28 February 2013

Conflict with the Middle East

Few regions of the world have greater internal turmoil than the Middle East. The area has been at war with itself and others virtually since mankind started keeping records of such things.

As comedian Eddie Izzard once philosophically waxed, "It's a holy city for the Christians, it's a holy city for the Muslims, and a holy city for the Islams...it's a bit of a [expletive] mess!"

Honestly, hasn't anyone taught them how to share?

This inability for the various tribes and religious groups in the area to coexist has not only perpetuated fear, violence, misunderstanding, and terror among the people who live here, but across the world, as well.

Some of this muddled view comes from singular events. The term "9/11" stokes a patriotic fire in nearly every red-blooded American. This frenzied patriostism is fueled by hatred for the Taliban and, in some instances, anyone who physically resembles someone from the Middle East.

This singular event spread misinformation across our country at an alarming rate, and sadly, many Americans seemed to buy into it. We saw all Muslims as war-mongering terrorists that act on a religion that preaches jihad and annihilation of non-Muslim infidels. Our media were inundated with images like--

But for those who have studied Islam or knows practicing Muslims knows this culture as a beautiful, historically-relevant religion that is based on love and peace.

So which is it? Is the Koran a book of war or peace?

What if we were to look at America from an outside perspective? Are we, a self-proclaimed Christian Nation, all that different from the various groups in the Middle East?

America views itself as a patriotic, God-fearing nation of good and decent people.

But can we blame Arab cultures for not seeing us a loving, God-fearing mecca of good when we have Christians doing this:

"OK, you can't base your opinion about our country based on one extremist group that even Americans can't stand!"

This is a wonderful point some of my ultra-conservative, hyper-religious acquaintances like to say. They don't care much when I respond with "So why are we doing that to Islams? Why is it appropriate for us to judge an entire nation or religion based on the actions of an extreme few?"

Sometimes, I fear the world will never come to a full understanding of the true followers of Islam, or Christianity, for that matter. Depending upon whom you ask, these lands of religion either have followers that are peace-loving, devout, and accepting of all cultures, or filled with hate-mongers bent on purging the world of non-believers.

With the entrenched dogmas about religion, will any of us be able to understand, appreciate, or accept others?

27 February 2013

The Strangers Next Door

The Universe is a cruel and fickle mistress. Some days she just lets humanity alone, lets us go about the task of living...then out of the blue, here comes the Universe, screaming in from left field, reigning down terrors of Biblical proportions.

What a shrew.

And like the vile, odious, repugnant hell-cat she is, she usually rears her ugly face when it's the least convenient for the victim.

Case in point:

I'm a closet-introvert. Surprising, no? The average schmo wouldn't think it from looking at my lifestyle; as a teacher and director, I'm surrounded by teenagers for a vast majority of my day. During productions, I usually work with students for over 12 hours per day, plus another six hours of contact on Saturday.

I'm suffocating in seniors and sophomores, drowning in juniors, and flooded with freshman (but in a good way).

So is it any surprise that I like to spend my personal time away from the huddled masses of humanity? Is it shocking that, when given the chance, I go to afternoon matinees by myself, and hole up as far away from the early-birders as possible? Would anyone blame me for wanting to curl up on my couch during a snow day and read a book for my own personal pleasure? No, I'd say not.

Imagine my reaction, then, when I heard somebody on my front step the morning of our latest snow day. 

Surely it's just the paper delivery, I rationalized. No need to get off my butt. Read on, Tobey-san, read on!

*scrape scrape scrape*

Well, that sounds like the paperboy is scooping the snow off my porch; that's odd. Let's see what's going on here...

It was a boy, but instead of a paper, he was holding a shovel.

It was a neighborhood kid who lived across the street. His dad was in the driveway with a shovel, and his little girl was down by the garage with a very large spoon (a shovel was much too big for her; the spoon was an elegant, albeit inefficient, solution).

...OK, they haven't seen me; they can't prove I know they're here. If I'm really quiet, and I can keep the dog from barking, I could sneak downstairs and keep reading, then act all shocked when I come out in another hour to scoop the walk...

It was the perfect plan. I had excellent cover, and the only witness to my dastardliness was the dog, and she loves me too much to give me away (plus, if she barked and blew my covert-operation, she knew she'd get a bath every day for the next week).

And wouldn't you know it? As I belly-crawled my way down to the basement, the Hag of the Cosmos swooped in and yelled "You are an AWFUL human being! There are elderly neighbors all around you who actually need help. What on earth is wrong with you?"

See what I mean? The ol' Battle-Ax is always showing up at the worst time, making poor, innocent schmucks like me feel guilty about things we should feel guilty about. Who does she think she is?

The bawdy, swag-bellied strumpet!

What was I to do?

The harpy-of-the-heavens was right.

I pulled on my big-boy pants, jumped into some boots, pulled out my snow shovel, and went out for the awkward confrontation.

All-in-all, however, I suppose the Universe wasn't all that wrong this time. While it was an uncomfortable situation, I'm glad I manned up and went out there. I've lived by these exceptionally nice people for almost an entire year, and this was the most conversation I've had with them. We found connections I never knew we had, and I was lucky enough to join in the excitement of their new-baby announcement (I am, after all, suffering from baby-fever). Now, I'm looking forward to seeing them again.

Of course, I won't admit this to the Universe, the old crone; her head is big enough as it is.

18 February 2013

Two Years

For those of us in the prime of life, death is naught but a frightening idea; it's something ominous and dark, but intangible and incomprehensible. With the likelihood of decades left to be lived, the end of the mortal coil is something that can we can push off to the end of our "To Do" lists. Life has far too many deadlines to fret over.

Then again, young people die all the time.

Car crashes.
Poor choices.

Death is ever-present, yet we can never really be sure if we have decades or days.

But what if we did know?

What if life came installed with a personal countdown that ticked away our remaining moments here on earth? What if our every action or inaction affected the rate of that countdown? I pick up the habit of running every day, my clock slows down. I start smoking, the clock speeds up.

What to do then?

What if we were in the same position Morrie Swartz was in? The countdown to death is set for two years, and it starts right now.

* * * * *
Spring 2013
  • Finalize my life insurance plan (let's face it: it's best to have your ducks in a row for things like this).
  • Finish my last semester of teaching. 
  • See every concert, show, and awards ceremony and cheer on the excellence at WHS.
  • Finish all home projects.
Summer 2013
  • Travel cross-country with my wife, Ashley.
  • Visit family across the state.
  • Indulge in every summer activity under the sun.
Fall/Winter 2013
Sping 2014
  • Start writing a book.
  • Enjoy the little things.
  • Start a vegetable garden.
  • Learn to play the cello.
Summer 2014
  • Expose the little Tobey to Nebraska's famous Summer Thunderstorms and Sunsets.
  • Listen to music.
  • Drink lemonade and tea every night.
Fall & Winter 2014
* * * * *

When Death Comes – A Poem by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

14 February 2013

The Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything

Let's face it: everyone wants to know what the answer to life, the universe, and everything is. It's the ultimate question! Therefore, it must have an ultimate answer, right?


I mean, shoot! People go on epic journeys across frozen tundras, blistering deserts, and climb the tallest mountain to find the wise guru at the top who has that ever-elusive answer.

Courtesy of Ziggy

Well, I have a little secret.

The meaning of life isn't complex. It isn't secretive. And it isn't privy to the hyper-enlightened mind, either.

It's so simple, it's almost stupid.

Kind of like this:
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

"Bwahahaha! Oh, how droll. How satirical! What social commentary! To think that the meaning of life could be so simple as 42!"

While the answer certainly isn't 42, it is rather simple.

The meaning of life is the person nearest you.

Disappointed? Feel swindled? Ready to make like the crowd in the Hitchhiker's clip and toss your popcorn to the ground and storm off?

Bear with me.

The meaning of life, the whole purpose we're here, can't be about money. That's easy enough to make and even easier to lose.

It's not about having awesome stuff, either. Fancy boats rust, technology makes itself obsolete every three weeks, and fashion trends are never as hip or trendy as we think they are (think those shoes or hairstyle is hip? Go look at your parents' high school yearbook. You're going to look like that someday).

It's not about beauty. No matter how many procedures plastic surgeons come up with, they will never outwit the Newtonian force of gravity.

It's not about power, status, or clout. There are always more powerful, better connected, and couthy people out there that will always leave you wanting.

That just leaves people.

"But Blake, Google tells me the world has over seven BILLION people living right this very second. How can other people be the meaning of life? There are so many freakin' people!"

How very right and resourceful you are, dear blog reader. Allow me to elaborate.

First, look at your thumbprint. Notice the swirls and loops. Look even more closely, and you'll start to see the ridges between the lines. In the entirety of human existence, there has never been a thumbprint exactly like yours. It means you're unique. It means you're special.

Face it, you're "thumb"body!

And yes, there are +7 billion people right now, but every single person out there is just as unique and special. 

There will never be another you, just like there will never be another him, or her.

Now, look at a clock with a second hand. I'll give you a few moments to find one (or, you can look at one here).

Got one? Good.

Watch that second hand tick by for five uninterrupted seconds. Go ahead, I can wait...

Those five seconds that ticked by will never, ever, EVER come again. Time keeps going, but those individual moments only come once.

Put those two qualities together: there will never be another you, him, or her. And the brief moments you spend with those unique, one-of-a-kind people only last so long.

If the meaning of life is other people, and we only have so many ticks of the clock to be around them, what do we do about it?

That, dear blog reader, is an excellent question. 

In fact, it might be the ultimate question Deep Thought was referring to...