Sunday Morning Musings…

I don’t typically watch TV in the mornings. I prefer to slowly wake in the quiet, with a cup of coffee, and a few games of solitaire. I’m a lot like my dad in that way.

But this morning, I was checking in on a client, and the TV was on. And the story on CBS’s “Sunday Morning” got my attention.
CBS Sunday Morning logoThe editor-in-chief of Mad Magazine, John Ficarra, was talking about the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. It clearly was an event that shook him to his core, as I would imagine it does all journalists and satirists now…

Though I’m not a fan of, nor a regular reader of, Mad Magazine, I wanted to hear what he had to say.  He started with “When I was in college, a journalism professor once told me that freedom of the press is a freedom that has to be re-won every generation. I didn’t quite understand what he meant back then, but given the developments of the past few weeks, I do now.”

I was compelled to listen to every word, because I could, because I was interested in his thoughts and feelings, and because he had the right to say it.

And he said it well.

In case you missed it, here’s his segment, in its entirety.

I was reminded of what it really means to have “free speech,” and all that that entails. I was reminded that this country is full of screenwriters, journalists, songwriters, publicists, cartoonists, novelists, poets, stand-up comics, talk show hosts and more who, by their very nature, cannot help but spit out their thoughts, their ideas, their feelings, their stories, their opinions. And they should be allowed to do just that – because in this country, we all have that right.

Imagine being one of those staff members in Paris who, in their conference room at Charlie Hebdo, never saw it coming. Imagine being the family members and loved ones left behind who are now grieving the unthinkable, and trying to make sense of it all. Imagine the fear and torment running rampant now through that beautiful city, with the later events at the supermarket and printing factory.

Though three terrorists are dead, we all know there are more where they came from. Imagine the utter chaos, and the knot in the pit of every person’s stomach who was too close for comfort to these events, who wonder where they’ll strike next. Just imagine….

And then imagine a world where the terrorists win, and no one is brave enough to write or speak any more…

Could we be headed in that direction?

At the end of Ficarra’s segment, he signs off with this:
“By the simple act of appearing on camera denouncing the terrorists and defending the rights of cartoonists and satirists, would I be drawing a target on my back and the backs of my colleagues?
Unfortunately these days, those are not unfounded fears.
And the very fact that I had these fears? Score one for the terrorists.
On the other hand, come Monday morning, my staff and I will be back at work on the next issue of Mad.
What, us worry?”

As I type this, I think about all the things I’ve written in my lifetime – poems, songs, press releases, corporate annual reports, procedure manuals, website content, contracts, tributes to lost loved ones, and even the majority of my own non-fiction book…

And I’m reminded of how much I love the written word, and the freedom to write those words for all the world to see.

And I’m reminded of one of the greatest tools of this generation, which allows us to all communicate in ways unimagined before.

Mark Zuckerberg, and Facebook, provide a free place where people all over the world can express our thoughts, ideas, and feelings (within reason) without fear of retaliation. Thank you for allowing us to reconnect with friends and family, and to relive the memories through photos and the written word. Thank you for letting us connect with new friends, and network in ways we never could have imagined. I have used facebook to chat, with the written word, in real time with friends in Germany, Holland, Brazil, Mexico, and Finland. Where else could I do that?

Though the ads and seemingly constant algorithm changes are irritating, we try to overlook them. It’s the price we pay for having such a powerful tool with which to connect with the world.

And I’m grateful for Twitter, and the wide world of connections made possible by its inner workings. But as a writer, it’s a bit difficult to keep my thoughts to 140 characters. But we manage to get the point across even with that limitation.

And if we don’t agree with someone’s post, we have the right to simply look away, scroll right past it, or delete it. It’s not that hard…

How these terrorists felt it was their right to execute someone whose beliefs and ideas didn’t align with theirs is beyond my comprehesion. How does one live with oneself knowing that you took a life, not in self-defense, but because of twisted ideals and lack of morals?

Pure hatred drives them. And I believe there’s a special place in hell for people like that.

My youngest brother, Michael, visited Paris in 2013 and 2014, and he loves everything the city has to offer. And for years, he was the art director for a magazine. I can’t help but think of all the staff meetings he must have attended in their offices, discussing, planning, and designing their next issue. Did they ever think there would come a day when some of their colleagues, though an ocean away, would be killed for doing their jobs?

My heart aches for the people of Paris, and for writers everywhere…

Eiffel Tower by Michael Stephens(photo by Michael Stephens /



Memorial Day – and The Hornet’s Nest

Today I honor the soldiers, the men and women who, without concern for their own safety, march into battle knowing full well that they could be killed at any moment. And for what?

For me. For my family. For my friends. For my freedom…
Memorial Day hotdog with napkins and flag

I honor, too, the families left behind when the soldiers are deployed. Their struggles are just as real. When their loved ones come home, it’s cause for celebration. But when they don’t, the families left behind face the emotional and financial struggles, and the insurmountable grief for a loss so indescribable… I simply can’t imagine it.

Who does that? Who purposely puts their life on the line for us, for America and all that we believe in?

Men and women, young and old, who for whatever reason – in their own hearts and minds – feel it’s the right thing to do…

Are they brave and courageous in ways we’ll never know? Yes.
Are they scared beyond belief? Perhaps.
Are they determined to fight to the death for what they believe? Absolutely.

Troops firing at insurgents by Mike Boettcher(Photo by Mike Boettcher – Afghanistan 2011)

In years gone by, there were other wars, other soldiers who stepped out onto the shores and into the jungles to fight for a cause. Many didn’t come home. And those who did were forever changed, in ways we will never comprehend. To this day, some of them still can’t talk about their experiences…

Today the VA hospitals are filled with the injured and dying. Some injuries are so apparent that we are tempted to look away. We see them on tv – the burns, the scars, the loss of limbs – they seem so far away from our reality. But for the soldier – they live that reality every waking moment of every day, and in their flashbacks and nightmares at night…

How do they ever really get relief from the haunting memories? I don’t know, but I hope they do, somehow, some day…

Somehow, no one in my family was called to serve. I always found that interesting, but I am so grateful. Though I was not directly impacted by losing a loved one to war, the idea of war permeates my mind at times. I rarely watch the news any more, because all the stories seem to be about hatred and violence and killings and war. I often find myself in the quiet, in prayer, asking God to touch the hearts and minds of the terrorists, big and small,  in all nations, and to show them that killing is not the way. I wonder if – in my lifetime – we’ll see an end to war… or if this is really only the beginning of something far worse…

When we walk down the street, we have no idea what may be troubling the people we encounter. And without a uniform, we don’t know how many of those people may have served our country, and sacrificed in order to give us the freedom to walk down that particular street. War isn’t just in a country far away. It impacts us right where we stand.

JR Martinez, Iraq War Veteran, DWT Season 13 winner(J.R Martinez, Iraq War Veteran who was severely injured by roadside bomb.
  He went on to win Dancing With the Stars Season 13)

When we see someone without a limb, we don’t know if they lost it in combat. And when we see other people – seemingly regular people – how do we know they’re not suffering as well? Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) are as real a wound as the loss of an arm or a leg. Injuries to the brain don’t show on the outside, but they can be just as devastating. Just because we can’t see it, that doesn’t mean it’s not real.

In my opinion, the ones most effected by war are the ones with brain injuries. Visible signs of injury tend to evoke compassion and concern, and rightfully so. But what about the soldiers who appear to be “normal” on the outside, with no indication of the torment they’re going through? The remedy isn’t a bandage, or a cast, or surgery to mend the broken bones. How do they get the help and compassion they need, and deserve?

With the VA in the news so much right now, I can’t help but think about all the veterans who are struggling to get help, to find their “new normal.” How can the returning soldiers ever be “normal” again, after enduring and witnessing unspeakable things? And how can we help them?

And what of the soldiers still in combat, on the front lines, defending my right to sit here and write about what I think and what I feel, and post it to the internet for all the world to see? What about them? Will we be ready to help them adjust when they get home?

Soldiers in front of VA hospital


As I write this, I hear my neighbors talking, out on their patio. They are from Iraq. They fled their homeland, and the only life they ever knew to come here, to provide a fresh start and a safe life for themselves and their daughter, who has special needs.

Though I don’t know them well, I’ve enjoyed watching them adapt to life here. I see the pride with which they keep house, and I feel the sense of relief they have in knowing that they are in a safe, comfortable space. I can’t begin to imagine what they have endured, as the war raged on in their home country. They left it all behind, for freedom and security…

As you sit in your home, reading this, take a good look around. Look at all your stuff, some sentimental items, some treasured keepsakes, some family heirlooms. And your furniture, and favorite books, your big screen tv, and nice comfortable bed…

Could you leave it all behind, and start over in a country where you didn’t know the language or the customs? Would you be too scared to try? What would it take to make you want to leave everything that is familiar to you?

Living room

This family from Iraq reminds me, every day, of how incredibly blessed I am to live in America. Every soldier who has ever fought in any war to protect our way of life is directly responsible for my freedom. Though our way of life may not be perfect, we are a free country. We don’t have a dictator ruling our lives with a heavy hand.

In ongoing battles, far and wide, big and small – some of which the typical American will never know about – the war rages on. And selfless men and women continue to put themselves in harm’s way, knowing they might not make it home. I honor every single one of them, and their families, today, and every day…


I remember when the movie “Saving Private Ryan” came out. It was the most accurate portrayal of war to date. And it changed me.

Today, a new film makes its debut in select theaters across the country – “The Hornet’s Nest.” I saw that film today, and I encourage all of you to see it. This is not a fictionalized movie, or “based on a true story.” It is real footage of some of the troops in Afghanistan. It is disturbing and enlightening, and it is in-your-face terrifying at times. It is an important film, documenting the hell that the soldiers go through.

Hornets Nest movie poster

When Captain Kevin Mott yells out “Follow me!” his guys do just that – they follow behind him, down rugged terrain, to get to their target, even with gunfire raging all around them. The sound of bullets whizzing past one’s head is nothing like what I’d imagined. And now that I know what it sounds like, I hope to never hear it again…

But the soldiers face that sound, and the heat, and the uncertainty EVERY SINGLE DAY – for us, for our flag, for America and all that we stand for.

At one point, the soldiers were in a 360° firefight. How does one not panic, and just give up? Soldiers don’t. They keep fighting through. And when someone gets hit, they do all they can to get them to safety, and to get them the medical help they need.

To all who have put themselves in harm’s way for us, a mere “Thank you” is not enough… But it’s all I have, and all I can give, sincerely, from the depths of my soul…

And thank you to Mike and Carlos Boettcher, for risking your own lives and embedding yourselves in with the troops to make this film. You have opened my eyes to the harsh reality of war, and I trust that everyone who sees this film will walk away with a better appreciation for our armed forces.

Mike and Carlos Boettcher(Mike and Carlos Boettcher)