Friday, August 24, 2012

A Difficult Reflection on Courage

I couldn’t even look at it.

I followed the link through a tweet. I knew what it would be. Just one look would make me cry. I closed the window before it began.

It’s the Faces of the Dead slideshow and it has pictures of the first 2000 service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan who have been identified and whose families have been alerted. 

That’s 2000 families whose lives are forever changed by the irrevocable sacrifice of their fallen soldier.

And my cowardly self cannot even view their pictures.


Lately I’ve been pretty wrapped up in the personal drama playing itself out in my small world. I have been in the water, as David Foster Wallace might say. I have been convinced of the hardship of my own experience.
But I am really good at changing perspectives. Like removing colored filters from theatre lights, I can adjust the temperature and shade of the scene I’m in. 

Though sometimes I find myself dangling from the rafters, high above the stage and sometimes I forget mine is not the only stage in town, I can usually do the psychological work necessary to put things in perspective.

Adding Shadows

I am fiercely patriotic. Not in the way that I think there’s nothing wrong with the U.S.A. or in that Dixie-Chick-hating-fervor way that mistakes loyalty to one as hatred of all “other.” I am patriotic in the way that I really believe I would do anything for my country.

Ever since September 11th and even more so since we went to war, the National Anthem has brought me to tears. Not just small drips of pride but sobs.

I cry for the soldiers on that slide show. For their families. For the great loves of their lives. For the loss of what else they could become.

I didn’t join the military. I didn’t sign up and put myself in harm’s way to defend our freedoms. I believed I could serve my country by making it a better place to live.

Get Busy

And what have I done, to that end?

I have been teaching English to people who want to improve their lives through higher education. I coach and mentor young girls interested in running. Book clubs and writing clubs and running clubs and YMCAs. I have the activity-suggests-a-life-filled-with-purpose approach.

I care for my family, obey the law, and write.

Define "hero"

I am lucky enough to experience the “quandary of self-actualization” as my friend Lynn wrote. In my playhouse, I adjust the setting, the actors, and the lights. I move the plot along.

But I need to remember mine is only one such playhouse. There are countless other stages upon which significant personal dramas are occurring.

When I write about perspective I expect to be helping others step away from their immediate circumstances. Think about those other stages, those other playhouses, those other dramas of which they may not be fully aware.

Hide from nothing

It’s a tremendous gift to have the means by which to ponder such things and the security in which to do so. I am grateful for those whose physical courage has given me the freedom to exercise my psychological courage.

Experience and exposure are the shaping agents of our immortal souls. To open oneself to both is to try to live one’s fullest possible life.

I’m going to watch the slide show now.

What personal reflection have you avoided because it would challenge you? Is it your career? Your family? Your fitness?  How did you overcome that fear?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I will never regret this

As Brando raced down I-20 toward Florence I thought, “I will never regret this.”

Brando is our blue CRV. HB rode in Brando’s back seat. Five-point-harnessed, the wild curls of a doll’s red hair tangled around her fingers, an abandoned half-empty bag of fruit loops wedged between her leg and the seat, she whined, “I don’t want to go to Nana’s.”

“Someday,” I said, “when your Mama is old, you will pack up your own little girl and carry her to visit Mama. And your daughter will wail, ‘I don’t wanna go,’ and you’ll say this: It’s important.”

“I don’t wanna go,” she said again.

“It’s important,” I said.

It isn’t often that while I’m doing something I acknowledge, “I will never regret this.” On the contrary, I have frequently acknowledged the opposite while continuing ahead on an ill-fated path.

I regret exiting the dirt track at Lowe’s Motor Speedway by climbing the 20-ft fence. I regret letting a good friendship sour in one reckless, thoughtless weekend. Ancient and unaffiliated events; both fueled by too much alcohol.

Meeting Your Characters IRL

This post originally appeared on the Columbia II Writers Workshop blog. It's revived here because I think this audience would appreciate...