Category Archives: Resilience

Of Cucumbers, Pickles and People

Roses and pickles“When does a cucumber become a pickle?” asks a Louise Penny character trying to figure out when her happy boy turned into a surly teenager.

When did my heart strengthen?  Sometime between March and August of this year, my heart returned from an almost fatal level of heart failure to nearly normal functioning thanks to a specialized pacemaker, newly available medication and cardiac rehabilitation.

Awesome.  Amazing.  Fantastic.  I’m grateful.  This is my best hope come true.

Exactly when did my heart strengthen so much?  When had it weakened in the first place?  Like a cucumber becoming a pickle; each was a process I barely noticed, a change I couldn’t date.

At what moment is a runner ready for a marathon?  When do patterns become habits and habits a way of life?  At what point does a student become an artist or a character become rooted in honesty and integrity?  At what point does healing occur or relationships fray too much to be repaired?

No one can say when, during his years in prison camp, the late John McCain changed from a hard-partying naval brat into a man of courage and honor. It was a process.  No one can say exactly when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford became a strong enough survivor to tell her story of sexual assault to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee considering Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court.  It happened over years of hard work and healing.

We change our clothes in minutes.  On the other hand, internal change–physical, emotional, spiritual, and attitudinal–happens over time.

When does a cucumber become a pickle?  Cucumbers become bread and butter pickles in a week.  Dill pickles need six months.

For pickles and people, the finished flavor is a matter of time in the brine.  If we soak ourselves in distrust and disdain towards others, we become judgmental and sour people.  If we repeatedly respond with bitterness or entitlement, we cannot help but develop a nature of such attitudes.

But if we repeatedly behave kindly, we become people who instinctively respond with kindness.  If we act repeatedly with courage, honor and integrity we develop character imbued with these qualities.  If we intentionally pause each day to give thanks, we become gracious, grateful people.

The good news is that we can dump out our brine and start afresh.  Choose wisely and trust the process.

I Had Dared to Hope

I had dared to hope that I was finally healthy enough to bring energy and imagination to the world again.  But Whack-a-mole returned.  A few weeks after I wrote a New Year’s letter celebrating my improved health, I was diagnosed with heart failure almost as severe my original diagnosis 13 years ago. A specialized pacemaker, a new medication and medically supervised exercise hold out the hope of a stronger heart.  I need ways to hold onto this hope and persevere in “working the program.”

As the U.S. commemorates the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week, words of King included in an article in the Washington Post inspire me to keep on keepin’ on.

In “King was unpopular and demoralized before he died. He pressed on anyway,” Stephen Kendrick and Paul Kendrick remind me of both a part of the Civil Rights struggle many of us forget and the perseverance of hope:

The shot that echoed in the Memphis dusk 50 years ago still reverberates through our national life, yet there is so much about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. we find hard to absorb.

In our long effort to moderate King, to make him safe, we have forgotten how unpopular he had become by 1968. In his last years, King was harassed, dismissed and often saddened. These years after Selma are often dealt with in a narrative rush toward martyrdom, highlighting his weariness. But what is missed is his resilience under despair. It was when his plans faltered under duress that something essential emerged. The final period of King’s life may be exactly what we need to recall, bringing lessons from that time of turmoil to our time of disillusion.

Celebrating the march out of Selma, Ala., and his early prophetic optimism made sense in the heady Obama years.  Now, we need King’s determined faithfulness.

Once refusing to get on a flight in 1967, King called his wife, Coretta, from the airport saying, “I get tired of going and not having any answers.” His opposition to the Vietnam War cost him support. At a time of emerging Black Power, King’s dream of integration and nonviolence seemed to many insufficient, almost passé. Yet he died still trying to confront “the evil triplets,” how “racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together.”

An unguarded King who still speaks to us can be found in transcripts of Southern Christian Leadership Conference retreats. [At the Penn Center on St. Helena Island, S.C.,] he told his staff in 1966, “I am still searching myself. I don’t have all the answers.” He challenged them — and us — “I’m not talking about some kind of superficial optimism which is little more than magic. I’m talking about that kind of hope that has an ‘in spite of’ quality.” 

[Just four months before his assassination, he told a similar gathering,] “Hope is the final refusal to give up.” King did not just assert this but also lived the belief, by continuing to put his body into his nation’s gun sights. His lack of answers did not keep him from his destiny — which was not fate so much as the result of his choice to show up, to keep on.

Every era finds the King it needs. The version we need now is a King who pressed on through doubt to see a radical vision, as we must [with] the challenges we face. King ran out of certainty but never faith.
(Emphasis mine)

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/king-was-unpopular-and-demoralized-before-he-died-he-pressed-on-anyway/2018/04/03/06f9f1d0-345b-11e8-8bdd-cdb33a5eef83_story.html

 

Join the Frogs with Me

It’s almost time for the frogs in the wetlands beside our house to awaken from their winter lethargy and announce their presence.  Our time to awaken has come, too.

As much as I hate publicly calling someone racist, the time has come.  President Trump is racist in thought, word and deed.  He is not the first such occupant of the White House.  Eight Presidents owned slaves while in office.  Woodrow Wilson screened the KKK movie, Birth of a Nation in the White House.  Franklin Roosevelt turned away a ship of 900 Jews fleeing Europe because he didn’t want more Jews in the U.S.*  Richard Nixon used his racist Southern Strategy to become President and Ronald Reagan trumpeted the Welfare Queen.  Until 1965, our immigration policies were written to exclude nearly all immigrants from everywhere but Northern and Western Europe.  Some, like the Chinese Exclusion Act, were particularly heinous.

Scratch below the surface and America’s systemic racism is still visible.  That has become abundantly clear in the past two years.  Those racist currents have again become dangerous as President Trump fans the flames of nationalism, White Supremacy and Christian exceptionalism.

Why do I say President Trump is racist and in thought, word and deed?  He proudly denigrates people of color and Muslims.  His vile comments encourage xenophobia, greed and hate.  His words give succor to those who burn mosques, deface synagogues, and destroy black churches.  His policies against Latinos and Muslim majority countries are break families apart and terrorize U.S. residents.  His comments and actions are considered so derogatory and racist around the world that they endanger our diplomats and military personnel.

Some White folk say the President ought to be free to speak the way they, themselves, do at home and in pubs, as if their racism is O.K. and his ought to be, as well.  But when President Trump uses vile language to speak of Africa, Haiti, El Salvador, and Honduras,  or racist language about people here at home, there is much more at stake.  His words carry the full power of the United States, for good or ill.

This is not a game.  It is not innocent.  It is not harmless.  It is life and death.  It is nothing less than the future of our country and the world at stake.

Like the frogs beyond my garden, it’s time for us to raise our voices and start moving.  Citizens have moved this nation towards its ideals in the past.  We can do it again.  We must do it again.

Two citizen movements in U.S. history inspire and prod me to action:  “citizen spies” in Los Angeles and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and ’60’s.

As the KKK and neo-Nazi groups grew in power across the U.S. in the 1930’s, a handful of  citizens in Los Angeles thwarted White supremacists’ plans to torch Boyle Heights and its residents with flame throwers mounted on pickup trucks.  They also disrupted plans to  murder Jewish movie stars and businessmen, and to seize armories across the Los Angeles Basin.  With courage and determination, they acted on their values.

I draw strength, too, from the young Blacks of the Civil Rights Movement who sat in White sections of lunch counters in the South; Black and White Freedom Riders who were beaten and jailed as they registered Blacks to vote; and Black citizens who risked their lives standing up for one another and trying to claim their right to work, love, worship, vote and travel unhindered.  With bravery and determination, they acted on their belief in the ideals of America.

Most of the people who have bent the arc of America’s history towards justice were ordinary people like you and I.  They gave time and energy, skills and expertise, compassion, hospitality and life experience–sometimes even their jobs, homes, and life.

Now it’s our time and turn:  Our time to be courageous and creative.  Our turn to reclaim America from those who tarnish it anew with racism, injustice and greed.

If you’re looking for ideas, here are a few to choose from.  Voice your concerns and beliefs to family, friends, coworkers and members of your church/synagogue/mosque.  Challenge their comments and jokes.  Join Daily Action Text Alerts to participate in coordinated phone calls to Congress.  Contribute money to the NAACP, ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center.  Volunteer with groups that protect immigrants.  Pray.  March.  Run for office.  Read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Learn about White Privilege, systemic racism and how change occurs.  Listen humbly to the experiences of people whose race is different from yours and learn.  Look in the mirror with honesty, and change.  Be creative and courageous.

In the words of Nelson Mandela, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”

 

*At least one quarter of the Jews on the German ocean liner, St. Louis, died in the Holocaust after returning to Europe from the Port of Miami.
**The Hart-Celler Act of 1965 removed limitations of previous policies and, with a more generous quota system, instead based immigration on merit and family connections.
***“Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America,” by Steven J. Ross, Professor of History at USC.