Friday, April 19, 2013


While getting my MFA at Western Connecticut State University, I distinctly remember having an argument over whether "alright" was a word or if it was a mistaken attempt at the words "all right." I was a huge proponent of "alright" being, well, all right. But it turns out, upon further review, that most grammar sources consider the word "alright" not a word at all.

Who cares you might ask? Well, until just today, I sure didn't. A wise young lady pointed out to me that the beauty of language is that it changes over time anyway, so I'm perfectly alright with "alright." But "all right" is all right with me, too.

Why did it start mattering today? Well, I was listening to the song "Revolution" by the Beetles, a song that poignantly asks, "Don't you know it's gonna be all right"?

Is it, now?

This year has been filled with tragedy. Newtown. Boston. Aurora. The list goes on. If a friend of mine told me he or she had decided to never leave the house again out of fear, I could almost understand that. I would argue, but I would understand.

And the times we live in are getting so damn confusing. We're a country that invented the atom bomb, yet is shocked at the extent to which bombers would go to make sure their bombs did the most damage possible. We think our nation is going to hell in a hand-basket, yet other places in the world face more destruction and evil than we could imagine--Israel, for example, where there have been 140 suicide attacks since the year 2000. The same policy makers who believe we should tighten immigration laws for our security refuse to vote for background checks on firearms in the name of freedom, and as we lament a marathon being attacked by "foreigners," American drones attack weddings overseas.

Arthur Miller stated in the published version of his play The Crucible that "When one rises above the individual villainy displayed, one can only pity them all, just as we shall be pitied someday. It is still impossible for man to organize his social life without repressions, and the balance has yet to be struck between order and freedom." This is evidently still an issue. We definitely deserve pity.

Where we strike that balance between safety and freedom will significantly determine the quality of life we chose in this country, the kind of life we leave for our children. How can we live as freely and safely as possible? It's a complex time, alright (all right?), with complex issues. We spend so much time wondering what the "founding fathers" would say if they were alive today, what they meant by playing the elaborate joke of lacing our Constitution and Declaration of Independence with so much freedom. The truth is that they'd probably say, "Just stop killing each other, knuckle heads."

But here's the deal. This isn't new. As Billy Joel taught countless high school history class students back in the eighties so their teachers could seem cool, "We didn't start the fire." We're talking about a world that once thought it was okay to flog and crucify individuals. Since the dawn of time it seems we've always looked back at the good old days. When were they? Humans can be violent. The potential is in us all. It always has been.

And the violence is fairly limited. The accidental explosion of a fertilizer plant in Waco, TX did more damage and had more casualties than the bombings in Boston. Yes, any loss of life is a tragedy, and when I think of the amputees, especially children, my heart breaks. But, compared to some places in the world, we are very safe. More people die in car accidents than mass shootings. We can't let this define us.

I like to say that for every bomber, for every mass shooter, for every inner city drive-by, and every cold-blooded murder that garners national attention, there are millions of broken hearts. The number of people in Boston who pitched in, sacrificed, gave blood, gave shelter to the displaced, and who continue to pitch in to help out far outnumbers the two men who carried out the deed. What all these tragedies show us is that people are good. People are great. Not just New Yorkers or Bostonians, not just Americans, human beings in general have an enormous capacity for compassion and love when shaken from the complacency of their everyday lives.

So that gets me back to the debate between "all right" and "alright." I'm going to use the mistake "alright" from now on. For certain, there are problems in this world, horrible evils that threaten us daily. All is not right on Earth, in America, or in your town. We, as humans, are not all right. In fact, nobody is right all the time. But even though all is not right, we will be, for certain, alright. As long as love and compassion outweighs evil and hatred, we're going to be alright. We will move on. We will live our lives. We will be okay.

Or is it "O.K."?

Here we go again!

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