Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Perseverance

It's been a long time comin'It's goin' to be a Long Time Gone.And it appears to be a long,Appears to be a long,Appears to be a longTime, yes, a long, long, long ,long time before the dawn.-David Crosby (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)

PERSEVERANCE

Do you ever feel like quitting?

The written Japanese symbol for perseverance is formed by two kanji. One represents a knife and across its left side rests a line, indicating that it is a blade which cuts, i.e. a dagger. Beneath this knife stands a heart. The message? This heart, no matter how deeply penetrated by this dagger, will not stop beating. This is perseverance.


June 7, 2010.
It is the day after mid-term elections here in the U.S. I've known my friend John since we were both 18. Today he is an attorney and senior partner of a Santa Cruz law firm. He has sought appointment to the superior court bench before. But appointments, for one reason or another, have eluded him. And so eighteen months ago John undertook, from my perspective, a most un-John thing and decided to enter the election and run for judge.

When he entered the race I thought, "He must be nuts." But he's not nuts. What approach did he decide on as the best way to bid for office? Just be the self that he is. Then, work diligently, tell the truth softly and clearly. Meet as many people as possible. Tell them who he is and promise to be honest. [Being honest is not a hard promise because I don't know a more honest person than John.] Go to a lot of meetings. Shake a lot of hands. Lick a lot of envelopes [He did - I know - I licked a few along side of him and Peg, his bride]. Paste a lot of stamps. Ask his friends for their support knowing that whatever each would say (yes or no) he would gladly accept their answer - and continue on. And then at the end of every long day along the campaign trail, let the chips fall where they may, then get up and do it again until election day. And then - let the chips fall where they may.
Election day approached and I heard that his opponents began to ratchet up the rhetoric. "He's too quiet." "He won't be tough on crime." When the voices of negative campaigning grew louder, what did John do? He relaxed under the pressure. He stayed positive, pointed to his record as a long-time civil litigator and with his share of before-the-bench-criminal-law too. He spoke clearly from his years ago experience as a public defender squarely grounding because he knows both sides of the system. He stated facts that show him to be someone who understands the law and who sincerely believes in a person's innocence until proven otherwise before an impartial judge and a jury of peers.
His opponents criticized him more for being too nice a guy. And John? He continued to quietly point to his record, said he would be fair, then licked more envelopes and pasted on more stamps. He walked county streets and neighborhoods. He knocked door-to-door, shook hands, introduced himself to average persons. He asked for donations and support, knowing that both "yes" and "no" were valid options. He told his story and went to more meetings, spoke his mind and listened to more people. Though I did not hear what I'm about to write, I have a mind to believe that he probably never once told anyone, "You'll be sorry if you vote for one of my opponents." Why? In my experience he doesn't lay guilt trips on people. Think about that for a moment - a man running for judge who doesn't evoke guilt trips.
Today, June 7, the election is over. I call John to say hi because for more than one reason this is a special day. This day, thirty-eight years ago, was our last day as roommates. Then we stood near each other in Michie Stadium and tossed high our white hats, ending a four year walk, run, dodge, jump and crawl through a maze known as West Point. But today I can't get a hold of him, and have to leave a message. He is wiped out, drained and tired - but not defeated. Elected by a huge margin, 53% of the vote going to him, 23% to the nearest competitor. But wait - I find out that all the votes won't be counted for some days because of some kind of election anomaly. Will John Gallagher finally sit on the beach or will he have to wade through a November run-off? The law of averages says, he's won. But you never know until the vote is actually counted. One might wonder, what keeps him going?
June 21, 2010.
At 7:18 p.m. I sit on a wood chair at Coffee Karma on the circle at ul. Zbawiciela, Warsaw, Poland. Three years have passed since Marta Bruske and I shared our last in-person conversation. Then it was in Ustron, on the Wisla River not far from the point at which Poland, Austria and Slovakia confluence. Then, Marta was president of AIESEC Poland. Along with Zolt Toth (Hungary's president) and Ivan Melay (Slovakia's president) Marta was responsible for bringing me to Eastern Europe and introducing embodied education to hundreds of young leaders through the play of the Samurai Game®. She's recently completed an internship in London. A vibrant city, she admits, but a place of aloneness in a sea of people. Now home, she is happy to be working with a few visionaries, growing a small business and faced with a lot of challenges.
Who knows when our paths will again cross. We seize a moment and meet. Our conversation unfolds into a meandering of memories. Stories from the Netherlands to the Red Sea to a crazy train ride through Katowice. We both want to know, "What have you been up to?" "What do you hear from Gabitza?" "Do you remember Irina Rusueva?" "Yes!" "How is she?" Eventually we arrive at today's news. We are less than forty-eight hours on the other side of an election here in Poland thrust upon this nation because one man's hand pulled back an aircraft throttle rather than push forward on it. As a result of that one move, two months ago, a Soviet-era Tupolev jet surrounded by fog clipped a tree, flipped upside down and slammed to Earth just outside Smolensk, Russia. Poland's president Lech Kaczynski and ninety-five others perished instantly.
Today, Kaczynski's twin brother a former Prime Minister, Jaroslaw, and Bronislaw Komorowski, the acting president and parliamentary speaker, have each narrowly missed achieving a majority vote. They and the country must now endure a runoff in fourteen days. Poland's future remains undecided by a very slim margin. How odd it feels to be here, given that just fifty-six days ago I witnessed firsthand the aftermath of the Smolensk tragedy, the resultant state funeral in Krakow, where I stood for hours along side hundreds of thousands of mourners. April feels like last night.
Marta is curious as to my feelings for Poland now after many visits. I let her know that my overwhelming learning over the past three years regarding this place is that no matter what the country and it's people have endured, Poland seems to never quit. Wiped off the map by numerous conquerors over the centuries. Completely devastated during World War II, e.g. Warsaw left with only 4% of its buildings higher than a few inches off the ground. Then absorbed into the Soviet Union. But this nation and these people keep coming back. Always Poland. Always Polish. Always returning to be free. Something in the spirit here and over the generations of time just will not quit. These people persevere.
July 3, 2010
Driving west on California's Highway 880. It is 8:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time and somewhere near Dixon, California. The sun is strong. The air, already warm, is beginning to dance its mirage. Last night I slept at ....

(to be continued)

©Lance Giroux, July 2010

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