Tuesday, June 25, 2013

For Rachel

Last Tuesday featured the high school graduation of my youngest child, Rachel.  While this was our second high school graduation, my son passed this milestone three years ago, it was still extremely special and very emotional.  While it is true that I cry much more these days, the wet eyes and lump in my throat that Rachel's graduation brought forth, lasted a few more days than the everyday teary moments.

As I have mentioned before, I have a lot of alone time during my second job.  I am usually at the mercy of my thoughts for at least 5 hours each shift.  This past week I tried not to direct the mind meanderings but allowed it to conjure up as many memories of Rachel's childhood as I could.

Some were shared experiences, some individual moments.   Here are a few.

Rachel's birth was difficult, to say the least.  After 24 hours of labor which ended in a brow presentation, the petite woman doctor, clutching a plunger above her head with both hands, attacked and plucked Rachel out of the womb.  It was horrific!  (OK, perhaps that is an exaggeration, but that is how I remember it).  When frustrated or angry with my wife, I will sometimes recall that moment, and no matter the cause of my consternation, forgive her with a "yes honey" and/or a kiss on the forehead.  Amazingly, such a horrendous moment produced as gentle and lovable a creature than I could ever imagine.

As a toddler, Rachel was rarely still.  Even when dead tired she would press on.  I recall bringing her home from an especially long day at the park, carrying her into the house and putting her down on the kitchen floor.  When I turned back to her after removing my coat, I found her fast asleep on the floor, coat still on, head on the cool linoleum.   That drive and energy never left her.

As a young sister, Rachel loved her brother JW, but could only day Da-doo.  She followed him everywhere, always a few steps behind, invariably calling Da-doo.  At a friend's horse farm, she had somehow lost her pants (or escaped during dressing) and was seen running after JW and his friend, diaper falling around her legs, "Da-doo wait", being repeated over and over again.

Rachel started swim lessons around age 5 or 6 at a local YMCA, then progressed to the local swim club.  There she was amongst a gaggle of other little girls waiting for their chance to swim the 25 meters across the pool.  Over time she became proficient at the breast stroke, even excelling for a few years.  While my son had played a bit of soccer, he was never very good, but Rachel actually won some events.  For a few brief years I was able to understand the parental pride of seeing one's child do well in sports, was able to fantasize about the Olympics, or better yet, free college.  Eventually Rachel's love of the water moved her from swimming to water polo but alas, her knees were not up to the challenge and her career was short lived.  Still, she stayed on the team, coaching and encouraging her team mates, which made me just as proud in knowing that she didn't drop out when the going got tough and she could no longer play.

As a child, Rachel had an impish smile with dimples on both sides.  While there were times during her early teenage years that those dimples remained hidden, for the most part she passed through middle school and early high school only hating being in the presence of her parents, as opposed to actually hating her parents as so many of her peers did their parents.  But even if the smiles were less frequent, she would occasionally step out of the required teen attitude, and light up the room with her smile and inner light.  Sometimes as especially happy day released the inner Rachel, sometimes a funny happening that she would share with us.  Happily for us, and especially her mother, Rachel only occasionally became less Rachel and more a teenager.

While Rachel, when asked, claims she will never have children, her love and caring for her pets throughout the years convinces me that she will not only be a mom some day, she will be a wonderful one.  When we decided to put our dog in the kennel for the day of the grad party, Rachel was upset even though she knew it was best for Bubba who gets overly excited when people come to the house.  She loves him and, I am sure, will demonstrate that same love and concern for her babies when she chooses to become a parent.  Like her mother, she has a great capacity for empathy and compassion, two traits which, if there was a test for parenthood, I believe should be of main importance.

Which brings us back to graduation day.  Rachel's high school uses a local college arena for graduation, both because of the size of the class and to eliminate any weather related issues.  Of course, they read each and every name as the young adults walk to the stage for his/her diploma, but they also show the picture of the person, in this case the graduation picture in which all the students looked their best.  The camera generally likes Rachel, and so, of course, the picture that flashed of her ever so briefly on the screens was the loveliest of the lot.  I was just able to cheer before the emotion of the moment overwhelmed me, but I could still clap and clap loudly I did.  As she walked back to her seat, almost gliding along the hardwood floor, she was truly Rachel, as carefree as those diaper- less days of her youth yet brimming with the confidence, relief and sheer excitement of the day, mixed with the boundless hope of the future that lay ahead.

Congratulations Rachel!! 

Your mother and I love you, not just because you are our child but also because you are an amazing young adult, full of love and energy and goodness.  We wish you as bright a future as your smile, and as much happiness as the depth and breadth of the seas.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"Responsible" writing

A full two weeks has passed since my last post; sorry.  I have been working a lot; 68 hours between the two jobs last week, another 61 scheduled this week.  I have also spent some time on a new story; more on that later.

The interest in my blog has returned to pre-April levels.  As I noted in past blogs, I was averaging over 200 hits a day since mid April, and that remained constant through May.  Both months recorded over 6800 page hits on my blog.  As also noted, the two big posts were those written April 16 and April 23 about the 2nd amendment.  The first has seen over 6100 hits, the second just short of 5000.
Considering that before April 16 I had just finally reached 2000 hits for a month, and will probably not reach 1500 this month, the interest in those two posts was remarkable.  I even considered "monetizing" my blog during that time as I thought it might be cool to earn some money from my writing, although I remain hesitant to allow Google to determine which ads to run within my posts.  All in all, an interesting 6 weeks.

I mentioned in a previous post that I have received both solicited and unsolicited advise on how to ramp up interest in my blog towards either fame, money or both.  A few of those conversations evolved into discussions on a writer's responsibility to society for what one writes.  Since I am not paid to maintain this post, I have the freedom to write about what I want.  And while there are some in my circle of friends and family who might think some of my writings radical, I have tried to fashion my opinions so as to avoid demonizing those who disagree with me.  To me, having a controversial opinion or perspective is fine; presenting it in a vitriolic way or via an attitude that says my way or the highway, or worse with the stance that if you don't agree with me you are either stupid,  anti-American or both, is the problem with our current mode of debate.  For some reason, five people yelling at each other at a round table attracts more viewers than four people discussing a topic with logic and facts.  And the internet, for all its potential for a more open worldview, is chock full of people presenting their biases as fact rather than as opinion.

So, let me be clear.  My blog, my posts are full of my opinions.  I do my utmost to back them up with facts, but we all know that facts can be used to prove virtually anything.  I also try to employ reason as I move down the path to my decisions, and, believe it or not, a liberal viewpoint of God and religion that recognizes that there is a moral right and wrong in the world but that no particular religion or tome of God has cornered the market on what is right and wrong. 

A friend recently commented that perhaps we need God to return to earth to straighten us out.  Now, without getting too involved in whether I believe that Jesus was the son of God (hence my friend's wish for a "return"), I hold the view that perhaps if we stop glorifying the messenger, whether it be Jesus, Buddha, Mohamed, etc, and listen and internalize the message, actually try to live our lives as those great people taught, then we wouldn't need a return.  Frankly, in most cases, the truly superior spiritual beings who have lived were generally ostracized and or killed for their message, so to think that we would be able to recognize a new light on earth seems a bit unrealistic.  

But I digress.

Invariably, in my discussions about earning fame or money via my writing, I express a reluctance to achieve either.  Don't get me wrong, earning my living via posting a weekly opinion piece with the occasional cameo on an opinion TV or radio show, while also writing and publishing stories seems like it would be my ideal job.  I certainly would like to try it for six months or a year.  But I already have decided that having huge sums of money is undesirable, and I am pretty sure that being a face that is recognized wherever one goes would be uncomfortable, at best.  I do not envy the very rich or very famous the responsibility they shoulder to use their great fortune and fortunes to improve the world.  The Bill Gates types aside, I don't think many of them rise to the challenge, don't even think they understand the responsibility that fame and fortune should require.  It is nice to think that should I suddenly awake with more money than I can spend, or more attention than I can acknowledge, that I would use that money and attention to make the world better.  But I have my doubts.  Perhaps that is the exact reason why I will never attain riches or fame, perhaps I underestimate myself, or perhaps I just don't have the talent so I use not "wanting it" as a way to ignore the truth.

And so I return to the story I mentioned above.  I expect to finish it in the next month.  I think those who know me might find it uncharacteristic of me, perhaps disturbing.  As I have been writing this story, I have questioned whether I should post it.  Whether I might violate the freedom vs responsibility tenet that I have just detailed.  That perhaps this kind of story might produce fame but fame that comes from notoriety.   That its moral might be used to justify actions that are not spiritual in nature, regardless of the end result they might produce.

I guess only time will tell.  Most likely, the story will be posted, some comments will be made, and it will stay ensconced in my blog as in a tomb, with most everything else I write.   

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Winning isn't everything...

The famous quote "winning isn't everything, it is the only thing", is generally attributed to the iconic football coach Vince Lombardi.   But I recently watched a movie called "The Big Year" which led me to think about the necessity of winning, the sacrifices often required to win, and most importantly, the definition of winning.

For those of you unfamiliar with movie The Big Year, it features Steve Martin (as Stu), Jack Black (as Brad) and Owen Wilson (as Bostick)  in a story about birding.  Yes, birding.  Unlike most sports involving birds in America, this hobby is not about hunting/killing birds but about seeing the birds, as many different bird species as possible, either as an accumulative life list, or in the case of our three characters, in one year. 

Without revealing the plot too extensively, the movie follows Brad as he crams multiple trips throughout the United States around a full time job in an attempt to see the most bird species in one year as well as break the one year record held by Bostick. Along the way, we are introduced to the other main characters, as well as the ways and means of knowing where to go and when to be there in order to see as many birds as possible.

Two particular scenes are revealing.  In one, there is a huge storm off the Texas coast which produces huge "bird fallout"; in other words large numbers of birds are forced inland by the storm.  All the serious birders flock (sorry) to the area.  As the mostly American birders rush around in hopes of spotting the various species that have landed, one birder is bumped aside by those sprinting among the group.  He turns to his partner and says with dripping British disdain "only Americans can turn birding into a competitive sport".

The second scene occurs towards the end of the movie when the results of the Big Year are published.  During the movie, Brad was finally able to communicate his love for birding to his dad, and they share a wonderful moment in the forest spotting a rare owl.  Also, he finds a girl who shares his passion, and they are together as the movie ends.  Stu is finally able to retire after trying for a few years, holds his first grandchild, and reconnects with his wife.  (Played by Jobeth Williams, by the way, which is a major smack in my face, as I had a serious infatuation with her and now here she is, playing a grandmother!)  In the meantime, Bostick maintains his title as the greatest birder in the world, but has lost his wife who has tired of being the second most important thing to him.

Anyway, the dialogue that struck me is that Brad, after being told that neither he nor Stu finished first, says in essence, we won.  Not, of course, the big year competition, but in the more important event called life.

Perhaps that is why Americans in particular love sports so much.  We live vicariously through the wins and losses of our favorite teams because we have lost sight of winning in our personal lives.  Or perhaps, because we have lost sight of what winning in our personal lives really means.

Stu finally realizes that he is more than just the CEO of a huge company.  It is not who he is, just what he does.  His family, wife, son, new grandson, gain new meaning for him.  Or more exactly, are revealed as just how important those people, his family are to him.  And, of course, at the end of the flick he is sharing his hobby with his new grandson.

So, perhaps winning is everything.  But not winning a game or a contest but winning at life.  Finding a career or hobby that provides pleasure, like birding for Stu and Brad, or writing for myself.  Sharing your life with someone special, then adding to that family by having children and watching them grow to become happy adults with children of their own.  Connecting with friends to create extended families, related or unrelated.  And then, and here is the big THEN, realizing that you have won at life, not because you have multiple homes or new cars, a huge bank account and all the material trappings of our Americanized version of a successful life, but because you have love in your life.

The really ironic thing is that winning at a game is not all that hard; it happens all the time.  But its rewards are fleeting, and often need repeating for the winners to keep that feeling.  Winning at life takes, well, a lifetime.  But the rewards are endless and last beyond the moment.