Michael Quinn – Letter to My Past Self

Michael Quinn

Mike currently resides in Pawtucket, RI. He volunteered, entering military service in 1973 in the US Navy, 2 year active duty program. The day after his 17th birthday he left RI and headed off to boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois before flying overseas where he was stationed in Yokosuka, Japan on the USS Warden, DLG 18, as a deck seaman. He chipped, scraped and painted his way across the Pacific Ocean visiting various ports throughout Japan, with stops in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Hawaii and San Diego, California. Mike married Eileen in 1981 before relocating to Fairbanks Alaska where he started and completed a career with the USPS and had enjoyed 31 years of incredible wilderness experiences. Mike enjoys biking, hiking, yoga, golf and reading. Mike and his wife have two adult children and three grandchildren

Hello “Iron Mike!” I thought that you might get a kick out of that. I know that Mr. Garabedian doesn’t call you that anymore, but I remember how it made you feel when you were four, five, and six years old. Whenever the old man from across the road saw you coming, he would gleefully sing out “Iron Mike,” in a deep laughing voice that echoed from the shade of his old rickety front porch. “Iron Mike,” it was music to your ears. Those simple words had superhero written all over them and there was no doubt in your mind that Mr. Garabedian saw you, just as you were seeing yourself. In some roundabout way you took ownership of what “Iron Mike” suggested, and it provoked a kind of confidence that allowed you to step out of what is considered normal and comfortable, a little something that kept you reaching for an itch that you just couldn’t reach.

Don’t worry, I’m not here to reprimand you for your shitty attitude or dismal performance in Mr. O’Halloran’s ancient history class. I thought that you should know that your insistence on whatever happened 2500 years ago couldn’t possibly be relevant today, is absolutely false. I know that between the pages of that seldom used textbook that you have, is an ungodly amount of supposedly important dates, unpronounceable names of kings, conquerors, and ancient empires that you were expected to memorize. It sucks, I know, but hear me out. Within those pages are a few plays, called tragedies. It’s like Hollywood but ancient. The actors portray the citizens in varied social settings depicting the values, beliefs, assumptions, attitudes and such within the different social classes and the personality traits associated with each.

Through the magic of imagination and creative writing, I’m able to go back to my youth and share some pertinent information that will help you understand the mechanics behind some of the misunderstandings, controversies, and divisions with the political and social issues that exist today as they did a few thousand years ago. I have been given an assignment that comes to me far into your future. How far, I’m not saying. I’m supposed to give you some bit of advice that will help you navigate the many years that you have ahead of you. The first piece of advice that I’m going to pass on is for you to read Creon. Open the damn book and take a look. Try to get a feel for the three types of personalities that, according to me, represent us all.

The PCVI class that I am taking has introduced me to the classic Greek tragedies that you had so easily and thoroughly dismissed. I am here to say that you made a mistake when you had predetermined that it had nothing to offer. How could ancient civilizations be of any relevance or provide insight to the social and political unrest that plagues our society today, you might ask? The short answer is plenty. The ancient societies from eons ago had much of the same divisions and unrest that exist today. Human Beings have developed unfathomable advancements in medicine, science and technology but have been unable to apply the same dedication in the expansion of quality-of-life issues for many vulnerable Americans. The Greek tragedies seemed to understand and recognize that those difficulties and complexities are inherent within all social structures. It was that recognition that led them to determine there are certain personality types that are inherent in all social structures, and that is what they attempted to demonstrate by exposing the kind of traits that are most prevalent with each through the theatrics of a tragedy.

There have been authoritative figures throughout history who have demonstrated a need and desire for power. Their tactic is aggression. They issue threats and promote fear. They demand allegiance and expect obedience – even in the face of atrocities. They force their will against the weak and vulnerable. They attempt to control the masses by manufacturing lies, spinning misrepresentations and issuing threats. There are countless historical and some recent examples that mirror the arrogance of that personality type. These are the Creons of Ancient Greece, the pre-Civil War slave masters and the Hitlers of genocide and ethnic cleansing. In this type we have the egocentric rulers, creators of unjust wars, disillusions of supremacy and perpetrators of cruel and inhumane abuses.

At the other end of the spectrum are people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Mohammad Ali. These are larger than life figures on account of the courage that was demonstrated while standing up against authority. Ali had a successful career that was cut short when his personal integrity ran into a direct conflict with the government. Like Gandhi and King, Ali believed that authorities actions were unjustified, unacceptable and a threat to society as a whole. Within this personality type we find our heroes. Those are the people who do not bend their will or cower to authority for authority’s sake. These are the types of people who are willing to face the flying arrows of scrutiny and disgrace with a sense of determination and purpose at great peril to themselves. In the tragedy of Creon, it is Antigone who represents the hero/heroine type.

In the middle and by far the most populous personality type is the rest of us. We are the group that is easily swayed, influenced and manipulated towards the whims of popular opinion. Our participation is necessary for any form of government to seize and maintain its control over ourselves. We are the Chorus, the general population that is represented in Creon. We are the chess pieces that are used by authority for both honorable and dishonorable reasons and it’s up to each individual of the Chorus to decide which side that they will be swayed.

World War II put the entire nation on the same page when authority, the hero and the Chorus came together in a combined effort against a defined enemy. We have not seen a united effort towards a specific ideal since, and from what I’ve been able to ascertain, it’s because there has not been a clear justification to do so. Somehow, that is not as clear to the Creons, the people who have kept our Nation at war for 228 of its 245 years of independence. The Creon types continue to deploy the time-tested tools of manipulation and lies. They craft them to elicit fear that is meant to sway the members of the Chorus. The unlimited power and control that Creon had over his empire is still sought after today and the recruitment of like-minded members of the Chorus is very much alive.

In the spring of 1969, I was 14 years old, in the 8th grade, and usually in attendance at Goff Jr. High school. I was on my way to school when I ran into a few friends who instead of going to school, were going into downtown Pawtucket to catch a city bus into Providence. It didn’t take much convincing. It sounded like a more exciting possibility than the all too familiar day that was sure to be had at school. When the bus entered the downtown area in Providence it was suddenly encased by a throng of demonstrators who appeared to be arriving on foot from every conceivable direction. The bus inched its way along until it finally came to the bus depot at the Kennedy Plaza.

Although the plan was to meet up with my friend’s cousin, I had decided that there was far too much excitement going on and suggested that I meet them back at the square a little later on. I was drawn by the crowd as it made its way to a park that separated the busy street of the plaza from the large white, marble, State House building on the hill. The park filled with the demonstrators as they continued to pour in while chanting anti-war slogans and carrying signs that overwhelmingly were in opposition to the war. I had never seen anything like it and was completely enthralled by the spectacle playing out before me.

While my friends went off to meet with their cousin, I walked around taking in everything that was going on around me. Although, I didn’t grasp the meaning of this event it captured my imagination and introduced me to something that was not yet within my cognitive understanding. I felt that I was witnessing one of those not to be missed opportunities. I walked around the park for a few hours soaking it all in. What I mostly saw were thousands of people enjoying themselves in spite of what the word “demonstration,” represented.

It was mostly a peaceful and festive atmosphere. The crowd mostly consisted of long hair hippie types milling about and gathering in small groups. Here and there were some that were strumming guitars, singing songs, chanting and carrying on. Blankets were being spread in the grassy places as every piece of real estate was soon occupied.

While moving around I found myself near a fountain where the tone of the gathering was more somber and not at all festive. The speaker seemed both angry and sad with her delivery as she read with a quivering and shaky voice. Further on in the park another crowd had gathered and was listening to another speaker. This time it was a guy in military fatigues, elevated above the growing crowd below. He held a commanding position right up there on the pedestal alongside Mr. Bradford and his horse. He too, seemed angry, as he read from a piece of paper that he periodically shook and jabbed at the people below. Here the crowd was interactive with shouts of opposition towards whatever the message was that he was delivering. The air seemed to grow thicker as the exchange quickly raised the intensity of the setting. It made me uncomfortable and perplexed by the negative overtones that were on display in some sections of the park while it was rather carefree and festive in others. The significance of that day would allude me for many years.

We were not being taught and certainly not informed about the war in Jr High School. The information that I was getting came from the nightly news and whatever propaganda that was being spun from that. If I got anything from the anti-war demonstration that I attended, was that there was a clash between the older generation whose obedience to authority was not equally shared by the younger generation.

I was four years old when Cassius Clay took the world by storm at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. From there his career and status as some kind of hero took off. He was a cocky and charismatic person that dominated the ring with a flare and a magnetism of a consummate champion. I followed him like everybody else did. He was a modern day hero to me in my formative years and I held him in the highest esteem along with the likes of Bobby Orr, Jim Lonborg, and Carl Yastrzemski.

All that ended when he refused to serve in the military during the conflict in Vietnam. I was 11 years old in 1967 and had invested much of my adoration towards the sports figures of my generation. My image of Ali changed practically overnight. Everyone around me was denouncing him as being un-American, a coward and draft dodger.

That stance cost him his heavy weight boxing title. He was banned from boxing for three years and was sentenced to five years in prison and more importantly he lost my support. I don’t remember the mechanics behind all of this, but I clearly remember that those older than me and much better qualified to make such judgements, also denounced him. He flatly refused to serve his country and because of that, he was stripped of his boxing titles and sentenced to jail a disgraced man. I was able to accept that as being fact even though at the time it didn’t feel right. How can a transition of this magnitude be so quick and so absolute was beyond me? It was a situation that left my muddled mind with some unanswered questions.

It wasn’t until many years later that I had come to a different conclusion concerning Ali’s stance on the Vietnam War. I was encouraged and eventually swayed into accepting the portrait that was unjustly painted of this man’s character. There was no mention or consideration for what it was that he stood for. Acting on the principle that the taking of a life crosses the most sacred boundaries and before doing so a justification must unequivocally be established. I am going to assume that Ali would have been protected from harm if he had joined. He wasn’t afraid to die. I believe that he would have been protected from the ravages of war and instead would have been paraded in front of the masses like Elvis Presley had been. A different circumstance but the same recruitment draw. Ali wasn’t going to allow the government to use him as a pawn in something that he was deeply and personally not willing to invest himself in.

It could be said that Ali’s refusal was instrumental in weakening the authorities’ position with the sentiments of public opinion and in essence he could have been credited for saving many American lives.

Social unrest in America was born out of and is being fed by the injustices and inequalities that have existed since this country was founded and nourished by the blood, sweat and tears of pre-Civil War slaves. Reconstruction after the Civil War failed to assimilate the black man into white society and actually took steps to ensure that segregation of the races continued. In spite of a concerted effort to continually oppress the black race they have nonetheless prospered in the face of ongoing prejudices and injustices. Colin Kaepernick, an NFL quarterback not so long ago took a stand against police brutality and the double standards within the justice system. The Creon types fought back and deflected his cause with the familiar tactics of manipulation, lies, and propaganda that riled a large enough segment of the Chorus to denounce his action as unpatriotic and disgraceful. History will exonerate him too.

Be able to recognize the traits and tactics that lean towards the Creon types and avoid them like the plague. Strive to be more like Antigone and take a stand against the wrongs and injustices that are perpetrated against the most vulnerable members of the Chorus. Don’t allow popular persuasion to steer you away from the principle that the pursuit of happiness in a just, fair and equitable society should be available to everyone.

Having a better understanding of the people that fall into these three personality types will help you avoid some of the inevitable social conflicts that will come your way and pit you against family and friends. The Creons are in it for themselves. Their motivation revolves around the concept that we are in a constant competition for survival and only the fittest are deserving of success. On the other hand, what Gandhi and King have demonstrated is that cooperation, compassion and empathy are the tools that allow everyone into the fold of community. Remember what it feels like when you have experienced pain due to the carelessness and cruel actions of others and do your best to not inflict it onto others.

I like what you’re doing Mike. Keep it up. An important thing to remember is that you are at all times exactly where you are supposed to be. When you fuck up, be accountable for the thoughts, words and actions that got you into that situation. Some of that is for your benefit and the rest of it is for the
benefit of others. I’m going to let you go now and get on with the rest your life. Knowledge means nothing if you do not know how to apply it.