Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘heartbreaking stories’ Category

Where Can We Be Safe? #Updated

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Update #1: There was a mass shooting this afternoon — no deaths yet reported — at Graceland Cemetery in Racine, WI (where I live). No reason given yet, though the man who was being buried (Da’Shontay “Day Day” King) had apparently fled the police and been shot due to the pursuit.

Why anyone would want to shoot these mourners is beyond me.

In addition, as the names of the victims of the Tulsa Shooting have been released, I wanted to give a link about that. Four people died, including a pioneering Black orthopedic surgeon, Preston J. Phillips; Amanda Glenn, a devoted mother, wife, and also a receptionist; Stephanie Husen, another doctor known in the community as kind and caring; and a retired Army First Sergeant, William Love.

I have to mention two things. Dr. Husen had a devoted canine companion that is not going to understand what’s happened to his loving owner. I hope the dog finds a new forever home in honor of his brave owner. The second is this: William Love was 73. He was with his wife of fifty-five years (they married in 1967) when the gunman rushed in. He first held the door closed so his wife could get out safely, then confronted the gunman.

This meant until the end of his life, he remembered what he’d been taught in the Army.

All honor to him. All blessings to his widow.

Now to the original post, already in progress:

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Folks, once again in the United States, we’ve had another mass shooting. This time, it was in a medical clinic, because (apparently) the shooter was upset that he still had pain from a surgery in mid-May of this year. The doctor (again, apparently) hadn’t been responsive to the shooter’s pain issues, so the solution for the shooter was this: Shoot the doctor. Shoot another doctor. Shoot the receptionist. Wound a whole bunch of other people. And then shoot himself stone cold dead.

So, let me get this straight. We’ve had shootings in the following places in the last decade: Temples of worship, churches, mosques, supermarkets, concerts (the Las Vegas country music festival comes to mind), outside basketball games (the shooting of 21 people in Milwaukee a few weeks ago comes to mind), movie theatres. People have been shot in their cars and in their homes. People have been shot in assisted living situations and in senior housing, too. There have even been shootings on buses and a few on subway platforms in the past few years. And, of course, there have been the senseless deaths at colleges, universities, and other schools, including the recent shooting in Uvalde, Texas, at an elementary school.

With all of that, I ask this question: Where can we feel safe?

Recently, I played a concert with the Racine Concert Band in a church. (Beautiful church, too.) It’s our 100th anniversary, and we’ve played free concerts in the Racine Zoo or elsewhere during all of that time. It’s certainly a setting where you’d never expect a gunman with a pistol and some sort of rifle (as this shooter at the medical clinic had today).

But as much as I enjoyed playing my saxophone with the band, I still was wary as I got out of my car and went into the building. I kept scanning the audience to make sure there wasn’t anyone suspicious or out to make trouble. (I’ve never done this before while playing a concert. Occasionally, I’ve done it in other places.) And I was glad to get through the concert, not just because we as a group played well (and I didn’t muff an extended solo as I’d feared), but because we hadn’t had our activity marred by senseless violence.

Why must we feel this way in the United States of America? Why is it that I feel as if we got lucky because there wasn’t any senseless violence where we were?

Are we as a band supposed to have armed guards around us to protect us as we play?

(If so, we won’t be playing any free concerts again anytime soon. Armed guards are expensive.)

Before anyone says this, I will: I realize that all life is risk. Every time you step outside, you are risking something. (Brushing against poison ivy or poison oak, for example. Or getting stung by a bee, which would be very bad in my case as I am deathly allergic.) Every time you get into a vehicle, you are risking your life to a degree because you can’t fully predict what other drivers will do.

Those, however, are manageable risks. They are known risks. You can, to a large degree, compensate for them.

With all of these shootings in all of these various places, they were not manageable risks. The Las Vegas shooter used a sniper rifle to kill people from a hotel room high above the festival. The recent shooting at the Buffalo supermarket was made by someone who was a racist and who wanted to kill Black people, and had scoped the area out with pre-planning. (That guy may have been evil, but he was not stupid. He didn’t even live in Buffalo, so how could anyone have predicted he’d do this?) The shootings in El Paso, Texas, a few years back, were also done by a racist who wanted to kill Latinos, and he, too, like the Buffalo gunman, didn’t live in the area and had driven from hours away to murder people for no good reason.

These gunmen were not on anyone’s radar, either, even though coworkers had mentioned that the killer of children and teachers in Uvalde recently had the nickname of “serial killer” at work. He was said to be a scary person, someone you didn’t want to cross. He also had discussed his plans with several young women online, but they didn’t tell anyone because they thought “this is just how guys are, always bragging themselves up.” (That last is a paraphrase of several comments I’ve read, and is not an exact quote.)

There is an argument in all of these shootings that they come from a culture known as “toxic masculinity.” That is, these are men (or in some cases, teenage men) who firmly believe they are right, everyone else is wrong, and because they are the “man,” they get to make the rules even if they’re against society’s covenant.

(Yes, I know this isn’t the way “toxic masculinity” is usually described, but it’s the way I think of it. I defined it this way because most men do not think this way. Thank goodness. Moving on…)

Personally, I think this is happening for three reasons. The first is because so many other shooters have gotten away with their violence in the moment that it’s emboldened other domestic terrorists to do the same. (This is one reason why I refuse to name any gunman at my blog.) The second is because local, state, and federal governments have refused to do anything — or in some cases have been blocked from doing anything — to protect people from deranged shooters. This includes prevention and identifying suspects and realizing that at least half of the domestic terrorists in the above cases were men below the age of twenty-five. (Somehow, the local, state, and federal officials need to figure out who these bad apples are and stop them before they do anything remotely like the horrid acts I’ve listed above.) The third is because people are apathetic and believe nothing can or will be done, because our politicians have made it so.

As I said, I don’t have the answers. I just have the questions.

Now, folks, you have the floor: What do you think? What can be done other than perhaps beefing up budgets to deal with people who are obviously deranged and having some sort of awareness campaign so young people will understand that a guy with the nickname of “serial killer” is not normal?

P.S. Before I end this blog, I also want to point out that most police officers, sheriff’s deputies, federal and state law enforcement, and other personnel are good people. They do the best they can with the limited resources they have. Usually, these folks are maligned when something awful happens (sometimes rightfully — at least, so it seems — as in Uvalde), but they’re the first line of defense. They should be appreciated as much as possible rather than denigrated or besmirched. They stop many bad things from happening that most of us never hear about. Which means things might be even worse without their help…awful as that seems, considering how bad it is already.

My Thoughts on the Uvalde Shooting

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Folks, I thought about this for a few days before posting. I didn’t want to just pop off, as I felt that was unfair to the subject matter.

That said, here goes.

I’m extremely frustrated, upset, and unhappy over the recent shooting up of an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. The gunman (who as usual I will not name) was a high-school senior and he was not going to graduate. This made him so upset, he shot two teachers to death, at least 19 children to death (as there are more in the hospital, conditions unknown), and argued with his own grandmother beforehand and shot her, too. (Last I read, she was still in critical condition, but alive.)

This makes it sound like this shooter did this on the spur of the moment, but he didn’t.

We know this because he bought two guns, legally, and bought a great deal of ammunition, again legally. He did this just after he turned eighteen.

His only purpose seems to have been to create terror and heartbreak. He has unfortunately succeeded.

The gunman is dead, which somehow doesn’t seem like nearly enough punishment for what he’s done.

Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who’s running for Governor of Texas, showed up at the press conference to demand answers. I don’t know how I feel about this because on one hand, I understand why he’s frustrated and upset — and I certainly share that. (I also will point out that Beto was one of the first people on the scene in 2019 when some depraved butthole shot twenty-three people to death at an El Paso Walmart and injured another twenty-three, all because he didn’t like Hispanic people. Beto raised money for the victims and their families and performed many acts at that time that seemed quite selfless.) I also am sure that if I had represented Texas in the House of Representatives, as Beto did for years, I’d be furious at the lack of improvements in the laws of Texas.

But it’s worse than that.

Recently — within the past few months, I believe — gun laws in Texas have been weakened by the current sitting Governor, Greg Abbott (R). The weakening that angers me most is this: there used to be a mandate saying everyone who buys a gun needs to go through a gun safety course. (I agree with this. It makes sense.) Now, however, no one has to do that.

Perhaps this is why Beto went to the press conference and started yelling at Governor Abbott.

Even so, I feel it was the wrong time and the wrong place for that. The parents are grieving. The teachers — the survivors, who know two of their own are dead — are grieving. The police in that area are grieving (one policeman lost a daughter and another his wife). The people of the area are grieving, too.

While I believe the way Governor Abbott behaved was wrong (he wasn’t polite, from what I’ve seen), and am further sickened by the fact that Abbott went to a fund-raiser later that evening from various TV reports rather than stay and try to comfort the victims and their families, I still wish Beto O’Rourke hadn’t confronted him there.

I understand Beto’s anger. I understand why he’s frustrated. I understand and agree with the fact that those laws should never have been weakened.

But when people are grieving, you need to help them heal. Beto knew that in El Paso in 2019.

That’s why I wish he’d not let his anger get the best of him.

Anyway, I remain sickened by the loss of life, the loss of potential in all those ten-year-old kids, the loss of two gifted teachers, and the loss of innocence in and around Uvalde as so many people they knew and loved have died.

Wisconsin is nowhere near Texas. I can’t drive to Uvalde and offer food, or a shoulder to cry on, or lay a wreath at the elementary school’s entrance.

I feel impotent. My rage at more senseless, unnecessary deaths has no place to go, because I know most of the politicians in office in Washington, DC, will do nothing at all, even after innocent children and their innocent teachers have died.

While I of course will pray for the innocent souls, and I will not forget them, thoughts and prayers are no longer enough.

I have no answers. I only have questions.

I wish I knew what to say to put an end to this horrible, awful, grotesque, disgusting and reprehensible behavior.

But I don’t.

Now, you all have the floor: what do you think should be done about gun violence? (Is there anything we can do? If so, what? And what do you think about Beto O’Rourke’s behavior?)

Responses, as always, must be polite or they will be deleted.

My Thoughts, As A Widow, On Recent “This is Us” Episodes

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(What a pretentious title, huh? But it was the best I could do…moving on.)

My Mom and I have watched NBC’s TV show “This is Us” about the Pearson clan for several years. (I can’t recall if we watched it regularly until the third year, but we did watch.) I’ve had a great deal of empathy for various characters. I remember Randall (played by Sterling K. Brown), the Black man raised in a white family, meeting his biological father for the first time. That was both difficult and heartening, all by itself; when the Pearsons, en masse, decided to welcome William (Randall’s bio father), it became something more.

Anyway, the matriarch of the Pearsons is Rebecca, played by Mandy Moore. We see her when she’s young and heavily pregnant; we see her when she’s in her late twenties/early thirties, raising her kids; we see her in her fifties and sixties, after her first husband’s passed away and she’s married her second one; we see her, finally, with Alzheimer’s disease, dying with her kids and grandkids around her.

Rebecca’s story is the one that I took to the most, over time. (This is not surprising, I suppose.) She loved her first husband Jack with everything that she had, and when he died unexpectedly, still in his prime, her world collapsed.

I understand how that feels extremely well.

Rebecca, unlike me, had three children who were all teenagers. She still had to be there for them. She also had good friends, including Miguel (the man who later became her second husband), her husband’s best friend. The friends helped Rebecca and her kids accustom themselves to a life with a Jack-sized hole in it.

This was not easy for any of them. Jack was an interesting, kind, funny, hard-working, loving man who adored his wife and was so ecstatic to be a father. He had his faults, including battles with alcoholism, that he tried to hide from his wife (and mostly did hide, successfully, from his children). But his virtues far outweighed his flaws.

Obviously, Jack’s loss was hardest on Rebecca. She was still in her prime, in her late thirties/early forties. She hadn’t expected to be a widow, much less so soon. But she was one, and she had to adapt on the fly, just as her kids were starting to flee the nest.

As her kids married, divorced, remarried, had children, and lived their lives, one thing was clear: even if their spouses had been divorced, they were still part of the Pearson clan. They were still welcome at every family function. They were included, not excluded, because the Pearsons believed “the more the merrier,” which probably came from Rebecca being pregnant with triplets in the first place. (The third triplet died, which is why Rebecca and Jack adopted Randall, who was born on the same day and needed a family as his mother had died and his father — then — was completely unknown.)

Of course, there were oddities that happened to the Pearsons. (How else? Life itself is strange.)

One of them was when Randall’s father, William, made contact with Rebecca and Jack when Randall was quite young. William felt Randall was better off where he was, as William was battling a drug addiction along with poverty and much frustration; that was an extremely hard decision, but one that reaped major dividends late in life when Randall (in his thirties, roughly) found that William had known a) he was Randall’s bio father and b) where Randall was the entire time. Randall forgave William, in time, and as I said before, the Pearsons welcomed William until the day William died.

That said, for many fans, the oddest oddity of them all was the fact of Miguel marrying Rebecca. We knew Miguel was with Rebecca from the start (or nearly), because “This is Us” has always told its story in a non-linear fashion. We also knew that Miguel was Jack’s best friend, that he was appreciative of Rebecca from the start (he told Jack to make sure he married Rebecca, because “someone else” would; maybe even he didn’t know that someone else, someday, would be Miguel himself), and that while Jack lived Miguel made no moves (as a quality human being, of course he didn’t).

Because of the jumping back and forth in time effect, though, until the last few episodes it was impossible to tell when Miguel had married Rebecca. (That Rebecca had developed Alzheimer’s, and Miguel was caring for her until his own death, was something explored in great depth this past season.)

Why?

Well, Miguel didn’t get an episode revolving around him until a few weeks ago. That’s when I found out that Miguel had waited several years, had moved away to a different state, and made sure his feelings were real (and not something conjured out of pity and the deep, abiding friendship he’d always had with Rebecca while Jack was still alive) before he married Rebecca.

We still didn’t see his marriage, which was the second marriage for both of them. (Miguel’s first marriage ended in divorce.) But we saw how he took care of Rebecca. He was tender, kind, compassionate, loving, and altogether the right person for her after Jack died.

I was happy she found another good man to love.

This may sound odd, if you’ve read my blog for years. I thought for quite a few years that my heart was not big enough to admit another love — romantic love, anyway — after Michael’s way-too-early death.

While I found out that was wrong, the two men I’ve cared about in the past few years did not end up growing with me in the same way. They did not want the same things. (Or in one case, even if he had, he could not express that. He is neuro-divergent.)

The man who might’ve been “my Miguel” was Jeff Wilson, who died in 2011. Jeff didn’t know Michael, so that part wouldn’t be analogous. But Jeff knew I was the person I am because of Michael. Jeff also was my best friend of many years (seven, at the time of his death), and during his fatal health crisis said to me, with a weary yet humorous tone in his voice, “Can we please proceed to the dating phase now?”

I’ll never know what would’ve happened had Jeff lived. But I knew I was going to try, and I told him that.

Then he died, after he’d been improving; his death was unexpected, and he was only a year older than Michael had been when Michael died.

So, two men. Both interesting, intelligent, funny, hard-working, creative…both themselves, indelibly themselves, and I cared about them — loved them — both. (I did not yet have romantic love for Jeff, but I certainly was getting there at the time of his death. I definitely had agape love and philios also.)

Anyway, Rebecca’s death episode was this past Tuesday. She was pictured on a train. She saw William (acting as the conductor); she saw her obstetrician (acting as a bartender). She saw her kids, possibly including her deceased triplet (I wasn’t sure about that), at various ages. She heard the various well-wishes of the Pearson clan, including from her daughter’s ex-husband, her son Kevin’s wife (he’d only married twice, to the same woman, but many years apart), and her sons. But she was waiting “for something”…

As she’s waiting, she sees Miguel, a passenger on the train. He salutes her with his drink, and tells her she’s still his favorite person.

This made me cry.

Miguel got no more time in that episode, which upset me. I thought Rebecca should’ve gone to him, hugged him, and said “thank you.” Her mentation has been restored, on the train; she knows that Miguel helped her while she was so ill with Alzheimer’s. She also got a second wonderful husband in addition to her first, which is very rare…yet while she smiled at him, and seemed happy to see him, she didn’t go to him.

This made me even sadder.

The end of the episode came when her daughter, Kate, was able to get there (she’d been overseas). As she says goodbye, Rebecca clearly crosses over and enters “the caboose,” where her first husband, Jack, waits.

That’s where the episode ended.

I don’t know what’ll happen in the finale of “This is Us.” I do hope that Miguel’s contribution to Rebecca’s life, and to the entire life of the Pearson clan, will somehow be recognized. (Her children all told her to say “hey” to their father for them, but no one asked her to hug Miguel if they saw him. That, too, bugged me, but maybe the writers wrote it and they had no time to get it into the episode.) It’s obvious that without him in her later years (even before she got Alheimer’s), there wouldn’t have been as much acceptance and love from the Pearsons as a whole.

Anyway, my take as a widow is that I want there to be some recognition of how much good Miguel did for Rebecca, and that Jack had no problems with it as Miguel both made her happy and helped her as her mentation declined. (Miguel also still saw Rebecca as the same person, even with her mind going; her own children couldn’t always do that, as her daughter Kate pointed out in a recent episode.)

To be able to love again after such tragedy was wonderful. To not express thankfulness and gratitude for loving again…well, had it been me in that position, I hope I’d have done better.

(And yes, I know they’re all characters. Not real people. But they surely felt real, which is why I hope that Mandy Moore wins an Emmy for her portrayal of Rebecca and that Jon Huertas wins an Emmy as well for his excellent supporting work.)

Sunday Musings: The Empathy Gap

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Recently, I’ve thought a great deal about one thing. Empathy.

Why? Well, the United States, as a country, don’t seem to be showing a lot of it lately.

Whether it’s because of how individuals have handled Covid-19, or because of the ascension of politicians with more mouth than brain (including current US Reps Marjorie Taylor Greene and Nicole Boebert), it seems trendy now to behave badly and blame it on someone else.

I read a lengthy article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently about this very thing. (I am not linking to it because it was for “subscribers only,” meaning unless you have a subscription, they won’t let you see it.) It talked about the differences between what good, empathetic behavior is and bad behavior, and discussed how two decades — the 1970s, or “Me Decade,” and the 1980s, or the “Greed is Good” Decade — have changed public discourse for the worse.

I’m not sure it was just because of those two decades, mind you. But it is possible that folks who were born in those decades changed their parenting style, and their kids grew up with fewer “guard rails” against bad behavior along with perhaps lesser consequences for said bad behavior.

I think most of us have seen someone treated badly because of Covid-19. Whether it’s a customer cussing out a store employee for wearing a mask (as they mostly have had to do due to local or state regulations), someone being happy that another person who’s died because they didn’t get the vaccine and felt they wouldn’t get sick (schadenfreude, in other words), or a store employee (in a state/county that does not require masks) ask someone to remove their mask because said store employee didn’t like it, there seems to be very little tolerance for any behavior besides one’s own.

I have a very good friend who went to the post office recently where she lives. The clerk there is an anti-masker and possibly also an anti-vaxxer and complained when my friend (who is immunocompromised) did not remove her mask after she was asked. She explained this, but the clerk did not care. It was all she could do to stay in the post office until her business was done due to being so upset.

I have another friend who lives in Florida. He is also immunocompromised, but his doctors believe he should not be vaccinated. (I’m not sure why.) He has kept himself from just about everyone now for almost three years. It’s been a tough life, as he is gregarious and loves to talk with people about just about anything. But he’s risking his life with or without a mask, and as he lives in Florida — where people have disdained wearing masks even at the worst of the Covid-19 breakout stages — he sees no other way but to stay home, live quietly, and hope Covid goes away.

Other than the nurse who comes in to give him treatments, he sees no one. He hears many, mind, as there are people roundly cursing each other out at his apartment complex at all hours. (That we’re all under much more stress due to Covid is a given, granted.) But he sees no one.

There hasn’t been anyone to bring him food, or talk to him outside (making sure there’s no one around at the time so it’ll be safe for him, with a mask if he wants one, to do that), or do any of the small, kind human gestures that show empathy for someone who’s suffering, much less through no fault of his own.

(He lives too far away for me to help, or I’d have already visited. But I digress.)

I could give more examples, but I’ll stop there because I think my point’s been made.

You, as an individual person, should be free to lead your life any way you see fit. But you also should not be rude to someone who needs a mask even if mask mandates have been relaxed; you should not be rude to someone because her autistic son cannot wear a mask; you should not be rude to someone, like me, who has asthma and has great difficulty and distress wearing a mask but tries anyway because of two parents “of a certain age.” You also should not be so rude as to say, “I’m glad he’s dead” when you hear of a prominent anti-vaxxer dying due to Covid.

Why has it become so controversial to say these things, anyway? (To say what I just said, mind. Not to be outright rude, which seems perfectly fine to many for reasons I just don’t understand.) Why must empathy now be politicized, as if it’s something bad to actually care about others?

What I want this Sunday — not to mention every single day of my life — is for everyone to take a moment and step back. Realize that we are all human. We are all deserving of care, empathy, trust, and love. And we should start to show the best of ourselves to others, quietly, not as an Instragrammable moment but because our shared humanity deserves that.

If we can do that, the world will become a much better place.

The Waukesha Parade Tragedy, Ten Days Later

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Folks, on November 21, 2021, a man who I shall not name drove his SUV into a parade route and injured over sixty people, killing six. The youngest of the six was eight; the oldest of the six was eighty-one.

There are any number of GoFundMes set up for various people who got hurt during the Waukesha Parade, but the best place to go to see a good number of them is here. I do urge you to donate, if you can.

Anyway, I’ve found the Waukesha Parade tragedy an extremely difficult thing to talk about, because some of those hit by the driver (I’ve called him a lunatic/maniac/criminal on Facebook, and that does seem to fit) were musicians who played in the Waukesha South Marching Band.

I can easily picture myself doing what those young musicians were — just playing their music, minding their own business, trying to make people happy during the holidays — and get so upset, so frustrated, and so deeply angry that anyone would want to interfere with those kids just playing their horns that it’s been all I can do not to break into tears at odd moments.

My best friend played in the Lighthouse Brigade Band (in Racine). So did my sister. So did quite a few of my high school bandmates. (I didn’t, because my first instrument was the oboe. There is no such thing as a marching oboist. I didn’t take up the sax until fifteen, and the clarinet until seventeen.) So I can easily put the people I know into that context, and think, “There but for the grace of God…”

Yet, why should we have to think this, when all we want to do is spread a little holiday cheer?

There’s another reason this all hit home, too. That’s in the nature of what happened with the Dancing Grannies, a beloved Milwaukee-area institution. You have to be a grandmother to dance with the Dancing Grannies. And one member, just fifty-two, was performing for the very first (and last) time. While another member, seventy-nine, filled in at the last minute by holding the banner (as someone had to do it).

Four people affiliated with the Dancing Grannies died. (One was one of the Dancing Grannies’ husbands.)

I know how it feels to go from wife to widow in the blink of an eye. (At least, it feels like it, at the time.) And I also know how awful it is to have to go see your spouse, in the hospital, hooked up to multitudinous machines, just praying to God/dess that you will somehow, some way, be able to hug your husband again. Hear his voice again. Hell, even hear him complain again about something…just so long as he’s there to do it, you see.

Too many people lost their spouses, suddenly, for no damned good reason.

And too many kids, just playing in the band and doing their best to uplift people’s spirits, were injured as well.

The child who died was only eight, and he played baseball. His twelve-year-old brother was apparently thrown out of the way (best I could tell from grainy video evidence), as he had road rash (which he’d most likely not have had if he’d been hit) and much lesser injuries than his younger brother.

So, I keep thinking of the last acts of the Dancing Grannies. Some of them were trying to get others out of the way, knowing full well they were going to be hurt, or killed. But doing what they could in a time of crisis to save lives was an admirable act of selflessness that I wish was being celebrated in the news.

I have a category here on my blog called “Truly Horrible Behavior.” The actions of that SUV driver qualify.

I truly wish that SUV driver had never gone onto the Waukesha parade route at all, much less hit all those people. But as my wishes don’t count for much after the fact — and before the fact, who could’ve possibly thought of something so vile? — I don’t know what to say other than this:

Keep the spirit of the holidays in your heart, despite it all.

Care for others, even if it doesn’t seem worth it.

Let those you love know it, even if it sounds silly or contrived. (The action of saying it isn’t, no matter how it sounds.)

Find a cause you care about, and donate time, or money, or whatever else you can think of to it, because life is short, and meaningful acts sometimes seem shorter still.

Remember those who lost their lives.

Remember those who were injured.

And, finally, do what you can to drive back the darkness. It’s tough. I know that. (I am fighting as hard as I can, myself.) But we must live through all this, as witnesses, and do what we can to shape a better world, one act of grace at a time.

What Makes a Good Story?

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Recently, I wrote about Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher John Axford, and I said that the way his story ended was not the way his story was supposed to go.

This begs the question: What makes for a good story, anyway?

By contemporary standards, what would’ve made Axford’s story much better would’ve been him coming into the game, striking out the side (or at least getting three outs), getting the save, and having the stadium rain cheers upon his head. (The crowd did cheer him when he came in — I think he may have even received a standing ovation — and cheered him on the way out, too, which is not usual when a pitcher is unable to get out of the inning. This last happened because we Brewers fans knew Axford well from his previous service with us, and knew he was deserving of such approbation due to how well he’d done before.)

In previous eras, though, they had stories such as MADAME BOVARY that sold a ton. Those stories would have characters put through the wringer and they’d never be able to come up for air; instead, even their children would be put through the wringer for no purpose, and would never be able to get ahead.

Why audiences appreciated such stories is beyond me, but that was the fashion at that time. The would-be heroine (or hero) had a tragic flaw (or two, or five), and because of that flaw would taint herself and everyone around her beyond any hope of redemption.

The fashion now tends more to happy endings, but well-deserved happy endings. Characters still get put through the wringer (see Lois McMaster Bujold’s MIRROR DANCE, or Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s NIGHT CALLS, or any of Robert Jordan’s novels in the Wheel of Time series, among others), but they live to fight another day. They learn from their mistakes, too. And they continue on, having learned much more about themselves in the process.

Of course, the Harry Potter novels also exemplify this sort of story. Harry grows up to be a powerful magician, but he’s put through the wringer and must fight the big, bad, nasty, evil, and disgusting Lord Voldemort (and yes, I meant all those descriptions, as Voldemort is just that bad) in order to become the magician he needs to be. He and his friends Hermione and Ron are put through all sorts of awful things, but they eventually prevail.

My friend Chris Nuttall’s novels about Emily, starting with SCHOOLED IN MAGIC and continuing through to FACE OF THE ENEMY (with CHILD OF DESTINY coming soon), also have a plot that shows Emily being thrown into awful situation after awful situation, but she finds a way to prevail every time through hard work, effort, and a talent to get along with people even if they’ve crossed her (or she’s crossed them). Emily scans as a real person, and we care about her because she faces things most of us face even though we’re not magicians.

What are those things, you ask? Well, she has to learn from her own mistakes. She has to realize that she can’t fix everything and everyone. She has to find out that her snap judgments are not always correct. And she has to reevaluate people and situations, even when she doesn’t want to.

Of course, my own stories about Bruno and Sarah (AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE) have many of the same lessons. There are things Bruno can do, and does, once he realizes he’s been lied to about nearly everything. Sarah is in much the same boat, except she has different talents — complementary ones, in most cases — and the two of them have to find that they’re stronger together than they could ever be alone. But there are still things they can’t do, and they must make their peace with that (as every adult does), while continuing to work on the things they can.

In other words, they can control what is in their power to control. But they can’t control other people. (It would be wrong to do so, anyway. They have to make their own lives meaningful in whatever way they can, too. And make their own mistakes, as we all do…but I digress.)

Anyway, the stories I love best are those with happy endings. People sometimes start out with situations they don’t deserve (such as my friend Kayelle Allen’s character Izzorah, who went through a childhood illness that damaged his heart and nearly blinded him), but they get into better positions and find the people who can help them — maybe even love them the way they deserve. (Izzorah, for example, finds a treatment for his heart — it’s not a standard one, by any means, but it works in the context of the story — and finds love along the way in SURRENDER LOVE.)

So, to go back to the beginning of this blog, as we love happy endings and we want to see deserving people find good luck and happiness, the true ending we wanted for John Axford was to get the outs, get the cheers, bask in the glow of achieving his dreams once again at the baseball-advanced age of thirty-eight, and stay with the Brewers the rest of the season as they continue to make their run at postseason play.

That Axford was unable to achieve this happy ending was distressing. But all the hard work and effort he put into his return to the big leagues should still be celebrated. And my hope, overall, is that he will still be with the Brewers in one way or another after this season ends.

What makes for a good story? Do you agree or disagree with me, and if so, why? Tell me about it in the comments!

Unsettling Times

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Folks, I wanted to write a blog today about editing, but instead I’m writing this.

Why? Well, in Racine County yesterday morning, a man went up to another man outside a gas station and shot him to death at point-blank range. There appeared to be no connection between them whatsoever.

This definitely made me uneasy.

That the shooter then went to a different gas station, where he in turn was shot to death by a police officer (the shooter shot at the unmarked police car, and at the officer who was in plain clothes at the time), just underscores how random life can sometimes be.

If that shooter had gone somewhere else, the policeman who stopped him wouldn’t have been there. So in that much, I suppose I can see the hand of divine providence. (I’d like to think so, anyway. Surely the police officer saved much more strife by killing the shooter.)

In my area of Southeastern Wisconsin, we’ve had various protests over the past four or five years in Milwaukee, Kenosha, and Racine. Most have been peaceful. Some have been socially distant, as has been needed since the pandemic of Covid-19 broke out. But some, unfortunately, have brought bloodshed and tears.

I don’t know what the answers are for this mindless violence. I don’t know why yesterday was the day the shooter decided — apparently — to flip out and murder someone in cold blood for no damned good reason whatsoever.

So, even though I know — as a good friend told me earlier tonight — that nothing has changed for me, it feels like everything has changed.

To be honest, living my best life during the pandemic has been extremely difficult. Add the summer into the mix, where I observe not one, not two, but three sad anniversaries, and that ups the difficulty factor considerably. I also do not have the consolation of playing music right now, as I took a leave of absence from the Racine Concert Band. (This was necessary, but it’s a necessity I still regret.)

Then, add in the problem of yesterday, with the Kenosha riots of 2020, and the Milwaukee issues in the last five years, and it seems like Southeastern Wisconsin is a hotbed of chaos.

That, I know, is an illusion. But it feels real.

So, what is reality in this situation?

According to a good friend, I may as well try to predict where lightning will strike next as to worry about some random thug somewhere putting a bullet where it doesn’t need to be. So that means that all I can do is the same thing I do every single day.

What’s that, you ask?

Simple. I choose to write. I choose to edit. I choose to write music, and to practice it when able. I choose to help. I choose to keep going. I choose to fight chaos, even if all I can do is fight the despair in my head. I choose to remember better days, and I most of all choose to be the same person my late husband knew and loved so well.

Even on a day like this one — a day after a previously unimaginable tragedy in an extremely rural area with a bunch of farms, cows, haystacks, and not much else — I choose to live.

This is a candle flame against the darkness, but it’s all I’ve got.

Sunday Sadness: Florida Condo Collapses

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Folks, a few days ago, one of the oddest and saddest things I’ve ever seen happened. And if you’ve been paying attention to the news in the past few days, you’ve probably heard about it, too.

What is it? Well, a condo inexplicably fell apart. It collapsed into rubble. One half of it did, anyway; the other, inexplicably, stayed up. And over 150 people are still missing, while five have been confirmed dead as of this hour.

These poor souls went to bed, and sometime around midnight or one a.m. the building collapsed. Some were found the first day, including a young son who lived though his mother did not; another family of three has its father missing, while the mother and daughter are in stable condition after surgery. There are other stories, but those were the ones that stuck with me.

This happened in the community of Surfside, Florida. Surfside has numerous condos near the beach. They’re luxurious places, though some middle class people lived there also. Various communities such as the Orthodox Jewish community, the Cuban-American community, and a number of South American countries were represented there.

I’m sure the folks who lived there, or who were staying temporarily (as were at least three people named so far), felt they were safe when they went to bed.

This whole story is shocking, appalling, frustrating, upsetting, and reminds me of the adage that goes like this: “Life is short. Make every minute count.”

(You do know how hard that is to do, right? Many of us want to live our life in gratitude and harmony and appreciation, but have situations that make such things very difficult to obtain. But I digress.)

I feel terrible for the youngster who lost his mother. I feel awful for the mother and daughter, who have no idea where their husband and father is, or if he made it out alive. I feel despondent when I think about all the innocent people there who did nothing wrong, some of whom probably saved all their lives so they could live in a condo by the Pacific Ocean, and how they died.

In a way, it’s miraculous that the whole building didn’t come down. But I’m betting the folks who lived are not all that happy right now. And I don’t blame them.

All I can say is this: If you have loved ones, give them an extra hug today. If you have pampered pets, give them an extra treat or pat or walk or something they’ll like that they normally don’t get. (A dog that gets walked twice a day may really enjoy that third walk.) If you have friends who you haven’t spoken to in a while, try to get in contact with them in the weeks ahead. (I have to do this myself, so don’t feel bad if you’re in this situation.)

Do something kind for someone who doesn’t expect it, too.

And remember those folks who died in Surfside, will you please? Because their lives had meaning, worth, and value. They did not deserve to die, most especially not in that scary and shocking way.

——-

P.S. So far, I haven’t seen any appeal via any crowdsourcing app regarding financial support for those who lived. (My guess is that young boy is going to need financial assistance, but no one’s said anything yet.) When I do, I’ll try to post an update or an additional post.

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 27, 2021 at 1:54 am

Observing Sad Anniversaries…

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Folks, if you read my last blog, you know I’ve been keeping track of various sad anniversaries. (Or “sadiversaries,” as I’ve called them before.) The atrocity at the Pulse Nightclub is one of those observations because of many reasons, which I’ve already enumerated.

“But Barb,” you say. “Why are you going over this again?”

I have another sad anniversary coming up that’s far more personal. (That’s why.) And it started with a very happy day, the day I married my beloved husband Michael. That particular day couldn’t be more incandescent if it tried, as it was the culmination of the best life-choice I have ever made.

If you’ve been reading my blog over the years, you know this is true. Michael changed my life for the better in many ways. He helped me learn how to believe in myself. He gave much encouragement. He was an outstanding husband, and we lived and worked well together. He was a creative person, too, and he understood me — everything about me.

I wish I would’ve found Michael when I was 21. But I’m glad I found him, even if it was a bit later than 21…(I’ll not say how long).

Remembering all this is bittersweet now, of course. But that makes sense, as I am human. I miss my husband with every breath I take, and even if I am so fortunate as to find another good man some year who understands me and loves me and wants to be with me and is endlessly fascinated by me (why, I don’t know), I will never forget Michael.

I can’t. Not and still be the person I am today.

So, this week I will be observing my nineteenth wedding anniversary. It will be the seventeenth I’ve observed alone.

If you believe in such, please think good thoughts, say a prayer, or wish me well if you can. I will truly appreciate it.

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 20, 2021 at 8:58 am

Refuse to Spread Vitriol

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Folks, the last few days have sorely tested my resolve to refuse to spread vitriol.

Why? Well, we had an officer-involved shooting less than ten miles from my home; worse yet, the officer shot a man who appeared to be unarmed seven times in the back. (Yes, I live not far from Kenosha, Wisconsin. And the videos of this horrific event are prevalent, so I will not link to them.) And worst of all, three of the unarmed man’s children witnessed this.

I have no words for expressing my frustration, my outrage, and my anger over all of this. I don’t understand it. I definitely don’t like it. And I wish very much that this hadn’t happened.

The only good thing about it is that so far, the man — Jacob Blake — is still alive after surgery. I pray he will have a full recovery, and that truth and justice will prevail in this matter.

Anyway, that’s not the only thing upsetting me (though that would be more than enough in a more “normal” year). But the Curse of 2020 lives on, and thus, we have to keep on going in a time that seems incomprehensible after so many bad things have happened in a short space of time.

Those bad things include:

  1. Covid-19.
  2. Shutdowns.
  3. So many murders of Black men and women, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, for what surely appear to be no justifiable reasons at all. (Black Lives Matter. Which you’d not know after all these shootings. But I digress.)

Then you add in the governmental dishonesty, the ridiculousness you see on television or the internet, and the naked partisanship that has divided friend from friend and hurt the United States as a country and the world at large, too…and it all adds up to a big, fat, smoking mess.

That said, we have to somehow refuse to add to it. Yes, demand justice be done. That is the bare minimum we as reasonably enlightened humans should insist upon. But do it through the rule of law. Peacefully.

For that matter, I want to add the following to the above: Find out the facts. Don’t just pop off and insist you’re right, la-la-la, and hear no evidence to the contrary. Learn, grow, change, develop into a better person, and try not to be an ass.

(Really, these things should be blindingly obvious. But apparently, they are not. So I am writing this blog, again, in the hopes that someone out there will realize things have got to change — for the better — and assumptions must be challenged along the way as I’ve said many times previously on this blog. But going on…)

I’m frustrated, too, by things I’ve seen closer to home.

For example, at the senior citizen housing place my mother lives at, one of the other residents was told to give up her dog — a big, goofy-looking, sweet and loving guy named Ollie. Ollie’s about fifty-five pounds, can be a little mischievous, but loves everyone. And his “crime,” which got him banished after three years of living with his owner, was that he got out one day and ran down the hall. He didn’t bark. He didn’t jump on anyone. He didn’t bite anyone. And he came when he was called by name.

Apparently, they have a “one strike and you’re out” policy at this place. And that worries me.

You see, right now with Covid, senior citizens are being told to stay indoors. Stay away from people. Don’t go out unless it’s essential. That means the love of a pet is even that more important.

Unfortunately, that is not what the apartment complex felt.

Ollie, who is over ten years old (though he doesn’t look or act it), had to be brought by his owner to her nearest relatives in Kentucky. By all accounts, both are miserable.

This happened despite a petition with over 80 names on it (in a complex that maybe holds 200 people) saying Ollie should stay. And despite the doctor’s note for the owner saying Ollie was essential to the owner’s mental health.

Nope. The apartment complex didn’t care. So poor Ollie and his owner are now separated, for what appears to be no reason at all.

This is nonsensical, ridiculous, and hurtful in the extreme to a poor, innocent animal and his poor, innocent owner. I have no words for how angry this makes me.

Otherwise, the heat and humidity and air quality where I live have all been bad again for about a week. This has not helped my mood any, either.

As I said, all of this has tempted my resolve not to spread vitriol.

But I’m still doing my best to avoid being a jackass, and help as many people as I can. I try to listen, learn, educate myself, and do the best I can to make the world a better place.

Some days, though, it seems much harder than others.

Do not give up the fight, though. I promise, I won’t, either. (And do say a prayer or think good thoughts for Ollie and his owner, will you?)