The View from Outside the World

“The world is a fine place and worth fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.”
~ Ernest Hemingway

The world is a scary place. Or, more accurately, a lot of people around the world are scared. Yesterday alone, attacks across Europe shook politicians and civilians, even as ongoing wars in Syria and Yemen – to name just a couple – continue testing our ability to just look away as innocents suffer. Meanwhile, in America, the next president was officially given his Electoral College victory even as a sizeable portion of the nation’s population looked on in dismay. It was for much of humanity, not a happy day.

This post has no answers. It isn’t about stomping the ground for some political point or pleading for you to donate money. I mean, yes, please, do that if you can; there are no shortage of causes demanding your attention. If you’re a charitable person, consider yourself blessed with an abundance of opportunities to prove it.

I believe there are answers to all of these problems; I just don’t have them.

20160915_132028[1].jpg

This is a blog about travel. I write it because my undying hope is that we will make our world just a little bit smaller by fulling appreciating how vast it is. I write this blog because I refuse to allow borders to be prisons.

The attack in Germany appears to be terroristic, and at this moment the prevailing theory is that the attacker was an asylum seeker, a Muslim immigrant. Of course, anytime anything bad happens in the world, that’s the prevailing theory. No matter who turns out to be the perpetrator, there will always be people who believe immigrants in general – and Muslims in particular – are a danger to society.

History is clear on this: the Outsider is always evil.

Of course that’s not true. There is not a person reading this who wasn’t an outsider at some point. Maybe you’re an immigrant, or the children of immigrants. Maybe you’re a Muslim in a Christian society, or vice versa. Maybe you’re gay, or an atheist, or transgender, or disabled. Maybe you just never fit in.

I’m not going to insult your intelligence by suggesting all outsiders are the same. Some people are put on the outside for the good of society: Murderers, rapists, thieves, so on.

The point is, we’re all on the outside of something. Even Trump, a rich white man from New York City who was born into money still managed to run a campaign as the “outsider” candidate. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.

There are millions and millions of people around the world who want nothing more than to be inside the United States, who want to be accepted here and given access to the opportunities and freedoms many of us take for granted. Just by birth, some were blessed with the ultimate insiders’ pass. I’m one such person. And all I want to do is get outside.

45041_859750321469_6529329_n

Every year for a decade, I moved to a new city and over a period of 12 months, I worked my way from outside to inside within my new home – and then I started over. I won’t pretend my journey was even 1/100th as difficult as those of immigrants moving to a new country. One thing we Americans often take for granted is that we are lucky to live within a country that is so diverse in culture while still unified by language and common experiences. I will never understand the people who don’t take advantage of that.

What 10 Cities/10 Years taught me was to not be afraid of being on the outside. As I plan my move to Spain in 2017, I’m reading accounts from those who have already done it, and the most consistent sentiment I read is, “The hardest part for me was being away from friends and family; it took me a couple months to make friends here.” I can only smile, because that stopped being a concern for me many years ago.

I want to be on the outside. I want to learn new things and be confronted by circumstances where my previous experience and knowledge isn’t sufficient. I don’t expect to enjoy every step of the journey or to always succeed. I will regret choices and wake up some days thinking, “What have I done?” That’s called traveling.

Fear is a natural reaction to the unknown. Terror is the most basic response to what is going on the world, but compassion should be as well. Empathy and a desire to understand, these should be just as powerful emotions within all of us or our world will continue to deteriorate. We can’t keep pretending that just because something happens on the other side of an imaginary line that we won’t be impacted.

Yes, the world can be a terrifying place. It’s also a beautiful place. I’m not sure it could be one without being the other. We can’t appreciate that dichotomy if we don’t get out and see it for ourselves. And we won’t ever step outside if we are motivated solely by fear.

If you’re the kind of person to make New Year’s Resolutions, may I suggest a very simple one for 2017: Don’t be afraid. Don’t let what scares you dictate the kind of life you’ll live. Learn to appreciate what it’s like to be on the outside.

And, you know, travel.

10 Cities / 10 Years: Consummatum est

We are the culmination of our experiences.
Our experiences are the result of our choices.
Our choices are the product of our temperament.
Our temperament is a gift of birth.

What are we?

What for?

From June 1st, 2005 to August 31st, 2015, I was engaged in a personal quest with no discernible purpose. When asked about this “project” as I called it, the questions were the expected. What cities did I live in? How do I support myself? Is it difficult?

And, ultimately, why?

In Chicago, the fifth city, I first told the lie. It was in that city that I had the initial experience of people knowing about my project before I even met them. I worked in a mammoth Forever 21 on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue and so, for months, I met new employees nearly every shift.

Inevitably, when I started introducing myself, I’d hear, “Oh, you’re the 10 cities guy?”

Every year after, whether at work or a party or some other gathering, I would discover that people were talking about my project, about me. “10 Cities” preceded me into the room, so much so that it practically became my name in some circles. It was flattering, and unnerving.

That’s when I started getting the questions. The whats and hows were easy enough to answer. The why wasn’t.

So I started lying.

“I’m writing a book.”

In truth, that didn’t answer the why. Even as the years progressed and I resolved to make some attempt at putting my experiences into a memoir, it still wasn’t the answer for the why of 10 Cities / 10 Years.

There was and always has been a very straightforward answer to that question, a seemingly simple one that was uniformly met with blank stares, which is why I dissembled.

I wanted the experience.

That’s it, that’s why I dreamed up the project, initiated it and stuck it through to the end.

I was a writer with nothing to write about. America’s greatest generation of writers – those who crafted classics from the 1910s through the 1930s – had been through war, the “delayed Teutonic migration” as Fitzgerald referred to the First World War. We have war in my generation, but it’s on a TV screen and all but virtual to those of us who have no personal stakes in it.

I thought, if life wasn’t going to thrust experience upon me, I would go out and get it.

The problem with that answer is that there is no profit in simply living. You have to monetize your experiences when you live in America.

At the end of the day – specifically, at the end of August 31st – if nothing else comes of my decade on the road, I will have my experiences.

I can take pride in who I am, because I made myself.

It Is Finished.

So, that’s it. The story is done and the only question people want to ask me now is, “What’s next?”

The answer must be, yet again, straightforward and unfulfilling: I will keep exploring. In what capacity that will take, to what ends, I cannot say yet. The world is large, my time is short, and I am not content to grow happy and bored.

This is the first time in my life since I was a toddler that the road before me doesn’t have a destination. There was always the next grade, the next school, the next city. Now the next is everything and nothing. That’s either freedom or drowning, it’s too early for me to know.

If you insist on a prediction – and I know you do – I will pull my prophet’s hat out of storage to tell you this: In 10 years, you won’t find me living in New York.

The clues to my future are scattered throughout my past, so look back if you like. I will spend the next year doing just that, and then I will move on. They’ll be meaning in what I’ve done, or there won’t. Either way, I’ll be gone.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me.

~L

Now, if I may be so impertinent, I would like to ask you a question.

What’s next?

Exploring - Calvin and Hobbes

 

 

 

Turn Off the News!

“Ernest Hemingway once wrote, ‘The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.’
I agree with the second part.” ~ Se7en

US-SCHOOL-SHOOTING

How bad is the world?

It’s not post-apocalyptic, Kevin Costner drinking his own piss bad, but it’s bad, right? Just look around. People are shooting up movie theaters and schools, others are getting murdered over loud music and Skittles. If pretty white ladies aren’t disappearing, they’re killing family members. And the children! Oh, won’t someone please think about the children? We live in a crazy, fucked up world. If only we could go back to the Golden Age, the 1950s.

Let’s take a trip through time.

Here are some statistics* for the United States (based on most recent year for which data is available, 2010).

U.S. Population: 313,900,000
Life Expectancy: 78.5 Years

Total Deaths: 2,468,435 (.0079%)
Deaths due to Heart Disease: 597,689
Deaths due to Cancer (Malignant Neoplasms): 574,743
Deaths due to Accidents: 120,859
Deaths due to Diabetes: 69,071
Deaths due to Flu/Pneumonia: 50,097
Suicide: 38,364
Deaths due to Liver Disease: 31,903
Infant Deaths: 24,586
Homicides: 16,259
Deaths due to Tuberculous: 569

These are the related numbers from 1950:

U.S. Population: 150,697,361
Life Expectancy: 68.2 Years
Total Deaths: 1,452,454 (.0096%)
Deaths due to Heart Disease: 535,729
Deaths due to Cancer (Malignant Neoplasms): 210,675
Deaths due to Accidents: 91,322
Deaths due to Diabetes: 24,413
Deaths due to Flu/Pneumonia: 47,168
Suicide: 17,179
Deaths due to Liver Disease: 13,864
Infant Deaths: 103,825
Homicides: 6,932
Deaths due to Tuberculous: 33,907

These are not exhaustive lists of every cause of death, but they hit most of the major ones (as you can see, some of them are less major now than they were in 1950).

As our population has grown, the rates of death have dropped, both overall and per cause. The trend doesn’t carry across the board, such as with cancer which has risen from 14.5% of deaths in 1950 to 23.2% in 2010. It’s very possible, of course, that the rise in the rate of cancer deaths coincides with our greater understanding of the disease and thus simply represents more accurate diagnoses. Or, maybe more people are just dying of cancer.

On the other hand, a smaller percentage of people are dying of heart disease, the flu and pneumonia and tuberculous (so much fewer in the latter’s case that it doesn’t even belong on the Leading Cause of Death list anymore). And infant mortality rate has nosedived. If the world truly is a worse place, at least we have those silver linings.

There are other kinds of deaths, though, and they’re up. I’d distinguish these as ‘active deaths’ (as opposed to diseases and the like which would be ‘passive deaths’). The current rates of suicide (0.016% of all deaths) and homicide (0.007%) are up from where they were in 1950 (0.012% and 0.005%, respectively), which clearly indicates that we live in a more depraved, dangerous time. Perhaps our passive means of dying are on the decline, overall, but our active means are rising. We’re making the world worse, obviously.

To be fair, though, suicide and homicide deaths accounted for 0.000122% and 0.000052% (again, respectively) of the entire population in 2010, whereas they accounted for 0.000114% and 0.000046% in 1950, so in neither year have they been as prevalent or threatening to the public as you might suspect just from watching the news.

But we do watch the news, and that’s the problem.

CNN logo

CNN Will Be The Death of Us

Look, I love the news, I love newspapers. I love journalists, both in the idealized world of fiction where a dogged reporter always gets his story and in the real world where hours upon hours of research and dedication will lead to 7 pageviews, while a story about Lindsay Lohan will be shared a million times.

Newsmen and women are doing some of the most important work in the world, and I respect the hell out of them. But, goddamn, CNN is terrible. And Fox News, and MSNBC. All of that round-the-clock, on high alert, Breaking News, staccato-music blaring noise is the worst.

Maybe this is because I grew up on Jon Stewart and the Daily Show, or maybe it’s because I’m forced to watch endless hours of it on mute while at work (it’s that or the same sports clips on ESPN), but the 24-hour News is a harping farce. This isn’t about politics. Forgetting all the sloganeering and political one-upmanship that these “news” stations employ, the single most corrosive element of these channels is their fearmongering. Whether it’s comparing various political figures to Hitler or highlighting fake violent trends, the Newsentainment peddlers are only as strong as their audience is scared.

It’s not entirely their fault: 24-hours of news sure sounds like a good idea until you put it into practice and realize that no amount of wars, political opera, celebrity deaths and international intrigue can possibly fill up 86,400 seconds of one day, let alone every day of every week of every month of every year. Of course they’re going to fill airtime with sensationalist pablum.

Still, no amount of excuses justify the baseless and systemic pursuit of terror. Maybe it was 9/11, maybe it was the Bush years and the war in Iraq, but for whatever reason our culture is being fed an endless stream of fear, and we’re eating it all up. There have always been fearmongers, there always will be fearmongers, but the problem in our current culture is that all this domestic terrorizing is making us oblivious to how good the world really is.

Every day they find some new outrageous murder, shocking trial or horrifying accident to feature and return to every half hour, and if there isn’t a new story to sink their teeth into, they’ll rehash something from a month ago. Every time a white kid from the suburbs dies, an entire news cycle is devoted to it, but a death of a black or Latino kid in the city isn’t worth a scrolling headline (unless of course there’s a race angle to play). Maybe that’s why it was recently found that optimism among blacks and Latinos is on the rise while whites are growing more pessimistic. White people think they’re being killed left and right.

I Have To Admit It’s Getting Better

In a previous post, I mentioned Steven Pinker’s phenomenal book, The Better Angels of Our NatureThe book is too good and too extensive for me to even begin summarizing or cherry picking data points. Instead, I’ll urge you to pick it up, and in the meantime read this recently published article, which examines both Pinker’s claims and those of his detractors.

If Better Angels had a logline, it would be this: The world is less violent than you’ve been led to believe and, counter to common religious wisdom, our morality is becoming more extensive, not less.

Essentially, as the book lays out in page after page of thoroughly researched data and historical evidence, despite anomalies like World War II and the Holocaust, the 20th Century was one of the most peaceful, least violent centuries in human history (if taken as a percentage of all human population), and the 21st century is furthering that trend.

People naturally balk at that statement (I know, I’ve had this conversation frequently) for a whole host of reasons, but if I had to narrow it down to one, it’s because they don’t know history. What do you think is the most violent conflict in all of human history? If you figured it was World War II, you would probably be in the majority. And by total number of dead, you’d be right. 55,000,000 million people were killed in that war (including victims of the Holocaust). However, if you take that number as a percentage of the world’s population, WWII is only the 9th most violent conflict in human history.

You know what is first? The An Lushan Revolt of the 8th century. Ever heard of it? Me neither. 36,000,000 people were killed. 36 million, in the 8th century! Pinker suggests that in modern numbers, that would be equivalent to 429,000,000 deaths. No nuclear bomb necessary.

I said I wasn’t going to try to summarize the book and I won’t. I just wanted to make a point. Our understanding of the world and how “bad” it has become is based entirely on our perspective, which is myopic at best, borderline blind at worst. Despite the internet, despite globalization, we still tend to see national and world events through the lens of our tiny little neighborhood. This is especially true for people who are born and then raised and remain in the same town or region all their lives. We think we’re worldly if we can find Crimea on a map, but we know so little.

Not only are we globally shortsighted, we’re temporally obtuse. Anyone who tells you the 1950s was a better time than the 2010s is not black, Hispanic, Asian, female, gay, an ill infant, Muslim, Jewish, atheist, poor or working menial labor. The world has definitely changed since the 1950s, so much so that many of the people who are better off because of those changes don’t even appreciate how much better off they are. If we suddenly reverted back to 1950s America, half of Fox News’ devotees would be worse off, to say nothing of the rest of the country.

Thanks to science and medicine, passive deaths are largely on the decline, but what most people are surprised to learn is that active deaths are declining, too, and rapidly. I don’t need to say the world isn’t perfect, that’s self-evident. But the world is so much better than it once was, even in the “Golden Age.” Unfortunately, with the “If it bleeds, it leads” mentality steering our national news, all we ever hear about are the inexplicable rage killings and tragic deaths.

the better angels of our nature

So What?

So what’s to be done about it? That’s not an easy question. In some ways, I think we need people to think the world is a shithole so they’ll keep working to fix it. After all, it’s the restless souls who wanted a better world for their children who actually made the world better for us, their children.

On the other hand, we spend so much time fretting about invisible monsters and statistically rare tragedies (such as terrorist attacks) that we accomplish very little real change anymore. The 20th century positively exploded with social change, medical advances and scientific breakthroughs that shaped a new world, a world that if viewed from the 8th century would be considered utopia. Now, though, we seem stuck in place, largely because we’re cutting scientific funding, but also because a nihilistic view has crept into every facet of our pubic lives, especially politics, and instead of taking bold steps forward we’re constructing steel barriers to hide behind.

Perhaps I’m being myopic. In 100 years, maybe the first decades of the 21st century will be seen as the most innovative and socially enlightened period in our history. We can only hope.

Even if that’s true, it won’t change the fact that we are becoming a nation utterly beholden to fear. You are not in danger. Your children are not in danger. Statistically, the odds of you being shot down by a crazed gunman is next to nil. Statistically, you will live longer and healthier than any of your ancestors (for the most part, this is true across the globe). The news is making you believe that you’re in the line of fire. You aren’t. The news is lying to you.

Turn off the news!

You might be an outlier. You might be killed in a terrorist attack. Your child might be kidnapped. Your family might be the Kardashians. Tragedies happen all the time. But, just from a pure numbers game, you are far, far, far more likely to live a long, boring life with a couple of marriages and some bratty kids and a job that doesn’t excite you but doesn’t really strain you that much, either, so heck, just keep doing it (which, for the record, I find far more terrifying than any suicide bomber).

No one can predict what will happen to you as an individual. That’s life.

Turn off the news!

With pretty firm certainty, I can say you aren’t going to die in a terrorist attack, you aren’t going to be knocked out by a kid on the street and your kids aren’t going to go missing from the playground. I’m not saying don’t be vigilante, I’m saying don’t be so scared, you little coward.

Turn off the news!

Turn off CNN. Turn off MSNBC. Turn off Fox. Just turn them off. Get your news from a newspaper and read an article written by someone who actually bothered to get the facts before going to press because they didn’t have the 24-hour News obsession with being the first on the scene. We’d all be so much better off if 24-hour News went belly up.

Turn off the news!

Don’t believe the hype. The world is not bad. The world is actually pretty dang good if you just turn off the news and look around you. All those things you’re afraid of, all the things you’re complaining about wouldn’t even register to someone from 1950 because OH MY GOD YOU HAVE A TALKING MACHINE IN YOUR POCKET!!!

Seriously, turn off the news. I don’t agree with Hemingway very often, but he was right, the world is a fine a place. Wouldn’t it be nice to see that headline once in a while.

*Statistics retrieved from these sources:
CDC.gov, InfoPlease, Vital Statistics of the United States by U.S. Dept of Health

Not With A Bang, But A ‘Whoomp’

This weekend in Seattle, the clouds broke for the first time in what seems like ages.  Sunlight blanketed the city and friends drank sangria on rooftops as boats passed through the Sound.

But not all scenes were so idyllic.  On one grassy field, in some fiery hearts, a war was brewing.

Here, in the shadow of the rapier form of the Space Needle, a small but fevered crowd of combatants arrived, summoned by the demiurgic will of Ares, and possibly their Facebook feeds.

They came dressed for battle, faces painted, pillows fluffed.  Teeth bared.

The fight began.  One minute there was peace, the next war.  No one could say who struck first, but if you were to ask each individual who was there, they would tell you that war does not begin.  It just is.

At times it seemed if it was every man for himself, every woman for herself, brother against brother, father against child, feathers indiscriminate in their cutting arcs.

But then, out of chaos arose form.  An alliance, a tenuous and certainly uneasy truce to solder power into a single striking force.

For a moment it seemed the war could end at the hands of the behemoth.  But brute strength proved no match for the furious onslaught of the swarming hive.

The battle raged, the feathers flew and the sky, at times, looked as if the very clouds had broken like glass across the verdant field, only to blow away moments later.

Crowds watched from every corner and at times innocent bystanders would feel the sting of an errant blow.  Within the hour, it was hard to distinguish between the soldiers and the onlookers, the wounded and the relaxing comfortably in the grass on a nice spring day.  There was no wall.  Humans.  We were all humans on the field of battle, and those of us who believed we could watch the fight with impartial distance would only see our childish fantasy break apart like a cheap Wal-Mart pillow.

Even I have tasted the bitter blade.

The battle ended, as they all do, not with a bang, but a ‘whoomp.’  Whether because of exhaustion or depleted forces, or because the pillow fight was only scheduled to last an hour.

The field cleared of feathers, but not memories.

The battle is over, but the war continues, from one day to the next, from one generation to the next.

If we cannot resolve our differences, should we be surprised when our children rise and take up pillows against each other?

We live today, to fight again tomorrow.

Osama Bin Laden: Fatality

That was some big news for a Sunday night.  It’s the kind of news event where you’ll always remember where you were when you heard it.  Like, of course, September 11th.

I was at home, checking out NYTimes.com when I saw the Breaking News alert.  I turned on my TV and waited for Obama’s speech.  And then I went out and drank with friends to celebrate (a birthday and a deathday).

As Facebook filled with responses, the unsurprising reaction of most people was jubilation.  But, it being Facebook (and my friends), there were contrarian responses, too.  The one I saw the most (other than the “America, Fuck Yeah!” response) was one of chagrin at celebrating over the death of an enemy.  This was mostly expressed in pious words of dismay: “Should we really be happy about his death?  Shouldn’t we have hoped that Osama found Jesus?”

No, seriously, that’s the sentiment.

Besides being blisteringly obtuse (yes, the way to confront religious fundamentalism is with more religion; endsarcasm), it’s also just plain ridiculous to believe that a man who had devoted his life to a faith and the deaths of thousands (millions?) of people would ever convert to the ‘opposing’ team.  That’s cognitive dissonance times a gazillion.

(“God” killed off the entire population of the world besides for one family because he was mad at us.  I hardly think his judgment on justice is worth a damn.)

But the hand-wringing isn’t limited to Christians.  Even atheists can question the wisdom of expending so many resources (humans, weapons, money, years) to kill this man.

As everything was unfolding on the news and my FB feed last night, I couldn’t help but think of a scene from Band of Brothers (unsurprising since I just watched it).

The soldiers hear that Hitler has been killed and there is a somewhat stunned, somewhat confused pause.  Then one of the soldiers ask the question that everyone is wondering: “Is the war over?”

The answer, of course, is “No.”

Still, there was a feeling of, the tide has turned.

The parallels between Hitler and Osama are more symbolic than actual.  For one, we were fighting a very different type of war back then, against an army rather than ‘insurgents’ (for what that’s worth).

But the similarities are what matters.  Our fight in World War II might have been jingoistic in nature and less noble then history has recorded it, but these facts exist:  Hitler was a horrible man (no Post-modern reconstruction can change that), killing millions of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, mentally ill and other “undesirables.”  And our involvement in the war helped end Hitler’s life and the Holocaust.

This is why I can never be a true pacifist.  There are reasons to fight.  There are people who will never be stopped by anything short of force.  War (or “military intervention”) should be a last resort.  I do not support the war we fight in Iraq because we were taken into it by lies and the personal vendettas of those in power, and I don’t believe we exhausted all other means before going in. 

I do, on the other hand, support the fight against Al-Qaeda.  Partially, it is because of the September 11th attacks (and other attacks over the previous two decades), but mostly it’s because they are a group of people forcefully attempting to subjugate humanity under their religious doctrine, killing and destroying lives throughout the world.  To me, that is about as black and white as it gets.  This isn’t a “cultural” thing.  Some say, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”  True.  But there are causes I can believe in and there are causes that are vile.  A theocracy is not a cause I can support in any form.

Their cause is not just.

That is not to say that America is the one true beacon of Truth and Justice in the world.  Our foreign policy (the one we practice, not the one we preach) is a dangerous mix of oilmongering and dictator building.  We have put our support behind horrible regimes because it temporarily benefited us, and it’s no surprise that such actions have come to bite us in the ass time and time again.

In an alternate universe where we didn’t pursue our own goals at the cost of other nations, maybe we could afford to be pacifists.  Probably not.

But, we don’t live in that imaginary Candyland.  We live in the world that we have, one that has been created in part by our mistakes, but also in large part by the hatred and ignorance that religion breeds (I don’t feel like qualifying that sentence for the religious; even loving, intelligent religious types should see this is a truth, if not absolute).

So we fight.  And we should fight.  Because there is evil in this world.  And as an Atheist who doesn’t need a holy book to give me my morality, I can tell you what evil is:

Killing innocent people.
Inflicting your religious/political control over people with the threat of death.
Taking away other people’s freedoms.

This is why we fight.  It’s why we fought Hitler.  It’s why we fought Osama.  And it’ll be why we fight unknown dangers in the future.

Maybe Osama’s death is merely a symbolic win for us.  At the same time, it’s a symbolic loss for them.  And symbols, for better or worse, matter.

Will killing Osama end the Al-Qaeda threat?  Of course not.

Will killing Osama mean we can bring our troops back?  Of course not.

Will killing Osama turn him into a martyr?  Probably for some.  Then again, it very well could be the act that causes some fence sitters to jump up and run away from terrorism.  We really can’t know the full impact.

But it will have an impact.  No amount of ironic detachment or pious grandstanding can change that.

The death of Osama is a day worth celebrating.

*

Is the war over?

No.

But maybe the tide has turned.


Father’s Day

On the last day of Spring, they’re going to give my dad a medal
for killing gooks and raising children in the Reagan eighties

Outside, drenched in starlight and the muggy grasp of a Midwest Summer’s eve
I’ll cradle a glass of eighty proof and melted ice
“A toast to abandonment”
to recall, fondly, being young enough to believe in God, or the fear of him
His watchful eyes, his meaty palms and his reclining form on Sunday afternoons

One by one,
whether by bus or by plane, with alcohol tremors or high school diplomas,
we all found a way to leave
the womb

What’s left of memory is carefully disseminated amongst us like corners of a treasure map
All of us holding tightly to our pieces of the puzzle
wrong, but right to clasp onto all that connects us to an innocence, abandoned
when we were sent off to fight a war no one could win

And like our dads who abandoned us, or who we abandoned,
who even knows,
we’ve come here to receive our medals of valor
for living long enough to make our own mistakes
And maybe even admit them.