Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Favorite Parts

I spent much of Monday watching all the pomp and circumstance of President Obama's second inauguration. I picked up CSPAN on my phone upon awakening at 6:30 am and watched the volunteers give directions to people as they arrived for the ceremony.

I followed this with pouring coffee and turning on the TV to watch closely along the parade line for Joe, my Coastie friend, who was standing in the street cordon. I strained and squinted at the appearance of every Coastie uniform to see if I recognized the face below the brim of the cap (this behavior was renewed later in the day during the parade time as well). As the President's limo reached the Capital and the news people all moved to the gathering dignitaries preparing to walk the hallway and stairwell to the Capital steps, I started to get all ferklempt (these things happen to me) as I often do when my innate, though often obscured, patriotism wells up in my chest.

I continued to check the television (and the CNN stream on my computer) throughout the day and by evening I was sitting and working at my computer with two streams from the Inauguration Ball and the Commander in Chief's Ball, waiting to catch a glimpse of the first couple doing their dancing thing.

Yes, I'm a sucker for this stuff.

Out of the whole day there were two stand out moments that grabbed me, held me, and hold me still. Moments that, for me, define the day, and not just the day, but the whole reality of what I find wonderful in this President and the way he moves through his office.

The first of these moments came at the end of the official inauguration ceremony. The President, his family, and the whole rest of the official crowd were walking back up the steps to the Capital and as he reached the top, Barack turned around to gaze out at the crowd to savor this moment and softly said, "I'll never see this again."

What was beautiful about this moment was the simple pause, and the look of what I take to be appreciation; appreciation of the moment, of the responsibility, of the opportunity, of the singular reality of an experience that will not return. It was, as Jon Stewart always closes his show, a "Moment of Zen."

There were other good moments throughout the day, particularly during the parade when it was possible to catch a glimpse of the whole Obama family as a family having fun. These were delightful moments of real humanness that it is rare to see in a president (or a candidate) without, at the same time, catching a glimpse through the bucolic scene and down into the artifice of the carefully crafted photo op.

The second moment came later in the night at the first ball appearance of POTUS and FLOTUS.

Dancing together to Jennifer Hudson's rendition of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," the two of them (as they have done on similar occasions in the past) looked like they were having their personal private moment. Looking into each other's eyes with a softness and a presence that was the closely touching human moment that was the couple's equivalent of that pause on the steps that afternoon. It was a moment of connection in the midst of a structure and a system consistently, and somewhat intentionally, void of such personal moments. It was a silent statement of "family values" without having to demand that other people's values be trampled on to shore up our own.

I know what it feels like to look at another person with that softness, that presence, that tender hope for good, and that appreciation of the great chance to feel this way. It's a great feeling and it made me happy to see it in my President and his Partner.

These two brief encounters in a day filled with everything else give me hope for the next four years. They give me hope that the humanness can be present more and that the clear tenderness this man feels in parts of his life can be translated, past the Washington jadedness, hypocrisy, and expediency to bring out a more flowing, genuine, loving and appreciative connection in the world. I know it's a lot to expect, but I see a little crack of light there in those moments. You can keep all the broad statements and grand imaginings.

Those little looks and tiny moments... THAT'S HOPE!

Thanks Mr. President.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Like What I Think Matters...

For most of the last 9 years I've been wearing this yellow LIVESTRONG bracelet. I've taken it off from time to time, but it (or one of it's cousins) has been around my wrist since I bought my first one in the initial launch at the San Francisco Nike Store back somewhere around the Tour de France in 2004.

There were a couple of years where I wore a similar bracelet dedicated to the rebuilding of New Orleans, but I always return to the iconic yellow bracelet because it is filled with meaning for me, and most of that meaning has little to do with Lance Armstrong.

Instead, it has to do with the year I spent wishing, hoping, struggling with, injecting ugly substances into, cooking for, cleaning for, and praying for the recovery of my then partner from Stage 4 breast cancer (she's doing quite well by the way, 18 years on, but no longer is she doing well with me). Making it through cancer together never guaranteed that we'd make it through life together, and in fact, it's my feeling that the cancer, and the recovery, had as much to do with the end of our relationship as anything else. Even 7 years after that breakup, the bracelet reminds me of a time when I was strong, and good, and hopeful against very ugly experiences and very big odds. 

Wearing that bracelet has also had a lot to do with myself. The feeling that I had (and still have) when wearing that little piece of rubberized plastic is one that reminds me it is possible to do battle with the entropy of life in all its forms and come out somehow surviving it, and often doing better for it. I've worn the bracelet in 5K races and four and a half hour marathons, I've worn it in business meetings and presentations, and through long periods of hard writing that I thought was going to nail me before I nailed it.

It has inspired me both because of and in spite of the achievements, and failings, of the man whose life and work created it.

So what about Lance? 

As a long time believer and supporter (the only one I know these days), I've been asked by a lot of people to explain what I think. The problem is, I really haven't had a good idea about what I think. The simple fact is, I haven't really given Lance that much thought.

What I know is that what he did (failures and all) inspired me. I became a lover of cycling through watching him roll up those hills and speed through those time trials. The fact that I now know he was doing it juiced honestly doesn't take away the awe I felt, and feel, for those achievements. I still couldn't ride up Mont Ventoux no matter how many liters of my own blood I reprocessed, or how many vials of testosterone I absorbed. 

What I know is that those rides got my ass out on the road, and inspired me to make it through the most unpleasant struggle of running 26.2 miles of rugged road. It also inspired me to keep going through other hardships when what I most wanted to do was give up. I believe that inspired millions of cancer patients and survivors, for I have met some of them, and seen many pictures of others.

These effects don't justify what Lance Armstrong did to gain the reputation and status that allowed him to have that effect, but what he did in those races, practices, hotel rooms and clinics, doesn't diminish the positive results of what others received from those achievements. I was deeply inspired, over and over again, by Lance Armstrong, and that inspiration changed my life. Now that I know his reputation was built on an edifice of lies and some significantly despicable behavior, does it change the inspiration I received and that I used to better my life?

Absolutely not!

There are people in the world, and some of them are athletes, who are bigger than the reality of their own lives. Some of them, like Lance, know this and use it to pound other people into submission. Others are more humble and present and what they do, and how they do it, is more palatable to our more hopeful natures.

Many of our heroes and sheroes work hard and achieve great things despite their failings, or sometimes through their process of overcoming their failings. Some do beautiful things without revealing such boldfaced flaws. There really are as many ways of inspiring as there are people that inspire, and it is there where the real importance of accomplishment lives.

The fault, as Shakespeare wrote, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, and so is the goodness.  The real greatness of accomplishment comes through and with the people who are inspired by the great actions of others. The real effect of inspiration is in what such people and actions inspire us to accomplish. Those effects cannot be diminished because of the failings of the "hero."

The dishonesty, corruption and ugliness of the actions of Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones (another athlete who I found inspiring), Manny Ramirez,  Bill Clinton, or even Martin Luther King Jr. doesn't change the good things that came from the less than perfect lives they lived as less than perfect human beings. The real triumph of any life is found in the inspiration that life gives to others and that inspiration and its subsequent effect is not diminished by anything another person has done, or does. We are the keepers of our own inspiration and our lives become the legacy of the actions that inspire us.

Yeah, I am disappointed to find out that what I believed about Lance Armstrong (and his team members who I most admired, George Hincapie and Tyler Hamilton) turned out not to be true, but it ain't the first time I've had such disappointments and it certainly won't be the last. All of the commentators riffing on what a horrible disappointment it all is however, just don't do anything for me, because what I take away from it all has become mine. The reality of my life is different because of the inspiration of Lance, and many other very flawed people. I do not intend to allow that inspiration to be diminished because of the rabid obsession of the diminishment news cycle, because that doesn't hurt Lance, it hurts me.

Back to my bracelets... These days (and for the last year) I've been wearing a second bracelet next to my LIVESTRONG one. That bracelet, which I picked up last December at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. reads "WHAT YOU DO MATTERS." I bought it as I was leaving the museum because it spoke to me of the fact that even in the midst of the truly horrible events that can take place in the world, it is the actions of each individual person - great or humble, nearly perfect or desperately flawed - that make a difference in what happens to us all. 

My bracelet doesn't say WHAT LANCE DOES MATTERS... It's speaking to me, and it's reminding me several times every day that WHAT I DO MATTERS. Frankly, that's all I really care about.