grieve for the horse, grieve for ourselves

I say: take the general, but leave the horse.

I’m referring to the horse beneath Robert E. Lee on the controversial statue in Charlottesville, Virginia.

I believe Lee himself would agree to having his likeness removed.  In the years following the Civil War, he wrote against creating such monuments to honor leaders of the Confederacy.  He said the South needed to move forward.

Over one hundred-fifty years later, we’re still trying to move on.  Still trying to heal.  Lee was right: putting men like him on high pedestals hasn’t helped us in this struggle.  But I believe honoring his horse might.

No, the horse isn’t a hero.  But neither is it guilty.  The horse was only doing what horses do.  Or rather, what we force them to do. T he horse didn’t choose that war.  The horse didn’t divide the nation.  The horse is innocent.

Many innocent horses died in our Civil War battles.  They endured hunger and the thirst of long marches.  They charged into the line of fire, though their good horse sense told them: don’t!

So I say, leave the Civil War horse on its pedestal.  Not only does it deserve some respect…

…but seeing it could remind us of the painful ugly truth of that war.

Perhaps then, we’ll grieve a great tragedy—and its long aftermath—instead of celebrating a false nobility.  We’ll grieve for what the entire nation lost.  A loss continuing.

It’s been said that removing the statue of Lee “is merely a symbolic gesture.”  In other words: it doesn’t change much in our society.  However, we’ve seen how powerful symbols can be.  Maybe the horse statue could be a potent symbol.  Maybe it could actually help us heal.  I don’t know.  But of this, I’m sure: you won’t heal if you don’t grieve.  So let’s keep the horse.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
sky rope poetry blog

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basic understanding

This year, I became frustrated with media narratives…

…and wondered how I could better understand our news.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t reject media narratives.  I don’t reject those one-line, two-line explanations of complex situations, presented by our major news sources.

They’re truthful.  In part.  But “part” is not enough.  Unfortunately, that part usually overshadows the other parts…

Once the main narrative becomes established, the media often ignores other key factors, other causes, other valid narratives.

Of course, we could dig for those facts ourselves…

But who has the time?  Every day we’re bombarded with news of complex situations.

Nonetheless, we try to understand.  We want to see.  And not just the surface.  I think many, if not most of us, want a deep basic understanding.

Considering this state of affairs, a thought occurred to me:

Maybe I could arrive at a basic understanding of any complex situation simply by asking some basic questions…

I could cut through all the bric-a-brac and get down to the basic truth.

I decided my test case should be an event we’re still struggling to understand: the Trump victory…

In trying to explain his win, our media has debuted various narratives.  One narrative seemed poised to become the main narrative.  But we couldn’t quite ignore all those other pieces to the puzzle.

To fit all of them together would take a book.  But I wouldn’t want to read that book.  I want to understand—now!

So I asked myself…

What type of nation would elect such an angry man?

An angry nation.

But why are we so angry?

Life isn’t supposed to be this way—or so we believe.  We feel threatened.

Voila!  By asking just a couple of basic questions, I’d found my basic narrative: a fearful nation is an angry nation; an angry nation will elect an angry man.  A simple equation.  A truth based on my own experience as a human being.

But some will surely say: your equation is inaccurate, is unfair.  It includes Hillary supporters, as well as the 47% of registered voters who weren’t concerned enough to vote.

To that I say: sorry, but I think it’s best if we all share responsibility.  That way, each individual can reclaim some degree of power for him or herself.  I can’t stop my president from acting like a fraidy cat, but I can stop myself.

Yes—by uncovering the basic narrative, I’d also found the best way to respond.

So I felt pretty pleased with myself…

…until I realized:

Most of our problems could probably be reduced to some version of that equation.  That is: when we dug down deep into a problem, we’d likely find “fear” to be the root cause.

Nonetheless, I still think we should dig.  So we won’t forget.  So we won’t forget what truth lies beneath our many media narratives.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
sky rope poetry

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to dream the possible dream

Good group, wrong name.

Recently, while doing an online search, I found a listing for “The Quixote Foundation”…

Their stated mission is: “to see free people in fair societies on a healthy planet.”

I praise their ambition.  I just wish they’d chosen another name.

In the novel by Cervantes, Don Quixote believes himself to be a knight-errant on a quest—a fantasy that continually collides with reality.

When Quixote comes upon a row of windmills, he perceives them as hostile giants and attacks.  Though he suffers mightily for this mistake, Quixote refuses to wake from his cherished dream.

His stubborn blindness is not unlike the delusion of many modern-day Quixotes.  When confronted with a field of giant wind turbines, these Quixotes may perceive a hostile threat…

…a threat to an old way of life, an old way of doing things.

Like the man of La Mancha, these contemporary Quixotes dream the impossible dream: they believe we can continue to do as we’ve done in the past, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Ironically, these Quixotes often see others as quixotic.  If you’re trying to solve a new problem using a new way, you’re quixotic, they say.  Out of touch with reality.

I say: anyone trying to see the reality of a developing situation and respond appropriately—sanely—is not delusional.  Such a person is a realist.  A dreamer—but of possible dreams.  Necessary dreams.  Yes, our possible dreams often face what seem to be impossible obstacles.  But if our survival depends on such dreams, we will eventually find ways to make them real.

So, don’t call these dreamers and their dreams “quixotic”.  For that matter, don’t call the Quixote Foundation quixotic.

“Quixotic” would better describe those who wish to impose an imagined past on our present—and our future.

Like Don Quixote, they will eventually give up the fight and accept reality—but only after doing much blind damage.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
Survival: a poetry book

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extraordinary ordinary people

I say Martin Luther King, Jr. blessed all us ordinary folk…

…when he chose not to join the Freedom Riders on their trip.

In 1961, that multi-racial, multi-generational group boarded buses and traveled throughout the South to protest segregation.

Leaving behind jobs, school, and family, they endured verbal abuse, physical assault and injury, arrest and imprisonment.  They endured terrorism.

If Dr. King had gone along, the group might now be known as the Martin Luther King Freedom Riders.  Those brave men and women would have been overshadowed by King’s towering presence.  A big loss for us, as I see it.

Yes, King’s story inspires.  But I believe the story of the Freedom Riders presents us with a greater challenge.

Those folk are closer to our own size.  Most had lived fairly ordinary lives before getting on those buses.  And most lived fairly ordinary lives after getting off those buses.  And yet they are heroes.  When faced with injustice, they went beyond themselves, beyond the standards of their time.

The Freedom Riders take away our “out”—our excuse.  After hearing their story, how can I say, “I can’t fight that fight—I’m just an ordinary citizen”?

I think most of us feel we have something more inside ourselves…a bigger person, usually held back by the necessities of our lives…

We wonder: could I raise this other self, if called upon to act?  Untested, we doubt the reality of the strength we feel.

In answer to that doubt, the Freedom Rider story tells us: “If they did, then you can.

But also adds: “Don’t worry—afterwards, you can take off your cape and go back to being an ordinary human being.”

I’m scared of the worst within myself.  But I’m also scared of the best.  And for good reason.  The best asks me to sacrifice.  The best asks me to risk.  The best asks me to go beyond my fear.  The best asks me to get on that bus.

Today, we honor the courage of the Freedom Fighters and see their journey as a victory.  But if I step up, I might get squashed and then forgotten.  Another flattened bug on the sole of history’s shoe.

But we don’t step up to win glory, do we?  We step up because we feel we must.  We step up, because if we don’t, how do we live with ourselves?

Yeah, we may be flattened and forgotten.  But aren’t we successful the moment we step onto that bus?

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
sky rope poetryt’s bid all big loss

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confessions of a projectionist

Who among us has not been terrorized?

Who among us has not also been a terrorist?

I’m talking about minor acts of terror.  Under my definition, even a petty snipe can be a terrorist act.  Even a petty snipe is an attempt to instill fear in a fellow human.

The minor or major terrorist feels small.  The attack is his attempt to feel big.  And it does boost his ego—for a moment anyway.  But the truth is: he still feels small.

So, as if addicted, he may repeat the behavior and keeping on repeating it.  Keep on throwing stones.  Keep trying to inflate himself.

The terrorist usually justifies these acts by demonizing the other.  But the demon he sees in the other is actually an aspect of himself.  An aspect he’s rejected.  The aspects we reject become the aspects we project…

…project onto other people, other groups, other nations.

I know of what I speak—I have been (and still am) quite a projectionist.

Yes, I try to keep a watch on myself…

But I fall asleep so easily.  And once asleep, I may be slow to wake.  When I finally realize how I’m projecting, I’m humbled—disappointed in myself…

Yet at the same time, I feel a little more hopeful about my prospects.  After all, I’ve gained in awareness.  I can break the cycle.

We know this behavior cycle—we know about rejection/projection.  We’ve told ourselves this story in countless books and movies.  In folktales, fables, and songs.  This story might be as old as we are.

So if we know the story, why can’t we change?

Here’s what I’ve realized:

Though I can see your bad behavior in those fictional characters, I can’t see my own.  That’s because I’m projecting my own bad behavior onto you.  Ironic, yes.

I believe stories are usually the best way to communicate an idea…

…but in this case, maybe not.  Maybe it’s better if we state these twin ideas plainly, simply, unequivocally.  Repeatedly.  A quotable quote—something catchy, something clever.  A hook that will stay in the mouth.

Or rather: an expression that ring with a clear bell sound—a clear bell sound that can awaken the wise bell within us.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say: our survival depends on this understanding.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
Searching for My Best Beliefs: a poetry book

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Victory.  Failure.
After the battle is won
The wise ruler behaves
As though at a funeral.
     — from Tao Te Ching, Cloud Hands Edition

Memorial Day seems to have become another holiday of celebration in my country.

For years, I’ve heard people say: “we’ve lost the true meaning of Christmas”.  Perhaps we’ve lost the true meaning of Memorial Day.

my war for peace: a poetry book

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freedom fighter

As most children do, I dreamed of being free…

Finally (a century later, it seemed), I got my freedom.  At the age of eighteen, I left home and over the years, moved here and there, to one city after another, in these United States.

I enjoyed a freedom of mobility not available to most humans in most ages.

But perhaps “enjoyed” isn’t the best word to describe my experience.  I was traveling on a shoestring…and that shoestring often got awfully thin…sometimes, so thin that it broke.

Some thought I was free as a bird.  But they didn’t consider the cost of my choices.  For that matter, neither did I—until afterwards.

That’s not to say I didn’t gain.  In fact, I’d say the gain was worth the cost, because I learned so much.  By trying to be free, I learned about freedom.  I learned about the shackles.

We’ve all seen this story: the hero bursts free from the shackles of his prison and emerges into the bright sunlight of freedom.

That’s the one we want to be.  The problem is: in order to be free, we must give up some degree of security.

I’m not saying security is evil.  Security is necessary for our survival.  The trick is: not to overvalue it—nor, for that matter, undervalue it.  We all deal with that dilemma, that question of balance.  And on a daily basis, as I see it—regarding issues large and small.

As for myself…

I’ve both overvalued and undervalued security…

I’ve made many high-flying leaps…some of which ended with me limping back to more secure confines…

I could fly the coop, but I had trouble remaining aloft…

…because the shackles were still hanging from my back.  Those shackles are made of fear.

So then, what do I do about that fear?  Well, you can’t simply talk yourself out of it.  It’s useless to say: “I shouldn’t be afraid—I won’t be afraid.”  I know because I’ve tried.  Many, many times…

At least now, I’m semi-aware of the fear.  Aware enough to be able to control it, instead of being controlled by it.  That’s true freedom.  But let’s be honest: I’m not there yet.  Not by a long shot.

It’s a helluva fight: to defy my fear is to defy a basic instinct.  An impulse necessary for my survival.

So here’s my ideal: to listen to that instinct—and then make a conscious decision.  Maybe I leap, maybe I hop, maybe I stop, maybe I step back…

…but as long as I’m making a conscious choice, I’m acting with freedom.

However, I realize the equation is often not so simple.  We have commitments and responsibilities to consider.  We may be limited by circumstances over which we have little or no control…

But here’s what else I’ve learned: “freedom” doesn’t mean being free from all restraints.  There will always be limitations.  Our freedom depends on our ability to expand within whatever limitations we face.

Maybe there’s no way out of prison for our hero.  Nevertheless, he finds ways to expand.  They can’t shackle his mind.  He expands by giving up the security of old habits of thought, of being.

As I see it, I’ve been struggling for freedom since birth: I’ve been trying to find ways to expand—to grow—within the limits of this life, this world.

But I think we all fight that fight—to some degree.  Don’t we all struggle against our environment—and ourselves—in an effort to be free?  In that sense, aren’t we’re all at least a little heroic?

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
Common Courage: a poetry book

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