Reflections on Guns and Shore Birds, by Addy McCulloch

Addy McCulloch

I have been thinking a lot about guns and more recently about all the talk about guns since a madman ripped through an elementary school just before Christmas,

For the last three mornings, the block where we live has been host to a flock of little egrets. This is a rare sight – we are a few miles inland, but something in our grass is apparently a feast to them.

and I have been thinking how very early discussions included mental health and how mental health has since been lost in the language of guns, and I have been thinking about how legislating guns doesn’t legislate the heart and what the heart really needs, but I understand that we have become the country of Now,

and I understand how a parent might want an armed guard at his child’s school and how an armed guard can make herself useful on the days when Adam Lanza fails to show up and how often that is – every day in almost every school –

and how much better it would be to staff each school with a law enforcement officer who’s had crisis intervention training and mental health training and to allow that officer to develop relationships with students and families and help identify students in crisis and how, once identified, that officer needs a program or a therapist to whom to send the student,

and how in many parts of this country there is no program or therapist or not enough programs and therapists, and that one of the problems is parent buy-in because parents are naturally afraid of their children being stigmatized,

and by parent-buy-in, I also mean all of us, all of us recognizing we must be role models, that we cannot stigmatize or bully our children, that we must show them we hold all life as precious, and we must have no tolerance for any thing other,

and how that is not about guns, that is about people, and I have been thinking that by people I mean also our government and that our President and Congressmen and women must stop bullying each other, must stop using their bully pulpits and start listening and doing the hard work we asked them to do, and how that includes no longer listening to corporate bully lobbyists, and also means that we must do what we ask of them,

This morning, two knee-busting crows from the murder of crows that runs our neighborhood came to pay the egrets a visit. First watching, then finally asserting their crow authority.

and by asking of them I also mean asking of ourselves, and listening to ourselves, and not just to ourselves but to those who are not ourselves, to each other. Here are two examples:
If you are a gun owner, have you sat down with those who are not and heard their fears?
If you are not a gun owner and you are opposed to guns, have you sat down with those who own guns and heard their fears?

I’m not talking about listening to the bullies on either side of the argument who say ridiculous things, I’m talking about your neighbor. Have you talked to your neighbor, the one who feeds your cat while you are gone, the one who brings food in times of sorrow?

I think of the mothers who lost their children in classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary. I think of abused women who, finally free from their abusers and living in relative peace behind locked doors with a legitimately owned firearm in a drawer steeled against the possibility that their abusers will find them, find their names and addresses published in a newspaper where all the world including their abusers can find them,

In one swift motion, the egrets chased the crows up to tree level, and I watched as crow after crow flew out of the trees, the flock of egrets right on their tails, and then just as suddenly the crows turned into the distance and the egrets banked and returned to the same yard, feasting quietly in the morning sun.

and I think all this is so not about guns this is about how we treat the least among us, how we treat our neighbors, how we treat ourselves.


How to Become a Superhero, by Megan Johnson

Megan Johnson

“Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…you?” Most people think of kryptonite or being able to bench press cars when they hear the word “superhero,” but there are superheroes in everyday life that may be more important than a guy in bright red tights who can move faster than the speed of light. Unfortunately, physics makes many of the beloved comic book legends complete myths. However, science has nothing against those who make the world a better place without the help of an extraterrestrial lantern. Merriam-Webster defines a superhero as “a fictional hero having extraordinary or superhuman powers,” and adds that a superhero’s powers may also be “magical.” Yet, both exclude real-life situations. Superheroes are no longer simply characters in comics and stories. Superheroes are needed in the world, and anyone can be one. Becoming a superhero is not always easy, but it is worthwhile.

Although I have met many real-life heroes, I know that being a superhero is not easy. Whereas Batman may have needed amazing strength, cunning intellect, and overwhelming courage, superheroes in the real world need only the slightest bit of strength, humble intellect, and a dash of courage. I like to consider myself a hero-in-training, as I am not close to achieving legendary status, but I have come face-to-face with challenges that require these heroic attributes. Of these three characteristics, courage is the most essential. Courage can start out as a tiny speck derived from simple genetics, but it has the ability to build a daring speaker or an intrepid leader. Strength functions the same way. Having a small amount of bravery, intelligence, or strength makes it possible for anyone to become a superhero if they develop these traits to their full potential.

Several acclaimed heroes are not fictional characters. They are people who lived with obstacles, but overcame them and grew to be superheroes. One of my most-loved heroes is Harriet Tubman. Early in her life, Tubman received a deep head wound that affected her until she died. She was running errands when she encountered an escaped slave. The overseer of the plantation workers was not far behind, and he demanded that Tubman help her restrain the fellow slave. Tubman refused, and the overseer, furious at her defiance, hit her on the head with a metal weight. She was sent back to her plantation where she received no medical care, but was quickly returned to work. Because of this head injury, Tubman had severe headaches, seizures, and narcoleptic attacks throughout the rest of her life. Nevertheless, she pressed on and saved three hundred slaves in her lifetime. Tubman is a superhero because she faced overwhelming odds, but did not let them stop her. She was told she could not achieve great things, yet she did. Harriet Tubman lives on in history as a hero and as a legend because she used the strength, courage, and intelligence that she was given to their maximum potential.

Even if someone has not been written about in history books, or does not plan on being put in history books, there is no reason that they cannot be considered superheroes. One of my favorite heroes might never be put in the newspaper, much less in a book. However, she will always stay in my mind as the greatest superhero in the world. I met Gayle through my mother, as she was my mother’s best friend and I was always being pushed together with her daughter, Hannah, even if she was three years younger. At first, it was annoying, being that I was eleven and entirely too old to deal with little kids. Later, though, as I began to spend more time with Gayle, I found that she was like a hurricane of goodness. She carried an aura with her that was bright enough to light up any moonless night. Wherever Gayle went, she changed things and whirled them around, surprising the unsuspecting victim as she bettered their life in some way. The downside to all of this was that Gayle had cancer. Eventually, after sewing blankets for the homeless, making teddy bears for mothers with children in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, volunteering at the local soup kitchen – all while living life to the fullest – Gayle started to slow down. Bills from the hospital for chemotherapy and other medical needs were piling up while her paycheck dwindled. Her husband lost his job, and their roof leaked during almost every storm. I had thought that Gayle was a hero when I watched her help people and volunteer, but then I learned that she was a superhero because she went through hardship, yet came out stronger on the other side. Superheroes are not made from being perfect all of the time, or never having obstacles. People become heroes because they inspire people to beat the odds and to do better.

If only becoming a superhero were as easy as following a recipe or basic instructions, then there would be countless heroes in our world today. However, it is not that simple, and superheroes do not come running at the snap of a finger. There is not one, specific way to become a superhero, just as there is not one definition of a hero. Heroes can be big or small; they can be courageous or slightly timid. Volunteering is often a major component of being a hero. Volunteering gives even the least gifted the opportunity to change lives, including one’s own. Small amounts of community service each week bring the chance of meeting amazing people, and every superhero needs a mentor to be great. Other factors that make up a hero are a bit trickier to pin down. As Shakespeare pointed out: “Some are born / great, some achieve greatness and some have / greatness thrust upon them.” A definite ingredient to becoming a superhero, though, is courage; a superhero must have a lot of courage. To become a hero, one must simply have the courage to embrace their own type of heroism when it is needed, whether it be volunteering, writing on views that no one else will, or persevering through hardship and coming out stronger.

Graffiti, by John Bigelow

by John Bigelow

Graffiti! It is, without question, a national eyesore. But then, much of what we watch on television and see on billboards could very well fit right in there with graffiti. I’m bothered more, however, by the free-lance kind of graffiti, the stuff spray painted on buildings, bridges, railroad cars and I probably should add Facebook as well.

Because in our modern, computer driven society we seem to reduce everything to its lowest common statistic, I’ve done some exhaustive research and come up with some stats that should get me a university grant or, at the very least, a job as a federal government consultant. I’m waiting for a call from CNN as what I’ve discovered is some pretty heady stuff. What follows are some of my thoroughly researched and astounding discoveries.

96% of all graffitors (I invented this word as somehow, artists doesn’t seem to me to fit) are lame-brained, empty-headed and thoughtless. 1.6% are lame-brained, empty-headed and thoughtless philosophers. 1.2% are lame-brained, empty-headed and thoughtless want-to-be artists while the remaining .89% are lame-brained, empty-headed and thoughtless poets.

Additional research uncovered that 88.5% can’t spell, 17% defy death while hanging on railroad bridges, 34.6% defy death while graffiting (yup, I made this word up too) highway overpasses and 26% defy death or serious injury defacing scenic cliffs.

87% are insomniacs who do their work to pass away sleepless hours. It remains unsure, however, whether the 73% who are public toilet stall authors are constipated or suffering from a bad case of diarrhea. We do know they are not reading USA Today, and that while engaged in their graffiting, 4.3% miss their plane and 6.1% miss their train.

Of all the graffiti I have seen in my travels very little stands out enough to be remembered. On reflection, however, there was a place in Greenwich Village called the Ninth Circle, that was known for its intellectual graffiti as well as a scattering of really great poetry, however, I can only remember its fantastic hamburgers and nothing I had found written in the men’s restroom stalls.

On a railroad bridge in Bethel, Connecticut a graffitor once proclaimed that “Jimmie Hendrix lives.”

A wonderful southern humorist once made the comment that “Elvis Is Dead and I’m Not Feeling So Good Myself” but he had the good sense to put it on the cover of a very funny book. Unfortunately he has since joined both Jimmy and Elvis.

A hand painted message scrawled on an abandoned building near the Texas-Mexican border proclaimed “Poncho Lives!” I later found out that this “Poncho” was one Poncho O’Brian who owned and ran the only bar in a 130 mile radius and consequently probably deserved to “live” and be remembered.

The one really memorable piece of graffiti I have ever seen was on the back of a CAUTION-STOP SIGN AHEAD sign on Lordship Point in Stratford, Connecticut. Going east, toward Bridgeport one rainy night, my headlights, for just the briefest of moments illuminated the words “JANE YOU LIED.” Perhaps for just a couple of seconds this message was visible as I passed, and though it’s been well over fifty years since I saw that message, I’m still haunted by those plaintive words.

Who was Jane? What did she lie about? To whom did she tell this lie? Was it even, in fact, a lie? If it was, was she ever forgiven? If not did the author get over Jane? If forgiven did they make up, get married, have children, live in a big fancy house and have separate careers at IBM until their divorce?

Whoever wrote these words was a true poet. Lame-brained, empty-headed, heart-broken, and thoughtless yes, but a true poet. As long as I live I shall wonder about the passion that drove him to paint that message to Jane. It certainly was shorter that the message in a bottle.

A thousand times I’ve tried to picture her in my mind. I’ve created scenario after scenario, yet she still remains as mysterious an enigma as the Mona Lisa smile. I must admit now, in all honesty, that I never really want to know the truth about her, as that would end forever my dreaming and wondering which continues to haunt me through the mists of time.

So here’s to Jane, whoever she was, and to the lame-brained, empty-headed, heart-broken and thoughtless poet who gave her to me.