Not Cease from Exploration

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter (thinking about my brother)

(Chris & Rich, post some big holiday meal)

My late brother Chris loved to cook, so today being Easter made me think of all those times when he would be proudly planning some big holiday meal...and I would find excuses to mostly not actually have to eat it.  Now, in all fairness, my brother was a pretty good cook; it's just that I am not a very good consumer of food.  Chris did like to sometimes experiment with food, mostly in later years Hispanic dishes, which I, having the eating habits of petulant 7 year old, would not eat.  My mother would also complain that the food Chris would cook was "bland", but that was mostly her just finding a reason to be critical.  My late mother and my late brother both secretly relished arguing with each other, even when it was over the silliest of things.

Another part of not wanting to go to Chris' house for big family meals was the fact that, for so many years, I was always running from one family to another around the holidays.  It was maddening and not fun.  Instead of a holiday being something to look forward to and an opportunity to relax, it instead was this exercise in stress.  That constantly running around the holidays is something that I try to not impose on my own daughters, in that while I do want to see them as much as I can, I don't want to be the source of what I hated so much in years past.  I hope they understand that point.

Now while I wouldn't necessarily eat at my brother Chris' house over the holidays, I always did stop by to say hello.  In the early years, well, a hallmark of those visits would be the inevitable series of political debates.  In hindsight, I've found a word to describe those events:  Stupid.  Yes, they were stupid.  Arguing politics is about like arguing ice-cream flavors.  Subjectivity actually was the word of the day back then, but I just didn't realize it at the time.  As the years went by the political debates with Chris became less and less ardent, mostly because, in hindsight, my brother's interests in outside things was becoming slowly diminished.  Of course, in later years there was also the advent of having the drug dealer over for dinner, which at the time I found annoying, but then again my brother did have something of a bent towards the ironic.  Hindsight being what it is, I should have been far more than just annoyed.  Part of me wants to type "I should have carved the dealer instead of the ham", but I'm not a violent kind of guy.

So now I'm sitting here, stalling from having to change cat litter and then get ready to go to church (something I don't do all that often).  I am having my two (remaining) brothers over for Easter dinner today, which actually is something I'm mostly looking forward to, truth be told.  Part of what makes it enjoyable is the fact that I know they won't be running from place to place.  My sole NEPA-residing daughter will be stopping by later today as well...I just hope this doesn't require running around on her part.

Happy Easter one and all.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Existential Terror & Graduate School

I'm more than halfway through my final graduate school class, which when completed leaves me with just an industry exam waiting to be completed before I could add letters after my name (which I won't).  The better time to write about this might be when I am actually done with things, but by then I'm probably going to be so full of relief that actually writing about it will be #127 on my list of things to do.  While "counting my chickens before they hatch" is a valid argument against this post, recent events have shown that I'm likely going to, in fact, pass this final class (and in the spirit of full disclosure, I've passed all of the others too).

Why did I even do this?  That's a good question.  I think part of it was my late Mom.  While I've noted many times in the past that my mother could be a difficult human being, she did truly value education.  While not a college graduate herself, she was never the less encouraging of her kids getting an education, and I know that she was secretly very proud when two of us earned college degrees.  Over the years I had mentioned to my mother that I thought about going back to school, and her response was always "well then just do it" (or something similar, all be it coupled with a taking of the Lord's name in vain, as an added form of punctuation).  While she passed away before I started school, I know she would be proud of my having gone back.

Another reason to do it was simply that I enjoy a challenge, even when I know it will be a royal pain in the posterior.  It's almost as if I can see the "suck" coming at me, and I never the less have to stand there and meet it head on.  It's far less about an actual and formal education and far more about validating to myself that I'm actually capable of doing it.  Call that one vanity, or maybe even better so, a kind of searching for simply being worthy ("Well I must be pretty okay if I can get through this"), but mostly call it the truth.

A final reason?  Well, at the risk of sounding hokey, I just enjoy learning.  Of all the things that I am, one thing that I absolutely know to be true is the fact that I simply enjoy learning new things.  Not just things that make me a better person, father, employee, etc., but things simply for the fun joy of learning something new.  That's as true a statement about Steve Albert as any could ever be made.

What made it an easier decision was the fact that my (former) employer offered a generous educational benefit, although it's worth noting that, when all is said and done, I will have paid for about 40% of the degree on my own.  That's an easy one to get down about, but hey, they paid for more than half of it, and while I'm not there anymore (I'm a "retiree"), I get to keep the graduate credits they paid for never the less.  Good deal if you ask me.


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Scranton is the 7th Saddest City in the United States (and here's why)

According to a list compiled by the website travel.alot.com, Scranton Pennsylvania is the 7th saddest city in the United States.  You can find the whole list HERE, with the Scranton entry HERE.

I don't disagree with the placement.  Heck, it possibly should be ranked even higher.  I note this as someone who was born and raised in Scranton.  The city will always be my home, no matter where I live, for the rest of my life.  I realize though that Scranton is broken, badly.  Here's why I think "The Electric City" earned its placement.

1) Nepotism
I'll list this separately from corruption in general because it (nepotism) isn't about immediate financial gain, as opposed to, say, pay-to-play governance (also known as "Cordaro").

Everyone who has lived in Scranton for any length of time knows that, when it comes to the public sector, Scranton is a "who you know" kind of town.  If you're not from a politically connected family, by and large, it's far more difficult to gain employment in local or county government.  An effect of the nepotism is that many folks* who end up becoming public servants aren't the best qualified for their jobs.  What's more, because nepotism is so rampant, many who would be a good fit for public sector employment, folks who could add real value to how the city and county are governed, don't even bother trying to find employment precisely because they know the game is rigged against them.

What makes this far, far worse?  The simple fact that you won't hear the Mayor of Scranton, for example, ever talk about nepotism as being a significant problem.  Nor will you hear members of the school board.  Or City council.  It is the "silent epidemic" of Scranton that everyone knows about yet few admit.

Nepotism creates a kind of vicious, self-perpetuating cycle that drives down performance and drives up a propensity towards entitlement (especially among politicians), stagnation, and corruption.  This is why it's #1 with a bullet on my list.  Deal with nepotism and you can begin to deal with some of the other items on this list.

(*) But not all...I know some very dedicated Scranton public servants.  It's just that they are the exception, not the rule.

2) Corruption
Just one of many examples can be found HERE.  Scranton and the surrounding communities breed corruption like puppy mills breed genetic defects.  What's more, corrupt practices are practically embedded in the collective psyche of the area.  Like its cousin nepotism, everyone knows that Scranton is a corrupt town, but yet few viable candidates for mayor, for example, make fighting corruption even a campaign issue.  Why is that?  Simply put, most mainstream candidates for office in Scranton want to perpetuate bad practices simply because they view it as a kind of job perk, akin to getting an extra few vacation days per year.

By the way, is "fighting corruption" a campaign plank of Mayor Courtright?  See for yourself HERE.  The short answer is "no".   In fact, his campaign website is a single page that proclaims that Scranton is "on track".  How's that for educating the Electric City electorate?

3)  Low Expectations
Scranton's residents have chronically suffered from low expectations.  When I was younger, an area resident was considered to have "made it" if they got a job working for the Post Office or Tobyhanna Army Depot.  Let that one sink in for a few minutes.  It hasn' gotten much better.

A part of low expectations, at least in my experience, is a habit of being overly deferential to authority figures.  This shows up in a population that readily fails to question the actions and motives of those in power, be they Bishops or Mayors.  It's a kind of genetic imprint from back in the coal mining days when one was happy to get ripped off at the company store. 

4)  Class Stratification
Growing up, my Mom would tell me that, in Scranton, there were two kinds of Irish:  The Shanty Irish and the Lace Curtain Irish.  That's something of a microcosm for the city as a whole.  There are a number of well-off families in the area, of the sort that sends their children to Scranton Prep, who end up being the parents of doctors and lawyers who end up living in the nice sections of Green Ridge and Minooka.  At the other end of the spectrum are those with far less in terms of economic resources or even a template for economic success.  Yes, this isn't a wholly Scranton problem, but the city is something of a Petrie dish for the worst that class stratification brings to an area.

5)  Voter Apathy
The coal miner mentality is alive and well in Scranton, decades after the last mine closed.  Scranton's population routinely vote into office individuals who won't even utter the words "nepotism" and "corruption", let alone actually make structural changes to address past problems.  Well, the 30% or so that actually vote in municipal elections.  This isn't a party line voting issues either, as the city and county have voted in plenty of shysters from both ends of the political spectrum.

Ask a city resident about nepotism or corruption and you're likely to get a "well, that's just the way things are around here" kind of answer.  See above:  It's the same answer that those miners probably gave after having been ripped off at that company store.

6)  Public Sector Incompetence
Think of this as being an output of #1 & #5.  Scranton has been functionally bankrupt for decades, yet city leaders continue to plug budget holes with one-time revenue sources, proudly proclaiming that the city is "on the road to recovery".  As I've noted on the blog before, even the recent multi-million dollar windfall from the sale of the Scranton Sewer Authority will not solve the city's fiscal problems; all it does is bide time until bankruptcy.  Why?  Consider this:  Pumping tens of millions of dollars into the city's municipal pensions will not make them even close to fully funded (meaning that there aren't enough assets to cover future pension liabilities).  Yet the politicians running the city want voters to believe that fiscal recovery is just "right down the tracks".  It's not.  As I said a few sentences ago, Scranton is functionally bankrupt; all that's missing is the legal designation and the opportunities that such a declaration would bring.  

More proof:  According to data on the city's own web page, despite the dire fiscal situation facing Scranton, the cost of municipal government is continuing to grow.

(from THIS page)

The first rule of getting yourself out of a hole?  Stop digging.  Yet Scranton's leaders seem intent on increasing the costs of a government that city taxpayers can't actually afford.  Why?  Because they benefit from it.

Another example of public sector incompetence in action:  The former president of the Scranton School Board was a public transportation bus driver with a G.E.D. and the vast majority of Scranton voters found that perfectly acceptable.  At the risk of sounding elitist, I'll note that I have no personal qualms with the man (who still serves on the board), by the way, but shouldn't the residents of Scranton want someone running the school board who has a background in education?  Or finance?  Or legal matters?  For a well-written piece on the dire situation facing the Scranton School District read THIS blog posting by Tom Borthwick.  

* * * * * *

In the end, Scranton is sad mostly because it's voters are comfortable living in that sadness, as evidenced by their continuing habit of electing people to public office who, at best, routinely deliver mediocrity.  They shrug their collective shoulders, sigh, and move on.  As I noted previously, I love Scranton, and it will always be my home.  Yet I have no desire to live there, at least not anytime soon.  It's a town frozen in a kind of 1940's time warp, full of back-room dealings and coal barons who actively teach miners to be grateful for the crumbs thrown their way.  The worst part?  It could change, but it likely won't.  



Thursday, April 6, 2017

What's In A Name?

I don't believe that women should change their last name when they get married.

There, I said it.

Now if they want to, well, who am I to judge (to paraphrase a famous Pope)?  I'm not capable of fairly judging myself, let alone others.  But this is my ramble, so I'll continue.

Anyway, I've never liked the idea of a woman having to "become someone else" just because she got married.  This is especially true for my daughters (hint, hint, ladies).  It just seems like, well, a kind of ownership:  Frida Smythe becomes the property of Mr. Benny Jones and is, therefore, Frida Jones.  Please, can we at least make it "Frida Smythe-Jones"?  Why shouldn't it be "Benny Smythe" for that matter?  Or Benny and Frida Smythe-Jones?  

I had this conversation with both marriages, by the way.  I'll note that the second time around I was a bit more successful, although not because of any efforts on my part.  Ms. Rivers had been going through a difficult divorce when she decided that she wanted to "take back" her rightful Rivers-ness.  All well and good in my eyes.  When we knew we were going to get married, she told me in a fairly direct manner that she didn't want to be "Chris Albert".  I think she expected me to be somehow bothered or upset; actually, I was relieved.  It made practical sense as well, given that:

1) There already was a "Chris Albert".
2) The existing "Chris Albert" was, in fact, a "he".

Complimenting the conversation was the fact that we both decided we had enough children (in part because I didn't want to be going to a high school graduation in a walker).  This took the notion of what to call the children off the table.  I know that's more of a real issue for younger couples, but see above:  hyphenated names sound cool and sophisticated anyway.

Reasonable people can disagree with me on this one, and to be honest, I did some checking on the interwebs and mostly found people who wanted to change their last names.  All well in good.  In the end, what's in a name anyway?  Unless, apparently, that last name is "Drumpf".





Thursday, March 30, 2017

Old Photographs

My wife acquired some old photographs from years long ago, and I am quite frankly in awe of what I've seen.  Perhaps this is a phenomenon associated with second marriages*, but it's simply fascinating to see photographs of someone you love so dearly back from well before you knew them.  A small part of me seems to fall into a kind of wallowing, wishing I could have known her all those years ago.  The smarter part of me?  Well, it knows that, like any journey of note, you have to go "there" in order to get "here", and quite frankly "here" is where I am meant to be.

One of the reasons why I have a remarkable relationship with my wife is the fact that we've collectively been through a lot in life, up to the point where we discovered we were both occupying some of the same basic emotional space years ago (going through divorces, having career pressures, trying to be good parents, etc.).  Neither of us grew up in any sort of financial privilege, and both of us struggled with difficult relationships in our lives.  Seeing some of these old photographs made me angry in a way because I know some of the stories from when they were taken until now, and part of me wishes I would have been around "back then" to offer some kind of protection from what was to come.  I confess that sounds pretty crazy, especially since, in reality, that's now how life works anyway.  Besides, my wife managed to do reasonably well for herself, in spite of my lack of protection.

It's times like this when I'm reminded of just how lucky a life I've lived.  I say lucky because it just seems that I had been put in the places and situations I've meant to be in, even if (make that "when") at the time I was absolutely certain that universe was conspiring against me...as if the universe, in its grandeur, actually would care what I was up to at any given moment anyway.  It's this perspective that has helped me with my recent job change.  I just need to be more mindful of that fact more often, namely that the here and now is where I am meant to be;  it's where all of us are meant to be.

(Wisdom from THIS page)

So looking at these photographs is certainly a different kind of experience for me.  But I think that, in totality, this is a kind of symbol...a reminder if you will...telegraphed from some other place to tell me that the past is relevant only to the extent that it can help us understand and (more importantly for me) appreciate the now.  Hopefully, the me of 5 years from now will look back at old photos from now and smile, ear to ear.

(Ms. Rivers, late 1980's; used with permission)


(Probably not the best matching sentiment for this posting, but hey, I like the song.)




(*) If you are in a second marriage, how did it feel when you looked at old photographs of your current spouse, back from before you knew them?  Odd?  Strange?  Unsettling?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Makers, Takers, and the Reality of the Gospel

There's been a ton of dialogue bounded about from the religious right, particularly in support of what may seem like conservative principles in government.  Some of that dialogue is centered around the ideas of self-sufficiency, supported by the notion that the "poor shall always be among you", that there are "makers" and "takers" in this country.  Pretty much an unbridled web of anger directed at those who can't seem to be just like them.  It's ironic, given the times, that so many on the religious right (Franklin Graham, etc.) seem to view Donald Trump as a kind of God-ordained savior.  This is a man who, regardless of your politics, clearly believes in the riches of this world, which is his prerogative by the way.

I'm reminded, though, from back in my C.C.D. days with the good Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, of the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 22, verses 36 to 40:

"Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law?"
Jesus said unto him, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and will all they soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and the great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

(King James Version; reference HERE...sorry Sisters!)

The next time a self-proclaimed Christian, such as Speaker Paul Ryan, proposes legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), how wonderful would it be to measure such a thing against those simple few lines?  Call me crazy, but if a new law could cause harm to your neighbor, then maybe it's un-Christian.  Now that could be called okay form a federal budget perspective, but it can't be called Christian, nor should the proponents of just such legislation be called that (Christian) either.  Far too many in federal elected office seem to leverage their "Christian" faith as a tool to woo voters, but yet fail to remember just how that Christian faith actually should operate in practice.

Again, this is pretty simple stuff:  If you are a Christian, you are commanded (not asked, but commanded) to love your neighbor as yourself.  No footnote there; no exclusions for "takers", no special love provided for "makers", no additional requirement to "pull oneself up by the bootstraps".  Just "...love thy neighbor as thyself".  I would want, for example, members of Congress to have substance abuse coverage in their healthcare benefit so maybe family members of theirs wouldn't needlessly die from a drug overdose.  Yes, if Speaker Ryan enjoys coverage for pre-existing conditions, for mental health care, or countless other benefits in his healthcare coverage (as a member of Congress), then he shouldn't be proposing that those things be excluded for others.  Period.  His willingness, along with President Trump, to strip away many of those things in Affordable Care Act replacement last week, in order to win over hard-right conservatives, is the opposite of "love thy neighbor as thyself".

Gut check here:  Is this a case of the "pot calling the kettle black"?  Am I engaging in hypocrisy here?  Those are reasonable questions, and the short answer is no.  You will not find the public me, as in what's written in over 1800 postings on this website, proclaiming myself to be a good Christian.  I'm not even sure I've referred to myself as being a Christian of any sort.  I simply don't deserve the title.  What I am, in two words, is "deeply flawed".  What I don't do is proclaim being a "Christian" in order to garner personal/political power while simultaneously disavowing the core tenants of that faith when it comes to taking action.  I'll leave that sort of thing to Speaker Ryan.





Friday, March 24, 2017

Affordable Care Act (ACA) Repeal and Replace

As I write this, the news of the U.S. House of Representatives not voting on a replacement for the ACA is still fresh.  If anything, this is an important moment for several reasons:

1.  Theatrics.  How many times did the U.S. House vote to repeal the ACA during the Obama administration?  One thing is now remarkably clear now:  Those votes were theatrics, and the GOP knew it.  They were counting of losing, mostly because they knew then, and have been reminded now, that actually replacing the ACA is about governing, not politics.  Which brings me to the following...

2.  Governing.  The GOP can be masterful as an opposition party.  Seriously, they have that locked down.  Governing?  That is, as Ben Hoon observed, "Hard".  They are not prepared.

3.  There is no GOP.  There are GOPs.  There is no single Republican Party.  It's pretty clear now that the party is fractured along ideological lines, as Trump lost the votes of moderates in order to appease ultra-conservatives.

4.  It's Not Reality TV.  The debate about healthcare in this country isn't some slick commercial that runs 60 seconds or slogan that's repeated over and over again at a Trump rally.  No, it's deeply personal for many Americans.  It's about what happens when your grandmother gets sick.  Or when poor women need care.  Or when the middle class have to declare bankruptcy because of catastrophic medical bills.  The lobbyists and the inside the beltway spin doctors can grease all the palms they want, but in the end, healthcare is a common denominator in this country and it can't be "fixed" by a group of congressmen in two months.  Which brings me to the following...

5.  No, They Had Replacement.  There never a serious replacement alternative before Trump's election.  None.  Zero.  Zilch.  They made it up over the course of two months.

6.  This Isn't the Democrats Loss.  Trump is already blaming the failure of passing an ACA replacement at the feet of the Democrats.  That is, to be blunt, horse$hit.  The House could have passed the ACA replacement with just GOP votes.  They simply didn't.

This is a multi-dimensional failure that will have repercussions for a long time to come.  The ACA is deeply flawed, needlessly complex, and divisive.  It needs to be replaced.  The fact that the GOP couldn't execute when given such an opportunity speaks volumes about how ideology can get in the way of substance.



Sunday, March 19, 2017

Good Learn'n

I enjoy reading about human behavior.  That's something of an odd statement coming from what appears, at least on the surface, to be a STEM kind of guy.  Yes, I spent two years in Engineering in college, and yes, I've taken enough college level math courses to likely qualify to teach it, but I also suffer from an almost unbridled mental wanderlust.  I just can't keep my mind turned off, and sometimes those though go to that greatest of mysteries:  Why do we act they way we do?

I haven't found many concrete answers, but I'm going to keep looking.

What have I learned?

Well, from Melody Beattie, I've learned that adults are always responsible for their own behavior, unless they are so unhinged that they actually require institutionalization (my words, not hers).

From Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, I've learned that it's perfectly okay to be a little bit weird.  Note that this is a great example of the difference between "learning" and "application".  The former I got in high school; the latter is a work in progress to this very day.


From Eckhart Tolle I've learned to always "be present in the moment".  Not exactly easy for me, but I'm always up for a challenge.  In other news, I just got a new (actually old) Tolle book to read.  His are the simplest most complex things in the world.

From Donald Trump I've learned that it's entirely possible to sell just about anything.  

From my daughters I've learned that what we do, especially as parents, has consequences.  When I look back over the past 30 years, sometimes I see a lot of turmoil.  When I deeply ponder things though, I realize that it was all worth it, because I ended up with three wonderful, professional young women that actually, truly, honestly call me "Dad".  I could fail at everything else in my life, but end up being a success simply because of them.

From Daniel Goleman, I've learned many things, including the fact that empathy is an actual, real super-power that's ours for the taking.  

"Empathy in leadership is particularly important for three reasons: the increasing use of teams, the rapid pace of globalization, and the growing need to retain talent. As anyone who has ever been part of a team can attest, teams are cauldrons of bubbling emotions. They are often charged with reaching a consensus - which is hard enough to do with two people, and much more difficult as the numbers increase. A teams's leader must be able to sense and understand the viewpoints of everyone around the table. The result is not just heightened collaboration among team members, but also growth in business."


From Gordon Livingston, M.D., I've learned that if the ground doesn't agree with the map, then the map is wrong.  Ponder that one for a moment.  How often do we end up following maps in our life that are wrong?

From my (late) Mom, I've learned the value of punctuality.  And cleanliness.  And the cost of harboring bitter feelings for far too long.  

From my first manager at my former employer, Paul A., I learned to "always promptly return phone calls".  Granted, back in those days we didn't have email.  Anyway, I always try to...promptly return phone calls...but the lesson was actually bigger than that, or so I want to believe.  It's more about just being respectful of others.

From recent events in my life, I've learned that I'm sometimes guilty of pridefullness.  This is not something I really wanted to admit, but while I'm being honest about "learn'n", it should be on the list.  In the end, things like job titles and salary figures are important, but they are far less important than the value of simply showing up at work, trying to make a difference, and them coming home.  Really coming home, by the way, both physically and mentally.

From my wife, I've learned that I must be relatively okay, otherwise she would have nothing to do with me.  I know, that sounds horribly self-effacing, and a tab bit over the top, but buried deep within the comment is a chunk of reality:  The company we keep says a lot about us, whether we want to admit that or not.


From Brene Brown I've learned many things, including the value of just simply showing up.


When I find myself not knowing what to do, simply moving forward has seemed to work reasonably well.  The importance of how you show up is something that I learned from a prior leader a few years ago.  


I could go on, but what's the point?  This kind of stuff...this important work...never really ends anyway.  Or at least it shouldn't.  At least not for me.




Wednesday, March 15, 2017

I'll See You In My Dreams

Related to my last posting (HERE).


If you've never seen the Concert for George, well, you don't know what you've been missing.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Clarity

When I have my professional hat on, I often times talk about the need for clarity.  For the uninitiated and/or those who have lives, by "clarity" I refer to the basic desire we have to simply understand.  In the business world, clarity is important because we want employees to understand what they are dong...and probably more importantly why they are doing it.  Clarity is a cost of admission, if you will, for leaders who want their teams to go simply above getting the basics done.  Clarity is, as a respected colleague of mine once observed, king.

I also think that, even beyond my day job, clarity is still king.

There's been a bit of clarity that's alluded me related to my brother Chris, who passed away in January.  Not so shockingly, I might add.  How and why does someone so full of life at one time just seem to have that life snuffed out?  In some ways, it would have been far easier if he would have died in a car accident (although he had a few of those), but instead, he was more or less taken apart almost one molecule at a time.  Those who knew and loved Chris tried our best to help, but in the final analysis, it turns out that all we could do was just watch.  In a world that can be cruel, well, there are few things crueler than this.

As a side note, probably because of a cocktail of prescribed medication that no simulation could model the interactions, I can sometimes have extremely vivid dreams.  Given the utterly bizarre place that is my head normally, put me in R.E.M. (the dream-state, not the band) sleep with the previously mentioned pharmacology and you have the makings of an almost mystical nightly journey into the surreal.  We're talking Rod Serling here.  Thankfully that journey is almost never negative, but it's also almost never makes sense.  Except for the dream I had a week or so ago about Chris.  He was talking to me.  And he looked so vivid, so clear, so clean.  A far cry from the body I found in his house on January 5th.  I don't remember what he said to me in that dream, and quite frankly I don't know that it meant anything of a higher-power sort, but I do know that I woke up comforted.

Back to clarity.

When it comes to my late brother, we've been missing a key element, if you will, that could provide some much-needed closure...and...clarity.  We simply didn't know what caused his death.  Well, we do know now, in a way.  The details aren't important, over and above than to say that what we've learned from his official cause of death more or less repeats a narrative that dogged my brother for many years.  Yes, when it comes to clarity, we now know "what", but we don't know, on a deep level, "why".  That is likely to never change, ever.

In spite of the above, there are other things I do know, and despite my better judgment, I'll share a thought now.

I know that there were people in my brother's life who aided and abetted the choices he made, choices that directly caused his death.  While that's a tough statement to make, I'm going to ratchet it up a notch by saying that some of these people did what they did for their own selfish economic gain.  Over the years, the profit these people made from my brother was, in all likelihood, enormous.  I wish I could express the depths of anger I feel towards these people, but I simply can't.  As I've noted before, I wasn't born with the rage gene.  What I will say is this, directed towards those people who participated in the slow decay of my younger brother:

My hope is that one day all of you will have one still moment of perfect clarity, a moment where you'll be able to finally comprehend just how monstrous your actions have been (both for my brother and, no doubt, others).  In that one moment of perfect clarity, you will be completely and utterly terrified down to the depths of your soul at what you've done.  You will be filled with a blackness that no amount of light will ever be able to penetrate.  You enabled his death slowly, and the people that loved Chris got to see that unfold over years, all while you counted your profits.  Unlike what happened to my brother, I hope that the weight of your actions hits you all at once.  You should be terrified at the prospect.  And you should pray that our paths never, ever, cross.

Consider this my moment of clarity.

* * * * * *

If you or a family member struggle with an addiction, just know that where there is help, there is hope...and there is a lot of help available.  Just don't give up.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Help Resources for Veterans

Addiction.Org:  Help for the Family