time, I felt good about doing it. Some donated more than I did, of course, but the vast majority of people gave nothing at all. Just to be included among those that gave made me feel very positive.

The thing about giving, like anything else, is that it’s completely voluntary. Some can give, but most can’t or don’t, for whatever reason. Inertia is probably the main culprit. I know that’s typically the case for me and disaster relief situations. I feel bad for people affected by the storms, but when it comes to doing anything more than that, I had never really have donated anything before. But the proximity of the tornadoes last Sunday to the Chicago area finally compelled me to do something. Illinois is my home, and damage done here means more to me than it would any place else.

I donated some paper goods, and challenged others to do the same. Many people did exactly that, as the above picture shows. Whatever I donated is somewhere in that shot, and by now it has all been delivered to those in need. Hats off to all of us who kicked in and gave something, no matter what it was.

Today was a colder than usual day here in Chicago, and in the areas that were affected by the storms, too. Clearing the damage that nature caused is going to take a long time, and the short, cold days will make the process that much more difficult. The calendar will say it’s the holiday season in parts of central Illinois, but it won’t look very much like Christmas this year.

People have stepped up to help, and that’s inspiring on so many levels. But the need will linger for some time, and I’ve read that relief donations usually dwindle over time. I hope that doesn’t happen here, because there’s plenty of short, cold days ahead.

A story I was glad to tell


The reason that I write anything on the internet, whether it’s on this blog or anywhere else, is because I love to tell stories. I also like sharing ideas that pop into my head on occasion, but it’s the storytelling that really sustains me. And over the past couple of days, I’ve been able to put one together that I really enjoyed telling.

The piece appeared on ChicagoSideSports today. The tragedy that happened in Washington and other places around the state of Illinois last Sunday left me wondering what I could do to help. If I can write something that puts some meat on the bones of what is already a great story of generosity and compassion, I’ll gladly do it. And if I can appeal to the readers of the story to make a donation and help these people out in some way, I’ll gladly do that too.

As I wrote this story, a combination of nostalgia and sleep deprivation served to bring my old school back to life, if only for a moment and only within the recesses of my memory. I couldn’t go back and walk the halls of Griffin High, even if I wanted to. But writing this story took me back there in a metaphorical sense. And that’s fine, because now it only exists in my memories and those of my schoolmates, anyway. The building still exists, but it wouldn’t be–and couldn’t be–the same as it was back in the 1980s.

I’m rooting for Sacred Heart-Griffin to win this weekend, and not because I graduated from one of its predecessor schools. And it’s not because I want to deny Washington anything, either. No, this is all about being kind and generous. People don’t do that enough, and I wish I saw more of it in this world. So when it does happen, I want to celebrate it as much as possible, in the hopes that I’ll see more of it in the future. That would sure be an improvement over what we have today, wouldn’t it?

Go Cyclones!

Jersey Shore 2013 (Sandy)

One year ago today, Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey and New York with a force that I never thought possible. I hope that the people who were impacted have found a way to move on with their lives, because there isn’t another choice for any of us.

On my honeymoon, many years ago, I took a cruise through some of the islands of the Caribbean. It seemed like every island had one storm or another come through over the years, and the locals all remember the name of that storm. And so I imagine it must be along the New Jersey shore. They’ll remember the name Sandy for a very long time to come.

What are the odds that the 18th named storm (and the order of the names is determined many years in advance) in 2012 would visit such destruction on New Jersey? It couldn’t have been Oscar, or Rafael, or Valerie, or William, which were all names that were scheduled to be assigned to storms in 2012. No, it had to be Sandy, which is the name of a Bruce Springsteen song about wanting to leave the Jersey shore. The irony is just too much to be believed, and yet there it is.

All the best to the people who were affected by this storm, and every other storm, past and future. It’s nature’s world, and we just happen to live in it temporarily.

A tragedy in Kentucky (with update)


The story out of Kentucky today is enough to break the heart of anyone who has one. A five-year old boy, who apparently was given a rifle as a present by his terminally vacant parents, fired a shot from his rifle and killed his two year-old sister. Yes, a two year-old was shot and killed by a five year-old. If that’s not a sign of the price that guns exact on our society, I’m not sure what could be. Something needs to give, in order to keep something like this from ever happening again.

But a look at the website–and especially the “Kids’ Corner” page–of is nothing short of terrifying. Here’s a company that makes real, actual rifles, and markets them specifically to young children. Children like the five year-old who just killed his little sister. Amendment Two apparently trumps the life of a Two year-old child.

So what should be done to the parents of the boy and his dead sister? They negligently left the gun out, with a round still in it, and now a child–their child–is dead. Are the parents to face criminal charges for this? They need to, or else a little girl will have died in vain.

I want somebody to make a statement about how enforcing the existing gun laws would have prevented this, or how the death of this child is a price that must be paid to keep the status quo in place. There will be some worthless platitudes given about grieving for the family, but the NRA will continue to fight against anything that might have prevented this from happening. The two year-old wouldn’t have understood this term, but tough luck for you, kid.

It’s a sad day in America when something like this happens. What can be done to fix it? As a society, we must try to come up with something to make a change. To do nothing would be the coward’s way out.

UPDATE: Speaking of cowards, the Crickett website is down today. I imagine they don’t like the light that has been shone on their business since this happened.

It really makes me wonder


There’s no doubt in my mind that Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven is the song of my lifetime. I’ve written about the song before, and it always seems to be able to lift my spirits up. And today, as I was contemplating the senseless attacks at the Boston marathon, the song worked its magic once again.

I had seen a picture of one of the fatalities on Facebook earlier in the day. His name is Martin Richard, and he was eight years old. It hit me hard, because eight years old is such a great age. Kids haven’t yet become jaded and cynical, and they haven’t learned that constant stimulation is necessary, lest they become “bored.” And the look on Martin’s face is enough to suggest that this was a good kid, the kind that anyone would want to have for a son.

So where does Led Zeppelin come in? The repeated lyrics about “it makes me wonder” came into play for me.

I wondered who would do such a terrible act, taking the life away from a good kid like this.

I wondered if other people will get any sinister ideas from this attack, and if so whether they will be able to be thwarted before other innocent kids are hurt.

I wondered if the person who made these bombs and detonated them had any remorse for the damage they did.

Whatever the answers to these might be, I hope that we, as a people, can learn something from Martin Richard’s senseless death. Let’s all hold the children around us a little bit tighter, and realize how precious they really are.

I got you, babe


Groundhog Day is one of the more ingenious movies to have come along in my lifetime. Yes, it’s funny, and that made it entertaining to watch. But what made it ingenious was how it has become a cultural shorthand for the same thing happening over and over and over again. When you tell someone that something is “like Groundhog Day” they know exactly what you mean. And how many movies can you say that about?

One of the things about Phil, Bill Murray’s character in the movie, is that once he realizes what’s going on with the same day being repeated over and over again, he uses this recurrence to modify his behavior. Take the scene where he asks Rita, Andie McDowell’s character, out for some coffee. He learns about what she likes, and then goes about becoming that person. He learns to play the piano, after he discovers that she wants a guy who’s a musician. He then gets the girl, and as a result his repeating day spell is broken the next day. There was no more “I got you, babe” played on the radio to start each day.

So I want to apply this lesson to the wave of gun shootings taking place in this country. When someone shoots up a high school in Colorado, or a college campus in Virginia, or a mosque in Wisconsin, we should take notes and learn from those experiences. The shooter who killed several people in Arizona, and severely wounded Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, had to stop firing to reload his weapon, and that’s when he was taken down. So smaller magazines would make a difference to prevent these things from happening again. We can learn from the tragedies, in order to prevent similar ones in the future. That shouldn’t be so hard to do.

But the gun makers don’t see it that way. Using the Second Amendment as a full and complete bar to any sort of reasonable gun restrictions–which might save the lives of innocent bystanders one day in the future–they go to great lengths to suggest that no changes should be made. And they throw their political and PR weight around until we, as a nation, get distracted by something else, and then life goes on. Or, at least it does until the next gun massacre takes place. Modifying our collective behavior in the hopes of getting the girl isn’t in the NRA’s playbook, because they’ve already got the girl right now. It’s the rest of us that have to watch as children are blasted into bloody bits.

Let’s see this for what it is. “Getting the girl” as Phil saw it in Groundhog Day, is reaching a point where these massacres don’t happen quite so much anymore. The experiences of Newtown and Aurora and the Kenwood neighborhood in Chicago can all help us to get there, if we make this a priority.

Let’s all of us understand that the NRA doesn’t want us to get the girl, and will do everything it can–up to and including distorting the Constitution–in order to see that it doesn’t happen. For a group of unarmed children standing in a park on a rainy day after final exams are over, their answer is to put more guns into the equation, not to remove the one that was already there. But that way of thinking won’t help any of us learn from the past. And it will only provide a steady diet of “I got you, babe” in the morning.

I’m on the President’s side


My one and only uncle-by-marriage was an avid hunter, and I could count the number of times I actually saw him in my life, if not on one hand, then certainly on two. The only time I can remember being his house was  horrifying to me, because a large trophy was mounted on the wall of his, was it a den? Whatever he called it, there was a deer’s head and a very large set of antlers that dominated the room. The first time I saw it–and I think I was about ten years old–I knew I could never be a hunter. Killing that animal, and then mounting its head on the wall, struck me as a barbaric act.

At Christmas dinner every year, my uncle would go on and on about the Nashnul Rahful Soseeashun and what a good thing they were doing for all Americans. He must have known that my family had no guns, and had no inclination toward guns, and this must have rubbed him the wrong way. Just like evangelicals go out looking for converts to their religion, my uncle seemed to think that we should all own and use guns, even if we didn’t realize it.

The last time I saw my uncle, not long before I left my hometown to go away for college, he offered to enroll me in a gun training course, and to pay for it himself. Knowing how little I actually saw him, and not being the least bit interested in learning how to shoot a gun or a rifle or anything of that nature, I put him off with some sort of an “I’ll think about it” line. And sure enough, I never saw him again, as he passed away several years later.

I thought about my uncle in the wake of the Newtown Massacre last month. Why none of the other shooting rampages brought him to mind is beyond me. But I remembered the offer that he made to me the last time I saw him, and it made Adam Lanza a bit more understandable to me. Adam Lanza’s mother had guns, and she took her son to shooting ranges with her. Guns were introduced to him at an early age, by an older family member.

I was never introduced to guns, by my father, my uncle, or anyone else, but I’ve seen what guns have done, and will continue to do, to my city and my nation. Guns have thinned our collective herd, and for some this is the price that must be paid to preserve the Second Amendment. I see it a different way, though. For all of the innocent lives lost in Newtown, and Aurora, and Chicago, and a thousand other places, we need to make our stand.

President Obama is taking a huge risk to his personal safety in doing this, but right is on his side. Doing nothing is no longer an option.