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The gentleman’s guide on what not to give for Valentine’s Day

03 IMG 2091 What is the most frightening day on the calendar for men? Spoiler alert: It is also the day of the year that is most likely to be disappointing for women. Give up? It’s Valentine’s Day. In theory, it is a day filled with hearts and flowers, candy, love, romance and possible whoopee. In reality, unless handled with kid gloves, it can be a day that will live in infamy, filled with recriminations and accusations of insensitivity. A day that can end in sleeping on the couch for the unwary male after the dreaded words, “If you don’t know what you did, I am certainly not going to tell you.”

  Let us begin by examining the origins of this most Stephen King of holidays. Hop into Mr. Peabody’s way back machine and travel back to third-century Rome. At that time, Claudius II was the Emperor of Rome. Claudius was having a difficult time getting guys to join the Roman army. Based upon nothing in particular, Claudius concluded men weren’t signing up for the Legions because they were too attached to their families to go adventuring in the Army. Claudius’ solution was to ban guys from marrying. If they had no family ties, then the men would happily join the army. Easy peasy. Problem solved.
Valentine was a Catholic priest who didn’t think that banning marriage was a great idea. Valentine began performing marriage ceremonies in secret. This was well before people could run off to Dillon, South Carolina, to get hitched. Valentine was the only option to get married at the time. Demonstrating the adage that no good deed goes unpunished, word of the secret marriages got back to Claudius.
 
When Claudius found out what Valentine was doing, he hauled him off to jail. Unlike the Mayberry jail, Valentine was not free to go like Otis Campbell, so he stuck around for his punishment. Valentine became friends with the jailor’s daughter while he was waiting to be executed. On the day he was to be beheaded, Feb. 14, 270 AD, Valentine left a goodbye note in his cell for the jailor’s daughter and signed it “From your Valentine.” From this rather dark origin comes our present Valentine’s Day. Valentine was rewarded for his troubles by being canonized as a Saint. His skull can be admired in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Rome if you are so inclined. It is not coincidental that if a man messes up his Valentine’s Day gift for his lady love, he may also find his head chopped off.
 
In the interest of avoiding romantic discord, disappointment and figurative beheading, the rest of today’s column will explain to men what gifts not to consider for Valentine’s Day. As you have noticed, ever since New Year’s Day we have been bombarded by advertisements for Valentine’s gifts. Do not always trust advertisements. Put some thought into your present. Undoubtably the worst Valentine’s Day gift I have ever seen advertised is the ad that accompanies this column for pre-arranging her funeral. It is a triumph of attempting to turn a silk purse into a sow’s ear that even our old friend Don Draper from “Mad Men” would admire. “If You Had No Idea What To Get Her For Valentine’s Day ... Imagine How Overwhelming Arranging her Funeral Would Be.” Despite what the ad copy says, pre-arranging as a couple her funeral arrangements is not a good gift idea.

  Anything short of pre-arranging her funeral as a Valentine’s Day gift has to be better on a scale of one to a zillion. At least if you don’t call the funeral home, you will be better off than the moron in the ad who decided on the Deluxe Golden Slumber double casket for his lady love. However, there are certain other gifts that are ungood and should be avoided.

 As a public service to men everywhere, the following Valentine’s Day gifts will not get you where you want to go. Do not give her a one-way ticket to Wuhan, China. All household appliances such as vacuum cleaners, irons and lawn tools are verboten. Do not take her to a romantic dinner at Arby’s. A certificate for a free oil change at Jiffy Lube is out of the question. Never give a box of frozen Gorton’s fish sticks. Do not give her a broken flux capacitor with the thought she might enjoy trying to repair it.
A case of Mad Dog 20/20 wine will not be appreciated. No woman wants a year’s supply of Johnson’s Turtle Wax. Resist the temptation to take her for
a night on the town to see a revival of “Godfather 3.” She does not want a set of new floor mats for your truck.
  Beyond this set of guidelines on what not to give her, you are pretty much on your own. As our old friend Stephen King once almost said, “A lot of things happened on Valentine’s Day, and not all of them were good.”

Be afraid, be very afraid of Valentine’s Day. Or to paraphrase William Butler Yeats who once nearly wrote, “She has spread her dreams under your feet: Tread softly because you tread upon her dreams.”

Good luck. 
 
 

Learning to care

13 faithThe first time I met Nate, he was asking a question about a microphone I was using to collect stories at a local church men's breakfast. The church is known for the number of military families it attracts, and I was looking for one-liners about freedom for radio vignettes I was planning to broadcast from Memorial Day to Independence Day.

As I engaged in a conversation about the microphone and his how-to mechanic videos, I had no idea of the story that was just beneath the surface. It wasn't until at least six months later I met his wife and discovered the pair and their three children had been through a harrowing, headline-grabbing ordeal three years prior to my meeting Nate.
His wife's younger brother, who was living with them to add some order and stability to his life, had been shot to death after being beaten and robbed on an otherwise beautiful day in May. The story caught my interest — not because of the murder itself, but because of the story of faith and forgiveness surrounding it.

Imagine the range of emotions in a courtroom filled with grieving family members on just about every seat in the room. One family grieving the life of a 16-year-old killed over $120, and the parents and siblings of six other young people grieving the sons they were about to lose to the prison system. Now imagine the guardian of the slain teen handing the mother of one of the accused a tissue to wipe her tears as she said, “I forgive you. It's not your fault.”

This wasn't a scene from a cheesy made-for-TV movie — it was real life. It took real courage, and it stemmed from real faith. The incident and events surrounding it called everything into question for Nate and his family. And as they embraced those questions, they emerged with answers that led them to the dusty villages surrounding ancient Jerusalem, where a man named Jesus taught about loving God, treating others as well as you would yourself, and forgiving those who seek to do you harm.

The journey that led them to forgiveness led them down roads of anger, bitterness and even resentment, but the God they found along the way gives them peace, which outweighs it all.

At WCLN, we call that Monday School. The lessons learned as we venture beyond the rally and rhetoric of a weekend worship service into stories of real life, real faith and real people. We have devoted air time and a podcast channel to stories like Nate's and have discovered they are all around us. Our friends, neighbors and coworkers — their stories contain tales of heroism or sorrow and may be marked with an undeniable joy that defies explanation.

You can find Monday School wherever you listen to podcasts, and we hope you do.

Clearing out the house

12 stuffAuthor's note: This column, written more than 30 years ago came back to mind when an old friend, getting ready to retire, described the agony and the joys of clearing out “his stuff.”

The last box is on the curb.

The house is empty and cold and dead. Next week it will be full again with other people’s lives. But we can never go back inside again to wander in the bookshelves, closets and attic. We will never smell the smells of hot meals on its stove, of warm, fresh clothes from its laundry room, of flowers from its garden, or of clean sheets mingled in the old blankets on its beds.

It happens to all of us when we move after being in a house for a long time, but when our parents or grandparents move to a smaller home or die, it is more than just moving.
It is clearing out. Clearing out the treasures. And the junk. Deciding what is what. Finding places for these newly orphaned things. Yesterday, they were secure in the loving possession of one whose love and memories surrounded them. Each one had its special place. Each was tied to precious people and events. Out of the house they must now go. And, without the protection of the ones who love them, they will be just things.

Who gets the silver service? Will anybody take this old cup from Niagara Falls? What do we do with this plaque that Dad got? Does anybody want the plate that has a picture of the old church? Who takes the pitcher that brought Mom’s mint-lemon iced tea to the table? Who keeps the bell that brought us to dinner together? Did we really eat supper together every evening?

Who will take the books? The bookshelves in this house were such welcome places. Every book had a story to tell, with some special connection to our family. All the books together were a reflection of my parents and their special interest in ideas and places and people. Books signed by their authors evoke memories of special friendships and connections. Where will those books go? What will the grandchildren say if we give up any of them?

Clean out the closets. Old ties, old dresses. Suddenly Mom thinks that the Mint Museum in Charlotte will be interested in one of her dresses for its collection. She thinks the dressmaker was an artist and that some example of her work should be kept forever. We think that is a crazy idea, but we set aside the dress to humor mom. The Mint Museum was delighted. They wanted the dress. Mom was right again.

Who will take the desk? Who will take the chest? Clear them out first. The letters. The photos. The old catalogs. Canceled checks from many years ago. Tax returns.
There are thousands of photos. How can there be so many? One photo of my father when he was much younger than I am today is indistinguishable from a recent picture of my son. I go into a misty dream that brings him back alive and puts the three of us together as contemporaries and buddies.

Letters. Letters. Letters. My brother settles in with the letters between my parents. Written 50 years ago, they described their jobs and the pains of bearing children, moving, living through hard times with optimism and of loving each other. My brother is moved and cannot be pulled away. But where will these letters be stored? Who will hold them for the grandchildren?

The doorbell rings. He comes in like a character from a Greek play — to bring a conclusion to our own drama. It is the flea market man. He helps us build a pile of our treasures for his bid. “I’ll give you an extra $50 for the old telephone. Maybe I can double my money. Maybe not. Thanks a lot. I have sure enjoyed getting to know you folks.”
And we are finished. The last box is on the curb. Now the tears can come.

Careful: Don’t railroad the performing arts center

02 ReplacementI am not a building architect, contractor, construction engineer, acoustical expert, or renowned and highly paid out-of-town consultant. However, I am a concerned and observant taxpaying resident who has lived in this community for more than 50 years, and I have a few concerns and historic observations that may be relevant as city engineers explore the origins of the newly detected concrete cracks in our new $40 million Segra Stadium, home of the Fayetteville Woodpeckers, a Carolina class A-Advanced minor league affiliate of the Houston Astros. Also, in a related observation, I have a few thoughts and speculations as to where the city and county should locate our long-anticipated and sorely needed performing arts center. After all, the size of this community at 300,000 plus would support such a venue and time is of the essence. With the imminent closure of the 2,400 seat Memorial Auditorium at the Crown Complex looming with a deadline of October 2022, unless a decision is made relatively soon, Fayetteville and Cumberland County could find themselves without any major facility to host local events, outside commercial entertainment venues or educational programs for thousands of Cumberland County school children.

So, you are probably wondering what the connection is between concrete cracks at Segra Stadium and the location of the proposed performing arts center. One word — railroad. It’s not hard to imagine that with dozens of trains rumbling through Fayetteville every day that building foundations of brick and concrete would be effected in some way. I’m amazed concrete can even set/harden properly with the constant vibrations and tremors caused by thundering train engines pulling thousands of tons of railway cars — all swaying back and forth on the rails — only yards away from these structures. Unfortunately, Segra Stadium is sandwiched between two sets of these tremoring railroad tracks. Hopefully, the concrete cracks detected and investigated by city engineers will be of no consequence. With plans to build two seven-story buildings on top of the new $16 million+ parking deck, I’d say an in-depth investigation by the city into the cause of the concrete cracks and the effect of heavy train traffic on this construction project is prudent and well worth the time and money.

What does this have to do with the proposed performing arts center? Everything. First of all, anyone who has attended a major celebration, event or concert at Festival Park has experienced the disappointing disruption of an otherwise wonderful performance caused by the intrusive disruption of train traffic. Initially, the trains were ignored and perceived as a minor annoyance. As a result, the proximity of the stage to the train tracks has rendered Festival Park useless as a serious entertainment venue.

When selecting the future location for a performing arts center, we should be even more sensitive to the presence of negative outside influences such as noise and turbulence, such as that created by train traffic, especially, if the facility is to be considered a serious cultural venue where plays, operas and symphony orchestras will be invited to perform. Last year, consultants hired by the city recommended East Gillespie Street. Now, Spectra Venue Management, which manages the Crown Complex, has hired professional consultants to do a similar study to possibly identify and recommend appropriate sites to locate and build a first-class performing arts center. It would be advantageous to locate the center close to downtown, adding to the pedestrian flow and its economic vitality. Unfortunately, there are few areas of downtown where you can escape the tremors, sights and sounds of Amtrak, CSX or the railway switching stations. A performing arts center will be a welcomed addition to our community and serve to expand and heighten our cultural sensitivities, but only if the project is executed properly. We will have only one opportunity to get this right. No do-overs! City and county officials would bode well to study this situation carefully, listen to the experts and set their egos and biases aside for the betterment of the entire community. Otherwise, time will run out, and our community will again be “railroaded.” Thanks for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

The power of perspective

04 MERCYRealizing that my column is routinely longer than what is normal, I considered making changes to lessen my word count. Doing so would adversely impact how I approach important topics. That is, presenting thoughtful discussion of a topic while supporting that discussion with logical flow and sound facts. In sharing my challenge with my wife, Denise, she suggested that I start each column with a brief statement summarizing the column’s central point. Doing so will, hopefully, allow individuals to quickly decide whether they will read the lengthy piece. I decided to follow Denise’s advice. Commencing with this column, each one will open with a “Column Gist.”

Column Gist: The perspective with which a person views whatever life presents dramatically impacts how they respond in every instance. Given this fact, every individual should give serious attention to his or her perspective. Doing so requires a level of self-reflection that is extremely rare in America. This lack of self-reflection allows for holding onto perspectives that result in unreasonable, even destructive, actions. I am convinced that flawed perspectives are at the heart of many of the problems we face in America.

My latest period of intense attention to the power of perspective was prompted by seeing the movie “Just Mercy.” Here is a summary of the movie from www.rottentomatoes.com: “A powerful and thought-provoking true story, ‘Just Mercy’ follows young lawyer Bryan Stevenson and his history-making battle for justice. After graduating from Harvard, Bryan had his pick of lucrative jobs. Instead, he heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly condemned or who were not afforded proper representation, with the support of local advocate Eva Ansley. One of his first, and most incendiary, cases is that of Walter McMillian, who, in 1987, was sentenced to die for the notorious murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite a preponderance of evidence proving his innocence and the fact that the only testimony against him came from a criminal with a motive to lie. In the years that follow, Bryan becomes embroiled in a labyrinth of legal and political maneuverings and overt and unabashed racism as he fights for Walter, and others like him, with the odds — and the system — stacked against them.”

Bryan Stevenson and Walter McMillian are black, while the 18-year-old murder victim was white. When the movie was over, given the legitimate focus on mistreatment, racism and discrimination based on the accused being black, I was troubled. I was so troubled that I was still sitting in the theater when everybody else had left, and two young people were waiting to clean the area.

I was troubled because of feeling confident that far too many black Americans would view this movie with a Civil Rights Era perspective rather than one based on current conditions in America. I sat there grieving for our country because failure, by so many, to adjust perspective is wreaking havoc on our country. Let me be clear: I am addressing concern for black perspectives, but the power of perspective applies to every person.

Https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/perspective provides a revealing definition and example of perspective: “Your perspective is the way you see something. If you think that toys corrupt children’s minds, then from your perspective, a toy shop is an evil place.” The truth of this statement caused my troubled response to what is a moving and extremely well-done movie. If a black person holds a perspective based in the 50s and 60s, as opposed to present conditions in America, that person will be more likely to see racism where it does not exist. We live in a time when this circumstance is rampant, and the results are downright scary.

Within 20 minutes of leaving the movie theater, I had an experience that confirmed my view that perspective must be based on current conditions, and every person must have the capacity to adjust their perspective. I was approaching a crosswalk and still struggling with that movie and its likely impact. A black lady walked up alongside me and we started a conversation. I asked where she was from and she said, “Birmingham, Alabama.” Since the movie told of actual events that took place in Alabama, I told her that we had just seen “Just Mercy.” She responded that she wanted to see the movie.

Given that she was from Alabama, I asked how things were going in the state. By this time, we were on the other side of the street. She stopped and stood still; then, looking directly at me, answered my question with clarity and total believability. The lady said that she was past her mid-70s and grew up in Birmingham during the Civil Rights Movement. After becoming an adult, she moved away for many years. Deciding to move back a few years ago, she expected to find a challenging situation — obviously based on her memories of the Civil Rights Era. That was her perspective.

However, her assessment was that Birmingham is a much better place than she expected to find upon returning. This lady explained that she lives in a quality neighborhood surrounded by supportive and cordial neighbors, most of whom are white. She frequents a senior citizen center where there is a mix of participants by race, ethnicity, culture, income level and so forth, but they all get along extremely well. Then came a surprising comment. She said that when Donald Trump was elected president, her expectation was that the good racial conditions of her city would decline, but there was no change.

After all of the positives, she said, with obvious sadness, that the neighborhood where she grew up is in very bad condition now. Then a closing comment that, as black Americans, we are hurting ourselves. She said, in Birmingham, blacks are killing each other in large numbers, even babies. The headline of an article by Paul Kersey confirms her assessment. That headline is “In 2018 Birmingham, Alabama (a 75% black city), Not One of the 99 Criminal Homicides Involved a White Male Suspect.”
After many years, this lady went home to Alabama with expectations based on experiences and observations from the Civil Rights Era. Her perception was set. To her credit, she adjusted that perception in light of conditions much improved from the horrible circumstances she saw and experienced during her youth and early adult years in Birmingham.

Therein is one of the great challenges for all of us. It is to recognize when our perspective is out of sync with present reality and adjust accordingly. Failure to consistently and faithfully take this action can not only adversely impact us as individuals but, to varying degrees, adversely impact society in general.

I contend that failure to shift in perspective is happening across America, and we are paying a high price because of the failure. What is happening in Fayetteville by way of black citizens opposing the building of the North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center is, for me, the result of a failure to adjust perspectives. Here is an opportunity to accurately educate citizens, young and old and help heal the destructive racial divide while producing substantial positive economic impact. Based on the contention that the people — mostly white — who are leading the effort will not accurately tell the Civil War and Reconstruction story and will glorify the Civil War, a movement that will likely kill this very promising project is underway. The relevant question is what perspective might a person hold that would result in this level of distrust?
It has to be one from some period prior to the present. I have thoroughly researched this project and talked with people, black and white, who are involved with it. Nothing I have seen supports the distrust perspective obvious in this opposition.

This is just one case where I contend the power of perception is at work in a very negative way and needs to be realigned to sync with current conditions. This kind of faulty perception is running rampant in America and doing great harm. We, all of us, would do well to learn from that 75+ year-old black lady from Birmingham.
 

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