Facing Forward

I’m on the brink of amazing change, and it all stemmed from a giraffe. You just never know when a figurative cue ball will send your eight ball careening off in an entirely different direction. That’s what makes life so exciting.

I have been watching April the Giraffe’s live feed on Youtube since February. I watched her pregnant belly as the baby kicked. I watched any number of contractions. She kept me company at least 8 hours a day. She became a big part of my life. So when I woke up on April 15th to discover that the birth was in progress, I got really, really excited.

Unfortunately, I still had to go to work. I broke all land speed records getting there, believe you me! And then I immediately logged back on again. Fortunately, the front hooves and the head where the only things that had made it into the world up to that point, so I got to watch the rest of the birth, live.

I’m not ashamed to say I cried some ugly, joyful tears when her calf finally made his entrance, and even more when he stood up an hour later. Life, man. Life! You know? What a miracle it is.

And just like that, I realized I hadn’t been living, not really, for quite some time. It occurred to me that life is like a flowing river, and we float downstream with it. As we go, we see things come toward us and we experience them and then they recede into the past.

But that’s only if you’re facing forward. Many things can cause you to face backwards. Trauma. Grief. Fear. Depression. They all cause you to focus on the past. And if you’re like me, you get stuck there, and try to recreate the past in your present. You want to get back to where you were before everything went so wrong.

The problem with that is you’re still floating down the river. Life goes on. But now you’re not seeing it. Because you’re facing backwards, by the time current events flash past your peripheral vision, they’re already a thing of the past. That’s no way to live.

Time to face forward again. Live in the present. Plan for the future. And don’t do so as half a person, presenting yourself to the world as a broken shadow of your former self.

For example, if you’re grieving, don’t avoid music or experiences that you shared with the person you lost. Why are you narrowing your horizons like that? Would the person you lost want you to only be half of yourself? No. You’re still alive, and to have healthy relationships moving forward, you need to be able to give the next person ALL of you. Yes, grief changes you, and that’s okay. But it shouldn’t limit you, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for continuing down the stream.

So I’m making a conscious effort to face forward again. I’m house hunting, and I’m exercising, and I’m eating right. I’m trying really hard to live in the now. Because life is happening right now, and it’s a precious and limited commodity. I plan to make the most of it, rather than putting it on hold.

And I got all that from a giraffe. Imagine that.

As my friend Carole likes to say, “Onward and upward, into the future!”

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How Lucky are We?

Can you imagine living in a country where you are in constant fear of having your door kicked in? How about living in a place where your neighbors can and will threaten your life and no one will protect you? Coming from my place of white privilege, I can’t even conceive of an existence in which I do not feel safe. It never would occur to me to worry that I couldn’t keep my family intact.

How lucky we are to live in America, right? Well, some of us, at least. Because I’ve been talking about America. Trump’s America.

Even as you read this, many of your neighbors do not feel safe. You are much, much more likely to be raided by ICE or incarcerated in this country than you are to be harmed by a terrorist. That’s even if you are someone who has been contributing to the economy for decades and have harmed no one in your entire life.

As noted in this story from Public Radio International, there has been a sharp rise in immigrants fleeing across the border from the United States to Canada in recent months. Winter months. These people are willing to risk frostbite to get away from us. From us. You can see pictures of some of these people in this article from The Guardian.

We are no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave.

I am so ashamed.

The only thing I know to do is add my tiny little voice to the many others who are saying, “This is not who we are.”

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A Message to the World

Hello. I’m an American. Never in my life did I imagine that I would say this, but I am ashamed of the state of my country. I am embarrassed at the face we are currently showing to the world. This is not who we are.

Never again will I look at another country and assume that all its people agree with its government. Because I don’t. Never again will I think of the resident of another country as possessing a stereotypical characteristic based on that person’s place of birth. Because clearly, I no longer fit in here.

In recent months I’ve been seeing a great deal of ugliness. I’ve seen Americans spewing hate. I’ve seen selfishness and greed and intolerance. I’ve seen ignorance deified and intelligence vilified. I’ve seen science discounted and fantasy encouraged. I’ve seen violence. I’ve seen misogyny. I’ve seen fraud. I see more and more lies every day.

I am so sorry that things have gotten this way. I didn’t vote for Trump. I wouldn’t have approved any of his cabinet members or his choices for the Supreme Court. There is not a single thing that this man has done that I agree with. Not one.

I’m particularly mortified that his immigration policies are making so many people live in fear. This is not acceptable to me. I am a second generation American, and the vast majority of the people who live here are descended from immigrants. We have absolutely no right to do what we are currently doing.

We also have no right to treat the Native Americans the way that we do. If anyone should have moral currency with regard to how we treat the land here, it should be them. They should not be beaten down for wanting water that is safe to drink. Shame on us.

We, of all people, should not have the right to negatively impact women’s health at home or abroad. We should also appreciate the good work that other members of the United Nations do every single day. We should be good stewards of our environment, because what we do affects the entire planet.

I just want you to know that many Americans still believe in human rights, freedom, justice, the environment, freedom of speech, science, peace, and respect for all people who do good in this world. I want you to know that those of us who feel this way will not remain silent. We will speak out for the values that we all strive to maintain. Our voices might get drowned out by those in power, but please don’t stop listening for us. We are here.

Because what you’re seeing now is not who we are.

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Fear of Heights

If you are afraid of heights, the last thing you should do is become a bridgetender. Many people are afraid to even walk or drive across bridges, let alone work on them. I see it every day. Others are fine until they feel the bridge shaking and swaying. But trust me, the last thing you want is a rigid bridge. Those are the ones that buckle and break.

Bridgetenders often find themselves climbing rickety stairs way above the water. They cross open-grated catwalks every day. And when you are standing on a bridge’s street-level grating, it feels like it’s a long way down.

Here’s my dirty little secret. (Promise not to tell.) I’m afraid of heights. I think anyone with a healthy sense of self-preservation ought to be.

The first bridge I worked on, the tenderhouse was suspended 25 feet above the road, and 35 feet above the river. To get to it, you had to climb a set of open-grated stairs from sidewalk level, right on the water’s edge, and then take another flight that extended above the traffic. And that bridge swayed more than any other I’ve been on.

I used to have to fight panic attacks every single time I came to work. And I couldn’t reveal that to any of my coworkers, because I’d have lost their respect. Some people would get hired, walk up the bridge, take one look at the stairs, and quit right on the spot.

I have gotten used to things to a certain extent, but I still feel a spike of anxiety on catwalks. And when I’m on the bridge grating, I just remind myself, over and over again, that if it can support the weight of a truck, it can support me. And I don’t look down.

So why do I do it? I love so many things about this job that those little stress bubbles seem worth it to me. In addition, I’ve given it a lot of thought. I’m not one of those unfortunate people who are afraid of heights even inside a multi-story building.

No. I’ve examined my fear closely, and it only seems to come about when I could possibly die due to my own clumsiness. If there are stairs for me to fall down, or railings low enough for me to plunge over to my death, then I’m scared. But if I’m harnessed in, or there’s a chest-high railing or something of that nature that would prevent my own klutziness, or if I’m taking in the view from inside a nice solid building, I’m fine.

It’s always been a bad habit of mine to have more faith in others, and even in inanimate objects, than I do in myself. Because of this, I think I could go zip lining. Jumping out of an airplane might pose a greater challenge. I might even be able to do that, if harnessed in tandem with a professional. But don’t ask me to shimmy along a narrow ledge. I want to live.

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I took this picture of my coworkers, who were standing on sidewalk level. I was only halfway up to the tenderhouse.

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Godzilla in the Amygdala

 Unless you are an unfeeling psychopath, you are occasionally going to experience that slightly creepy feeling that something just isn’t right. It’s a part of the human condition. It’s that moment when the hairs on the back of your neck are giving you your marching orders. You might not even be able to figure out why you’re feeling this way. All you know is that it’s time to go on the defense.

Perhaps it was a bad idea to walk down this particular alley at midnight. (It usually is.) Maybe that person is behaving unpredictably. It could be that you’re just tired, or you’re experiencing a reduced level of control. Or that strange drawing is giving you the willies. And it was probably not the best idea to watch Psycho all alone in that shabby little motel, just before it was time to take a shower.

Sometimes we actively seek out that eerie feeling. It can be fun. But it’s those times when it sneaks up on you that are the worst. There’s nothing more unsettling than an unscheduled visit to Uncanny Valley. For whatever reason, your body has decided that you are being chased by a saber-toothed tiger. Run!

 Oddly enough, I haven’t felt that way in a while. It’s almost as if my receptors have burned out. My own personal mental Godzilla seems to be on vacation.

The only plausible reason for this that I can come up with is that we’ve been force-fed fear for well over a year now. Political fear. Environmental fear. Financial fear. Insecurity. Unpredictability. Terrorism, real or imagined.

I guess even Godzilla needs down time. Maybe he’s renting a nice cabin in the Berkshires. At the very least, he seems to be someplace without skyscrapers or the need for rampages. I hope he’s having a good time. I can’t say that I miss him, but I probably do need him.

(Thanks, Jen, for coming up with this great title for me!)

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The Safety Pin Movement

When I posted the following image on my Facebook page and announced that I’d be wearing the safety pin for the next four years, one person responded, “You can’t be serious! This is so childish.”

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That really confused me. I don’t consider this a political act. I don’t understand how wanting to give people comfort is offensive. How can anyone be opposed to inclusion and safety? In what way is this gesture anything less than supportive?

As a matter of fact, since so many Trump supporters say they voted for him in spite of, not because of, his hatred and racism, wearing the safety pin would reinforce that message. It would be wonderful to see safety pins wherever I go.

So many people are scared to death right now. I include myself in that number. For the most part, I feel really helpless in terms of trying to turn that trend around. Wearing a safety pin seems like the very, very least I can do. I’d welcome other suggestions below.

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Cop Avoidance

Back in the early 80’s I was studying abroad in Guanajuato, Mexico. It was one of the high points in my life. I learned so much about myself and the wider world. It had a profound effect on how I see this planet and its many inhabitants.

I felt very safe in that welcoming community. It’s a college town, bustling with students and culture, and everyone made me feel at home. I made several friends that I’m still in contact with to this very day. The only times I didn’t feel safe were those times when I should have felt safest of all—when the cops were out.

I can’t speak to what the atmosphere is like now. I haven’t been there in decades. But I can say that when I lived there, when people saw someone in uniform, they tended to quietly disappear down side streets. The area would become eerily quiet, the air full of tension.

You couldn’t blame them. These men often looked intoxicated, and they sported automatic weapons much of the time. There was an air of lawlessness about these law enforcement officers, and the balance of power was quite obviously skewed in their favor. You didn’t want to piss them off.

One time I went dancing in a club there and a cop shot a boy out front. Shot him dead. Just like that. I never knew the full story. I never saw any protests. I just knew there was one less student in Guanajuato that night.

This rattled me because, rightly or wrongly, I had grown up in white America. I was taught that cops were your friends. “Officer Friendly” came to my school. He told us that if we ever got lost, we should seek out the nearest policeman and everything would be okay. So being afraid of police never crossed my mind until I went to Mexico.

I hadn’t thought about this in years, but just the other day I realized I’m starting to feel this way in this country. Between the random shootings and the way the pipeline protesters are being treated, it doesn’t feel safe to be around law enforcement anymore. And Trump wants to escalate that to an alarming degree.

I don’t want to live in a world where I have to hide from public servants. I don’t want the balance of power to go past that tipping point, but it’s getting awfully close. Just saying.

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Pipeline protester being arrested. Sufficient use of force?

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Scary Small World

I just learned that Omar Mateen, the Orlando gunman, briefly attended Indian River State College, and was kicked out because he threatened to bring a gun there. I received my last degree from IRSC, and I’m now profoundly grateful that I wasn’t there the same year. Even so, this news has me extremely rattled. He still lived in that town when I did. For all I know we may have crossed paths.

Still, I loved that town. I loved that campus. It’s beautiful. I enjoyed my studies. I always felt safe there, except when I encountered the prison crew that they inexplicably allowed to maintain the grounds. (I don’t think virtually unsupervised convicted criminals and nubile young coeds make a good combo, but hey, who am I?)

The fact is that whenever you are amongst a large crowd of human beings, no matter how tranquil the setting may seem, you never know what the risks are. It’s really disturbing to realize that you can’t control the actions of others. It’s even more disturbing that serious mental illness in this country seems to fall into some strange bureaucratic crack, so many people aren’t getting the help they so desperately need when they lose their way.

Does that mean I’m going to stop going places and doing things? No. I refuse to be ruled by fear. In fact, I’ll be participating in a lot of the Seattle Pride events to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community. I’m glad that most of those events will be out of doors. I don’t relish the idea of being trapped in a building at the moment. I also suspect there will be an increased police presence, and it’s a shame that that has to be the case.

I’d be kidding myself if I said that things aren’t going to cross my mind. Are any of the people around me secretly ruled by rage? Do they think death (their own or that of someone else) is something they have a right to determine? Do they have an over-inflated sense of their own importance, or think that someone is out to get them?

I hate to contemplate the hellish existence of the (fortunately) small number of people who reside on the violent lunatic fringe. It makes me sad to think about their suffering, and even sadder to think of the suffering they could rain down upon the heads of those strangers who happen to be within range of their irrational perspectives.

Wishing peace and safety to you and all the people that you love.

Love

Trump is the New Hitler

I have a German last name, and because of that I have always taken the events that led up to, and occurred during, World War II very seriously. Growing up, I was fascinated by the Diaries of Anne Frank and all things related to concentration camps. I was proud of the fact that my father helped to liberate one during the war.

I could never understand what would cause a nation to be sucked in by an insane man who spewed nothing but hate. I could never imagine being so afraid of an entire group of people that I would leave even its women and children out in the cold. I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could justify depriving a whole religious group of its human rights.

I still don’t understand it. I never will. But now I can see how it happens. The other day, Donald Trump said, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

First of all, the screening system that allows immigrants into the US is extremely rigorous. If you think people just wander over the border willy nilly, think again. Better yet, Google it. If the system had been this stringent when my grandparents came to this country, they’d very likely have been turned back at Ellis Island, and I wouldn’t exist.

Normally, I wouldn’t take anything Donald Trump said very seriously. In my personal opinion, he’s a racist nut job with a bad comb over. But what was terrifying about this current bit of insanity of his was that when he said it, the crowd cheered. They cheered just as the Germans did when Hitler spouted his racist insanity during the Nuremberg Rally. Do you understand what I’m saying? They cheered.

In Germany, at the time, the economy was in a shambles. People were afraid. They wanted someone to blame. So a charismatic man with a bad hairdo came along and exploited their fear and turned it into hate and as a result over 60 million people died in a war that should never have taken place.

By the way, it wasn’t until much later in life that I discovered, thanks to the Elie Weisel Foundation, that none of my relatives had joined the Nazi Party. My family comes from the Alsace-Lorraine region in what is now France. Although this region has been dragged back and forth between France and Germany throughout history, during most of the last century, and this one so far, it’s part of France. What a huge weight off my shoulders!

But can I truly set down that weight? Now history seems to be repeating itself. Trump doesn’t scare me nearly as much as those cheering people in the crowd. Those people, those fellow Americans, do not seem to have learned from the deadly mistakes of history. Those people vote. I don’t want to see what happens if their hatred wins.

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[Image credit: Youtube.com]

“It’s a leaf.”

I had some business to do at the courthouse. When I entered the building, I waited patiently in line like a good girl to pass through the metal detector. I couldn’t be more harmless if my life depended on it, but I’ve come to accept that this is a world in which one occasionally has to be metal detected.

Finally it was my turn. I put my keys in the little plastic tray. I walked through the detector. No beep. Why am I always relieved? I went to gather my keys and go about my business when a guard grabbed me by my forearm.

“Is this a weapon?” he asked.

“What, my keys?” I was totally confused.

“No, that. That!” he said, pointing to my keychain.

“Uh… no,” I said, stupidly, “It’s a leaf.”

He looked at it more closely. “Okay. Move along.”

With that I was dismissed like a disciplined school child. It took me a minute to regain my equilibrium.

I looked down at my keychain and remembered where I got it. I was watching a demonstration of the dying art of blacksmithing. I like to support artisans whenever I can, so I bought the keychain, which is a little curved iron leaf, less than the size of my thumb. It would never have occurred to me to attempt to use it as a weapon. The keys on the ring are probably more lethal, if it came to that, as are my teeth and my overall determination not to be f***ed with.

But what rattled me was that a guard could see a leaf and see me, and conclude that there was potential danger there, even if only for a second. That pretty much sums up the state of American paranoia these days. It makes me sad.

It reminded me of the time my nail clippers got confiscated at the airport. Again, my keys were left untouched. So was my laptop, which I could easily use to knock someone out if the spirit moved me. But those nail clippers? Lethal, I tell you! (Images of a terrorist holding a nail clipper to a hostage’s throat and saying, “One false move, and I’ll clip her! I swear to GOD I will!”)

You want to know what we really should be afraid of? The fact that the very people who would have us all hand over our nail clippers and artistic keychains are the same ones who feel that depriving the general populous of automatic weapons is an outrageous civil rights violation.

Heaven help us all.

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