The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
In the dressing room with three blouses, two pants of the same style, different color, you stand with your back to me, quickly remove your shirt revealing one fashionably tiny maroon bra. Reaching back you hand me the shirt to hold. Still carrying the warmth of your body, slightly pungent smell of the day, your sweat and coffee, I fight the urge to press it to my face and breathe.
“The red one first,” you say. An unsubtle color, but one you often wear on your lips, a party dress, that cleverly thick headband. Arms over your head I can count ribs and scars, then feel the bulk of my body, covered in this winter coat. I slide it off and hang it next to yours, making the room feel smaller. I sit back down on the bench and you look at me, red shirt on, arms out with a what do you think smile in your eyes. “Swell” I say, “but I think I would prefer the black,” and you nod . ” Now the jeans.”
I have traced your hips with my eyes, fingers, lips. I know them as I know most of your body, most of your heart. Yet in this room, with too bright lights and the left behind residue of so many people, so many lives, they become brand new. I reach out to touch you, but pull back, wondering if I still fit, if we still fit. You are still you, standing in worn, yellow cotton underwear, trying to decide on the darker or lighter wash, the former always fitting tighter, but I feel changed.
You lower yourself to my lap, facing me. As usual I look at your mouth, always impressed by its unintentionally seductive nature. You speak words but I am not listening, just waiting for something I cannot yet make sense of, anything to break through this heaviness weighing everything down. You wrap your arms around my neck, pressing me to your chest, my lips at your sternum. I feel you kiss the top of my head. I love you for trying.
The third thing to remember about Marnie: She is a map of discovery.
When she was in seventh grade, Marnie discovered the four tiny lumps in the shape of an S, starting just below her right shoulder blade. It was after gym class. Forty girls huddled around lockers, towels wrapped tight as they made their way from the rows of metal cages down towards the shower room. Each of them walking past the teacher, clip board in hand, marking off the names as they went in, checking for wet hair, wet arms, wet legs as they went out. Marnie took her turn, hurried up to the shower head and turned on the water. Making sure she was facing away from everyone, she quickly opened her towel and stepped forward. The cold water smashing into her chest and stomach, then equally as fast, she closed the towel and stepped back.
As she hurriedly wrapped up, tucking an edge tight under her right arm, she felt them. Four tiny bumps, each a distinct shape. She stopped and ran her fingers over them again. One was larger, more raised and oval shaped. A second felt near flat and she could not quite make out its edges. The third seemed perfectly round, a tiny bubble, like a blister. The fourth she could barely reach but it seemed tear drop shaped, wider near the top and decreasing as it descended, like it was pointing at something down her back.
In the mirror over the sink, she turned to get a clearer view. Putting her fingers over them, she could feel each one clearly, but removing her hand she could not see them in her reflection. Back at her locker she found her glasses and went again to see if she could see the marks. Still nothing. They were completely transparent, her skin appearing smooth to the sight. But they were there. She could feel them.
Later than night at home in the dark of her room, she removed her nightshirt and again traced the marks. Without the fear of becoming exposed to the girls in gym class, she could reach them with ease. The fourth extended farther than she thought. The tail extending like a path. Instead of inspiring fear in her, these invisible things brought her new found strength. They made her unique in a way she enjoyed.
In her mind they became islands, real places to be explored. They were her secrets. She knew they were there. They could be felt through her clothes and she often touched them during school or when she felt nervous or afraid. They were there to comfort her, inspire her. She shared them with no one until the day someone else noticed them, until someone else looked at her with surprise as they discovered what could only be felt, never seen. Someone else who understood.
After the events of the past few weeks where armed police in riot gear used pepper spray, tear gas and batons to clear out unarmed protesters, I have been wanting to get on my soap box and rant away.
I almost wrote a curse filled, didactic epistle immediately after the incident at UC Davis. Regardless of your political leanings, your agreeing or disagreeing with the OWS protests, Spraying large amounts of bright red pepper spray in the faces of students sitting on the ground, arms linked, cannot be viewed as anything but barbaric and wrong. I am still angry, still want to pretend I don’t carry my own hypocrisy around and shout at the top of my lungs in raw emotion.
I guess getting older, being wrong over and over again has taught me at least this: Never argue or speak out of anger. You will nearly always end up regretting what you say, having to apologize or admit one or more errors in logic or fact.
I have been reflecting, thinking, stewing and pondering how best to approach this topic and I think I know what it is I want to say. Where has our compassion for each other gone? Did we ever have any to begin with? Are we only able to show concern for those we know? Those we love? Do they even get the benefit of our attempts at empathy (which is another topic for another day, empathy)?
I do not excuse myself from this. When the Tea Party were out, wandering the streets, waving signs and guns, I found it easy to dismiss them, their message as I did not agree with it. I admit to being frightened by their violent rhetoric (though that is all it was, I have yet to find incidents of actual violence), and their ease at which they would speak in anger and make reference to violent revolution. I found it very easy to mock them, make fun of their poorly spelled signs, the sexual innuendo regarding tea bagging. I let any understanding or compassion I had fly right out the window.
When I hear or read people say or write how these college kids, the people in Oakland, deserved what they got, I have to wonder, what have we become and more terrifying, where are we going?
I was not born in 1968 when, during the Democratic National Convention, when the police cleared Grant Park under the guise of protecting the leaders of the nation from assassination. But I had hoped we as a country were beyond this type of violence towards our own.
The current political climate of shifting spectrum, from left to right, then back is partially to blame. But I see this as a matter of perception. Nothing has really changed in the last 20 years. We elect a democrat and the republicans block everything, blame all the issues on failure of the left to act or see the world the way they see it, then the elections come and we shift. Now it is the Republicans who are invective, picking on the poor while catering to the rich. But this is all deception. These politicians have the same agenda, spend the same money from the same large corporations (who are now people, according to the Supreme Court), are part of the wealthy that have run this nation from the beginning. We fight among ourselves, blaming the government, blaming the corporations, forgetting they are one in the same. I am guilty of putting too much trust in government and I know plenty who trust capitalism too much.
Is this fixable? Perhaps. I wonder if it is a sense of compassion for our fellow humans that has been dulled to the point that what we as individuals believe and want is the only concern we allow. I am interested in what you think.
And sorry for the moments of preaching. In the end I am still me.
For the majority of my life, I have enjoyed sports. Some of them I was reasonably good at, though I never practiced much or put much effort into trying to hone my skills or improve my weaknesses. The sport that comes to mind is basketball. As a young boy, I was often taller and quicker than most of my friends, which allowed me to win most of my one on one basketball games. This continued until I was in my early teens when I found myself in my first gym class in junior high. Naturally competitive, I thought I could easily dominate the majority of kids I would encounter as I had through my childhood. I was mistaken. Most of the other kids were either better or meaner than I was. Being under 100 pounds and very fearful of physical confrontations, the aggressive kids sucked the fire right out of me. I began to be afraid of my opponents for the first time in my life. In fact, for most of seventh and eighth grade, I hated playing basketball at school. Rather than use this new challenge as motivation to get better, be stronger, I allowed it to crush my spirit and relegate me to mediocrity.
Still, I had some talent for the sport and as I grew older, the desire to play moved from something that I did after school or on weekends towards something I could not stop thinking about. I played every chance I got, watched every game I could and it began to matter to me that I was fearful of better players. That being said, I didn’t really practice. I just played. That was enough to make me better at some things, but when I played, I used my speed and quickness to get lay-ups rather than improving what I was weak at, namely defense and outside shooting.
I tried out for the high school team as a freshmen and a sophomore, with improving results. Cut after the first day as a freshmen, I lasted three days as a sophomore, but fell apart as the competition got more difficult and the drills we were running were completely new to me. In my junior year, relying on quickness, speed, and a coach that saw those things and (in retrospect) saw someone that could be held up as a surprise pick, making sure the notion of a pre-selected team could be debunked, I made the team. I played three minutes of varsity that year. I averaged 1.8 points per game and .5 rebounds in Jr. varsity games. Though, for the first time in my life I spent time trying to get better. I shot all the time, worked on shooting from various places, continuing to shoot from one spot until I made three in a row. I tried to improve my footwork and my movement on defense. I could feel myself getting better, understanding the game more. Unfortunately for me, this improvement was not enough to stay on the team as a senior, even though I knew I was twice the player I had been the year before.
After getting cut, I started to leave basketball behind. I slowly lost the passion for it and now, while I still enjoy the sport, I have not played competitive games in years. I think it would shock my younger self to see this. Though I think all of our younger selves would have a hard time with what most of us have become. I don’t regret letting basketball slip from my life. I filled that spot with many more things and people that mean just as much or more. I do regret not working harder. Like most people, I wish I could have had a different perspective on things, on the transitory nature of being a teenager, being able to understand how short of a time that really is. I have no illusions that I was skilled enough to be a professional athlete, but I should have been a better high school player.
In my 40’s I have found something I am passionate about again. I have fallen in love with cycling. For the first time in my life I understand what runners talk about when they say they crave running. I always despised running and never worked to get good enough at it to experience a second wind, or a perfect groove where feet and arms and lungs found that soothing rhythmic pace. I do though, finally know what that feels like on a bike. I practice it, push myself, work to be better and stronger, faster than I was the week before. Now I need to be clear, I am not great at riding. I often get passed by better riders and I will never be a great cyclist, but it matters to me that I never quit a hill, that once I start a ride, I am going to finish the ride I set out for myself. This surprises me immensely. It was always easy for me to just quit something if it got hard. If I was tired, I rested. If my lungs hurt or burned, I would slow down, stop, resign myself to failure.
This September as I rode the Heber Valley Century Ride, I experienced what I am seeing as my defining moment in cycling. I had ridden close to 85 miles of the ride. My legs were tired, I was low on water and low on energy. I came through an area of rolling hills, using the downhill to recover. I then remembered I still had to climb the mountain up towards the Jordanelle reservoir overlook before completing the ride. The back side is not as steep as the way up, but it is longer. Also, when you have been riding difficult terrain all day, another three miles of straight climbing can be deflating. I looked ahead and saw the line of cyclists climbing up the first stretch of the hill and thought I was done. I didn’t see how I could manage the climb the way I was feeling. Still, I had to go up and over, even if that meant I would allow myself breaks to recover.
I started to climb and my legs tired very quickly. The usual burn of acid build up was replaced by a heavy numbness, almost as if my legs were asleep. I was pedaling hard, however, and in the first 500 yards, found myself passing five or six riders. At that point I had to shift to an easier gear, and slow down. I could hear my pulse and feel my breathing but I rode on. I went by three more riders and reached a spot where the road leveled off a bit. Almost out of energy and really riding on will alone, I continued to climb. I wanted to stop. I needed to stop. I could hear my brain saying, “no one will know, no one will even care,” but I knew I would know. This moment was what all the other rides, all the other training had been working towards. I had climbed canyons that made my heart hurt, I had ridden for miles, my rear end sore and my body dehydrated and sunburned just so I could be ready for this moment, when I would either do what I always did, and fold, or try something new- push through, ignore my pain and previous failures and succeed! I put all the pain and tiredness right in front of me. I did not try to hide it. I embraced it instead and kept going. One mile turned to two and then three. I was rounding the overlook and heading down the other side. The last ten miles flew by. I was elated. When I finished the ride, I stood by my car, alone and let the thrill of completion wash over me. I don’t want to compare riding 100 miles to running a marathon because running 26 miles is MUCH harder than riding 100. But I do feel a huge sense of pride in completing it. I rode two century rides this past summer. Next year the goal is three official and one that I plan and ride on my own. I want to be stronger and better next year. Who is with me?