Reflection on a Friend’s Death and What it Means for Meaning in Life

Uncategorized

Meaning in life extends beyond and outside of ourselves and creates healthy affective transmissions that allow us to create bonds and positive relationships with others. These connections and effects live longer than we do…When you die, you still exist, and the meaning you have created in your life defines you past the time your heart stops beating. 

Phil Grech and Eric Christian

1

In the weeks leading up to my masters thesis defense, I spent little, if any, time on Facebook. On the morning of my defense a close friend of mine texted me and asked if I was going to Eric’s funeral.

I responded, “Eric? Eric Christian?”

My friend called me immediately to tell me of Eric’s death.

I had no idea. I hadn’t been on Facebook in God knows how long. And that is the only way I would have heard about my friend’s untimely passing. I held back tears because I was in front of company and had an academically intimidating experience one hour away.

I felt alone because I was the only person in the room who knew him and who felt devastated by the news; but I knew I was not alone because Eric had friends and family all over the country who were feeling what I was.

2

This semester I am teaching two sections of a class entitled “Coming of Age Stories in Film and Prose.” I assigned Susan Wolf’s Meaning in Life and Why it Matters alongside other films I have shown in class. I have attempted to engage my students in intellectual dialogue regarding the importance of leading a meaningful life.

Some students are immediately interested in this. Some students are mildly interested. And as expected, without judgment, some students are not at all interested in understanding what a meaningful life is.

That’s ok.

I don’t expect any student or person to ponder and fixate upon the perennial questions. As a teacher, I’ll do my best to press these students on the topic so we can learn how to think critically, understand values that extend beyond what we can gauge from Lil Wayne and something or other about the Kardashians, but at that point, I can only lead my students to the water.

In the course of teaching my students about the meaning in life and why it matters, as we can understand through Wolf’s text, the coming-of-age movies we have watched, or the class discussions we have had, I have kept one thing in mind:

I don’t know what the meaning of life is.

Of course not. And I would be skeptical of anyone who claimed to know what the meaning of life is.

As many of us know, the people who do claim to know this are not only full of shit, but want to fill our Solo cups with laced with poison so we can catch the next comet in our brand new Nikes. Or maybe they just want us to join their centuries-old religious institution.

Everyone has their way.

Knowing the meaning of life is not the most important concept in this conversation. What is most important is that we are thinking about it, questioning it, engaging with the idea.

Thinking about meaning allows us to better reconsider our life’s values and choices, relationships, occupational desires; it allows us to make future plans and projections based on rational criteria; and what the shit, lunch options.

In other words, by thinking about meaning in life, we live better, improved lives, even if we never figure out what the meaning of life is for ourselves or others. And that’s awesome.

My students and I have discussed much on what it means to live a meaningful life. In our discussions; we have mostly tried to understand how we can determine for ourselves what a meaningful life is; why it is important and necessary to do so; how we develop, mature, and evolve as individuals; but however, this approach does not always allow us to see the full picture.

Failing to see the full picture makes us feel like we are all alone.

3

Now I reach my ultimate point in consideration of my friend’s recent death.

What I have failed to consider in my class discussions is what the meaning in our own lives means for other people.

I may not care about my life in the moment but that does not mean that several other people don’t care.

[I am not at all implying Eric did not care about his life – let me be explicit about that; I have no idea what his thoughts were in the days leading to his death]

Again, just because you think other people don’t care about you does not mean they do not. Thankfully, I know that in the weeks leading to Eric’s death he knew people loved and appreciated him.

I have other friends who have died, or who have tried to kill themselves, and believed no one cared about them. I have felt this frequently throughout my own life as well. It’s easy to believe your life has no meaning and falling into that valley will drown you in the rainwater of your own tears. But all of our lives have meaning that will raise us to the crest of the waves, to the top of the mountains, so long as we can recognize it in ourselves and especially others.

I don’t know how Eric died, and while admittedly, it captures my interest, the how is not important in this discussion. What is important is the effect his death has had on the exponential amount of friends and family who have been impacted by his passing. I could not make his funeral (I found out about it on the day I was defending my masters thesis and the funeral was hours away), but I heard it was standing-room only.

Meaning in life extends beyond and outside of ourselves and creates healthy affective transmissions that allow us to create bonds and positive relationships with others. When a person dies, that meaning lives on; while some may the soul lives on beyond the body’s death, I am more appreciative of the fact that the meaning a person’s life can continue to affect us days, weeks, years, and decades after that death.

In this sense, we are never alone.

4

We all loved Eric. Once you got to know him, you had no other choice.

The last time I saw Eric I was driving down bumpy, bricked Oviedo Street after having just arrived in Saint Augustine. I saw him outside of a house with friends so I pulled into the driveway of the residence, got out of my car, and we spent a half hour catching up. When we concluded, we hugged goodbye.

Eric was happy. He was smiling. He was joking. He was improving his life and interested in how I was improving my life. Eric was being himself: a genuinely great person with a sense of humor, enough energy to caffeinate America, and a thirst for life that goes so often unnoticed by many, myself included.

Meaning in life is necessary for us individually, but it is not selfish. Meaning in life is not merely self-concern. It is not isolated to our egos. We affect others no matter how much our depression or other personal, psychological problems falsely adulterate our thinking.

Have you known someone who has died when you haven’t spoken to them in a year?

I have friends who have died from unknown causes, drug overdoses, suicide, and murder.

But this tally is irrelevant. The effects of their deaths are never forgotten: from momento mori, to remembering great times, to remembering the value of human life, these effects crawl inside of us. They either infect us or make us reconsider our own lives – usually both. It’s like when someone you know dies you live more meaningfully while dying quicker.

Absence produces presence, like when you invite a friend over for dinner and she does not arrive, her absence immediately produces her presence. You think about her. And so even if she has not arrived, neither of you are alone.

5

I have learned something upon my friend’s recent death:

No matter how many people you know who have died, the next death does not hurt any less. That life does not become any less meaningful than the previous. If you have known one hundred people who have died, the next person to die does not matter any less.

If anything, each friend’s or family member’s death makes you more fully grasp the importance and fragility of life. We are all connected to people who love us. Just as you love others and want their affection, attention, and respect; other people love you and want the same. And if you read this right now, you know you’re not alone.

While I mentioned before that “what meaning in life is for other people” it should not take a person like Eric to die for you or me to realize this. Most of us already know that. But Eric spent a lot of his final years bettering himself in multiple ways. I believe his determination encouraged many of us to follow his lead.

I never told him this, but the hard work he put into self-improvement in the last few years of his life inspired me. I was proud of him.

He was proud of his friends and family too.

So I conclude with this:

Live a meaningful life, whatever that means to you, and know that your life is meaningful to others. The meaning you live is greater than you and affects those around you. Your life, your presence, and the positivity you exude creates direct, healthy transmissions for all of the people you encounter. When you die, you still exist, and the meaning you have created in your life defines you past the time your heart stops beating.

Your life is meaningful, and it’s meaningful beyond you.

If you read this right now, you know you’re not alone.

RIP Eric Christian

In Case of Emergency, Contact

Uncategorized

Down, down, down in Gainesville

No stranger to shame, Coltrane, and pain pills

When a person drifts across the room and their scent remains for days like a memory attaching itself to your olfactory system. It’s a perfume present in the past but passed by the present. How do you ask memories to repeat themselves?

What do you say when your students ask, “Why aren’t you doing anything for Thanksgiving?”

Who do you call when you haven’t eaten in five days? Your stomach acid is eating away your stomach lining, you’re being unjustly sued for twenty thousand dollars, there is a stack of papers to grade, PhD applications to complete, presentations to organize, rent to pay, utilities to pay, novels to read and meaningfully digest, and all you want is…

A hello, a hug, a hand, a home, a home-cooked meal, a home-cooked heal

All I really wanted you is to remember my name

The day I first moved to Tallahassee I filled out a rental agreement alongside my new roommate. I had to complete the following sentence:

“In case of emergency, contact_________”

I sat baffled, confused, reflective. I filled out the remainder of the lease agreement and promised to return the form that would indicate who the authorities should contact in case I pushed a nail through my hand hanging up a painting, inhaled too much bleach cleaning the bathroom tub, or simply failed to wake up one morning.

The form sat on my kitchen counter for days. I frequently approached it like a friend in need of an answer, but for days I approached her and left her let down.

“I’m sorry. I don’t always have the answers.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t who you can call if I nail bleach through my hand, or bleach my hand on a painting.”

Whose name should I put down? To whom do I assign responsibility for the mere task of picking up the phone after I drink too much gin only to wake up, body swollen by wasp stings, and no explanation as to explain why?

My aging mother who lives six hours away and refuses to drive more than a thirty minutes distance? My siblings busy with their spouses and children who live 1200 miles away? If not them, then who?

I knew no one. I know no one.

I wear my scars like the rings on a pimp

I live life like the captain of a sinking ship

Sitting in a Gainesville hotel room, memorizing lines from The Two Noble Kinsmen so I can recite them in two days, I wonder, what if I drove a nail through my hand stealing the unoriginal painting hanging on the wall? What if I drank too much of the cheap coffee laying lazily in a thing, plastic bag in the bathroom? What if I simply failed to wake up?

Checked out before I check out.

I’m staying here because it was the only hotel in which I could find a vacancy, which is more opportune than I can say about myself.

All of these rooms are taken.

Too taken and too empty.

Lazy inhabitants.

Visitors with no hellos to hi, no hugs to hold, no hands to hold, no homes to have, no halves to whole.

Can’t let her dance up on the top floor

Been there, done that

What do you think it’s locked for?

A hotel in Gainesville, an apartment in Tallahassee, a couch in your-city-here. I’ve seen people die when it was least expected. I’ve been in the room. I’ve slept beside them.

Who would the cleaning person contact?

Who would I contact?

Who would you contact?

I’ve always expected to be in that hospital room alone, surrounded by white walls and nurses performing their utilitarian positions. I waited years for it to happen and it finally did in my second year of grad school.

Stressed and suffocating under the pressure of work, teaching, PhD applications, and so on, I was unable to eat for five days. I could drink water and gin, and the gin is the only thing that quelled my stress just enough to consume roughly 400 calories in those five days.

On the fifth day, I woke up and called a friend to bring me to the hospital.

Sitting on the hospital bed, I was curling over in pain, squeezing some plastic barfbag the nurse had given me, which I didn’t need because I hadn’t consumed anything and had nothing to vomit. Eventually the nurse came in and administered an IV.

“I’ll inject you with something to end your stomach pain and nausea,” she said, then, “and now I’m going to give you Dilaudid.”

“What’s Dilaudid,” I asked.

“It’s a painkiller eight times stronger than morphine,” she replied.

I thought morphine was the pinnacle of painkillers. I didn’t know there was a medication that could more quickly dull, quell, and kill.

I made a joke about how I, “…applauded the Dilaudid.” The nurse didn’t laugh. Then she went to inject it.

“No,” I refused, “You can’t give that to me.”

“No,” she rebutted, “I’m giving it to you. You’ll feel it right away.”

And I did. As soon as she injected this painkiller into my vein, it felt like lead coursing through my body, then my body felt like a cloud, floating in an emergency room.

When I finally arrived home I was coming off the Dilaudid. I violently threw up off my back porch. A woman in a parking lot across the back yard area watched me intently, pretending like she wasn’t watching, but obviously was as I threw up whatever was in my stomach.

For all I care, I was back in a Gainesville hotel room. I was back in my Tallahassee apartment. I was in your town. I felt like I almost died. Some say I did, but that doesn’t matter.

I’ll move from this apartment just like I’ve moved from every previous one. Always in search of a home, always in search of a name to write down when that rental agreement comes.

“In case of emergency, contact _________”

When I have no food to eat, no one to contact, I have memories to sift through and a name to find.

*All italics are from Atmosphere lyrics. Google it.

The Forecast Predicts Stormy Weather

Opinion, True Stories, Uncategorized

I haven’t updated this blog in a pretty long time so I figured I would get some thoughts that were running through my head this morning/afternoon. Grad school hasn’t made much time for personal or “creative” writing.There is not any particular “plot” to this, or maybe there is; it’s up to you. Pardon the frequent semi-colon use. And apparently I have 343 people following this blog. I don’t know who any of you are, but thank you, meaningfully and truthfully.

Did I ever tell you about the person I was named after? Maybe I will another time; that’s too personal for right now.

I went for a walk this morning around Lake Ella. I wore black boots, dark green denim pants, and a blue shirt. My roommate insisted my outfit did not match; I insisted I did not care. You can all eat roaches.

The weather predicts stormy weather for this afternoon. As a result, I was probably the only one walking around Lake Ella besides the girl who asked me to sign a slip which would allow the daughter of Bob Graham to run for Florida State Senator. I would have signed despite being neither a Republican nor Democrat, but I am not registered to vote in Leon County.

One lap around the duck inhabited lake and then I met with my roommate, her boyfriend, and his roommate at a Chinese Super Buffet. They went for hangovers; I went for companionship. I decided not to eat because it’s a Chinese Super Buffet – tautologies be damned. My companion’s immediate complaints upon finishing their food were, “I shouldn’t have eaten here. I feel disgusting.” This confirmed my hesitation about eating at a buffet restaurant where children are most likely slapping their snotty hands on the creepily creamy shrimp and awkwardly present macaroni and cheese.

After breakfast I returned to Lake Ella and continued walking with a copy of Walden in my hands which I never ended up reading. Typical, right? Reading Thoreau at Lake Ella. I saw a Mexican family that was at the Chinese Super Buffet.

The father wore a cowboy hat, cowboy shirt, and had two knives attached to his belt. He and his wife had five children present – I think all boys. They stood by the water and enjoyed their Sunday.

The capricious winds in the capacious environment precluding the storm calmed and grounded me. I thought of a girl I dated recently and wondered why I still thought of her. It wasn’t logical, but emotions are not concerned with logic.

I haven’t spoken with her in weeks and I know she has forgotten about me. That’s a typical recurring fate I encounter, a curse I can’t escape from, a repeating destiny.

Her mellifluous, melodious singing still haunts my apartment, resonating, echoing in that open space, that grey area between Self and Other, where we see the physiological effects discussed in Affect Theory. Memories haunt, and I know she is somewhere else, laughing, dancing, smiling. I still don’t know if she ever heard, understood, listened, or knew me. It’s memories all the way down, memories to fill that abyss. Echoes are always heard but never able to be grasped. They are an objet a that damages the psyche. They permeate like parasites and find their cures in addiction.

The forecast predicts stormy weather; it always has. I have inherited a particular gene structure, call it a fate, call it Fate, call it something we can’t determine or know or see in a microscope. It’s an inheritance by any other name and one defined by accursedness.

How do you tell someone you are cursed? Where’s the proof? It’s a feeling, and feelings are too underrated.

I know the Myer-Briggs personality type test is bullshit but I consider it to be similar to Wikipedia. You can’t use Wikipedia in a paper, but it helps to take a quick look for a brief summary of a subject. That being said, I fit the profile of an INFJ quite well. The test profile describes me better than I can describe myself.

Apparently we are only 1% of the population, the rarest breed, and one that is not easily understood. An additional note reads, “The INFJ individual is gifted in ways that other types are not. Life is not necessarily easy for the INFJ, but they are capable of great depth of feeling and personal achievement.”

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think I’m some unique fucking snowflake. But I do know I feel the world in ways I believe most people can’t. I feel in ways I don’t often find others capable of. I feel empathy sometimes to a fault. I meet people who claim to be empathetic and I soon discover they don’t even know what the word means. They can be as be enjoys as the next scorpion. Maybe I should stop here.

Have you ever met someone who displayed a particular set of personality traits only to discover you were deceived? In the beginning they were genuine and they listened; in the end they were fraudulent and solely self-concerned. These realizations can be disappointing.

But I do want to help people. When I see a person cry, hurt, or experience injustice, I have an overwhelming need to help them, save them, and end the oppression.

Did I ever tell you who I was named after? I still don’t think right now is the right time, but I will tell you that the forecast has always predicted stormy weather. Paradoxically, the capricious rains and tempestuous winds settle me.

The singing of someone long gone still haunts the claustrophobic apartment I pay rent at. I hear the singing of a spirit who has freed herself, already unfettered, but who I keep around as a matter of object cathexsis. It’s not a home and I’m not sure if I have ever had one in several years. I’ve just paid rent at a series of locations, moving quickly like the winds that rush across my skin. Another apartment, another haunting.

There is a claustrophobic inside and commodious outside. There is neither specificity nor generality. It is all just feeling and perception. The present consists only of memories. The memories consist only of perceptions. After that it is all confusion.

These topics are not easily discussed. You don’t just walk up to someone and tell them you are cursed. These are not medieval times where we can cure melancholia, the black humor, by bleeding a person out. Nor can we ascribe supernatural causes to events which are not easily understood. But to feel the world, and to understand what it is we are surrounded by, requires a sense of feeling, a sense, ability, and faculty that is rare and often misunderstood.

It’s really nice to meet you.

Let’s skip to the part where we reveal our skeletons. You already know I have no patience for the in between.

Before you I didn’t have any missed calls and I didn’t need to leave the porch light on. None of that will change with meeting you, I know; I’m sorry if I gave the impression I might think otherwise.

Well, maybe I did think, for a moment, when you smiled at me and looked in my eyes and held them in your hands. But I know I don’t need to check my phone to see if I have any missed calls to tell me where I won’t be this Thanksgiving.

You won’t have to tell me why. I’ll ask the skeletons what they think. I remember what I wish I could forget.

If Byron could drink from the River Lethe to forget the cursed past, I can share the same body of water for the same reasons. I look out my window: grey skies, naked trees, a storm fast approaching. I’m beating my heart until it stops beating.

Ye know it, and I cannot utter it

Maybe next time, if the weather is different, I’ll tell you about who I was named after. You will know this curse I have inherited.

I look out my window and see that the clouds are getting darker, the winds are gaining speed, and the storm will soon no longer be a neighbor but a resident. The rain is now pouring down like I should have stocked up on batteries and non-perishable foods. It’s all grey skies and naked trees. Memories and vague perceptions clouded by whiskey and Ativan. Raindrops collect on the window like perceptual misunderstandings, disfiguring visual perception.

The storm is confirming the prediction. The present is confirming the fate. The curse is predicting the future.

How to Find Validation in Capitalism

Opinion, True Stories, Uncategorized

I had been through this many times but that didn’t make it any easier there is us and there is them and I was them I anxiously stood in place knowing this moment was going to arrive my pulse rate grew quicker quicker quicker until it felt like my veins would explode beads of sweat formed and grew larger on my forehead they dripped down my bearded cheeks and somehow landed in my empty pockets I knew I would have to face this moment and be brave no matter what happened it wasn’t my first time but that doesn’t make the fear any less destructive hurry up I yelled in my head why was this taking so long it never takes this long it’s taking too long now there must be a problem I had been through this experience so many times, but this was worse because it took seconds longer than all of the previous ones how many life situations make seconds a matter of live or die terrorist attacks hostage situations but this shouldn’t be one of them stay calm I told myself I tried to make my body language appear normal even though there were people a panel of judges all around me who could tell I was moments away from a complete meltdown the wait lingered for what felt like hours people stood around me they were judging me before my verdict had been delivered eyes everywhere that knew my secret there are a lot of people in my position but that doesn’t make it any easier this was taking longer than normal and that exacerbated my anxiety I was a grown man filled with fear how can I be a 31 year old man who doesn’t fear a person breaking into his apartment who can change a tire throw a punch bench press more than his own weight and still be afraid of this very moment I put my hands in my pockets to clench my fists I squeezed my fingernails into my palms so hard I thought I would make myself bleed I didn’t care I deserved it I wanted them to bleed I was disappointed that my skin was so strong Still it had not happened I yelled even louder in my head, COME ON APPROVE ME I stared at a screen a screen that would tell me if I was approved or not would I be approved would I be validated would I be accepted what was my verdict why are you doing this to me I cried to the Universe I felt laughter I saw pain I heard judgment I smelled class division I vomited the contents of simulacrum

Then finally it happened

My debit card was approved at Publix

I quickly gathered my grocery bags walked out of the store and wrenched the collected sweated from my emptier pockets out feeling like I had gotten away for something being a member of them and reminded myself the battle is not over yet

Why is Gay Marriage Still Not Legal?

Opinion, Published Articles

“When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.” – Krishnamurti

I had no idea he was engaged, but in 2011, when I found out he married the person he had devoted his life to for the last 15 years, I was elated. The two St. Augustine residents decided to marry for a common reason:

“We wanted to get married because we plan on being together for our lifetime and wanted to have a ceremony (wedding) to mark the years we have been together. Also to show our love and commitment to each other for the future.”

Simple and beautiful enough, but because Dan (who declined to use his real name or disclose his profession) and his partner are gay, they had to travel to Washington D.C. to get married, and then return to a state where their devotion is not legally recognized.

Dan and his partner are both handsome, successful, well-spoken, moral individuals. They lead a fairly quiet life and enjoy spending time with their families when not working. Most people seem to be fine with their sexual orientation, but it’s still a hot topic in contemporary America and one that has gained a lot of spotlight attention due to the November election and recent, polemical statements made by Chick-Fil-A’s CEO.

I agree with Dan when he says, “I feel we live in a country where you should be able to marry the person you love whether a man or woman.” Marriage is about love. For many people, marriage is a union between two individuals who wish to share their love and devotion for the rest of their lives, but for many others, it is the same love and devotion, but add the religious recognition.

And that is the basis for most arguments opposing gay marriage: religion. But if religion is the reason homosexuals cannot get married in America, why are atheists, agnostics, Muslims, or any other non-Christian allowed to? This seems a little silly considering many in the LGBT community are Christian.

Some other questions I have a hard time getting a reasonable response include:

Why are homosexuals denied the same legal rights and privileges that heterosexuals enjoy?

Should we, as voting citizens, minimize the significance of their lifelong relationships so that the government could tax them at higher rates, deny them health insurance, and withhold from them life insurance and social security benefits?

Should we deny them legal custody of their biological children based solely on their sexuality?

What if Dan or his partner experience a serious medical problem, but hospital visitation rights are not granted?

The above questions immediately polarize the nation. Arguing ensues, slippery slope arguments are pulled out, and soon enough the yelling is too loud to make sense of. Meanwhile, very few ever hear the voices or see the faces of people like Dan who are the very subjects of debate.

People often ask me why as a straight male I support gay rights. I find this question equivalent to asking me why 100 years ago I might support black or women’s rights.

Of course the issue of African-American and women’s right today seems like an odd comparison. Why should blacks or women not have equal rights? We grant them rights because they are human; they are people. Seems like common sense, right? Today, anyone opposing rights for these groups would rightly be labeled a bigot.

I believe that one day homosexuals will share the same rights as heterosexuals and that 100 years later people will look back with wonder as to why the LGBT community was not given what was rightfully theirs. As Dan says, “I think some Americans will always be split, but do believe it will be legalized.”

As stated above, reasons why homosexuals should not get married are abundant and usually religion-based. Scriptures are cited in condemnation of homosexuality, but are also often shouted in the faces of people like Dan who are simply trying to live their lives. In past times, scriptures were also cited as to why other minority groups were to be considered inferior and undeserving of rights.

Instructions on how to treat one’s slaves are in the bible (Leviticus 25:44-46 for one). Numerous instructions detailing and exemplifying women’s supposed inferiority are outlined in the bible (1 Timothy 2:11-14 for one). According to Deuteronomy 22:13-21, if a woman is not a virgin when she gets married, she should be stoned to death. Today thankfully, most people no longer weave these verses into their moral fabric.

This introduces a powerful question: at one point do Christians separate what the Bible instructs from what they actually practice? Certainly very few, if any, Christians have adopted a complete adherence to Biblical instruction, but the person who has would most likely be in jail for having stoned a person for breaking the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36).

While many of the Bible’s teachings are no longer regarded as being culturally relevant, why are other teachings still followed? Why are some instructions morally ambiguous, but when it comes to homosexuality, everything is transparent?

Why is homosexuality the hot topic in America when the Bible references its moral implications fewer than ten times (with no mentions from Jesus), but obesity is rarely discussed despite dozens of Biblical references condemning gluttony? Certainly obesity kills more people annually than homosexuality.

Many of us are aware of the arguments opposing gay marriage. Some claim it will lead to man and horse in unholy, bestiality-embraced union with tax benefits, but until horses gain opposable thumbs and are able to sign legally binding contracts, this humanity dooming, unconstitutional crisis remains out of the spectrum of possibility.

Others claim gay marriage will create homosexual children, which, while obviously presupposing there is something “wrong” with homosexuality, also does not make sense. Whether two men or two women, neither can biologically produce offspring.

In the case of a gay couple adopting children, there is absolutely no scientific evidence suggesting that a child raised in a homosexual household will “turn” gay. Why? Because no one makes the decision to become gay because it seems like a great choice to be mistreated, physically and emotionally abused, and denied love.

One of the most popular remarks against homosexuality is that it is unnatural. Firstly, homosexuality is not unnatural, but secondly, as human beings we do not make decisions based on whether something is natural or unnatural. Things that are unnatural include getting a haircut, driving a car, and watching television. Who is willing to give those up in the name of forsaking all that is unnatural?

A thorough examination on the issue of gay rights and gay marriage yields no support for those in opposition. Anyone opposing equal rights for another human does not deserve the rights they are attempting to withhold from others. It took us centuries to get where we are today; why are so many trying to slow our progress? Who can provide a legitimate reason as to why Dan and his partner should not be allowed the same rights as their heterosexual peers?

Today we look back and wonder, “Why didn’t we give women and minorities rights all those years ago? How full of confusion, misunderstanding, and hate were those people?” Future generations will wonder the same about us. They will be baffled as to how many reasons and how much propaganda could be dispersed to suppress a group of people. Unfortunately, it may be too late for Dan and his husband to enjoy the rights we take for granted today.

A Somber Reminder of Beauty in the Face of Death

Published Articles, True Stories

This article, written in memorial from my friend Katie Altermatt, won first place in 2013 for an SPJ (Society of Professional Journalists) award in the category of Online Opinion & Commentary in Region 3 and is now in competition for nationals

As soon as I touched her wrist I felt ice.

It’s a feeling you don’t expect. Touch the desk in your room and it’s room temperature. Touch a dead body and quickly discover just how cold it is after heat and life have evaporated. The chills down your spine don’t compare.

After the police finished an investigation of the room where my best friend’s wife, Katie, died, they left the scene. Mike was laying on an outdoor chaise lounge of the balcony at the house overlooking Lake Oconee. I walked over to him, but had no idea what to say.

We were there because our friends Brandon and Jackie were getting married. I was a groomsman in the wedding. On the morning of the ceremony, we woke up to discover that Katie had passed in her sleep.

I couldn’t ask how he was doing. That was a ridiculous question, so I asked the only question I could think of: “Is there anything I can do?”

He looked at me from behind his sunglasses. “Can you perform a resurrection,” he asked.

“Of course not,” I told him.

“Then no,” he replied, “there’s nothing you can do.”

I left him in silence.

The remaining 16 people who had been staying at the lake house had no idea what to say or what to do. We should have been preparing for a wedding. Celebrating the coming together of two people, not mourning the separation of two others.

On the long drive to the lake house, Katie had talked about how far apart everything is in rural Georgia. Then she pondered, “I wonder how long it would take for an ambulance to reach you if something happened.” She told us how she would want her funeral to be performed and how she would want to be remembered. (She will never know it, but Mike did everything she had asked).

That morning I woke up at 9:30 a.m. Mike was screaming for someone to call 911. He was standing over her, trying to shake her out of sleep. Out of death. Before I opened my eyes, my hand scrambled across the nightstand for my cell phone. I called 911 and told them we needed an ambulance.

Katie lay in bed, her hands still clasped together, supporting her head as though she were still asleep. Her brown hair laid gracefully across her pale face. Her facial expression was peaceful and happy. It was as though she fell asleep thinking of happy moments, then never woke up.

It was fitting — a final symbol of how she lived her life. How much she loved the simple things. How rich and bonded their mutual devotion was. I have never seen it in another couple. It’s what I hope for one day.

Neither one of them ever needed anything because the other was always there to provide it. Before one sneezed, the other was already making chicken soup. Before one had the chills, the other was reaching for a blanket.

I never saw them fight or bicker. Only laugh. And sing. They sang to each other — something you don’t often see. I wonder if I will ever see that in another couple.

The responses from Katie’s friends were just as diverse as the people themselves. My friend Todd said to me, “It would have been nice if Mike had gotten to say goodbye to her.”

“That doesn’t matter,” I told him. “He showed her every day.”

No doubt she laid in bed that last night knowing that she had loved, was loved, and still is today.

Thankfully, all of Katie’s friends were open to talking. That openness isn’t as common as it ought to be. I never understood how people get squeamish or uncomfortable when discussing death. Why not talk about it, though? It reminds us of our mortality, but also how we need to reevaluate our lives — to live purposefully.

We often avoid these questions. It is easy to be slowed down by the dampness of ordinary life — to fall into its catatonic surrender. But shouldn’t we be reminded of our mortality? Our own mutability?

There have been dozens of times since that day that I’ve stopped myself from complaining. Kept my mouth shut over a petty grievance. I remind myself that I should be spending more time thanking and appreciating, and less time complaining or worrying.

It can be hard to remind yourself to live a “beautiful life.” I want my life decisions to have purpose — to be enriching and rewarding. But it’s easy to forget when stuck behind the idle car at the green light.

That’s what Katie has taught me. That’s her legacy now. That I need to learn to take deep breaths. To remind those who are close to me that I love them and care about them. I want to show them.

On the hour and a half drive to Atlanta, where the emergency responders took Katie’s body for her autopsy, Mike leaned his body against the passenger door. His head was propped against the window as he held a can of High Life in his right hand.

The road was quiet and smooth as the car hummed along. Mike started singing in Irish Gaelic. The song was “Óró, Sé do Bheatha ‘Bhaile.” It means, “You are welcome home.”

“That’s a song Katie and I used to sing to each other,” he told us afterward.

As the car sped toward Atlanta, we sat silently. Mike had stopped singing. We weren’t sure what to discuss — what to say to break the silence. Finally, someone cracked a joke. It loosened up the air, but not much. We reached the airport where Mike was meeting his sister, and we turned around and headed back to the wedding.

I had just enough time to put on my black and red tuxedo and drink a Guinness before the ceremony. After the wedding, the celebration moved back to the lake house. I hadn’t had a chance to be by myself the entire time. I walked out to the dock that stretched into Lake Oconee and lost it. My tears fell into the lake. I gathered up my stuff, left the house and got a motel room.

After checking in, I touched the desk in my motel room. Cool, but not ice. I was still here, still breathing, still warm. The ever increasing stack of unpaid bills accumulating in my small apartment no longer mattered. The next morning I woke up, checked out of the motel, and drove home.

Two months after Katie’s death, the coroner’s report came back. We had all wondered how she died and now we had an answer. Only it wasn’t an answer. The cause of death: undetermined natural causes. Two months of waiting and we hadn’t learned anything. Only it didn’t matter. The cause of death wasn’t as important as the legacy she left behind, and what she had taught us with her beautiful life.

Sexual Assault: Time to Come to the Defense of Women

Opinion, Published Articles, True Stories

Recently a friend of mine was physically and sexually assaulted at a party. After she pushed the guy off her, he called her a slut and a bitch. While her friends came to her defense, no male did and the attacker’s friends encouraged his behavior.

When she told me her story, she concluded it by saying, “Apparently reacting to being grabbed by strangers constitutes being a bitch nowadays.”

There are more offensive details regarding this guy’s actions, but they are being withheld to protect my friend’s anonymity. Those details, however, would enrage any person who believes women’s bodies should not be violated.

There is already much needed societal and media attention paid toward rape and attempted rape cases, but rarely do we hear of cases where rape did not occur, but the woman was sexually assaulted by being touched, grabbed or something along these lines.

Is this because it’s too commonplace? Do many guys see this occur so often that it’s not worth mentioning and not worth defending the victim? Fifty four percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police, but in how many was the woman actually defended regardless of police involvement?

Many women are already strong enough to defend themselves without the help of a nearby male, but certainly not all are. In many cases when the woman does defend herself, she is called some pretty derogatory things. As my friend already noticed, not only is the victim in these cases not defended, she is further victimized just for defending herself.

Imagine you are at a party and you witness a man physically or sexually assault a woman. Do you do anything? Do you passively stand to the side and consider it acceptable behavior? Do you feel too afraid to break from your friends, look like the “bad guy,” and actually come to the person’s defense?

Is being an individual really that hard? What if your mother or sister was assaulted? Would the blood that courses through your veins boil because the men present were either too passive to do anything or believed that assaulting a woman is morally permissible?

Encouraging or refusing to defend a woman who has been violated does not seem like the type of behavior of a highly cultivated, sophisticated and evolved society. It sounds like the behavior of cavemen, dragging their knuckles through the dirt and communicating in grunts.

What will you do the next time you see a woman get assaulted or violated? Will you do anything? Will you imagine that it’s your mother or sister?

Can we evolve as a society to treat each other respectfully? I hope so.