Category Archives: courage

Inspired Independence Day Words

I thought a lot about what to write in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage and its proximity to our national Independence Day holiday and then read what Harold Jackson of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote. I think he says it all.

Ruling shouldn’t change right to religious freedom
HAROLD JACKSON @harjerjac
Were he alive today, I believe my younger brother who lived in San Francisco would have married his longtime partner, with whom he had lived for several years, long before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized gay marriage nationally.
Being a Christian, as was my brother, I would not have recognized that union as a Bible-blessed marriage sanctioned by Scripture. But as an American who believes this nation was founded on the promises of freedom in the Constitution, I would have accepted the right of him and his partner to be a committed couple with all the legal guarantees granted to heterosexual spouses. I would welcome them in my home, invite them to my church, and love them as my kin.
I can’t say that I have always felt that way. My brother and I grew up in a different time, when most homosexuals who wanted to succeed in life kept that part of themselves hidden. I was in college before I found out that one of my favorite Sunday school teachers when I was a child was gay. Apparently, so long as he didn’t do anything that might be construed as attracting undue attention, he was accepted just like any other upstanding member of the congregation. In retrospect now, I think of how tortured his life must have been in trying to always present an image that wasn’t really true.
That was before gay men and women came out of the closet. Today, gay couples hardly get a second glance as they stroll down streets hand in hand, embrace in movie theaters, and, depending on the church, pray together in pews. Many are also getting married in churches that believe biblical references to homosexuality as sin are either misinterpreted or somehow no longer apply. God will make the ultimate ruling on that. In the meantime, churches that do not believe they should be required to marry gays are wondering if the Supreme Court decision will force them to do just that. It shouldn’t.
Religious freedom was one of the most important reasons, if not the most important reason, that so many colonists left Europe to establish a new home in America. It’s why the very First Amendment to the Constitution both forbids the establishment of a state religion and guarantees the free exercise of religious practices. That means the same Constitution that the Supreme Court cited to remove all prohibitions of gay marriage can be cited by churches, synagogues, temples, and other religious institutions that want to continue to place restrictions on whom they will marry.
I don’t know if my brother would have wanted a church wedding. He died in 1996 of AIDS, having kept his illness secret for years. To admit the disease would have required him to admit other secrets that, 20 years ago, he didn’t feel he could. I will always be sorry about that.
I’m glad that gay couples today no longer have to live secret lives. The Supreme Court says they also can marry. But it is important that the court did not invalidate religious objections to gay marriage. That keeps the constitutional separation of church and state intact, which, as I understand it, is also what the Bible prescribes. The Good Book also tells us to love everyone as we love ourselves, and to leave the final judgment of each of us up to God.
Harold Jackson is editorial page editor for The Inquirer. hjackson@phillynews.com  

May we all celebrate Independence Day together!

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Filed under courage, Heroes, holiday, Love, patriotism, politics, religion

Freedom and Simple Pleasures


i did something this weekend that i haven’t done since i was a kid: i walked around in a bathing suit when i wasn’t on the beach. okay so it was just to a little deli to get lunch takeout and walk back to the motel pool to sit and eat, but it was kind of huge for me.

some of you probably think, “what’s the big deal?” and others are thinking about how much you want people without beach bodies to cover up already. let me clarify that my bathing suit is a tankini with a skirted bottom so i’m not talking about a tiny bathing suit here. even though i’ve worked hard to wear a size or two smaller than the “average” american woman, i’m still a big person. and i’ve always been self-conscious, especially about my heavy arms (my mother used to say that we are descended from good, peasant stock).

but i had a revelation.

near us on the beach was a muslim family enjoying the perfect beach day and i found myself staring at them, or trying hard not to stare at them. the father wore knee length bathing trunks and no shirt, but the two women with him where wearing long pants, a long tunic and black head covers. they were happily walking on the shoreline with their children while the water soaked the bottoms of their long pants and i thought how uncomfortable that wet fabric must feel against their skin. later, the women were swimming and playing in the ocean, up to their necks in the water, still completely covered. they could only feel the cool ocean water directly on the uncovered skin of their faces, hands and feet.

a few things occurred to me: 1. how glad i was that they were not restricted from enjoying the ocean and 2. how sad i felt that they would never feel the cool water or the ocean breeze or even the hot sun directly on their skin and 3. here i was with the freedom to enjoy all of those sensations and had spent years choosing not to.

whatever self-consciousness those women may have felt at being on the beach and in the water fully clothed did not seem to matter to them. they frolicked, tossed around a football, giggled with their children and generally enjoyed a refreshing and fun day at the beach.

last year i decided that too many years had passed since my self-consciousness deprived me of a swim in the ocean and waded in. okay, so i was slammed into the sand moments later because i have no wave skills, still i headed out toward c and the two of us had a nice time. this year, i was prepared to enjoy the ocean again but made sure i had a cover-up for when we walked to and from the motel.

seeing those women made me think.

i can tell you that it’s a lot cooler to be out in the hot sun in a wet bathing suit and no cover up, but i can also tell you that i got very sunburned. i can also tell you that later that evening as c and i were leaving for dinner, we took a selfie in which i was wearing a strapless dress without my usual cover-up and someone posted a snotty and hurtful remark – a person who often complains about other’s insensitivity.

my first instinct was to change my dress after that remark. my second instinct was to put on the cover-up even though it was a little too warm to wear it.

in the end, i didn’t change my dress. i took the wrap with me and i only put it on because i was cold.

freedom sometimes takes a bit of time.

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Filed under courage, summer, women

Perseverence and Pride


“god grant me the serenity to accept the things i cannot change, the courage to change the things i can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” serenity prayer

three simple thoughts. how many of us beat our heads against a wall trying to change things that aren’t going to change or wallow in feelings of helplessness when there are steps we can take to make a change. ah, so it’s the wisdom to know the difference that makes the difference. words are easy, life is hard.

a year and a half ago c and i began a new way of life. https://readseethink.net/2013/05/22/journey-of-genetic-defiance-part-i/ and we’ve continued it to this day, which has allowed us to enjoy a healthier and happier life together. as somewhat of a culmination or perhaps continuation of his healthy life, c rode in a 65 mile bike ride to benefit the american cancer society this past weekend.

in spite of spending months training for the ride – which c completed with impressive dedication – he was nervous. he said he was nervous about making a fool of himself by falling or failing in some way. i suspect that he wasn’t nervous about completing the ride because he was certainly ready to ride 65 miles, but about completing the ride to his own satisfaction. and because he was a rider as a younger man and by his own admission just “loves to go fast”, he wanted to complete the ride in the same way completes his weekly rides — tour de france-type riding.

he not only finished the ride, but he finished the ride an hour earlier than anticipated and with the first 40 out of a total of 3,000 riders. here’s the spectacular part: this is the same person who had difficulty walking ¼ track in january of 2013. now, 110 (or more) pounds lighter, he rode 65 miles at a pace of 20 – 30 miles per hour and wasn’t even exhausted.

he’s now training for a 150 mile ride in october and i’m sure he’ll also finish that in spectacular style.

courage to change the things i can.

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Filed under courage, family, Fitness, health, Heroes, Love, marriage, weight loss

You Already Are What You’re Looking For


being judgmental is just so easy. it’s that air of superiority, the dismissal of someone else as though they are a lesser being, a refusal to understand that all of us have warts or sins or failings or simple lapses of clear thinking.

i know when the news of philip seymour hoffman’s death first came out, i thought it was tragic. then the news followed that he had died of a drug overdose and i changed my mind. you know what i was thinking: that his death was no longer tragic, but stupid or self-indulgent or… and then i took a pause.

he was an addict, but his death was still tragic.

no child grows up thinking, “i’m going to be an addict when i grow up.” maybe it’s a momentary choice – that first choice to try something addictive – but not long after that (as c says) you’re just a passenger on that train.

abusing a substance rewires your brain. putting the wiring back again isn’t as easy as just saying you want to, or even going through the steps to fix it. your brain works against you. your body works against you. not just in terms of withdrawal, in the scheme of things that’s the easy part, but in terms of your brain’s new normal. that’s not even mentioning the rest of your life habits, friends, family, etc. that are part of the addiction cycle.

i’m not an addict now, but i was addicted to cigarettes for about 10 years and i would say that for about 8 of those years i really didn’t want to be a smoker. yet, i still smoked. and almost every day i woke up and said “i’m not going to smoke today” and then a few hours later i was smoking again. i contemplated an actual strategy for quitting months before i actually quit “cold turkey”. that final time it stuck and i never picked up a cigarette again, and in spite of being really bothered by cigarette smoke, i can say that there are still times that i think about having a cigarette. it’s 33 years later, but my brain still maintains a memory of the pleasurable aspects of smoking.

i can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to give up the pleasurable feeling someone gets from narcotics or alcohol.

over the years as our children have grown, i’ve been so saddened to hear about the number of kids ours grew up with who have had addiction problems, some whose problems persist and some who are now dead from an overdose. we know of entire families who were wiped out financially by their own kids either from thievery or the cost of repeated stints in rehab. i can only imagine the pain. my thoughts and prayers go out to them, but the words are unsaid. it’s very difficult to know whether the parent of an addict will accept your concern with gratitude or feel insulted.

i remember those kids when they were just little, their innocence, their joy, their spunk. i don’t know them enough to figure out why their journey into drugs began, but i know that they would never have followed that path if they had known the outcome.

so, yeah, most of us don’t dabble in addictive substances that take hold of our lives and turn us into something we never wanted to be. but we all have our vices, our failings and our humanity so rather than judge maybe we can put our resources together to solve.

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Filed under addiction, advice, courage, health, Illness

Big or Small, It’s Better Than Nothing at All

Did you hear the one about the Pope who published an encyclical and got called a Marxist? I’m confident that the Pope really doesn’t give a blessed host what Rush Limbaugh thinks, but it’s been interesting to hear people line up on both sides of this story.

As is his role in the world, Pope Frances challenges us to think purely, that is, without cynicism. It’s easy to be cynical. Cynics would disagree, but for many of us it’s the first “go to” because not being cynical makes us vulnerable. Pope Francis’ EVANGELII GAUDIUM speaks thoughtfully about economic inequity around the world, which is apparently so frightening that wing nut commentators feel the need to trash the Pope. Or, more accurately, guys like Limbaugh need to protect their turf and it’s not a philosophical turf, it’s the turf paved with coin for saying whatever makes him coin. Here’s only some of what Pope Francis said:

53. Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

Okay, so it is pretty Marxist. But maybe we’re due for a kind of hybridized capitalism, or maybe Pope Francis is advocating for just an attitude change, not a systematic overthrow. Here’s the thing about attitude changes: sometimes a small change can make a big difference. And sometimes one person can change an entire world.

At this writing, I have just learned of the death of Nelson Mandela, a perfect example of one person changing a world. Though his struggle for change lasted decades, he was one person who made a decision to speak out for change.

I admit I was mostly ignorant of the history and conditions in South Africa for most of my life. When I was in college, one of my professors came scurrying into class late one day and announced that Anthol Fugard had been taken into custody in South Africa and that an international coalition of artists and activists were working to have him released. We spend the entire class writing letters to the U.S., South African and worldwide governments asking for the release of Fugard. We were part of the outcry that allowed him to be released and travel so that his anti-apartheid plays could be performed around the world.*

We were each one small voice but together we were a huge outcry. Pope Frances is a huge voice, so imagine what will happen if many of us join him.

*I just read (with great pride I might add) that Fugard is now Adjunct Professor at my alma mater, University of California, San Diego and I wonder whether he isn’t here because of my college professor.

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Civil Rights and the Civil War

this year marks the 150th anniversary of the battle of gettysburg, which was a big deal around here though i’m not sure how much it played in the rest of the country. i’m guessing it didn’t play well in the south. in gettysburg the anniversary was marked by a huge re-enactment of the battle that was fought july 1- 4, 1863 and that marked the turning point of the war. between 49,000 and 51,000 men died on those battlefields in 1963. about 15,000 re-enactors participated in the anniversary event.

just the video of 15,000 re-enactors was impressive. i can’t imagine what 51,000 men on those battlefields looked like. i can even less imagine what acres and acres of dead and maimed men looked like.

c and i visited gettysburg a few years ago and were awed by the scope of what happened there. you can feel the ghosts and i don’t believe in ghosts.

seems to me that some people are still arguing the results of the war. or more accurately, some are arguing for the clock to be turned back to a time before the civil war when things were much better. wait. better for whom? the real story of the civil war, that is the story of slavery in america, is being usurped by a discussion of states’ rights in an attempt to sanitize the real reason for the war.

when i was in school, i remember the endless droning on about the battles of the war and the numbers and details that were hard to grasp and even harder to care about. what would have been far more interesting to me was a chronology of the war as i read it recently – the timeline of the movement to outlaw slavery as it moved through each state legislature vs. the population of slaves in america. staggering. it felt like the walk along the vietnam memorial from one end to the apex and how you are suddenly immersed before you know that you moved. the closer the nation came to outlawing slavery, the higher the count of slaves in this nation. no wonder the south wanted to cling to states’ rights.

sometimes people are on the wrong side of history.

Just recently it feels like the civil rights of many groups in this nation are under attack. The attackers justify their reasoning with claiming things have changed or demanding that we adhere to the literal belief in one book in defense of them not changing.

if you’re tempted to whine about the constant talk about civil rights in this nation, take a look at our history and think again. better yet, learn.

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Until you say you’re going to be that person, none of us are going to be that person

there’re been a few stories lately that make me think that some large numbers of us – maybe all of us– have gone soft. and we’re making the next generation soft too.

for all the constant whining that goes on about “losing liberties” and “diminishing freedoms” and “standing up for rights”, what we do not seem to stand up for these days is a greater good or a vibrant future. what we seem to stand up for is the ability to throw pouty little temper tantrums when we don’t get everything we think we deserve. and we think we deserve a lot.

our world is quite large thanks to the advances in communications and technology, yet we choose to dwell in our own tiny narcissistic corner.

this week i heard the story of gilbert and eleanor kraus. never heard of them? until recently, most people hadn’t, including their own grandchildren. this couple brought 50 jewish children from vienna to the united states on the eve of wwii in defiance of opposition from the united states consulate and prominent jewish organizations in the u.s. they weren’t activists, they weren’t political representatives, they weren’t crusaders, they weren’t even particularly religious. they were just regular people who left their own kids behind and traveled to the den of anti-semitism as it was reaching a fever pitch and brought 50 children to the u.s. so that in case the worst would happen, the children would have a future. some bit of each of those families would have a future.

consider the courage.

consider children who grow up waiting for parents who never arrive, yet they go on and make good lives for themselves and the families they build. consider parents who define their instinct to protect their children by sending them away to some place safe. consider average people who do rather than yell, act rather than rant, take action rather than point fingers.

there are stories like this every day, but we hear few of them. and the people who act them out are not looking for a spotlight, they are motivated by an internal compass and a broader view of what it means to be a human being and what it means to have a future where we all thrive.

the lost boys of the sudan.

the underground railroad.

a 15 year old malala yousafzai.

a guy on a radio show i listen to was talking about buying a new mini-van for his family. while pondering the decision of what to buy, he struggled with one brand because the removable seats for his kids were not heated. it almost nixed the deal. then he came to his senses.

who among us would put our lives on the line and act out for the greater good and for a better future, to speak up loudly and act out decisively even in the face of our fears? think about that then count those among us who would not buy a certain mini-van because the seats were not heated.

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