The Patriotism of Listening

Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. 

Thomas Paine wrote these words in December of 1776 … and of course they are as true today as they were then. And there are just as bittersweet, as we look over the ravages of America after some of the most historic floods, wildfires and hurricanes in our hemisphere in recent months.

We are in trouble. In the world, and in our hearts. We are, just like the patriots of 1776, yearning to be set free.

This time we are masters of our own destruction. We have called forth disruptive leadership on both sides of the aisle that sews seeds of hate and anger. We have allowed the full scale destruction of our environment, the systematic oppression of our minorities, and the sexual harassment and rape of our women. We have filled the global airways with video games and films that market widespread violence.

The current revolution we are in is just one more step towards our eventual bottoming out into total darkness. How that darkness manifests if not for me to say. I just know this is how life is. Things fall apart, then they fall apart further. Then they get so bad that finally we all stand up collectively and say we’ve had enough.

That’s what happened in 1776. And it could happen again now – if we care enough.

Back then the oppressors in the red coats with all the brass buttons were caught in a fight for their life by a bunch of scrappy, slightly disorganized farmers, merchants, settlers and craftspeople who refused to give up.

Back then we were a united front born out of the power of an inspiring shared vision. But first we had to bullied and beaten to the point of standing up.

If you look closely, we might be getting close to that point of shared vision once more. But now, more than 250 years later, perhaps we’ve learned a thing or two. Perhaps we’ve learned to talk over our differences … rather than to kill over them.

Nate Boyer is the former Green Beret and NFL pro who originally suggested Colin Kaepernick ‘take a knee’ to protest systemic racism in America. Recently, he posted this open letter on national media to Trump, Kaepernick, the NFL and America.

In the letter, Boyer writes:

“I believe that progress and real change happens in this world when you reach across the divide, you build a bridge, you swallow your pride, you open your mind, you embrace what you don’t understand, and ultimately you surrender …”

Boyer goes on to share recent messages from fellow service members who weigh in pro and con against taking a knee. They are a beautiful, very moving snapshot of where the hurt is on both sides.

Then Boyer concludes with this:

“So please, no more lines in the sand, not at home, not among our people. No more choosing sides, no more “for or against.” I believe our Veterans will be called upon to lead the way in healing the world and solving its problems; right now our country needs that more than I can remember. So I’ll be here, standing in the radical middle, doing what I can to continue fighting for those that can’t fight for themselves. Let’s get this thing fixed together, you and me. I love you all with all my heart.”

De Oppresso Liber (This is the Special Forces motto, meaning “to free the oppressed.”)

If there was ever a time to come together, it’s now. I say this as the biggest wildfire in California state history has just displaced more than 100,000 people thirty miles from my home.

I say this to you now, in hopes that you, too, want to make a difference. Whatever you post on social media, or say to those who disagree with you politically or even environmentally … why not be kind?

Why not be empathetic and begin to listen to the other side instead? Why not begin to consider the other guy’s opinion.

I’m with Boyer. Let’s get this thing fixed together.

What Wildfires Can Teach Us About Life


There is a huge amount of destruction going on in the world right now. Between earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods, we thought we’d seen the worst of it. Then California started burning up. 

In the last week, the biggest wildfires in California history burned out of control 30 miles to the north, consuming forest, homes, roads, wineries, and pretty much everything in their path. They are now mostly contained and may even be out by tomorrow, though a new destructive wildfire has just started to the south. At least 40 people have died so far in these fires and more than 100,000 people have been displaced.

A lovely round barn I had always admired, built in 1899, was destroyed in Santa Rosa, as were two communities that surrounded it on either side of the highway. The image of it burning haunts me.  

I discovered the round barn when I began picking up my mail on the other side of the highway in 2012. I was freshly grieving my daughter’s death then, and trying to put my life back together in some way, shape or form. The barn reminded me of the life I’d left behind in New England, a place where there was another round barn I knew and loved – a place where I’d been happy. 

 The round barn reminded me of home. 

The barn was the last surviving structure of what was one a Utopian community at the end of the nineteenth century. Its buildings were constructed to ‘ascend into the celestial sphere’ once the millennium passed. But they never did.  

Unless … well … that’s what’s happening now. Perhaps all of these structures and homes and lives that got lost were built or born only to eventually die.  

This is the part we forget in our zeal to get out there, grab life by the gonads and build our empires. All of it – even the most beloved old barn – will sooner or later be turned to dust.  As will we. This is the path of life. 

Life always leads to death, for how can it not? 

But consider this. What if that was the point? What if the fate of this old barn, and the 3500 other structures and countless lives that have been lost so far in these fires, went down in the blaze for some larger reason? Some reason that has to do with developing gratitude, with finding the lessons learned?  

What if these losses led to greater kindness, compassion, love and humility and discovering the true meaning of life? 

Could it be that the destruction of these wildfires was just life’s not so gentle way of correcting us? Of putting us on course to embrace our true values? 

That’s what’s possible when we experience extreme loss. Once we’ve fully and courageously embraced and processed our grief, then we can then travel to the other side of that loss and begin again. 

Then we can remember all the round barns we lost, and pay tribute to them in some meaningful way that also gives back to everyone else. Our history is powerful – and when we really examine it, we are reminded how temporary life is. 

One winery owner whose property was heavily damaged was able to save a letter written by his great-great grandfather who’d built the place. In the letter, he recounted the earthquake and subsequent fire that destroyed the winery back in 1906.  

100 years later, that memento is especially significant.  

In my own life, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of my daughter Teal. Sometimes it’s in sadness, and I just wish I could hear her voice or feel her hug again. But most of the time, it’s a smile at a great moment we shared, or it’s the thrill of telling the story of the donation of her organs to a listening audience.  

After the loss, life does and will move on again. That much we know. For now, though, there is the hard work of grieving to do.  

I pray for the best for all concerned. And may you find your own treasures in the rubble of destruction, wherever it falls in your life. 



Before the Afterlife Podcast

“Pain is really the portal to purpose,” Uma Girish says in this wonderful interview. I recommend you listen to this when you have a moment. Despite – or perhaps because – of the topic, this is an amazingly uplifting conversation. Enjoy! 

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