As a senior in college, my journalism classes were peppered with visits from real-life reporters.
One of them was a top crime reporter from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, whose name I’ve long forgotten. He showed up for our 9:00 class with rumpled hair, wrinkled shirt and unshaven face, holding a cup of coffee and looking too sleepy to be nervous. We weren’t shy about asking him questions, but it was when we allowed him to talk freely about his career that the most interesting information poured forth.
An earlier reporting job had been for the major daily paper in Chicago, where he worked the overnight shift. Most of the time he covered accidents and drunken brawls; if he was lucky, someone with some degree of fame was involved. One night, while playing cards with a colleague, he heard a call come over the police scanner. A woman had reported a foul odor emanating from her next-door neighbor’s home.
This kind of report was common and rarely went anywhere, but the two men figured since nothing else was going on, they might as well see what was up. Not expecting anything serious, they were intrigued by the growing number of emergency vehicles surrounding the house in question. Police weren’t talking and had roped off any access to the premises, so the reporters checked in on the neighbor who’d made the call.
A kind woman who’d lived in the same home for decades, she poured them some coffee and began talking about the man next door. Pleasant and polite, she said, but there was one strange thing. Young men, boys, really, would show up at his place on a regular basis. She’d seen plenty of them going in, but none ever came out.
That caught the attention of these reporters. They called their editor, and continued to investigate this increasingly harrowing story.
They broke the news to the world about John Wayne Gacy.
For those of you who don’t know, Gacy was one of the most notorious American serial killers of the 20th century. Convicted in 1980 of the rape and murder of 33 young men he’d lured to his home and buried in the crawl space, he eventually was put to death by lethal injection.
The point of sharing his experience with a wide-eyed audience of journalism students was to remind us you never knew when or in what form opportunity would present itself. This horrifying story catapulted the career of these two reporters. Always seeking information the hordes of other reporters missed, they helped fill out the tale of a gruesome tragedy.
They weren’t voyeurs, nor were the opportunists playing on the despair of others. This crime changed them in ways they were reluctant to discuss. As reporters, however, they called upon their training, formal and informal, to relay the full story. Much of what they reported is long forgotten, but a significant portion of it informed the world of the danger that could lurk in their neighborhood. If one boy heeded the lesson from their reports and saved himself from degradation and death, their work yielded the desired results.
Doctors prepare for the disaster they pray never happens; schools practice for the terror they never want to see. In our own way, preparing ourselves personally and professionally for the darkest parts of our society helps make our lives and the lives of those we care about safer.
No, we can’t live with a fatalistic attitude, nor can we worry ceaselessly about unseen events. We prepare, and go on with the joys and expectations of our lives. No better preparation can be made than that of cultivating a compassionate and caring heart, one that is grieved by tragedy but never hardened.
May you never face the worst of man or nature, and for those who do or will, may God carry you through it. And may all of us do what we can to keep the beasts away.
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On my way home from work, I heard the news. Another shooting, unknown numbers dead.
My first thought was a prayer for those whose hearts are breaking tonight, and I think most of you probably responded in a similar way.
Hot on the heels of this rapidly evolving news story was the comment by one politician: “we’ve got to get serious about mental health.” A statement made before anything is known about the shooter’s state of mind, his motive, facts we can seek our teeth into. The assumption was this eighteen-year-old was mentally ill. Maybe. I don’t have the story, and neither did that nitwit congressman.
I’ll agree, we’ve got to get serious about mental health. And here’s where you start: know the facts.
- Mental illness does NOT make you violent.
- The majority of violent crimes are committed by people with NO mental illness. NONE.
- People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violent crime.
- Drug and alcohol abuse is far more likely to lead to violent crime than the most severe mental illness.
- One of the strongest indicators of potential violent behavior is being a young male with a troubled childhood.
So let’s get serious about child abuse, domestic violence, and drug & alchohol abuse. I’m not saying don’t pour money into caring for the mentally ill. I’m saying, when you do, know what your money can accomplish. A better life for a highly stigmatized population, but probably not a serious reduction in the kinds of horrible events that flood the news.
In the next few days, countless reporters and politicians are going to contribute to the ignorance of the American people by going in front of the camera with trite words and misleading information. Take it upon yourself to dig deep for the truth. Write to those who spread the lies. Post, tweet, and cry out for fairness.
At work, at school, at church, you may be sitting next to someone with mental illness and never know it. They aren’t crazy, and there are a lot of options for those who seek treatment.
So let’s get serious. Let’s tell the truth.
And peace to those who suffer tonight — and all the nights to follow.
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Today a co-worker said, “there is always a solution to a problem. You just have to find it.”
We went on to joke that the solution might be passive-aggressive behavior or staging a strike, but I took his point to heart. In all honesty, there likely are times we reach a dead end. But in those cases, the solution may be to start over.
I’m no Pollyanna, but I believe in maintaining hope rather than despair. I remember my mom cruelly saying optimism doesn’t get things done, and sending me into a figurative corner for believing in the future. I’m past that now; I look at my life and clearly such thinking has worked in my favor.
With the mindset that there is a solution, we’re more likely to find one. When we’re ahead in life, we are apt to let things go that we would fight for in tougher times. Creative solutions step forward when our options have run out yet we still need to get the job done.
Fear might keep some from stepping out of the shadows to make themselves known. It isn’t easy to bark a little louder and risk being snubbed, but the alternative is to timidly wait for opportunities to shine light in your dark corners. Opportunity may find its home long before that happens.
Change is a constant, and remaining on the same path you trod five or ten years ago could keep you from moving forward. You can fight the new ideas or learn how to work with alternate factors. Not always easy when the old way seemed to be working for you (and that may only be an illusion), but necessary. What’s more, it’s likely to open doors for you.
I’m learning the way myself, and it winds and turns every time I think I have it down. But the alternative is boredom — something I’m no good with.
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In case you haven’t figured this out yet, Ash Wednesday lands on Valentine’s Day this year.
Clever candy makers haven’t missed a beat. You can buy those classic candy hearts with messages for Lent, such as “Ash to Ash” and “U R Dust.”
Valentine’s Day gives those of you debating about what to give up for Lent a great excuse not to forgo candy. What if your true love or an ill-fated secret lover gives you some gourmet chocolate? Is it fair to leave an expensive gift like that sitting around until — April Fool’s Day?
Because Easter is April 1, leaving many to ponder just how blasphemous it is to hear “Christ is Risen” alongside “April Fool’s!”
If you’re struggling with the decision whether or not to go to church for the first time since Christmas, let me help you make your decision. No small share of religious leaders will draw the connection between Christ and fools, ending with the admonition not to be a fool — follow Christ.
As a Christian with experience in a variety of denominations, I recognize my seeming flippancy may offend some. But I’m not finished. There is no shortage of worship services in the days preceding Easter. If you dread the crowds and the traffic, try one of those. It may actually be more meaningful to you.
U R Loved.
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A college dropout – me? The National Merit Scholar, the one who dreamed about higher education?
That didn’t make any sense.
Yet the first go-around, that’s what happened. I took on too much and burned out. Few close to me disputed the wisdom of my choice, but all agreed I should try again when I was ready.
It took three years to be ready, but when I was, I was. The second time, at a different university, was the charm, and when it comes to charm, no one had more than my ultra-geeky Logic professor.
Many of my fellow students foolishly and vocally didn’t see the need for Logic 101.
Actually, he wasn’t even a professor at the time; it was his first teaching experience after graduating with a doctorate in Philosophy.
He faced formidable odds. This was before today’s plethora of news programs with self-proclaimed experts whose statements deserve challenge at every turn. Many, if not most, of my fellow students foolishly and vocally didn’t see the need for Logic 101.
For me, initially it was a requirement to plough through, rather than something to grab hold of and internalize. It turned out I couldn’t wait for the each class and the concepts I would take in. Today, I consciously apply what I learned on a regular basis.
You’d be surprised when you listen how many “experts” seem to forget, or perhaps ignore, logic.
For those unclear about what you learn in a logic course, it starts with this: “All cats are animals, but not all animals are cats”. You’d be surprised when you listen how many of the aforementioned “experts” seem to forget, or perhaps deliberately ignore, that logic.
To take the cats-animals-cats thinking a bit further, something like “Most (specific political party devotees) believe this…but not everyone who believes that is a (specific political party supporter)” escapes them.
Or, for sports fans, “if we’d scored that touchdown in the second quarter, we would have won.” Nuh-uh. Any real fan of football knows each play builds on the previous one, and scoring that touchdown would have created a different game. (Scoring a field goal without penalty in the last second, I’ll give you that one, even though technically the rule of logic wouldn’t).
So when you hear the pundits say, “my candidate in the last election never would have created the mess we’re in,” that simply is poor reasoning. You don’t know what your candidate might have done. But all sides smugly say it, or something similar, on a regular basis.
I’ll give you, in this last election, and after the last year, it’s hard to imagine any other candidate would have created the mess we’re in. But that’s speculation based on facts, not an absolute truth. It can’t be. It never happened.
That sort of simple logic is violated on a regular basis. Other practical elements are equally good to know.
Okay, I can’t necessarily apply anything I learned in that course to the logic of my decision to drop out the first time. Yet it clearly was the right choice. Or was it? I’ll never know, logically speaking, because I’ll never know what would have happened if I stuck with it.
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I have long resented the idea that “everything happens for a reason.” But I do believe in looking for the good, the right, the valuable, no matter what your circumstance may be.
How can we tell the young boys in Afghanistan, pulled from their families to be made sex slaves for the military elite, that there is a reason for their torture and base treatment? To do so might seem to provide justification for this action. I cannot tell victims of war their pain is worthwhile. It is not for me to say.
But I can say good has sprung from the worst times of my life. I grow closer to achieving pride and self-worth. It is my own determination that brings this change, however, not the vile actions of others. They are rightly relegated to secondary, or lower, importance in my life.
In the years since I faced my foes, I evolved my thinking past the belief I was doomed to a lifetime of failure to understanding how my focus delivers results. Time and again I deal with people who tell me what to think, how to behave and even what kind of person I am. They do not determine my attitude.
My thinking is far from forceful or pushy. It’s an internal resolution to believe in good and accept the circumstances in my life that lead me to today. In accepting I am able to change some of it and graciously deal with the rest.
It is, at times, a daily exercise and a painful one. But the outcome is joy and contentment, and hope for the future. I can relax and enjoy life, not fret over what ill deed others may be concocting, or stew about what they’ve willfully done in the past.
In writing this, I do fear the idea I will be pushed again, by circumstances worse than before. I can’t dwell on that, however. I can only deal with what today brings me.
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