Twisting Hillary – How to Take Someone’s Words and Tangle Them in Two


So, you’re going to hear a lot of talk about a newly leaked audio of Hillary Clinton talking about Sanders supporters. Here is how you’re going to witness it being presented and misrepresented. You’re going to hear people talking about how truly horrible she is, how evil and hateful she is, and they’re going to prove that by parroting the newest trending hashtag from the Twittersphere: #basementdwellers.

Basement Dwellers. People are already reacting to this insult by spitting a stream of righteous venom directly into the eyes of anyone who still has the audacity to suggest the seven headed hydra known as Hillary Rodham Clinton is fit to govern anything, let alone the nation.

And hey, you have to admit that calling Sanders supporters (a thing I was and still am) a bunch of basement dwellers does sound like a wickedly dismissive cut down, the kind you might hear from Cruella Deville if she were an actual human being instead of a fictional villain in a children’s book and Disney cartoon. You know, kind of like the version of Hillary Clinton one might encounter when reading the comment threads in a chat group called Stop the Liberal Plot to Destroy America and Turn All Our Children Gay.

Many who repeat that term, basement dwellers, will hold this up as their smoking AK-47, the one that proves Clinton thoroughly detests all of us, and you might agree they have a point if – and this is a big IF: if you don’t bother to listen to or read a transcript of what Clinton actually said in the audio.

So, I’m going to do something pretty biased. I’m going to share her actual words. It’s biased because it reveals my prejudicial preference for a thing called context. Rather than distilling someone’s words into a two-word phrase you can spread across the web to incite outrage, I’ve got this weird little fetish for actual quotes.

Here are some of the things Hillary actually said. Be forewarned, I’m going to present them via a somewhat disorienting new technology known as full paragraphs.

Clinton: “It is important to recognize what’s going on in this election. Everybody who’s ever been in an election that I’m aware of is quite bewildered because there is a strain of, on the one hand, the kind of populist, nationalist, xenophobic, discriminatory kind of approach that we hear too much of from the Republican candidates. And on the other side, there’s just a deep desire to believe that we can have free college, free healthcare, that what we’ve done hasn’t gone far enough, and that we just need to, you know, go as far as, you know, Scandinavia, whatever that means, and half the people don’t know what that means, but it’s something that they deeply feel. So as a friend of mine said the other day, I am occupying from the center-left to the center-right. And I don’t have much company there. Because it is difficult when you’re running to be president, and you understand how hard the job is — I don’t want to overpromise. I don’t want to tell people things that I know we cannot do. ”

This pretty much sounds like things she’s publicly said all along the campaign trail, but get ready for the bombshell blast.

Clinton: “Some are new to politics completely. They’re children of the Great Recession. And they are living in their parents’ basement. They feel they got their education and the jobs that are available to them are not at all what they envisioned for themselves. And they don’t see much of a future. I met with a group of young black millennials today and you know one of the young women said, “You know, none of us feel that we have the job that we should have gotten out of college. And we don’t believe the job market is going to give us much of a chance.” So that is a mindset that is really affecting their politics. And so if you’re feeling like you’re consigned to, you know, being a barista, or you know, some other job that doesn’t pay a lot, and doesn’t have some other ladder of opportunity attached to it, then the idea that maybe, just maybe, you could be part of a political revolution is pretty appealing. So I think we should all be really understanding of that and should try to do the best we can not to be, you know, a wet blanket on idealism. We want people to be idealistic. We want them to set big goals. But to take what we can achieve now and try to present them as bigger goals.”

Now, maybe I’m failing to be sufficiently outraged by her remarks. Maybe she truly is Hillary, Queen of the Damning, but it sounded to me like she was describing a real situation that many millenials are facing and saying she understands how it can lead to disillusionment and a desire to join something one sees as revolutionary that she personally feels may not be all that pragmatic and effective.

She encourages those listening to be understanding of that and to try to help people who feel this way to attach their goals to achievable outcomes we can work toward right now.

One of my favorite interviews that President Obama gave is the one he did while sitting in Marc Maron of the WTF podcast’s garage. He talked about the mindset that directed the way he governed and that was to ask himself each day what could be done to move things forward just one more inch. He believed in focusing on that rather than trying to go for all and losing everything. An inch at a time, forward, forward, forward.

In these words of hers, I essentially hear Secretary Clinton echoing that approach. Whether or not you agree with her ideas for doing so, that is the goal I hear her sharing with people. It’s the same one I heard her talk about even when I was voting for another candidate in a primary because I wanted things to move more swiftly and in bigger ways than what I felt she was offering.

If I’m going to be honest at all, I have to admit that maybe both she and the president are being more realistic than I was and sometimes still am because they’ve lived their lives in the trenches and know what political battles and forward movement really entail. I kind of like the idea of a president who doesn’t pander to my every irrational whim. At least in this particular instance, call me rational.

But what do I know? Maybe I should condense her words into a thing she didn’t actually say and then call for her head. It seems to be a very popular thing to do these days.

Ken Robert is a guy who can’t not write, writing things he can’t not say. If you can’t not read them, click here to get free updates.

Politico: Clinton gives her take on Sanders supporters in leaked fundraising recording

The Intercept: Hacked Audio Reveals Hillary Clinton Sees Herself Occupying “Center-Left to Center-Right”

The Actual Audio Clip from The Free Beacon: Clinton Privately Opposes Major U.S. Nuclear Upgrade  Yes, you heard that right. The “warmonger” opposes a major nuclear upgrade. However will she carry out her plot to kill everyone?

WTF Podcast: President Obama Interview


How Freedom of Religion Works for Everyone


Freedom of Religion only works if it works for everyone. Thankfully, here in the United States, it does just that. Feel free to thank whomever or whatever you choose.

Some will claim we live in a Christian nation founded on Biblical principles, but that is not actually true.

We live in a secular nation founded on the U.S. Constitution, which protects your freedom to be a Christian if you so choose, and to live by Biblical principles, whatever you interpret those to be.

It also protects the freedom of those who choose otherwise.

It’s kind of a beautiful thing.

If you’re a Muslim, no one can make you eat pork. If you’re a Christian, you can load up on the bacon and ham with a big greasy grin on your face. If you don’t subscribe to any religion at all, the world is your buffet.

It even works well within Christianity. Southern Baptist? No one can make you say a Hail Mary. Catholic? No one can keep you from wearing your “I love the Pope” hat to the mall.

Do you think gay marriage is a sin? Ok, fine. Check your fiancé’s genitals before the ceremony and everything should be a-ok. Just remember it’s not your place to peek inside the pants of other people’s partners. So you can go your married way and let others do the same.

See how that works? You get to live YOUR life according to your beliefs. You don’t get to force others to live THEIRS that way. And they don’t get to force you to live their way either.

This is how our funny little government works for everyone. This is why it’s a handy dandy thing to remember that, should you seek an office or a job in government, YOU ALSO WILL BE WORKING FOR EVERYONE when you clock in each day.

It’s also good to remember this is why the courthouse lawn and other tax payer funded facilities are not churches or temples or mosques.

The Ten Commandments may look lovely hanging in your church or on your wall at home, but, unless you want to allow symbols of other religions including nine-foot bronze statues of a half-man-half-goat with curly horns from the Temple of Satan to greet you when you go to the DMV to get your plates renewed, it’s really best to leave those things up to the private individual to display.

Any Pentecostals cool with a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe at your state Capitol building? No? Well, then maybe you get my point.

Your church, however wonderful it may be, has not been appointed to govern those who don’t wish to attend it. Your holy book, however full of wisdom you find it to be, has not been passed into legislation.

And if you ever study what happens when any religion is given a pass to govern with that kind of power, you’ll thank God it isn’t that way here.

Photograph: Praying for Prey by Rolf Brecher on Flickr

Ken Robert is a guy who can’t not write, writing things he can’t not say. If you can’t not read them, click here and sign up for free updates.

What About Hillary?


It’s no big secret I’m not a fan of Donald Trump. I wrote a piece about it last week, and the thing went viral. It seems a lot of people feel the same way. Of course, a lot of others don’t and I got to hear from them too, which is always the case when I express my dismay that people don’t see Donald Trump for what he isn’t. Their rebuttals to my befuddlement always seem to begin the same way:

“What about Hilary?”

The question is typically followed by a list of accusations so long you wonder if they’re going to run out of commas before they reach the end.

According to them, she’s horrible, corrupt, and deceitful. She has said, they tell me without producing a verifiable quote, she intends to destroy the republic and cross out the Second Amendment with a permanent marker.

Accusations have included charges she killed off half her political enemies, destroyed the lives of the remainder, orchestrated the attack in Benghazi, swapped countless favors for donations to her campaigns and charitable foundation, rigged the entire Democratic primary, intentionally endangered national security, then threw a blackberry smashing party to celebrate, all while enduring a deadly illness she’s been hiding that’s apparently some weird mix of epilepsy, cancer, and tetanus.

Hold on a second. I just ran out of commas.

It doesn’t seem to matter that her political opponents, operating on an unlimited budget, launched ten investigations, asked 3,194 questions in public hearings, and produced fifteen reports containing 1,982 pages about Benghazi and still came up with no evidence of wrongdoing.

It doesn’t matter that the FBI found no reason to believe she intentionally sought to risk national security as part of some nefarious plot for personal gain.

It doesn’t matter there’s zero evidence she has anything to do with the deaths of anyone she’s ever so much as said hello to at a state dinner function.

It doesn’t matter that a hard look into the Clinton Foundation pay-for-play charges turned up no evidence of any such thing existing.

No. In fact, as one Hillary hater told me, the lack of evidence for all those things is merely proof of how crafty she really is. She knows how to clean up a crime scene.

That, my friends, is conspiracy theory logic. When the lack of sufficient evidence is the evidence you rest your case on, you just turned the burden of proof on its head and you’ve started down the road to Bizarro World where facts are lies, nothing is everything, and the grassy knoll is filled with at least another dozen shooters.

There are legitimate criticisms of Hillary Clinton. I personally find her too hawkish. I think she dragged her feet on gay marriage. I think she’s been tone deaf when it comes to racial issues.

But you want to know something? She’s apologized for much of that, something Trump doesn’t believe in doing for anything. He thinks it’s a sign of weakness. I think it’s a sign of growth and evolution, which is something I want a president to be capable of.

And, if I care about being honest with you, I have been guilty of all of the above, too. I’m not the same person I used to be, and I’ll be somebody different tomorrow. If I get to evolve, why doesn’t she?

In response to my Trump piece, one woman, in three separate comments, left me orders to “write about Hillary’s bad side.” I sent those orders to the trash.

Go get your own blog.

I’ve already read all about Hillary’s bad side. I’ve heard it from both the right and the left. But after I decided to exit out of a liberal message group because I wasn’t into seeing a woman be described with a word that begins with a c and ends with a t, I had to take a step back and ask what did I know?

What about Hillary? What about her, indeed?

I wanted to find out what there was to know, and what I found were a lot of negative images painted of her in thick strokes of speculation and hearsay.

You find  pages and stacks of random details, strained connections, and reaching insinuations all laid out by people whose favorite words seem to be sheeple, shill, and Benghazi. For 9.99 you can get the secret decoder ring and join the inner circle. You just have to assume the very worst about her and make it your aim to confirm your assumptions.

If you have an ounce of objectivity, however, you wind up having to admit there’s not a lot of there there regardless of the attacks from almost everywhere that have been going on for decades.

No, you won’t discover a flawless saint if you look, but you will discover some powerful and positive things she’s done that her detractors never give her credit for, can never give her credit for, because they’re, you know, #NeverHillary.

I’m supposed to give Trump credit for a fifteen minute photo op handing out play doh to flood victims, but Hillary’s critics can’t spare a comma to mention her work in aiding the creation of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program that provided health coverage to eight million children, her role in increasing exports to China while running the State Department, her push for congress to investigate the illness now known as Gulf War Syndrome, and – oh, let’s face it. I could pull out a bucket of commas and it wouldn’t make any difference to the Never Hillary crowd.

But it makes a difference to me because there IS a difference. Don’t try to tell me there isn’t one. You’re just as capable as I am of listening to a crowd at a Trump rally and recognizing that only one candidate inspires and encourages behavior like that. We have the power to help stop him from inspiring more of it.

This is not the year to send a message with a protest vote. No one will be able to hear it above the screams and shouts of the white supremacists who will feel empowered by seeing their little orange friend rise to power. When I look at the people I love, that’s not the world I hope to help create for them.

“What about Hillary,” you ask me?

My question is, “What about you?”

Ken Robert is a guy who can’t not write, writing things he can’t not say. If you can’t not read them, click here and sign up for free updates.

Photograph: Hillary in Sepia by Alan C. on Flickr

The Truth Doesn’t Care if You Find It


My journey to where I am today in terms of how I think began with one sentence uttered by a Pope. “The truth has nothing to fear.”

Where that lead me is probably not what he had in mind, but dwelling on it made me realize that it didn’t matter what I believed. It only mattered what was true.

The truth can withstand anything. No challenge will change it. No question will unravel it. It will be what it is even if it’s never discovered. If we don’t search for it and do what we can to find it, it will still be there, hidden and unknown.

It will wait patiently for eternity simply because that’s what truth does.

The truth neither feels nor has any obligation to comfort me. It doesn’t  beckon me. If I am uncurious and unquestioning, it won’t care. If I tell myself lies, it won’t care. If I can convince some or even all to believe lies, it won’t care.

In order for it to be revealed to me, I have to care about it. It doesn’t have to care about me.

You and I could work every minute of every day for the rest of our lives and still only find small pieces of it that make up just a sliver of a thread in its tapestry our minds can’t touch the sides of.

There are galaxies beyond our reach  too great in number to fully comprehend and we know nothing about them.

And they don’t care either.

Maybe it’s silly to search for the truth just to hold a few grains of it in your hand until you or your memory of them  fade away. But in that moment, to know you learned something about what is, to know that you caught a peak behind the curtain of the mind boggling mystery that is having been alive for a time in the cosmos?

Well, heck. How cool is that?

But the truth doesn’t really care.  It’s all up to us to care about it.

Ken Robert is a guy who can’t not write, writing things he can’t not say. If you can’t not read them, click here and sign up for free updates.

Photograph: Policy of Truth

Trump Is Everything I Was Taught Not to Be

tp trash

My disdain for Donald Trump has little to do with Republican vs Democrat. It has much more to do with what I was taught growing up about being a decent human being.

Much of that was taught to me by my father, a man who wasn’t perfect but always tried his best to be decent toward and honest with everyone he met. Trump is just about everything I was taught not to be, and it’s become almost all but impossible to hold onto whatever respect I once held for people I know who support him.

It doesn’t feel good to lose that respect. I was also taught to look for the good in people, and I still believe there’s good in almost everyone, but I find less of it when I hear people cheer for a man who embodies everything my father taught me to disdain: bullies, liars, blowhards, braggarts, and cheats. To me, championing a man who displays those behaviors on an almost daily basis demonstrates a fundamental flaw of character.

Based on what I was taught, you just don’t do the following: You don’t mock the disabled. You don’t disparage someone for being a prisoner of war, even if you disagree with their politics. You don’t take money from a proclaimed charitable foundation and use it to pay $20,000 for a painting of yourself to give to your spouse. You don’t claim you’ve given a million dollars to veterans that you haven’t given, then, when the press discovers and reports that you haven’t, try to cover your ass by giving it in the middle of the night before calling a press conference the following day to berate the media for calling you on your dishonesty. You don’t insinuate things about the parents of a fallen soldier you could have discovered were false by checking just because you got your precious feelings hurt when they criticized your proposed ban on people who practice their religion which is about as direct a violation of the U.S. Constitution as someone can cook up. You don’t claim that people in the military will do whatever you tell them to do, even if it’s a war crime, as if this is Nazi Germany and you’re der Führer. You don’t score women’s looks like you’re the Universe’s gift to them. You don’t encourage crowds to commit acts of violence against people exercising their first amendment rights. You don’t encourage foreign agents to hack your political opponent’s emails. You don’t run around accusing the president of not being a natural born citizen, then wrongfully dump the blame on your opponent when you finally have to admit, in the most weaselly way possible, that you were wrong from the start. You don’t claim you can’t release your tax records because you’re being audited when being audited in no way prohibits you from releasing them, and then refuse to even provide evidence that you’re actually being audited. You don’t pretend you’re friends with someone you never met. You don’t promote torture when men and women have given their lives to fight enemies who employ it. You don’t make flippant remarks about people assassinating the other candidate. You don’t do so many things this man does almost every day.

If we disagree on these things, we simply don’t share the same values. If I criticize these things and your response is to laugh with derogatory glee, you come across to me like a toothless jackass braying as you take a steaming whiz on human decency.

We can debate the impact of a minimum wage hike, the best approach to healthcare, the effectiveness and constitutionality of a gun regulation proposal, and a great many other things, but human decency isn’t on my list of debatable topics anymore, and it never should have been to begin with.

My father was a Republican, but he was not a straight ticket voter, and I can’t believe he would have ever cast a ballot for this man. As the father of a handicapped child who died very young, he would have severed any ties he had to Trump the day the candidate mocked a reporter’s disfiguring congenital joint disorder.

I think my father would have agreed with my basic argument against such behavior: “Screw that asshole and the festering pile of shit he rode in on.”

But more important to me than what my father taught me is what I teach my own children. They’re adults now and must decide for themselves who they’re going to be, but I still believe it’s my responsibility to be someone worthy of their respect.

I have never been what anyone would call wildly successful, and I would say I failed at being the kind of husband I should have been when I was married to their mother, but I do my best to demonstrate to them how I feel about the importance of honesty and compassion for others. No, I don’t always live up to my own standards, but I have them, which means I’m painfully aware of the times when I bite the ethical dust.

It also means I recognize a candidate who has no standards at all when I see one. I don’t have to read a news report or fact check claims made by others about him. I can read the transcripts of his talks and interviews. I can watch videos of him in action. I can read his childish tweets. I can watch him live as he displays an absolute disdain for anything requiring humility, compassion, or scholarship.

As former POW Joel Sollender says in a new Hillary Clinton ad, “He is everything I would not want to be or emulate.” And those who support him are supporting everything I have no respect for, and I honestly find it hard to separate them from that.

Ken Robert is a guy who can’t not write, writing things he can’t not say. If you can’t not read them, click here to get free updates.

Photograph: Trash Planet by Alias Albinos on Flickr

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Trump Claims Military Will Follow Illegal Orders

Real Quotes from Donald Trump About Women

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Trump’s Birther Campaign

Trump’s Tax Return Dodge

Trump’s Contradictions Regarding Relationship with Putin

Trump on Torture

Trump Jokes About Disarming Clinton’s Security: “Let’s see what happens.”

Things I Can’t Not Say


An odd thing happened today. I read a post by John Pavlovitz, which resulted in me reading the tag line on his blog: Things That Need to Be Said. What was odd is I had just decided on my own tag line an hour before, and his was so similar to the one I was embracing as my own: Things I Can’t Not Say. More about that in a moment.

For a long time I’ve been a writer, which simply means I’ve been a person who can’t not write. It’s something I have to do. I feel miserable when I don’t, but I’ve never found a subject to settle down with. I’ve tried several on for size, have been told some of them looked good on me, and have found a number of people willing to come dance with my words, but something was never quite there. I think that thing was honesty.

In a recent episode of This American Life, they did a story about a famous French comedian who decided to give up the success he’d grown bored with in his native land and try his luck at making it as a performer in the U.S. He was getting mediocre results and the producers of the show asked some successful American comics to critique his act. One critique stood out to me, and it was one that stood out to him as well. It was in the form of a question. Comic Jeff Garland asked, “What does he really care about? That’s what I’m interested in knowing.”

The comedian took this question to heart, admitted the things that mattered most to him never found their way into his act, and, at the time of the broadcast, he was slowly and entirely revamping it. A good question can make you do things like that when you’re ready to hear it and give it a proper answer.

What do you really care about? What do you really, really care about? What do you love so much it’s embarrassing? What do hate so much you want to smash it? What is there that really gets under your skin, that makes you want to stand up and fight or sit down and write? What problem do you want to shed a light on? What question do you have to know the answer to? What thing do you have to find a way to do or it’s simply going to eat you from the inside out?

It’s not like I’ve never been asked these questions, but Inever really answered them truthfully. I know what things I think I’m supposed to care about, but to be gut honest about the things you really do can lead to scary things. You may have to give up being loved by everyone, or at least the fantasy that you were or ever could be. You may have to confess who you really are and admit who you’ve never been, and that will mean taking off the mask you’ve been wearing for most of your life. And you know that doing that means some will feel dismayed, disappointed, or betrayed. Some will sever ties with you. Some may want to do you harm. Some might even want to see you dead.

The fear of that possibility or certainty can paralyze you, bully you into silence, and leave you clutching your mask with both hands to make sure your true face stays hidden. But if there’s any part of you that’s an artist or a poet or someone who simply yearns to go some place deeper than you’ve gone before, the paralysis and silence feel very much like death.

You’ve always known what you really care about. You’ve just never been willing to be honest about it because lying can be so much easier. It’s just not all that fulfilling. You keep trying to play a part you’ve never felt comfortable playing in order to get along, but you find you’re not getting along with yourself. And the truth is I’ve never been very good at any of it. I never fool anyone in the end. People who get to know me know exactly what things I care about. I drive them nuts with the stuff.

I can’t not talk about them.

I try. Over and over I try, and I try to talk about acceptable things. Normal things. Pretty things. Things that keep everyone comfortable. I try talking about the weather. I try talking about what little I know about sports. I try pretending I want to rise to the top of some organization I’m currently working for as I struggle to hold my mask in place and find myself craving a stiff drink and a nap of indefinite length.

But the minute someone opens the door to a conversation about topics I really care about, I suddenly come alive. I can do that shit for days.

The only trouble is the things I want to talk about are the things so many people tell you not to: race, religion, politics, injustice, social issues, scientific and cultural debate, or just about anything where emotions can run high because a vast divide runs jaggedly through the middle of them. But, to me, those are the most important things people can talk about. Those issues sit at the edge of the search for what’s true and just and beautiful, which means being willing to talk about what isn’t, and my experience has been that many folks would rather you not and some will do whatever they can to stop you.

These things that matter are often the things the powerful or those who want to be powerful try to keep you from speaking honestly about. They’ll use every trick they have to silence you if you oppose them. I don’t think you should let that happen. Allow them to have their say because 1) you’re not infallible and 2) you can’t allow them to turn you into them, but you can’t let them bully and shame you into silence. To do that is to let them erase you.

For me, these things rise up and pound on the walls of my brain. Say something, fool. Don’t let them get away with that. Don’t let them make you a coward. Never give a bully a break.

Right or wrong, these things become the Things I Can’t Not Say.

Questions I can’t help asking. Observations I can’t help making. Criticisms of arguments I can’t help criticizing. Rants about things I can’t help protesting. Gushy stuff about things I can’t help gushing about. I find I can’t not say them.

I’ve wasted a lot of years berating myself for being “distracted” by these things. Don’t you have other things to write about? This is just going to piss people off. Write about something less confrontational. Keep it all warm and fuzzy.

But who, you eventually have to ask, are you keeping things warm and fuzzy for? Who are you working to keep comfortable?

Are you keeping bigots comfortable while the people they degrade and oppress continue to suffer? Are you keeping anti-vaxers comfortable as a disease we once had under control makes its way back and takes the lives of more defenseless children? Are you keeping the rich and powerful comfortable while the poor struggle to make it through another day?

Are you keeping yourself comfortable because you’re too big a coward to speak up or speak more clearly? Are you afraid of working to have your voice and the voices of others heard by a larger number of people because you know what happens when you do? Because you know they’ll come out of the woodwork, because you know how exhausting it can be, because you know you have more to learn if you’re going to be equipped to deal with it, because you know you’ll have to stretch and grow, because you know you’ll eventually be pushed to do more than you’re currently doing? Wouldn’t it be easier to just enjoy your collection of likes on Facebook instead of taking your licks out in the open?

Who are you keeping comfortable? And why should you or anyone else get to feel so comfortable when so many others are anything but? Will you ever be truly comfortable with that little bird pecking at you each and every day?

You already know the answer. These are the things you can’t not say, the things you actually care about but have primarily been saying under your breath, in deep and quiet conversations with people you trust, and in a few safe places here and there.

But if you really care, it’s time for you to say them out loud. Comfortable just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Photograph: Microphone by drestwn on Flickr

The Last Gift I Gave My Father

dad and me

Shortly before he passed away, my father came to see me play the part of Schroeder in a community theatre production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

It’s a night (and a lesson) I’ll never forget.

My Father Laughed at Me (and I loved it)

I can still see him sitting there beside my mother in the front row. His skin was pale. His frame was lean. He looked so tired and weak. Just months before, he’d been diagnosed with Leukemia, a thing that seemed intent on doing what it came to do in a quick and merciless manner.

But what I remember most about that night was the sound of his laughter. From the stage and all through the performance, I could hear him chuckling and giggling in a way I hadn’t heard him do in quite some time. It was the laugh I’d always loved, and on that night, it was the sweetest sound I’d ever heard.

It was, however, a fluke that I was even in the play. I hadn’t pursued the role, or any other role, or much of anything else I cared about since high school. Long ago, I’d put such things away in order to become practical.

Who I Used to Be

Yes, when I was a small boy, I made my first trip to a movie theatre, saw Tom Thumb, and insisted on reenacting it for a string of hapless babysitters.

Yes, after receiving a cassette recorder for my eighth Christmas, I used it to produce a series of little radio plays I wrote.

Yes, when I was in the fifth grade, I saw my first live play, went home, and immediately wrote my own, one my classmates and I performed for our Home and School Christmas program.

Yes, I went on to write dozens of sketches, stories, poems, and plays; become a member of my high school drama club; and even win a few awards.

But that was all just grade school and high school stuff. Life’s a ball and then you grow up. You get a degree. You get a job. You get real.

Who I Tried to Become

You see, I was going to be the first in my family to attend college and I took that pretty seriously. I wanted to make everyone proud. Especially my father.

I thought I couldn’t afford to waste my time on things I loved. They seemed so silly, trivial, and impractical. Sure, the university offered degrees in things like English and Theatre, but come on. I had to earn a living.

No one I knew made their living writing stories or poems or plays, and the town in which I was raised contained no actors or artists, at least not any that I knew of or that anyone paid attention to. So I took stock of my more practical skills, like math. I’d heard somewhere (Okay, more like everywhere) that engineers made good money and were in high demand, and I headed in that direction.

I boxed up all the silly stuff, writing and acting and goofing about, and threw it in an attic somewhere. I shut the door. I moved on.

Getting Down, Down, Down to Business

And almost immediately, the sadness set in. The sadness became listlessness. The listlessness became depression. The depression became constant.

Unhappy with engineering, I tried computer science, another respectable and profitable career path. Same results. I tried accounting, did really well in my classes, and even received an additional scholarship. More sadness. Every day, as I walked across campus, I’d glance sideways at the English building, but I’d already completed the required writing and literature courses, courses I loved but considered a mere distraction.

In those courses and all the others in which I was given writing assignments, I’d hear the same thing. “You’re a very good writer, you know,” my professors would say, and they’d often point to my work as an example for my classmates.

But I wouldn’t listen. I was out to make my father proud, and to me that had nothing to do with the things I loved.

Moving On and Further Downward

I eventually settled on a marketing major in order to settle on something, anything, get the hell out of there, and get a job. Maybe then, I thought, I could find a way to prove I had something on the ball. But the job world wasn’t much different. I worked hard, received a lot of praise and a few awards and promotions, but never felt at home. The depression only grew larger and darker, and just as I’d done in college, I drifted from one thing to another while feeling lost.

The Me My Family Never Knew

Somehow, in the midst of all that, I got married and had kids. I had a great family, but I still couldn’t shake the blues. I knew I was not the person I once was, and it struck me that the people in my home, the ones I loved the most, had no idea that such a person had ever even existed.

In fact, when a friend of mine paid a visit and showed some old video tapes of me acting and performing in skits and plays and amateur movies my friends and I had made, my wife at the time looked at me as if she had no idea who she married.
“I’ve never seen that side of you,” she said, “I love it.”

But I was still busy struggling and straining to be practical and failing miserably at it. The only practical thing I was succeeding at was feeling practically dead inside and exhausting those who cared about me.

Saying Yes for a Change

Then came my father’s Leukemia. My attempts to make him proud, in the way I thought I should, weren’t really panning out, and the time to do so was slipping away. Life had not gone as planned.

I think that’s why I agreed to do the play. It reminded me of better days, days when my friends and I had fun, and it had been a long, long time since I’d allowed myself to do anything that sounded like fun.

My friend Jennifer had called to see if I’d be interested. The theatre group was shy one actor.

“Umm, a musical?” I asked.

“Uh-huh,” she said.

There were reasons to say no. I was in my thirties and it had been fifteen years or more since I’d done any acting. I’d never been in a musical. Whatever singing voice I might have once had (I actually sang in a few weddings when I was younger) had been ground down by the cigarettes I smoked to escape my restlessness.

And it was community theatre, something many people regarded as the K-mart of the performing arts and the last bastion of ridiculous, wannabe actors. We would be a bunch of goofy people having a goofy time doing a goofy thing.

“Okay,” I said.

It was a blast. The people involved in the production were smart, warm, supportive, and fun. The practices were an escape from my troubles and depression. I felt alive. I felt happy. I felt a lot like the person I used to be.

We did three performances. Friends came, my wife and the kids came, and on a Saturday night, my parents came. They all laughed, but no one laughed as hard as my father did.

My Father’s Delight

Oh, how he laughed, and I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Back stage, the others grinned and remarked how much he seemed to be enjoying himself.

Afterward, when it came time to go out and greet the audience, a few of the other cast members and I made our way to the front row. My dad was there, smiling like a big kid, working to rise from his seat. When he stood, he embraced me.
He shook his head, looked at us through watery eyes, and said, “I just want you to know you sure made an old man happy tonight. I haven’t laughed that hard in a very long time, and I really needed something to laugh about.”

My new friends and I had made an old man, my old man, happy, and we’d done it by doing something that made us happy.

What a Little Joy Can Do

I wondered how much happier I could have made him through the years if I had simply followed my heart and pursued the things I loved. I wondered how much joy I could bring to everyone I love, if I just did things that brought me joy too.

I don’t know if I always made my father proud, or if that even mattered. What I do know for certain, however, is that one night, a night when he and I both needed it most, I made him laugh, and that makes me proud.

In a few short months after that night, my father passed away. The last gift I ever gave to him, it turns out, was a gift I gave by simply using my own.

That’s why you absolutely, positively have to share your gifts. And I’m not talking about the the respectable, admirable, or sensible ones. I’m talking about the ones that make you giddy, the ones that make you feel like you might be floating.

You have a gift like that, something you love, something you enjoy, something that lights you up inside. Those are the gifts you have to share because you have a need to share them, and because there’s someone out there who has a need to receive them. And that’s really the only thing this trip called life is all about.