Tag Archives: current events

Ready for Rachel’s Challenge

She was the first to die that day. She will never be the first to be forgotten.

Rachel Scott was just another high school student the day her life was taken by two of her fellow classmates in the Columbine High School massacre of 1999. Using her words from diaries, letters and poems she wrote, her message of love and compassion lives on through an educational school and community program that tours the country.

The assembly we had at school today was so incredible. It was so deeply moving to me, especially because I remember that tragic day so well. A special assembly will be presented to the community in the gymnasium at Raymore-Peculiar High School at 7 p.m. tonight (Dec. 2). If you live in the area and can make it, it will be worth your time.

Called “Rachel’s Challenge,” the assembly asks us to do five things:  Treat others the way you wish to be treated; dream big; seek good influences in life; spread “positive gossip,” good words about others; and, lastly, start a chain reaction. 

I love this message. It is very similar to what I have been saying to my students for the past eight years and to readers of my newspaper opinion columns for the five years prior to that.

After asking my students if they believed they had the ability to save a life, I told them a story,  a story about a young girl. Sad and alone, she walked through crowds of people in a busy city. She came to the river. She continued walking, right into the river. Swept away by the current, her body was finally located several miles downstream.

On shore, a simple note was found, snagged on some brush near where she walked into the river. The note said, “No one said hello.”

Ever since I first heard that story, I was moved by its power. Those four amazingly simple, yet so profound, words….”No one said hello.” If someone would have just done something as simple as greet her and smile, she would not have taken her own life.

I know there are days I feel down. There are times when someone just says “hello” to me and I know I will then be able to make it through the day. Maybe that person was you —  if not for me, maybe for someone else. You might have saved a life already and not even known it. We have more power than we realize.

You may not believe this, but I do know how it feels to be alone in a crowd. I sometimes feel I have spent my entire life that way. I can make people laugh; I know I have that ability. One thing I sometimes struggle with, surprisingly, is making myself happy.

Somehow in conversations over the years, I mention that comedians are actually among the most depressed people of all. I do not know if anyone ever caught on, but I was including myself in that.

If people are laughing, they are too busy to ask you about your life, they are too distracted by the humor to see the truth, they are too misled by your comedic wit to ever think you could be withering. I suffer from serious bouts of depression, it is true. It is not something I normally discuss. It is something with which I simply deal (and most of the time just refuse to acknowledge).

I just deal with it. And all you have to do is say “hello.”

I just want to strive to be as good as Rachel Scott knew we could all be everyday of my life. I know I will not always be able to do it, but I vow to try. I accept Rachel’s Challenge! If you want to know more, check out www.rachelschallenge.org.

Normally, I would not publish my poetry on here, but this is a poem I wrote shortly after another tragic school shooting, this one at a school in California called Santana High School,  and while thinking of the tragedy of Columbine. Here is that poem:

 

Safe Haven

 By John VanPelt

In Memory of the Students of Santana and Columbine high schools

 

I crawl to natural science

To study the evolution of man

Blood on the windows, blood on the walls

This wasn’t in Darwin’s plan.

 

I stroll to history

To explore ancient times

Blood on the windows, blood on the walls

The blood-stained hands of crime.

 

I saunter to Spanish

To master a foreign tongue

Blood on the windows, blood on the walls

The last dying gasp of the young.

 

I skim to English

To read great authors of the past

Blood on the windows, blood on the walls

How long will this pain last?

 

I scurry to biology

To examine the innards of mice

Blood on the windows, blood on the walls

To violence we are desensitized.

 

I sprint to algebra

To solve complex formulas of math

Blood on the windows, blood on the walls

We move backwards on the wrong path.

 

I tear home

To escape the safe haven of school

Blood on the windows, blood on the walls

 The lesson of death has become the rule.

 

We live in such strange times, with such mind-boggling tragedy. Let’s get through it together. Let’s get together.

 

Everyone, just smile and say “hello.” We will save lives.

 

***Photo courtesy of Rachel’s Challenge

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When Anything Goes, Everything Goes

Weed, grass, pot…let ’em smoke it. Gay, homosexual, partners…let ’em put a ring on it. Inconvenient, unintended, accident…let ’em kill it. Decent, moral, compassionate…let ’em all just forget it.

When I read an article by Jacob Weisberg in a recent issue of Newsweek, that is exactly the message I took away from it. Weisberg seems to think if enough people want to do something, every one else should just get out of the way and let them do it. My problem with this short-sightedness is that when anything goes, everything goes.

“Our forms of prohibition are more sins of omission than commission,” Weisberg writes in the article, titled, “Gay Marriage & Marijuana: You can’t stop either. Why that’s good.”* “Rather than trying to take away long-standing rights, they’re instances of conservative laws failing to keep pace with a liberalizing society.”

While I do think too many in the media would love it if Americans could just lounge around all day massaging their same-sex spouses, inhaling cannabis, eating Doritos and shooting babies with BB guns, I do think a majority of Americans still disagree. Certain elements of society — namely, the media — are “liberalizing,” but many Americans such as myself feel like a lot of this is being shoved down our throats. We are starting to choke.

Weisberg quotes the president, Barack Obama, saying, “‘I inhaled — that was the point.'”*  That is just one more reason I am glad I did not vote for the man. Seriously, even when he admits he consumed illegal drugs, Obama does it in a condescending way.

Pointing out that the bastion of conservative ideology, The New York Times, (can you hear my sarcasm?) has recognized gay unions on its wedding pages for the past seven years, Weisberg says this reflects “evolving social norms.”* I say this is just another example of a media outlet foisting its views on us.

Weisberg writes, “What’s advancing the decriminalization of marijuana is not just the demand for pot as medicine but the number of adults — more than 23 million in the past year…who use it and don’t believe they should face legal jeopardy.”*

Wow, I am amazed the “but Mom, everybody else is doing it” excuse can be used at any age now. Weisberg calls this the “evolving definition of the pursuit of happiness.”* I call this another example of our declining civilization.

Rome crumbled once the societal elites turned to hedonism. Is that the path we wish to travel? Should we let just anything go?

Discussing the relaxing of marijuana laws, Weisberg reports, “In L.A., you need only tell an on-site doctor at a walk-in pot emporium that you feel anxious to walk out with a legal bag of Captain Kush.”* Well, I have to stay up late to get this article done. How long before I can step into a walk-in methamphetamine boutique to pick up some Captain Keep-Me-Awake?

This is exactly my point. Where do we draw the line? When does it stop? Who is going to stand up and yell, “Enough!”? When are we going to realize what I said before — when anything goes, everything goes?

I do not think the problem is that society is becoming more liberal. I think the problem is that we are becoming weak and spineless.

We are too afraid of appearing judgmental. We are too afraid of being deemed politically incorrect. We are too afraid of causing offense.

I say the whole thing about not judging others is a load of crap. We judge others all the time. It is in our nature to do so. If I hurt your feelings and you think I am politically incorrect, go cry to your mama. If I offend, maybe you should be offended. Perhaps that is exactly what you need.

* Quotes from the article, “Gay Marriage & Marijuana: You can’t stop either. Why that’s good.” Newsweek. Nov. 9, 2009. (24).

Need to be Cured of Drug Commercials

Leg won’t stop shaking? Here, swallow this pill. Eyelashes not long or thick enough? Here, take a swig of this. Scared to meet new people? No problem, we can fix that. Sex life not quite what it used to be? Believe me, we’ve got you covered.

It seems there is a drug for every possible malady nowadays. There are so many things called “sicknesses,” “disorders,” or “diseases” now that I never even knew existed, and somewhere on the market, there is a drug to cure each and every one of them.

Until I found out what RLS meant, I was wondering why they were drugging the Mormons. Now, thanks to Requip of course, we all know that RLS is an acronym for “Restless Leg Syndrome.” Who knew there was such a thing? I always thought if someone’s leg was shaking, they had to go to the bathroom (of course, there are plenty of drugs to help dampen those urges, too).

I was so shocked the other day to see an advertisement on television for a drug called “Latisse” that actually claims to make eyelashes thicker. I guess this is for the women who do not have the time for mascara. Of course, it comes with a warning about how it might irritate your eyes. It does not seem like it would be worth it to me. Big eyelashes, but red, irritated, watery eyes. What a strange trade.

The social anxiety commercial always makes me laugh. I believe it is for a drug called “Clarocet.” The actor in the advertisement is so happy to be out at a party, finally able to mingle with people again. The funny part is when the side effects are listed. It is totally hilarious.

“May cause diarrhea, incontinence, bladder-control problems, sudden mood swings and/or impotence.” Wow, that is totally amazing. Whoever takes that drug is going to be the life of the party.

They will want to mix and mingle. All their fear of social interaction will be gone. The only problem is going to arise when they wet themselves while going bipolar on the other party guests. Yeah, they will be going out again real soon after that. Seems like they should have just embraced their anxiety.

The whole impotence thing leads us up to my last complaint. What is it with all these Viagra and Cialis commercials? I was watching the American League Championship Series the other night and it seemed like every other commercial was for these two pills. What in the heck is going on? Can’t this go back to being a private matter?

I am so tired of seeing those people in the tub. I wish they would just be clean already. Does Cialis really just make you want to take a really long bath outside while the sun sets? Perhaps these men do not need the drug at all. It is the inordinate amount of time they spend in the bathtub that is causing the problem.

It is time to return to the better days of the past, when I could turn on the T.V. and not be confronted with all these advertisements for drugs. We all need medicine some time. We know where to get it, and our doctor or pharmacist can help us figure out what to get. We do not need the T.V. to tell us.

Sadly, Racism is Not ‘Old’ News

I have been out of the loop for a while. Between school, sickness and two little children, it seems there never is enough time or energy. A few weeks ago, I wanted to write about the Serena Williams and Kanye West incidents. Now, those stories are old news. Sadly, as I perused comments about Williams and West, I found out that racism is anything but “old” news.

Now, I have not been a supporter of Barack Obama as President. This has nothing to do with the color of his skin and everything to do with his policies and attitude. While he did not receive my vote because of our divergent stance on many issues, part of me was happy to see America elect a black man president. I thought this proved that racism was becoming old news in America. I was so wrong.

Racism reared its ugly head again in the Williams and West debacles. I was completely blown away.

I read so many comments on Kanye West’s inane stunt at the Video Music Awards that seemed to indicate that his actions had something to do with him being black.

Kanye West is not an idiot because he is black. Kanye West is an idiot because he is an idiot. This has nothing to do with race. Every race has its share of them. If there is anything that is colorblind it is this — idiocy draws no color lines. Really, it is about as simple as that.

The Serena story is something else entirely. I am not a follower of tennis, so normally I would not care. But, I read the story about what happened at the U.S. Open and I watched the video. Then, I began to read the comments. I could not believe it.  Nearly half the people blamed her actions on her being black, while another 15 percent just posted blatantly racist comments. I was stunned by this.

Do I think Serena was wrong? Yes, I most definitely do. She acted in a totally inappropriate and unprofessional manner. Do I think it had anything to do with her being black? No, I do not. It has everything to do with her being a highly competitive individual who does not accept defeat easily.

In most things I do in life, I expect to win. I go in with the attitude that I am going to be the victor, even if it takes me 20 times. If I make a mistake, I get angry at myself. Do I sometimes take this anger out on others? Yes, I am sorry to say I do. I work on this and strive to not allow it to happen in the future, but sometimes it comes back, especially when I become frustrated with myself.

Luckily for me, I am not a professional star athlete like Serena Williams. My bouts of competitive anger are not international news. I honestly believe Serena was just so angry and frustrated at herself. She was not playing at a level of which she knows she is capable. She showed her frustration at her play when she broke her racket.

While I am in no way attempting to excuse what Serena said or did to that line judge, I do not think Serena’s anger was really with the official. Serena’s anger was with herself. The line judge was just unlucky enough to get in the way.

Competitive people play life with a fire and a passion that sometimes burns hot. It does not matter what color skin we have — the temperature is still the same.

Chiefs Counted Out Before Season Begins

 

I am proud to say I am a diehard Kansas City Chiefs fan. They are my team and I will stick with them through anything. Whether they win or lose, there is no other team for which I want to cheer. So I wish people would just stop counting them out when the season has just begun.

Most of the comments directed at the Chiefs by the announcers were negative. It was as if the announcers were already predicting an 0-16 season for the Chiefs in just the first half of Sunday’s season opener against the Baltimore Ravens. It was so annoying.

There was no “constructive” criticism. There was just criticism and, as it turned out, most of it was wrong.

Here are some of the choice statements the announcers made in just the first 16 minutes of play:

  • “The Chiefs can’t deal with this suffocating defense.”— This was said after the Ravens made the Chiefs go three and out on their opening drive, which actually is a common occurrence for any team. While it was an unsuccessful start to the game for the Chiefs, the players appeared to breathing just fine.
  • “The Chiefs cannot do anything on offense.” — This was sort of true at the time it was said, but the first quarter was not even over. We had time to turn it around.
  • “Kansas City has not been able to muster any kind of drive.” — This was said just 50 seconds after the second-bulleted comment above, still in the first quarter. It was true, yet still early in the game.
  • “Brody Croyle is not surrounded by a lot of talent.” — This is when I started to truly get annoyed by the asinine announcers. The players around Croyle clearly are talented or they would not be in the National Football League. An NFL team does not usually shell out millions of dollars to guys who cannot play the game. Yes, the Chiefs might not have a bunch of superstars, but saying the players are not talented is inaccurate.
  • “They need help because they are not about to get it done offensively with that personnel right now.” — Amazingly this was still the FIRST QUARTER of the game. So much for giving them a chance. Just write them off in the first 15 minutes.
  • “If they have any chance in the game, it’s going to have to come on this side of the ball (the defense); they will have to make some plays and keep it close.”— Wow, for real? While the defense did get the Chiefs going with an awesome blocked punt recovered in the endzone and an outstanding interception returned 72 yards to within the 10-yard-line, it was still the FIRST QUARTER when this comment was made. Last I checked, football had four of those.
  • “The way this game is going, that might have been the only way that Kansas City can score.” — This was said just one minute into the second quarter after the Chiefs narrowly missed saddling the Ravens with a safety. We ended up scoring two touchdowns off the arm of Croyle.

I know this will most likely be a rough year for the Chiefs. But if there is one thing I cannot tolerate, it is being counted out before the game (and, in this case, the season) has begun. People who count others out like this tend to underestimate their opponents. Surprises lurk in underestimation.

The Chiefs did lose the season opener to the Ravens by a score of 38-24, but I was on the edge of my seat with just five minutes remaining as the Chiefs tied the game at 24. Despite an admittedly sluggish start, Croyle threw for a respectable 177 yards and the two aforementioned touchdowns.

I just hope some mouths were forced shut by the Chiefs decent performance in the season opener. If not, I will probably just have to get used to muting the game and providing some positive, constructive commentary of my own.

Good luck, Chiefs. Play well. There are many of us who believe. Just push your mute button too, and you will hear us.

Taxes, Death and . . . Easter Grass?

Everyone knows the phrase, “The only things that are certain are death and taxes,” is used when discussing events that will go on forever.  To those two, I would like to add Easter grass, for it also is eternal.

It is already the middle of September, nearly five full months since Easter passed, yet that does not seem to matter to the Easter grass. It is still hanging around. I cannot believe it.

It has become a joke in our house. Some how, some way, it seems about once a month or so, a piece of Easter grass adheres to the bottom of my foot as I am walking around the house. I run to find my wife now to show her (for some reason, this does not happen to her). I exclaim, “Mary, you won’t believe it. There is a piece of …” She interrupts and shouts back, “Easter grass!” I respond, “Yes, Mary, yes and it is stuck to my foot!” We laugh about it and I swear to her that I will never use Easter grass again, even though I know I probably will.

Easter grass is just simply amazing. It has reached the point where I am just totally astounded and in awe of its absolute resilience.

How does it stick around for so long? Where does it hide? Why does it only come out every once in a while? Why does only one piece come out at a time?

To most everyone, Easter grass is just fake cut plastic that you fill a basket with for your children once a year. Yet, there are three important lessons we can learn from the Easter grass.

One, don’t give too much of yourself at once, people will just be overwhelmed by that. Parcel yourself out and give a little bit each time, spread over the course of lifetime (I think the lifespan of Easter grass has to be at least 400 years).

Two, hang in there despite the odds. We have vacuumed the house dozens of times since Easter and we have one of those fancy Dyson “It-doesn’t-lose-suction” vacuums; yet, the Easter grass has the sheer tenacity to still be around. One cannot help but be impressed.

Lastly, it might be a small thing and it might even annoy you, but if you find the humor in it, that’s all that matters in the end. For a month after Easter, it drove me nuts. Now, I just can’t help but laugh (while still being totally astonished by it).

For most of my life, when someone asked me to list three things that we could count on forever, I could only think of the two — death and taxes. Now I know what my third thing is — it is Easter grass.

I can step on it from one Easter to the next. I could probably step on it for the next 400 years if death wasn’t one of the three things on the list. That truly is miraculous.

The Omnipresent President: T.V. Star or President?

It seems I cannot turn my television on nowadays without the President interrupting my delightful escapist programming with his mind-boggling version of reality and what is best for the country. I cannot even escape him when I go to school.

This guy is everywhere, talking about every thing and yet nothing is getting done. He came on like the second coming itself (and does actually believe he is our “savior,” albeit not a “Christian” one, God forbid), yet he has nothing to show for it.

Maybe, if he would get off my television for a bit, he could get some things accomplished. On second thought, maybe television is right where he should be to keep us all safe from his plans. I can change the channel much easier than I can find $900 billion.

Tonight he was on television again telling us what a great health-care reform plan he has. His plan will not only drive our country further down the path to bankruptcy, but it will allow employers an easy out of paying for their workers’ insurance.

All the stress from our country being in debt, higher taxes, trying to figure out how to participate in the “public” option because our employer dropped our nice, “private” one, is going to kill us all. It will not matter if we have health insurance or not.

We will be dead just from thinking about it. Dead or broke. We will be starving to death, but finally we will all have health insurance, dang it! Ridiculous. This is a crazy joke.

If I am an employer, and suddenly this “public” option is available, why would I continue to pay for my workers’ insurance? I would not. In his effort to insure those who are not currently insured, Obama is going to take away the insurance millions of people have now. The old switcheroo…hope you are paying attention.

Earlier this week, I had to watch him yet again, but this time it was right in the middle of my school day. He did not say any thing new. He did not say any thing controversial. He actually just said what we, as teachers, already say every day. Yet, he somehow believes he just thought of it.

I have to give him credit, though. I have to say he is one shrewd politician. What better way to ensure your reelection in four years?

His main strength was among younger voters. Who better to appeal to then current 14- to 18-year-olds, the very demographic that will be voting for the first time in the next election? This is a brilliant strategy to ensure the young will vote for him. He is indoctrinating them into the cult of Obama.

Good job, Obama. Way to continue to sell yourself; way to continue jamming up the air waves with your omnipresent smirk; way to continue making me find the darn remote. But, I have to say I am sorry, because a long time ago I swore I would not join a cult.