The Three Bears

Published in The Providence Journal, August 3, 2020

“What do you think about before you go to sleep?” I asked Kinsley, my almost 5-year-old granddaughter. She looked at me, perplexed.

“I just go to sleep,” she said, while hugging her new doll closely.

Beautiful, unblemished, carefree and innocent. Oh, to be almost five again.

“What is your baby’s name?” I asked.

“Lilly. She has dark skin. Like my Dad.”

Lilly was indeed dark-skinned, with skin almost as dark as her father’s. His tone originated in Nigeria, a few generations ago. Kinsley was gifted with a combination of that luxurious mahogany mixed with the Italian, olive-colored skin of her mom.

“My Dad’s dark, like a bear,” said Kinsley.

“A black bear?” I asked.

“Yup. And I’m a brown bear,” she said, a mischievous grin suddenly appearing.

janet-the-polar-bear-nanuk-polar-bear-lodge-george-turner-photo“And I’m a polar bear!” I replied, and chased her around the yard in my snow-white skin until I got tired. Polar bears do not thrive in the hot July sun, after all. Later, I thought of the significance of our conversation, and our game. It evolved as naturally as humanity has, slowly. I imagine humanity will be one basic color soon enough, hopefully as it happens people will forget their biases and accept the inevitable.

I can’t help but wonder though, what we will fight about then. It is hard for me to imagine human beings living in peace and tranquility. Boundaries will always be a source of contention; cultural differences will not be washed away with the melding of skin tone, political ideologies will likely remain at polar opposites. There will be police and thieves, oppressors and oppressed, rich and poor, the lucky and the cursed.

Will people still be protesting in the streets when the reason coloring the current outrage has been integrated by time? With no visible difference between us will we be able to appreciate what lies beneath our appearance and learn to accept that we are far more alike than different? Without the excuse of race-based police brutality will we figure out that it is the criminal behavior that all of us, except for the criminals, are against, and not appearances?

Will we have to wait until everybody looks the same to differentiate between that which is worthy of protest and that which is a necessary component of maintaining civilized behavior that is as flawed as the human condition itself?

I can only imagine what the future will bring. I can only hope that the experience that my almost 5-year-old granddaughter creates as she grows into adulthood is unblemished. Her palate of thought and emotion is clean for now, and I will do everything in my power to keep it that way.

But my power is limited. A bear can only do so much in a world full of lions and tigers. Millions of thoughts and ideas will be invading that innocent little space between her ears, and I have no idea how to teach her how to know the difference between the ones that matter, and the ones that do not.

“Still tired, Papa?” she asked.

With a mighty roar, I rose from my lawn chair and the game was afoot. We’re just bears, after all.

 

Defund is Only the Beginning

Prison_campSo, we defund the police, but that doesn’t mean get rid of them, that simply means we get social workers to perform some of the routine things that the police do, like traffic stops and mental health calls, and if the traffic stops get violent, then we’ll just take away driving privileges for most people, and if the mental health patients act up, then we’ll just have to medicate them, or find homes for them, and if people steal food and stuff, we’ll find work for them to do, and provide camps for them to live in, and if they dont get along we’ll seperate the men from the women, and if they don’t know if they are a man or a woman, well we’ll figure it out, and if kids act up instead of sending police to sort it out we’ll just place the kids elsewhere, and when people start shooting each other we’ll have plenty of police available to stop them.

See?

Easy.

Black lives have always mattered

I have lived my life believing that all people are created equal. I was born with that belief, and as the years and experiences grew, my parents overcame their upbringing and learned biases to make sure that I never forgot it. There was no room for bigotry at our house. Everybody got a fair shake. I’ve always been proud of that part of my family’s legacy, and do my best to make sure my kids and grandkids live their lives accordingly.

I’m being told to not create commentary that will do nothing to improve the situation but add flames to it. The country is on edge, I am told; be quiet and let things run their course. Be better than the killers; don’t make things worse by speaking up; go about your business and everything will work out just fine.

Well, things are far from fine. For the first time in my life I looked at a black couple with suspicion while they did nothing but shop at the same grocery store. I wasn’t worried about them hurting me, or stealing a jar of applesauce; I was wondering if they thought that I was somebody who condones police killing innocent black men. I’ve begun to question my friendships with black people, wondering if they have been hiding resentments for all these years, secretly thinking that I didn’t think their lives mattered.

After all of these years, and all of the progress I am so proud of, everything I valued concerning race relations is eroding.

I simply cannot be quiet while everything I believe, and everything my parents taught me, is being dismantled. Black lives have always mattered to me. They will always matter to me, and because they matter I will vociferously continue to speak up concerning the current desecration of the phrase black lives matter.

Not Knowing Thy Neighbors

From The Providence Journal, June 2, 2020.

They seemed like a nice enough couple, quiet, much like everybody else in this neighborhood where everybody pretty much keeps to themselves. From my vantage point a few hundred feet away they appeared to be enjoying the later years of life, gardening in the summer, a little smoke coming from the chimney in winter, now and then a leisurely walk around the block. A wave and a quick hello when somebody walks by is business as usual here, not much more than that for the most part, and people seem to like it that way. Cars get swallowed by automatic garage doors, and the people in them disappear into silent homes.

They had company now and then, a few cars and some lights on in the backyard later than usual, 10 at the latest, then back to darkness. I probably wouldn’t know either of them out of the context of the neighborhood, and most likely pass them by in the local markets without acknowledging their presence. More likely than not, they don’t recognize me either. I hadn’t seen them in a few months, but didn’t really pay attention until I could not ignore them any longer — 20 or so cars lined the street in front of their home. A large number of cars in front of a house in suburbia on a weekday afternoon does not bode well for the people who live there.

Funny, I didn’t even know their names, so I couldn’t check the obituary page to see which one would not be waving to me when I walked past their home. Which one would I not see in the market? Which one was gone forever? They lived so close to me I could shout their name, if I knew it, from my yard and they could hear me, but I don’t know their name, or their story, or their struggles. I heard sirens in the middle of the night a few days before the funeral, a rarity here, and wondered from the safety of my bed what was going on. Then I rolled over and went back to sleep, and my neighbor was rolled out of his or her home for the last time.

Eventually, their home was sold, and a new couple moved in. I tried to make my presence known, be more of a neighbor, to not fail this time — to be part of something more than a row of houses with people I don’t know coming and going — but they seemed busy. Somehow, I had become the older man who lived a few houses away who they did not know except for a friendly wave and a quick hello. I wanted to let them know that life moves past us when we are too busy living it, and to look at me, see me as somebody important and part of the very thing that makes our lives meaningful, and to accept what I was offering.

But I didn’t. I let it go.

One of the more cruel aspects of living is learning about life not from lessons taught by others, but by experiencing it, living it, feeling it and regretting it.

Michael Morse ( mmorsepfd@aol.com), a monthly contributor, is an author and a former captain with the Providence Fire Department.

 

wave7

Agreeing to defeat Covid 18

Covid19 has made an impact of all of our lives. It is a virus, does not choose sides, does not care about our politics, thoughts or opinions and has one purpose – to survive. It does not possess malicious intent, it simply is. It does not think. We do. We need to unite and fight it with every tool we have. Our arsenal is limitless. Social distancing and hand washing is obvious. Face masks, disinfectants, UV light, plasma, vaccines, artificial intelligence, solar flares – who knows, perhaps something nobody has yet to think of will be the cure. One thing is certain though, without critical thinking the virus will win. If not this one, the ones to follow.

We cannot survive without cooperation. We need people to raise livestock, grow plants, transport goods, care for our sick and bury our dead. Many healthcare workers, scientists and first responders are dead set against opening our economy for fear of a continued and catastrophic spread of the disease. Others are focused on opening for business and rolling the dice, knowing that to fail to do so will have dire consequences. Protests at State Capitols are common, two sides with opposing views and a cadre of supporters behind them demanding to be heard.

Problem is, neither side is listening to the other. The first step toward regaining our lives is to consider the possibility that all of us are a little right, and a little wrong, and to understand that we have a common goal, and to start working toward obtaining it.

A world full of people who never have to consider an opposing view is a world doomed. For every person who has formulated a bad idea there are thousands who will agree, and expand upon it. Each and every one of us has the ability to create our own fan club on social media. We live our lives shrouded in the comfort of validation. The burden of contemplation, compromise and enlightenment has been lifted. We can pick any topic, and then ignore opposing views, analysis, opinion or facts about it. Using carefully worded Google searches we can find multiple sources to confirm our position, and never be wrong again. Once we have carefully created a reality that substantiates what we believe to be true, a soapbox awaits. We can preach our message without fear, for dissention is easily muted, and those who agree with whatever it is we contribute to the discussion are plentiful. An echo chamber creates echoes, but echoes always die.

Or, we can take responsibility for our thoughts and opinions, and do our best to be a well informed person open to the possibility of expansion of knowledge and perhaps even enlightenment. Gone are the days that news of current events is presented to us in a neat, trustworthy bundle. To believe in what we are told by the morass of media available to us, without question, will lead us into whichever world the particular source promotes. The Age of Information has morphed into The Age of Whatever Information Suits You, and that is a dangerous age to live in. People power our civilization, and a truthfully informed populace is imperative for progress.

Michael Morse, mmorsepfd@aol.com, a monthly contributor is a retired Captain with the Providence Fire Department and author.

Generations

Ok Kids, here’s a little something to think about; The world is a strange place, the people in it even stranger. Generation Next, Millennials, Generation Why, Generation X, Boomers, The Greatest Generation and whatever the generations preceeding this were called are no different from each other. Every generation consists of protesters, protestees, workers, loafers, bullies and bullied, leaders, followers and everything in between.

lgglszx9tk2exkfywdhpqwThe Boomers you are OKing today are you, thirty years ago. Same vision, same fire inside, same contempt for the elder generation, same scorn, hopelessness, desire and dreams.

Oh, and the biggest thing we all share; the same frustration.

The people who rise to the top of the pile and make the most noise are remembered, the rest of us do our damndest to survive, squeak out a little happiness, live lives of quiet desperation and watch the madhouse unfold.

Life is hard. It’s hard for everybody, young, old and in between. It’s not the age and experience, race, sex or sexual orientation that matters, it’s the soul of the individual that creates harmony or discord.

So nurture that soul, ignore the temptation to discredit those who came before you, or are just now finding their place in this nuthouse called Planet Earth. The same types of people have been drawn to politics since Day One, and those are the people we all need to keep an eye on.

They are not us. They simply are good at convincing those of us who are too busy living that they know what is best.

They do not. They know what is best for them.

We are the fuel that they use to push their agenda. We have the power. It is up to us to take care of each other the best we can, because when all is said and done, each and every one of us who makes it through this existence will understand exactly what it was like to be young, in the middle, and old.

Neil Peart 1952-2112

“And the meek shall inherit the earth…”

So begins Rush’s epic 2112.

2112

“We’ve taken care of everything
The words you read
The songs you sing
The pictures that give pleasure
To your eye
One for all and all for one
Work together
Common sons
Never need to wonder
How or why”

I didn’t understand exactly why, but the song spoke to me in ways I’m just now beginning to understand. It is about rebellion, plain and simple. Rebelling against indoctrination into group think. Freedom from oppression. The majesty of the individual, and the beauty each and every one of us is capable of achieving on our own, by ourselves and for ourselves.

“Look around this world we made
Equality
Our stock in trade
Come and join the Brotherhood
Of Man
What a nice contented world
Let the banners
Be unfurled
Hold the Red Star proudly
High in hand.”

It is a hard rock anthem against socialism. It is brutally honest, stark and powerful. And I didn’t even know it. I just liked it.

Years later, I found Ayn Rand. Her novel, Atlas Shrugged was suggested to me by a casual acquaintance who shared my love of end of the world stories with a message of hope. That book helped shape my political philosophy with its message of individual achievement being an honorable goal.

“I see the works of gifted hands
Grace this strange and wondrous land
I see the hand of man arise
With hungry mind and open eyes”

The potential for greatness was crushed by those in power for the protagonist in this song, using Neil Peart’s words, not unlike the climate plaguing the world today. We are seduced with promises of fairness, safety, equality and comfort at the expense of freedom of thought and action. We are embroiled in a race war, a privilege war and a war against the individual. Hard work leading to success is scorned, wealth criticized and individual competence considered secondarry to participation in mob activity.

Rest in Peace Neil Peart.

hockey_kit-531x502.jpg

 

OK Boomer, Time is Up

By Michael Morse

We are doomed. People born between 1945 and 1980 are toast. In an anomaly of history, the life expectancy of this group is trending downward. We are living shorter lives than our parents did, and our kids will live longer than we will.

Our parents were led to believe that sugar was great, and harmless. They were sold on the idea that packaged food and TV dinners were safe and affordable. They didn’t look at ingredients on those cardboard boxes. They simply opened them up, popped them into the microwave and, presto! They passed out antibiotics like Halloween candy, and a fever began at 104 degrees.

I didn’t drink water until I was 25. Hi-C, Hawaiian Punch, Tang and powdered lemon flavored sugar did quite nicely, thank you. Add to that a glass of hormone-laden, pasteurized, chemically-enhanced antibiotic-fueled milk for breakfast and you did a body good! Every table had a sugar bowl on top with a tablespoon buried in it, right next to the giant ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts. Even our favorite breakfast cereal, Sugar Frosted Sugar Cubes, was topped with a few tablespoons of table sugar before we poured the poison milk on top and dug in.

Our moms smoked like champs when they were pregnant, dads didn’t worry about 737feelings, and spare the rod they did not. We are the seen-and-not-heard generation. Our opinions did not matter until we could contribute to the family budget, which was usually around eight years old when we got out first jobs. And even then, what we said was ridiculed, unless what we said was in total accordance with the house ideology. Dissension was forbidden, and rule-breakers were beaten.

We played outside. But don’t think for a minute that we reveled in fresh air and sunshine, swam in pristine lakes and rolled in dew covered grass. The water we played in was pretty, once you got past the oil slick on top, and the sand that lined the banks of the gurgling streams contained all the colors of the rainbow, provided for free by the jewelry factory upstream that dumped their chemical waste out the window. The grass we felt under our bare feet was chemically treated by our dads, whose motto was, “Death to All Living Things Except Perfect Grass Blades!”

Me, my brother and our band of misfits were specially blessed: we grew up in walking distance of the state airport. It was only four miles away, security was unheard of, and there was an easily scaled four-foot fence keeping demented children off the runway. Because we were not demented, we scaled that fence, hid in the tall grass at the end of the runway and waited. As soon as an airliner hit the gas for takeoff we would break cover and run behind the jet engines. The wind from the turbines was powerful enough to knock us over. We smelled like pollution for a week, but it was worth it!

So now we carry our DNA-altered, GMO-experimented, sugar-molecule-tired old bodies into our Golden Years. We feed our youngsters organic food, listen to their world views and drink lots of water. We will die young, but they will live forever.

Michael Morse (mmorsepfd@aol.com), a monthly contributor, is an author and a former captain with the Providence Fire Department.

When we lighten the darkness

candleOriginally published in the Providence Journal

My Turn: Michael Morse: When we lighten the darkness

It’s dark now. Streetlights have been on for an hour. Headlights in the distance approach, mingle with my own, then disappear. Snowflakes dance in and out of the beams of light before being crushed by my tires.

Two hours until dinner, the bags of groceries sit silently next to me as I speed toward home, hoping to get the contents of those bags into edible form long before all of the lights go out and we retreat to dreamland.

It seems like yesterday it was light well past the dinner hour, and people walked their dogs past my home, sneaking a quick look to see if Mr. Wilson, our fearless protector, would be in his spot on the back of the couch in front of the picture window, watching the world go by. His presence was comforting, I think, as they glanced our way and then moved along. They too are gone now. It’s too cold for walking, and poor old Mr. Wilson stares at the deserted street until bedtime.

December is the darkest month. If I allow myself the luxury I can bask in the gloom and cold that accompanies the end of the calendar year and look to the skies waiting for the winter solstice. Or I can join the happy souls who refuse to let something as natural as the seasonal shift interfere with their ability to celebrate.

Those lonely rides home from work, or school, or endless errand runs, are far more enjoyable in December, when what could have been a dreary landscape has been transformed into a magical display of human ingenuity. People make the miracle happen, people who brave the cold and wind, and perhaps the depression in their souls to shed light on a darkening world.

We know that those dark days will not last forever but, even so, brightening them, even a little, by placing a candle in a window, or a string of little lights along the roof line, or perhaps a few dozen of those lights along the fence and in the bushes — and while we’re at it, maybe the trees could use a little illumination, and a few lighted deer on the lawn would look nice, and a giant snowman over there, and a full-sized Santa and all of this reindeer on the roof, a menorah in the living room window and a nativity scene over there, a few spotlights to illuminate the front door, even though the wreath and garland are already lit, and maybe …

I love Christmas lights. I love the way they look. I love the way they make me feel when I look at them. I love leaving my house at four in the afternoon and turning them on, knowing full well I won’t be home till long after the timer turns them off.

I used to turn them on only when I was home to enjoy them. Then I realized the lights aren’t about me, or even for me. The lights are for everybody, just as everybody else’s lights are for me.

I’m glad I realized that. It makes me like the lights even more.

Ok, Boomer

We’ve all heard the same lines, and have probably spoken them:

“When I was your age…”

My parents loved nothing more than to tell us kids how easy we had it. We believed every word until we grew up and saw for ourselves just how hard our own lives were.

Now that we are older, and have some stories of hardship and suffering of our own to tell, along comes the youngsters with their tales of woe:

-There’s no jobs!

-College loans are unfair!

-Mom’s basement is damp!

-Everybody is trying to kill me!

The Greatest Generation survived world wars, nuclear proliferation, Cuba and the explosion of broadcast media. My guess is the Latest Generation will survive as well. We all want to believe that our moment in history is the most prolific, important and difficult. I’m no different. I honestly believe that if my generation — that being people now between the ages of 45 and 65 — didn’t destroy civilization, then civilization is indestructible. We lived our lives with abandon, grew our hair, wore ridiculous clothes and knew without a doubt that we were the only people on Earth who mattered.

Today’s world is a little different. People no longer see for themselves what all the fuss is about, all the fuss is brought to them every minute of every day. Living life through an inanimate screen isn’t truly living, and a false sense of reality prevails.

Ask anybody between the ages of 15 and 30 about the state of civilization and be prepared for a doomsday response. It matters not that the opinions expressed are a bit warped, what is important is that they believe it.

“Contrary to popular opinion, violent crime is on the decline. Since 1995, violent crime in the United States has decreased by nearly half from 685 incidents per 100,000 Americans to 366 incidents per 100,000 Americans today, according to estimates released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Since 2010, the violent crime rate has dropped by 9.4 percent. In some states, crime rates have declined by more than twice the national drop.”

That was reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Try telling that to today’s generation, who truly believe that their time on earth is the most unfair, dangerous and difficult moment in history. Try telling them that people survive. The kids of today that we worry about, the ones with their devices and unwillingness to venture out of their houses to play are going to become old, and have a lifetime of experience to pass on to the ones coming after them.

I imagine that the stories of hardship they will tell the next generation will be filled with unfulfilled dreams, the harsh reality of being human and strength of character needed to survive. I wonder how long this cycle has played itself out.

Did the soldiers heading to war in 1942 hear their fathers telling them that without mustard gas war was easy? How about their parents, telling their sons that war with guns was too genteel? Was the Great Famine considered luxury living to Irish people who lived before 1845, and ate rocks at night to keep their bellies full? Was the bubonic plague simply an inconvenience to the parents of the people living in the 1340s?

Every moment in history comes with its own set of danger and opportunity. We all like to think that we overcame great adversity to reach whatever it is that we consider success.

Truth is, we all have something great to overcome. If you were able to put The Latest Generation into 1942, they would rise to the occasion, just like the Greatest Generation did. We react to challenges as they arise.

None of us is more heroic, more focused or any better than the people who come before or after us.

It isn’t our fault that people from my generation had more challenges, hardship and uncertainty than people at any other time in history, and the resulting opportunities were great. We were simply in the right place at the right time.