Look to the Battlefield, Gladiator.

FILE – Int his Monday, Sept. 12, 2016, file photo, San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid (35) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams in Santa Clara, Calif. Reid has resumed his kneeling protest for human rights during the national anthem, after joining then-teammate Kaepernick’s polarizing demonstration last season. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File) ORG XMIT: NYHK702

Dear Football Player,

I really wanted my first blog on my new site to be about books. I wanted it to be about reading, and the craft that  I love so much.   Alas, here we are talking about football.

I am not a big sports guy. I used to play baseball when I was a kid but that was the extent of my sports knowledge.

However, the National Football League has decided that the men who play their sport – mostly black men – no longer have their permission to kneel during the playing of The National Anthem.

Colin Kaepernick started a national conversation with his decision to kneel in recognition of the men and women throughout the United States who’ve been killed in the streets because of a lack of Due Process. Crimes committed by white police officers who were either never charged for it or who were charged and simply got away with it.

Many of these incidents including Freddy Gray, Sandra Bland, a little kid with a toy gun named Tamir Rice, and a man who’d been choked to death in New York named Eric Garner,  have left their families without justice.

These football players in the NFL, 80 percent of whom are African American, have drawn a lot of criticism for their stance. Criticism from President Donald Trump and from football fans who expect these men to play a game for their entertainment and say that because they make X amount of dollars they should be quiet.

The NFL, receiving a lot of flak,  has recently ruled that players cannot kneel in the upcoming season or risk fines and other punishments including ones that would impact the game they are playing.

As a United States veteran, someone who joined after 9/11 and because of 9/11, who deployed the middle east in support of Operation Iraq Freedom, who wore the uniform and swore to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, I’d like to make it clear to these football players that the permission to protest (or not to in this case) is not granted by the Nation Football League.

During the war, it was often said by the Bush Administration et. al that “Freedom isn’t Free,” and that “We have to defend it.” Well, the same rules apply here.

Gladiator, you’re right to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem was granted to you long before you were ever born.  Long before the NFL was actually a thing. You’re ancestors, my ancestors, the founders and the foundation builders of this country paid for your right to kneel in protest.  Every person who has ever worn the uniform of the United States of America, every Civil Rights activist who marched in Selma, or Montgomery, or was assassinated for your right to live is a member of this society – has paid for your right to kneel.

Those hanged by white mobs during the lynching years paid for you. Those who served in the Civil War – paid for you.

Sure, there are going to be people who don’t like it. Mostly, because they know what you’re kneeling for and believe (in one way or another) that the right to harm black bodies and possess black minds, still belongs to them. It’s an ignorance and an anger as old as this country is.

But as rights go – never, ever look to the masses to bestow them on you. That’s never been the way of things here in the United States. Rights are fought for through long and often perilous battles and right now America is at war with itself. Two ideologies are engaged in this uproarus debate for the soul of our country.

If you so feel inclined to kneel. I hope you have the courage to do so. And if you need a little more courage to push you over the edge, when you are standing in the locker room before the game, like Maya Angelou once said, summon the spirits of those who’ve dreamed you into being to escort you onto that field.

Summon those soldiers who died. Summon those Civil Rights Activists who’ve died. Invoke the founders. Invoke the spirit of our country when you take to that field.  Invoke God who granted you inalienable rights and have Jesus meet you on the 50-yard line.

You would then honor them, the flag, the anthem, and your ancestors. Therein lies your permission, Gladiator.

 

P.S. NFL, back off.  This isn’t your lookout.

The Children of Manchester (poem)

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Gather, Children
the ghosts of years long passed have come to bear witness
to the tragedy in Manchester
those who’ve been struck from the earth when hate and fear and anger took them
in war, and famine, and with fear’s iron hand
now stand side by side in a silent Reveille

Gather, Children
and bear witness to the pale faced human wraiths whom
by the millions are flooding the streets of your fair city
who’ve risen from the graveyards of history
who stare forward with eyes filled with sympathy, empathy, and compassion
for those who yet live
and gather unto themselves those who do not

Gather, Children
and let your eyes bear witness to what happens
when dangerously simple and prejudiced filled minds try to address the worlds ills
the results of which are drawn out to their terrible conclusion
this great example of what hate, fear, and confusion
wrought forth
when it seeps out of the cracks in our heart’s
shadowed places

Gather, Children
and turn the tide of inevitability
hold back the swift hand of death – this spectre and respecter of none
Regardless of rank, and station, and life long ambition
Who comes for us all – in the form of a friend
or in the shape of our enemy

Gather, Children
be ye young, middle aged, or with more days behind you than before you
and cast your heart, and your tears, and your fears, and your faith, and your eyes downward
and take a long hard look at what hate and malice, and malcontent, and fear, and retribution does when it infests the soul of a person
who then causes the innocent to lay silent at your feet
What a tragedy, What a waste

Gather, Children
and see when the spirits of the other side of mankind’s legacy
walk your future back down those narrow streets
only to disappear with the breaking of the sun of a new day
and while you mourn for those who are gone from this earth
Remember to weep for those who yet remain

 

Authors note: Pope Francis was quoted as saying, “You pray for the hungry, then you feed them, that’s how prayer works.” Manchester, my prayers, and grief, and hope, and love are with you just as they once belonged to France after the mindless terror in the Bataclan, as they were with those in Orlando at the disco.

I don’t know what that equivalent of Francis’ words are, here. But whatever it is, however it is, it has to be better than what we’ve been doing.

Message in a Bottle

 

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There is no pain so profound as a story waiting, inside, to be told. I believe that is quote by Dr. Maya Angelou. But I haven’t the will to sluice through Google to find out.  It doesn’t really matter anyway since it’s the truth.  I fell in love with that woman on the day she passed away.  And it always feels that way. That I’d missed my chance. I’d missed my opportunity to get to know her.

I have always felt like I’ve arrived in life a day late and a dollar short.  Born in the concrete jungle in a city that used to be. A city on the edge of a river that flows down to Lake Erie in Michigan’s handprint state. Detroit was a city that used to be, more Roman Ruins than American Exceptional. The gothic towers of old churches pointed heavenward amidst the broken down and bedraggled houses built during the world wars.

With broken concrete, broken dreams, and broken taillights the city’s skyline shined on the Detroit River like false advertisement.  Motown, HockeyTown, The Motor City – often vied for the title Murder Capital of the World along with Chicago and Washington D.C.

In the 1980’s, when I was young, the city to consisted of a few houses in a lower-middle-class neighborhood on the Southwest Side. Forbidden to the cross the street or go beyond the bushes that bordered my grandmother’s house several houses down, that had been my world.  Things were not bad then, or at least that’s what my brain tries to tell me, but bits of memory like so much smoke in an old juke joint rise up from in between memories of Christmas and summertime to make a liar out of me.

The 1990’s was pure hell. In summers heat gangs were restless and bored. And during the cold months leading to Halloween, they sometimes firebombed homes for the fun of it. We called that Devil’s night.

I am writing this today, mostly, as a sort of message in a bottle. Written down hastily, corked, and thrown out onto the sea of the internet in hopes that someone would read it. And once they’ve read it would sit down along the shoreline and believe the words that I’ve written. And in that belief wonder at how it was that a soul like mine could have gotten so lost. No, that isn’t exactly true. I don’t want your pity. I just want you to believe me.

Over the course of several years, I’ve tried to figure out what happened in my life to make me so sad. Why I carry with me this weight in my heart that stoops my shoulders and bows my head. And for many years I did everything I could to escape it. From joining the army, to going to the middle east, to coming home and running all over hell’s half-acre. But like a great shadow, a conscious creature, it followed me wherever I went.

The newness of my new world and new circumstances would wear off and there I would be.  Knee deep in my ‘me-ness’. When I lamented that to an ex-lover – he sniffed and shook his head with profound (profoundness purchased from his several shrinks he loved to keep on his payroll, I’m sure) seriousness and said, “Freddie, no matter where you go there you are.”

Now this sage wisdom came rolling off the lips of someone who cut hair for a living. Not that there was anything wrong with that. Certainly not. Many people make great money doing it as he did. But the statement was out of character for him. I had failed to been added to his thin concerns which were only for himself. Of course, until I wanted to leave and then he’d tell me he loved me, or he’d cry, or a million other reasons why I didn’t walk away. It would take me three years, and several random men who approached me to tell me about him, to figure that out for myself.

But that’s a story for a later time.  Right now I am focused on beginnings.  Where things originated. My Genisis, so to speak. As a writer, I have often pondered about putting all this down in book form. But the idea of making money off the stripes on my back make me curl inward as if I had just witnessed something obscene. It felt dirty that I would be airing my life out and more than ever I felt reticent about selling a book that would reek of scandal and be tantamount to some cheap ‘tell-all novel’ about the inner workings of fundamentalistic religion and  how I survived it.

Recently, I’ve even emailed four educators, professors, experts in fundamentalist religion and violence and offered myself and my story up for use by them or any student working under them who needed dissertation material, or thesis material for their Master’s degree. I figure someone somewhere ‘out there’ could use this information.

I received one reply email today from one of those experts. A nice man who informed me that the was no longer in fundamentalism and didn’t have any graduate students studying about it at present. He thanked me for my query and wished me luck saying, “I’m sure you have much to offer in the above regard by way of your personal experience. I hope you eventually find an appropriate venue for such discourse.”

See, that’s the problem. I’ve never been able to find so said appropriate venue. All I know is I’ve had stories rattling around in my head that would probably curl people’s hair. It’s weighed me down in ways that I can’t even begin to describe and as I said in my email to this man (and to three others)that, “… if I can’t relieve myself of the weight of them (my stories) then perhaps I can use it for the greater good.”

Again, a day late and a dollar short.

Not to say that I am unhappy. I am not. I am a happy guy. I have happiness in my life. I have a wonderful husband and a near-do-well writing career.  But I have sadness in me sequestered into a corner of my mind that every once in awhile – like a ghost- decides to raise it’s head and tell me stories I’d like to forget.

So, without any other ‘appropriate venue’ I think I am going to bring it here. A message in a bottle. Or a series of messages in a bottle from a storm-tossed soul. A man who’s gay, an ex- fundamentalist, an ex-republican, married, scary story/ romance writer who hopes that someone out there tonight – or in the following days, months, years etc. would believe him.

Because like most horror stories, novels, and movies out there – sometimes there is no answer to what happens to the cast of characters when the story ends. So, this is my S.O.S as I’m stranded on the isle of recovery from what would amount to an American Horror Story. Except the ghosts were real, and the monsters loved Jesus.

I don’t know how often I’ll write. But I will write as often as I can. Thanks

F.E.