I have been irritable all day. This morning I saw road rage where it probably didn’t exist, I dropped a bag of apples at the grocery store and was sure it was someone else’s fault, I was suddenly no longer amused by the radio coverage of the political scene, but enraged. Random thoughts of violence are roaming my mind like predators. Where is my usual tolerant, easy-going self?
I believe I was kidnapped by a rough cut documentary I saw last night. “Once a Marine” is a brilliant one-man creation by Stephen Canty, a veteran of the Afghan war. Having enlisted when he was 17 and serving two deployments, he found himself back home, like so many veterans – past and present, and future, I’m afraid – depressed, angry, confused, and misunderstood.
In an effort to understand himself and what had happened to him, he toured the country visiting and interviewing guys he had served with. These interviews are the centerpiece of the film, along with footage shot during firefights by fellow Marines. Canty lets the vets speak for themselves, and because he is the one interviewing them, drinking beer with them, reminiscing with them, they are remarkably honest. To see these trained “warriors” struggling to find words to describe the current battle they are waging as returning vets was so moving. Whether or not they found the right words, their courage, their vulnerability, their determination to communicate said it all.
A couple of weeks ago I scrolled through my 50 some emails of the day and was struck by one from Crowdrise. The subject line read “Have you saved an animal from extinction?” It was a 24 hour emergency campaign to save the Greater Bamboo Lemur in Madagascar. I glanced, saw there was video, and hit delete. The world is too big, I told myself, and I know too much already about the suffering of humans, animals and the planet itself. But the question has hung in my mind and led me to think about activism. How do we choose what to spend our time and energy on? How can we be most effective?
If I ask myself Have I saved an animal from extinction? the answer is obviously “no.” Would I like to? Of course. How should I choose among the thousands of animals that need saving? One from the World Wildlife Fund’s top ten? The one that is the closest to home, the most exotic, the cutest? Or, the one that appears in my inbox? What should I do to save it? Take a trip to Madagascar or Alaska or wherever? Send money? Watch the video and click “like,” instantly bombarding all my Facebook friends with the same problem?
It was this time of year, several years ago (thank God), the most perfect spring day, bright, clear, warm, peaceful.
All was right with the world, and Roberto and I had come back from the Farmers Market with flowers to plant. We walked into the back yard and found a good spot under a big pinon tree. One of the plastic pots of flowers I was holding slipped onto the ground with a small thud. I leaned down to pick it up, and as I did I heard movement in the tree above us. I looked up, anticipating a bird, maybe a cat, maybe a dead branch. Roberto looked up, too. In perfect unison we inhaled sharply.
“Oh my God!” he exhaled.
My first sounds were not intelligible. In the tree, moving horizontally, very fast was a huge, pink snake. It shot from one tree to the next, trying to escape my shrieks which had found words.
“It’s pink! It’s pink!” was all I could say. I was frozen, wailing, “It’s pink! It’s pink!”
The snake flew from limb to limb and finally landed on the ground a few yards away. By consensus, we later agreed, it had been at least 8 feet long, relatively thick, about 6 inches in diameter, and very, very pink, as pink as bubblegum. Back at the scene, it was now rising up off the ground four or five feet, like a cobra weaving and lunging at branches trying to escape.
“2.5 million dollars! You’ve got to be kidding!” I could hear my husband on the phone in the kitchen. I jumped out of my desk chair and hustled in to see what was going. Yes, “hustle” is the operative word.
“Wait I have to tell my wife. Lucy! We just won 2.5 million dollars!” I looked at his face. He was having a good time. I looked at the number on his cell phone display screen, It was an 876 area code. Kingston, Jamaica. “She is so excited!” I leaned toward his phone, now on speaker, and made excited noises.
A slightly accented voice on the other end said that all we had to do was send $500 to a charity via Western Union, and he would make sure that the money was on its way to us immediately. “And,” he added, as if this was just because we were such nice people, “you will also receive a 2016 Mercedes Benz, a gold one!” I made swooning noises, and Roberto ratcheted up his excitement and disbelief. “Yes, yes, my friend,” our benefactor went on, “The car will come to you tomorrow on a UPS truck, and the driver will also have the check for 2.5 million dollars, and he will take you to the bank so you can deposit it.”
Much of my work as a mediator involves the question of who owns what. Who owns the water in the river? How much can they divert and at what time during the year, even during the day? These are conflicts that can lead to blows and/or end up in court. Who owns the right to a piece of public land and for what purpose? This raises questions of who is the public – ranchers, loggers, hikers, birdwatchers? — and how multiple users can share the resource without clashing.
But there are other kinds of property clashes that are more thorny and for me more intriguing.
Around 1990 I facilitated a meeting that I still remember vividly because of the passion and the honesty on both sides. It’s funny how I can forget glorious moments of technical prowess on one side of the table or a critical legal argument that swung the day. What sticks with me are human encounters like this simple discussion between National Park Service archaeological staff and several Native American tribes. The Park Service wanted to talk openly in a safe environment with tribal representatives about legislation that was working its way through Congress. It was the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, now known as NAGPRA. Tribes had been lobbying for decades for the right to determine the final disposition of skeletal remains, cultural artifacts and sacred objects of all kinds found on public lands and put in the curatorial hands of federal agencies. These items were taken from their homelands and displayed in museums, visitor centers and universities all around the country. Now it seemed there would be a legal process for their return. The Park Service wanted to better understand how this could be done.
My post last month thanking Holly Holm for her “powerful kick to the head” brought different reactions from men and women. Of course there were exceptions (as you see in the comments following the post), but in general the reaction of those whose paths I crossed fell into two camps. Men were amused and a little titillated I think. “I didn’t know you were into kick boxing! I better watch out,” with a feigning block of the head, was the gist of it. Women on the other hand were critical that I praised a woman for trying to emulate a man, especially the less attractive aspects of what they consider manliness – brutality.
I was surprised. Both kinds of readers seemed to overlook my point – that when we are confronted with horror at the hands of fellow humans (as in terror attacks), some of us, me included, have a deep instinct to lash out and clobber those brutalizers. Holly offered me that vicariously.
But did I miss something? Is a female mixed martial artist trying to be like a man? Should women somehow aspire to a higher, more civilized way of relating to each other, of expressing ourselves? (For that matter, shouldn’t we all aspire to that?) I thought about it a lot, and came to this conclusion: Holly Holm loves to compete (more…)
OK, I’m going to lose some of you, hopefully not for good. Just bear with me. I think there’s something important here, although I’m not quite sure what it is.
Living in New Mexico, I have been following Holly Holm for years. She is what they call a mixed martial artist, and at 135 pounds, she competes in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Bantam Division. An Albuquerque native, she was trained as a boxer – including kick boxing – and is known as the “Preacher’s Daughter” in fighting circles. I have had a soft spot for this tough as nails athlete because of her straightforward, honest demeanor, and because she cries a lot. At almost every press conference or pre- or post- fight interview she cries – because she loves her supporters so much, because she really hopes she can do well and make everyone proud, because she is thinking about her family, or for no seeming reason except that her emotions are close to the surface. I cry a lot, too, and I have always identified with this weepy warrior.
On November 14, the day after the terrorist attacks in Paris, Holly took on the world UFC champion Ronda Rousey in Melbourne, Australia. I saw her interviewed before she left, fighting back (more…)
We just returned from 18 days in Japan. My last blog was a highlight (or should I say lowlight) of our last visit there in 2010. Blessedly this trip was full of good health, plus outstanding food, beautiful scenery and the world’s most gracious people. It was one of those experiences that is so packed with sensory overload that it is hard to know what to say when someone asks “How was your trip?” Fabulous, of course, but so much more. A flood of sights, sounds, smells washes over me. A host of faces smile at me.
So, here are some glimpses.
BELONGING: Our daughter-in-law is Japanese. She grew up in Hiroshima, and her family (four generations) live there in a new two-story house in a neighborhood not far from the train station and the new baseball stadium. Hiromi’s grandma, Riuko Takazawa, a teacher and well-known painter, lived in a traditional, tile-roofed, soji-screened house, and when it was scheduled for destruction in the path of urban renewal, she put her (tiny) foot down and refused to sign the city’s permission paper. They begged and cajoled, and (more…)
In my August post I reflected on the kindness of strangers with a couple of stories. And because the subject is so worthy, here is a dramatic example from 2010.
In 2010 my husband and I joined a group of high school students going to Bali to study art. After a month of music, painting, puppet making and dance –as well as sweating profusely and slapping mosquitoes –we headed for home, stopping in Japan for a few days. Our first morning there my husband woke with a fever of 103 and a full body rash. The hotel had a thermometer but no doctor. As the fever neared 104 we hailed a cab for the Hiroshima City Hospital. I had frantically pieced together shujinwa byoki des — my husband is sick — from my pocket dictionary and blurted it out to the cab driver, who took one look at us and stepped on the gas.
In the large, orderly waiting room, we were the only Caucasians. Roberto was a sight, lobster-red and wild-eyed. Staff and patients politely averted their eyes. A nurse led us to the lab for blood work, and after filling several tubes, she withdrew the needle and pressed a gauze pad on the site. Roberto bent his arm and held the gauze in place until she motioned that he could take it off. But when he straightened his arm the gauze pad, red and soggy, fell onto the floor, and a fountain of blood squirted in the air. I was going to laugh until I looked at the nurse. Her eyes were wide with fear. She applied new gauze and whisked us upstairs where a bed and IV waited in room 575. (more…)
[We took our grandsons to see Inside Out, the recent Pixar movie. It was entertaining with a good message about the value of our different selves. I was reminded of a device I invented years ago to help explain myself to myself — described below. I call it the Bus Lecture.]
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Maybe it will help you sometime. This is the way it works. Imagine you are a bus – not on a bus, but you are the bus. You can be whatever kind of bus you want. You might choose an ancient Blue Bird school bus, now part of the Guatemalan bus system, chugging up hills, puffing blue smoke, grinding gears, festooned inside with silken fringes, Virgin Marys, Mickey Mouses, and lots of ignored signs about not standing in the aisles or talking to the driver. Or, you may be a Greyhound Scenicruiser, with big high stairs, air conditioning, a lavatory in the back, and seats that recline with that material like a very, very short crew cut. Or, you may be a private coach, like Willie Nelson has, a huge van equipped with everything, including beds. Or maybe it’s a good, solid bus from the Transit System, reliable, clean, swift, efficient, with plenty of ads to read on the ceiling above the seats, and environmentally responsible, running on natural gas or even electricity. My only advice is that you choose a roomy bus. A mini van will not do. Trust me.