21 December 2012

Tell the President, Congress to Stand Up to the NRA

People kill people. 

If we pass the strictest gun laws imaginable, people will still find guns and use them.

If we eradicate all guns from the planet, violent people will find other tools to carry out their violent acts.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't enact common sense gun laws in an effort to reduce the number of gun killings.

The NRA would like you to believe that those of us who support reasonable gun restrictions are unpatriotic or that we want to repeal the Second Amendment or that we all naively believe that gun control is a panacea to end all murders or that we want to take away all your guns.

None of that is true.

The NRA spews lies in order to incite paranoia and hysteria among a radical fringe of its membership.

The NRA is a powerful lobby that pretends to represent gun owners. In reality, it represents the deadly interests of arms dealers and gun manufacturers and has been astonishingly successful at blocking regulations that would make the country safer from gun violence.

Most gun owners are unaware of the organization's extreme stances that have blocked the passage of any significant piece of gun legislation in nearly two decades.

Through lobbying, campaign spending and propaganda, the NRA has helped defeat common sense gun measures that polls show an overwhelming majority of gun owners support, including: 

  • Efforts to limit the availability to purchase military-style semi-automatic assault rifles and high capacity ammunition clips (the kind that were recently used in Aurora, CO and Newtown, CT). 
  • Efforts to restrict weapon sales to individuals on the US terrorism watch list. 
  • A United Nations Arms Trade Treaty which would have required countries exporting conventional weapons to certify that they weren't being shipped to a terrorist group or a nation under a UN arms embargo like North Korea or Iran.  
Due to a legal loophole the NRA is determined to keep in place, 40% of all guns are sold through private sellers who are not required to conduct a criminal background check. Over 80% of all gun owners (including 74% of NRA members) support criminal background checks on people buying guns.

In the past four years, a wave of measures across 37 states have made it easier to own, carry and conceal weapons.

America now has 300 million firearms, a barrage of NRA-backed gun laws, and record casualties from mass killers. 

The NRA relies on overly-simplistic rhetoric and bullet-point jargon. Guns don't kill people, they say.

That may be true, but unstable people with unfettered access to guns and an unlimited amount of ammunition kill people (thanks NRA). Guns may not kill people, but people who kill with guns kill a lot more people when they do kill people.

Reasonable, common sense gun control legislation is just one step - but a necessary first step - in addressing perhaps the greatest social issue facing our nation: the senseless deaths - through murder and accidents - of thousands of innocent people, including children, every year by gunfire.  

Did You Know?

  • The gun murder rate in the US is 20 times higher than the next 22 richest and most populace countries combined. Every one of those countries has stricter gun laws than the US.
  • Add together all the gun deaths in the 23 wealthiest countries in the world and 80% of those are American deaths. Of all the children killed by guns in those countries, 87% were American children.
  • Killings with handguns last year: 48 in Japan, 8 in Great Britain, 34 in Switzerland, 52 in Canada, 42 in Germany... and 10,728 in the US.
  • 32 Americans die from guns every day. 
  • The US loses more people to gun violence in six months than all the casualties of terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
Two common sense gun control measures we all should be able to agree on: 
  • A ban on the manufacture, possession, transfer, and sale of assault weapons, such as AK-47s and AR-15s. These weapons of mass destruction are intended for the military and law enforcement and designed to kill as many people as quickly as possible. They have no place in the general marketplace. Over time, a ban of these weapons will decrease the numbers in circulation and make it more difficult for people with sinister intent to get their hands on them. 
  • Close loopholes to ensure that felons, people with mental illnesses and perpetrators of domestic violence are not able to buy guns at gun shows and over the Internet. 
Please join me in demanding President Obama and Congress stand up to the NRA and do the right thing: pass reasonable gun control legislation in 2013.  

See: Pro Gun Myths Fact Check

Related articles: 
Smoking Gun
An Open Letter to the NRA                                                                                                                                                                                                

15 December 2012

Smoking Gun

Guns don’t kill people. 

But unstable people with unfettered access to guns and unlimited amount of ammunition kill people.

Guns don’t kill people. 

But people who kill with guns kill A LOT more people when they do kill people.

Killings with handguns last year: 48 in Japan, 8 in Great Britain, 34 in Switzerland, 52 in Canada, 42 in Germany.... and 10,728 in the US. Are we that much more morally bankrupt than these other countries? Or mentally unstable?                                                                                               
Mike Huckabee thinks it's because we don't make 3rd graders pray in class any more. Been to Amsterdam lately, Mike? Not exactly the most puritanical place on the planet, yet Holland has exponentially fewer gun murders than we do. 

Guns don't kill people? 

I'm over the overly-simplistic ideological slogans and rhetorical soundbites.

The gun murder rate in the US is 20 times higher than the next 22 richest and most populace countries combined. Every one of those countries has stricter gun laws than we do. Add together all the gun deaths in the 23 wealthiest countries in the world and 80% of those are American deaths. Of all the children killed by guns in those countries, 87% were American children.

The gun lobby has one agenda: sell more guns to make more money. They buy politicians and dupe the naïve into believing it’s about the Constitution then laugh all the way to the bank with blood on their hands. Every one of its members is an accomplice to murder, in my opinion. One failed attempt at a shoe bomb and now we all take our shoes off at the airport. Thirty-one school shootings since Columbine but not a single change in our regulation of guns. That's the power of the gun lobby.

Ultimately, everything that's wrong with the US comes down to one thing: greed. And that includes the senseless death of 20 innocent children and six innocent adults and one fragile gunman, hardly more than a child himself, at an elementary school in Connecticut on December 14, 2012.


12 December 2012

My Christmas Story

“You know Santa Claus isn’t real, don’t you?” my older brother asked me, somewhat exasperated at my naiveté.

“Yes,” I replied matter-of-factly, with my eyes rolling slightly.

In actuality, it was the first time I’d even considered the possibility. Now, I just felt stupid. Like I was the oldest kid in the world who still believed in Santa.

I asked my mama.

“Tommy said Santa Claus isn’t real. Is that true?”

“He’s real if you want him to be, son,” Mama said.

Maybe deep down I’d known for some time, but I wasn’t ready to let it go. Maybe I knew that, if I did, Christmas would never feel the same again and in the deep recesses of my mind I wanted to hold onto this little piece of childhood just a little while longer.

But things started to make better sense. Like when Mama told me not to expect too much for Christmas this year, times were tough. I knew times were tough but that didn’t really seem to matter when it came to being naughty or nice. Now I get it.

To say times were tough is an understatement.

The coal mine closed down and Daddy hadn’t worked in almost a year. We had food on the table but not much else. Daddy was gone a lot, I remember. It wasn’t until many years later that I came to learn that he spent most nights coon hunting and most days drinking moonshine from a still he had hidden in the woods behind the house. It’s hard on a man when he loses the only work he's ever known. I remember my mama crying a lot and being awakened in the middle of the night to the sounds of the two of them fighting.

Besides, it didn’t much feel like Christmas anyway. Most winters are mild in the deep south, but this year was even warmer than usual. All the trees were still covered with leaves until a vicious thunderstorm roared through and blew them all to the ground, just a couple days before Christmas. It hadn’t snowed in three or four years. I'd never experienced a white Christmas before and wanted one more than just about anything. Every night I prayed for snow. 

I fell asleep early on Christmas Eve, but was jolted awake just after midnight when I heard loud clanking and banging coming from somewhere. I was thinking that maybe another storm had come through and blown tree limbs onto the tin roof. I got up to investigate and that’s when I saw him, standing in front of the Christmas tree beside the fireplace. A man with a flowing white beard and red coat and black boots. It was Santa Claus.

Santa glanced at me and smiled a smile that danced across his entire face and called me over to him to give me a big hug.

“You are real, Santa,” I said.

“Of course I am,” he said. “Now where are my cookies, boy? Every year you leave me oatmeal cookies and a tall glass of milk.”

I ran as fast as I could to the kitchen and came back with cookies and milk for Santa and some for me too. His crystal blue eyes lit up when he saw them.

“I’m sorry for all the commotion. The reindeer got a little reckless landing on your roof tonight.” We both laughed.

Santa asked me if I could hold the bag open for him while he got out the presents, which were many more than I could have ever dreamed of – a bicycle for me, a basketball for my brother, a radio for my sister, a coat for Daddy and gloves for Mama... and so much more. The presents just kept coming until they were spilling out from under the tree and into the dining room.

Finally, after all the presents were put out and all the cookies eaten, Santa told me it was time for me to go back to bed and time for him to head to the next house, as he caressed my face with his gloved hand.

“But I have one more present for you,” he said. “Go look out the window.”

From the window, I watched Santa and his sleigh disappear into the black Winter sky then noticed the first flakes of snow begin to fall. It snowed the rest of the night and all of Christmas Day and most of the days leading up to New Years Eve. There’s no telling how many snowmen my brothers and sisters and I built or how many snowball fights we had in our back yard. We’d never laughed so hard in our entire lives.

The next Spring my daddy got a job in another town and we moved away. Mama and Daddy quit fighting and life got back to being normal. Many Christmas’s have come and gone since then, but that's the one I remember the most. I guess you can say it’s the best Christmas I ever had. It’s the one and only time I ever saw Santa Claus, but I’ve never since questioned his existence.

Now, when my children ask me if Santa Claus is really real, I always say “Yes, he is.”

He’s real if you want him to be.

13 November 2012

So, you want to sign a petition to secede from the Union, do you?

So, you want to sign a petition to secede from the Union, do you?

Ask yourself: How’d that secession thing work out for us the first time? Abraham Lincoln is rolling his eyes at the absurdity. What a mockery of the hell our fledgling country endured during the Civil War in order to preserve a more perfect union.  

It’s not surprising where these petitions are being circulated, which, for the most part, are the states of the old Confederacy; the sons and daughters of Jim Crow who can’t concede that a brown man is their leader. 

Do I think everyone who signs one of these petitions is racist? No. But I certainly believe racism is playing a role. And ignorance of history, as well. Mostly, it’s just about being a sore loser.

I get it. Both times Dubya won, I swore I was moving to Costa Rica. But I didn't.  I pouted for a while (like a child) and moved on (like a grown-up).

It’s time for all of us to put aside our petty differences and get down to the business of fixing the problems of our country. It sounds like Congressional leadership is finally striking a more conciliatory tone in the interest of moving the nation forward. You should too. 

Your window to pout is closing. Time to act like a grown up.

09 October 2012

This SEC Purist Having a Hard Time Accepting Mizzou into the Fold

As the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide prepares to travel to Columbia on Saturday to take on Missouri, I have to admit I’m still having a hard time accepting the Tigers into the SEC.

There are very few things in life about which I consider myself a traditionalist, college football being one exception. I’m just now warming up to the idea of South Carolina and Arkansas, some twenty years after they joined the conference. Don’t even bother asking my opinion of those hideous uniforms everybody's wearing these days.  

I know. Time marches on. The world evolves and that includes uniforms and athletic conferences. Nothing is permanent.  There was a time when Sewanee was a member of the SEC, after all.

Nostalgia is experienced through rose colored glasses. My good old days are charted by countless hours in my Alabama backyard pretending to run the wishbone alongside imaginary teammates as Paul “Bear” Bryant looked on with nodding approval from the sideline. The wishbone formation has long since found its way to some grandma’s attic next to a dusty typewriter and Thin Lizzy 8-tracks. But, in my nostalgia-warped mind, it represents Bama’s heyday, the Tide’s current dominance on the gridiron and its uber-successful coach notwithstanding.

When it comes to football, I'll admit that I'm a little bit stuck in the 70's. No, I don't think we need a playoff. Yes, I think it's fine for games to end in a tie. Yes, I think a 9-6 defensive slug-fest is a thing of beauty. And, yes, I think the SEC was fine the way it was.

I understand the economics of big time college sports and the motivation for adding the St. Louis and Kansas City TV markets into the equation. I know those high dollar television contracts help fund dozens of non-revenue sports across the conference. Revenue from major college football programs dwarfs other sports and other university departments. Football is money. And when so much of it is on the table, neither history nor geography are particularly relevant.

But come on. Missouri? Don’t you think a southern drawl should be among the criteria for inclusion in the Southeastern Conference? Do they even eat grits in Missouri?

To me, it’s more about sociology than athletics. Football is just different in the Deep South than it is in the rest of the world. The SEC is a source of tremendous pride among its residents who, perhaps, still have a chip on their collective shoulders and something of an inferiority complex - still fighting stigmas and stereotypes held over from Reconstruction and reinforced during the ugly days of the civil rights movement.

The South may still lag behind the rest of the country in numerous measures of well-being, but college football is something it does better than anybody else.

When we chant “SEC” in unison at our gargantuan sold out cathedrals it’s not so much about an athletic conference as it is about all things southern. It’s Major Ogilvie and Johnny Majors and Archie Manning and Pat Sullivan and Uga and The Swamp and the Iron Bowl. It’s about not having to explain why you don’t plan a wedding on the third Saturday in October. It's gravel roads and sweet tea and mama’s biscuits and Leonard’s Losers and kudzu and a congenital disdain for Notre Dame. Does all that fly in Springfield and Jefferson City?

Don't get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with the University of Missouri - undeniably a fine institution of higher learning which will do well enough in most of the teams it fields.

I just don’t think they belong in the SEC, y’all. 

I bet "Bear" agrees with me.

21 September 2012

Romney's disdain for "those people" (the poor and the elderly)

Mitt Romney:

“There are 47 percent of the population who don’t pay taxes. That’s 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That it’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And so, my job is not to worry about those people; I’ll never convince them.”

Clarifying Romney’s numbers:

First of all, it's inaccurate to say that 47 percent of Americans pay no taxes at all. Most people pay state taxes, local taxes, and property taxes. Almost all pay sales tax, and most pay payroll tax. Only 18.1 percent of American households paid zero or negative federal income tax and zero or negative federal payroll tax in 2011. Of the 18.1 percent, more than half were elderly and most of the other half were non-elderly people making below $20,000 a year.

Whether it’s 47 percent or 18.1 percent, it is clear by his rhetoric and policy positions that Mr. Romney despises the poor and elderly (might as well throw in women and minorities while we’re at it).

Interestingly, among the 18.1 percent who paid no federal income taxes are approximately 3,000 people who made more than $2,178,866 in 2011 (putting them in the top 0.1 percent of taxpayers). Those people are likely hedge fund managers, real estate investors, or other wealthy financiers whose income comes primarily in the form of capital gains, which is taxed at a much lower rate than ordinary income. Combine the capital gains rate with a magical thing called a "tax-loss carryforward," which allows an investor to use last year's big loss to offset this year's gains for tax purposes, and voila — no federal income tax. Can we see some tax returns, please, Mr. Romney? Could it be that YOU are among the very group you're railing against?

In reality, Romney only cares about the wealthiest 1%, a vast majority of whom are white men like him. But, of course, it’s hard to win an election appealing to such a small minority, no matter how rich and powerful. So he does what his party has been doing for decades now: pandering to the gullible evangelical right - using deception and fear-mongering to cloud real issues, laughing (probably at them) all the way to the bank and in some cases into office.

It’s unrealistic to believe that the entirety of the “other 99%” will wise up and see Romney for who he is: a greedy and uncompassionate liar. Thankfully, enough seem to be catching on to prevent him from being the next president of the United States.

12 August 2012

An Open Letter to My NRA Supporter Friends about Assault Weapons

Dear NRA friend, 

Please remind me again exactly why it should be legal to manufacture and sale assault weapons in the US? 


I'm not trying to pick a fight. But for the life of me, I just can't figure this one out. I'd like to understand your rationale.

In the interest of full disclosure I will admit that I don't like guns. I don't own one and likely never will. I have no interest in shooting anyone or anything. I don't even know how. I do, however, respect the 2nd Amendment and your right to own a gun to protect your family from me if I choose to break into your house or to go hunting turkeys in Tennessee or moose in Montana if that floats your boat. 

But do you really need an AR-15 assault rifle that can hold 100 rounds (the kind James Holmes legally bought and used to open fire in a crowded Colorado theater recently) or an AK-47 (the kind that’s being legally bought at gun shows along the border and smuggled to Mexico to arm drug warlords)?

Weapons that were intended for the military to kill as many people as quickly as possible? Weapons of mass destruction?

Yes, you have the right to bear arms. But civilizations evolve. The need for arms is very different in the suburbs in 2012 than it was on the frontier in the 1700's. I bet our founding fathers are rolling around in their graves at how you guys interpret the 2nd Amendment to justify your obsession with weapons.

Should Kroger have an Atomic Bomb aisle or your corner Handy Pantry sell hand grenades? Of course not. Reasonable restrictions on the sale of weapons isn't a radical, socialist position.  Or a threat to your rights as an American citizen.  Banning assault weapons seems like a reasonable restriction to me. 

Do I think it is a panacea? No. I agree with you that the bad guys will always come up with tools with which to carry out their bad deeds. But I do think we should at least make it a little harder for them. I think an inadequate and woefully underfunded mental health system in the US is equally to blame for the kind of violent acts we've been seeing lately (but that's a topic for another day). 

To be honest, it doesn't really make me feel so safe to think that good guys like you have an arsenal in your attic.  I think there are a lot of vigilante wannabes out there itching to dust off the oozie, which is kinda scary to me. Everybody has the potential to snap one day, ya know. 

But let’s be honest. The gun lobby in DC is untouchable. You’ll win this one.

Still, I want to understand your perspective. Tell me something good that comes from this type of ammo being in the marketplace? What's the benefit? I'm honestly having a hard time coming up with one. 

Fire away.


Stephen Raburn (baffled pacifist)

19 April 2012

Please vote against Amendment One

Question: How does Amendment One benefit the citizens of the state of North Carolina? Even when I remove the liberal prism from which I admittedly view the world and try as best I can to be objective, for the life of me, I can’t find a good answer. And that’s the best argument I can make for opposing it.

Certainly, there are those who would be harmed.

Passing the amendment would deny legal recognition of civil unions and benefits that accompany domestic partnerships across the state. A child of an unmarried parent could lose health coverage or even be taken away from a loving parent and denied visitation. Unmarried couples wouldn’t be able to make emergency medical decisions or potentially even visit one another in the hospital. It could invalidate trusts and wills and domestic violence protection orders. And who knows what other intended and unintended consequences?

But who does it help?

Even if you’re not keen on gays marrying each other, is it really worth the hassle and cost of a statewide referendum and lawsuits which would undoubtedly follow and the undeniable polarization and divisiveness it's causing? For what? For the majority to monopolize rights that they themselves are in no danger of losing? The lives of married heterosexuals won’t change one bit whether Amendment One passes or doesn’t.

One would think that the desired result of a constitutional amendment would be improvements to the quality of life of its citizens. Or at least some sort of economic gain for the state. This amendment does neither. Quite the opposite. It specifically harms a significant percentage of our population and threatens to damage the reputation of our state as a fair, friendly place to visit and do business.

The issue doesn't affect me directly. I’m a recently divorced straight man. I doubt I’ll ever get married again and if I do I’m pretty sure it will be to a woman. But the jury is still out on whom exactly my two young daughters will love. It wouldn't bother me one iota if it happens to be someone of their same gender. My hope for them is that they find true love and happiness in this life. It breaks my heart to think that their rights could be compromised and the legitimacy of their love nullified if they happen to love someone the State doesn't approve.

Where are the libertarians and anti-government throngs when you need them?

Like certain immigration laws, Amendment One is hardly thinly-veiled in its bigotry. It specifically attempts to identify a minority group to exclude and marginalize and strip away rights. It’s profiling. It’s the bully on the playground. It's separate water fountains revisited. It’s a big step backwards in the civil rights movement, for which this state played such a major role.

And it’s a slippery slope.

Maybe you’re not directly affected by this issue, either. But ask yourself: who will they come after next?

There are those who feel passionately on either side of the debate and will show up at the polls. For us, there’s no changing our minds. I’m appealing to the majority in the middle who may still be straddling the fence: If in doubt, please defer to a position of inclusion (not exclusion), open-mindedness (not close-mindedness), acceptance (not rejection) and tolerance (not intolerance).

Vote "No" on May 8.

31 March 2012

The Farm Where Donald Lives

Note: It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since I first stepped foot onto the farm where Donald lives, but it has. In March, 1987 I was an undergrad psychology student and was hired by the Lackeys to help run the Center for Living and Learning, a new residential treatment facility located just south of Nashville. It was my first job in the field. I worked at the Center for nearly three years before moving to North Carolina. My experiences at the farm, and specifically with Donald, had a profound impact on my career and life. I stumbled upon this essay tucked among some other old papers at my Mom’s house recently. It was written not long after I left the Center, circa 1990. Twenty-five years later, the Center is thriving. Donald still lives there and is doing great!  Center for Living and Learning

“Time it was,
And what a time it was,
It was….
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
Long ago… it must be…
I have a photograph.
Preserve your memories,
They’re all that’s left you.”

-from Bookend’s Theme
by Paul Simon

Three autumns I witnessed magic sprinkle hues of orange across the farm where Donald lives. Falls there are spectacular. In Fall, farmland stands boldly and boasts: “It’s harvest, labor’s reward.”

Arrangements were being made to turn six acres behind the house in preparation for next spring’s planting. The gourds were all gutted, the martin’s descended, harvest moon had come and gone, and I had decided to go. One final time, though, I paused to marvel at God’s handiwork in the fields. And inside the house where Donald lives.

Inside the farmhouse, situated on 30 acres of lush Dixie soil, Donald has just rendered a water color portrait, a conglomeration of facial semblances the artist reveals as a friend once known well, now rarely remembered. For hours, the newly retrieved soul mate of long ago is the topic of conversation: Tommy Adair played shortstop, Tommy Adair spat watermelon seeds on the girls at Vacation Bible School. Within the thick brush strokes of abstract blues and greens lie an intimation to the beauty of this man’s soul.

Donald has schizophrenia. The illness which has been a part of his life for over two decades doesn’t usually interfere with his daily farm chores or activities, although a severe case of tardive dyskinesia, a muscular disorder resulting from psychotropic drugs prescribed several years ago, often turns his muscles to knots and causes his limbs to contort in pain. A good rub-down helps. Yet, at times the pain is unbearable and he’ll scream out into the Tennessee wood. There were times we wondered whether God still heard his cries.

Fortunately, Donald has benefitted from Clozapine, an experimental drug which is proving effective in the treatment of patients suffering from severe mental illnesses, although it is likely to be years before the medicine is readily available to the masses in need.

Life at the farm these past few years has helped Donald, as well. When the pain subsides, Donald tends to his rows of snow peas and his cries are replaced by some song he bellows like a pubescent choir boy. I’ve accused him of being the only person in Nashville who sings more off-key than I do. Together, we’re like a pair of hound dogs serenading the neighborhood. But I swear the man has memorized the lyrics to every song recorded since the 1950’s even though he couldn’t tell you where he put his shoe strings ten minutes ago. And we go on pretending we’re Simon and Garfunkel for audiences with fingers plugging their ears.

Like a lot of people with schizophrenia, Donald was stricken with the illness at the onset of adulthood, an above average college student and decent tennis player at the University of Tennessee. The illness eventually ended his college career and sent him on a journey to a string of psychiatric facilities throughout the country for the better part of 20 years - including the past 10 years at the Ann Sippy Clinic in Los Angeles.

Finally, his family recognized his health deteriorating and his chances for recovery growing nil. The Lackeys, a prominent Nashville family, banded together and bought a serene farm just south of the city for their brother, then proceeded to invite others with mental illnesses to join him. The founding board of directors included a number of prominent celebrities and politicians such as UT football coach Johnny Majors, former Governor Winfield Dunn, Grand Ole Opry star Minnie Pearl (Sarah Cannon), who is a family friend, and Dr. William Lawson, renowned for his research on the topic at Vanderbilt University.

In the meantime, interest was arousing among professionals in the mid-state area dedicated to the treatment of mental illness. Thus, the Center for Living and Learning was born.  

A young psychology student, I responded to a classified ad in the Nashville Banner and jumped at the opportunity for free room and board. For the first six months, only Donald and I lived at the Center – on the cusp of growth and progress.

Three years later, the Center has become an important cog in the mental health community, thanks largely to the directorship of Donald’s youngest sister Fran, a dedicated staff, and hundreds of others who have contributed in significant ways.

The annual celebrity golf tournament was a huge success this year and is expected to fund several new projects, including a six-acre pick-your-own garden located on the premises scheduled to be in operation next Fall that will feature pumpkins, strawberries and vegetables. The brunt of the labor will be performed by the residents, which is congruent with one of the Center’s most basic philosophies: that work – in whatever form in may take – is both generative and re-integrative. Profits will go toward reducing admission fees paid by the client’s families. And benefits of the daily interaction among the general public could prove enormous in each resident developing the self-confidence, interpersonal skills and practical tools necessary to integrate back into mainstream society, the Center’s loftiest goal for each resident.

The twenty-minute drive from my Nashville apartment each day is a spiritual experience, as I meander beyond the city through sprawling horse farms, antebellum estates, crape myrtle, and finally to the doorsteps at the Center. If I’m early enough, I’ll catch sight of the Barbar’s milk truck which stumbles down the laneway. Once more, Donald has cajoled the milk man out of a quart carton of chocolate milk which he slyly consumes before anyone notices. The smells of country morning ooze from the kitchen throughout the dew-wet yards in vapors of black coffee and scrambled eggs.

John greets me first. He’s en route to the mailbox to retrieve the newspaper, his morning chore which you could set your clock by. John is a classical guitarist. He plays in solitude for hours each day on a six-string which echoes the magic of Northeastern concert halls he once knew. He was once of Carnegie Hall caliber, claim his parents, who live in Maryland. He misses them, at times dearly. And in quiet moments, I believe he and his instrument speak to each other in piquant communication that those of us who don’t know heartache on a first-name basis can understand. In my wildest dreams, I cannot fondle the nape and neck of a guitar as swiftly and gracefully as John. 

Despite being wildly delusional (he sees the dog move his bone telepathically across the back yard and swears aliens visit him regularly at night), John is a scholar of Greek philosophy, literature and culinary. His family owns a Greek restaurant in Annapolis. We often beg John to cook for us which he sometimes does and is always delicious.

There’s Jules. A while back, my girlfriend and I had had Jules over to our place for dinner. Afterward, topics of conversation over strong coffee ranged from Tolstoy to the Boston Red Sox to the American Rural South. Jules is a gentle man from a family of academia whose failings at Vanderbilt still gnaw at him ten years later. Jules represents the most frustrating of patients for care-takers of the mentally ill: he is so often lucid and capable of maintaining appropriate behavior that his moments of occasional regression are always surprising. And violent.  Soon, surely, we believe some combination of drugs and therapy will boost Jules just over that imaginary line of sanity to the wife and children he so longs for.

Alison was a young and pretty equestrian and the most tormented person I’ve ever known. The demons of her sickness danced in her mind like savage nightmares night and day until they were quieted forever when she overdosed on anti-psychotic drugs. God himself, I believe, smiled quietly the day Alison’s suffering ended.

Bobby thought he was Jesus and insisted on laying his hands on any woman he thought might be pregnant; Robert was a poet; Michael could whip anyone at ping pong and cried at night for his mother. Others came and went, some successfully, some not; all have provided this disciple of psychology a wealth of experiences I shall forever cherish.

My role at the Center evolved. I tended to research and development and public relations in the end, most of my time spent on the telephone or in meetings alongside professionals in the field, instead of the corn field. College behind me, opportunities I couldn't deny awaited me in another state. So I left.

But, as Autumns wiggle in and reminiscence calls back memories tucked tidily away, I know that I will recall my first few months with Donald with longing and childlike fondness. The times Donald and I waded the Harpeth River with blue jeans rolled up past our calves or baked our shoulders in the summer sun waiting for just one fish to test its fate on the other end of the line. Much laughter and many tears we shared. I re-taught him to shave his face and he taught me about life. I quickly learned the meaning within what at first appeared a language unintelligible and found there much wisdom as we floated down the river in his sister’s canoe or rambled shirtless about the farm like little boys. I’ll remember the glimmer in his pale blue eyes when he witnessed the first gracious cardinal waddle onto the patio to accept the bread crumbs he left for it. And the time we ran through the lit streets of downtown Nashville laughing freely during the Summer Light’s Festival. With bands beating cadence boldly on both sides of us – our hearts mocked the pounding.

Oh, what a time it was, Donald Lackey, my dear friend.