Things got weirder

These past few days things just got weirder.

An image of a married couple brandishing firearms and pointing them at people who were peacefully protesting shocked me.

They live in my city. They’re not far from me, which only added to the weirdness.

These people, who are basically my neighbors, looked like some strange mash up of Rambo and James Bond. And I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘What would cause someone to do something like that?’

And the only thing I could think of was this.

Fear—naked and unadulterated terror.

It distorts reality, dements our thinking, bends our minds away from facts into a terrible fiction. It makes peaceful protestors into “terrorists.” It can make something uncomfortable into a nightmarish scene that came from a movie like The Ring.

But the fact is that we all live with fear. They just lived it in public, captured on video, shared on public media.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending them. What they did was absolutely wrong. They could have killed someone. Their actions were reckless, foolish, and terrible.

But, I am trying to understand why someone in my city would do something so outrageous. What would cause someone to think, “You know what? I’m going to grab my semiautomatic rifle and take it out to the lawn and hold the line,” and then I say, “Hey, Honey! Grab your pistol and meet me out there!” I mean, you don’t do that unless you thought it’s a good idea, or felt compelled somehow.

And that’s the issue isn’t it? What made them think it was a good idea?

Any rational human would have known it would get filmed and splashed on social media. Anyone who would have taken a second and breathed in and out and asked themselves, “Is pulling out firearms in public the right move?” would have realized how idiotic it was.

Yet they didn’t. And they stood their ground, holding the line, imagining they were defending their hill to the death even though death never came for them.

St. Louis is one of my favorite places in the world. I’ve live in other parts of the country (New York City and San Diego). I’ve traveled. But St. Louis is great. It has amazing amenities, it has rolling hills, lakes and rivers, bursts with color with the autumnal foliage, and the nicest people. (They usually don’t wave their guns around.) Really.

They will smile and wave at you. That’s right. Complete strangers look at you in the eyes, acknowledge your humanity and then greet you warmly. Let me tell you something, that didn’t happen in NYC. I love that place but it isn’t known for its friendliness. But St. Louis is friendly, exceedingly so.

Now you juxtapose that with these two gun slingers. It’s strange. But in a way it’s not.

St. Louis has some of the loosest gun laws in the nation for a reason. We love our 2nd amendment here in Missouri. And it doesn’t take much to see it. When I scroll down my Facebook feed, I’ll see friends holding their AR15 or a family member talking about this new “easy conceal and carry” that they bought for the missus.

And the city’s love for guns is largely due to the fact that we are a very conservative (I’m not using the term in the political sense, although that’s true, too) city. We love safety, comfort, ease of living. I mean, there’s a reason why this is one of the most affordable cities to live in and pays some of the highest wages. We love to be fat and happy here, quietly living in our fiefdoms in fly-over country, unbothered, unmolested, eating pasta, toasted ravioli, custard, and thin crust pizza until we are rub-your-belly full.

But then you have barbarians “breaking down” the gate terrorizing a private street, invading their land, penetrating their border and ransacking their village of a city block.

That broke up the tranquility of this couple’s existence and disturbed their daily life, the safety they felt. It’s likely they’ve been feeling uneasy for months, not just from the pandemic but the “riots.” Tensions within in their home might have been high, as it has been for many of us.

And seeing strangers barging into their neighborhood was the last straw, and their frayed nerves were exposed for the world to see, witness, jeer at, and ridicule.

They are the butt end of a national joke.

And yet, they’re not. There are many in our nation who believe them right and good, righteous even. More said, “Good for them,” than I ever thought would have, as if what they were doing was their God-given right and the best idea to execute. People even seemed to envy their behavior and saw it as something to aspire to, as if waving a gun at innocent people was an act one should do.

It’s disturbing.

The most ironic part of this whole situation was that the couple said that they believed in the Black Lives Matter movement. They didn’t want people to think that they didn’t believe in it they said in an interview after the incident. That was the weirdest thing I’ve heard in a long time. And that caught me off guard the most.

And I thought, ‘How could a couple who believes in Black Lives Matter point weapons at protestors who were for Black Lives Matter?’

We humans are frail creatures. Empathy isn’t just needed for some people, but for all people. I know what these people did was completely wrong and stupid. But if I’m honest with myself, I’ve been idiotic, brash, harsh, foolish. I don’t own a firearm but I’ve thought about it.

So, in all of this weirdness, I’ll end with this weird thought.

It’s easy to point the finger and wag our heads and say what is off with those people. But I wonder if we shouldn’t be grateful that we’ve been spared from doing something like that and acknowledge that if we were in the wrong place at the wrong time, that could be us. We could be caught doing the dumbest things we’ve ever done on video.

And if we think like that, maybe, just maybe, our world could be a little kinder, and generous, and gracious, even to those who are having the worst day of their life.


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We could have been homeless—A story

It was the end of February, and I was scared.

Something was going on in China. It was shrouded and strange but scary. People were getting sick, and many were dying, and it was growing at an alarming rate.

I started to suspect that it was already in NYC. “I mean, how could it not be?” I thought. It’s a global city, and the number of people who do business in China and have connections there was numerous.

So the four of us in our family self-quarantined and social-distanced, keeping our kindergartner out of school, even though the school called us to tell we should be sending him there and that he would get unexcused absences. But we didn’t care. We cared more about his life, his health.

Also our second child, our baby, had a cleft palate and lip. The latter was already repaired, and the former was scheduled for surgery on March 18th.

But it didn’t feel right. We felt this urgency, that it was only time before NYC was in a panic.

So we moved up the date. They had the 9th open. And we took it and prayed that nothing would happen to cancel it before then.

We were also planning on moving out of NYC even before the pandemic. But that changed these plans as well. After moving up the surgery, we moved up the move and the closing date for our new home in St. Louis. The latter moved from mid-April to March 20th, and the movers would come to NYC on the 18th.

So everything was changed and set.

And now it was the beginning of March, and all we could do was wait.

The first few cases occurred in NYC. But there wasn’t panic yet. People were still going out. No one was wearing facemasks. Bars were still full, restaurants bustling. The city was still the city.

The 9th finally came. Donning a facemask and latex gloves, I walked an hour with our baby in the stroller, to avoid Ubering, to the hospital. I marched into the hospital, ready to do battle against this invisible enemy. No one else wore a mask.

The surgery was a success, and the doctor let us out early because he saw that we were seriously concerned about this virus.

I walked home that night and was greeted by my wife and firstborn. We were happy and relieved and tired.

The following days my wife and I were busy pumping various painkillers into our baby (since he had the roof of his mouth carved up and put back together) and packing to get ready for the movers.

All the while, the cases were jumping. People started dying. We were worried.

The surgeon wanted us to come in for a postoperative appointment. We tried to get out of it. But he wouldn’t let us.

So on March 16th, I went, wearing another facemask. It was quick and easy. Our baby looked great. But then the doctor told me news that sent shivers down my body.

All elective surgeries were canceled that week by the hospital to get ready for the onslaught of patients from COVID-19.

If we hadn’t move up the date for our surgery, it would have been canceled for some indefinite date.

And even now, as I write this, it looks like we would be waiting a very long time to get rescheduled, and we would have needed to go back to NYC to do it.

Instead, we were on the other side and done and just making sure our screaming baby wasn’t in too much pain while we waited for the movers. They arrived on the morning of the 18th and quickly started moving our things into the truck.

Right after they got there, I went into New Jersey to pick up a Suburban we were renting to drive back to St. Louis. We didn’t want to risk flying.

Riding my bike down to the ferry was wonderful. The air was crisp and the Hudson River was on my right and the city was on my left. But it was already changed. It was quieter, more fearful, less certain.

I was the only person on that ferry during rush-hour.

After picking up the car, I got back into the city quickly since there was very little traffic. People were already working from home.

As the movers were finishing up, I wiped down the whole Suburban and started packing it with all of the stuff we needed for the next couple of days. (It’s amazing what a family of four “needs.”) And we had our 80lbs dog and cat.

Driving through the night while still dosing up our baby with a concoction of Motrin and Tylenol, was interesting. But we made it to St. Louis the next day, the 19th.

After staying a night in an Airbnb that a friend let us use, we were set to close on our new home on the 20th. We requested a mobile notary to bring us the documents to sign for our new home. He did.

The movers were supposed to move us in on the 21st, but they said that they could do it on the 20th. So on that afternoon, after we closed, we were totally moved in and unpacking.

On the 20th, NYC was locked down.

On the 23rd, St. Louis was locked down.

If things were off by a couple of days we could have been trapped in NYC; or worse, we could have been homeless. But things worked out, miraculously.

Sure, I guess we could say, “Wow, we are amazing to have done all of that,” but that would be ridiculous because we had no idea what we were doing. We were like a blind person wandering around NYC for the first time: Lost.

It was a Divine hand that was guiding us. It was God’s grace that held us. We were objects of mercy.

The timing was too perfect to be planned.

Right now, we are comfortably situated in our home working, playing, living. We’re still quarantining and healthy. And as each day passes, we are more grateful.

For those of you who prayed for and thought about us, thank you. We really needed you.

We hope you are well, too, friends.

Lots of love,
John


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