There are these moments of pure perspective in my life. Where I remember how fortunate I am to have this beautiful home, to have an amazing daughter. So many things could have been chosen differently by me to get me elsewhere. So many things could have otherwise happened. We don’t get to change the past and it’s futile to attempt it.
And I’m reminded – by a cat of all things – that love has the true power to soothe. The way you tame a wild thing is to love it, unconditionally, and to also at the same time not lend it a moment of wildness. Those things – love, structure and especially the combination of the two – is what we who truly love others do for them. Kindness, on any scale, is the key to not only taming the wild but to true happiness of your soul.
Which brings us to giving – and the abject need for humans to give. Sure we all give – old clothes to Goodwill, maybe to the Salvation Army when they have those red buckets and the loud bells at the grocery around the holidays – but those are measured gifts. We are either prompted by a date on a calendar, by a bucket at the grocery exit or by a nice man with a dog. Who is to say that any of those things deserve less than the others? I certainly shouldn’t.
I’m working very hard on changing my own mindset of dates on a calendar chosen by a corporation, and instead focusing on dates with human meaning to them. No, I will not shop on Black Friday. I will not buy on Cyber Monday. I will not give a crappy gift card to a family member. I will do my damndest to fill their lives with happiness and hope and to be the best person to everyone. That, I believe is the true meaning of a gift.
Memory is a funny and fickle thing. In the lens of my own recollection, unexpected memories rise. For me, each recollection both sharpens and dulls. Our recall of events is not akin to a video, but rather a video game. Some of them are amazingly real and full – if not somehow beyond even lifelike – while others from the same event pass completely out of phase. Like a pile of raked leaves in a breeze, you never end up with the same from which you started.
When you’ve lived in one general area for a long time, you grow accustomed to traditions, accustomed to local norms, local politics and local mindsets. Then a strong gust comes along and leaves flitter about and scatter. It takes much raking to bring that pile back in. I have an interesting way of raking those leaves that uses driving, windows down, and loud music – typically EDM or trance.
Like scattered leaves are my thoughts today after being strewn about in the most magnanimous and beautiful way. As the gusts lifted them, I watched each transcendent thought float in the air. Thoughts such as why do I tend to pick such hard-line perspectives of those whose viewpoints oppose mine ; why don’t I consider not only the opposition’s humanity and motivations but also my own motivations. Why do I feel the need to so carefully choose the situations in which I give and serve? Why do I not give whenever I have the means (which is nearly always), regardless of need? Why do I feel the need to judge if the gift will be received, even though I profess to judge the best gifts as being given with no expectations? Each clear statement a gust of wind. Leaves scattered about, I sought to rake them all. I’ll be raking for a while.
This is a good thing. We all need our leaf piles scattered to grow.
I really do live in the wrong place. I detest the heat, could care less about the beach, and wonder why anyone would enjoy sweating.
Then fall winter and spring happen. North Florida is a pretty amazing place for these few months. We get some real cold fronts that barely make it further south of us and get a few real freezes each year – even if they only last a few hours into the day.
And then amid the cacophony of negative conservative talk radio, latent racism in the South and some not-so latent racism here, the coldness speaks to me. I sit with my windows open on this (for Florida) cold evening, watching CBS Sunday morning which I TiVo every week, and it dawns on me. Not only do I love this place where I live that is Riverside, but I have an admission to come to grips with.
I’m a liberal.
You see – liberal is a term I’ve avoided labeling myself or really anyone. I always believed it was an ugly term, like neo-conservative is to me. But then I realized – hey yeah, I listen to NPR instead of the blathering of cruelty and insufferable desire to make fun of others. I watch PBS, am fascinated by Nova, know science is not antithetical to faith, and believe and know without a doubt that government DOES do good things when used as a tool instead of a blanket. I can’t fathom why people would want to beat others down to gain stature, why someone would hate someone else just for their beliefs, or how anyone who claims faith thinks anything other than God is the right answer. You and your ideas are not God, but are as a result of a gift from God. Stop taking credit for his good. I don’t want to go too far down the rabbit hole, but that doesn’t mean that you just sit back and go “I’m a good person and I do good – that’s gotta be enough.” But I digress…
So – I’m a liberal. Now what? First off – though I disagree vehemently with just about anything neo-conservatives believe in, I respect them as long as they don’t disparage we liberals. I respect their opinion as I hope they do mine – but know that it’s their fault if they don’t respect differences. And as my faith continually reminds me, I love them as one of God’s children too.
One thing I hope everyone could do is find their own way in life. Don’t tote the party line. Don’t repeat the blatherings of politicians. Don’t seek answers without also seeking opposite viewpoints.
If you can’t stand to listen to Obama speak, you’re doing it wrong regardless of how you see his politics or policies. If you can’t stand to listen to liberals like me spout on about our belief in the good inherent in people, then you’re doing it wrong. If you can’t stand to listen to hate, you’re doing it right.
If I’m so terrible for being a liberal in the deep south, then so be it.
Can’t we all just start with respect?
So I just finished The West Wing for the second time. It’s been a perennial favorite of mine since it first aired, but I had some things happen during its stint on TV the first time (a break-up of my 10-year relationship with my high school sweetheart, as well as having to put my first pet to sleep being two of them) so I didn’t quite get to see most of the last season. If you’re a fan, you know that somewhere around the fifth season, Sorkin left the show he created. Things changed – the writing was just never the same. It wandered for a year or two. Season seven – the show’s final – changed that. Relationships finally were allowed to blossom – yes it was a gimme to the long-time audience – but it was so satisfying to see two of my favorites – Josh and Donna – finally stop being dumbasses about each other.
And then season seven… the final 22 episodes. The closer I got to episode 22, the more exciting it was. And the more nostalgic I got. So much cool stuff went on – between Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda, there was some great TV. The election was a stroke of mastery the way the series did it. It was a fitting end to such a masterful series. And then to have the surprise of actor John Spencer’s tragic death from a real-life heart attack – ironically nearly completely mimicking the occurrence in the previous season. The emotion in the funeral scene was palpable and doubtfully took much coaxing from the actors. They even seemed to elongate his credit in the beginning after his death – all wonderful touches. I choked up at every listing he had in the credits after his death.
And then it got me to thinking how much I loved so many moments in this series. I just adored so many of the characters and the actors’ portrayals of them. CJ, Josh, Donna, Amy (played by Mary Louise-Parker, one of the most gorgeous women in Hollywood), Sam… even Toby seemed affable at the same time as being a complete douchebag. Leo and President Bartlet’s relationship is the stuff of legends. Bartlet for America on a napkin…
Then came the final episode. It was tough watching it – mostly because it was the end. There will never be an episode with this cast together again – and I knew that. Knew it was over. Pressed play – and there were so many moments where I got teary – and just pretty much broke down at the end.
So what was it that got me so wrapped up into this cast – this show and its charaters? There’s not been a show that has grabbed me like this before. It could just be Aaron Sorkin’s brilliance. It could be the amazing blend of awesome actors, writers, directors. Regardless of what it was, I struggled with what exactly it was I was feeling. What were those emotions? Then it occurred to me. It was the same thing I felt when I changed jobs recently. When I decided to break-off a 10-year relationship with my high school sweetheart. When I had to put my first pet to sleep. It was a change – going from having some of The West Wing left to being at its end. I didn’t remember the drudgery of seasons five and six. I just recalled the fondness of not wanting to go to sleep when I watched a few episodes in a row. I recalled the same things as I did after the break-up, after changing jobs, and after all those other life events where you go from some A to some B.
So this is a blog post because it’s my putting stuff going through my head to words. I want to remember these times the way I felt them when they happened. I don’t want to let go of them for fear of forgetting something, or losing some of this feeling.
But of course I worked through the new job. Got through the breakup. I still miss my pet Bert the orange tabby. Still miss the conversations from people I used to work with. Still think of my first girlfriend. And I like it that way – because that gives meaning to those situations, makes them worth their difficulties.
But man – I do wish Sorkin would do another drama like that. I’m going to go check out The Newsroom. Been meaning to. Let’s hope it’s got that Sorkin magic.
Tom Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation, speaks of the WWII generation. Every member of it knew personal sacrifice, either through knowing someone lost in the war or through rationing or extended work in factories. The generation he speaks of was forged in the scarcity of the Great Depression, tested on the battlefields of Europe and Asia, returned after seeing and having personally experienced the horrors – and wonders of war in its humanity, and came back to a nation exalting its courage and bravery.
The key qualities that this generation held were humility, duty, honor and trust. These were qualities thrust upon them by their situations. These qualities were what got you through the worst and also those that brought you the best. They set our country on a path of expansion that we tread on even today.
And some of those qualities can be seen today in the shadows of the horrific bombing in Boston.
They show in the bravery of an anti-war protester father who lost his son in the Iraq war. Carlos Arredondo, nearby the finish line when the bombs went off, is talked of as a hero. His empathy and care for his fellow humans erupted as suddenly as the explosion. He ran to the area where the explosion had happened with no apparent concern for his own safety. He’s seen in a famous gristly photo with a man in a wheelchair whose legs had been severed and shredded by the explosion. Arredondo’s focus is on the victim – his attempts to calm and comfort clearly as visible in the photo as his bloodied hands and the shock on the poor man in the wheelchair’s face.
Duty extends even to the privileged in the form of a former lineman for the New England Patriots, Joe Andruzzi. When asked about his role, he simply stated that focus shouldn’t be on him but on the first responders – the police, EMTs, firemen and physicians who also raced to the scene.
Stories are told from hospital administrators shocked to find lines queued around the building not for information or gawking but to donate blood. Stories warm the cold dark regions of humanity when we hear of people not only in the Boston area offering their beds and homes to those displaced by the blasts, but even as far away as North Carolina. Stories are told about the people, seeing runners and spectators aimless after the chaos, opening their homes with blankets, water, and in a move so appropriate for Boston – beer!
THESE are the stories of Americans. These are the stories of survival, and strength and courage. This is what makes this country great. Our diversity is set aside in these times so we see each other not as partisans or races or creeds but as one country, the greatest country to ever exist on this planet.
And as we suffer and survive through these trials, the world watches. They reel at the evil and revel at our kindness. These are the images that help make people want to jump on rickety boats with the hope of making our shoreline. These are the images that make people want to save thousands of dollars to be placed in a wretched cargo hold in a rolling ship. And these are the images that make them point across the seas and say THAT IS WHERE I WANT TO LIVE.
And for me, it is faith that helps me to grieve for the lost and injured. I believe that the fallen are with the creator God, in his arms. His perfection envelops their souls now, safe from any more pain and harm. These horrible acts do not kill their souls – and they can serve to strengthen ours.
And we mourn and grieve for all of Boston. All of the northeast. All of America.
God bless America.
Tall shadows frame the the art.
Down below, dashed lines of people saunter or flash by. The mechanism is green with an oddly placed flashing light. The artist extends at its reach.
Some stop down below, wondering what the mechanism is doing. Painting, they say. A mural. Others look past sunglasses to a device. Yet others are annoyed by those slowing and stopping.
Those who hustle along to their destinations miss the mechanism. How odd to walk but not see it, with its odd flashing light.