Bipolar America

I came home to South Florida yesterday from a weekend visit to see my daughter in Orlando. Yes, it was that weekend. As I tried to sleep, I reflected on the wide range of positivity and negativity I experienced over the three days.

Friday began with promise. My wife got a ride to work, so I could pick her up in the afternoon for our three hour drive to Orlando. Out daughter’s fiancé was out of town at a bachelor party for a friend and my wife wanted to help our daughter out with a few minor details regarding her upcoming September wedding. I would find out later that this trip also included an opportunity for them to go shopping for a dress for my wife to wear to the rehearsal dinner.

I finished packing, loaded the car, ran the dishwasher and headed out to my writers group at the Parkland Library. It was a pleasant meeting with a light summer turnout and a lot of interesting material. I read an elegy I had written for my blog about Muhammad Ali, whose funeral would be later that day. I had such a nice time that I treated myself to lunch with five other members of my group. While I normally hate eating in restaurants with televisions in them, on this day, I could occasionally watch the funeral processional. I was touched by the masses of people lining the streets of Louisville, many tossing flowers onto the hearse. I could not recall ever seeing so many people at the funeral of someone who was neither a head of state nor a Princess. I felt good about myself and about America.

After lunch, I headed north to Boca Raton to pick up my wife. It was raining, so I parked the car and walked to the entrance to her building to provide cover for her. Even I was aware of the shocking rarity of such a kind and romantic gesture on my part. I was feeling pretty good. While I waited for her, I got a phone call from my nephew who I rarely get a chance to talk to. My wife soon came out and although my being on the phone wrecked the impact of my umbrella-related heroism, I had a nice conversation with my nephew. He’s in a new relationship that he is very happy about coming on the heels of an awkward break-up. “It’s funny how things work out,” we both said. I had no idea how funny.

On Saturday morning, my wife and I went for a walk. We discussed the changes of fortune that these young women had faced without having the slightest clue about what was to come. We returned to the apartment. I checked the news to find that a 22-year old singer had been murdered the previous night by a deranged stalker in Orlando. My wife and daughter discussed this as they rode around Orlando doing wedding-related errands and shopping. We went out to dinner that evening and later to a stationery store. Along the way, we passed near the venue of the previous night’s shooting. “What is the world coming to?” and “How do you prevent this madness?” were among our questions.

By morning, we realized that things could get much worse. The news was sketchy early. My wife and I let my daughter sleep in while we drove out to a flea market to get our walk in. We knew that there were twenty casualties at a club overnight, but no specific deaths had been reported. The market was a pleasant slice of working America. There were people of all ethnicities negotiating over prices in a calm and peaceful way. People knew what they wanted to spend and vendors knew what they needed to get. When those two things were in concert, commerce took place. By the time we left, there were twenty confirmed deaths and reports of terrorism and hate crimes.

I really don’t get the term “hate crime”. While I could go the rest of my days without hearing the term “bias crime”, it is at least more apt. To me, anything involving murder is by definition a hate crime. There was a small amount of brightness shining through the blackness of this horrific event. We went to a mall parking lot to give blood later in the afternoon. There were already over 300 people lined up at the bus in the Florida heat. Local stores were donating umbrellas, water and Gatorade.

But then, there was the hate. Every screwball and vile hater came out from under their rock to spew their particular venom.  Then, the return salvo from the self-proclaimed righteous came in waves. Are we really shocked when politicians use events as political capital? Isn’t that kind of their job? I fully admit to being a liberal democrat far to the left on most issues. I also have many friends who are equally ensconced on the right of the same issues. So what? These people and I still agree on ninety-five percent of all issues. Even when we don’t, we certainly are mature enough to set out differences aside to allow for help and healing, aren’t we?

Several years ago, when my Brother-in-law was living near us in South Florida, he invited me to attend his bible-study group. It seems that they were discussing how to make their points to atheists. Since I qualified, I was invited. I didn’t go to challenge these people, but felt I might learn something. What I learned was that these people were a lot more like me than not. Even though we were one hundred and eighty degrees apart on some core beliefs, we actually all wanted pretty much the same thing…Personal responsibility.

I don’t believe that the Ten Commandments are from the hand of God, but I’d be an idiot to argue that they are not a pretty damn good set of rules or standards for civilized living. If anything, I’d take the half of them that honor God, and use them to beef up the behavior and personal conduct section. Sure, there was one guy at the bible-study group that I thought was dangerous. He used fear, intimidation and misinformation in the most irrational way possible to bully followers. I’d fight this guy at every turn. Most of the guys were rational people, some men of science and reason, who just had a different approach than I did. Mission accomplished…I did learn. I learned a lot.

What really confuses me is the gun issue. To me, this seems to be one of the easier things to fix. Here, there is no doubt that nearly all people can agree that public safety is paramount and that a gun in the hand of anyone who does not agree, is a danger to every aspect of society. I have been far to the left for every minute of my fifty-seven years and I have never heard of any legitimate or rational threat to any rational gun owner’s right to own and use a gun. The second amendment issue is nonsense in my eyes, but even for those who don’t agree, this is not, nor has ever been even a minimal threat.

My next door neighbor has guns. He’s a veteran who is trained. He has and continues to train his kids to use guns, including his two boys in middle school and high school. My neighbor seems rational and serious about gun safety. I don’t like guns. I’ve shot a few and know that I will never own one or allow one in my home. I’ll admit that I’m not crazy about a ten-year-old in the house twenty feet away having access to one. I also know that it’s quite frankly none of my business, and would also be knocking on his door in a second were I to need protection.

Here’s the thing. He does not want a mentally ill, steroid fueled, angry person to have a gun any more than I do. Neither of us effectively stopped this guy in Orlando, and we can discuss until doomsday which of us has the better approach. But for now, we absolutely can agree that this perpetrator was able to maximize his damage because of his access to guns. We also know that he didn’t need ISIS of Muslim extremism to fuel his hate. This guy would have been able to convince himself to shoot up a workplace, movie theater or elementary school just as easily. He was an American, born and educated here, and this was domestic terror.

Anyone who considers themselves a responsible gun owner, including NRA members whose mission includes firearm safety, has to agree that there are some people who just are not safe with guns. I actually want these people to be the ones to help decide what that level of public safety is and how to test for it. I sure as hell don’t know. My neighbor would be happy to be certified and tested regularly. He’s smart enough to know that we all pay some price for freedom. Certainly an increase in public safety is worth an inconvenience no more that airport screening or seat belt laws. Can we at least discuss it without someone being convinced that I am going to shred the constitution?

My wife found a dress for the rehearsal dinner and we kissed our daughter goodbye and headed for home. Along the way, we tried to make sense of the extreme highs and lows of our weekend in Orlando. We tried to temper the good wishes on Facebook intermixed with vile extremism and the suckers who felt compelled to respond to it. I mentioned to my wife that I felt it odd that one of the greatest symbols of peace that we have in America was laid to rest just two days earlier. Thousands came out to honor his legacy and his impact on their lives. Muhammad Ali was Muslim. Forty-eight hours later, we were back to hate.

The ninety-five percent of the rational people who all want personal responsibility cannot spend another second fighting about this. We MUST talk about this. We have more in common than not. You know where to find me.

Let’s talk.




4 thoughts on “Bipolar America

  1. Dear Bobby, Wow! Your writing keeps getting more and more powerful! No offense, but would you like me point out the couple of typos I found? Love, “Grammar Sherry” (as my grandsons call me).

  2. Bob, you said it all, and you said it very well. As American’s we should and must TALK, so let’s begin.

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