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Bullets and Bibles

It was early afternoon, a few days ago. I was sitting at the computer in my home office near the window that faces a quiet intersection in our usually serene neighborhood. As I often do during a lull in creative thought, I lean back in my chair, fold my arms behind my head, clasp my fingers together, and thank God for all of my blessings. Suddenly all hell broke loose outside. The silence was shattered by a barrage of what sounded like loud gunshots at least a dozen, maybe two.

Immediately, I did what any cognizant city-dweller would do. I leaped headlong out of my chair onto the carpeted floor. And then it happened again. More shots rang out, only not as many. Unlike the initial volley, this round sounded muffled.

I lay there for a few minutes waiting to hear a blood-curdling scream or at least frantic cries for help. Nothing. As I slowly pushed myself to my knees, the humorist in me had a comedic moment. I thought about the television commercial that shows an elderly person prone on the floor crying, “Help! I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.”

Fortunately, I could get up, but before I stood, I crawled over to the open window and listened intently. Cars sounded like they were passing along the street at normal speed, not burning rubber speeding away. Some youngsters were laughing across the street near the Charter school. It seemed safe to peek through the Venetian blinds so I did so, all the while praying that a bullet would not crash through the window and shoot me in the eye. As far as I could see – down the street, across the street near the community garden, everything looked normal. People, apparently unshaken by the temporary disturbance, were walking along going about their business. The police precinct is at the end of the block. I figured if those were bullets that I had heard flying, there would have been cops and police cars with flashing lights all over the place.

Later that day, I mentioned the incident to a neighbor who told me that she had just walked outside heading to her car when she heard the first volley and saw smoke coming from the side of the building. “I hauled it back inside as fast as I could.” She said. We concluded that the incident was caused by some wisecrackers, probably school kids who thought it would be fun to set off fireworks and scare the bejeebers out of folks in our sedate neighborhood.

The fear of having to dodge bullets is one of the perils of living in the city; the suburbs are not exempt either. Sadly, many people everywhere don’t feel completely safe anywhere. We live in a state of trepidation.

Facts have shown that it is as easy to be struck by a bullet when you are inside your home as when you are outside. How often do we hear news reports about a bullet crashing through the wall or window of someone’s home and striking an unsuspecting person inside like 12-year-old Badr Elwaseem who was shot and killed while watching TV or the 21-year-old woman whose head was grazed by a bullet that crash into her home while she was sleeping in bed?

Inside schools. At the mall. In church. In today’s violent and chaotic society all sites are fair game for callous persons with weapons. It doesn’t matter where you are when danger arrives, and that reality is emotionally draining.

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When you are retired, you know that you have entered into the final chapter of your life. (Don’t let that statement rattle you. It’s true. Accept it. I do.) Every morning when I awake to see a new day, I thank God. As I revealed earlier, I give thanks for all things – big and small – all the time. For every breath that I take. I give thanks.

Some people keep what is called a gratitude journal. Psychology researchers assert the advantage of maintaining a gratitude journal. Their studies indicate that there are psychological and physical health benefits that come from the simple act of writing down the things for which we are grateful; even simple things like being in good health or having a comfortable bed to sleep in at night instead of on a park bench or cold concrete sidewalk. When I can sit down at my computer and write out a blog post within an hour, instead of a stressing over it for days with several rewrites, I say “Thank you, God.”

A growing anti-religious bias makes some people feel like criminals for saying the word, God. Some of you reading this post probably cringed every time you saw the word on this page. I don’t regularly write my appreciation in my journal, but whether I write it or say it in my mind expressing gratitude has become as normal for me as breathing.

As I’ve often said, I don’t support organized religion, but I believe in God, and I express gratitude continuously. Today I thank that Higher Power for the realization that what I heard outside my home the other day were not gunshots. Not that time anyway.

Good and evil. God and guns. Bullets and bibles. Those are the facts of life.

 

 

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Seeking Senior Bloggers

Have you ever said to yourself, “I’d love to be a blogger, if only I knew where to begin? I don’t even know how to use a computer.”

According to The Pew Research Center out of 500 million bloggers, less than 1 percent are age 65 and over. Bloggers in the 21-to-35-year-old demographic group account for over 53 percent of the total blogging population, followed by 19 percent who are 36-to-50-years-old. But enough boring statistics and more about the sparse number of senior bloggers.

I am in the 1 percent. No, not that 1 percent, the “less than” group identified by Pew. Before the door of opportunity opened 12 years ago, I had no plans to include blogger on my resume. Then, one day a friend suggested, “Why not augment your love for writing and create your own blog?” Thus, post-retirement, I birthed my second career and added personal blogger to freelance writer and published author.

In addition to writing a blog, I study them. I’ve found that the gazillion younger than 50-year-old bloggers tend to write about fashion, politics, health & fitness, music & entertainment and technical devices. Although some senior bloggers tackle those same subjects, the majority of posts written by seniors concern elder lifestyles and the challenges of advancing years. Many of their posts have titles about subjects that very young readers would call old people stuff. Healthy Aging (translation:  avoiding the decrepit zone). Fighting Aging (Good luck with knocking that out). Defying the Aging Process (enter Botox and plastic surgery). And the topic that none of us old-schoolers want to discuss, the one that keeps most of us in denial – Funeral Planning (Think Dreamgirls, “And I am telling you, I’m not going.”).

Anyone who retired in let’s say the last 15-20 years who did not learn computer skills while they were in the workforce, I will bet you my best friend’s social security check that some of them are not inclined to do so now. Sadly, I know mature people who not only lack computer skills, but some think that a hard drive is being on the road for two hours or more without making a rest stop.

For seniors who want to learn to compute – it is not too late. There are basic computer classes available everywhere. It seems pointless to ask someone who may not own a computer and lacks computer skills to check on-line for computer classes, although a tablet or smartphone might suffice. But you could ask a computer-savvy friend to help you search online, or inquire about classes at a library near you. Some libraries offer free computer classes that provide hands-on training to adults. AARP offers tech training for people 50 years and older.

Seniors, you need to get that training and start blogging so that we can increase our numbers in the blogosphere. There are plenty of things to blog about:  sports, travel, food, name it and claim it. And of course, there is the personal blog.

I enjoy being a personal blogger. That’s my forte’. However, I offer some words of caution to potential personal bloggers. Share your thoughts at your discretion.

Before jumping in with both feet, think of personal blogging as swimming nude at a public pool. Your posts will be as exposed as a naked swimmer on a diving board. It is one thing to log your personal experiences and private thoughts in a diary, but another to publish something on-line that the whole world can see. Be forewarned. Accept that putting yourself out there, placing your thoughts on display will open you up to criticism and as well as complements. But don’t let the fear of criticism deter you. Life is too short to worry about what others will say about you. Do your thing – with style and humor – and give them something to talk about.

Here are some basic tips on getting started with your blog.

  • Choose a domain name. The domain is the address of your website that people type in the browser’s URL bar to visit your site. Imagine that your website is your home and think of the domain name as your address. I chose Potpourri101 because it suggests a variety or mixture of subjects, not just old folk stuff. In the American university course numbering systems 101 often designates a course for beginners in a particular subject. Thus, potpourri101. (A blog can be set up with or without a unique domain name depending on who is hosting your site.)
  • To make your website accessible to other people on the Internet, you need a “host.” The web host provides the technologies and services required for the webpage to be viewed on the Internet. It will store all of your website files:  code, text, images, video, etc, on servers.
  • Get a blog platform. A blogging platform is a software or service that you use to publish your content. There are many platforms, but I like WordPress because it offers numerous free blog themes. Imagine having an interior designer decorate your home. The theme is the appearance or decoration, so to speak, of your website. You may want to check out Godaddy.com or SiteGround.com as sources that host WordPress sites. A downloadable copy of an excellent book WordPress for Absolute Beginners can be found here.

After you get everything in order, write, write, write on your blog! It will expand your horizons.

In the process of exchanging comments and emails about some of my posts, I’ve made friends with other bloggers as well as readers who are not bloggers. And lest you think that the lot of them are old fogies, they are not. Many of them are as young as you – or as young as you think you are.

I hope this post will encourage other seniors who may have scratched “become a blogger” off of their list. We’re waiting for you to join us. Just do it!

 

 

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My Thoughts of Mumia Abu-Jamal

The following post was written by Kathleen Flax, Guest Author. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this post are those of Ms. Flax and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

 

 

After viewing “Long Distance Revolutionary,” a documentary about Mumia Abu-Jamal, I felt compelled to express some of my thoughts as presented below.

I spent an afternoon researching a black man named Mumia Abu-Jamal. He is a man who is well known by many Philadelphians.

Mumia was a radio disc jockey for a hometown favorite station, WDAS. He was also a journalist and an outspoken activist for the black community. He became a visible and openly staunch supporter in Philadephia for what was labeled by the city as a “radical organization” known as MOVE.

In 1981, Mumia was convicted of the murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner. He was subsequently tried and sentenced to death. The incidents surrounding the murder of Officer Faulkner at the hands of Mumia has always been shrouded by controversy. There were and still are firmly held beliefs, allegations, and theories of a police conspiracy and a cover-up.

What I remember from the report is that Mumia was driving a taxi cab to supplement his income. During one early morning, while driving the cab, he happened upon a scuffle and could see that some Philly police officers were beating his brother. It was reported that he exited his taxi cab and ran to the aid of his brother. What transpired between all of the individuals involved in that scuffle, continues to remain an ongoing discussion and has been debated by many individuals over several decades.

What remains factual, is that the lives of all of the subjects involved in that unfortunate incident:  the Philadelphia Police Department, Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, his brother, and several eyewitnesses, were forever altered.

My heart is torn and saddened by all that I have read regarding Mumia and the untimely death of Officer Faulkner on the cold streets of Philadelphia. Perhaps it is because I am myself the child of a former Philadelphia Police Officer. My father worked those same streets as Officer Faulkner.

I have read the debates, criticisms, and open discussions regarding Mumia and his lengthy imprisonment. I have attempted to decipher the charges lodged against him and the sentence rendered. As I continued doing research on Mumia, I smile.

You see people; I remember Mumia’s voice of yesterday. As stated earlier he was a disc jockey for WDAS radio station in Philly. I was a young adult when his sultry, hypnotic, voice, and the R&B music that he played echoed throughout my home on many Sunday evenings.

From the time he was incarcerated, I have viewed many photographs of Mumia published throughout the years. My mind’s eye has also kept a certain image of him in a safe place, taking me selfishly back to a simpler, peace-filled time in my own life and small world. I have a self-made poster of Mumia hanging on the wall of my home not far from where I sit as I compose these thoughts.

I created the poster from a flier that I took off of a telephone pole in Philadelphia. The flier was asking Philly citizens for support for an upcoming “free Mumia rally” which was being held sometime in the late eighties. The poster that I created of Mumia has traveled many miles and over thirty years with me. To this day, I continue to hope and pray for Mumia’s exoneration of the charges lodged against him and his ultimate release from prison.

As I gazed upon that photograph of Mumia today on my computer screen, his picture reminded me of another photograph. Ironically, the other photograph was of another incarcerated black activist and lawyer named Nelson Mandella. From the time I was a young child until I was a grown woman, I held an image of Nelson Mandela etched in my mind. I remembered him as he stood tall, round-faced, brawny, a robust forceful looking man. In my eyes, he represented a “true” black man. Mr. Mandella was released in 1990, after serving a twenty-seven-year prison sentence in South Africa. The entire world took notice of his release. His countrymen rejoiced, and his admirers everywhere were elated.

News programs on stations all over broadcast the moment Mandela walked back into freedom. I watched my television with bated breath. Mandela was a heroic icon. Sadly, what I saw when Mr. Mandela walked out of prison caused my heart to immediately sink. I simultaneously became upset, shocked, hurt, and saddened. He who once stood before the world as a tall, brawny, robust man now resembled someone’s elderly grandfather. He was extremely thin, hunched over, gray-haired and was shuffling along with a cane. I cried that day for Nelson Mandella. The flood gates opened, and the tears cascaded down my cheeks. If it were possible to measure them, I’d say that I shed twenty-seven years of tears; and I remember uttering out loud, to no one in particular, “THEY BROKE HIM. THEY BROKE HIM”.

Who would have guessed that this determined, steadfast man, would become his nation’s president after being released from prison? I would be lying if I didn’t say that revelation in itself caught me by surprise a few years later. I still do not fully comprehend how it happened – former activist, lawyer, and prisoner, Nelson Mandela became the president of South Africa.

When I look at side-by-side photos of the young activist, Nelson Mandela and the older President Mandela and then look at photos of a young Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the older man who he is now, my mind screams again, “THEY BROKE HIM. THEY BROKE HIM.” In spite of that sorrow, I smile broadly and refuse to shed tears.

What I have experienced is a personal insight into America. In my opinion, this country still has not learned about the resolute conditioning of the human spirit, the black spirit in particular.

America needs to understand that our physical black bodies are just a vessel. It has been our minds, which you have tried to control, contain, and understand for hundreds of years now, to no avail.

You have beaten, raped, castrated, hung, enslaved, and systematically attempted to destroy our existence since bringing us to these shores. I believe, America, that the thought process of the black man after the tragedy we’ve endured and survived at your red, white, and blue hands have been a factor that you struggle continuously to comprehend. Sadly, I believe your well-documented history of the intentional mistreatment and abuse of the black man, woman, and child, is still acceptable in your country.

I, as well as Mumia Abu-Jamal and the late Nelson Mandela, reside in a world where black people are looked down upon by white people and other races for no other reason than our hue. If anyone should dare to be an outspoken activist towards a nation built on racism and brutality, such as Mumia and Mandela did, there is a chance that they too could face imprisonment; ironically for exercising a human right and one of their Constitutional rights, freedom of speech.

I realize that Mumia is in prison for the alleged murder of a police officer in 1990. However, the question is still being debated here in Philadelphia and around the world in 2019 as to whether or not the entire incident was a set up by the Philadelphia police and Philadelphia politicians to take down an outspoken black activist and journalist.

What became apparent, in my opinion, is that Mumia as a journalist began writing articles and speaking out on the Philadelphia police department’s alleged mistreatment of members of the MOVE Organization. In doing so, he became a target.

When looking at photographs of Mumia and Mandela, I not only reflect on their situations, but on America and her continued mistreatment of black people. Our black heritage and black pride is the one thing that America will never truly understand. Our black honor, black steadfastness, black truths, black beliefs, black strength, black diligence, black resilience, black kindness, black forgiveness, black spirituality, black family, black unity, and our extreme black love for all humankind – that includes even you AMERICA. As wicked and evil as you have been to black people, we still love you.

Our black strengths which you can’t understand nor destroy continues to grow deep and rooted inside of black people. That strength is continuously fed to us by the blood of our ancestors seeping through America’s soil with our every footstep. That particular strength is not external. You will never control or understand its value to us as black people.

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Minding Manners

When I was a child, my mother taught me that whenever anyone gave me a gift, it was imperative to thank the person for it. If the gift was a face-to-face delivery, a heartfelt thank you might suffice. But if someone took the time to mail me a gift, the least I could do would be to write them a note or send a card expressing my gratitude. I do that to this day.    

I taught that practice of expressing gratitude to my children. And I’ve noticed that many – although not all – people I know who are in my age group were also taught that courtesy while growing up or learned it after they were grown. But from Generation X, the Millennials, Gen Z and on down the line, the courtesy of expressing gratitude in return for a gift, service, or favor is vanishing faster than landline phones.

Are people just out-and-out thoughtless or do they take it for granted that courtesy requires no reciprocal action?

Surely, I am not the only one who remembers that, years ago, if you sent someone a birthday card, a wedding or baby shower present, or even a sympathy card, especially if the card contained a monetary gift, we’d usually receive a thank you card in return. It was rare not to hear anything from the recipient, and frankly, it was considered downright rude. Today count yourself lucky if someone acknowledges having received your gift without you having to ask them if they got it. As I see it, the lack of good manners is just another sign of deteriorating behavior in a society that becomes more uncivil every day.

Lest you make the wrong assumption, I don’t give gifts merely for someone to thank me in return. I do it because either I like the person or want to do something nice for them to recognize a special occasion. But I dislike feeling that my kindness is taken for granted. An acknowledgment is not only the right thing to do, its common courtesy. Unfortunately, I must agree with Whoopi’s implication that we are veering away from a do-right society.

Granted, things get lost in the mail, and packages get stolen off of people’s front porch. But if you live close enough for me to bring an envelope to your home, give it to one of your family members, or slip it beneath your door, then that destroys the “lost mail” defense. And if you do nothing more than holler across the street when you see me, “Hey, I got it!” or give me a thumbs up signal, I might consider that action a bit uncouth, but no acknowledgment is undeniably rude.

The practice of saying thank you is so deep-rooted in me that – you can bank on this – if I receive a gift from someone and do not thank them, then I am either incapacitated or dead.

It’s embarrassing to me to call someone to ask if they received a gift I sent. That’s almost as bad as lending someone something and after months of waiting to have to ask for it back. I can easily overlook giving away a couple of eggs or a cup of sugar, insignificant things like that. Most likely, I’ll say, “Keep it.” But when it comes to lending a household item, let’s say a punch bowl, a hammer, even a book (especially a book) I want it back. It was a loan, not a gift. Judge Judy would attest to that. And wasn’t it Shakespeare who wrote: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be?” But that’s another subject for another day.

Several months ago, I sent a sympathy card containing a check to a long-time neighbor after I learned that her mother had recently died. She didn’t phone or send a thank you note. I’ve seen her in passing at least three times since then and has she ever said thank you? Can a paper doll walk a runway?

We are all busy, so being too busy to say thank you is a lousy excuse, and I’m sure that by now you realize that thoughtless thanklessness of people is one of my peeves. Whether someone holds a door for you or shows kindness in some other way, the least you can do is say thank you. Expressing gratitude is more than just a social nicety it shows civility and reassures others that their gesture was appreciated. That being said – I appreciate you taking the time to read my rant and patronize this blog. Thank you!

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Tolerating Civil Servants and Other Public Service Providers

Raise your hand if you enjoy going to the DMV. Come on. Someone. Anyone. No one?

I feel you. It is no secret that most people would rather have a root canal than go to the DMV or any other government agency and have to interact with a civil servant. Although numerous services are now available online, sooner or later you may have to travel that road to aggravation and visit a public service office.

Some folks try to avoid the visit by making a phone call. I assure you that calling and engaging in the press button marathon is often just as exasperating as going there. You dial an agency’s number and the phone rings. And rings. And rings. When and if an automatic answering service responds, a recorded announcement asks you to press or say this number and that number so many times that by the time the number to the extension you need is announced you’ve forgotten why you called. And even when on rare occasions you are lucky enough to get a live person on the line right away, you may be asked, “May I put you on hold while I pull up your records?”

“Sure” you answer knowing that your choices are limited.

Whenever that happens to me, I imagine that the person who leaves me hanging under the pretense of searching the computer files is chit-chatting with the person in the next cubicle about non-job related issues like her date or his score the night before.

A bad attitude seems to be the modus operandi for many civil servants whether they communicate with you over the phone or in person. Do you ever wonder what is wrong with them the reason many display such insolence when all we want to do is take care of business?

Before you presume that I am lumping all civil servants into one barrel of incivility, I promise you that I am not. And I admit that sometimes I am caught off guard when one of the “govies” displays a pleasant disposition.

Following the longest government shutdown in American history, I had a problem with my social security payment. Having no desire to visit the office, I made numerous phone calls to various offices within the department trying to resolve the matter. That futility went on for over a week. Each time I called the Administration an automated service answered, and, of course, asked me to hold on. I’ve learned to always check the clock whenever I am asked to hold. And then I imagine how nice it would be if agencies were required to pay callers a dollar a minute for hold time.

My time is as valuable as theirs, so instead of idling, I would press the speaker button, set the phone on a nearby table or place it in my pocket and go about doing housecleaning, computing, or whatever I needed to do, all the while listening to corny hold music and waiting for an agent to pick up. The longest wait-time I logged one day was 58 minutes, after which – you guessed it, I hung up. Fifty-eight dollars would have been nice compensation for my time.

On the days when a live person finally came on the line that person sometimes transferred me to someone else. I admit that I found at least a couple of the govies were courteous, professional and helpful. Eventually, I got the issue resolved without having to spend 3-4 hours downtown at the agency.

Flashback to the dreaded visit to the DMV. A few weeks ago, after my grandson misplaced his wallet, he had to go to DMV to get another ID card. Before going there, he prepared by heeding my advice. “Carry everything and anything they might ask for to prove your identity and residency so you won’t have to make a return trip.” Birth certificate, social security card, lease, utility bills, bank statement, official mail from any government agency. You might as well throw in the kitchen sink.”

I was flabbergasted as my grandson said he was when he later told me that the experience was “not bad.” No long wait time. No hassling by a disgruntled clerk. A young man who he described as “pleasant” asked for one – yes, only one – of the numerous documents he had brought with him. (Of course, we know that had he only brought one document, he would have been asked for everything that he didn’t bring.) My grandson was in and out of there within 45 minutes. Surely that must be record time for a trip to the DMV.

Unlike private sector businesses where dissatisfied customers have the option of going elsewhere for service, state and local government offices hold the monopoly for dispensing driver’s licenses, passports, and other official documents as well as administering various social services. Civil servants had a reputation for nastiness long before this country entered the “season of being mean.” The question is why are some bureaucrats so darn unpleasant?

Perhaps the answer lies within a study done by Gallup in the summer of 2009. It revealed: “The fact that public employees have stronger job protections, even in nonunion organizations than their private-sector colleagues, makes it more difficult to deal with poor performers.”  Does that give government workers license to treat patrons like crap?

Another study I discovered was done by researchers from USC, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and the Kellogg School. It was conducted to test how power and status determine behavior. “The results showed that when low-status individuals [i.e., customer service reps] are given greater power, they are more likely to abuse that power.” To the contrary, people who hold positions of high power and high status often behave more professionally than those in lower status position. (Of course, as has been evident in the political milieu during the last two years, there is an exception to every rule.)

My early job history included seven years of employment with the federal government before I decided I’d had enough and fled to the private sector. Because the offices where I worked did not involve direct contact with the general public, I did not see much animosity by my coworkers directed against callers. However, I did witness the arrogance that some upper-grade staff members levied against their subordinates, so I easily understand why lower lever workers might take out their frustrations on their clientele.

The next time you absolutely must interact with a civil servant who is providing customer service at a government agency (or any place of business) as soon as you perceive that she or he is about to cop an attitude, disarm the person. Instead of escalating the situation with a put-down, “If your brains were dynamite, there wouldn’t be enough to blow your wig off,” show your pleasant side. I know this may be difficult to do. The urge to give as good as we get is often irresistible, but it’s worth a try. Keep in mind that the person serving you may have nothing to lose, and all you want to do is accomplish what you came for, leave, and pray to God that you never have to return.

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