Big Hero 324,000,000

Hero:

1 a : a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability 

b : an illustrious warrior 

c : a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities 

d : one who shows great courage

Merriam Webster
Five police officers were killed and seven others wounded in the recent ambush in Dallas. It was the deadliest single incident for U.S. law enforcement since September 11, 2001. Two civilians were also hurt, the Dallas mayor’s office said. CNN

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children aged between 6 and 7 years old, as well as six adult staff members. Wikipedia

On January 8, 2011, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others were shot during a constituent meeting held in a supermarket parking lot in Casas Adobes, Arizona, in the Tucson metropolitan area. Wikipedia

On July 20, 2012, a mass shooting occurred inside of a Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of the film The Dark Knight Rises. A gunman, dressed in tactical clothing, set off tear gas grenades and shot into the audience with multiple firearms. Twelve people were killed and seventy others were injured, which was the largest number of casualties in a shooting in the United States[3] until the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. Wikipedia

A gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing at least 49 people and injuring dozens before being shot dead by police. BBC News

Philando Castile, 32, was shot by a police officer in suburban St. Paul, Minn., in the second fatal encounter between police and an African-American man to gain national attention…    NPR

On July 5, officers responded to a convenience store about 12:35 a.m. after an anonymous caller indicated a man selling music CDs and wearing a red shirt threatened him with a gun, Baton Rouge police have said. Two officers responded and had some type of altercation with the man (Alton Sterling) in the parking lot, and one officer fatally shot the suspect. CBS News 

Enough, or should I go on?

Should I go back to Columbine?

Should I bring up the Watts riots

Should I reference the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy

These incidents, and others I haven’t listed, strung out over more than half a century, shock us, mortify us, make us angry, call us to arms, and divide us as a nation. 

One of the common threads in all of these horrific acts of violence and death?

The people who died were not heroes. 

No, that was not a typo. Read it again, and before you spout vitriol and click to another page or another blog, think with me for a minute. 

Those who died in these terrible events were NOT heroes. 

Re-read Mr. Webster’s definition of a hero above once again.

Were those little children at Sandy Hook Elementary School legendary figures with great strength? No, they were innocent little school children, six and seven years old. 

Was Alton Sterling acting as an illustrious warrior? No, he was selling CDs outside a convenience store.  

Was Philando Castille showing great courage when he was stopped and questioned by police officers supposedly for a broken taillight? No, he was simply complying with a request and reaching for his wallet. 

Listen to me closely now. None of these people, gay or straight, tiny or big, children or adults, were heroes. 

They were simply normal kids, normal adults, normal people, normal Americans going about their normal days or nights, going to school, trying to make a living, driving down the highway, watching movies, listening to their congresswoman give a speech, or dancing with friends. 

The problem? They were all caught up in an abnormal situation, a firestorm, a maelstrom not of their own making. You may call them victims if you like (I don’t like that term, but that’s another conversation for another day), collateral damage, body counts or tallies. You may call them martyrs. You may call them symbols or hold them up on pedestals and placards and posters even in death, making them the face of your own agenda. 

You may even, as our president has done, order that the flag of the United States of America be lowered and flown at half staff for them, each and every time one of these events occurs and more lives are lost. Doesn’t it seem that the flag is riding lower in the sky on so many days lately? Doesn’t it seem that the country is mourning something, burying someone, or shouting at someone almost every day now? Doesn’t it seem that we are diminished, taken down a notch, made more impotent every time someone with a gun and a grudge goes on a rampage? (To be clear, I am not anti-gun, but please, read on)

An aside, from the site USFlag.org:

“The pertinent section of the Flag Code says, “by order of the President, the flag shall be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a State, territory, or possesion, as a mark of respect to their memory. In the event of the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries, the flag is to be displayed at half-staff according to Presidential orders, or in accordance with recognized customs or practices not inconsistent with law.

In the event of the death a present or former official of the government of any State, territory, or possession of the United States, the Governor of that state, territory, or possession may proclaim that the National flag shall be flown at half-staff.” The code also includes other related details including the specific length of time during which the flag should be displayed at half-staff, in the event of the death of a “principal figure”(e.g., 30 days for the death of a sitting or former President, 10 days for the death of a sitting Vice-President,etc.).”
Also, 

“Although the code is actually pretty clear, confusion continues to occur. For example, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno recently ordered the American Flag flown at half-staff on all U.S. Department of Justice buildings, in honor of several DEA agents who had died. While NFF understands this gesture, the Flag Code does not give Attorney General Reno the authority to issue that order. Closer to NFF’s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania home, Mayor Tom Murphy ordered all flags flown at half-staff to honor the victims of a plane crash. Here again, a well-intentioned gesture, but one for which no authority exists. NFF points out these “good-faith misunderstandings” not to criticize or embarrass anyone, but rather to head off a growing trivialization of this memorial salute, and to preserve the dignity and significance of flying the U.S. flag at half-staff. To any readers who may think that NFF is insensitive for raising these breaches of etiquette, please be assured that our motives are pure. We grieve these human loses deeply; however, we believe proper respect for our flag must be maintained – no matter the circumstances.”

My point here?

We are, almost by default, almost to a fault, making every one of these heinous and awful incidents an opportunity to light a bonfire of sacrifice and offer up these Americans as mythological heroes, worthy of federal protocols and procedures. It not only diminishes the true trauma and grief of a loss of life a too soon and too brutally, but it demeans and cheapens our national protocols, our national ability to mourn and our national ability to bounce back from attack and move forward. 

To me, the very fact that normal, everyday citizens of this great land are increasingly impacted by, influenced by, and even killed as a result of this domestic and foreign upheaval we’re caught up in is MORE important because they have NOT set out to be heroes in the fight. 

Nothing stirs the patriotism in my breast more than watching the folding of an American flag at the funeral of a fallen hero or our armed services. Nothing makes me more proud than knowing that this person did not even know me, but CHOSE to put him or herself in harm’s way for ME. That his or her death was in service to MY country. 

Nothing makes me more angry and sad than hearing of the death of a six year old child who did nothing more to deserve being brutally shot and killed than coloring quietly in a coloring book. 

I am not a hero. 

You are most likely not a hero. 

These tragedies could happen to ANY of us at any time. 

The ones who died in the incidents listed above, along with the ones in Charleston and other places across this great land, are Everyman.

They are Americans.

They are the US.

They are us

I am not a hero. 

But make no mistake, dear readers, we are war in this country. We are at war with foreign powers and factions that would do us harm. We are at war with poverty and ignorance right here at home. We are at war with those who do not look or act or talk like us. We are at war with those whose skin is not the same color as ours. 

We are at war, inside and outside of our borders. If we do not meet it head on, if we ignore it and explain it away and cry and gnash our teeth and tear our clothes and scream in the streets after another innocent is murdered, it will surely rip us asunder. 

We are 324,000,000 citizens strong. We are resilient. We’ve been through this before and we survived. We can survive again. 

I started out trying to convince you that ordinary Americans caught up in extraordinary circumstances are not heroes. 

Well, you know my style by now, don’t you?

“And then a hero comes along

With the strength to carry on

And you cast your fears aside

And you know you can survive

So when you feel like hope is gone

Look inside you and be strong

And you’ll finally see the truth

That a hero lies in you.”
Hero, Mariah Carey

First Things First

Our mental health center building was built, oh fifteen years or so I guess. Although the the brick building with steel studs for a skeleton is still quite solid and will stand and serve for years to come, that was not the case for the outside landscaping. The plants around the building were leggy, the grass was pulling away from its borders and turning brown or disappearing and the pine straw or other mulch had long since disintegrated. The trees were still standing, but were also getting unwieldy and misshapen.

As we had some money that needed to be spent by the end of the fiscal year, the decision was made to purchase a large scale landscaping project in toto. There would be a new plan to beautify the building, the old would be ripped out, and the new installed. This would take weeks of time, not to mention tens of thousands of dollars, to accomplish, but of course the desire was to come away with a building that looks as good on the outside as the services provided on the inside. We want both to be excellent. 

Now, on the face of it, one would think that you could just cut down dead trees, pull up scraggly plants, and dig up brown grass, replace them with exactly the same thing, water it a week or so, and call it done, right? (Those of you who have done any degree of yard work or landscaping yourselves can’t answer!) The fact is, if you do this, the same problems will resurface one year, five years, ten years down the road. You will have spent a lot of money, been superficially happy for a decade or so, but then realized the error of your ways. Problems that are addressed superficially, with applications of bandaids or cheap landscaping, are not solved. They are merely hidden, and the goal of fixing them completely is postponed. 

The answer?

A good foundation. 

Like the strong structure itself, our landscaping plan needed a  strong foundation. 

There had been soil erosion problems, water accumulation, poor drainage, and flooded parking lots for years. Changing out a few box woods or throwing down some fresh pine straw was not going to fix it. We were going to have to dig deeper. Literally. 

So what did the landscaping contractor do first? He took weeks to dig out a wide, deep ditch all around the main building. He put a sub layer of gravel in the bottom of that ditch. He installed large drain pipes, sunk several feet into the ground, and then ran other long pieces of pipe from the drain to the parking lot drainage areas. He filled the rest of the deep ditch with another layer of rocks, ornamental and practical, and shored up the whole thing with metal channels to keep it in place. He made sure that the whole filled ditch was wide enough so that at times of heavy rain the water coursing off the metal roof would still fall squarely in the rocky area so that it could be collected and drained away from the foundation of the building quickly and safely. He put flexible drain pipes from the downspouts to the drainage conduits away from the building and its sidewalks. 

This took hours and hours of work, many pieces of big machinery, multiple men, and a lot of raw material. Why did he do this?

Because professionals know that if the underlying foundation of a project, the part that shores up the whole project but is not even seen by those visiting the building, is shoddy, then the pretty part that we will end up seeing later is doomed to crumble in short order. A hastily completed job, with shortcuts and poor workmanship, is a very poor investment of money, time and effort. 

I started thinking about this blog post a month ago, making notes in my ever-present small black Moleskine for later. I thought about it even more when the current presidential contest started to shape up more definitively and then even more when the shooting in Orlando happened yesterday. 

Why?

Because we have forgotten how to put first things first. We have lost our way. We have no strong foundation to protect us anymore. Like flora that is dying and soil that is washing away, the values that made out country great are leaching out of the fabric of our democracy.

Do you know what is similar when you form a new country, when you train a new Marine, or when you teach a medical student to be a doctor?

You take them all through a very similar process. You start with raw materials: a group of rebellious colonists, a scrappy eighteen year old who can shoot a rifle, or a nerdy college student who thinks he will be the one who finds the cure for cancer. 

You break them down. You strip away everything that defined them before, and you make them uniform. You take away their previous conceptions of normal, of right, of proper, and of individuality. 

Then you take those empty vessels, those men and women who are ripe for change, and you teach them. You teach them new skills, a new culture, a new set of rules that defines good and bad, right and wrong, tolerable and intolerable, things that are good and proper and pure and things that are flat out evil. You make sure that they know these things backwards and forwards, that they can recite the creeds in their sleep, and that they can demonstrate the skills you taught them under great pressure, with their eyes closed and their minds numb with pain or fear, and that they will never break. 

Next, you take these new warriors, these new recruits, these rebels, and you make them a unit. You rely on esprit de corps and a sense of pride in who they are and what they are and how they are. You make them a team, a group that will do nothing at all if not protect each other and who understand that if one of them is injured, ALL of them are injured. If one of them is hurt, then ALL of them are hurt. If one of them dies, THEY ALL DIE. 

Lastly you challenge them. You stress them. You test them. You drill them. You stress the very fabric of the organism that all of them make up. You make them so aware of their interdependence (not their dependence, mind you) that they know, they KNOW, that if one of them lets down his brothers that all are in great peril for their lives. 

You don’t feed them with fear. 

You nourish them with pride. 

What happens to these people, these rebels, these rabble rousers, these smart asses, and these ridiculously intelligent geniuses who think that individually, they can do anything, solve any problem? 

They become a unit.

A class.

A nation

They emerge fundamentally changed. They are powerful, not in what they can do alone, but in what they can do together

Like a building that looks good on the outside but is slowly being threatened by seepage, rot, and undermining forces of nature, only a wholesale gutting of the bad and replacement with a strong foundation of good will save it from eventually crumbling into a heap of useless brick. 

Tuckman wrote about this same process in the 1960s, when he outlined his theory of “Forming—>Storming—>Norming—>Performing”

Our country is at a crossroads. 

We now consider ourselves too big to fail. One only needs to read about the Roman Empire and other ancient civilizations to know that this is folly. 

We must break ourselves down, down to the bare dirt and the soil that gave rise to this nation. 

We must teach a new new generation, every generation that follows from here on out, what it means to be American. We must go back to the basics, making first things first, and teach them the skills, the culture, the rules, the values and the ideals that made us great in the beginning. 

We must learn to live and love and work as a unit again, not a hodgepodge of squabbling, fighting, backstabbing factions who value their differences more than their similarities. We must repudiate those who would fan the flames of hate and prejudice and death, and find that esprit de corps that once made America a proud, strong, upright nation. 

We must take these challenges that we face and use the stress on our system to come out stronger, prouder and more protective of our neighbor, whoever he or she may be, than ever before.

Why? 

Because we are Americans. 

We do not give up.

We do not shrink from the battle, whether on the field, in cyberspace, in church, in nightclubs, in schools, or in the streets.

We do not quit.

WE WILL NOT QUIT.