Monday, August 09, 2010

Perseverance (Pt II)

Perseverance (continued)

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 long
Time, yes, a long, long, long ,long time before the dawn.
-David Crosby (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)

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 bladewhich cuts, i.e. a dagger. Beneath this knife stands a heart. The message? Thisheart, no matter how deeply penetrated by this dagger, will not stop beating.

(CONTINUING FROM JULY’S NEWSLETTER, the first half of which can be found

July 3, 2010
Driving west on California’s Highway 880. It is 8:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight Timeand somewhere near Dixon, California. The sun is strong. The air, already warm, is beginning to dance its mirage. Last night I slept at son Nick’s apartment in Sacramento following a live stage performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It curiously set in the 1960’s of an Orange County, California, forest, and with music. Music? (Nick, now quite the accomplished musician – piano, trumpet, xylophone, sousaphone, guitar, base, accordion - led the orchestra) Music is not the Shakespearian norm. But original songs written by Bare Naked Ladies, save one actual 60’s tune – My Green Tambourine – grace the stage. Wow – what a fun production, anything but ordinary - and great music. “That Shakespeare,” I ponder, “How long have his tales persevered?” More importantly, why have they persevered? And Nick? Wanted to quit the first day he tried trumpet as a young boy in the Petaluma youth band. But an understanding bandleader told him, “Give it another day, and let’s see what happens.” What kept Nick going for one more day?

This morning Highway 880 is my path home. Looking north I gaze across an expanse of field, hundreds acres or more of green whatever. What is that stuff, strawberries?And there smack in the midst of the field stands one man. Completely alone. At first I thought it was a scarecrow, but, nope – it’s a human being. No truck. No cart.No tractor. No bicycle. Nothing there but him. Not one other human being as far asmy eyes take me. He has a hoe in his hands and he’s working the field. He has onevery long day ahead of him. No matter what direction he turns or where he goes, the end of his work is a far off. There are no trees. There is no shade. Anyonewho’s traveled the Sacramento Valley this time of year knows that soon the air will be very hot. I wonder, “What keeps him going?”

My camera sits aside me. I should stop and take his picture, but I don’t. Something draws me on. I keep driving. I stare at him in the rear view mirrorand then, he’s gone - yet his image and that of the field remains. A thoughtreturns and whispers, “Take a picture!” I reply, “I did. It’s already inside me.”

Ten miles down the road other images appear – again inside me. Certain peoplewho inspire me. Each is dear to my life, each in his or her own way stands alonemidst their own vast expanses of projects, challenges, problems and issues. Land developer, retired school administrator, owner of a conglomerate of companies,a single mom raising two boys, a banker sans bank, a fire captain, a fellow whorents out audio/visual equipment for events, a builder of fine homes, an opsperson working in a financial planner’s office, a professor, a martial artist, a stategovernment employee, a general manager, a mechanic, a great grandmother, afellow in the tool and dye business. Each and every one of these people, over thepast three years has been slammed by the economy or health problems or by peoplewho once loved them. Each has had long moments of doubt and fear, or grief withlittle relief in sight. Yet, to a person, they move forward towards a good tomorrow. I wonder, as each face drifts through my mental workshop, “What keeps them going?”

July 4, 2010.
It’s another election day in Poland! How many will they have? And it is just two weeks now since I sat with Marta at Coffee Karma as the last election ground to ahalt. The margin is again slim, but Komorowski has been elected. I imagine howwe here in the U.S. would be if we had lost a president, a first lady, the two maincontenders for the presidency, the entire top echelon of the military leadership, aformer beloved president, many beloved clergy, and many members of congress –and then endure two unscheduled, but required, national elections within fifty-sixdays, complete with political rhetoric and in the midst of a global recession and withenormous political pressures on multiple surrounding borders. What would keep usgoing? The economy? Business as usual? There’s something more important thanthat. And could we, would we, engage in such an undertaking with the composure I witnessed in Krakow and Warsaw in April?

In 2003 when the film Touching the Void came onto the big screen George Leonardcalled to tell me that I had to see it, saying, “It’s the most powerful story of thehuman spirit I have ever seen.” I went that night to the theater. A true story.Simon Yates and Joe Simpson climb Peru’s Siula Grande. On the way down, Simpson falls and breaks his leg. Yate’s decides to risk bringing him back alive bylowering him. But then one disaster becomes another. Yate’s is forced to make afateful decision. He cuts the rope, sending Simpson to certain death. And then?Nah – why spoil it for you? Leonard was right - “It’s the most powerful story of the human spirit I have ever seen.” Rent it. See it yourself. You’ll find yourselfasking, “What kept them going?”

June 22, 2010 (reflecting back now some weeks)
Seat 37 A is mine, right next to a window on this Boeing 767. Not my requestedseat. I wanted the aisle. Yet, here I’m assigned. The gate agent informed mean hour ago, “Nothing can be done to change assigned seats.” (and she didn’teven add “sorry about that”) I surrender into my space and look through thein-flight magazine. It’s going to be a long twelve-hour flight from Frankfurtaboard today’s totally full plane. What films will I watch to occupy my journey?

Now airborne I reach to turn on the video system, and wouldn’t you know it -- ofthe hundreds of seats on this aircraft, two have malfunctioning video systems - 37 Aand 37 B. Up the aisle a passenger’s screen lights up. Morgan Freeman greets Matt Damon. The story of Nelson Mandela’s election to office (another election!) unfolds into the recent Invictus. What kept Mandela going? In prison. After the election? Hmmm.
Words my sixth-grade teacher required us to memorize float intomy consciousness.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as a pit from pole to pole,
I thanks whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody but unbowed.
I close my eyes.
Seat 37 A. Such a minor inconvenience. Certainly it is not a night that is coveringme nor is it a pit from pole to pole. But I have had those kinds of nights, and I haveventured deep into the pits. You too?

July 19, 2010.
Seattle. I arrived home from Egypt two days ago. Yet, here I am driving up I-5 through crowded traffic to Montlake Boulevard where sits the University of Washington Medical Center. I need to spend time with my friend John Pace before I hop a flight back home. Too many time zones the past few weeks, and I miss my exit. I call John, “Sorry. I got lost. I’ll be right there.” He’s waiting patiently for me. Not as a patient, but as a visitor himself. And who is John visiting? Her name is Rashmi. She, a doctor and his bride of many decades, is now a patient. He’s been visiting her daily from morning until late at night for over four weeks now, while she’s been here in a mostly non-conscious state surrounded by tubes and probes andmachines and attendants. Things look bleak.

After a while, John and I walk from her room to the coffee shop to spend an hour alone together. What do you talk of at a time like this? Things? Life? Memories?Love? Rashmi. Yep. All of that, and aircraft, too. John’s an engineer and a private pilot. We’ve done some flying together. He’s tired, but far from being too tired to talk of planes. How much hope is there in the world? Who knows? How much love is there in John for Rashmi? More than can fill this hospital, that’s for sure.

Somewhere in the midst of our conversation he offers, “You know, hospitals are interesting places to study people. In the morning you can read hope and good wishes in the way they carry their bodies. By evening their energy is drained, and you can see that too. When I first brought Rashmi me here I would read and work sudoku to pass the time. But that got old and boring. Doing nothing takes a lot of energy. Now my days are full. I have all day, every day, seven days a week, to wish good things, to pour ‘white light’ on all these people – the sick, the nurses, the doctors, the workers. They don’t know I’m doing that, but that’s what I do.” I look in his eyes. He’s tired. But not too tired to love. He tells me that of his favorite quotes is from Winston Churchill “Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.” What keeps John Pace going?

July 22, 2010.
It’s early morning. Petaluma is at sixty degrees Fahrenheit with fog, odd for late July. I’m home watering new grass that was but seed five weeks ago when an airplane took me from Vienna to Warsaw and Karma Coffee on ul. Zbawiciela. I fumble in my pocket for my phone. Gotta call Ray and Bettsy. Ray’s cell phone prompt speaks, “At the tone please leave your message.” I’ve been trying to reach Ray Crawford almost daily and getting the same thing. It’s an important time to check in with him. He’s a West Point class/company mate and best friend of mine.A groomsman at my wedding in ‘72. Not long after that the first born of both our broods popped into the world – exactly twenty days apart. Hilary, theirs. A July baby, she grew through some tough times as a young woman and became, by her early thirties, a great mom and a nurse. Peter, mine. A June baby, he grew through some wild times with Russian friends, studying everything Russian, including Stolichnaya, to become by his early thirties, a great dad and a financial adviser. Ray and Bettsy and I have stayed in contact across continents no matter what – including pain. The past ten days are cloud covered. Not the physical airborne Petaluma fogkind.

Ray didn’t answer so I call Bettsy. Their house phone rings. “Hi Betts.” “Hey, Lance, how are you?” “OK -- but that’s my question for you, ya know.” Long pause. She talks. I listen. And of what does she talk speak? Hanging in there. Pain. Loving your kids. Dealing with disappointment. Anger. Loving the guy or gal in your life (Rays pecifically) even if you don’t at times agree with them. Loving life itself even when you don’t like what it has to offer. Listening. Seeing the best in others. Trusting.Coping.

Twelve months ago this past week Ray and Bettsy lost Hilary. A former boyfriend took her life, and then he decided to make it his own last day too. The kind of “shots fired” horror story you see as “live breaking news” on CNN. A young nurse from McLean, Virginia, that you’ll never know or meet. Swat teams. Police barriers.Cordoned off streets. Ambulances. Twenty-four-hour standoff. Life support system. Hostage negotiating team. Horrible. Sad. Surreal. On CSI it’s fiction. But fiction this wasn’t. When it’s real like this, we find ourselves (at least I did on July 14, 2009) saying, “This can’t be true!”

Bettsy continues. “You know what?” “What?” I ask. “Hilary was someone who really could hang in there.” “Tell me.” “She wanted to be a nurse and in her early thirties finally made it through nursing school, and then she failed the stateboard exams. I may have stopped right there, and so would many others. But she wouldn’t give up. She took the boards again and failed, and again and failed, and again. She hung with it - kept taking the test.” Then she added, “I still have her entire voicemail on my mobile phone after he last test.” “What did she say?” I queried. “Just two words: ‘I passed.’ And then hung up.” Sweet.

Ray Crawford and Bettsy Reckmeyer. They were so much unlike each other when they met in 1970. They still are. They started as friends. They became lovers. They got married. They’ve had some incredibly good times. They’ve had some unbelievable bad times. The past twelve months have been a rough go, and the crappy economy doesn’t even come close. What keeps them going?

What keeps you going? In the face of the adversity? It’s worth remembering what that is from time to time.I’m not talking about the keeping going that is blindly obsessive, or the keepinggoing that is some memorized motivational jargon. Rather, the stuff that’s truly inthere. The Constructive Why upon which you stake your existence.

Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason,you sing. For no reason, you acceptthe way of being lost, cutting loose from all else and electing a world where you go where you want to.

Arbitrary, a sound comes, a reminder that a steady center is holding all else. If you listen, that sound will tell you where it is and you can slide your way past trouble.

Certain twisted monsters always bar the path -- but that's when you get going best, glad to be lost,learning how real it ishere on earth, again and again.

Do I feel like quitting now and then? Oh, yea. Then someone or something showsup to remind me: small actions coupled with good reasons really do matter. Thesereasons and actions create stories, sometimes legends, that sustain us.

July 23, 2010.
My body is tired but vibrantly pulsing and alive. I lie flat face up on the Two Rock aikido dojo mat. It’s 7:30 pm. Different people, most younger than me, have been throwing me around this room for well over an hour. Time for class to end. Richard, my sensei and friend, tells us, “Lay down. Take a full breath, and as you let it out close your eyes and feel your body relax into the floor.” The twenty-some of us here this evening take this moment to reflect. Soon we will leave and go our separateways – to be alone or with family or lovers. Richard holds a piece of paper and,as he often does, begins to read a poem. Tonight’s meditation? William Stafford’s Cutting Loose.

My eyes are closed. My breath is slow. A soft voice deep within whispers, “Perseverance. The heart cut by a dagger, yet it continues to beat.”

© Lance Giroux July 2010

1 comment:

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