We Need Heroes.

I’ve spent the past week in Vegas. Well, not Vegas, really…Henderson, a suburb of Vegas. Rockfordians, imagine it this way: Rockford : Machesney Park :: Las Vegas : Henderson. Why did I phrase it this way? Because I haven’t seen a good analogy since ACTs back in high school, and I wanted to make it that way. It’s my bl0g, I get to do what I want. That’s the joy of the thing.

Regardless, though the trip has been pleasurable, this hasn’t been a pleasure trip. I came out here to accompany my mother; she came here to have a medical procedure performed and needed to have someone to look out for her. The answers to all the instant questions: She’s doing just fine, it was a routine procedure, we came out to Vegas to see a particular doctor, and there’s nothing to worry about. She’s recovering well and was out of the hospital the day after the procedure. Everything’s cool. But even so, the time that I’ve spent out here has really made me think about life…about my life, about the lives of the people around me, about how we spend our days. Thursday night, 12 people in Colorado woke up and thought about how excited they were to see the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. 12 people sat down in the theater and watched the previews. 12 people walked into a movie theater and never got to go home.

Life can leave you at any time. I woke up in the hotel room on Friday morning and my mother had the TV flipped to Headline News. I watched the helicopter shots, heard the unpolished testimonials, and was shocked. But not as shocked as Virginia Tech. Not as shocked as Valentine’s Day at NIU. Somehow, here in the USA, shootings have become a norm. And I’m not sure how it happened.

Gun violence is always a tragedy. But I read an article from The Onion about the shooting, a satire-based newspaper known for its humor, and somehow I feel like it hits the nail on the head:

“Unfortunately, I’ve been through this a lot, and I pretty much have it down to a science when President Obama will visit Colorado, when he will meet with the families of those who lost loved ones, and when he will give his big speech that people will call ‘unifying’ and ‘very presidential,'” Jacksonville resident Amy Brennen, 32, said, speaking for every other person in the country. “Nothing really surprises me when it comes to this kind of thing anymore. And that makes me feel terrible.”

“Oh, and here’s another thing I hate I know,” Brennen continued, “In exactly two weeks this will all be over and it will be like it never happened.”

What will it take for us to see these situations transpire and finally decide that enough is enough, to take the signs around us seriously? Must we become like the Gaza Strip or the Iraq, sectors of continual war where explosions and gunfire are part of the landscape? How many signs must we see to enact change in our own lives? Will I pretend that I have all the answers to these questions? No. Stricter gun control, concealed carry laws, so many people want to talk about the guns as if the guns are responsible for these deaths. But I would say that gun violence is the symptom of our American problem, a sickness which stems from a lack of unity and lack of compassion for others. In this country, the very notion that someone with large amounts of money could part with some of it to take care of those who have none is a rallying cause for war. So long as we refuse to look out of the those around us, we’ll see massive outpourings of anger and violence. Innocent people will continue to die.

On a personal level, I’m trying to learn that each day is a privilege, an opportunity to succeed. We all have the ability to influence people, to inspire others to action. I’ve been playing through the Harry Potter game Pottermore and have read more of the backstories that compose the Harry Potter universe, learned about the inspirations that Rowling drew upon to create the characters now known the world over. It’s awe-inspiring to see all the wonder that goes into those books.

What’s my point? Whether we’re creating literature that inspires millions, or sending a hail of bullets into innocent people watching a movie, people change the world around us every day. We each have the ability to be an instrument of change, to better or worsen the lives of those around us, or to simply sit idly and let others shape our world for us. We make those choices each and every moment of our lives.

Our world needs heroes. Not the kind with powers or destinies or billions of dollars, but people willing to sacrifice and help others. My friend and fellow blogger, Justine Fitton, says to be worthy of someone else’s sacrifice we must sacrifice as well. I couldn’t agree more. But it doesn’t have to take a career in social work or a misson trip to foreign lands to help others; sometimes it just takes the determination to follow your own heart and dreams, then watch your results change lives. Focus, change the world for the better. Be a hero.

-Josh

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A Laser Unfocused is a Flashlight

I’ve been unemployed for over a month now. And though I’d hoped that it’d feel liberating to be free of my last job, to have opportunities to venture off on my own and make my way in the world, I haven’t done that. I find myself scanning the “jobs” section of the local area Craigslist and seeing little other than disappointment and multi-level marketing schemes. In response, I filed an application and resume with a staffing firm and went in for the interview last week, an interview that I felt went fairly well, even though I showed up five minutes late because I got lost in the town and my cell phone signal cut out on me while the secretary was trying to give me directions. The woman told me I needed to take an online assessment to complete my profile, an assessment I likely wouldn’t have to worry about.

To be completely forthright, this post likely sounds a little more hopeless than usual because today I feel a little more hopeless than usual. To my knowledge though, I’ve never been in the10th percentile for anything before today. And when it came to standardized testing in high school, well, it wasn’t my biggest concern. But I took the Basic Math test for this company, the test that asked me questions like “7+5=?,” and I ended up in the 10th percentile. I scored worse than 90% of the other applicants. The questions I missed were about estimations; I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to round to the nearest 10 or the nearest 5, and I could have simply added any of those numbers in my head if I needed to get precise sums. To be honest, I still don’t know what answers they wanted. But they wanted estimations, and apparently I can’t estimate. Or file at the basic level. I can file at the “intermediate” and “advanced” levels just fine (whatever the hell “advanced filing” is), but basic filing is simply beyond my scope.

I can’t really convince myself to go back and finish the examinations. Percentiles of 60 and 70% have been common results for the other exams I’ve taken for this company, and each one of them feels like a slap in the face. “Wake the hell up, you’ve been wasting your time. Your talent is gone, you’ve turned your brain to mush.” Well, none of the tests have said that at the end, but I’ve sure felt like it. I feel like it.

I’ve had over a month where I could have applied focus to a project and gotten it done, made something positive happen. And I DID do a couple things right: I attended E3, the gaming convention I’ve wanted to go to for years. I counseled at Boys State, a summer camp run at EIU, again. But since then I’ve squandered my days (as well as my money) in many situations. Now, for the first time in long time, I’m not sure how I’m going to pay my bills this month. And I’m ultimately disappointed in myself.

I went to a friend’s graduation party this weekend, a party which I genuinely enjoyed. She had around 60 people at her house for this graduation, a majority family, but a few friends from out of town (myself included) came in for the night to share the experience. As a few of us recent graduates were sitting around a table, I realized something: asking a recent graduate where he/she is working is like walking into a minefield. Here we are, thousands of dollars in debt, looking around and trying to find what we were promised is on the other side of a college degree: gainful employment, maybe something enjoyable. Two of us at the table were completely unemployed, one by choice. One was working part-time, just returned from a trip teaching abroad and she still wasn’t sure what she wanted to do here in the states. Many of us still lived with our parents. And though living at home is not a sign that life is miserable, feelings of independence and success don’t exactly wash over you when you realize your pick-up line basically is:”Hey, my name’s Josh; I’m 24, graduated two years ago, am unemployed and live with my parents. Can I buy you a drink? Well, one of the drinks that’s on sale…I think I’ve got some quarters in my car…”

I used to feel like I had all this potential, all this power. That if I just had the opportunity to get out there and do something that I could do anything, that I could cut through all the nonsense like a laser. And maybe I still do. But I look around at what I’ve “accomplished,” the plethora of projects I’ve done nothing more than talk about doing, and I feel much more like a flashlight: able to see what needs to be done around me, but not changing anything.

-Josh