Thursday, April 30, 2015

Two Minutes

Long about the last week of April I become obsessed with the upcoming Kentucky Derby.  It's my  Springtime dalliance, my rite of passage, my love of thoroughbred horses that offers a convenient escape.  I think, too about the week spent in Louisville some 33 years ago now.  I've carefully pressed the sights, sounds, smells, and satisfactions of that experience so that it will last a lifetime.  So far, so good.
Yet this year feels different in so many ways.  Most likely it's the international tragedy complicated by the recent massive earthquake in Nepal and the current domestic hostility and unrest that centers around the constant battle many inner city residents have with their local police departments.
The Baltimore Orioles actually played a game yesterday with an official attendance of Zero.  The media continues to tell only parts of the stories that comprise these complicated and nuanced situations, and lost is the ongoing poverty and deprivation  that refuse to yield year after year, decade after decade.
So the trick this year is to use the "most exciting two minutes in sports" to get away, temporarily from the intensity and depression, the anger and fear, the overwhelming sense of desperation that the political and environmental disasters of the past week have wrought.

I always try to link big ideas and events that I experience.  The possibilities are sometimes challenging, but always possible.  Here we have the promise of a rebirth in this unlikely trifecta.  A renewal for people in Baltimore and Nepal and a national ritual for those of us smitten by the strength and beauty of a 3 year old colt running a mile and a quarter for the first time.  On another level, all these situations involve violence and confusion.  No less than Nobel winner John Steinbeck once called the Kentucky Derby, "the most violent two minutes in sports."   Just to clarify for those who might be less familiar with thoroughbred racing, the violence has nothing to do with whips or injuries sustained, although that is a major concern.  What Steinbeck was referring to was most likely the bumping and jockeying for position that occurs right out of the gate.  Combined with 150,000 screaming people, half of whom are inebriated, and a sound tunnel one jockey once told me was his most unforgettable recollection of riding in the race, you get the picture.
This year I'm supporting American Pharaoh.  He'll most likely be the favorite, but that's no matter.  he just might be something special.  Something to give the Triple Crown a long look.  But no matter how special, in the end, it takes a supreme amount of luck to win the Derby.  The same kind of luck to survive the randomness of a 7.8 earthquake and returning home safely at night from many parts of this nation.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Like Bookends

Last week I had the opportunity to talk to a friend from the middle school days of my life.  He found me through social media and, as it happens, we live in the same state about 3 hours apart.  It has only been about 50 years since we last spoke.
Although we did not go to the same high school, we kept some of the same middle school friends.  He happened to go to a reunion that I did not and learned where I was, hence the contact.  What a conversation we had.  Though he went to Vietnam and I resisted that war, we found we had many similar interests and that our lives had overlapped a few times in the last few decades.  The version of the person I talked to the other day was a mature, thoughtful,  survivor who had overcome many of the challenges and obstacles that accompany PTSD and the resultant consequences.  How wonderful and encouraging this was.  Probably the reason we never talked about our middle school days,the girlfriends, the teachers, the parties, the adolescent drama.

Part of the filling in involved telling each other about our parents passings and then what turns and twists our lives have taken.  There were wives we'll never meet, places we'll never share together, and some children and relatives we'll probably never meet.
A few times, throughout the hour we shared, I wanted to ask about the times we went fishing together and stayed at the cabin his folks owned near a large mountain lake in the Angeles national Forest.  It somehow didn't seem important now.
For our generation, the Vietnam War was a defining juncture.  Many of our contemporaries handled the issue differently, but talking to my old friend reinforced the notion that we all respected our choices, if not appreciated how they were right for who we were then and how much they have shaped who we are now.  Most satisfying.
My friend seems to have some inner peace now.  No doubt for the first time in his life.  He works with wood now, lives in a small semi-rural town, and has a loving wife.  50 years is a good amount of time for things to come around right.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

So Far Away

Seems like every other day last week a new video surfaced of police either shooting or using too much force on a person.  Two cases in particular saw the cell phone video of a bystander and the aerial footage from a helicopter find the news shows and daily broadcasts.  In both cases, law enforcement seems blatantly at fault.  No need for body cameras to record a man flat on his face with his hands behind his back getting kicked and wrestled to the ground by as many as 7 officers.  Same goes for a traffic stop that ends in 8 shots fired in the back.  Disturbing on many levels.  What resonates for me is that we are just now getting footage of things that have, no doubt, been going on for decades...centuries?

People who live near or beyond the other side of the tracks have known the reality of this video brutality all along.  I recall my supervisor, while a Vista Volunteer, assigning me to take a Latino man and his young son to a camping place near a lake for the weekend with no questions asked until the following Monday.  I did.  When all was revealed it turns out that the man had been beaten severely by the Houston police and was soon to testify in an upcoming lawsuit.  His lawyer was afraid he would not live to do so.  That was a reality of that time and place faced my many whose lives were deemed disposable.  Nothing surprises me anymore.  If police can plant evidence in the form of drugs or guns, they can also plant a taser in a convenient spot if need be.

All this makes me wonder about the personalities of some of these officers and what happens under stress.  While most folks would not resist arrest or even an order from a cop, it seems apparent that in many of these recent cases, it is the act of resistance, of non-compliance that triggers the brutal response.  Where is the discussion on that?  While one might argue that the resistance is a product of fear it could be further argued that the non-compliance triggers such an outrage in some officers that they over-react.  Just a theory, yet to be proved, but it certainly bears further study.
The down side of all this video footage is, of course, that we lose a few more slivers of our privacy along the way.  Over time it'll be interesting how this plays out with respect to personality formation.
The easier it becomes to communicate, the farther apart we seem to be moving.