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My Battery Is Low and It’s Getting Dark

By Tim Hayes

“My battery is low and it’s getting dark.”

Such came the final message from Opportunity, the amazing little engine that could, after roaming around the surface of Mars for the past 15 years, sending images back to NASA all that time from the Red Planet.

A ferocious dust storm finally did Opportunity in, clogging its portals, choking away its lifeblood of sunlight, and sending it to its Martian reward.  NASA never expected its interplanetary shutterbug to last anywhere near 15 years, but you know what they say: When Opportunity knocks…

After reading about its moving and ominous farewell statement, it got me thinking.

“My battery is low and it’s getting dark.”

Opportunity knew its time had come.

While comprised of sheet metal, gears, electronics, glass, and rubber, the Mars rover had animation but not emotion.  That final transmission merely stated the facts at hand, coldly and directly.  It said nothing about fear or anticipation or “moving toward the light” or any of the rising, swelling tide of thoughts and expressions that one might assume comes before the journey ultimately ends.

No, Opportunity simply reported that its battery had been depleted from a lack of solar energy, and that the dust storm – reportedly the size of North America – made its surroundings unusually dark.

When my time comes, I don’t want even that much warning.  I want to drop like a bag of hammers.  I don’t even want to know it’s coming.  Surprise me, please.  No pain, no shock, no sir.  One second: All in.  Next second: Lights out.

No prolonged bedridden scenes for me, please.  Just flip the switch, and see-ya.

I know, I’m a real chickenshit.  But at least I admit it.

“My battery is low and it’s getting dark.”

Of course, a low energy level or a sense of darkness doesn’t have to mean impending doom.  Most folks experience these scenarios a few times in their lives, and it’s not always a negative thing.

Lousy breaks happen.  As a self-sustaining entrepreneur for nearly 20 years, I’ve had clients fall away or change their minds at the last second.  Every now and then my cash flow gets bottlenecked by late client payments, which can create some anxiety about meeting my bill-paying obligations.

You get sick or injured, there’s an emergency with your extended family, you lose your job, your house gets flooded – pick your poison, but nobody’s spared the occasional, unplanned vicissitudes of life.

But you know what?  It’s when life tries to knock the crap out of you, that you really learn what you’re made of.

Being let go from a corporate job led to the greatest professional years of my life as a consultant.  Being diagnosed with cancer a quarter-century ago led to a change in attitude and an increase in gratitude.  Sporadic financial challenges have led to a firm belief that, alongside my wife, we can overcome anything together.

Even the intrepid Opportunity – which must have had some mechanical glitches along the way before the final one this past week – kept on going, way past its expected shelf-life.

I suppose what I’m saying is that when things get sucky, one needs to be plucky.  Never, ever, ever give up.  Keep the faith.  It’s when things get worse that you must not quit.  Stay calm and carry on.  All of those sayings, worn threadbare from constant use, remain in our minds because they state the truth.

Now, it’s quite late in the evening as I finish this essay, so you will please forgive me if I sign off here.  Because, in fact…my battery is low and it’s getting dark.

Copyright 2019 Timothy P. Hayes

Bumbershoot Big Shot

By Tim Hayes

After finally finding a garage with open spaces in Downtown Pittsburgh the other day, I dodged raindrops for the four-block walk to my next client appointment.  Fold-up umbrella in my hand, the sporadic drizzle didn’t warrant opening the thing up and carrying it all that distance.

But it got me thinking about how my attitude toward protective raingear has changed.  Radically so.

Picture this.  A little kid.  The mid-1960s.  Heading off to parochial school, black dress slacks, white polyester shirt, penny loafers, mini-trench coat, carrying a fun-sized briefcase with a big buckle on the front.  And the piece de resistance?  A full-length, grown-up sized, standard-issue umbrella.

You know, the one about three feet long, with a big curved wooden handle and the steel point on the end.  The one your Dad used to bring Grandma into the family car, so her perm stayed dry.  Yeah, that model.  The big one.  In the hands of a six-year-old dipstick hoofing his way to school.

I carried that monster umbrella every day in first grade.  Every.  Blessed.  Day.

It wasn’t enough, I suppose, to look like some pint-sized accountant, fresh from the Harvard Business School.  No, I had to carry this ridiculous bumbershoot, to boot.

Nobody had to tell me to dress for success, baby.  No, sir.  I was knockin’ ‘em dead in Sister Dorothy’s class, let me tell you.  Of course, nobody at that moment in time and in that parochial school’s culture wore T-shirts, jeans, and tennis shoes.  Perish the thought, thought the parish.  But between the trench coat and the full-scale black umbrella – carried diligently, even on the sunniest days – I was GQ before any of us little first-grade twits knew what GQ was.

But one grows older and perspectives change.  That, plus by second grade, peer pressure had sunk its talons into my brain so deeply that the mere suggestion of taking an umbrella to school yielded dripping disdain.  An insult to my blossoming manhood.  It could be pouring buckets as my buddies and I began our 15-minute trek to school, but we just machoed it out all the way, sloshy socks and flat-hair heads be damned.

Of course, we walked home for lunch, then back to school, then home again every day.  So if the rain never let up, well, let’s just say that if the average human body is 60% water, us city punks had that beat by a country mile.  We weighed 10 more pounds, too, just from the waterlogged clothes on our backs.

Maybe the obsession with that umbrella in first grade laid the foundation for a lifetime of preparation.  Of cautious wisdom.  Of measuring twice and cutting once.  Or, to hell with all of that forced justification BS.  Maybe I was just a weird little kid who didn’t want his shrinky-dink trench coat or Tinkertoy briefcase to get wet.

Whatever the reason, it remains a real head-scratcher a half-century later.  None of our kids got the “I-must-carry-an-umbrella-every-single-day” gene.  In fact, one of them somehow always managed to find the sloppiest puddle of mud and water and bugs and crap and dog poop with every outdoor excursion.

I still don’t like to get soaked.  At least that insufferable pre-teen bravado nonsense got smacked out of me somewhere along the way.  But even now, unless it is absolutely coming down in sheets, I’ll keep the Totes tucked safely away, nice and dry, inside my real, grown-up, big-boy briefcase.

Somehow, I still believe, Sister Dorothy thought I was one of the cool kids. That crazy first-grade briefcase, trench coat, and umbrella.  What an unforgettable combo.  Somewhere, she remembers.  And smiles.  Me, too.

Copyright 2019 Timothy P. Hayes

Watchdog Down

By Tim Hayes

It could have been a school board director, a township commissioner, or a borough council president yammering on.  Some weeks it was all three.  Regardless of the elected body, though, there I sat, notebook and printed agenda in hand, pen rapidly scratching notes as the debate wore on.

Living the life of a general assignment reporter for a local community’s newspaper.  And loving it.

I’d drive back to the newsroom after the school board or local municipality meeting, usually around 9:30 p.m. or later, read my notes again, and start banging out the story for the next day’s paper.  Big issues, like…

– Would taxes increase?  By what millage?

– Would the school district spend more this year on marching band uniforms, the football stadium, or teaching supplies?

– Which local roads would be resurfaced this summer?

– How’s that bond issue for the new sewer system going?

I know.  Sexy as hell, right?  Well it was, if you looked at it the right way.

The big shots in Washington and Harrisburg had their own dramas that usually captured the major headlines.  But most times those issues never had the same impact on local homeowners and parents of schoolkids as the decisions made by those homespun boards and councils.

Having a member of the press there to keep a record of those discussions and votes made a difference.  A subtle difference in the grand scheme of things, maybe, but a critical difference nonetheless.

Imagine if the local paper stopped covering school board, borough council, or township supervisor meetings.  Imagine if local taxpayers and residents had no idea of decisions made affecting their homes, their mortgage payments, their streets and parks and businesses, even their kids.  Imagine if those local elected officials suddenly had no outside party holding them accountable, reporting on their statements, opinions, disagreements, and votes.

No less an authority than Thomas Jefferson wisely stated, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

He knew that for a democracy to succeed, its people had to know what their elected officials were doing.  Only armed with that knowledge could the people make informed, intelligent decisions about their government – even on a small scale like your hometown borough or school district.  Perhaps most of all at that level, in fact.

Well, guess what, TJ?  I’m afraid I have some bad news about the news these days.  We are rapidly sliding downward into a nation of government without newspapers – the very situation you said would be most dangerous.

According to a story* published by the Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics, and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, “Nationwide, many local news outlets have shuttered entirely – a March 2018 study published in the Newspaper Research Journal finds that from 2004 to 2015, the U.S. newspaper industry lost more than 1,800 print outlets as a result of closures and mergers…this portends danger — studies show that areas with fewer local news outlets and declining coverage also have lower levels of civic engagement and voter turnout.”

Columnist Megan McArdle** in The Washington Post describes it as follows:

“About 15 percent of the newsroom will be laid off at BuzzFeed; 7 percent at the media division of Verizon, which owns AOL, HuffPost and Yahoo. And newspaper chain Gannett swung the ax through several of its publications last week, including the Indianapolis Star, the Tennessean and the Arizona Republic. The brutal round of layoffs was hardly the first to hit the industry…we’re watching the destruction of most of the nation’s journalistic capacity.  Fifteen years have been spent in a fruitless search for a viable business model that will support the kind of journalism the country expects…informing the public about the everyday, noncontroversial stuff that makes up the bulk of media content.

“Journalism’s likely future is in a small number of media companies expanding and a large number collapsing,” McArdle continues. “That obviously means big changes ahead…large swaths of the free internet are going to be paywalled off, and readers and journalists alike will have to learn to think of news as their parents did: as something you pay for, or do without.”

And as if the savage economics of modern journalism weren’t bad enough, we have the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue constantly lobbing verbal bombs at reporters – all in an effort, as he has admitted himself, to discredit journalists so that he can do what he wants without criticism.  Good God Almighty.  Where’s Jefferson when you need him?

Look, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, they’re not going anywhere. They have the national reputations and the financial scale to survive and grow.  But they’re not sending anybody to sit through the Sanitary Sewer Committee hearing in your township, are they?

Only local journalism would do that.  Whether they can or not is the question.

Back when I worked at the paper, as I came through the door to the newsroom at night to file my stories, at least four or five other reporters sat at their keyboards doing the very same thing.  That was about half of the full complement of full-time reporters we had working the entire county – plus around four copyeditors and page managers.

The last time I stuck my head in that newsroom, they only had one and a half reporters on staff, total.  That’s not going to cut it.

Support your local media.  Pay for a subscription.  If you’re a local business owner, purchase ads.  Insist that your local governmental bodies get covered.  They’re making decisions that impact you a lot more than the three-ring circus in DC ever will.

Think of it this way.  When no one’s minding the store, it’s easier to rob.  Make sure somebody’s always minding the store.  They’re called reporters.  And we need them.

Copyright 2019 Timothy P. Hayes

Monday Monday

By Tim Hayes

While lazily flipping through the channels late one evening, I stumbled onto one of those half-hour pitches for music CDs, this batch featuring songs from the ‘60s.  Staring with mildly scandalized expressions at the hairstyles and fashions shown on grainy old Ed Sullivan clips, I saw tune after tune scroll up the screen.

A pretty harmless way to turn one’s brain off for 30 minutes or so.  Until, that is, the Mamas and the Papas suddenly burst forth with their classic, “Monday, Monday.”  And it all came flooding back.

On the block where I grew up, we had a back alley and an entire row of additional neighbors behind our house.  About halfway down that back street, a family had a son, an only child.  An anomaly in our predominantly Catholic neighborhood.

This kid was four or five years older than me, so we weren’t really friends.  But the homes on our street – including the back alley – stood practically on top of each other, so it was damn near impossible to not at least know everybody, even tangentially.

Anyway, since he was the only child, the talk among the guys running around the neighborhood seemed to always come back to the notion that he got special treatment.  He never had to share anything with brothers or sisters.  His parents gave him pretty nice stuff – at least according to the astronomically subjective judgment of our universe of urban knuckleheads.

A brand-new 10-speed bike.  A really good telescope.  The best tennies.

But the gift that blew everyone away, and set this poor guy up for the everlasting resentment of every guy within a three-block area?  A paved asphalt basketball half-court in his backyard, complete with a brand-new pole, hoop, net, and painted foul line.

This soared so far beyond the pale as to be downright criminal, said the judges, jury members, and executioners up and down the street.  Who did this kid think he was?  The older fellows on the block – the ones closer to his age – became determined to knock Mister Showoff down a peg or two.

They came up with the idea that each time a new gift got bestowed on him, it happened on a Monday.  Whether this conclusion actually had any truth behind it, I couldn’t say.  To be generous, it was doubtful.  It just happened to fit the juvenile justice the guys wanted to mete out, so they went with it.

From the day that half-court appeared, every time this kid emerged from his house, or walked down the sidewalk, or could be spotted anywhere in public, his tormentors would start sing-shouting, “MONDAY, MONDAAAAAYYYYY!!!”

At first, he looked at them like they had a few screws loose.  Not a bad diagnosis, actually.  But when it kept happening – and he couldn’t find anybody to play basketball on his half-court – the shunning had its desired effect.  He withdrew.  The half-court stood virtually unused.  The asphalt cracked after a couple of winters, grass growing through the openings.

Watching this happen as a kid, and recalling it all these decades later, even though I only saw it and never participated in it, still makes me angry, sad, ashamed.  Jealously and resentment are ugly things.

After all, his parents did what all of our parents tried to do – give their kid the best they could.  He had no reason to be ashamed of anything.  But when adolescents want to hurt a peer, their efforts can be absolutely peerless.

Truth be told, though, adults occasionally can be just as petty, shallow, and cruel.  The difference comes in expressing jealousy by belittling and criticizing the “offending” party through gossip and subterfuge.  The testosterone-soaked guys on my childhood street at least had the guts to do it face-to-face to their victim.

Good gravy, regardless of one’s age, what a waste of time, effort, and brain cells!  No one comes out a winner in these scenarios.  Why can’t people stay within their lanes, take care of improving themselves first, and celebrate when others enjoy success?

Actually, we can all take a page from John the Baptist, of all people.  In the scripture narration, when Jesus began preaching, he did some baptizing of his own.  John’s followers got ticked off, can you believe it?  Who was this new guy, crowding in our turf?  He’s stealing some of your shine, John!  What gives?  We don’t like this!  They wanted retribution, restitution, remuneration from this upstart preacher.

John put them back in line, telling his group that the story would continue – but that his chapter was ending.  Don’t begrudge this new player on the scene.  Let him do his thing.  Give him his due.  He’s not hurting anyone, so don’t sweat it.

Pretty solid advice.  On Monday, Monday or any other day of the week.  Worry about making your own life sweeter, and be cool about how other people build their story.

Whispered words of wisdom.  Or, from another great ‘60s-era song, let it be.

Copyright 2019 Timothy P. Hayes


By Tim Hayes

So after a three-month hiatus, I resumed private boxing lessons last week – this time with a new trainer, since my old one had moved away – and quickly discovered how different this guy’s approach would be.

“Okay, on your belly,” he commanded.  “Now, push up on your hands, keep your arms straight and your head up, and bend from the waist.  This is called ‘The Cobra.’”

“Cobra,” my ass.  “Back-breaker,” maybe.  “Nuts-cruncher” or “Shoulder-killer” would work, too.

This fellow told me to roll on my back, then sit spread-eagled, then point my toes places they’d never ventured to before, among other bone-snapping surprises.  I paid for a 60-minute workout, and was ready to take a nap after the first five minutes.  I hadn’t even put the boxing gloves on yet!

I mean, there’s rusty, then there’s complete and total corrosion.  Ouch.

“Do you stretch much at home, Tim?” he asked with a side-eyed smile, knowing full well the answer, the smart aleck.

“A little,” I lied, completely unconvincingly, I’m sure.

“Well, try to stretch every day.  It will really help you.”

And, boom.  There it was.  Something I could hold onto, even as my grip on previously assumed baseline boxing ability started slipping like a greased ball-bearing.

“Try to stretch every day.”  My new trainer, of course, meant that in a physical sense, and I’m working on it.  But this time of year, that suggestion may take on a more emotional, motivational, aspirational connotation.

The TV floods with weight-loss meal plans, online support programs, and exercise equipment pitches.  Marie Osmond hawking her amazing Nutri-system cult has become as ubiquitous as ads for old “Carol Burnett” reruns.  (How many “lost” episodes could there be, anyway?  Wasn’t somebody in charge of keeping track of those shows?)

Yo, Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley, get off that crazy contraption before you sling yourself into next week, and go eat a cookie, for God’s sake.  And, hey, Oprah?  We’re sick of hearing about your cauliflower-crust pizza.  We get it, all right?

Those options roll back around every January (except the Carol Burnett stuff, which never, ever goes away) because people want to believe they’ll kick off a new year and make life-altering changes all at once.

I guarantee those ads will disappear by mid-February, though, because that’s when people admit that they can’t keep up such life-altering changes because they don’t really want to alter their lives that much, after all.

“Try to stretch every day,” then, makes a lot more sense.

For me, I’d like for that concept to include more reading, working with more partners on exciting projects, expanding on a business chock full of rewarding work with enjoyable clients, actively learning more about my craft from respected knowledge leaders, traveling more to be with my beautiful family, and finding new ways to bring greater blessings to as many people as possible.

It can’t happen all at once.  But it can happen, bit by bit, as the muscles of knowledge, faith, kindness, hard work, and collaboration get extended and strengthened.

In other words, when we try to stretch every day.  My new trainer’s right, the wiseguy.  It really can help.

Happy New Year!

Copyright 2019 Timothy P. Hayes

The Richest Man In Town

By Tim Hayes

It started bubbling up, right on cue, as I knew it would.

As soon as Mary throws open the front door and waves in half the town, with scatterbrained Uncle Billy carrying a large laundry basket full of bills and coins, dumping it onto the dining room table – I can feel it coming on.

Uncle Billy gives Mary all the credit for the miracle about to unspool right there, then fades off to the side, mumbling and weeping with joy.  Oh boy, the dam rises a little higher.

Characters from earlier in the story – Martini the bar owner, Mr. Gower the druggist, the high school principal, and even a telegram from plastics baron Sam Wainwright advancing 25 grand to the cause – cite how their lives benefited by the man they’re honored to help now.  And more cracks start to appear in my emotional defenses.

Then kid brother Harry arrives to cheers, having flown in during a blizzard.  Steady, big fella.

Someone hands Harry a glass.  Here it comes.

“Good idea, Ernie – a toast!” Harry cries.  “To my big brother George!  The richest man in town!”  And, finally, I can’t hold it back any longer, and the tears start to trickle out.

Then, as a final sweetly savage kicker to my heartstrings, our hero, George Bailey, picks up a copy of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” that has mysteriously appeared on top of the pile of money.  He opens it to read an inscription:

“Dear George – No man is a failure who has friends.  Thanks for the wings!  Love, Clarence”

And I’m gone, awash in a puddle of my own tears, touched, moved, joyous, grateful, and as thoroughly wrung out as yesterday’s dishrag.

Of course, I’m referring to Frank Capra’s holiday classic, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” starring the great Jimmy Stewart.  I first saw this film about 35 years ago, when we lived in Jimmy’s hometown of Indiana, PA.  An event screening a number of his movies – intended to raise funds for the town’s upcoming celebration of his 75th birthday – featured this one.

The ending knocked me for a loop that night, and with every viewing since.  Such a beautifully crafted manipulation of the viewer’s emotions, which the great movies accomplish quite by design.  Think of the final moments of “Rocky,” or “Rudy,” or “Field of Dreams,” each of which wipes me out, as well.

I worked as a reporter at the town’s newspaper when Jimmy actually came to Indiana, PA, a year later.  After I got to meet him, watch him, and even interview him one-to-one, well, I had my new all-time Hollywood hero locked in for life.

In fact, the bronze statue of Jimmy that got unveiled that weekend in 1983 – and which still stands today in front of the county courthouse – reflects his appearance as George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  Jimmy even said that George Bailey was his favorite character to play, in a career totaling more than 90 movies, and that it was the first role he played after returning from World War II as a decorated bomber pilot.

We had the chance to see the film at a local movie house on the big screen this weekend.  Charming in its black-and-white photography, and expertly crafted in every frame, this film has endured for 72 years because of its simple, yet powerful and resonant message – relevant at all times, and especially during the holidays – that success comes not from material things, but from how well, gently, and lovingly people treat each other.

As the story begins, and Clarence the “angel second class” receives his assignment to help George, he sees a fancy carriage being drawn by a horse and asks, “Who’s that?  A king?”  To which his heavenly supervisor, Joseph, replies, “That’s Henry F. Potter, the richest, meanest man in town.”

Conversely, at the finale, after all the goodwill George has bestowed on his family and friends over the course of his wonderful life comes back to him tenfold, he has supplanted Potter, and Harry now hails George as “The richest man in town!”  Not in dollars, although that is no longer a concern, but in heart and goodness and respect.

And it’s no wonder I cry.  Every time.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes

Blame It On the Amygdala

By Tim Hayes

Personal and professional obligations led me to drive past my high school this weekend – a welcome detour, since one week ago I attended my 40th Class Reunion from that very institution, and had an absolute blast.

In one more piece of evidence that my brain has a mind of its own, I completely, totally, unabashedly, and fully loved high school.  All four phases.  From the clumsy stumbling freshman experience, through the tough teachers (mostly in math and science for me), and right up to the numerous leadership roles assumed as a senior, high school represented four fabulous years.

Now, four decades later, about 80 members of the Class of ’78 gathered again to compare notes, stories, hairlines, waistlines, and memories.  What a night.

As one of the event’s coordinators, I had a front row seat as the first classmates arrived.  More than once, a person would come barreling over to me, grab my hand or give me a big hug, crying “Tim!  How great to see you again!”  And I’d respond in kind, while straining like mad to read his or her nametag, because I had NO IDEA who they were.  The same happened to me in reverse, as I welcomed friends from so long ago, whose eyes said, “Who is this guy?” about me.

But after some conversation, the addition of other classmates, and the ongoing after-effects of the cash bar, it didn’t take long for all of us to slide right back into high school together.  And the stories!  Stuff I’d forgotten that made us laugh all over again at what we had gotten away with in our sporadically misspent youth.

I told one friend, whom I hadn’t seen since graduation, that she had been responsible for the most shocking, frightening, funny, and adrenaline-spiking moment I experienced in my four years of high school.  She looked surprised, so I explained.

One day after school, a bunch of us were in the classroom of the English teacher who advised an activity in which we participated.  The teacher was out of the room, when my friend – wearing bib overalls at the time, a fashion choice back then – stood up in front of the group, reached into the front pocket of her overalls, pulled out a joint, and said, “Anybody want to join me?”

Me, being the total square I still am today, instantly freaked out, running to close the classroom door, making her put that thing back in her pocket, and swearing everybody to secrecy.

As I shared this recollection with our group at the reunion, to gales of laughter, my friend said, “You know, I’m not surprised I had a joint on me.  But I am surprised I was wearing bib overalls!”

All night, during dinner and well into the evening hours, friends reconnected and reignited their fondness for each other and the lives we lived together in the ‘70s as unalloyed, unapologetic city punks.  I experienced a bonus benefit, as well.  About 10 other classmates at the reunion had also attended our little parochial grade school together for eight years before heading to high school, so we had a mini-reunion within the larger one.  What an unexpected and wonderful treat.

Naturally, not every moment of high school was sunshine, rainbows, smiles, and good times.  But isn’t it enough knowing that the difficulties and challenges and heartbreaks all helped make us stronger, more resilient, better able to move into adulthood?  I do, and see no need to dwell on those moments.

Plus, there may be a scientifically provable reason why we naturally drift toward the positive, happy memories that flowed so freely at our reunion.  It seems as though the things we remember get better with age, according to research* published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology in 2016.  The study showed that the amygdala – which plays a significant role in emotional behavior in older adults’ brains – was activated equally by positive and negative images, whereas younger adults’ brains were activated more by negative images.

So people with some miles on the odometer of life appreciate and value the good times more than their younger counterparts.  That came through loud and clear a week ago, that’s for sure.

Hey, you can blame it on the amygdala if you want.  All I know is that, after seeing so many friends from my teenage years again, I could not have been happier. Just like we said 40 years ago: ’78 is Great!

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes


Bobby Knew

By Tim Hayes

The alarm went off at 5:15 a.m.  Rarely a pleasant or welcome sign.  But this day, I let it slide.  This day, I had work to do.  A mission to fulfill.

I lumbered out of bed, crawled into the shower, let the hot water and foamy sudsy soap spur the brain cells into a semblance of order, got dressed, and headed out the door to the nearby elementary school – which this day would double as a polling place.

My mission – from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with a break for lunch – consisted of handing out hundreds of “slate cards” showing all of the candidates for my party, to voters arriving to perform their civic duty.

The morning began in pitch darkness, a steady rain falling amid an air temperature in the mid-40s.  Layered up, wearing a baseball cap and covered in a waterproof hooded windbreaker, I remained remarkably dry and just warm enough to function.

So many people had arrived by 6:30 a.m. to vote, that the Judge of Elections opened the polls early, and scores of my neighbors and friends began entering the grade school gym.

The Norman Rockwell-ishness of the whole scene filled me with genuine pride.  This is how it’s supposed to work, I mused internally.  Civil, reasonable citizens arriving to play their role in the great pageant, with everyone prepared and ready to live with the results, regardless of which way they pointed.

Lost in this patriotic revelry, I soon also came to realize that I had the “market,” as it were, all to myself.  No one from the other party had arrived at our little corner of democracy to pass out their literature.  I had the floor and could filibuster freely for the first two hours of voting.

Around 9 a.m., though, another fellow arrived and took his spot on the other side of the sidewalk, distributing brochures on behalf of a candidate from the opposite party running for the state Senate.  I introduced myself, and we shook hands.  He never impeded my efforts, nor did I to his.

From the minute he came onto the scene, however, something kept tagging the back of my brain.  Do I know this guy?  In the down moments in between voters arriving at the polls, I thought I spotted him looking at me the same way.  As the morning wore on, we talked and talked – not about politics at all, but about each other’s jobs, families, interests.  I felt as though we had become friends in a very short period of time.

When he asked me what I did for a living, I explained that I provided writing services for business clients.  Suddenly, the light went on in his eyes.  He asked what my name was, my full name, then exclaimed, “You wrote my website about 10 years ago!”

Turns out, a regional incubator working with young companies spun off from research done at Carnegie Mellon and Pitt had engaged me to work with this guy and his partner – who was the candidate for state Senate he was supporting – to write copy for their website and other materials as they got their enterprise off the ground.  It succeeded and got bought out a few years later, freeing my new friend to provide consulting services nationwide, and his buddy to enter politics.

Fact is, I disagreed with just about every position his old business partner espoused as a candidate, but that had no bearing on the fact that this fellow and I spent most of a very enjoyable day together.  Respecting each other’s views and freedom to promote the candidates we supported, safe in the knowledge that the outcome would advance the story of our town, our state, and our nation in ways that couldn’t always be predicted, but that could always be corrected down the line if needed.

Robert Kennedy, 50 years ago, knew the priceless value of mutual respect and reasonable expectations, in pursuit of the common good that lifts all Americans, when he said:

“What we do need, and what 1968 must bring, is a better liberalism and a better conservatism.  We need a liberalism and its wish to do good, yet that recognizes the limits to rhetoric and American power abroad; that knows the answers to all problems is not spending money.  And we need a conservatism in its wish to preserve the enduring values of the American society, that yet recognizes the urgent need to bring opportunity to all citizens, that is willing to take action to meet the needs of the people.”

Here we are, a half-century later, still searching for this type of balance.

I’m fearful in one way that my experience standing outside my local polling place this past week was nothing more than an anomaly.  An exception to the larger, deeper, more brutal rule of conflict and everlasting political fighting.

But in another way, I prefer to see a day spent with someone from the opposition – who actually turned out to be an old client and who quickly became a new friend – as an encouraging sign.  A metaphor of civility, friendship, respectful disagreement, and a willingness to compromise, that can lead us out of this dark period into a new time of progress and hope.

Bobby knew it could happen.  That it should happen.  That it can happen.  And, deep down, so do we.  Let’s make that vision real this time, so that 50 years from now, they’ll look back with pride and gratitude at what we accomplished.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes

Do Your Duty

By Tim Hayes

Finally, silence.

All of the hum-and-rattle, after all of the doomsday warnings of looming cataclysm, after all of the noise and misdirection carried into our living rooms and car radios by an unending onslaught of ridiculously logic-free commercials – it’s all over.  Finally.

It’s just you and your conscience, alone in front of a ballot.  It’s time to make a choice.  It’s time to do your duty.  It’s time to vote.

Personally, I love to go and vote.  Always have.  Never missed an election since I turned 18 – and that’s 40 years, gang.

But some people – actually way too many people – don’t care whether they vote or not.  That’s inconceivable to me.  I came across a story last week that cited 12 young people in their 20s, mostly, who gave every reason under the sun why they thought voting wasn’t worth their time.

They’re disillusioned.  The candidates aren’t perfectly aligned with their beliefs.  “I hate mailing stuff; it gives me anxiety.”  It’s too hard to print out an absentee ballot.  They just don’t have the time or the energy.

What?  What?!!  Get your face out of the smartphone and join the real world, you unbelievable nitwits, dimwits, and halfwits.  These would be the same people years from now, as they see their rights or their environment or their livelihood being taken from them, whining, “But why?  How did this happen?  Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

Comedian Billy Eichner fails to see the humor when it comes to disinterested voters, too, saying, “If you’re 18 or over and you have time to dress up for Halloween, you have time to vote.”  Elections matter.  And every vote matters.  How dare anyone waste his or hers.

Oprah Winfrey spoke to this issue last week, saying, “For all those who paved the way that we might have the right to vote – and for anybody here who has an ancestor who didn’t have the right to vote – and you are choosing not to vote?  Wherever you are in this state, in this country, you are dishonoring your family.  You are disrespecting and disregarding their legacy, their suffering, and their dreams when you don’t vote.”

The percentage of eligible citizens who actually turn out to vote during presidential election years has moved between 48 percent and 57 percent since 1980, with only about 40 percent voting in mid-term elections, according to BBC News and the non-profit group FairVote. In 2016, that translated into 117 million eligible voters sitting out the election.  And with only 200 million people out of the 241 million eligible voters having actually registered to vote, that put the 2016 turnout at slightly more than 51 percent.

For the world’s leading democracy, that’s positively shameful.  In France, voter turnout is regularly more than 80 percent, BBC News reported.

We can do better.  We should do better.  States where early voting is offered have seen results so far showing that we are doing better, and that’s most encouraging.

Ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft pledged to offer free and discounted rates to get people to their voting locations.  Energy remains high for this cycle, so get in there and contribute your part to the momentum.  No excuses this time.

Whether you see the current political scene as enthralling or appalling – vote anyway.

Your candidate may not be perfect, nor is his or her party – vote anyway.

It can be a challenge to make arrangements to get to your polling place – vote anyway.

You may think your single ballot won’t really make a difference – vote anyway.

Again, Oprah says it best.

“The right to vote is like the crown we all get to wear.  Maya (Angelou) used to say, ‘Baby, your crown has been paid for, so put it on your head and wear it.’”

This Tuesday, make the effort.  Make the difference for your local municipality, your state House and Senate districts, your Congressional district, your U.S. Senate representation, and your state gubernatorial leadership.

Wear that crown, indeed.  Step into that booth and enjoy the silence, finally.  Do your duty.  Vote.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes

The Other

By Tim Hayes

The Other.  Who is it?

The easiest target in the world, that’s who.  It doesn’t require much thought, analysis, planning, or empathy.  Just point and click.  Easy.

Poof!  An enemy has been created, custom-ordered to your own conflicting simultaneous senses of both externally expressed superiority and internally suppressed insecurity.

Instant fear.  Immediate anxiety.  Do-it-yourself animosity, anger, antipathy.

Here “They” come, to take what’s yours.  We can’t let “Them” steal our way of life.  Don’t “They” see how much of a threat they pose to us?

“Us.”  “Them.”  How sad.  How unnecessary.  How far afield from the truth of human existence.

Of all the physical and emotional characteristics that all human beings share, do you know what percentage skin color represents?  It’s so minimal that researchers all but discard it as a significant factor.

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health sequenced the human genome, and unanimously declared, there is only one race — the human race, according to an article in the New York Times.*  Those traits most commonly used to distinguish one race from another, like skin color, are controlled by a relatively few number of genes, and thus have been able to change rapidly in response to extreme environmental pressures during the short course of Homo sapiens history.  And so equatorial populations evolved dark skin, presumably to protect against ultraviolet radiation, while people in northern latitudes evolved pale skin, the better to produce vitamin D from pale sunlight.

Tell me it makes sense, then, for someone whose ancestors suffered from a deficit of Vitamin D to pick up a machine gun and murder another person whose ancestors worried about ultraviolent radiation.  No, it doesn’t make sense.  It never has made sense.  It never will make sense.

We are all the same.  There is no Other.

Some have more money.  Some worship differently.  Some need to flee danger in their homeland, pick up stakes, and seek asylum elsewhere.  Seems to me I’ve heard a story about a guy and his wife needing to scoop up their newborn baby son and head into an entirely different country to escape oncoming violence.  That tale couldn’t possibly have any parallels to our modern world, now, could it?

After a week of pipe bombs sent to numerous targets, and the most fearsome military in world history heading to the border to save us all from a ragtag collection of peasants trying to get as far from crime and violence in their home countries as possible, fear of The Other appears to be ramping up.

Then, just hours ago as I write this, a madman with an automatic weapon walked into a synagogue in my beloved hometown of Pittsburgh, opening fire and killing, at last count, 11 worshippers.  Why were those innocent families, there to celebrate a service together, seen as The Other?

It is inexcusable.  It is illogical.  It is wrong.  We are all the same.  There is no Other.

In the hours following the synagogue massacre – which happened not five minutes from the apartment building where the late champion of peace and understanding, Fred Rogers, lived for much of his life – an old song came into my head.  I hadn’t thought of this song for years, but it seemed to fit the sadness and madness of the moment.  See if you remember it…

Listen children to a story that was written long ago, ‘bout a kingdom on a mountain and the valley folk below / On the mountain was a treasure buried deep beneath a stone, and the valley people swore they’d have it for their very own.

So the people of the valley sent a message up the hill, asking for the buried treasure, tons of gold for which they’d kill / Came an answer from the kingdom, “With our brothers we will share all the secrets of our mountain, all the riches buried there.”

Now the valley cried in anger, “Mount your horses, draw your sword!”  And they killed the mountain people, so they won their just reward / Now they stood beside the treasure on the mountain dark and red, turned the stone and looked beneath it – “Peace on Earth” was all it said.

Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend / Do it in the name of Heaven, you can justify it in the end / There won’t be any trumpets blowing come the Judgment Day / On the bloody morning after who one tin soldier rides away.

Be that One Tin Soldier.**  Be the one who rides away from violence toward The Other.  The one who recognizes our commonality.  Who lives according to the tenets of grace and goodness.  Who resists and rejects scapegoating and finger-pointing and the words and actions of those who fail to accept responsibility for their own malignancies, and the wider impact they can generate.

For God’s sake, for everyone’s sake, for our own soul’s sake, let’s realize the simple and powerful fact that – at the essential core of it all – we are all the same, and all deserve dignity, honor, and respect.

There is no Other.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes


** “One Tin Soldier” Copyright 1969 Bell Records.