Saturday, May 25, 2013
By Bob Gaydos
Do you believe in omens?
I believe in omens.
Not the dire, gloom-and-doom omens of Greek tragedy. It’s not that I dismiss the existence of negative omens out of hand, or that I think bad things don’t happen, but rather that I choose to focus my energies on what I perceive to be good omens.
For example, while lying in the grass a few days ago, staring skyward and having a relaxed conversation with a friend on a beautiful, warm, spring afternoon, I found my attention slowly shift to a winged object flying low in the sky right towards us. As it got closer I could make out the distinctive white head. “That’s an eagle!” I exclaimed.
Indeed it was. And it kept flying with a slow, deliberate stretching of its wings right over us and on past the tree line where it was no longer visible. A youngish bald eagle, and an eagle with a purpose.
A positive omen for sure. After all, it was an eagle, not a turkey vulture.
The trick with omens, of course, is making the connection between them and real life. What did this omen mean to me beyond the fact that I would definitely buy a ticket for the New York Lottery’s Megamillions drawing?
For one thing, it got me thinking about a similar encounter I had had a couple of years ago when a coyote casually trotted in front of my car as I was sitting reading on a quiet country road. No fanfare, no fuss. Right by me and off into a cornfield, out of sight, but not out of mind. I wrote about the coyote and the fact that it got me to thinking about some positive events that had recently occurred in my life that would normally escape notice. It change my outlook, my focus, my day.
So, too, with the eagle and I think the connection is, literally, the connection, between eagle and man, coyote and man, nature and man. We humans have a way of acting as if the planet is our personal plaything, to lord over and do as we will with all other living creatures. So we revere eagles and protect them because someone decided they were noble looking and worthy of being our national symbol, whereas coyotes are … not.
As a result of this human arrogance, we have polluted the atmosphere of the planet, added all manner of chemicals to our natural food supply, and destroyed the natural habitat of countless species of animals (and eliminated many species as a result), all in the name of progress. This arrogance has spread, perhaps unavoidably, into our relationships with each other. How far is it, after all, from treating animals with casual indifference or callous disregard to treating human beings the same way. We call it politics and it is the shame of our nation today.
The eagle tells me this is wrong. Majestic in its slow, deliberate flight, it says to me, “You may think you’re in charge, but don’t get too comfortable. We share this tiny planet and you almost drove me out of existence for no good reason.”
And we continue to do so, willy nilly melting the polar icecaps, committing genocide on species of animals, loading up our food supply with chemicals and altering the very genetic makeup of the food so that more can be grown faster in less space and less cost, to the considerable profit of chemical companies that now call themselves food companies. All of this is connected, the eagle reminds me, but most of us are too busy arguing over things that have nothing to do with the future welfare of the planet and its inhabitants.
For me, that means my recent writing about the revived interest in slaughtering horses, the mass murder of honey bees, the resistance to labeling food that has been genetically modified has not been a trivial pursuit. It means that expressing concern over the infusion of chemicals in our food, the resistance of those in power to honestly discussing these topics and their loyalty to powerful corporations that seek to control the planet by modifying it in any way possible to suit their own needs, is not a departure from writing about the “important” stuff, i.e. politics. Instead, the eagle tells me, it means I am finally writing about the stuff that really matters.
In case you’re wondering, here’s a small sampling: the elimination of all orangutans (our closest cousins) on the planet; the poaching of elephants for their tusks; the same threat to rhinos; the labeling of horsemeat and other animal byproducts as beef; and “no-kill” animal shelters that kill. There’s more: the belief by the Nestle CEO that humans have no intrinsic “right” to water; the power of such companies as Monsanto, Nestle, Bayer and others to buy politicians to write laws that protect the companies from having to reveal what they are doing to the food they sell. And let‘s not forget efforts by those in power to silence the voices that raise alarms on these issues.
It is all connected. We are all connected. What happens in Sumatra or the Amazon matters in Manhattan and Paris. We humans should be working together to preserve and protect our home instead of bickering over personal ideologies, which won’t matter much when the ice caps melt, the other species are gone and we have no one to look at but ourselves.
That’s what the eagle, flying low and with a purpose, tells me. Focus on the important stuff. Be positive in approaching life. It’s a beautiful world; enjoy it. And keep buying lottery tickets. (I had a Megamillions number worth $2. It’s a start.)
Thursday, May 2, 2013
By Bob Gaydos
When Jason Collins revealed earlier this week that he is gay, it was widely hailed as the first time a male athlete who was still actively playing in one of the four major professional sports leagues had revealed his homosexuality. A watershed moment. And it is, if not quite the watershed as has been described.
Collins, 34, made his announcement in a Sports Illustrated article that appeared on the Internet after the season had ended for his team, the Washington Wizards. An athlete of modest talents and tremendous character, Collins is a free agent now, meaning he has no contract with any team and is free to sign with anyone who wants him. That creates an interesting scenario for next year in the NBA. Collins says he wants to keep playing basketball. Will some NBA team oblige? Will his open homosexuality be welcomed as an asset by some progressive team owner, along with his 7-foot height and “team player’’ reputation, or will Collins be shunned and wind up, in effect, like other male athletes who have come out only when their careers were over?
Make no mistake, given the homophobia that dominates locker rooms in male sports, his simple declaration is at once matter-of-fact and bold. The overwhelmingly encouraging response to his statement, especially among his NBA peers and other pro athletes, attests to the respect with which Collins is perceived as well as to the fact that this country is, albeit slowly and tortuously, turning a corner on yet another moral issue. For those reasons, barring injury, I think Collins will wind up with a contract in the NBA next year and become the perfect role model he has been called in stories announcing his decision to stop living a life of lies.
But this is just the beginning of what is likely at times to be an ugly, hateful path to acceptance. The truth is, this “melting pot” of a country does not handle “different” well. Whether it be skin color, religion, nationality, language, country of origin, gender, age, sexual preference or even food choice, many Americans speak and act today as if liberty, justice and equality are rights granted solely to them and their ilk because, well, because they say so and that’s all they need to know. So please, do not bother them with the facts and save your moralizing for your socialist, atheist friends. (Put political views on that list as well.)
I ascribe this harsh reaction to “different” to fear and ignorance, the bellwethers of the tea party faithful who have cowed the Republican Party into submission. Greed, too. Many people, I believe, are afraid that they are going to lose something they perceive as rightfully theirs if someone else of a different race or nationality or religious belief or country of origin or sexual orientation, or, in the case of many men, of a different gender, is afforded the same opportunities as them. Sharing is not an option, whatever their religion preaches. (Put economic status on the list, too.)
Despite our pumped-up national pride and high-minded ideals, we do not always practice what we preach. We have, in fact, become a nation in which angry, self-righteous, holier-than-thou and, sometimes, just plain dumb people dominate national debate because of the vehemence with which they express their views and the money they are willing to spend brow-beating the rest of us. Loud is good. Louder is better. Nasty is good. Insulting is better. Facts are bad. Phony TV ads are good. Compassion is for the weak. Guns are the answer.
The Jason Collins story is definitely a positive one about wider acceptance for people simply for who they are. He is 7 feet tall, black and gay. He went to Stanford and plays basketball. Young gay men who play sports, or not, may be more likely to follow their dreams because of him and less likely to be fearful, secretive and easily bullied. It’s a start.
But this is not a simple feel-good story. Collins has a twin brother who also played in the NBA and who says he didn’t know his brother was gay until the rest of the world found out. That’s sad. And it’s sad that Collins felt the need to hide his homosexuality even from himself for so long because a lot of people in this country are so busy minding everyone else’s business and deciding what is right and wrong. I personally don’t think they are a majority, but they are a persistent, aggressive minority.
That means those of us who disagree with them must shed the comfortibility of basking in our own, self-assured sense of enlightenment and do battle with the forces of hate and ignorance. That means speaking out against all forms of injustice and exploitation, insisting on laws that protect individual rights, not corporate profits, and electing representatives who will pass those laws. It means exposing bullies for what they are, punishing those who see violence as a means to their ends, insisting on helping the disadvantaged (as our duty, not their entitlement), and not letting fear or weariness prevent us from exposing fraud and simple prejudice.
It also means telling those who would tell others they see as “different” to get over it. Mind your own business. Live your own lives. A gay man in a locker room? They’ve been there for decades. Also in Army barracks. They just had to hide it because of institutional ignorance and bias. Again, this is changing, if slowly, in America. Tolerance is a bitch. It requires one to simply accept another person for what he or she is, in toto, without insisting that person change or agree with one’s particular set of “rules.” It can be uncomfortable, but so long as the person represents no real (not perceived) danger to one’s well-being, there should be only one rule to apply to everyone: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” There’s a reason it’s called the Golden Rule.