What Gets Left Behind

“You guys wanna go see a dead body?”

This one line is the pivotal plot line to the movie Stand By Me, based on the Stephen King novella, The Body. Four 12-year-old boys take a weekend journey through the woods to find the rumored dead body of a missing boy. During this time, their friendship is cemented into a bond that lasts through the years. Pretty romantic, if you’re into that sort of thing.

The reality is less so. I can tell you this, because I saw a dead body. Several, in fact. And it shook me to my core. Still does. And I believe that as I grow old and my memories fade, that will be one of the last ones to go.

I like to begin this story on Christmas Day of 2004. I was a Sailor in the U.S. Navy stationed onboard the U.S.S Benfold (DDG-65). We were supposed to be on a carat deployment – just three months as a show of force to North Korea, then turn around and go home. I was engaged at the time, with my wedding date set to be about a month and a half after we returned. We were anchored just off of Hong Kong, where most of us spent the day celebrating with our shipmates, making the most of being separated from out families during the Holidays.

The next day, we were underway, mostly hungover, missing our families. What we didn’t know, however, was that a massive underwater earthquake triggered an epic tsunami that devastated much of the northern Indonesian coastline. The damage the waves caused is indescribable.

Pictures don’t do it justice. Thousands of miles of coastline just disappeared. The mosque above was moved off of its foundation. Approximately 230,000 dead. Since we were the closest ships to the tsunami, we, along with the rest of the U.S.S Abraham Lincoln strike group, were sent to render aid.

Because we were the first on the scene, we saw the worst of it. The Abraham Lincoln’s helicopters couldn’t even land, because the people would gather under them pleading for help. Eventually, a coordinated effort took shape and became Operation: Unified Assistance. One of us raised the question of what to do if we see dead bodies. Do we pick them up? Store them in a freezer? Or just ignore them? We were told that we were by no means to touch any bodies we may find floating in their waters. We were to log the coordinates of where we saw them and communicate that to Indonesian authorities, who would then come pick them up.

I saw my first bodies one day as we were taking on fuel. Navy ships can refuel while still underway, so we didn’t have to pull into port to gas up. The gas station came to us. My job during these evolutions was to stand aft lookout. While we were refueling, I could see between our two ships three bodies, a man, a woman, and a child. They were gray and bloated, but they were together. My first thought was that this must have been a family killed by the tsunami. I imagined them sitting together around a table, eating a meal together, when the wave struck them. Now, they just floated between our two ships, their brightly colored clothes gleaming in the sun. I thought about the child, how he would never grow up. I thought about the parents, what their final thoughts might have been. I thought of how many more lives were cut short. I reported it like I was supposed to, then just stood there. I wanted to honor them. I didn’t want them to be a statistic – just three of 230,000. I felt it was important to remember them. After all, who knows if they would even be identified? Who knows if the bodies were even picked up? Those people lived; they were a family. They deserved better.

I don’t think I came-of-age at that moment, but it was sobering, to say the least. It’s something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. I have no idea who they were, but I carry their memory with me. I hope that’s enough. I hope they’re at peace.

What Goes Around…

Recently, I came home to see news footage of Tomahawk missiles being launched from US Navy destroyers. We were bombing an airfield in Syria from which gas attacks were supposedly launched on Syrian citizens by their own government. If true, this was an atrocity at the level of attempted genocide. I watched, appalled, but for additional reasons.

I remembered back to the time when I was in the US Navy. I was an Operations Specialist on the USS HIGGINS (DDG-76). It was March, 2003. We were at the northern tip of the Arabian (Persian) Gulf, as close to Iraq as we could legally get. Part of my duty was to serve on our Tomahawk Team, which would be called upon to launch our load-out of Tomahawk missiles into Iraq. I remember pressing the button that first night that launched one of our missiles. I remember watching them explode out of our launchers. I remember as we were glued to CNN watching Baghdad erupt in explosions. Worst of all, I remember cheering with my shipmates as we watched Baghdad burn.

We never thought about the Iraqi who were caught in the crossfire. We never thought of the innocents who suffered because of our actions. We never thought of the families whose homes were destroyed because of our missiles. We were hitting strategic targets. Our Tomahawks are meticulously accurate. There was no collateral damage.

Boy, were we wrong.

A few years ago, I met a lovely Iraqi family who began coming to our church. This family is the kindest, happiest, most loving family I’ve met in a long time. They were always smiling, offering warm hugs and handshakes, and praising God and Jesus Christ as often as they could. I looked forward to seeing them at our church. I found myself invested in their lives. I care about them.

One Sunday, our Corps Officer (pastor) brought them to the front and began to tell their story. He told us how “Operation: Shock and Awe” destroyed their home and forced them to leave Iraq. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I thought back to pressing that button. I remembered our revelries. I thought about how we celebrated as their home burned. I wondered: Was mine the missile that destroyed their home? I’ll never know. All I know is that I participated in the event that wiped out their home and made them expatriates.

I try to rationalize it. I try to tell myself that they’re better now in America. Maybe they are. But what did they feel that night, when the world exploded around them? How much fear did they experience as they ran for their lives? I’ll never know. I’ll never know what it feels like to be an enemy in my own country. All I know, and all I will ever know, is that I danced while their home burned. Does that make me like Emperor Nero? God, I hope not.

Every day, I live with this guilt. Every day, I wonder how many other families are like theirs. Every day, I ask for forgiveness for the part I played. I was following orders when I pressed the button. I wasn’t following orders when I cheered. I have no excuse. I can only beg for forgiveness when my judgment comes.

To Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II

Your Majesty,

I hope this letter finds you well and in good health. As I am sure you are aware, the state of our nation is a precarious one, at best. This has led me to ponder our former relationship. I wonder, can it be salvaged? In other words:

Please, for the love of God and all things holy, take us back.

In hindsight, we may have overreacted when we threw that tea into the harbor. In all fairness, it was really good tea. We had no business smuggling tea into the colonies just to avoid a 1% surcharge. What’s 1% among friends and family? And if you were a little heavy handed with us, well, all we had to do was wait for a successor to the throne. Look at some of the great monarchs we missed: Queen Victoria, King George VI, and yourself. Instead, we’ve trapped ourselves into a corrupt constitutional republic we pass off as a democracy to pacify our citizens that has taxed us to an unlivable point. Have you seen what we call politics lately? We’ve become a laughing stock.

Not only will you get back the original 13 colonies who left you, you’ll be getting 37 more than you had before. Do whatever you want with them. Sell Florida back to the Spanish; I doubt they’ll notice. Make Maine and Massachusetts one colony again. No one should live in either place, anyway. Plus, we’ll keep an eye on those shady Canadians for you, or they can keep an eye on us. Truth be told, we have no business keeping an eye on anyone these days.

We admit we screwed up. We thought we could do things ourselves and be better off without you. We see now just how utterly wrong we were. We’ve made a huge mess of ourselves. We need you back in our lives to make us better. We know we’re in an ugly state right now, but with your help, we’ll be back in shape in no time. All we ask is that you let us keep college football, Disneyland, Disney World, and San Diego Comic-Con International. As for the rest, feel free scrap it all and start over.

Please, we’re begging you, consider our proposal. Right now, we’re the sad ex standing in the rain holding a bouquet of flowers hoping you’ll take us back. We’re Lloyd Dobler standing in the park with the boom box over our head.

We’re sorry. We’re so terribly, deeply sorry.


A Deeply Troubled and Contrite United States of America

PS: God save the Queen.

A Constant Sorrow

IMG_0591“Leave me alone,” he said to no one in particular. He wasn’t sure why he said it. He hadn’t spoken aloud in years. Had someone touched him? Impossible. He couldn’t remember the last time he had physical contact with another human being.

He was OK with that.

He’d fled from humanity decades ago. He remembered the agony of being among people. It was greater that agoraphobia or xenophobia. He desperately craved solitude. The silence comforted him. He was far from lonely. He was content to sit in his favorite chair and watch life go by outside his window. He loved that chair, the way its cushions conformed to body. He didn’t so much sit in it as he melted into it and became part of it. As he sat there, he could feel his sense of self drift away, until he was nothing but a floating sense of consciousness.

It was bliss.

Occasionally, however, there was the nightmare. A wild, violent nightmare, which shook him to his core.

Of course, he was never alone in his nightmares. Just the presence of another terrified him. Not only was he not alone, he was in a crowd of people.

Leave me alone.

Everyone was packed in shoulder-to-shoulder with no room to move and barely room to breathe.

Leave. Me. Alone!

The worst part of it was that all of their attention was focused on him. An infinite number of eyes stared at him. An infinite number of hands reached out to touch him. He couldn’t stop the touching. There was nowhere to go. Their rancid breath in his face made him vomit. They were undeterred. Whatever he said, whatever he did, they wanted more. Wherever he tried to go, they were there.


Inevitably, he woke up. The nightmare was soon just a terrible memory. He would seek the familiar comfort of his chair and resume his reverie. Soon, his heartbeat slowed to normal, then almost nothing. His breathing slowed until he almost didn’t need to.

Sometimes, in what was almost a moment of clarity, he wondered if his nightmare was actually his reality. What if he really was in that room? What if they were really pressing into him? What if this is really the dream? He allowed himself a small shudder at the passing thought. It was a small miracle that he even allowed the synapse that formed the thought to fire in his brain. No, he knew what was real. He knew what was real.

“He said it again, doctor.”

The nurse hovered cautiously over the seemingly catatonic patient. Normally, when he uttered that phrase, he was thrashing violently. He almost broke his restraints on more than one occasion. This time, however, he was calm. No one had even touched him. Could he be aware of their presence?

“Any change in his scans?”

The doctor looked over the chart curiously, if somewhat impatiently. Over the years, he’d grown tired of this patient. The patient had been there for decades. His outbursts were growing more and more violent. Now, the patient was showing small signs of consciousness. Was there something there? Maybe. Who would he tell if there were? The patient’s family had long since died or moved on. No one called about him. No one e-mailed about him. Not one letter came for him.

This man was completely alone.

Sweet Dreams

Last week, I had a dream. While this is nothing unusual, since everyone dreams, this dream was different. Generally, when I wake up in the morning, a dream will stay with me for a few minutes, maybe several hours. Then, life starts happening, and I forget what I dreamt. I often think of the backstory behind Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem, “Kubla Khan.” It says that the poem came to him in a dream, and when he woke, he immediately started writing. As he was writing, however, he was distracted by something, and his dream slipped away from him. Thus, he left the poem forever unfinished.

This dream, however, didn’t slip away from me completely. I don’t remember the particulars of the dream, but I do remember a clear, distinct voice repeating, “Psalm 12 and Psalm 13” over and over. It was not a voice I recognized. I have no idea where it was coming from, but it resonated with me. I can’t tell you the last time I looked at either of these psalms. It hasn’t been in the last year, I know that. Why these psalms? What was the owner of this voice trying to tell me?

I went about my day thinking that the dream would fade like every other dream, but it didn’t. I kept hearing that voice saying, “Psalm 12 and Psalm 13.” Finally, I grabbed my iPad, opened YouVersion, and looked them up.

You can read Psalm 12 here.
You can read Psalm 13 here.

Wow! Just reading verses 1 and 2 of Psalm 12 made me think of everything we’re dealing with today. Issues like the presidential election, social media, and cyber bullying immediately jumped to mind. Psalm 13:1-4 reads to me like a plea from the depths of loneliness and despair. David was so morose that he cried out to the Lord! Help me!

Then, as I continued reading in both psalms, it ends with such a message of hope. Both psalms promise that God will be there for us. Psalm 12:5-8 and Psalm 13:5-6 are filled with such hope and trust. David knows that no matter how bad things seem right now, all we have to do is trust in God that he will be there with us.

I have struggled with anxiety for a long time. Over the years, I’ve seen and experienced events that have made a lasting impression on my soul. Lately, the toll they’ve taken on me has gotten worse. These two psalms give me hope. It feels like God heard my silent cries and reminded me that He is still and always with us.

Someone recently told me that God no longer speaks to us. I took some time and wrestled with that and came to the conclusion that I cannot accept that. Now more than ever we need God to speak to us. Not only that, we need to hear Him and listen to what He is trying to tell us. I’m not going to say I heard the voice of God or that He spoke to me directly. I do believe that He sent me a message when I really needed one. I do believe He touched my heart. Finally, I take comfort that He is still listening to us.

I don’t know whose voice I heard, specifically. All I know is that I heard it, I still hear it, and it gives me hope and comfort.

Silently Screaming

The orderly wheeled her elderly patient to the window. It was the same window from which he gazed yesterday, and the day before that, for almost as long as he could remember. She set the brake on his wheelchair and mindlessly placed a hand on his shoulder as she walked away. In that moment, he desperately wanted to place his hand on hers to assure her he was still there.

He had become a prisoner in his own body. Time had spared his mind but not his body. He was painfully aware of every moment as his own body betrayed him. Trapped in his cage of flesh and bone, all he could do was watch the world as it continued turning around him. His withered body reduced life to a spectator sport for him. If only he could communicate, he could at least talk to someone to pass the time. Instead, he gazed out the window at a world he no longer knew.

There were moments, however. Moments when she visited him. Those were the moments that kept him going. He wondered how much longer they would last. At first, the visits were warm, filled with love and compassion. Lately, however, they began to feel like more of a chore or obligation. Occasionally, she’d look in his eyes, and he imagined leaping from his chair and embracing her. Of course, that never happened. He wondered if she could see him in there. He definitely wasn’t here anymore. He remembered all the years they spent together, how he watched her change over the years. He reflected on all the missed opportunities, the moments that would never come again. He knew he couldn’t get them back, but trapped in his fleshy prison, he allowed himself the fantasy.

From the window, he could see her coming. He wondered if his heart was beating faster. The anticipation, like every day, was overwhelming. In a few short minutes, she would enter the doors, climb the stairs, and finally be there with him.

She approached his chair, released the brake, and wheeled him to a corner table. This was different. She’d never done this before. What was happening? Gently, she took his hand in hers, held it to her, and began to speak. “I don’t know if you can still hear me,” she said, “but I can’t come visit you anymore. You see, we’re moving. We can’t stay. I wish I could take you with us, but I just can’t. I’m so sorry. If you’re in there, I hope you understand.”

She wheeled him back to his window. Before she walked away, she placed a gentle kiss on his forehead. Silently, he screamed, “I’m here! Don’t go! Please!” As always, however, he made no sound. Soon, he saw her walk through the courtyard to her car. He knew he would never see her again. He thought more about his missed opportunities with her. He thought of the times when he should have been there but wasn’t. He thought of all the times he should have said, “I love you,” but didn’t. Those moments, while they were vivid in his mind, no longer existed. They were long gone.

Suddenly, he felt a tear roll down his cheek. Then another. Then another. He couldn’t stop them. He couldn’t wipe them away. His sorrow flowed freely down his face. In that sorrow, he had a vision. His chair would always be there. He was doomed to sit silently at that window, gazing forever at a world he was no longer part of. His prison was eternal. As tear after tear flowed down his cheek, he made himself a promise; he would shed a tear for every “I love you” not said.

His tears still flow.

DIY to Redemption

When I was a kid, I loved Saturday morning cartoons. My entire week was worthwhile just for a half-hour’s worth of Looney Tunes. “Duck Amuck” was a huge bonus if they showed it. Now, I’ve traded in my cartoons for house flipping shows. I don’t know why, but I love watching the process of taking something that’s been run down and making it livable again. I realize this is quite a leap, but I was also the kid that jumped from listening to “Weird Al” Yankovic to Pink Floyd in the same year.

Recently, I discovered a new house flipping show called “Rehab Addict.” What sets this show apart from others is that the flipper, a single mother (who plays that card a little too often, in my opinion), doesn’t just remodel the house. Every other flipper buys a house, guts it, trashes everything, and remodels it into something modern, chic, and sell-able. They’re more interested in making quick cash than anything else. “Rehab Addict,” on the other hand, buys old homes and restores them. She doesn’t just toss something because it’s old. She looks past the peeling paint and sees the original charm as it was intended. When she’s done, she’s wasted nothing, and the home is beautiful. Sure, it takes a long time, certainly longer than the three days or one week others promise, but in the end, it’s more than worth it.

After a Saturday of binge-watching this, I became reflective. Why do I like this show so much? What is it about this show that draws me to it? Why not just go back to watching “Flip or Flop?” I started thinking metaphorically. “Rehab Addict.” That’s a silly title. Sure, addicts go to rehab, but isn’t that to recover from their addiction? This woman is addicted to rehabbing old houses. She peels away layer after layer of abuse until she’s done.

Isn’t this what God did for us when he sent His son?

He saw the world full of sin. He saw his creation turning away from Him. Sure, He could have done what every other flipper does – gut the place and start over. But He had already done that, hadn’t He? Wasn’t that the point of the flood? He already promised that He wouldn’t do that again. And let’s be honest, that stuff never lasts. The cabinets are just flimsy particle board that fall apart after a couple years. The laminate flooring is just a step above linoleum, no matter how well they make it. No, He needed something drastic, something that would last.

Psalm 139 tells us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” God knows us before we’re even born. He sees through all the paint and veneer, our sins, we are covered with over the years. He doesn’t want to throw us out. He doesn’t want to discard us. He knows we still have some use still left in us. He doesn’t want a quick fix; He wants to take the time to restore us to our former glory. He knows it’s not easy. He knows it’s a lot more work. But He looks at us and sees that we’re worth it.

I wish I could do that. I wish I could look at someone and look past their paint and veneer to see who they really are. Sometimes, I can. Most times, however, I’m ashamed to say I only see what’s on the surface. I need to keep reminding myself not be so dismissive. God didn’t dismiss me when He sent His son to die for my sins. He looked at me and saw someone worth saving. He looked at you and saw the same thing. He could have chopped me up and thrown me in a dumpster with the rest of the trash. Instead, He chipped, sanded, and peeled His way through until He found what He originally intended.

We were meant to be recycled, not thrown away.

How can Penn State move on?

This week, the Paterno family announced its lawsuit against the NCAA. Their stated goals are to overturn the sanctions levied against Penn State University in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Certain parties have stated their disapproval and disagreement with this lawsuit, arguing that it will do more harm than good and leave Penn State trapped in the past. They believe that the students, faculty, staff, and alumni should just “move on.” I feel this is a quick, easy and cowardly way to approach the issue. Joe Paterno dedicated the vast majority of his life to Penn State and its students. He deserves better than to have his character smeared, especially when he is no longer able to defend himself.

Joe Paterno began his coaching career at Penn State as an assistant to Rip Engle in 1950. He took over as head coach in 1966 and coached every season until his unceremonious dismissal in 2011. He gave 61 years of his life to Penn State. When most people turn 61 years of age, they start thinking about retirement. After 61 years of doing what he loved, and at the ripe young age of 85, he still had no intentions of retiring. Why did he stay? It wasn’t money. God knows he could have lived comfortably on his pension. He stayed because he was doing what he loved for the university he loved.

JoePa’s love wasn’t just football. It’s true he loved the sport, and it showed every time he took the field with his team. He demanded success, and he got it, winning national championships. Unlike most football coaches, he didn’t just use that success to build his football team. He worked with the university to translate that success on the football field to success in academics. He used his position as head football coach to make Penn State University one of the finest academic institutions. If it weren’t for his efforts, I highly doubt Penn State would be the university it is today.

Then, in November of 2011, Jerry Sandusky, one of JoePa’s former assistant coaches, was arrested for sexually abusing young children. We all know the story. He was tried and convicted and still maintains his innocence. Many wondered, myself included, how JoePa, who appeared to be part of every aspect of Penn State, could not know what Jerry Sandusky was doing? The answer to that is impossible for most to comprehend. Most people see pedophiles and child sex predators as the pervert hiding in the playground bushes or driving the van with “FREE CANDY” spray-painted on the side. While it’s true those people exist, we often ignore the most dangerous predator – the “nice guy.” This is the person we think we know so well. This is the person we trust with our children every day – the teacher, the coach, the youth pastor – the person we believe, we know, would never hurt our children. Why do we believe this? Because that’s what they want us to believe. Jim Clemente, an expert FBI profiler of child sex abusers who himself was once a victim, describes these predators in great detail. He talks about their grooming process, how they build trust not just in individuals, but entire communities. That’s what Jerry Sandusky did. He built so much trust among so many experts, he managed to adopt young children. He not only fooled Joe Paterno; he fooled lawyers, judges, psychiatrists, psychologists, teachers, clergy, and many others. Joe Paterno was a victim as well, just as everyone else was who was fooled by Jerry Sandusky’s grooming.

The fallout from the scandal hit hard. Joe Paterno was unceremoniously fired by the Board of Trustees who couldn’t even look him in the eye. After 61 years of dedication, he was fired via telephone. The same Board of Trustees  then hired Louis Freeh to investigate. His subsequent report was quick to point fingers and assign blame but had no real basis in fact. He relied on hearsay and conjecture to back up his opinions. When called upon to back up or defend his report, he has repeatedly refused to do so. The NCAA then used this report as a basis with which to heavily penalize Penn State. The Paterno family hired their own investigators, among them Jim Clemente mentioned above, who found serious flaws in the Freeh Report. Again, Freeh has refused to defend his own report, simply stating that the Paterno Report is “self-serving.”

Now, certain parties, including Bill O’Brien, the current head football coach at Penn state, would prefer that we all just “move on” and accept what happened. While I understand why he feels that way, I don’t feel that we as Penn State can without acknowledging what was done wrong. Bill O’Brien inherited a legacy. He inherited a football team attached to a university that still believed in “Success with Honor.” I have the greatest respect for what he did and is still doing with the team. No one expected them to win a game last season, much less come away with a winning record, but they did it. Bill O’Brien gave the students and alumni hope. He’s the future of the football team. It’s in his best interest to “move on” with his football team, and I hope he does.

I can’t. Knowing the kind of man Joe Paterno was, I can’t stand to see his reputation swept under the rug and forget all the good things he did for my alma mater. I do not believe for a minute that Joe Paterno was perfect or a saint. He had his flaws, just like the rest of us. I also do not believe that he could have seen Jerry Sandusky for who he truly was, just like the rest of us. It’s easy for those on the outside to say that they would have known and would have done something. You’re wrong. You would have been fooled by Jerry Sandusky just like everyone else. You would have enabled him just as much as Joe Paterno did. Why? Because that’s the kind of predator Jerry Sandusky is. He’s your best friend, your buddy. How do I know? Because I knew one. I was in the process of being groomed when I was young by a security guard at the hospital where my grandmother worked. I was lucky, though, in that he was caught before he touched me. But I was fooled by him, and so was my family until the end. No, I can’t move on knowing that a good, descent man was unfairly accused, and neither should his family. I’d hope that if it were me, my family would care enough to defend my reputation after I’m gone. 

I hope JoePa’s family wins. I hope they succeed in showing the rest of the world the JoePa we from Penn State remember. Move on? Maybe you can, Bill O’Brien. The rest of us would like to see you do it with Penn State’s reputation restored. You focus on the future. We want our history back. Some pedophile stole it from us, and I don’t think that’s right.

I miss you, JoePa. We are, because you were, Penn State.

Read the Freeh Report for yourself here. 

Read the Paterno Report for yourself here. 

A Penn Stater’s Sorrow

Recently, many people have offered many opinions about the current state of events surrounding Penn State University. At the risk of redundancy, I would ask you to allow me the conceit of offering one more.

Today, Penn State University removed a statue of its beloved football coach, Joe Paterno. It’s been said that he didn’t do enough to stop Jerry Sandusky from molesting young boys on Penn State property as well as his own. To some extent, sadly, I agree.

Please understand I don’t come to this conclusion blindly or easily. I am a Penn State alum, class of 1997, and I consider the years I spent at Penn State to be some of the best years of my young life. I never knew Joe Paterno personally, nor was I ever involved in the football program. 

I had the pleasure of meeting Joe Paterno twice in the four years I spent there. The first time was during breakfast one morning before class. Some friends and I were dumb enough to schedule early morning classes. We met at the dining hall as usual, but there appeared to be a lack of seating that day, for some reason I don’t remember right now. We were seated in an overflow area. Only one other table was occupied by about a dozen or so students. Being half-awake, I didn’t pay any attention to them. While I was eating, one of my friends said, “Hey, isn’t that Joe Paterno?!” I thought it was a joke at first, expecting to look up and hear, “Made ya look!” I ignored it until they said, “No, really. I think that’s Joe Paterno!” I was too drowsy to put up with the joke much longer, so I decided to look and get it over with. Sure enough, there he was, discussing some things with his team. I said, “Hey, that’s Joe Paterno!” I was immediately met with a look of “No shit, Sherlock” by my friend. I summoned some courage, grabbed a notebook, and approached him for an autograph. He was very pleasant and gladly gave it to me. He didn’t seem bothered by my request at all.

The second time was not so exciting. I was working for the academic fundraising call center, Lion Line. We cold-called alumni and hit them up for donations for Penn State’s academic programs. One night, he came in and spoke to us briefly. He told us what a great thing we were doing for the university, how important our job was, and how proud he was of us. Made us feel good. We were pumped. I got to shake his hand. Giggity.

That’s the extent of my personal relationship with Joe Paterno. Regardless of those limits, there is much I know of the man. Coach Paterno was a staunch advocate of personal accountability. He believed that the football program at Penn State was his house, and he fought hard to keep his house clean. He’s been criticized lately for not allowing school administrators to discipline his players, when necessary. That’s because no one I know was ever harder on his players. If someone screwed up, Joe Pa took care of it and made sure that person suffered consequences. Let’s be truly honest here – Before this whole scandal, Coach Paterno was lauded for that. He was the coach who kept his house cleaner than any other NCAA football program. He was a media darling, with everyone clamoring for an interview. He spoke his mind plainly. He was a patriarch. While everyone was asking “WWJD?” (remember that fad?), Penn Staters asked themselves “WWJPD?” He was our conscience. He was that one elder member of the family who we never dared disappoint, and when we did, he had that knack of making us feel very bad about it.

That’s what makes this so hard.

What was once lauded as his greatest attribute also turned out to be his fatal flaw. Because he considered Jerry Sandusky to be his responsibility, he tried to handle it himself. Sadly, Jerry Sandusky’s perversions would prove to be beyond Joe Paterno’s abilities. In November, when the scandal broke, Coach Paterno confessed that he wished he’d done more. I truly believe that. Personally, I believe that Joe Paterno wished he could have delivered the punishment Jerry Sandusky deserved. Tragically, Coach Paterno could not fathom the depths of Jerry Sandusky’s depravities. He didn’t understand that he was not equipped to handle that situation. Now, because of that hubris, his legacy is being torn apart.

I don’t see Joe Paterno as a great man. I see him as a man who did great things. Ultimately, however, he was a man who had his flaws just like everyone else. We put this man on a pedestal so high, we could barely see him. Unfortunately, the higher the pedestal, the greater the fall. Few men have had their pedestal higher.

So many would blame Joe Paterno for everything that’s happened. Let’s remember there is one person responsible for this horrific scandal – Jerry Sandusky. He is the true villain. He is the one who victimized those young boys. No one else. To say anyone “allowed” it to happen is simply finger-pointing.

I am still proud to be a Penn Stater. I am still proud to have briefly met Joe Paterno. I still value what he taught us all by his example. Because of him, I learned accountability and responsibility. Now, tragically, he’s taught us all one more lesson: to know when something is beyond your control. I’m not going to remember Joe Paterno as a “great man” or even a great football coach. Instead, I’ll remember him as the man who gave so much of himself so that I and millions more like me could say, “I went to Penn State.” The millions he donated never went toward athletics, but always to academics.

I love this picture. It looks as if the wall itself is weeping at its loss. Still, shadows of the past remain. Penn State can raise statues and take them down. Many will come and go. Penn State existed before Joe Paterno, and it will go on without him. I am proud to count myself among so many others who were part of the long Joe Paterno era. I pray that in time, a way can be found to recognize his contributions again. Until then, those of us who loved him as our patriarch will carry that in our hearts. We are saddened but not broken. We will get through this. We are… PENN STATE!

Harsh Reality

America, as a society, needs to grow the hell up.
We have become a society of instant gratification.  Why can’t we have it now?  If I want to buy a house, I don’t want to save up for it.  I want to be able to put no money down and qualify for a loan with a ridiculously high interest rate as long as it means I get to “own” a house that is way beyond my means.  Then, when I finally realize that I can’t afford it, I’ll just blame the lending company.  Why not?  How was I supposed to know that my monthly mortgage payment was going to be so much more than I could possibly earn?  Besides, they gave me the loan.  They must have known I wouldn’t be able to pay it!
It’s delusions like these that are contributing to our downfall.  We’re conned into believing that we don’t need to wait for anything we want; we can have it all and have it now-now-now!  We buy into statements like, “You’ll always have a car payment.”
I firmly believe that the people who make that statement are simply trying to justify their horrible spending habits.
Now, America is in a financial crisis.  We’re faced with a $14 trillion + budget deficit.  Housing markets are tanking fast and still don’t show signs of bottoming out.  Our government refuses to negotiate over fiscal matters.  Why is this?
Because certain elements in our government absolutely refuse to raise taxes.
Really?  Who said we could have our cake and eat it, too?  Costs are going up all over.  Everything costs more than it once did.  But we don’t want to pay for it?
Come on.
I don’t want to pay higher taxes any more than anyone else.  However, I also don’t want my child’s education to suffer simply because funding levels haven’t changed in about 20 years.  It’s ridiculous to believe we can educate our children in the 21st century on a 20th century budget.  I also don’t want my parents’ long term care to suffer.  Medical science has us living longer than ever before.  As more and more Baby Boomers retire, they are going to use more and more programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  I don’t begrudge them these programs at all.  On the contrary, I’m glad they’re available for them.  Our parents worked long and hard to care and provide for us and deserve to enjoy the fruits of their labors.  Again, do we expect to fund these programs in the 21st century on a 20th century budget?
We need to get real.  No one likes paying taxes, but we all like reaping the benefits of the social programs funded by those taxes.  When we lose our jobs, we file for unemployment.  Most of us send our children to public school.  I don’t think we’ve outgrown the public library.  Those interstate highways sure do make getting from A to B a lot easier.  I could go on, but I think you get the point.  Time and again, I read about how funding for these programs gets cut.  We cry foul and insist that they get funded, but when we’re asked to pony up for them, we refuse to pay.
That’s ridiculous.
One of the first things I learned in high school economics was that there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Someone, somewhere foots the bill.  If I receive a service, it needs to be paid for.  Someone has to pay the teachers’ salaries, the unemployment checks, etc.  As my parents and grandparents used to tell me, “Money doesn’t grow on trees.”  It doesn’t magically appear out of nowhere.  It comes from the taxes we pay.
For a politician to walk out in the middle of a negotiation and say raising taxes is off the table is immature and unrealistic.  Pragmatically, we need to look at our taxes and see where reform is needed.  Sorry, folks, but it isn’t 1994 anymore.  We need to make adjustments.  Benjamin Franklin said it best when he said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”  Well, we’re not dead, so I guess we need to suck it up and pay our taxes.
I believe that all of us need to take several steps back and look at how we spend our money.  How many of us even know how to balance a checkbook?  I don’t think I remember how to.  For every ad that promises us instant approval, no money down, and no credit check, there are probably three more for a bankruptcy lawyer or debt consolidation.  It’s true that banks, mortgage companies, and payday loans are ruining our economy, but who keeps them in business?  As consumers, it’s our responsibility to know what we can and cannot afford.  We elect politicians who promise not to raise our taxes, but they don’t tell us how they plan to fund our nation.  Let’s pause for a moment and consider what’s really important to us.  Would we rather have an iPhone or a place to live?  I’d rather drive my Nissan Sentra and put food on the table than a luxury car and have to go hungry.  There are many things out there that I want for my family and myself.  The one thing I don’t want is to have to tell them we can’t afford to eat or pay our rent this month.
Let’s get real.  We can’t have our cake and eat it, too.  Instant gratification is killing us.

Screw it.  I’m moving to the Seychelles.