Tuesday, May 27, 2008

And Then There Were 25

I have this long ago memory of a beautiful Siamese cat given to me by my Aunt Barbara for Christmas. I remember the mystery and thrill. But the cat vanished. I was really quite young, probably 2.5 years old. But I remember getting the cat for Christmas quite well. I have asked and asked my mother what happened to the cat. Silence.

As it turned out, I was allergic to cats, causing me a storm of allergy symptoms including rash, severe asthma, and associated allergic reactions. I couldn't even walk into a home with a cat, let alone touch one. Then came the amazing allergy shots! I lined up with kids at the doc, got my shots for almost everything on the planet, and rode my bike home for another day of baseball in the street and hide-and-go-seek.

I am almost 55 now and have been in the dog and cat rescue world (before it was called that!) for three decades. Five years ago, I was granted a permit for 10 dogs and 15 cats in an area otherwise zoned for three animals, regardless of how many of which. That the fees for this permit have increased 300% over this five-year time is the subject for another post, but suffice it to say that this does stick in my craw.

Lots of folks have odd ideas about what we in rescue actually "do". So, this post is dedicated to those of you that don't know, and might want to. Rescue is a broad term, and we are a diverse bunch with a broad spectrum of approaches, specialties and interests. As a group, we are anything but alike.

In my particular case, I own four dogs and two cats.... well, maybe three cats. Everything else with three or four legs is a rescue. Some times two-legged winged things are here until they can go to the proper rescue or wildlife rehab.

All of my own dogs are either rescue rejects or those who have severe medical issues and are not placeable: The unsocialized (but never biters, I do not take biters... preferring to take the nice dogs, killed by the dozens everyday only because there are just too many), the terminally ill or those who are statistically likely to be terminal. I also have owned, and will again own, senior dogs which find themselves unadoptable at shelters due to nothing other than age. These seniors enter and finish their lives here. I also always try to have dogs/cats in the rescues from dying owners. I have two now, both cats.

I have just so much "space" so many of all of these types, if not taken by other rescues, are killed. Some are killed brutally under the color of tax-funded animal "shelters" and/or contract SPCAs etc. There are kinder ways to kill animals, and not. But kill is the operative and appropriate word.

This time of year, spring/summer, we are loaded to the gills. Our numbers double almost instantly in February from our normal downseason 12 to over double that. Why? Because, in normal years, this is puppy and kitten "season". The irresponsible end up shoving their animal babies into shelters, abandoning them, or advertising them for homes at much too young an age. It is a national tragedy. But this is not a normal year. It's much worse. Many read about foreclosure animals, but we in rescue are dealing with them.

In one instance--one that is still in play--the family lost their home and moved back to South Dakota leaving behind their three unspayed/unneutered cats. Those three cats have now turned into almost 25. We have taken in the non-ferals, fully vetted them, and many now have homes, the remainder are up for adoption. But over a dozen still remain, feral now, with kittens that will also be feral if we cannot find and humanely trap them at an age young enough to tame. The moms and dads will be trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated and given any additional needed vetting, then re-released into the neighborhood under the care of a neighborhood feeder as a neighborhood feral colony. TNR. Trap, neuter, release. In this case, there are three generations of cats, now, whose original owners abandoned them and left the neighborhood and rescues to pick up the pieces. They never leave money on the counter to cover the costs paid by rescues or neighbors. People dig into their pockets, hold garage sales... anything to cover the costs.

The remaining animals in our rescues are either fosters for other rescues (usually sick animals that need specific and very detailed care prior to getting well/adopted) and dogs from shelters on their literal last day... sometimes last hour. This last group of animals present highly stressed, almost always sick, sometimes fatally, usually underweight, often with long-present medical or orthopedic issues, and frequently with skin disease. If everything goes right (and thankfully it usually does), two to three months later, the dogs/cats are healthy, at or near weight, coats are returning through good nutrition, supplementation, exercise and good general care, and their stress is relieved by running around the yard with other happy dogs, or basking in a sunlit window, and being loved.

Thus, one has to ask just WHAT the original home did to so seriously alter the personality and/or health of an otherwise mentally and physically healthy animal. In two words: abuse and/or neglect. Usually, the two are tied together.

Then there are those that move and either set the cat outside (WHAT are they thinking? Cats who are not trained by their feral mothers to hunt almost never survive hunting for themselves) or leaving them, without telling anyone, inside an apartment or home with NO care and no food or water. Sometimes people get to these animals before they are critically ill or dead. Sometimes not.

I have one of these as well, a foster for a breed rescue which has cost this rescue, now, almost $1700.00 to save. But save this little nine month-old persian kitten we did, including two straight weeks of force feeding until she could/would eat on her own. This kitten will be adopted out to a loving family for about $200.00, fully vetted and healthy (and with more blood panels than you can possibly imagine!). Blossom, is a lucky one. She was found, actually, by a dog rescue who contacted the breed rescue who contacted me. It does take a village. Blossom will soon be picked up by a volunteer transporter (along with another foster cat who is now well) to go to the rescue, physically, for showing and adoption.

Sadly, these two places won't be vacant for more than 6 hours. Two new cats will come in and the saga begins anew.

I wanted to go to veterinary school. My mother used to joke that she would be my office manager because I would just give my services away. She was right. I would have. My college grades were excellent, but there was just no money to pay for four years of veterinary school on top of the years I had already attended at university. Working one's way through vet school is almost impossible. I received great grades, but that is because I was focused and I studied. And studied. And studied. I think I am about as average as anyone can be in most ways. After leaving college, I worked some very strange jobs. But as a waitress, every night I would count my tips and write a check for that exact amount to pay off my student loans. In a year or two, they were paid. And I, unfortunately, was still a waitress.

My interest in helping animals was as much a part of me as my eye color. Though I have hardened a lot, just through years of sadness I suppose, I have a lot more knowledge and experience now. Sometimes I think I just "stuff" my grief and get on with it. Then I read a rescue post for help for an extremely needy animal, and I break down and sob. There's a system to all this, I guess.

But what I believe is really going on here is that we were all intended to work in God's world for God's purposes and given gifts to enable this work. I was not born with a manual of God's desires for me, nor do I believe they are fully revealed. But they were planted in my heart and my soul. They are what I am when working at my highest purpose.

We are not all cut from the same cloth. There is too much need, and too much ground to cover for that. Instead, I believe we are all given gifts to give to enrich others of God's creation: Some in the environment, some with children, some with elders, some with animals and so on. Some are great artists that inspire, and some are thinkers, likewise. Some are in holy orders to help us through our humanness--our frailty and separation--and to encourage and help us connect with the God that made and loves us.

Rescue is frustrating work, at times, and terribly sad at others. It is extremely expensive work. I do not know of a single rescue that doesn't, at year's end, operate in the red with volunteers and directors pulling a large amount of the money needed from their own pockets. It is a labor of love, in my case. About the only thing I don't like about rescue is dealing with human beings who are irresponsible. Of course I have to do this daily. WHAT was God thinking! I am truly the last person on earth that God should have given this duty to, and one that has to ask constant forgiveness for the comments that flow from my tongue and across my mind. The joke is probably on me. This is probably the why.

But God, I am putting my foot down... no more than 25. Never. Ever. Period.

Okay, maybe once in a while...

Go here to see Kacee's slideshow, and turn up the sound; lovely music.


Goodbye, Old Friend

Still in my pajamas and half awake this morning, I learned from a neighbor of the sudden death of an long time friend. Like knives, the words I heard this morning pierced my heart and mind. They hurt and I feel very wounded.

My friend, in his early 60s, was gay. Most did not know this as he was not openly gay. Even fewer of his friends knew he was HIV positive and under treatment for many years.

We talked about him being gay some, and his HIV and treatment, but he was a very private person and besides, being gay was "who" he was, not what he was. He was not an activist which, among many of my gay friends, appears to be characteristic of many in his generation as openness often slams doors shut and opens lines of hostility.

I am going to be 55 in August, so I am his generation. I know what many believe, and I also know what I believe to be true. Primarily, it doesn't matter one whit to me whether someone is straight or gay. I could care less. But the stigma, especially in a small community--and particularly among straight men--is real, and often real ugly.

I am no stranger to the social contexts of being gay. I hear the hostile rhetoric, the name calling and the black "jokes". I am also a devout Episcopalian and the American Church (TEC), a part of the Anglican Communion, has been struggling with the issue for years. Recently, the California Supreme Court issued a ruling in essence, finally, resolving the legality of same gender marriages in the affirmative. At least this ruling has finally, legally, forced the concept of equal rights under the laws of the state. As with the Civil Rights movement, it will take time for humanity to catch up and the rhetoric and violence against gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual persons is likely to increase in the short term, sadly.

So where does this put we who are straight? Well, it puts ME squarely on the side of equal rights, in the secular context, and full participation in my church in the religious context. If one believes God creates perfection only, and does NOT create "junk", one must believe this way. Therein the the split: Those that believe anything but heterosexuality is a "preference" (often backhandedly referred to as a "life style") and those that believe one is or is not straight.

And what does my belief, as a straight woman, call me to do in this regard? To stand with those who are gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual both constitutionally and under the Triune God that is such an important part of my life. It calls me to stand with my lost friend. It calls me to stand with strangers. It calls me to stand apart from prejudice and deceit always. It calls me to speak up. It calls me to march with and defend. It calls me to help and support through action and prayer.

None are free unless all are free. ALL are blessed.

Goodbye, old friend. I will stay for a while and help.

You are finally free.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

The first time I visited the Vietnam War Memorial, known as "The Wall", in Washington D.C. I wept. It was probably one of the most emotional moments of my life. Just reaching up and touching the name of a human being, lost in an unknown way in an unwalked land, was a profoundly moving thing for me. The other 58,194 names I did not touch beckoned.

I was in D.C. on a business trip for my then employer, an international environmental non-profit, and I had some off time. I spent one whole day in the Smithsonian (I love this museum), mostly in the archeology and paleontology sections then I hoofed it over to The Wall.

I was just stunned.

This huge black granite wall with the names of some 58,195 men and women who lost their lives in the Vietnam War conflict is both imposing and fragile at the same time. It is overwhelming. The environment there was so quiet one could have heard a pin drop... this in the middle of a noisy city not known for "quiet" of any kind. For those alive when the Vietnam War was raging, and who have visited the The Wall, the contradiction between the noisy protests and news debates and the memorial's deadly silence is a profound--and for me startling--sensory contradiction.

No one in my then-tiny (and now tinier) family served in Vietnam. I did have friends who returned alive and friends that did not. I also had friends that refused the draft and either left the country or escaped the draft through conscientious objector (CO) status.

My opposition to the Vietnam conflict remains. My visit to The Wall did, however, bring something additional to my feelings about that time and that war: Profound sadness, and a deepened respect for those that did meet the call or volunteered, many of whom now live as a name on a wall.

The memorial also deepened my commitment to oppose unjust military involvement on foreign shores.

At the time of my visit to The Wall, The Gulf War had just ended amid PR'd manufacturing of horrible human abuse by international PR czars at Hill and Knowlton under contract to the government of Kuwait. They had been hired to set the stage for the U.S. intervention. The famous story about babies being taken from their incubators in Kuwait--the incubators stolen by Iraqi soldiers--was just one of these PR manufactured atrocities, if not the most famous.

As the aforementioned linked article discussees, this lie was circulated through congress, the media and the public for at least three months prior to the beginning of the war. NO ONE caught it, but everyone got it. The outrage was in place to shore up our intervention which was really about oil.

Up until the Iraqi conflict (now playing), this was the most successful PRing of a war. Bush II, though, broke all previous barriers in lying about the known conditions on the ground in regard to WMDs prior to the current conflict while international weapons inspectors (who, contrary to Bush's lies, had NOT been thrown out of Iraq, but TAKEN out) were getting little or no press while insisting there were no WMDs left in Iraq. The lies continue to this day.

I feel so conflicted about Memorial Day for two reasons: I respect those that believe they are acting in reason for good purpose, but I do not respect our government for lying to all of us, the soldiers included, about our involvement in deadly conflict let alone using American men and women as pawns for unGodly economic or political purpose.

Though I generally disdain the phrase "hate the sin, not the sinner", this particular usage I can somewhat live with in this circumstance for lack of a decent substitute.

So this Memorial day, I prayed for our country, our soldiers and their families and friends, our enemies, and for the innocents caught in the middle whose names will never be found on any wall.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hold On! Keep Your Eyes on the Prize, Hold On!

Amid the messy refuse of the Democratic primaries, a white woman v. a black man, it isn't the way it was. It is the way it is (apologies to Bruce Hornsby).

Barak Obama will rise to be the candidate, that is now certain; the first black candidate for U.S. president.

As a nation, we should be very proud. But there are many barriers still to cross and many dangers ahead. This rise of a brilliant black man does not change the recent Katrina debacle in terms of the treatment of the poor, the black or otherwise marginalized communities ignored by the federal government during that crisis (not to mention the animals) and likely many crisis to come. It is important that we remember that our government is all of us, not some of us, and while the marginalized remain so, we HAVE to change that.

Against this very positive current political backdrop, please watch this amazing 1962-1964(?) video set against the absolutely incredible music of Mavis Staples. It is extremely painful to watch, and for me very painful to watch as a Christian, but we need to remember. We must always remember. And we need to remember that now, there is a different target: gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender persons. GLBT persons are the subject of brutal and unconstitutional violations at every turn, though created perfect by God.

It is no wonder some can turn away from God given the evil references and actions attributed to those who are considered church leaders against Gods creation.

The younger generation is fulfilling my greatest hopes. While we talked about equality and legislated it, the generation now is living it. They are doing what Christ suggested needed to be our path, whether they agree with that calling or not. I am very proud of them. They are doing what we tried to do.

As humans, and as Christians, our duty is to assure equal treatment under God for all... not some. Watch this:

Lyrics to Keep Your Eyes on the Prize:

Paul and Silas, bound in jail
Had no money for to go their bail
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
Hold on, (hold on), hold on, (hold on)
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on!
Hold on, (hold on), hold on, (hold on)
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on!

Paul and Silas began to shout
Doors popped open, and they walked out
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
Hold on, (hold on), hold on, (hold on)
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on!

Well, the only chains that we can stand
Are the chains of hand in hand
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
Got my hand on the freedom plow

Wouldn't take nothing for my journey now
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on!

Hold on, (hold on), hold on, (hold on)
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on!
Hold on, (hold on), hold on, (hold on)
Keep your Eyes on the Prize, hold on!
Hold on, (hold on), hold on, (hold on)
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on!
Hold on, (hold on), hold on, (hold on)
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on!


Finding My Way Home

For most of my life I considered myself either an atheist or agnostic. I viewed religion more of an odd nuisance, and God something that I understood as anti-science and anti-reason. My experience with the Bible rated no higher than Greek Mythology: absurd, often cruel and certainly contradictory. Yet in hindsight, I was tied to God always. And no matter how I tried to lift that veil, it would not budge.

In fact, most of my life has been lived in faith, though the word God passed my lips only in debate or passive conversation. I depended on faith. I lived by it and in it.

I was baptized an Episcopalian at about six months old. That tie to God through Christ, that binding to the faith of my fathers and mothers, I now realize as breathtaking and meaningful. It is unbreakable. That the Holy Spirit has guided and helped me is indisputable.

But these terms, 10 years ago, were not part of my vocabulary. I thought that how I lived was the total human experience--how everyone lived--and that when in peril, it was just dumb luck that helped me (and others) through.

In 1978, I had an experience that showed me, beyond a doubt, that God existed. I was different the next moment. It was a life changing moment and what felt like a life in cruise control suddenly became much more complicated.

I didn't know how to think of God, let alone the Trinity, but I knew it was real. I didn't run off to church seeking understanding. I really didn't know WHAT to do. What I did do was listen. I listened to my heart, I listened in the Quiet, I meditated (I really didn't know how to pray) looking for the voice, and I listened carefully to others when they spoke of God, though I rarely, if ever, said anything in response.

I really couldn't find my way home... home to God. And I really didn't have the time to feel free in finding my way. I was just out of college, in the middle of a recession, broke and working as the first (and hated, I might add!) woman for a drywall company, then as a waitress turned bartender (again the first there), I cleaned houses and libraries... anything to pay my rent.

If anywhere God didn't seem to be, it was in a bar.

Or so I thought. I am frequently wrong.

Two years later, while working in a bar as a waitress/cocktail waitress, a band came in to play on a Friday night. About half way through the night, there was a head-twisting tune sung by the drummer which was just capturing in beauty and lyric. I had never heard the song before. During the band's break, I asked who had penned the song. The drummer (later to be my husband of almost 20 years) was its creator.

Some weeks later, I was given a cassette of his songs which I went to sleep by for months. The crude recording (reminiscent of Springsteen's Nebraska) was airy and in places ghostly and mysterious while it invited you into itself. The lyrics soared and danced then crashed around around me. In places the lyrics were bitter and rough followed by aching, delicate and heartbreaking tenderness. It seemed like a portrait of this man's conflicted soul.

It was this man who later reintroduced me to God in an unconventional and understated way that I retain to this day.

I feel that God put this person in my path--a patently immovable man as pleasant to the eye as to the heart. And though we are no longer together, and have not been for years, we remain close and my love for him immutable. He was a teacher for me in need of his own teacher. He remains a mystery, ending as he begun.

Reflections on Mother's Day

Mother's Day is always a bit sad for me, though there is a great sense of gratefulness in it all.

On September 16, 1969, 2:00pm pst, I gave birth (at just barely 16) to a baby girl. I am told she had all her fingers and toes and was quite lovely. I never saw her. She was whisked away from me, at birth, then left the hospital before I did... but not before I was able to give her a birth name: Amber Leora (and my last name).

Finding oneself pregnant at 15 is never good, at least not in this culture. It wasn't initially so great either for Mary, the Mother of Jesus whose yet-to-be husband, Joseph, had some pretty dreadful decisions to make.

Mary and Joseph prayed for resolution. I was just trying to figure out what in the world to "do". I was not accustomed to prayer, then, though I know God helped me.

The 60's were a crazy time in just about all ways. In terms of my pregnancy dilemma, I was not the only one. Two others had had children prior to my becoming pregnant. Perhaps their actions instilled some urgency in good decision making for me. I wasn't taking my newborn on the back of a Harley. And I wasn't going to take a baby to a party and lock the poor child in the car for hours. Good God!

Bless my mother for allowing me to go to therapy, which she paid for, to allow me to figure out what I needed to do. Pulled by the times and by my all-woman, three-generation family, I needed to think outside of these parameters.

Eventually, I concluded that the proper thing to do was to put my baby up for adoption. I wanted my child to have a family... as in more than one parent... and brothers and sisters, as well. I wanted her to have support in the face of potential tragedy. Not only could my family not offer this, I was 16. I knew absolutely nothing about children, babies or raising a child properly.

My mother, then about 56, could barely deal with my generation and I could not burden her with the upbringing of a child, either. I really didn't want my family raising much of anything. They were basically (by now) more decent people, but my family (small as it was) was unrelenting chaos and my elders lived quite in another generation. My mother was 40 when I was born, a child of her fourth marriage, my half brother from the first marraige.

Least you believe I do not love my mom, I do. I love her very much. I don't respect her beliefs at all, but she has always been supportive of her black sheep... me. Off to the adoption attorney we went. A family was found for my daughter months before she was born, matched to the best information we could provide about our families, and, apparently, theirs.

I remember receiving a bouquet of yellow roses from my Godmother, now long buried. That meant a lot to me for reasons I don't understand. Yellow roses were, though, my favorites.

Friends were not allowed to see me, but they did find my room from the outside of the hospital, and knocked on the window, the rascals. They had thought of me and had come to say hello and cheer me up. This also meant a lot. In fact more than a lot. I only wish they were as activist in their adult lives.

Perhaps the most difficult day came when I had to sign the final adoption papers. Knowing what I know now, this must have been a time of needles and pins for the adoptive family because many refuse to sign and a child that the adoptive family has come to cherish can be swept away for failure of that signature. I signed. I cried.

It was the most difficult decision I have had to make to this day. But it was also the best decision I have made to this day.

Looking back, I cannot imagine, really, the incredible sense of responsibility I owned and was so thoughtful of. While I do not tend to make decisions quickly, or without thought, as an adult I am surprised I had this much thoughtfulness for this decision. I had to make a decision without including my own feelings. And I did.

My mother always sends me a Mother's Day card. I don't know what she sees in doing that, but it is incredibly thoughtful.

This Mother's Day, my mother handed me her ring... the diamonds from her engagement and wedding ring set in a setting she designed many years ago. She told me that despite the fact my father was a terrible father, it is important that I have this and recognize this and not hate him. I have never hated my father, but I also have never loved that perfect stranger.

I didn't attend church on Mother's Day, but if our wonderful Priest had said anything that day, she could have shortened it to these words from my mom put into perspective: Love others as Christ loves you.

I remember, at the time, my Grandmother, who I simply adored, sitting and listening with me on the end of my bed, this song from Joni Mitchell. I cried. She cried. Only later did I read this song was written about Joni's adopted-out child, as well, but the lyrics certainly seemed that way to me at the time. The title, Little Green, surely rejoices the springing of new life into this world.

Artist: Joni Mitchell
Album: Blue

Born with the moon in Cancer
Choose her a name she will answer to
Call her green and the winters cannot fade her
Call her green for the children who've made her
Little green, be a gypsy dancer

He went to California
Hearing that everything's warmer there
So you write him a letter and say, "Her eyes are blue."
He sends you a poem and she's lost to you
Little green, he's a non-conformer

Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There'll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green
Like the nights when the Northern lights perform
There'll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there'll be sorrow

Child with a child pretending
Weary of lies you are sending home
So you sign all the papers in the family name
You're sad and you're sorry, but you're not ashamed
Little green, have a happy ending

Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There'll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green
Like the nights when the Northern lights perform
There'll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there'll be sorrow

When I look at the ring, I think of my mother, my father... and Amber. I am thankful that God was with me at that time.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

When the Quiet Comes

Spurred by the mysterious and breathtaking song, The Quiet, penned and sung by a woman I consider a lyrical master, Betty Elders, I thought about "quiet" today as I heard more news on Myanmar, the continuing illegal Iraq invasion, and the senseless and brutal slaughter of more domestic animals in China to prepare for the Olympics. Quiet of the soul. Quiet of God. The quiet of death.

The first time I heard this song I was sitting in a small club in Austin, Texas, perhaps 1995 or so. Before me, in a small, dark comfortable room, was Betty Elders, a small figure radiating with a combination of chaos and power. There was a lightning storm brewing, and several times she had to stop her performance until the storm passed. Sometimes storms never pass.

13 years later, I am still pondering
this incredible song
and where its mystery leads me.


When the quiet came it caught her by surprise
A shudder in the stillness and the comet cut the sky
And she searched for the evidence of all that did remain
But her eyes found nothing when the quiet came

When the quiet came it caught him by surprise
A question with a comma or a dot above a lie
And he raged and he ranted and it's said he went insane
But he only went for coffee when the quiet came

When the quiet came it caught us by surprise
No one moved 'til we heard the others cry
"Won't you shed a little mercy on those gathered in Your name?"
Our hearts were heavy when the quiet came

When the quiet came men were running in the street
They were searching for the one man who could lead them from defeat
And they never noticed when the beggar turned away
That the water turned to crimson when the quiet came

When the quiet came I was standing all alone
With my face against a window of a place I call my home
And I thought about my children and the ones I'd never know
They were both the same when the quiet came

Words and music copyright ©1993 Betty Elders/ Whistling Pig Music (ASCAP) administered by BUG Music

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Singing With My Own Voice

While listening today to an older Joan Baez album, a flood of memories returned about that period in my life. It is, indeed, a rather sad note that little has really changed, but the herd of humanity holds on tightly to its collective superiority.

Joan's beautiful and haunting rendition of Phil Och's tune There But for Fortune is my first remembrance
of this remarkable woman's talents. At this time in my life, 11 years old, I would run home from school to read Life magazine's pictorial stories of the day (which I had been doing for many years), then sit down with my first guitar trying to make sense of the words of Baez's songs in light of the political and social background of the muddied world. Over and over I would play this song, learning the picking style, and discerning the significance of vocal and musical dynamic against lyrical content. Even at 11 years old, the meaning of the song was hardly lost on me, and this is incredibly beautiful:

Show me the prison, show me the jail
Show me the prisoner whose life has gone stale

And I'll show you (a) young man with so many reasons why
There but for fortune go you or I.

Show me the alley, show me the train

Show me the hobo who sleeps out in the rain
And I'll show you (a) young man with so many reasons why
There but for fortune go you or I.

Show me the whiskey stains on the floor
Show me the drunkard as he stumbles out the door
And I'll show you young man with so many reasons why
There but for fortune go you or I.

Show me the country where the bombs had to fall
Show me the ruins of the buildings once so tall
And I'll show you (a) young land with so many reasons why

There but for fortune go you and I, you and I.

Raised in a white, upper middle class community (though we were actually pretty poor) with plenty of John Birch Society members, the only meaningful notion of unrest came from watching television news and reading The Los Angeles Times, something I did daily while consuming a sugary breakfast of Tricks (as in "are for kids"). The news was violently uneasy against my background, but it was clear that where I lived was not the norm and that the perverse defense of the status quo was wrong.

I was probably the only child from a divorced family in the entire school and a latch-key kid at that. For most of my young life, I really suffered from lack of family, an only child. Now, I realize that it was this seeming social disparity that taught me to think for myself and am eternally grateful for that opportunity. I had to decide for myself what was wrong and right, and given the politics of the day (the Civil Rights Movement and JFK's assassination among them) there was plenty to think about.

Unless I was unusual, I can only believe that children have an innate sense of right and wrong, with or without religious and/or socio-political indoctrination. I had almost no religious exposure, while having been baptized as an Episcopalian, except I remember well seeing, for the first time, a man nailed to a wooden cross obviously suffering and was absolutely distraught and so emotionally distressed I remember fleeing the Lutheran Sunday school class that I attended ever so briefly. I cannot remember exactly, but I think I never returned. I didn't understand it and didn't want to. To see anything so suffering was almost physically painful for me and emotionally haunting, and still is though I am a devout Episcopalian.

When my mother was home in the early 60's, and against the background of news of Dr. Martin Luther King, I was blasted with horrible messages of hatred for him, the black community, and JFK. My mom was not a John Bircher, but she was hateful and was, and is, an uberconservative and an uneducated one, at that. That was evident even as a child and I lost all respect for her at an early age on this account. Whether it was the alcohol or just her apparent hatred of difference, I do not know. That I became what she so despised is probably best left to psychologists to analyze. It really doesn't interest me.

So, there I was, 11 years old, already just another black sheep. I had been looking for my own voice for many years.