Category Archives: Uncategorized

See Something, Say Nothing …

 

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Now that I have your attention …

We went out for a quick errand around 8 p.m. one evening a few weeks ago and came home less than an hour later to find a man with a long gun standing in the grass inches from our driveway. He was picking up a plastic bag filled with something.

At first, we didn’t see the gun. At first, we wrote it off a neighbor walking his dog. At first, we thought the bag was filled with pooch poop, and we praised the man for doing the right thing and not leaving his dog’s shit behind to fertilize our sidewalk.

Praise turned to panic, however, when we realized there was no dog. No dog meant, no dog shit. No dog shit meant … we had no idea what it meant because by then, we had caught a glimpse of the gun’s stock nestled comfortably under the man’s arm.

We drove into the garage so fast, I thought our car would end up in the kitchen. By the time we raced inside the house and looked out the front windows, he was gone.

I called 911 to report the incident … “see something, say something” solidly engraved in my mind, ready to report the bad guys among us disguised as friends and neighbors.

The 911 operator took down all my information, assured me that officers would be dispatched to check out the situation and asked if I would like those officers to knock on my door when they arrived.

“Of course,” I replied.

“OK, we’re sending someone now,” she said.

Two hours later, I went to bed, not knowing if officers had come out to investigate. I was also a bit concerned that no one had stopped by to at least put our minds at ease and tell us they would keep an eye on things.

A couple of days later, I followed up with a call to the Community Officer assigned to my neighborhood. I found his name and number in the neighborhood newsletter we receive every month, a newsletter that encourages us to call that officer whose job it is to help the citizens of my west Miramar, Florida, neighborhood. I left a message on his voicemail, and he called back about 30 minutes later. I was impressed with the quick response.

He told me he had looked up and reviewed the record of my call, assured me that an officer had driven by and had concluded that my call was “unfounded.”

He said the guy with the gun was probably out hunting iguanas because “that’s legal now, you know.” He said the gun was probably “just a BB gun.” And even though Florida is not an open carry state, it is legal to open carry a BB gun, even one that looks like a real gun that can hurt a lot more than just iguanas.

Really? Hunting iguanas at 9 p.m. in my front yard in the middle of a residential neighborhood is OK? Carrying what looks like a rifle in front of my house is legal?

“But, hey, if you see him again, call us,” the officer said. He seemed bored with all this “unfounded gun talk,” and so I thanked him and hung up.

But something didn’t feel quite right to me. I just couldn’t accept the fact that a guy with a gun — OK, maybe just a BB gun — was out patrolling my block at night “hunting iguanas.”

I sent a note to my city’s mayor, who just happens to live in my development. Surely he would care enough to look further into what had happened, I thought. The mayor responded to my note right away, saying he’d ask the police chief to look into it.  Three weeks later, when I hadn’t heard back, I sent another note to the mayor. I’m still waiting for his response.

I then voiced my concern about our neighborhood “hunter” to one of my neighbors. He smiled and said the guy I had seen lives a few doors down from us. He goes out every night to shoot bufo toads, brings their carcasses back home, photographs them and posts them on social media.

This is normal?  Is this his idea of community service?  Walk around the block shooting poisonous frogs for shits and giggles? I find that rock salt is just as effective. Sprinkling salt around the perimeter of your property equals no more frogs. (Google it if you don’t believe me.)

It seemed strange that the guy with the gun on my property was being given the benefit of the doubt, and I was being written off as a nutty neighbor jumping to conclusions.

Unfortunately, this is the norm, not the exception.

Hindsight in many mass shooting cases shows a frighteningly similar scenario. The names of mass shooters are often found on FBI watchlists. After the shootings, we learn that “Yep, we had him on the list. We knew he might do something.”

What good is a watchlist if all they do is watch it?

“See something, say something” was initially used to protect us against foreign terrorists. It has since been expanded to include anything we think is suspicious, out of the ordinary, like a guy with a long gun in your driveway.

But aren’t the people to whom we say something supposed to do something?

The El Paso, Texas, Walmart shooting suspect’s mother reportedly called police a few weeks before the mass shooting in which 22 people died and told them she was concerned because her 21-year-old son owned an “AK-type” firearm. Police responded that he was legally allowed to purchase and own such a weapon. Nothing to see here; move along. Case closed.

Note to law enforcement: If someone’s mom calls you to tell you she’s “concerned” that her kid has an assault weapon, perhaps you should pay attention.

As of September 1, 2019, there have been 283 mass shootings in the U.S. As of Sept. 19, 2019, I have yet to hear back from anyone in authority to explain why the events of that night in front of my house were brushed off as “unfounded.”

Isn’t it about time we stop using “see something, say something” as rhetoric and start putting it into practice?

One final note … If I had a weapon on “the night of the iguana” (sorry, Tennessee Williams, I couldn’t resist) and I had used that weapon to defend myself against the guy shooting iguanas and bufo toads, things could have ended much differently.

Florida’s stand your ground law, which basically says you can use deadly force if you fear for your life, especially if you are protecting your homestead, could have been put to the test that night.

Cue alternate ending.

I come home to find a man with a gun on my property. I’m afraid the man is going to shoot me. I pull out my gun and shoot him instead. End of story?

Not so fast. I would then have had to answer to a system that continually reminds us of our responsibility to protect one another, but then puts the burden of proof on the victim.

Bad guys … even potential bad guys … win again.

This isn’t a judgment on weapons. It’s certainly not a judgment on law enforcement.

It’s an observation, a call to action to hold those whose job it is to protect us to follow through with their responsibility, no matter how insignificant what we report to them may seem.

Don’t shoot the messenger.

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Painting Mary …

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She was looking kind of ragged.

Her royal blue robe was anything but majestic. Her feet were dirty. Her face and hands were worn. Her pedestal was chipped, and her heart was broken.

It was time to fix that.

Fourteen years ago, Mary had been rescued from the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina by my father-in-law, a man whose rough exterior poorly hid the gentle soul who was capable of the detailed work required to revive Mary.

Mary, who had traveled 801 miles from Kiln, Mississippi, in the trunk of an Acura TL to our home in Miramar, Florida, to grace a corner of our yard and protect us from Hurricanes Wilma, Bonnie, Rita and countless other mini-natural disasters that had littered our neighborhood with downed trees, broken roof tiles and left us in the dark for days.

Mary, who, six years ago, made the move to our new home with spectacular sunsets in western Broward County and has shielded us from the ravages of Hurricane Irma and (and now Dorian) and the creatures that call the Everglades home: snakes, frogs, raccoons, alligators, and humans who prowl through our neighborhood at night, unafraid of the hundreds of security cameras watching and recording their every move.

For years, I joked that nothing bad ever happened around our house because Mary was protecting us.  But I was only half-joking. Her body was a warehouse of miracles waiting to happen. The storage capacity in her 2-feet, 9-inch frame could put an Amazon fulfillment center to shame.

But Mary was looking worn and tired.

She was still creating her miracles each day, but she needed a fresh coat of paint. We had gone as far as buying the paint and brushes, but they had been sitting in the garage for what seemed like forever, waiting for someone to move “Paint Mary” up on their to-do list and finish the job.

But that someone never seemed to raise their hand to say, “I’ll do it.”

Meanwhile, Mary was sending signs that she wanted to shine a little brighter. It was as if her never-ending storehouse of strength was charged by appreciation, love and care, as much as the humans she protects depend on a little bit of reinforcement every now and then to keep them motivated.

But I didn’t pay much attention to the signs. That is until Mary’s insistence became a little louder.

I had never seen a snake in my yard in the six years we have lived here.  My neighbors see them all the time but not me. I spend a lot of time outside, so by now, I should have seen my share of them.

A few days ago, I walked out my front door and right there, out of the corner of my eye, just inches from me, was a 3-foot-long southern black racer. That was about three feet too long for me, despite Google’s assurance that it was harmless and useful for keeping insects away. (I’ll take the fly swatter, thank you very much.)

Then there was the frog in the garage. (Anyone who knows me, knows that even the tiniest fake frog makes the hair on my body stand like a full-body Mohawk haircut spikey enough to be classified a weapon.) I had turned on the light to put something in the recycle bin, and there it was, all cute and cozy (to some people) and smiling at me. The fear rose from my solar plexus and turned into a blood-curdling scream that sent the frightened froggie out of the now open garage as I ran inside to monitor its departure through my security cameras. (I digress, but I assure you, I’m not making any of that up.)

Finally, there was the guy standing in our front yard with what looked very much like a rifle when we came home a few nights ago.  We made it inside safely while the guy disappeared to who knows where. The police nonchalantly dismissed it as a neighbor out shooting iguanas because “that’s legal now, you know,” but it was Mary’s loudest sign that I should pay attention to her.

She wanted to shine again, and sooner rather than later.

But who would paint her?  I was absent the day God gave out painting talents. So, I scratched my name off the list and went about the business of finding other to-do lists to conquer. But the paint cans sitting in the garage were too much of an eyesore to keep ignoring.

“Hey, Barb. Why don’t you paint me?” Mary whispered.

I looked around, and the smiling face of the frog in the garage popped into my memory.

“OK, Mary,” I’ll give it a try if you promise to hit the delete button on that frog vision from my brain,” I responded.

And so, I opened the paint cans, tentatively picked up a brush and trusted Mary to guide me, just as I trust the Muse when my hands hover over a keyboard and a blank page on my Macbook and the words flow like water from a broken dam.

Mary was restored to her shining glory.

Three days before South Florida was placed in the cone of Hurricane Dorian, I placed Mary back in the corner of our yard that she calls home.

My little statue was once again ready to pour her love and miracles on those willing to believe in her and trust her guidance.

It was a reminder that sometimes all it takes is a little “paint” and patience to make someone’s day brighter … to bring out the love hiding beneath an exterior that has been dulled by life’s elements.

Is there someone in your life who needs “painting?” Grab your brush of kindness and bring back the brightness that time has eroded.

And don’t be afraid to color outside the lines.

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If you only knew …

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… That every time you find fault with someone else, you are finding fault with yourself.

That every lesson you say you’re teaching someone else is a lesson you have yet to learn.

That every cruel word you utter is meant, not for the person to whom you direct it, but for someone who hurt you deeply and you refuse to release.

That behind each of your attempts to intimidate someone with your tough persona is a frightened, sad, tired child who is unable to break the chains of intimidation with which you were raised.

That every time you say something you deem constructive and helpful, you extinguish the very flame you claim to be lighting.

That every time you give someone an ultimatum, you push them further away.

That by refusing to give someone the space they need to spread their wings and fly, you attract the very thing you fear most … abandonment.

That the louder you speak, the less people will listen.

That silence speaks volumes.

That your vampire energy may hurt someone temporarily, but it’s you that it’s killing.

That you’re fooling no one.

But you don’t know, do you? Because no one ever tells you.

Someone is telling you now.

Listen.

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​The Wisdom of ‘Ignorance’

Nativity 3

My very first friend in the world was ‘colored.’ Politically correct wasn’t yet in vogue and those whose job it is to create labels that rip humanity apart had not yet mandated that “black” or African-American were the preferred labels with which to define people whose skin color was darker than mine.

To me, it didn’t matter. The only label I used to describe her was “friend.”

Michelle Goines (sixth from the left, second row from the bottom in the photo above) and I met on the first day of kindergarten at Our Lady of Loretto School in Brooklyn, New York. The following year, we were reunited at Nativity School, even though we didn’t live in the same neighborhood, and there was no perfectly good reason why we would end up in the same school. We just did.

The Universe was having her way with our destinies, and perfectly good reasons could not stand in Her way. They never do. “Coincidences” were one of the gizmos inside the Mary Poppins-esque bag of tricks She carried around to whisk us to amusement parks open only to children whose hearts have not yet been denied entrance by cynical adult minds.

Those schools are long gone, but the memories they left behind are eternal, their legacy entrusted to the grownups we would become.

Nearly 50 years later, through the magic of Facebook, Michelle and I would find each other again, a bit older, but no less enthusiastic about our lifelong friendship. We were, after all, each other’s first friend. And no matter how much “reality” dust life throws in our faces, we never forget our first.

We were children of the ’60s. A time of racial and ethnic divide that threatened to separate our nation despite a very active movement to end segregation. It was much like the political climate of today, without the luxury of Twittershere soapboxes from which to spew hate.

Bussing black kids to “white schools” was trending in the ’60s. I was a product of bussing but in reverse, a white kid bussed to a predominantly black school.

Their names spill from my memory as easily as an overfilled glass of water spills to the floor. Arnold Freeman, Marie Severe, Charles Coles, Kathy Long, Maria Barboza, Antoinette Verduci,  Rosa Howell, Herbie Fundora, Stephen Lenikan, Carl Lenore, Anthony Devito, the cute boy who had a crush on me and pursued me relentlessly in the first grade, and countless others.

I look at photos from that time and I see an ethnic diversity for which I will forever be grateful.

We were white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Italian, Irish but … we didn’t notice.

Perhaps we knew on some level that prejudice and racism existed. But we were too “ignorant” to notice, or perhaps too wise to care.

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” – Matthew 19:14

I was ignorant of what was going on around me because I had more important things to do … like making sure mom and dad gave me enough change so that when the nuns pulled out the candy stash hidden in the classroom closet during mid-morning recess, I would be first in line to buy the chocolate-covered malt balls that 55 years later, make my heart water with the bittersweet tears of  childhood memories.

Little did I know that those innocent years would mold my beliefs, my philosophies and my spirituality unlike anything that would follow.

Beneath the surface of the shy, skinny, 6-year-old girl in the green plaid Catholic school uniform, lurked my own set of labels. I was a Cuban-Lebanese-American, soon-to-be registered Republican, hiding behind a closet door that would bang wide open with little fanfare three decades later. I was a bit of an anomaly.

I still am. The only difference is that I’ve shed one of those labels. I miss the days when orange was the new black. These days, the house on Pennsylvania Avenue is home to an orange-haired resident who is certainly no friend of black. He would not have approved of my friendship with Michelle … or my open closet door for that matter (But I digress. This message brought to you by Barb Doesn’t Talk Politics).

These days I read the posts on the Facebook page dedicated to our beloved Nativity School like a lion devouring its prey, hungrily hoping to recapture the precious moments time briefly placed before us.

We knew how to live in the moment, but that moment wasn’t long enough.

Even though our individual experiences may have differed while we attended Nativity School, there is one common thread that unites us, a thread that can never be broken, an innocence burned through the fire of life’s experiences to rise from the ashes as empowered adults.

It’s comforting to know that after stripping away the walls that time has built around our hearts, those innocent kids are always ready to come out to play.

Those memories, however, come with responsibility.  And it is our mission, and the mission of anyone with similar memories, to share the wisdom of our innocent pasts with the present and future generations  … wisdom the world labels as ignorance.

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Pearls, meet swine

“Carbs make you fat!” said the woman who had been proudly sharing her carb-free diet with another woman at the Publix checkout line. She was going on and on about the meal she planned to prepare that night, a meal which included NO CARBS AT ALL!

I glanced at the slab of ribs the size of a newborn piglet in her grocery cart. My pearls threatened to launch an assault on her swine theory. But the wisdom of Matthew 7:6 held me back.

“Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”Matthew 7:6

A few months ago, I would have engaged in a conversation with that woman, telling her that all diets come down to one thing: simple math. Calories in, calories out. As my friend Scott Wilson so eloquently put it …

“Eating more than you burn makes you fat. Simple math. All else is noise.”

One thousand calories of steak will take as much time and effort to burn as 1,000 calories of spinach.

I would have told her that eating for health is a lifelong process, not one that will help you shed a few pounds, deprive you of your favorite foods, slow down your metabolism and send you back to pasta faster than if you had allowed yourself the gift of moderation.

But that was months ago. That morning encounter at Publix reminded me that sometimes it’s best to keep my mouth shut and let my computer keys do the talking.

Even the Facebook post in which I shared the details of my grocery line encounter with the pig in the basket prompted a few castigating comments from friends who have had success with the latest diet du jour, the Keto diet, which (in my humble opinion), is nothing more than a repackaged Atkins Diet.

But this article is about so much more than the battle between carbs and protein. It’s about the bigger picture of trying to educate someone based on the lessons your life experiences have taught you.

The bottom line is … you can’t.

You can’t tell someone that shedding pounds while their body struggles to adjust to the radical changes it is being forced to process is good for them.

You can’t tell them that if they are drinking a glass of wine every night for health reasons, they would be consuming perhaps a third of what they pour into their glass, and stop at that amount.

You can’t tell them that 15 minutes of meditation each day will give them the extra time they wish they had to do all the things they want to do.

You can’t tell them that exercise will do more for their mind, body and soul than any pill or powder ever will.

You can’t tell them that living in the moment is all there is.

You can’t tell them that sometimes the best thing to do is nothing.

You can’t tell them that their to-do list will outlive them.

You can’t tell them that surrendering the outcome to God, the Higher Power, the Universe, or the Source from which they came is always the best action plan.

You can’t tell anyone who drinks the presidential shade of orange Kool-Aid that perhaps it’s turning a bit too red.

You can’t do any of those things because the conclusions you’ve reached based on the lessons that life has taught you are precisely that … YOUR lessons … Lessons that have touched the deepest parts of your soul and stirred passions so strong you can’t help but want to share them.

But when the passions stirred by a life lesson are involved, you shouldn’t, well, throw your pearls in front of swine.

You can’t learn anyone’s lessons for them. You can only teach by example.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But no one will imitate you if you preach to them.

However, my friends, I can’t live without pasta. And neither should you.

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‘Friends’ with benefits …

Casa Pueblo Punta del Este Uruguay

Casa Pueblo, Punta del Este, Uruguay

Social media friends: People with whom you associate on social media platforms, but rarely interact with in real life.

We’ll get back to that definition a little later, but first …

I know all about the privacy issues. I know all about the studies that say social media is an addiction. I know all about the people who are coming over to rob my house because I ‘checked in’ to the Eiffel Tower or shared photos of myself having the time of my life at the La Carreta restaurant that’s walking distance from my house.

But despite all the negative studies and research results, there’s a lot to love about connecting with other people, even if it’s only in a virtual cafe.

Here are a just few of the reasons why — for me at least — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and all things social media are not as evil as we are led to believe.

For starters, reconnecting with the past. The past is something many of us would rather leave behind. But it’s something that, no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, continues to influence us as adults. Social media is a bridge from the past to the present that helps us heal the scabs our elementary school-skinned hearts left behind.

Let’s face it, there’s something wickedly satisfying about getting a Facebook friend request from the most gorgeous person you knew back when you were a nerdy, pimply, frizzy-haired pre-teen and seeing that she grew up to be, well … a not so gorgeous grownup.  (Any resemblance to an actual person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.)

It’s truly humbling to learn that the people who bullied you in elementary school have had more than their share of sadness and misfortune.  I’m not celebrating those misfortunes, just observing their lessons from the perspective of hindsight.

Karma isn’t so much a bitch as she is an equalizer.

I was a shy kid. I grew up to be a shy adult. My idea of working a room is to stay home, listen to the Muse and write down the truths she inspires. Social media gives me the freedom to speak those truths unapologetically.

Social media is self-publisher’s best friend. As a writer, it lets me try out material with a select few before I release it to a larger audience — much like a comedian trying out a few jokes in a small group of intimate friends before using them in a show in front of hundreds of people.

And once written, social media is great source to release those words into the world. Does it stroke my ego when people respond to what I write?  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. But as I always remind those who praise my writing … The words are not mine. I am simply the messenger.

Feedback from my social media audience is an acknowldegment that I’ve fulfilled my responsiblity as the messenger of its true Author.

Social media is also a great platform on which to share our triumphs and sorrows and for others to share them with us. Social media solidarity is just as comforting … and much more accessible … than that which we find in the “real world.”

I also enjoy social media because there’s always someone awake and ready to engage in a conversation when I am.  I didn’t realize how many insomniacs there are out there until I opened a Facebook account.

I do, however, recognize that social media carries its dark side.

Some classify it as an addiction. If you’re checking your social platforms while having dinner at a 5-star restaurant with people you can physically reach out and touch, perhaps there’s a problem. All addictions begin as benign habits.  Balance is the key to keeping them that way.

I’m also careful not to befriend someone I don’t know, or accept a random friend request from someone with whom I have no obvious connection.  That handsome widowed soldier hugging a Labrador retriever with soft honey eyes, and whose “About” page lists loving his daughter as his main trait, is very likely a child molester with nothing better to do than to troll social media for victims to stalk.

I also never give out personal information, such as my exact location. I do ‘check in’ every once in a while. But by the time you see my check-in from Punta del Este, Uruguay, I’m snuggled safely in my bed 4521.718 miles away in Miramar, Florida.

So, please don’t judge me or preach to me about the horrors of social media.   Don’t remind me that my 1000+ Facebook “friends” are not really my friends.

News flash: I can tell you exactly who each of my social media “friends” are, even if I’ve never met them personally.

Which brings me back to the definition of social media at the top of this column.  We may not interact with our social media friends in “real life,” but having the ability to interact with people with whom we otherwise would not have the ability to interact sounds pretty real to me.

Perhaps its the definition of “real life” that should change.

Social media opens up a world of possibilities. Using it responsibly lets us enjoy our ‘friends’ with benefits while keeping us safe from its pitfalls.

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Taking my life …

Starry Night Van Gogh

And when no hope was left in sight
On that starry, starry night
You took your life as lovers often do.”

-Don McLean/Vincent

Disclaimer: I am NOT a doctor, mental health professional, or someone who diagnoses or treats any type of mental illness. I am sinmply an observer of life, moved by the Muse to write about things about which I have experienced either personally or in passing.  If you are having thoughts of suicide, stop reading this and seek professional help.  

I had never lost anyone I personally knew to suicide … until a couple of weeks ago. A former colleague who seemed happy, was everyone’s support system and by all appearances had it all together, took his life.

The profile was the same as those public figures whose ‘shocking’ suicides take over the headlines — Robin Williams, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain to name a few of the most recent who come to mind.

“He had it all. Why did he kill himself? Why do people who have it all kill themselves?” my movie-viewing companion asked after we finished watching the Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga reincarnation of “A Star Is Born.”

Well, because apparently they didn’t … have it all, that is.

If judged solely by outside appearances, they had it all except the one thing they wanted. What was it? Well, we will never find out because even in cases where suicide notes are left behind, the details cut to the chase without exploring the nuances surrounding the extreme act. We may have an inkling of what led them to take their lives, but the complexity of hindsight blinds us to the truth.

I have been at the depths of despair, but I have never even so much as considered suicide. So I can only imagine the despair felt by those who do take their own lives.

It’s beyond sad. And while we find it hard to fathom why they did it, grieve their loss, and vow to seek help if we ever find ourselves at the lowest of lows, we turn a blind eye to the reality that we don’t have to die physically to commit suicide. Read that again.

We don’t have to die physically to commit suicide.

In fact, some people, most people — you, me, everyone we know — are killing themselves every day.

You commit suicide every time you postpone a dream, every time you say yes to something to which you wanted to say no, every time you go to a job that rapes the essence of who you were meant to be, every time you stay in a relationship that robs you of the freedom that relationships are supposed to offer, every time you let life get in the way of LIFE.

Because every time you do these things a part of you dies.

And while the majority of us don’t kill ourselves physically, we kill ourselves slowly, softly, with addictions, with distractions, with postponements that Photoshop the disillusionment, sadness, emptiness and anger that are part of the human experience.

The absinthe-fueled suicide of Vincent Van Gogh is the extreme, not the norm.

Unlike physical suicide, we can be resurrected from emotional and spiritual suicide. But it takes work. A lot of hard work, spiritual work, soul searching, a lot of admitting shit you’re not ready to admit, a lot of giving up the habits and addictions that distract you from the silent scream of the passions hidden inside your core.

But until you’re ready to face those demons, your daily suicide will continue. You will continue to take your life, by giving it to someone or something else.

Preventing it requires facing the pains most of us are not ready to face. But it’s only by facing and conquering those pains that we will ever truly live.

So instead of giving away my life, I have decided to take it … back.

——-

One final note: If someone you know is showing signs that might indicate he or she is in a place where their pain may lead them to suicide, please reach out to them. Regret is the one thing we can never take back.

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