Introduction to “Running the Gauntlet.”
“Running the Gauntlet” may be or may not be the final piece, the crescendo, in a series that I started writing last summer as a class assignment titled, “Faith,” only to be picked up once again this spring and which I continued exploring over the summer. Some of the other essays that I am referring to are: “You got to die before you can really live,” “How the [Middle] East Can Be Won,” “de Mello’s Most Important Question” and “The Return to Innocence.” Maybe, a thread is woven into each one that connects all ten pieces. I have found writing each essay to be quite helpful in crystallizing my thoughts on these various subject matters, seeing my role in them and their impact on the world that we all share.
If you have enjoyed reading the essays that I have previously shared with you, I would encourage you to take a few minutes to review my earlier works posted on my blog: http://www.toxicnation.blogspot.com/. My desire in writing these articles is to get people thinking about the social and political issues facing our nation and our world on a deeper spiritual level. I have concluded that any and all intellect not grounded in reality, in truth, in spirituality, is insanity. I believe the last seven years prove that statement to be true. We, as individuals and as a society, have paid a high price for a head severed from the rest of the body — from our heart and soul. It must stop and it has to. Or it will be our ultimate demise.
Our society is emotionally, spiritually and financially bankrupt. Our emotions have been numbed for generations now, by using religion, work, alcohol and drugs to whatever we can get our hands on to today including our children. We canvas the big box stores and new car lots on nights and weekends looking for something, anything to fill the God-shaped-hole aching in our soul. I heard from two different sources that seventy-percent of Americans are only two paychecks away from financial ruin. Have you heard that? Our house is in total disarray. We are morally bankrupt and don’t even know it.
Every one of our institutions, the pillars of our society, including anything that government touches, such as, democracy, freedom, the prevention of and the response to disasters like 9/11 and Katrina, the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, the care of our wounded soldiers and veterans, healthcare, public, private and higher education, non-profits, mass air transit – what a joke, are all engulfed in massive cancers. Our entire criminal justice system serves as a slave master under the cloak of too much darkness and not as a Shepard to some two million troubled, but mostly treatable men and women.
Capitalism means simply Wall Street and has little to do with small business on Main Street. Christianity has been an abject failure as it has historically taken the wrong side of every social issue for centuries, such as, slavery, women’s rights, civil rights and it continues to be with its divided stance over basic gay rights including marriage and the influx of Latin Americans seeking a better life in our humming economy. Religion with all its fixed formulas seems unable to get a handle on the well-known constant called – our changing world. All these organizations share the following universal traits — an egotistical mindset, a lack of any conscience, a lack of love or compassion for those they serve and for the greater good.
Neither, President George W. Bush nor any of our jet-setting presidential candidates will acknowledge or speak on any of these rotting matters with some candor, let alone offer real solutions to cleaning up this mess and our House. Most appear to be in total denial and concerned primarily with their own agenda of winning the Oval Office. Is this our best leadership?
During the August recess, my essay, “Our Soldiers, Veterans and the U.S. Government…” was emailed to the Democratic and Republican Leadership in the U.S. House (Speaker Nancy Pelosi, CA-D) and Senate (Majority Leader Harry Reid, NV-D), the House Armed Services Committee (Chairman Ike Skelton, MO-D, Ranking Leader Duncan Hunter, CA-R), members of the Senate Armed Forces Committee (including Senator Hillary Clinton, NY-D), the Alabama Congressional Delegation (consisting of Republicans Rep. Jo Bonner, Senators Sessions and Shelby) and presidential candidate and Senator Barak Obama, IL-D.
The response from these U.S. legislators was pretty underwhelming. I will confess that most members had disclaimers posted on their sites of not responding to citizens living outside their state or district. Do you think that applies to lobbyists representing billion dollar corporations with money in hand seeking political influence? Lincoln’s “Government for the people, by the people…” yeah right! To date, only Rep. Ike Skelton (MO-D), Sen. Richard Shelby (AL-R) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (AL-R) have sent any kind of written correspondence. Two of the three officials mailed a computer-generated generic statements to my essay on the unconscionable actions of our federal government. All three missed the mark. This is pitiful customer service, we deserve better representation and leadership of our federal government.
Surprisingly, my email address was added to Chairman Skelton’s House Armed Services Committee email list. Leading up to and during the congressional hearings held on the progress of the Iraq War earlier this month and periodically since then I have received his daily opening remarks. I hope my essay is quietly having some positive impact and touching the lives of our elected officials on Capitol Hill.
If our politicians won’t seriously address the continued and shameful neglect of our soldiers and war veterans by this government, what else won’t they face? There is no doubt that these Washington elected officials’ habits are no better and no worse than the three hundred million constituents who voted them into office and whom they represent. None of us want to face anything close to reality and that’s our inherent problem. We are always seeking a Band-Aid approach to curing our communicable diseases.
That’s what I call a society operating on a twenty-something mentality with a preference to being young and dumb, having vanity over sanity. If you don’t believe what I am saying then look at what products and services New York’s Madison Ave is constantly trying to sell to us over the airwaves and in print. How many wise twenty year olds have you ever met? How wise were you back then? How wise are you now? With our mentality, what business does America have in pointing a finger at the world’s mess while we continue to deny our own?
Belly up to the bar my friend and pay the tap now or we will surely all pay a whole lot more during the next catastrophe. I promise you this it will happen once more, our history bears it out. There will be another run on the bank. When will we ever learn from the painful lessons of the past, face our many faulty beliefs and finally grow up as individuals and as a nation?
On a lighter note: If you would like for a family member, friend or a colleague or two to receive my latest commentary, you can either continue passing-it-forward each time or respond to this email at your convenience with their name and email address.
See attachment: “Running the Gauntlet”
September 15, 2007
Running the Gauntlet
According to wikipedia.com, a free on-line encyclopedia, “Running the gauntlet” is a form of physical punishment by which a person is compelled to run through a double line of soldiers who attempt to strike him or her as they pass. I was first introduced to a variation of this “torture” while playing football as an adolescent in a Catholic Youth League during the autumn practices in the eighth grade and later, on several occasions while playing freshman football in high school. I have been on both sides of the gauntlet, joining in with my teammates in one of the two uniformed lines always ready to dish out a lick and, of course, as the “condemned” running through the alley trying to avoid receiving too many jarring hits.
Following the end of my freshman season, our team began practicing for the first time with the varsity team consisting of sophomores and juniors, soon to be the next year’s upperclassmen, during our first spring football drills. If ever the gauntlet was difficult before, it got down right scary lining up against these snorting half-bull, half-men weighing anywhere from 225 – 300 lbs., chomping at the bit to give the “fresh meat” their first taste of big time high school football. Or at least give back what was once so freely given to them only a year or two before. If this was some rite of passage, it surely wasn’t appreciated.
While I was a good athlete, I was not fast enough or big enough to be one of the team’s stars. However, I did have the distinction of being the only player during our freshman season to consistently play on both sides of the line of scrimmage as a left offensive guard when we had the football, which was a position I deeply hated, and also as a defensive end during our games. For many years, I had a tempest in my belly while playing organized football, but by the time I arrived at McGill-Toolen High School, big weekend parties and my heavy consummation of alcohol overtook my fading dreams of football stardom.
The idea or love of lifting weights in the weight room before school, during lunch and after school each day and over the summer break for twelve months of the year never caught on with me, unlike most of my other eager teammates. Playing football went from being a fun, seasonal athletic activity in elementary school to an instant career and another way of life. Going to school for nine months was already one constant; I didn’t feel the need for a second one. With six years of playing time under my belt upon the completion of my first year of high school ball, my heart was no longer in it. Both my heart and I were out of gas and the fire had simply flamed out. Close to six feet tall, but weighing only a mere 150 lbs or so with little muscle mass, I dreaded participating in the upcoming spring drills.
With no heart for the sport anymore, but no courage or guts to tell the old legendary head coach, who’s reputation on and off the field was that of an ass, that “I quit,” I silently suffered through the four weeks of hot summer-like practices and endured at least one more gauntlet. On one sunny day, I nervously lined up against the entire fearsome Yellow Jacket varsity defense with my orange-colored helmet strapped on tight, decked out in a jersey, shoulder pads, padded pants, laced up cleats and a football tucked between my forearm and left bicep.
The goal of this “condemned” was to get down to the end of the gauntlet as fast as possible without being put on my derriere and/or losing the prized football as a result of getting repeatedly hit. Losing the ball would lead to an instant redo of the exercise and god forbid always keep my feet moving while moving down the alley or else I was dead meat.
Today, I don’t specifically remember any of the jarring hits or feelings of physical pain that I might have temporarily experienced for those twenty seconds. However, one day soon afterwards the pain of continuing to stay after school and practice reached its climax and eclipsed my shame of facing the old coach to tell him that “I quit.” I summoned up all my intestinal fortitude I could muster and nervously walked into the field house and into the coach’s office where I found him sitting behind his desk. He invited me in.
After telling my story to my complete surprise, I found him to be quite accepting of my verbal resignation. I am not sure why I got that kind of a generous response from him, but I was greatly relieved. Running this gauntlet like the other one called my football career had just come to an end and I was still intact. I couldn’t have been happier. I was now able to focus my energies into school, some serious drinking, partying, and teenage what not.
April 2007 marked twenty years since I summoned up the courage to face the fear, the wrath of that fit and tanned leather-skinned sixty-year-old, gray-haired man, only to be surprisingly rewarded. I walked out of the football team’s field house forever with my head held high, feeling such relief and wearing a smile across my face. If I ever believed back then that I would never have to run through another agonizing and cruel gauntlet where the stakes would be even much higher than on the practice field, I couldn’t have been more sadly mistaken. When did this real life gauntlet begin? Maybe while sobering up at the age of eighteen or was it when I was born some 36 years ago? I don’t really know. It all depends on how you want to look at it, I guess.
Call it life’s gauntlet or call it God’s, the finished product is certainly to be one and the same. It is a process that strips us down of everything that our inflated Ego (an acronym for Easing God Out) incessantly fights to remind us that these attachments are “must haves”, and essential in order to survive and function until our very last day on Earth. However, the truth of the matter is that all these items are totally unnecessary and one giant lie for living life. Each and everyday, God provides us with our basic needs from sunup to sundown. This Super Ego’s delusion is that these external attachments are necessary for projecting an image of “success” in life to mask our self-doubt, insecurity, fears and pain – called our fractured life. Our focus becomes a long, sick obsession on fulfilling more and more wants, which is an ineffective and inefficient way of just meeting our basic needs. And does it work?
Through a series of overwhelmingly painful events, God’s gauntlet slowly removes our cover, breaks open our shell, and exposes our insulation that protects our intestines and infections from the world. I have heard it said, “We are only as sick as our secrets.” Letting go of these knotted-up secrets in our abdomen is very painful, but extremely necessary. They need to be seen in full sunlight to kill the virus. Confronting who we are is the most painful and expensive of all after running from ourselves for years or decades. If this natural and therapeutic process is allowed to occur it will restore us to health, to sanity. Like children, we become vulnerable once again and now have to live life on life’s terms, on faith or die.
Each day we feel life’s winds, recognize the truth about our vulnerability, the reality about who we are and the world. Upon completing the gauntlet, we discover God’s many blessings, including our freedom, finding our authentic self, and, for once, feeling secure, and our hidden talents are revealed. Breaking free of our pressed mold, these God-given talents allow us to live up to our fullest potential and propel us through the rest of our life, effortlessly while leaving our footprints on the hearts of many lives while on our remaining journey. We lose our resistance to fighting anyone and everything.
This summer as I began writing full-time, I finally identified this ol’ gauntlet in my life, after taking another severe beating over the past eighteen years by having too many attachments uprooted by God, by life, each loss painfully felt including a nice family home, a family, my deceased father at the age 53, two boats, a fishing camp and a dream to go to law school denied because of my dyslexia. I went on to lose countless jobs, and with a career stuck in purgatory and so frustrated with my fruitless search, I finally came home one day and told my then poor wife that “I quit.”
More people than I care to admit have ignored me, rejected me, betrayed me, abandoned me and tried to control me, including my best man, friends, my mother, my ex-wife, my in-laws, managers and company vice presidents and presidents, professors, deans and one university president, my insanity cost me my cherished reputation, an exclusive membership and a board seat. I lost my mind while getting married and once more when she left.
I have been jailed twice for being ill and hospitalized in a run-down state facility. This hospital and others like it do not resemble either a fancy hotel or a country club nor do they offer much in the way of amenities to its residents including dignity. In such short supply, even the staff has trouble scraping up enough for themselves and had little to share with us, “consumers.” Places like this are cold and hostile, not healing. I was once, Tazer-ed by police, right in my front yard in the plain sight of friends, my inherited family guns were seized, as well as, in jail I was assaulted by a corrections officer breaking my two healthy front teeth, put in handcuffs and leg shackles like some murderer I was transported to the local ER, suffered from depression for over two years and always pondering in the back of my mind my premature death many times over by either a single bullet or by jumping off the arch of a tall bridge.
I have lost friendships, both old and new ones, including family — immediate and extended, lost my attachment to Auburn football, while manic I injured my shoulder that led me to give away my late-father’s very nice golf clubs, lost touch with hunting buddies, lost my conservative politics, for a period of time I was filled with great shame and lost my own self-respect, injured my once strong back, my beautiful bride lost all remaining hope and walked out of our house, out of the state, out of my life and hasn’t looked back since.
Recently, I was booted out of graduate school for asking questions about the program’s integrity – this institution’s abbreviations like our country is USA, a legal advocacy group, who was charged with getting my back into school, fired me after seven months, my first house as homeowner was sold out right from underneath me and today all my box possessions remained mostly stacked up in my new apartment. I reluctantly signed divorce paper without receiving any alimony or raising a single protest and the ink from my writing pen has barely dried. This has been my reward for living honest and having a life powered by faith and courage.
Ironically, I have slowly discovered over the years that in losing all these esteemed attachments or prized possessions, I have also lost all the fears that went with each of them. I am no longer a slave to any of it. I have looked into the eyes of death on more than one occasion and now choose to live – a day at a time. According to the Gospels, Jesus said, “The truth shall set you free.” What sweet freedom I have found. I am truly the blessed one.
Today, I live “off the grid” and choose to no longer listen or react to society’s airwaves or print filled full of lies and fears. And people call me the crazy one. I derive great joy from writing, sharing my story and indulging in life’s simple pleasures. Current presidential candidate Barak Obama has a book titled The Audacity of Hope. I thought audacity was a good word to describe my efforts to remain sane over the many years. While running the gauntlet, I found the audacity to tell my story every step of the way, during moments of great joy and in times of darkened pain and embarrassment.
Whether it was sharing in various support groups, where I have been a long-time member, or with friends in recovery, mentors, my mother, my wife, my in-laws, friends, acquaintances, professors, fellow students, my doctors, nurses, counselors and anyone else who would listen, even complete strangers, for nearly two decades, it has eased my burden just a little bit each time and saved my life in the process. It has kept my feet moving and pushing me slowly down the alley even when I wanted to give up and lay down forever. It has been my saving grace.
How many others in the gauntlet stopped moving their feet and just fell down with their preferred drug in hand and slowly die? How many ahead of me could not stand one more lick to their ego, to their pride? How many became scared of the thought of losing any and all of their treasured attachments and simply gave up their own dreams, their own destiny, only to join the fray by getting in one of the two lines and to only begin taking out their frustrations, bitterness, and anger out on the next “condemned” person who was pursuing their freedom and a full-life? It probably occurs way too often. I have never seen a statistic on the subject, but I have heard about it taking place inside homes between parents and their children. I have experienced it as an employee, as a future son-in-law, as a friend, as a nephew and just recently, as a graduate student.
The account that you have just read is really called the maturation process. This learning experience of the head, heart and soul is the source of wisdom. It is about growing up beyond the immature cultural limitations that has trapped all of us for decades in our veneered western society, loathed by so many of our global neighbors. Only by becoming disillusioned with the many myths, false notions and flat-out lies about our society and ourselves can we start evolving, again. Either, we grow or we go. The term maturation seems so foreign, so strange to me in our highly educated and modern society. Reconnect the head to the body and individual lives and our society will positively change. Our maladaptive behavior for surviving will slowly disappear and will be replaced with new healthy ones.
Didn’t Jesus experience his own running of the gauntlet? Was he not betrayed by one his own disciples and sentenced to death based on the Pharisees’ lies? He was given a crown of thorns, whipped, beaten, bloodied and paraded nearly naked for all to see, bearing his cross to carry down the road to Calvary. He stood for freedom and spoke his truth from a young age all the way to his death, to his public execution. He had his physical death and resurrection. How many of you will have your death and resurrection – an emotional and spiritual one? That’s the catalyst to a new life of wholeness, of sanity.
Follow your dreams and pursue your destiny. Pick yourself back up, step back out into the alley once again and continue your journey down the gauntlet. Reclaim your lost spine. Reclaim your lost voice. Reclaim your lost soul. Reclaim your lost faith. Reclaim your lost life. Unfortunately, nobody can help you take your next step only you can. The journey from the head to the heart is the longest one, but the rewards are worth every bit of it. Tap into your wellspring of wisdom and watch your geyser shoot out and up to the heavens.
Drop your agenda and live! Tell your story today.
I am a collector of inspiring quotes on subjects like leadership, motivation, destiny, attitude, achievement, courage, etc… One of my favorites is on the topic of adversity. After my journey, I have found that these strike a cord in my bones.
Over the years, I have faced a lot of adversity in part due to being honest with my fellow man and, more importantly, with myself. The path that it has led me down could be the makings of a Hollywood movie or at least a damn good book. The following are three quotes that ring true for me and have given me inspiration:
Always continue the climb. It is possible for you to do whatever you choose, if you first get to know who you are and are willing to work with a power that is greater than ourselves to do it.
~ Oprah Winfrey ~
The hardest struggle of all is to be something different from what the average man is.
~ Charles M. Schwab ~ (a fellow dyslexic)
Adversity is the state in which man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.
~ Samuel Johnson ~
If there were a sport that has many attributes similar to living life, for me it would have to be football. I began this piece with a football story and I will close it out with another one on a famous football coach and an early hero of mine. When I was in the third grade, I was a terrible reader due to my learning disability. Each week, our class walked across the campus to visit the school library.
The only section that held any interest to me was sports where I would regularly retrieve a book on my favorite subject — Alabama football. While the black ink on the white paper meant little or nothing to me, these books were always filled with pictures of the coach and his players. The following is one of his renowned quotes and is quite apropos for this essay.
“If you believe in yourself and have dedication and pride – and never quit, you’ll be a winner. The price of victory is high, but so are the rewards.”
– Paul W. “Bear” Bryant, Head Coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide – six national championships
My talent for thinking in the big picture and explaining it through my creative writing come from two current social stigmas – dyslexia and bipolar disorder. Each one has its own creative aspect as part of its condition. Evidence of this talent can be seen in the who’s who of famous people with dyslexia and bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness). Like me, Sir Winston Churchill, the late British Prime Minister, also had both labels. You have just witnessed both of mine at work.
Copyright © 2007, 2010. All Rights Reserved. “Running the Gauntlet” by Ted Burnett.
I am available for speaking, consulting and political advising. My other essays can be viewed at my blog – http://www.toxicnation.blogspot.com/. I can be contacted via email at – email@example.com. My biography can be viewed at http://www.tedburnettresume.blogspot.com.