Why is the world such a dangerous place?

Read or watch the news on any major media outlet and see headlines like: pet dog suddenly attacks and kills family of three, new strain of deadly bacteria found in common bread, mad cow disease kills man in Wisconsin—you could be next. These and other alarming bits of news assault our senses on a daily, or depending on how much TV you watch, an hourly basis.

The message: DANGER IS LURKING EVERYWHERE.

Is it any wonder that people don’t trust each other? Is it any wonder that racial, political, religious and economic differences have fractured us apart?

Here’s an idea: take a moratorium from all the bad news. Give yourself a break. Two weeks without one headline or one news blurb. Is there really any information you couldn’t do without? Not one bit.

Try it. No news for two weeks. I warn you, though, it’s not as easy as you think. Think you can simply stop watching the newscast at dinner or late night and avoid the assault? Think again. They’ve got that covered. You’ll still be hit with scare headlines throughout the day and night on the internet and in the middle of television shows. And woven throughout you will be alerted to a wide variety of new illnesses to choose from, coupled with the litanies of horrible side effects should you choose to take the medicines you are being told you must now take.

Try it yourself. Go two weeks–no news, no commercials, no bad news. Take a walk. Talk to a neighbor. See how you feel. You may find the world is a far more pleasant and far less dangerous place than you ever imagined.

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Dandelion

As the day meandered slowly in a drab grey uniform
The lemming-certain soldiers marched fervently to war;
Plodding rhythm robots, more machine than men alive,
Like a swarm of silent drones on a mission from the hive.

The soulless thumping beat of boots, first left then right in sync,
Every step a tally, one more life pushed past the brink;
They’re fighting for philosophy, a cause meant to ennoble;
Yet the bodies pile up higher as a monument immobile.

Us or them defines reality, and blinds the soldiers’ eyes
To the men behind the curtain, or the truth that underlies;
Like a foggy morning mist that has not lifted from the land,
Shrouding faces from each other, when death is close at hand.

Misshapen words and rhythms speak of hostile enemy thought,
Alien shapes and sounds that conjure demons to be fought;
Distinctly different uniforms accent targets in the brawl,
Until the common color of war makes blood-brothers of us all.

The many-headed hydra snaked blindly along the road,
Flanking tanks and armored cars, every weapon lock and load;
When the caravan of ruin climbed a rise and then slowed down,
A single soldier paused as his gaze dropped to the ground.

He saw a single dandelion had poked a defiant head
Up through unforgiving asphalt, barely missed by heavy tread;
Its bright yellow petals promised peace for just a while,
Life lives, thinks one soldier, who comes alive and starts to smile.

“Back in line!” the sergeant barked, and stepped squarely on the plant,
We’re needed on the battlefield with Death our only chant;
With a hardened heart the soldier seemed to melt back into line,
And the caravan continued toward its devilish design.

An hour down the road they could hear the nearby fire,
Just a warning prelude to the hell that would transpire;
Soon they broke from rank and file and scattered to the wood,
A rain of shells exploding in the spot where they had stood.

With forest cover the soldier hoped out of sight meant out of mind,
But the enemy had been waiting up ahead behind a blind;
When he stopped a sec and squinted to adjust his darkened sight,
He went from upright to supine in a blinding flash of light.

“MOVE IT! MOVE IT!” said the sergeant, though he wasn’t even there,
“Be a man,” said his father from his favorite easy chair.
“I just knew it,” cried his mother with her hands upon her hips,
“Shouldn’t take this lying down,” were the words from his own lips.

Then he noticed something wet beneath his arm and turned to look,
What had started as a puddle was becoming a red brook;
As the blood poured from his wounds, and his face turned ashen grey
All the fear and hate and pain inside began to drain away.

He smelled the piney sap that oozed from every single tree,
And heard the friendly song of birds, and a busy buzzing bee.
Only inches from his head a dandelion stood still awhile,
Life lives, thinks one soldier, who comes alive and starts to smile.

Slowly he rose above the fray, floating softly on the air;
He saw so many fallen feeling death’s desperate despair.
Soon the tops of trees were underfoot, tickling the bottom of his soul;
And suddenly he giggled as he loosened all control.

There were armies to the left and right, straight ahead another two,
Life could end this day in battle, once and done, for all they knew;
Who was right he could not say, but there was one thing he did know —
There just wasn’t any reason to the battle down below.

If they’re fighting over food then they ought to grow some more,
If it’s pride that needs repair, why not a building to restore,
If it’s honor that they seek, why not the honor of being kind,
If you’re killing to survive, you’re most certainly out of your mind.

Out far across the plain he sailed, warming in the sun
Still he wondered to himself, whether deeds were left undone;
Then he saw the yellow dandelions, stretching many a mile,
Life lives, thinks one soldier, who comes alive and starts to smile.

© 2010 – 2011 Jack Thompson

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Life Lessons Learned

Every young man eventually arrives at the point where he is certain that, when it comes to smarts, he has it all over any of the adults in his life, especially his parents. As a rather precocious youngster, this idea came early for me, somewhere near my ninth birthday. I couldn’t pinpoint an exact time or day of this revelation. Rather, it rose slowly out of the mist of youthful self doubt, and was forged gradually from the irrational arguments between adults on whom I had eavesdropped. Added to the mix were liberal amounts of the classic parental arguments like “You’ll do it because I say so”, or “I’m your father,  that’s why”, that always sounded suspiciously like Darth Vader. By my twelfth birthday I was so convinced of my towering intellectual superiority that I began to doubt I was related to either of my parents. Oh, the heights from which one can fall.

The events that knocked the stuffing out of my particular brand of hubris started a month past my twelfth birthday, when several of my friends from the neighborhood came over on a Saturday afternoon. We played baseball in the mowed field in back of my house during the day. Somehow, the stars being in just the right alignment for a miracle, we all managed to convince our parents that we could camp out right there in the field, that there was
safety in numbers, and that we could probably survive one night on our own without blinding or crippling anyone.

The first camp-out came off without a hitch. Soon it became our weekly routine, sometimes in the field, sometimes in the woods nearby, but always a time for a half a dozen young bucks to be out in the world on our own. I could tell you some of the mischief we got into, like the time we got so bored that we decided that streaking through the neighborhood might create some interest. Disappointed that no one even noticed us at all, we returned to our campsite. No one would have been the wiser, had we not set up camp right in the middle of a patch of poison ivy. Dale and Mike had no way to explain being covered head to toe and all parts between with poison ivy welts. Suffice it to say we were
basically all good kids, never looking for any real trouble. This story is not one of great adventure, but of finding out how to fit into the world right where one lives.

It was late springtime and the winter had broken completely. The nights were balmy, and after whatever shenanigans we had pulled during the night we would always be thirsty
by the early hours before dawn. One night our gang, and I use that term very loosely, was cruising the neighborhood, wishing a store was open. (This was before the all night 7-Eleven.) It was still dark, and Mr. O’Brien, the milkman, was making the rounds in his delivery truck. He was just heading up a long driveway to drop milk in one of the metal boxes everyone had on their front porches. Bobby darted to the back of the truck and grabbed a quart of orange juice from one of the wire cases that held bottles from the local dairy. We all ran behind a row of lilac bushes, and the milkman continued on his way unaware of the missing juice. We triumphantly shared the juice, and thus started a new tradition for our camp-outs. Sometimes we would get chocolate milk which was always a fan favorite. However, there were nights when there was no chocolate milk or juice in sight during our commando raids on the truck. Very disappointing. And of course there was the very real possibility we would be seen by the milkman, who knew us all because he was a teacher at the local grade school as well. Teaching really didn’t pay well in those days. That was when I came up with the master plan that solidified my position as head of our group. I would bring a small notepad from home on our camp-out, and I would leave a note with a custom order for whatever we wanted in some unsuspecting neighbor’s milk box. Later, after the milkman was long gone, we’d come back and leisurely pick up our order. It worked like a charm and I was everybody’s hero.

That status only lasted for about two months, until the day I saw Mr. O‘Brien walking up to our front door late one Saturday morning. My father answered the door and stepped
out onto the front porch to have a brief conversation I couldn’t hear, but that appeared much too serious for my liking. After they shook hands, my father came back inside and called me into the den where he had his office. I stood by nervously while he finished
writing a note at his desk. When he finished, he tore it off the pad and handed it to me. It read:

Dear Mr. O’Brien,
My son, Mitchell, will be paying back all the charges for all the notes he put in your milk boxes.
Sincerely, Richard Townsend

My father told me to put the note out in our milk box. I went out and did so, baffled as to how they could have known. As I placed the note in the box, I noticed across the top of the paper was printed From the office of Richard W. Townsend. It was the same pad I had been using for all our special orders.

Needless to say I mowed quite a few lawns that year before I saw any spending money of my own. Yet, it turned out to be a great summer. I found out the real meaning of exchange. Despite my intellectual humbling, I was smart enough to rule out criminal mastermind as a career path. And I also realized that it’s the imperfections in each of us that makes life much more interesting to all of us.

*****

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