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And In the End…

and in the end

The Beatles were one of the great rock bands of all time, and they are a band I listened to throughout my life. Most of those who are familiar with me personally know that John Lennon is one of my all-time heroes, but it is surprising that the single lyric that I believe is the most beautiful and most important written in the 20th century was penned by Paul McCartney. It’s from the Abbey Road album and is simply put “And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” What a beautiful sentiment. Even now, nearly forty years after I first heard it, just listening to McCartney warble it is enough to bring tears to my eyes. Of course, I’m an old softie in that regard.

And it is wrong. It is as hopeful a line as ever written but for most of us, there is an imbalance. Some of us take far more love than we make. Now, I don’t view this as referring to the act of making love; I believe it refers to love given and love received. Now, there are plenty of people who are close enough to balanced to make the line true for most, but when you think of Donald Trump, do you think he has given as much love as he has received? Or Mother Teresa? Or Ellen de Generes? Or even John Lennon?

Lennon was far from perfect. He wrote a song as hopeful as “Imagine” but on the same album  he excoriates McCartney with “How Do You Sleep.” The preaching of love and tolerance on one hand doesn’t mix well with the savaging he gives his old writing partner. I guess it’s easier to love people in general than people in particular.

Still, the sentiment is one to be admired. When I go out, I would like to have given more love than I receive. It’s not a desire to be a martyr or anything like that – trust me, I get plenty of love – but the world needs love, as Burt Bacharach – and John Lennon – have written. These days especially. Love seems to be in short supply. We may mock the hippies for their “peace and love” attitude, but I have to tell you they weren’t wrong on that score. Not that I’m ever going to embrace patchouli oil – that stuff stinks!

And I know, it’s so much easier said than done. I’m guilty of growling that people suck when I see them behave selfishly on the road, or elect another Republican to office. It’s easy to get caught up in the frustration, particular in an era when it feels like selfishness is encouraged and selflessness ridiculed. When being generous and kind is made fun of as a sucker’s game, we’re in trouble as a species.

That’s why we all need to take a step back. I don’t know if you believe in karma, but I do believe that the attitudes we send out are reflected back to us by the world. If you believe the world is out to get you then it likely is. If you believe that the world is a beautiful place then so it is. Sure, that’s not going to insulate you from getting burned – no matter how much love you send into the ether there will always be those who return harm. That’s the nature of the game folks. None of us are exempt from emotional hurt.

And yet what defines us is how we react. Do we lash out and say “Screw everybody, I’m hurt and now I’m going to hurt others instead of getting hurt” or do we get back on the horse and send out our love? Which one do you think makes the world a better place?

And that’s what it boils down to. Do we want to make the world a better place or do we just want to bitch about what a horrible hard place it is? It begins with us. We can’t force others to open the hearts and send good feelings into the world; we can only do it ourselves. We can’t legislate compassion but we can experience it. Rather than blaming the poor for their troubles, we can find ways to make their lives better, either through education or finding them work. Instead of getting angry at climate change deniers, we can take steps to reduce our own carbon footprints. Instead of complaining about politicians, we can actually go out there and find a candidate who is worthy of our support and go out there and vote for them. Talking the talk isn’t enough in this day and age; we have to walk the walk.

And in the end, we can show our love in all sorts of ways, using the skills and talents we are given. Singing a song out loud can brighten the day of someone who needs a pick-me-up; taking out some ice cold sodas to a bunch of guys working out in the summer heat is one way of spreading good karma even if you don’t believe in it; trust me, the act of doing someone a solid is enough to make you feel good for hours.

Lennon did write “All you need is love” and like McCartney he was wrong in that assessment; we need more than love. But we do need love, all of us. We crave it; we wither without it. A kind word or gesture can be as healing as medicine. Hugs can be the stuff of wonderful memories and can color our perception of life and the world around us. Some people write off serial huggers as kooks, but I think that I’d rather be kooky than rational in that regard.

The ills of the world are many and I don’t have any illusions that giving out more hugs and being kinder in general is going to cure many of them, if any. Maybe it’s just a karmic version of shouting into the abyss but by God I’d rather shout into the darkness than cower at it. There is far too much fear and anger and not enough love and compassion. I have to believe the world would be a much better place if we all just made the attempt to be sure that the love we make is at least a little more than the love we take. Isn’t it worth a try? The other way doesn’t seem to be working.

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Solstice

Every year has two solstices; one in which the day is the shortest, the other where it is at its longest. In ancient times, they were considered holy days (and still are in some belief structures). They are days that tend to pass largely unnoticed in our culture nowadays.

We all have our own personal solstice – a day that is perfect, one that you want to go on forever. Then there is the eternal night, one which passes in agony. Polar opposites. One which can’t last long enough, the other which can’t be over fast enough. We each live through them, committing them to memory. They shape us. They form us. They become markers in our lives, a kind of means of committing to memory what we want for ourselves and what we don’t. Often they’re both illusory.

The best day of your life. Often when we’re asked what it is, we have a ready-made event – our wedding days, the birth of a child, our first kiss. When we give ourselves an exercise in honesty, sometimes those aren’t the days that spring to the mind first. Our best days are often mundane things, days that may not necessarily seem to be a milestone at first; they are the days we find that perfect happiness, that feeling that it can’t get better than this.

Sure, it’s easy to say that the day I married my one true love is the best day of my life but is that really true? What about all the days that followed that one? If I’m going to be honest, I can’t say that is the best day of my life. You see, my love for Da Queen has grown and deepened over the years. I like to say it gets better every day, but that’s not true either. Real life doesn’t work that way – we have good days and bad days. There are days that I don’t grow, days I don’t evolve. Same for my honey. Some days we just manage to make it through.

But there are other days that things just click for us and it isn’t always big events. Sure, birthdays and anniversaries are important to us and we do our best to make them as memorable for each other as we possibly can. But there are times that bring us closer together, like a Friday evening a week or two ago when we went to a local ice cream parlor in the evening after dinner. We sat on the patio in the gathering twilight with Penelope, our beloved Shih Tzu enjoying an ice cream and the warm weather. It was just a perfect evening. Was it our best day ever? In some ways it was. It wasn’t anything special but on my dying day I’ll remember it with fondness. What more can you ask of a day?

Just like with our best days, often we equate our worst days with events – the break-up of a relationship, the death of a loved one. However in the case of our worst day, those often are our worst days. Just as time adds to our love, it also heal our wounds. The worst day of our pain is usually the first day it occurs. There are some who are able to push that pain aside for short periods of time and allow the brunt of their loss hit them the next day, but by and large most people experience the worst part of their grief on that first day.

That doesn’t mean though that we don’t allow small things to get to us. Just as the little things can make a day, little things can break a day. How many times can you remember just losing it over something insignificant; taking offense to a remark which in all likelihood wasn’t meant to wound. Feeling slighted over something perceived – a thoughtless gesture, an ungracious word. I’m sure you can remember day that you kick yourself for; days of wasted energy on mindless anger and foolishness. Are those days comparable to the solstice bad days? No, but they are days we also remember, try as we might to forget them.

We are all locked into our own orbit around the sun, seeking warmth and sustenance from life and fearing the darkness that must inevitably follow the light. Our lives are a balance of one and the other. Our sunshine gives us happiness but our darkness gives us strength. We need both to survive.

In that way, we must learn to embrace both, the happiness and the pain. Learning from both. It is in our nature to beat ourselves up for the things we do but it is rare that we look closely at what we do and learn from it. We want to wear the hair shirt but we don’t want to face the darkness directly. That’s the kind of thing that does us no good; we have the pain without the lesson that goes with it. That’s why we tend to repeat our mistakes – because we can’t look ourselves in the eyes and confront our pain head-on.

It’s a curious kind of masochism. Women keep seeking the same kind of man over and over again and are puzzled when they get cheated on and/or dumped time and time again. Men keep cheating on the women they love and wonder why they keep getting caught. We’re all the same in that regard – we’re pig-headed mules who are doomed to repeat history because we won’t open our eyes and actually read the history

It’s far easier to dwell on the positive than the negative. There’s nothing wrong with embracing your happiness, remembering it fondly. Sometimes that gets us through the darker nights of our soul and it is true that no matter what happens, they can take away everything you own, even your dignity but they can never take away your memories. That we can do to ourselves but that’s for another blog.

So as the sun sets on one solstice it rises on another. What you make of it is completely up to you. I wish you long days and short nights.

A Love That Dare Not Speak It’s Name

Love comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s never the same way twice, even for the same couple. It evolves and changes as we evolve and change. But we still pursue it and when we find that special someone, the one we know we want to be with forever and ever, taking the next step can still be tricky. There are always doubts, there’s always fear. But, usually in the end, there’s always that feeling that while you’re life may be changing, it’s changing for the better.

That’s what marriage gives us – the arena to declare our commitment to each other, the means of joining two lives into one life together. It’s something of a miracle – considering the percentage of marriages that end up in divorce. Even so, when a marriage works it is the closest we humans get to heaven on Earth.

Marriage isn’t for everybody. Some people are just fine without it, but I believe that anyone who chooses to live together, join their lives and fortunes together are married whether any institution recognizes it or not.

Which is why I get so angry at all the so-called ‘Good Christians’ who seem hell-bent on preventing gay marriage. “It’s an abomination. Marriage is between a man and a woman period. The purpose of marriage is for procreation period. It shouldn’t be permitted because the Bible says it’s a sin.”

The Bible says lots of things are sins. Some of them are very much sinful, but others are kind of ridiculous and nobody really pays attention to them anymore. Apparently, sodomy is a sin – but most married couples (and plenty of unmarried ones) practice it every day. I don’t hear anybody moaning to make a law about that.

The fact of the matter is that there are no practical reasons to prevent it. If marriage exists solely for the procreation aspect, then should childless couples be forced to divorce? Should those who state from the beginning they don’t want children then not be allowed to marry? Of course not – and nobody says that those things should come to pass.

In fact the only reason that most people can truly give for gay marriage to be prevented is the belief that marriage should exist only between a man and a woman and that belief stems from only one source – the Bible. Now, I’m no expert on the Bible and I’m not here to bash it – there are a lot of valuable lessons in it that apply now three millennia after it was written, and that’s impressive. But I am one of those heathens who believe that the Bible shouldn’t be a source for civil codes of law.

I’m also one of those hopeless romantics who believes that love is a good thing no matter what form it takes and it should be celebrated as the precious commodity that it is. Yes, I’m a pansy and I admit it – love is more important to me than hate. Kissing is better to me than killing. I’d rather spend my day screwing the one I love rather than screwing people out of their cash, if you’ll forgive some bluntness.

I like to think I have a pretty decent moral compass. I like to think also that I’m fairly ethical. So it ticks me off when people say “If you believe that gay marriage is all right than you’re immoral.” That kind of thing is a crock. Morality has to do with what’s right and not following a 3,000 year old book (or more to the point, how people interpret that 3,000 year old book) lockstep.

Where I have to diverge from the Biblical aspects of the debate is solely the human terms. I’ve known a number of gay people in my life and I’m honored to call some of them close friends. I’ve also known a number of gay people in my life who are utter assholes.

The thing is, they are people. Just like you, just like me. You may not approve of who they are attracted to – but then again, I don’t approve of some of the people straight people are attracted to. But it’s none of my business to tell someone who to love. It’s not my place to even join that conversation. All I know is I found someone to love and that’s all I really need. If that makes me an expert, okay but quite frankly, given my romantic track record, I’m probably not the person to advise anybody on their love lives.

To me, the state shouldn’t be sticking its nose into anybody’s love life. Most conservatives believe that the state shouldn’t be regulating anyone’s personal life or at least as little as possible. However they seem to be okay about it when it comes to gay men and lesbians. In fact, they go out of their way to enact legislation or author ballot propositions that abrogate the right to marry for gay people.

Disallowing gay marriage marginalizes gay people. It trivializes them. It makes them second class citizens, social slaves. They can work, they can contribute to the economy but let them get married and enjoy life with their partners? No way Jose! And while we’re at it, Jose get your ass back over the border to Mexico where you belong! I don’t care if you have a green card. Skeedaddle. But don’t forget to pick the cotton we hired you to do boy!

Okay, the last might be a bit extreme but the mentality is the same in my book, or at least springs from the same source. It’s the kind of thinking that I find repulsive, that someone is less important than you because of something about them, be it their skin color, their religion or their sexual orientation. If you voted to make gay marriage illegal, it is exactly the same as voting to ban African-Americans from voting or for Jews to be sent to ghettos. Yes, I’m calling you a Nazi and a Klansman. Sorry if it’s painful, but the shoe fits you like Cinderella and her glass slipper.

I’m sure that’s going to make some people angry and maybe even strain or break a few friendships and I’m truly sorry for that. But I also hope it makes some people think about what they’re doing. Think about what the source of this all is. It’s not coming from a place of love, but from a place of hate and fear. As I said, I’m no expert on the Bible but I do know that it was meant to be a document generated out of love. Most of what Christ preached was about looking out for one another, caring for one another and loving one another. Is denying people the rights and privileges of marriage an act of love? Or an act of hate? You tell me.

Christmas Presence

It’s hard to look at the world around us and see a reason to celebrate the season. Corruption, greed and selfishness seem to be all around us, from the CEOs on down. None of us are immune; we all seem more inclined to act in our own self-interest than in looking out for the general welfare of the human condition. I’m no different than anyone else.

And yet we wrap ourselves in ribbons of self-righteous piety. We profess our love of people and yet we turn our backs on them continuously. We vote for those who claim they will lower our taxes and who will axe social services. The gap between rich and poor continues to grow wider and more profound and our quality of life has suffered tremendously. These days, even shelter is not a given anymore.

Christmas 2010 finds our country, our people and our planet at its most dire in human history. That’s a bit of a bold statement considering the dark times our world has weathered in the past, with war, plague and disasters economic, man-made and natural all besetting our species, and yet it is a statement I truly believe. We are at a turning point in our history, one in which we will determine who are species is and what we stand for.

It is easy to listen to Christmas carols while shopping for the latest electronic trinkets for our loved ones and say we are in the Christmas spirit. It is easy to go to church and listen to a priest or pastor sermonize from the pulpit about what it means to be Christian. How much harder is it to actually live by the ideals that Christ himself embodied, one in which we put others before ourselves. Others whom we may not necessarily like or whose lifestyles we may not necessarily agree with.

It’s not an easy thing to ask, and I feel a bit of a hypocrite bringing it up. I feel deep anger for the people who exploit the general population for their own gains and cause untold suffering and grief in order for themselves or their corporation to profit just a little bit more. I feel deep anger for the people themselves who have become so apathetic that they have allowed this situation to occur. I feel deep anger for the media who have abrogated their responsibility to keep the population informed in exchange for selling more newspapers or advertisements, for putting the bottom line ahead of their mandate to be watchdogs and whistleblowers. We are all partially to blame for the predicament we’re in because it is easier to numb out than it is to be informed.

Our future is very much in doubt. Our children are more interested in instant gratification than in accomplishment. Internet surfing, social networking and video gaming are more important to them than preparing themselves for the future. We are leaving them a world that’s a mess economically and ecologically, and they are in no position to do anything about it. Sometimes it seems to me that as a species, we’ve given up.

And yet I can’t bring myself to believe that it’s all over for us, that the future of our species will be determined by nations in the East. America is far too noble an experiment, far too important a concept to be lost to our own greed and avarice. Freedom is a precious commodity and we are its beacon, like it or not. We have the responsibility to protect it, nurture it and pass it on to the generations that succeed us.

Despite all the rampant self-interest and cynicism that seem to be drowning our nation in ennui and angst, I still harbor hope that our own basic goodness, the things inside us that bring us closer to the divine can still win out in the end. It is at this time of year that the shackles of hatred, oppression and greed can be broken at least to some degree with hope, love and unity. I truly believe it is within us to rise up against those who would oppress us and say “We will stand for this no longer.” I believe that it is within us to accept those who we would reject, to embrace those who are without hope and to stand with those who cannot stand on their own.

Christmas is a time of family but it is also a time of hope and renewal. I grow weary of the economic aspects of the holiday – you cannot buy your way into heaven after all. There is nothing wrong with showing your love for someone by getting them what they want, but is that all we are? A nation of consumers whose fondest dreams are all about the hottest gift items at Best Buy? Can’t we do better than that?

I remember reading a story about a group of young people who instead of giving and receiving presents at Christmas instead went out and bought blankets and jackets and gave them away to homeless people who needed protection from the cold. Those kids are my heroes and the hope that reside in my heart that things have a possibility of getting better. They lead by example; they aren’t lip service Christians but rather those who actually walk the walk. I wish I was more like them.

My abilities lie in the written word. I can use them to inspire and move, and hopefully someone somewhere might actually feel motivated to make a difference in the world, in the lives of those around them. For my part, I can only give of my time and the resources available to me to help bring up someone who needs a helping hand, be it by lending a shoulder to lean on or an ear to vent to. I may not necessarily have the stamina to go out and build houses with Habitat for Humanity, or the physical ability to stand and serve the homeless in a soup kitchen which are things when I was younger I could do; instead I can do the things I can to make the world around me a better place.

I’ve spent a lot of time bitching about the world around us, and perhaps that isn’t in keeping with the holiday spirit but what I am trying to get across is that we can do better. The problems and challenges before us are not insurmountable if we have the will to make things better and the willingness to stand up and refuse to submit to what we are given. We deserve better and we have the opportunity to make things better if we are willing to stand up and fight for it with the same passion that we fight in World of Warcraft or Halo Online.

In the final analysis, it isn’t the things we have that define us, it’s the love inside us that makes us who we are. Christmas isn’t about things, or lights, or carols; it’s about the best part of us, the part that is divine in all of us. Our legacy doesn’t have to be one of greed and destruction of our environment; it can be one of working together to make our world better for future generations, for giving them a chance to create a world in which war, poverty, hunger and disease are as much a part of the history books as pyramids, chariots and steam engines. I believe in that future and our ability to bring it to pass.

Christmas is a time of hope. We celebrate the birth of Christ, who is one of the most influential humans who ever lived. His message of love has reverberated down through the ages and continues to inspire and influence two thousand years after the fact. Whether you believe in his divinity or not, it is his message that anyone can get behind; loving your fellow man and helping those in need. We are only as strong as the weakest among us; there are none of us stronger than those who bend down to help someone up. My prayer this Christmas is that all of us – all of us, every one, everywhere – put aside our thoughts of presents and possessions and remember that the one born this day made the ultimate sacrifice so that we may one day potentially become the divine within ourselves. When we tap that part of ourselves and join together, we can accomplish anything. We can even defy the rich and powerful and return the power in this country into the hands of the people who built it. If we have the will, we have the way. This Christmas, let us celebrate peace and love. In that spirit, let us strive together to make our world a better place for our children rather than stand by and let those who only want money and power destroy it. That would be the best Christmas present we could ever give our children – and ourselves.

Bully Market

 

First of all, let’s get one thing straight; bullying is the route of cowards. It is a function of ignorance and fright, the refuge of those who, deep down, are terrified that they don’t measure up, or that they are what they fear most. There is nothing good or positive about bullying and I fully support any reasonable effort to eradicate it.

 That said, I have to respectfully but emphatically disagree with Ellen DeGeneres and Anderson Cooper in how they’re going about it. For those who are unaware, they expressed their displeasure with the trailer (preview) for the movie The Dilemma. During the course of it, Vince Vaughn, one of the movie’s stars, is giving a business presentation of some sort during which he says “Electric cars are gay. Not homosexual gay, my parents chaperoning the dance gay.”

 Now, I’ve always been bothered by (mostly young males) referring to things as “gay” in a derogatory manner. I’ve always thought it ignorant, juvenile and insensitive in the same way that generally the same people refer to things as “retarded.” However, it is a free country that gives people the right to express themselves any way they wish to, and I took some comfort that the people who used such terms were, for the most part, idiots.

 However, on Ellen’s talk show, she and journalist Anderson Cooper, who are incidentally two people I respect very much, took the filmmakers and the studio to task for allowing that joke to appear in the trailer, particularly in light of recent events where several incidents of bullying of gays has led to tragedy. They both urged the studio to remove the joke from the trailer and expressed their displeasure. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) have also urged the studio to remove the reference completely from the film.

 First of all, as anyone will tell you, I disagree strongly with “political correctness” in terms of limiting speech. I don’t believe anyone has the right to tell you what you can and cannot say. The only limits should be situations where people can be hurt (such as yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater) or intentionally using falsehoods to ruin the reputation of another (as in defamation of character or libel). The constitution allows us to express ourselves freely; it does not protect us from being offended. Frankly I think that being offended from time to time is a good thing; it gives us pause (or at least it does me) to examine why we are feeling offended and gives us license to examine our beliefs and, occasionally, making some changes.

 Now, I’m not advocating that one should start making derogatory remarks about others just to offend them; there is such a thing as courtesy and it should be used properly. However, I have to wonder that in the case of the trailer for The Dilemma that perhaps some well-meaning people are sending the wrong message.

 I don’t believe for a moment that excising the offending dialogue is going to give a single person who regularly uses gay as a pejorative any motivation to discontinue that behavior. What I do believe is that Cooper, DeGeneres and GLAAD are sending a message that the filmmakers can’t use the reference, even though they are seeing the dialogue out of context; even if the Vince Vaughn character may be the sort that regularly refers to things as gay (as many people do). It is a way of scolding the individual without dealing with the underlying behavior. Maybe the character will have reason to regret his use of the word “gay” later on in the film – personally I hope so but even if he doesn’t, even though he’s merely a character in a film he should still have the right to express himself inappropriately. I often see women referred to as “bitches” in movies and that’s just as inappropriate but just because it’s an unpleasant way of referring to women doesn’t mean that it should be barred from all film dialogue, any more than the word “gay” should be.

 After all, let’s face it; it’s a bit ironic for the homosexual community to be complaining about the use of a word which they essentially usurped. We all know that “gay” meant something completely different forty or fifty years ago than it does now. These days, we all snigger when the Flintstone theme song is played and the chorus sings “We’ll have a gay old time!” Words sometimes evolve over time; who knows, fifty years from now the word may end up being a deadly insult and gay men may commonly refer to themselves as “stylish” instead.

 Maybe the proper way to deal with the kind of negative reference is instead of dealing with it in a negative way (i.e. deleting it from movie dialogue) is to deal with it in a positive manner instead. If someone tells me that electric cars are gay, I respond “If by gay you mean stylish, economical, environmentally friendly and in general a better choice than what came before it, then it’s RuPaul on wheels. It’s an episode of Project: Runway in a steel chassis. Color me Jeff Gordon in a Prius.” What I’m trying to say is that words only have the power you allow them to have.

 However, it would be downright foolish of me not to acknowledge that words can sometimes contribute to an atmosphere of intolerance that can lead to bullying. I’m thinking that the battlefield for that is in the hearts and minds of potential bullies, not in the latest Vince Vaughn comedy. As far as putting an end to bullying – not only of gay people but of all people – I am proud to march alongside Ellen, Anderson, GLAAD and any others who feel the same way.

 The function of comics is to say things that can be outrageous and insensitive. Sometimes, it makes a point about societal behavior and sometimes it points out things in ourselves that are ugly. I don’t believe in limiting how comics express themselves because that is a slippery slope. I don’t necessarily agree with everything Lisa Lampanelli, Bill Maher, Will Durst or even commentators like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly say and there are times they say things that may be hurtful to some, but that is part of how the world works. I would never EVER presume to abridge anyone’s right to say something wrong, even if it is hateful, obscene or inflammatory. That’s against everything I believe in. So, yes, sometimes people will say things that I disagree with. Sometimes people will make jokes about overweight people that I find offensive or even hurtful. That’s all right.

 You don’t beat bullies by becoming one, and by saying “You will express yourself the way that I think you should express yourself, now remove that offensive line of dialogue because you are NOT ALLOWED to say it” is in fact being a bully, even though the cause be just. Saying something is gay demeans the one who says it more than the thing they’re referring to; by reacting to it the way that it has been reacted to ascribes further power to those who use the word that way and will only create a more difficult pathway in changing the behavior in the long run.

 That’s the goal, I think; to change the behavior of those who create an environment of bullying. You don’t change an environment by dictating terms; you change it with dialogue. You change it with love. You change it with humor. You change it by demonstrating how alike we are, not by reinforcing that we are unalike. You can stop bullying by showing bullies that while it is easy to tear down, it is far more rewarding to build up. It’s a far more positive means of dealing with the situation than by being negative – by telling people what they can’t do.

 Bullying has existed for a very long time in human history and, I suspect, is going to exist for a long time to come. I don’t know that we can ever truly eradicate it but I wouldn’t mind it if we did. I know bullying first hand, having been bullied for my ethnicity from elementary school through high school. I know how badly it made me feel, how much pain that was inflicted and how frustrated I felt. I can empathize with those who are in similar situations, whether it be for their own ethnic background, their sexual orientation, their religious beliefs or simply the way they dress. Society, particularly among young people, wants us to fit in and those who don’t often pay the price. That’s something that should be addressed, but not by lashing out at a movie. There are far more effective ways to deal with it, and I hope that in the days and months to come, we will all stand up with the bullied and show compassion for the bullies (who are often victims of abuse and bullying themselves). In the end, that is how we show the best part of ourselves, and that’s something we can all agree on – and strive for.

Three Little Words

They’re just three little words but they just might be the three most powerful words in the English language. These three words have been responsible for joy and sorrow, peace and war, life and death and sometimes all of the above at once!

They are also the hardest to say for many of us. Some go through our entire lives without saying them, at least in a meaningful way. In addition to being the most powerful words in the English language, you see, they are also the most abused words in the language.

I’m talking about “I love you.” These are words most of us long to hear, especially from the right people but they are also words that can mean a lot even coming from someone we’re not romantically involved with.

The Greeks, perhaps the wisest of all civilizations, had literally dozens of words for love, ranging from romantic love to parental love to sibling love to spiritual love to platonic love – in fact, platonic is based on the Greek word for love between friends which has come to imply a non-sexual relationship. The English language never developed those distinctions; as a result we are far more imprecise about how we use the words.

One can love ice cream, their new car, or their cats. One will very rarely be in love with those things, except for maybe their cats and even then in very twisted situations. One can love their friends and say it often; others prefer to use those words only for people they are in love with. They prefer to accord the words more power, the power they should naturally be accorded.

I can’t really argue with that; the dilution of those words we get from applying them to so many other types of love is really a lack in the English language and not with ourselves. Still, until a better word is invented to convey those feelings (platonic sounds so sterile), we have to muck about with what we have.

I tend to be fairly affectionate and I use the word “love” in as many iterations as I can. For my wife, “I love you” is a daily occurrence, and not just once a day either. Da Queen is the one I love most; it only makes sense that she hears the words as often as I can say them to her. I also make sure I only say them when I feel it, which is most of the time (sure there are times when I get annoyed with her, few and far between as they might be). It’s important to me that she knows that what I feel for her is genuine.

I also tell my closest friends that I love them, and while the meaning is different, it is still an important issue for me. I think that those whose lives touch you should be made aware that they hold an important place in your heart, and the way I do it is to use those three words. When I hear them said to me, I don’t assume that it means that they wish to be romantically involved; I take it as an expression of affection and a means of informing me that I mean something special to them. When I hear it (or read it in an e-mail or message), I take it seriously and respect the emotion. I don’t look at it as a declaration of sexual desire because that cheapens the emotion behind it. Just because I love you doesn’t mean I want to sleep with you after all.

What it does mean is that you are valued, and I feel fondly about you. It means you contribute to my well-being and that you are an important component in my life. It means I wish only happiness and success to you, and that when I do think of you (which is most likely a regular occurrence) it is with great affection.

It means I miss you when you’re not around, and I’m always happy to see you and chat with you. Given my nature, it also means I enjoy flirting with you and otherwise making you feel good about yourself, which is a way of returning the way you make me feel about myself.

I think we don’t express those feelings nearly often enough, especially in America. We get far too wrapped up in the sexual part of love in many ways. We have come to equate the two and as most of us know, they aren’t always the same. In fact, they rarely are.  Sex can be a means of expressing love, but it is also a means of expressing a physical need. It’s like eating when your stomach growls; you’re satisfying a physical urge. Love, even the love of friends, satisfies something far more complex.

Love is something we work at. It isn’t easy, and it isn’t simple. Even for friends; love means listening even when you don’t feel like talking. It means accepting the things that annoy you and toning down as much as possible the things that annoy them. It means being there when you’d rather be somewhere else. It’s learning to be leaned on without falling, and to be able to lean when you need to.

Love is saying what you mean and meaning what you say. It’s asking the tough questions and trusting that the answers are honest. It’s answering honestly when the tough questions are asked of you and of being honest with your feelings and your opinions, no matter how painful. It’s accepting your relationship within the parameters that are mutually agreeable to your both and not crossing those lines. It’s about forgiving transgressions and allowing yourself to be forgiven.

All of this is emotionally hard work, and this is just for the kind of close friendship that inspires you to say “I love you” to a friend. Casual friendships are much easier and much more common but they tend to evaporate quickly. Close, lifelong friendships require an investment of your heart and that’s not an easy thing for some of us.

We need love, all of us. Love validates who we are, allows us to feel connected to the world. We need love like we need oxygen, water and food. Perhaps we don’t die without love, but our lives hold less meaning, have less color and spice to it. I’m not talking about just romantic love here; I’m talking about all kinds of love, the love we get from our pets, our friends, our family. Love sustains us as much as our daily bread does, and in some ways more profoundly.

It is our job to take our love and spread it around to as many as we can. The more love we send out, the more we get back. It’s a simple equation but it is also a fact. Allowing ourselves to love others and be loved by others is one of the greatest joys of being human. It’s a shame so many shut themselves out of that joy over a matter of semantics.

So if someone is really important to them, don’t just say “you’re important to me.” Use those three powerful words. You never know what they will mean to someone…and how they might be a life preserver without you even knowing it. I know that in my time, I’ve hung onto those three words for dear life and wouldn’t be here without them. If that isn’t power, I don’t know what is.

A Celebration to be Shared

There are many who call Valentine’s Day a Hallmark holiday, an excuse to improve the bottom lines of the chocolate, greeting card and flower industries. It is one of the busiest days of the year for restaurants, and a bonanza for retailers that sell jewelry and lingerie. To the cynical, Valentine’s Day is more about the love of money than anything else.

While I concede that the commercialization of the holiday has meant that there’s a certain pressure to spend money, I can’t agree that the day is about making profits than making love. More men propose marriage to their girlfriends on Valentine’s Day than any other day of the year. There are more kisses, more hugs and more secret smiles exchanged than any other day. For my non-financial bottom line, that tips the balances quite a bit.

We are quite stingy with our love in many ways. We are told from birth that we give love only to our families and maybe a few selected friends. We allow only limited access to our hearts – very often we deny it even to ourselves.

I personally think that’s an unhealthy thing. Love is a gift meant to be shared, and the more that it is shared, the greater it becomes. Love is an exponential emotion; when you give it, it grows at a staggering clip. Burt Bacharach had the right idea when he penned “What the world needs now is love” and that is still true today. Our world is filled with selfishness, greed and frustration. Kindness and forgiveness are in short supply but there’s plenty of rage to go around. Anger, like love, is also and exponential emotion.

I’m not suggesting we all daub ourselves with patchouli oil and run out to the nearest public park and make love to the first person we see. Free love can be tragically expensive in a world of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases that can have devastating effects on our lives. However, I think that we should allow ourselves to love more broadly. Give people the benefit of your heart and you will receive the benefit of theirs.

Valentine’s Day can be a difficult holiday for many who are alone. There are those who are acutely reminded of that fact on a day that celebrates romance. There are others whose relationships aren’t what they would like them to be who spend the day wondering if they are with the right person, or sure that they’re not. Some of them feel trapped by their circumstances, while others simply are too terrified to be alone. The loneliest place to be in the world is in a bad relationship; it’s like buying the car you always wanted only to discover that the brakes don’t work. You sit at your window, your useless vehicle parked in your driveway while others whiz by in their working models.

Love is something we all crave. We need it as surely as we need oxygen. The touch of a human hand can make us feel better, even the touch of a stranger’s hand. In many ways, we spend our lives chasing it and sometimes fruitlessly. Often we look for love by pursuing sex.

Sex is wonderful and terrible at the same time. It is the most pleasurable thing we can do and yet the consequences for doing it can be severe. We have a tendency to use sex as a love substitute, knowingly or not. Making love is not the same thing as love, but it can be a close second when you don’t have that life partner that we all want and need so desperately. Still, sex is wonderful; we spend a lot of our time thinking about it and talking about it. Because of our physical urges, we are forced to confront our needs; we ignore them at our peril. If we can’t find satisfaction in our relationship physically, we may turn outside the relationship to get that relief, even though every other aspect of that relationship may be fine.

The secret to good sex is simply a willingness to do whatever it takes to satisfy your partner. Sometimes that may mean going outside your comfort zone, or accepting that the things that turn them on may be different than the things that turn you on. A balance needs to be struck as in anything else so that both partners get what they want. Ladies that may mean doing things that are distasteful to you and for you gentlemen that may mean actually listening to your partner and making sure she gets what she needs even after you’ve gotten what you do. It means submitting to your playful side and being creative; it means exploring, trying new things and being adventurous. Good sex can cure a lot of what ails you.

Sex isn’t the whole enchilada, however – it’s just the tortilla that wraps around the stuffing. Most of us order our enchiladas based on the stuffing and it is the stuffing that ultimately gives us the most satisfaction. We simply can’t make love to everybody – it’s not realistic. We can, however, hug everybody. We can kiss everybody. We can tell them that we care, that we love them and that they aren’t alone so long as we’re around. Valentine’s Day shouldn’t be a day just for your lover; it should be a day that celebrates love itself.

By all means, get the dinner reservations, order the flowers and eat the chocolates. Ladies, put on your lingerie and gentlemen go out and buy the jewelry that expresses how we feel in ways that words can’t. Celebrate the love that you feel for the love of your life – just don’t stop the celebration there. Make sure that you tell everyone you love how you feel, even the people who don’t know it yet. Call a friend and catch up, or hug a stranger.

Love is a commodity more precious than oil, and even more necessary to our ability to survive. It’s a commodity that is rare in that it increases the more you use it, and the more you use it the more precious it becomes. Let’s use this Valentine’s Day as an excuse to share that commodity with as many people we can, and when the day is over, keep sharing it. Treat every day like Valentine’s Day and you may find that when all is said in done, you’ve had a wonderful life.