The Heart of Courage

After yesterday, I was inspired to look up the etymology of the word courage. It stems from the latin “cor” which means heart. The word has been around since at least the 1300’s.

The heart/courage connection makes a lot of sense when you think about it. The two have been intertwined throughout history. We say, “She had the heart of a lion.” Being told you have a brave heart is a great compliment indeed. “Take heart, my friends,” means have courage in the face of adversity. Follow your heart.

The reason I am thinking of this right now is that it took great courage, yesterday, for all those representatives to vote to impeach Trump after having been locked in rooms for hours, clutching gas masks, while a mob was trying to get to them, many of whom talked of lynching and other forms of assassination. They could hear the guards screaming in pain as they were attacked. They could hear glass breaking and doors breaking and gun shots.

I would have been terrified. Americans usually don’t experience threats to their lives in their homeland, especially as perpetuated by fellow Americans. (Well, unless you count those who are forced to walk among fools who refuse to wear masks in public in the midst of a pandemic.)

When the congressmen emerged, it was to see destruction and theft and death and hate symbols and defecation. It was to see that one of the most honored buildings in this country had been trashed. It was to learn that they weren’t adequately protected, and things could have ended even more horrifically than they did. Whether they realize it or not, I’m sure that the entire congress now has PTSD, and that’s going to back up on them sooner or later.

And yet, those representatives showed up yesterday, to the very room that they had to be rushed out of during the insurrection. They impeached Trump. That took guts for miles.

Yeah, nothing will probably come of it. The senate isn’t cooperating, and there’s not much time left (thank God). But the importance of recording, for all the generations to come, that insurrection is outrageous and unconscionable, made them act, despite knowing that there are people out there who will surely want them to die for it. It took a great deal of courage, indeed.

I particularly admire the 10 republicans who chose to do the right thing. Not only are they risking their lives but also their livelihood. They will be the focus of hate for acting based on facts and their personal integrity, even if it meant they were forced to go against the majority of their peers. It takes a lot to speak truth to power. What heart! What courage!

I couldn’t be more impressed if I were twins. Even though we’ve seen the worst of America during that riot, perhaps there is hope for us yet. I’m heartened by that. Very heartened, indeed.

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A Unique Opportunity to Cut Off Our Lunatic Fringe

I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but I genuinely believe that not all Republicans are bad. But if we have learned nothing else from the insurrection in the Capitol a few days ago, there are definitely some on the absolute lunatic fringe (as are some democrats, of course). Most of us watched their actions in utter horror. I genuinely believe that includes the average Republican, too.

There are many things most humans can agree on. Violence is unacceptable. Our democratic process should be inviolate. We need to protect our planet as it’s the only home we have. Basic human rights should apply to everyone. We need to improve our healthcare system and our schools. Murder is unacceptable, as is rape, sex trafficking, and theft. We need more invention and innovation. Hate gets us nowhere. Facts are facts.

I think both parties should add the above, with mutually agreed upon wording, to our national platforms. We should rename ourselves the Rational Republican Party and the Rational Democratic Party. If our members can’t agree with all of the above, then they should not be considered part of our membership. They should be rejected outright. “Your hate and violence are not who we are. You do not speak for us.” Let them form their own insane little cohorts and self-destruct.

Each party, of course, still has room for a lot of planks in their platform that the other party may disagree with, and that’s okay. But we have got to agree that we can no longer turn our backs on basic human morality. The lunatic fringe does not deserve our support.

I think if we did that, we might discover that we all agree on much more than we think.

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Maybe I’m Latvian

I just read an article entitled, “Latvia: Europe’s Nation of Introverts”, and it did my heart good. It’s rare to encounter fellow travelers, because we isolate ourselves by definition. Hearing that there’s a whole country full of them felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I may have found my people.

Obviously it’s impossible, or it should be, to make a sweeping commentary about the character traits of a whole nation of people, but it seems even they poke fun of this cultural tendency. And the article goes on to point out that creativity has been found to be strongly linked with introversion. Latvians take creativity very seriously. They also seem to enjoy comfortable silences as much as I do.

I can’t imagine how Latvians coped with being part of the Soviet Union, a time when they were forced into communal living situations and were constantly being watched. That would be my definition of hell. Unfortunately, in spite of the low population density in this country overall, they still are clustered into apartment blocs in metropolitan areas to this day, all the while longing for the single family homesteads of the pre-Soviet era.

And it seems that Latvians are leaving the country at an alarming rate, meaning that it is in sharp decline, and the nation may have to embrace immigrants if it’s ever going to thrive. That will pose a challenge for these people who tend to cross the street to avoid talking to strangers.

Latvians are quick to point out that other countries have a reputation for introversion too. They cite Sweden, Finland and Estonia as having this trait as well. Personally, I think it has to do with the weather and the desire to emotionally hibernate when the weather is crap. It’s a theory.

This article portrays Latvians as self-sufficient, creative, and thoughtful people. I think I’d like them. If I didn’t look so much like my sisters, I’d wonder if I were adopted.

From what I’m seeing on line, it’s a beautiful country. I may just have to go visit. Just having friends say, “Why on earth are you going to Latvia?” would make me smile.

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Alcohol Stunts Your Emotional Growth

I’ve made it no secret in this blog that I Hate Alcohol. There are so many reasons for that that you’ll have to read the original blog post to find out why. I haven’t had a drink in 35 years and I can’t imagine a scenario in which I’d intentionally do so. Think of all the time and money I’ve saved, the feelings I’ve spared, and the health I’ve maintained.

Having said that, I’m not some prohibitionist. If you can drink in moderation, or only occasionally, and definitely NOT while driving, then cheers to you. I don’t care if you drink in my presence, as long as you don’t make an a$$ out of yourself. But if you know someone who is an alcoholic, whether they’ve admitted it to themselves or not, then this blog post is for you.

I’m writing this post now as New Year’s Eve is coming up, and most alcoholics will use that as handy excuse to get totally wasted. This will look even more pathetic in a pandemic year, because they will most likely do this all alone, with no fellow drinkers to cheer them on. If you’re sitting by yourself in an empty house or apartment, drinking away, then you have a problem. There’s no shame in seeking help.

But I’m going to hit you today with an observation. I’ve never known an alcoholic whose emotional growth wasn’t stunted in one way or another. I’ve been screamed at by alcoholics. I’ve seen them get violent. They throw tantrums. They take no responsibility for their actions or behavior. They are selfish. They are unreliable. They are impulsive and make very bad choices.

These are the traits of very immature adolescents.

Most people drink because they can’t cope with life. Effectively, they go away. And while they are “away”, they are not maturing as their peers are. They are not learning important life lessons because they aren’t truly living. They’re not developing people skills. They are so busy being pickled by alcohol, freezing themselves in time, that they don’t learn as much compassion as you or I do.

Alcoholics make horrible friends and spouses and parents. They will hurt you and they won’t care. If there’s any sign that you are outgrowing them, they will hurl abuse on you as you head out the door. Since their growth has been stunted, they cannot stand seeing growth in you. They will do whatever they can to hold you back.

It’s important to remember that none of this is your fault. It’s important to remember that you have a right to move on. Your alcoholic’s stunted growth doesn’t have to stunt your own.

Happy New Year. May the coming year bring you fresh insight and, if needed, a brand new start.

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A Birthday Renewal

The older some of us get, the more our birthdays remind us of our mortality. And time seems to pass so much more quickly as we age, so the hits just keep on coming. Today I’m another year older but at least I’m not deeper in debt.

But, unlike other years, when that mortality sledgehammer has hit me right as (lucky me) I’m exhausted from being at the tail end of the holidays, this year I’m actually feeling really grateful. As I speed toward what is quite likely the last quarter of my life, I’m viewing every birthday as a precious gift. Approaching one more of these anniversaries is something to be savored.

There are many reasons for this mindset, not the least of which is that I feel, more and more, that I have something to live for and lots to look forward to. Moving to the right place and marrying the right person really helps in that regard. Also, my hard work and personal growth is paying off. (So if you’re young and frustrated, please do not give up. You can do this.)

Because I feel that way, I’m exercising regularly for the first time in my life. And I’m actually enjoying it. That is unexpected. But since I have so much to look forward to, I want to experience it in the most fighting fit form that I possibly can. I still have mountains that I want to climb. (Well, hills, probably. I mean, let’s be realistic.)

Another thing that has made me stop and reassess is that I recently realized that I’ve already lived longer than my oldest sister had a chance to do. Even at the time, I knew that 54 was way too young to die, but now that I’ve blown past that, I really, really know it. I’m relatively young. I have a lot that I still want to do. It’s horrific to think that it all could end so soon. I’d feel cheated.

But who knows? Maybe I will always feel that way, when the time comes. I lack that perspective still. (If I continue to blog into my 80’s, I’ll be sure to let you know.)

I’ve also learned the priceless lesson that life is very fragile and can be taken away with no notice, so every single day should be viewed as a gift. What will you do with your gift today? Being surrounded by a raging pandemic has only reinforced that mindset for me. I am so grateful for every day.

So I think that from now on, rather than viewing birthdays as one more year closer to the end, I’ll think of them as an extension of my expiration date. They are a renewal of the contract of life, as it were. Yay! Three cheers for another year! Woo hoo!

I can’t wait to find out what’s inside!

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The Holidays Are Even Harder This Year

Depression can be debilitating, especially in the wintertime when you can go weeks without seeing the sun. And it’s even worse this year, because this pandemic is isolating all of us. It almost seems like the final insult when there’s all this extra financial and emotional pressure during the holiday season. Everyone is expected to be constantly merry, and if you tend toward depression, that gives you this sense of failure on top of everything else. It can be draining.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a bridgetender and I love my job. Opening drawbridges is such a delight. I feel lucky that I’m someone who actually enjoys going to work.

But this job does have a dark side, and it is ramped up at this time of year. I get to see a lot of attempted suicides on my bridge and on other bridges nearby. Most of the ones I see have, thank God, been thwarted. First responders, in my experience, are very good at talking people off of railings. And some people make the jump and survive.

But there is a certain percentage who make good on their attempts, and it’s heartbreaking to bear witness to that. It happens a lot more often than the public realizes. These things often go unreported because the community doesn’t want to have copycats.

Jumpers are people in a great deal of pain, attempting to take control at a time when the rest of their lives seem so out of control. It’s sad to say that choosing whether or not to remain alive is the one power we all can exercise. These people, for whatever reason, cannot see beyond their despair, so they don’t realize the heartbreak and trauma they cause with their actions. Suicide doesn’t only impact the families and friends. It also impacts the first responders and everyone who gets to witness the suicide.

I know I’ve shed more than a few tears for people who have leapt off my bridge over the past 19 years. Tears flow for the jumper, for their family, and for me, because I couldn’t do anything to prevent the act. And also, selfishly, I shed tears because I know the image of those final moments will be forever etched in my mind. I carry many such images with me, and they feel like Marley’s chains in a Christmas Carol.

But I didn’t really intend to make this about me. What I wanted to say was that if you’re reading this and you’re in despair, there are people who can help you. You aren’t alone. If you are feeling hopeless or helpless, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call them at 1-800-273-8255.

You matter. Your life has value. I promise.

I put some lights in my bridge tower window in the hopes that someone walking by on some cold, lonely winter night will look up and see that he or she is not alone.

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A Hateful, Clueless Meme

You may have seen this disgusting meme floating around on social media. A friend (Hi, Jen!) pointed it out to me, and I was instantly repulsed. The message it seems to be trying to get across is, don’t follow the mask-wearing sheep of the world. Resist. Do what you want. As if not wearing a mask makes you some kind of hero.

This meme seems to be quite popular amongst the foolish people who think that by not wearing a mask, they’re exercising a constitutional right. That is patently absurd. None of us have the right to put the lives of everyone we come in contact with at risk. We all have a responsibility to maintain public health. If that weren’t the case, we’d be pooping on the public sidewalks with impunity. Because holding it doesn’t feel good.

There are certain standards that have to be maintained in order to have a healthy society. You don’t have to like it. You just have to do it. Selfishness does not pair well with being a member of a community.

But even more offensive is the fact that this historical photograph has been appropriated to make an ignorant, hyper-conservative meme with its own agenda, when the man in the photograph was anything but a poster child for that ideology.

Let’s start with the one indisputable fact about this photograph. It was taken in 1936, during the launch of a German military training ship called the Horst Wessel. All the witnesses to the launch are giving the Nazi salute except for this one man, who defiantly keeps his arms crossed. That must have taken a great deal of courage.

Historians now think that this is a photograph of either Gustav Wegert or August Landmesser. More and more people are starting to believe it was Wegert, as there’s more evidence that he was working at the time at the shipyard. Alas, if it is Wegert, it isn’t as compelling a story. Wegert never experienced Nazi persecution. He wasn’t imprisoned. He survived the war. He was simply against the Nazi salute because he was a devout Christian. This is admirable, but not particularly exciting.

If this is a photograph of Landmesser, on the other hand, it makes for a fascinating tale. Landmesser did join the Nazi party in the hope of gaining employment, but he was later kicked out of it when it came to light that he was engaged to a Jewish woman, Irma Eckler. They were married, but the union wasn’t recognized under the Nuremburg Laws. They had two daughters. He was thrown in jail for “dishonoring the race.”

He was released from jail in May, 1938 for lack of evidence, as they argued that nobody was sure that his wife was fully Jewish. But two months later he was imprisoned again, and sent to a concentration camp. His wife was also sent to prison, and in fact gave birth to their second daughter there. She was then sent from one concentration camp to another until she finally died in 1942.

Landmesser was released from his concentration camp in 1941, but in 1944 he was drafted into a penal battalion and forced to fight. He finally died in battle in Croatia eight months later. He was 34 years old. His daughters grew up in an orphanage, and later in foster care. His oldest daughter published a book about the family’s persecution for “racial disgrace”.

Whether the defiant man in the photograph is Wegert or Landmesser is irrelevant to the message, as far as I am concerned. It is evidence that somebody was willing to stand up for their principles at a time when a lot of people were being brainwashed and following blindly or acquiescing due to fear. This photograph gives me hope. But when I look away from him and at all the others, it makes me despair. That’s why the photo is so powerful to me. It shows me that I can hold both feelings at once.

The very idea that this picture has been twisted around to make doing the wrong thing, the selfish thing, the life threatening thing seem heroic is disgusting and outrageous, and insults the memory of the man, whoever he may have been, who was brave enough to be on the right side of history.

If you created this meme, shame on you. I added the x to the meme so it couldn’t be copied and used. Not from this blog, anyway. Not today.

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Cycle Perspective

“I used to love my bike more than life when I was a kid,” I said.

“Then why don’t you have one now?” she asked.

Good question. I thought of that feeling I used to get as a child, zooming down the street on my blue banana seat bicycle with the extended handlebars. No doubt I was on a mission.

I’d be going as fast as I could, feeling the wind in my hair. I’d let out a triumphant whoop. It was freedom. It was speed. It was distance from my stepfather and my family dysfunction. It was the closest thing I had to control over my life. I was calling all the shots. It was pure joy.

I would do figure eights in the street. I’d ride around the speed bumps as fast as I could. I’d wave at people as I passed, but I wouldn’t stop.

One time I was riding barefoot (stupid) and I somehow got my pinky toe caught in the bike chain. I nearly ripped it off. I came home bleeding and crying, and my stepfather decided to take the bike away. (Wouldn’t “wear shoes” have been sufficient?)

My solution was to steal my own bike and hide it and still use it. It’s not like anyone knew or cared where I went or what I did anyway. And that’s what I did for a good month until everybody forgot I wasn’t supposed to have a bike in the first place. I lived in a world without consequences. I’m amazed I didn’t misbehave even more than I did.

One time my bike actually was stolen by a kid from down the street. (That family would steal bikes, repaint them, and then sell them at flea markets, so it was hard to keep a bike in my neighborhood.) But as quiet as the experienced little thief tried to be, I still happened to see him. I ran screaming after him as he tried to cut across a field with my beloved bike. I wouldn’t give up. I just kept running and screaming for my freedom, and shouting, “I know who you ARE!” He finally dumped the bike and ran away.

It’s never a good idea to underestimate me. Especially when I know I’m in the right. And to think that I rode the school bus with that little sh** every day.

My childhood was strictly about survival, and in that, my bike was my best friend. It gave me superpowers. It allowed me to be alone and yet active. My bike was everything.

When I got older and got a used car, I dropped my bike like a hot rock. I don’t even recall what became of it. Maybe I gave it away. Maybe I just let it rot. Children rarely pay the proper homage to the people or things that were once important to them.

I didn’t have another bike until I was in my 40’s and living in Vero Beach, Florida. It was a nice way to cruise my neighborhood in the evenings. I brought that bike with me to Seattle, but I was shocked to find out that the place had hills. The bike went quickly to the Goodwill.

Bicycles no longer represent freedom to me. If I want to get away, I just drive now. Besides, my house is on a highway, so it’s not suited to doing figure eights. And I’d look a little silly doing those at my age. That, and I don’t really enjoy sweating anymore. All my exercise these days is in the swimming pool of the YWCA.

But every once in a while, I close my eyes and picture myself zooming down the street, the wind in my hair, triumphantly whooping. And it’s good.

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Gratitude, Not Optimism

I happen to love someone who is the most positive person I have ever met. It’s a delight to be around most of the time, but it’s also a hard yardstick to be measured by. Anyone standing next to this guy will automatically look like Eeyore by comparison.

Fortunately, I’m secure in the knowledge that I’m not, in fact, Eeyore, because I used to live with an Eeyore. An Eeyore can suck the life out of any room he enters. An Eeyore is convinced that the world is out to get him.

My Eeyore refused to smile in photographs because he thinks it’s unnatural. Because of that, everyone assumes he is constantly miserable. I think he wears this like some kind a suit of armor. Then he accessorizes this suit of armor with every negative experience he has ever had in his life. He glues those things to his exterior like some twisted decorator crab. All this stuff weighs him down. This makes people avoid him, which, in turn, makes him more miserable.

An Eeyore likes to insult himself out loud, and is under the mistaken impression that others will find this funny or charming. In fact, it makes people extremely uncomfortable. It also makes them feel sorry for him. It’s very hard to like someone whom you feel sorry for, at least for long stretches of time. It’s exhausting.

When I tried to address this negativity in my Eeyore, he would get very defensive, and accuse me of trying to force him to put a plastic smile on his face. I could never understand that. I was trying to say that your attitude, the lens through which you view the world, impacts your emotions. Attitude is everything.

But now I realize he extrapolated a false conclusion from that. He believed that I was trying to force him toward optimism, which is nearly impossible to achieve if you don’t come by it naturally (speaking from personal experience).

Actually, that was not my intention at all. Optimism is about expectations for the future. I don’t think you can predict the future, and therefore optimism kind of feels like magical thinking to me. I hope for the best, yes, but no one knows what will happen down the road. As we’ve learned from all the false election fraud claims, wishing doesn’t make it so.

Instead of optimism, what I was trying to get across, rather ham-handedly, it seems, is the notion of gratitude. Gratitude focuses on the present. It’s about appreciating the good you currently have in life, rather than focusing on the negative aspects. This is more realistic, but it also seems a bit magical in the best sense of the word, because when you give more energy to the good that is around you now, somehow more of your future tends to become positive as a result.

I wish I had tried harder to get this point across to my Eeyore. But in retrospect I realize that he was too heavily invested in his own unhappiness to hear me. I’m sure he’s still unhappy to this day, and that makes me sad to contemplate.

To hell with optimism, frankly. But gratitude is an extremely valuable commodity. It might take some practice, but it’s a state of mind that is available to all of us. I may not always be Little Mary Sunshine, but I am grateful for so many things that it has been known to bring tears of joy to my eyes. That’s a gift I keep being given.

Gratitude, like negativity, tends to perpetuate itself. And gratitude allows you to smile in photographs. Which is another thing to be grateful for. See how that works?

This may be great camouflage, but in the end, you’re having
to carry a bunch of crap everywhere you go.

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