Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘heartbreaking stories’ Category

Church Shooting in Texas Leaves Me Stunned, Sick

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Folks, I am so sickened by this story, but as it’s big news in the United States (and perhaps around the world as well), I think I should comment.

A relatively young man, under thirty, who I shall not name as is my policy, opened fire on a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday morning during worship services. There are twenty-six dead, including a number of children, and among the many wounded is an eighteen-month-old baby.

I don’t understand why this even happened. Much less why a person would aim at children. (There is some talk that he deliberately aimed at the kids, though I don’t know how accurate that is.)

Because this did happen at a church, many in Texas and elsewhere are saying that God must have a purpose for this. (That is, the Higher Power.) Even if we don’t see it, there has to be a reason.

The only reason I can see is that we need to somehow stop these mass shooting events, particularly in churches. The United States is the only country in the world that refuses to pass sensible gun control legislation, and has even rolled back the minor protections citizens had to keep people with demonstrable mental illnesses from buying guns.

That this happened in Texas, which is practically the home of concealed-carry, is even more astonishing.

But in this case, even if the little kids who were among the dead had carried guns, there’s no way they could’ve stopped this guy. He stepped into the church and started firing at people’s backs…whether he was legally qualified to buy the gun or not (there are many questions about that right now), the fact is, he had a gun, he shot at people’s backs in a cowardly and distasteful way, and he has become infamous in the ways of many other mass shooters before him.

I don’t know what we have to do in the United States to get the Congress to wake up. I do know that most Americans support protections to keep people from severe mental illnesses, such as this guy must’ve had to do what he did, from getting guns. And while that will not stop every mass shooter, it will stop more of them…and we won’t be waking up to this sort of thing as often. (I would like to say “at all,” but that’s asking way too much.)

I am beyond tired and incredibly frustrated at all these shootings. I’ve written about so many of them in the past seven years of this blog, and every time I feel emotionally wrung out, almost drained of purpose, when I think about what happened to innocent souls just going about their business and not asking for this at all. (Who would?)

Yeah, once in a blue moon, a shooting like this would be inexplicable. But to happen over and over and over again, in movie theatres, in churches, at concerts…at night clubs…the list goes on and on. And the only thing in common is that the United States does not have the same protections under the law as other countries to keep people who shouldn’t have guns from getting them.

I know many responsible gun owners. I do not want to take their guns away. But I do want to make damned sure that shooters like this guy who just killed a bunch of kids and others don’t get guns…and if it’s true that the system failed, well, we need to find out why that happened. (There’s some talk now that even with the lax protections we have, this guy shouldn’t have been able to get a gun.)

Anyway, those among the injured, and those grieving, need your prayers now. I know that’s not much, but it’s better than nothing…and we all need to do some soul-searching to try to figure out what, if anything, we can do to prevent the next mass-casualty event. (Please?)

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Written by Barb Caffrey

November 6, 2017 at 11:53 am

My Teacher and Mentor, Tim Bell, dies at 75

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Folks, it is with profound sadness that I write this blog. Just yesterday, I wrote about how Tim Bell, my teacher and mentor for many years, was going to play very difficult and challenging parts for the Racine Concert Band on one rehearsal, and that I was sure he’d do well, after our normal first-chair clarinetist could not play due to an unexpected and unfortunate event.

And Tim did just that. He was brilliant on the Surinach. He was phenomenal on the Copland. And he sounded great on the other three pieces we played, too.

Then today, Tim died of a heart attack. He was seventy-five, and he lived the way he’d wanted to live, and he played music at a high level until the very end of his life. (All of that is good, and true, and real…but I wish I hadn’t had to write them just yet.)

Plus, Tim was the type of guy who’d do anything for anyone. (I’m so upset, I nearly wrote that the other way around. Tim would’ve laughed at that and told me not to worry about it, no doubt.)

After I started playing again in 2011, I reconnected with Tim. We played in the RCB together, though he almost always played clarinet and I almost always played the alto sax. (Note that I also play clarinet and oboe, and Tim played all the saxes plus clarinet and, I believe, a bit of flute. Though he didn’t necessarily feel confident with his flute playing.) And Tim knew what I was going through, as a too-young widow with health issues, and that I’d felt I’d wasted my time and wasted my talents.

Tim told me more than once that I hadn’t failed. No matter what it looked like, I hadn’t failed. I did what I could. I got my Master’s, against long odds. I found the right man and married him, again against long odds. And that so much had gone wrong, that so much had been difficult, that it was impossible for me to play for years after Michael died as I was too sad to even look at the instruments…well, Tim told me the important thing was to keep going, and keep doing. And that I still had the skills, and he was glad I was using them to my fullest.

Even last night, Tim told me I played well. As I was playing the second parts again, and most of the time no one cares when you play the second part, I was a little surprised. But if anyone could tell when I was playing and when I wasn’t, it would be Tim…he was my teacher for almost three years after I returned to get a Bachelor’s, and after I got it, for the rest of my life he was my admired mentor and friend.

(Yes, I told Tim he played well. He did, too. He sounded great, and he covered the parts he’d learned as if he’d been playing them all along. He was uncomfortable when I told him he played well, too, just saying a gruff “Thank you” and then turning the conversation aside. That was Tim’s way.)

Tim was a music educator, played jazz and classical music, and could do anything at all as a musician that was needed. He was smart, funny, sometimes acerbic, enjoyed going to have drinks after concerts with the band (whenever I went, I was always charmed by Tim and Tim’s stories, too; he had the best ones), and was a genuinely good and caring person.

Tim was full of life, and full of music. I thought the world of him, and enjoyed learning about music and life from him. He was a phenomenal teacher, who never forgot his students and always tried to encourage them, even years after he’d last seen them.

I don’t know of any better epitaph than that.

If you knew Tim, or want to talk about other admired mentors, teachers, or good friends who’ve passed on, go ahead and leave a comment. I’ll appreciate that. (And if anyone can come up with a good way to help Tim’s name and talents live on with the next generation of Southeastern Wisconsin’s musicians, I’d appreciate hearing that, too. Something has to be done.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 18, 2017 at 7:09 pm

Reverence for the Flag, and the Crisis in Puerto Rico

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Folks, I’m going to do my best, but this situation makes my blood boil. You have been warned.

In recent days, we’ve been told much about the need to revere the flag of the United States of America. The current President, Donald Trump, has taken on the NFL and its players, even calling them “SOBs” (spelling it out, rather than using the acronym as I just did) for some wishing to kneel during the national anthem. Even though the third verse of the Star-Spangled Banner has some offensive references (which is why we usually do not sing it, or even think about it)…and even though there are many ways to be reverent, and all does not stand or fall on whether someone stands and puts his/her hand over his/her heart while listening to the Star-Spangled Banner.

Well, I have news for you. We have several major crises going on, and one of them is in Puerto Rico. Due to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria, many people there are without food, water, hospital supplies, electricity, or any of the needs of living.

How is it reverent to ignore these people, American citizens all?

And why on Earth would anyone, especially the President of the US, decide he’d rather talk about the “need” to stand for the national anthem than the fact that people are dying in Puerto Rico (at least two have already died, in hospitals, and more will follow as supplies dwindle, most especially diesel fuel to run generators)?

Look. We were hit by a number of hurricanes in rapid succession. The US Virgin Islands were hit. Florida was hit. Texas was hit. And Puerto Rico was hit.

Only Puerto Rico, as far as I know, hasn’t gotten the help they need. Their port was devastated, which made immediate help hard to come by; the thing is, there are ways to help that don’t require a set of working docks. Helicopters, for example, could drop supplies on pallets. There’s also mobile “comfort ships” that can be sent; the US Navy has helpful ways to get supplies to people also, whether they can actually dock or not.

And most importantly of all, the devastated phone system can be brought back quickly by the US military. Which is desperately needed, as many of the people who were hurt by this storm are aged, and can’t even make their needs felt under these circumstances.

I want to know, honestly, why it is that we haven’t helped Puerto Rico yet?

How is it reverent to ignore three million-plus American citizens? How is it patriotic, either, to let people starve and run out of water and medical supplies and have unnecessary pain and anguish, all while the temperatures rise and there’s no electricity at all and no phone service, either?

And while we sit here debating what reverence is, and whether NFL stars should sit, stand, kneel, or turn purple while saluting (or not saluting) the flag, those people of Puerto Rico continue to suffer.

No matter what, we must help these folks; we cannot abandon our own citizens. It is wrong to watch night after night after more people in Puerto Rico suffer, with no help forthcoming and nothing said by the current President except a) platitudes and b) statements that more or less say Puerto Rico is on its own.

In addition, every time the current President talks about the crisis there in Puerto Rico, he talks about the “wonderful job” he, himself, is doing. Not FEMA, mind…himself. (He sometimes says “his team.” Not much better.)

This is utterly disgraceful.

How will history judge us, when we refuse to help our own?

So, to my mind, it is more reverent to help the people of Puerto Rico than it is to worry about the flag. Because the flag is going to take care of itself, while those people need our help now. (Besides, if we can’t help those people, what does our flag mean, anyway?)

If you want to help, here’s a good place to go to find charities that need assistance right now:

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/help-puerto-rico-12-effective-160201263.html

Hurricane Harvey — How to Help

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Folks, I, like many of you, am very worried about the people displaced by Hurricane Harvey. Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States, and it’s safe to say that Houston will never be the same again after the devastation Harvey left in its wake.

While most of us are not doing that well financially — at least, from what I know of the people who regularly read this blog — somehow, we have to be willing to help our fellow man in this time of need.

And the need is overwhelming. Over thirty thousand people have been displaced by Harvey, and more certainly are on the way. Some houses will be flooded for weeks, if not months, and thus will be uninhabitable for a long time, perhaps needing to be bulldozed down the line…the need for food, medicine, diapers (both for babies and adults), clothes, and rebuilding the infrastructure of Houston and its environs is going to take a massive effort.

But you can help. And I sincerely hope you will.

First, don’t forget the blood bank. If you are healthy enough to donate blood, go do it. There’s a crying need for that, most especially because of the fact that many blood banks in the Gulf Coast can’t open because of the severity of the flooding.

Second, there’s the American Red Cross. They are the first line of defense for those displaced, and will be in need of many, many donations.

Third, don’t forget food banks. If you live in the Gulf Coast, there are relief efforts being organized all over the place, but even the rest of us can do something. Give food now, wherever you are, and help those in need in your local areas. If we help our local areas now, they may be able to send some of the excess — providing we can flood them with donations — to the blighted areas.

Fourth, the Houston Chronicle has set up a list of places that are accepting donations. Please check this list out, and help if you are able.

This is the time where we all must step up and decide what kind of people we wish to be. Do we wish to be helpful? Or do we wish to be ignorant, callous fools who think these storms have nothing to do with us at all, so we should do absolutely nothing?

I’m here to tell you that as someone who’s lived through a minor flood, they are nothing to mess around with. And this is a major, five-hundred-year flood, much worse than what I dealt with; I only had to deal with property damage and some inconvenience, rather than the horrors that those in the Gulf are dealing with right now.

So the time is now.

Help in every way you can, locally and otherwise. Step up now, and show what kind of person you are. Be of use. Refuse to turn your back.

That’s the best way to support the people hurt by Harvey. And it’s the best way to live overall.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 30, 2017 at 5:09 pm

Sunday Introspection: When Friendships End

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Folks, if you’ve read my blog regularly for any length of time, you know that I am a firm believer in the value of persistence.

But there’s one thing and one thing only where I’ve found that persistence doesn’t seem to help. And it has to do with friendship.

Yeah, you do want to persist through good times and bad, and most of us do. But what are you supposed to do when a friendship ends?

There are good reasons for friendships ending, mind. Your lives go in different directions. Or maybe you have found your values aren’t as similar as you thought. Or perhaps there’s just no meeting of the minds any longer…

Whatever it is, all you can do is accept it. You can’t make that person be your friend any more. And even if you could, it wouldn’t be worth anything anyway…so why even waste your time thinking about it?

This is not a mindset that’s easy for me to embrace. At all. I’m the type of person who keeps running at the walls in her path until the walls fall down.

But yes, there are some battles even I can’t fight. And one of ’em is when someone I have cared about for years decides, “Nope, I’m tired of talking, and this is the end.” (Sometimes they don’t even say anything, either. And that’s even worse.)

I had this happen several years ago. Someone I trusted and was incredibly close to me got angry because I defended another friend — someone she did not like — in her presence. This was enough for her to cut me loose.

At the time, I felt horrible, but I knew I’d done the right thing. I could not allow my fears of losing a friend to stop me from standing up for what I believe in. And I truly believed that my first friend was being unkind and unfair to my second friend…I had to say something, or I wouldn’t be myself.

Now, looking back, I realize I’d do the same thing again. Because as Lillian Hellman once said, I refuse to fit my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.

Sometimes it is very hard to stick up for yourself. It makes you feel like you’re the only person in the universe, shouting into the void, and hoping the void will eventually shout back.

But it’s all you can do. Or you’ll lose your self-respect.

I still miss this friend who cut me loose, and wish her nothing but the best. I don’t know why things got to this particular crisis point, and I wish that somehow, I could’ve cut it off at the pass.

Maybe, though, the reason the friendship ended had more to do with something I saw, oddly enough, in a women’s magazine. An actress said that she believed people are in our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. And if that’s the case, if my friend was in my life for less than a lifetime, the friendship ended naturally. As it should, no matter how awful I found it then — and now.

I’ve lost other friends since, mind. And I’ve hated to lose every single one.

But one thing I do know: While I believe firmly in the value of friendship, it has to be a two-way street. If you have a disagreement with a good friend, you have to be willing to talk it out rather than shut the person out, or worse, decide you’re right and that you’re not going to change and that’s that.

I’ve made these mistakes before, and they never are good.

Now, I believe that if I’ve invested time and energy and care into a person and they’ve become a friend, they deserve that same time and energy and care for me to figure out what’s gone wrong and attempt to fix it. Maybe I can’t. Maybe the other person can’t. Maybe he or she is just there for a reason or a season, not a lifetime, and that reason or season is over.

Still.

I never forget my friends. I’ll never stop caring about them.

But yeah. Communication is a must, in friendship and in life. And if you don’t have it, your friendship will wither on the vine no matter what you do.

So do remember to talk with your friends, and listen, and engage, and do what you can to help them as you help yourself. Because I think that’s one of the reasons we’re here — to learn from others.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 6, 2017 at 2:00 pm

Bridges, Walls, and Transgender Rights

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This past week was a very frustrating one in many senses, folks.

First, we had the “announcement” of a transgender ban from military service by the President of the United States, Donald Trump, via a Tweet. (Something the Joint Chiefs of Staff had no idea was coming, much less the ordinary rank and file.)

Next, we had utter chaos at the White House as one of the new staffers (a guy I won’t name) decided to go on a profane rant. And rather than be fired, as anyone else would’ve been from any job anywhere, this particular new staffer was more or less praised by the President. (Or at least excused by him.)

Look. I believe in building bridges, not walls. I think we need to learn more about each other, in order to become more compassionate, much less wiser, people. And trying to understand the other person’s point of view is essential, or you can’t get anything done in that regard.

But I don’t understand the President’s point of view at all, here.

Donald Trump, in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, talked about how he was for LGBTQ rights. And the T in that stands for “transgender.”

Granted, if you had to ask me to ask one person whether the sun was rising in the East and setting in the West, I would pick anyone instead of Donald Trump. (I might even pick my dog, Trouble. He’d not be able to answer me, but at least he’d look cute.)

Still. Since transgender soldiers were allowed to serve openly in the military, they’ve done a fine job. No one’s seemed to have any trouble with them. They’re soldiers, like anyone else. They do their jobs, like anyone else. And no one’s ever questioned the fact that the United States military contains some of the best trained fighters ever seen.

(And make no mistake about it: I fully expected this to be the case. A trans person is a person like anyone else. And trans soldiers want to serve their country like anyone else does, too; give them credit for that fact, Mr. President. Please?)

I would’ve rather seen a bridge built here, rather than the wall of Donald Trump’s Tweet. I’d rather Mr. Trump had spoken to the transgender soldier retired from Seal Team Six, who could’ve given Mr. Trump a very solid education on the entire subject. I’d rather Mr. Trump had spoken to any soldiers, including Senators Lindsay Graham and Joni Ernst, who would’ve told him that soldiers of any persuasion, creed, color, sexuality or gender preference are worthy of care and will do the professional, thorough job that soldiers of the U.S. military are known for.

I tried to say that myself on my little-used Twitter account, but I was immediately given short shrift by a few of Mr. Trump’s more rabid followers. They believe that Mr. Trump was right to do this, because supposedly being trans is a “mental disease.” Or that it really is too expensive to give trans soldiers the care they need, which is absurd considering the immense amount of the military’s budget. (Supposedly, the military spends more on Viagra for male soldiers’ impotence than they do on the care for their trans soldiers. I wouldn’t doubt that for a minute.)

I know, myself, that as a writer and as a human being, I want to know more about people who feel marginalized and misunderstood in order to give them hope that someday, they will feel completely accepted and fully understood. That’s why I wrote my book, CHANGING FACES, and it’s why I believe firmly that we need to build a bridge to the trans community, and learn more from them, rather than exclude them out of hand as if they don’t matter — or worse, pretend that they don’t exist.

The Deity must have a reason for people coming in all sorts, shapes, creeds, sexes, genders, and yes, even differing political philosophies like Mr. Trump’s. But I don’t understand why anyone needs to be obnoxious in spreading his or her own political philosophy, especially if he hasn’t studied the subject at all, as it appears Mr. Trump has not.

For someone who said he was for LGBTQ rights, Mr. Trump had a horrible week.

But the trans soldiers had a worse one. Because they realized, perhaps for the first time, that this President does not have their back. And that is a very sad, even shameful, thing.

GOP Congressman, 4 Others, Shot in VA

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Folks, I’m getting tired of talking about innocent people getting shot while doing innocuous things. But here we are again…

Anyway, GOP Congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana (also the House Majority Whip) and four others have been shot in Alexandria, Virginia. The gunman has been identified as a sixty-six-year-old man from Illinois (beyond that, as is my policy, I am going to refuse to identify him); no one knows, as of yet, why this man opened fire today.

Making matters worse, this guy shot the Congressman during a baseball practice.

Yeah. Shot at baseball practice, after shagging flies, taking ground balls, and taking batting practice…one of the most all-American activities there could possibly be. (Does anyone but me remember the ultra-old Chevy commercial touting “baseball, hot dogs, applie pie and Chevrolet?”)

And supposedly, the guy asked, “Are those guys Republicans or Democrats?” before he opened fire. (The story is not clear there, but I’ve already seen this reported at least three times online and via TV in three different ways. There does seem to be some truth to it.)

At any rate, because Congressman Scalise is a ranking member and has a powerful position as party whip, the Capitol Police were there as a security detail. If they hadn’t been there, as newscaster Brian Williams just said on MSNBC, the potential for injuries (or worse, deaths) would’ve been even worse.

But to say “it could have been worse” is damning with faint praise.

The fact is, we have to get a handle on two things right now. First, we must somehow lower the partisan rancor in this country. (Virginia Governor McAuliffe is right about that.) If this guy shot at Scalise solely because he’s a Republican, that’s beyond unacceptable, and goes into the sort of reflexive hatred that was seen in the shooting of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords back in 2011.

I don’t understand hatred very well, to be honest. But we must identify it, and deal with it, and try to defuse it, before it ever gets to this level, if we possibly can.

Second, we must make it easier for people to access mental health care. It’s difficult now for people to go get needed help; they often can’t afford it, and yet without decent mental health, what kind of life can you have?

At any rate, I deplore this violence. It disgusts me. I do not want to ever see anything like this again.

But as it’s now happened so many times — at theaters, at various public events, now at a baseball practice — I can’t say that is likely.

And that makes me very, very sad.

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 14, 2017 at 10:41 am