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15 Minutes

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A long time ago, in a lifetime far, far away…I was 14 years old.  It was an unusually warm, October day during my Freshman year in High School.  I was a cheerleader and we were practicing on the football field.  I distinctly remember being hot wearing the white, short-sleeve, wool sweater with the big blue “R” on it.  It was snug, and scratchy – being wool – and fairly uncomfortable.  We had been warned by our coach not to wash the sweaters or skirts, or to get them soaking wet, ever, or they would shrink to a Barbie doll size and we’d have to pay for them.  They could only be dry-cleaned.  They were cute, old-school uniforms…complete with pleated white and blue upper-thigh-high skirts and yes…saddle shoes.  Boy, how I hated those clown shoes.

I only lived about five blocks from the school, and three blocks from the football field.  Practice that day was right after school and it was still fairly light outside when it ended.  I should have been home within a few minutes, but I had forgotten one of my books in my locker.  I ran back to the school, got my book, and walked out.  It had been a really beautiful day.  It was one of those Fall afternoons when the nearly setting sun glowed enormous and orange, and the warmth made the scent of the season’s change hang potently in the air.  It was my favorite season.

But in the ten minutes it took for me to run back to school, retrieve my book and walk out again – thick, dark, puffy clouds had gathered low in the sky.  I had no coat, no umbrella and the raindrops were beginning to fall.  Huge, round, cold raindrops.

Before I even reached the street it began to pour.  A hard, steady fall of cartoonishly-splashy drops.  I started to run.  And panic.  I was carrying my math book, and even though the very word “math” made my muscles tighten in tandem with heart-palpitating dread, I didn’t want my book to be ruined.

However, the real panic was reserved for my cheerleading uniform.

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My coach, well she was an…odd woman.  She was also my English teacher.  I didn’t much care for her, and she didn’t much care for me.  She was hard on me both in class and in practices.  She made “examples” of me in class, and not in a good way.  The most recent talking-down from her had come in class when she made me stand up and display my hands in order to show everyone that nail polish should never be chipped and old-looking like mine was.  Another was when she read one of my journal entries to the class as an example of “how not to write”.  She made us write in those things every, damn day.  The horror.  And one day she asked us to write about what animal we’d most like to be and why.

I felt like she was sitting at home drunk and thinking up crazy shit for us to write about and it annoyed me.  I’d been a “writer” literally my whole life, so I wrote what I thought was a brilliant thesis on how I’d be a “seal”, and explained why.  It was ridiculous, albeit I felt very well-supported and elaborated upon.

She knew I was writing it as a joke, and a joke on her at that.  Still, she couldn’t prove it.  What animal would you be…puh-leeze…so juvenile. Regardless of my convictions as to her lack of teaching skills, she then had me read it in front of the class.  Everyone laughed at the flowery language I used to describe how much I’d enjoy having warm blubber, eating live fish and swimming simultaneously, being able to dive to great depths with a single breath and how I felt in a past-life I might have been one.  She told the class it was disingenuous, it hadn’t come from the heart.  What did she know?  Maybe I really LOVED seals.  Eh…she rightly called me out.  I rolled my eyes and couldn’t have cared less.  I liked making people laugh so it was a win-win for me:  they laughed and she couldn’t embarrass me.  So…we had that kind of relationship.

Still, I was a good girl, and my uniform couldn’t get soaking wet.  Or she’d have my ass.

**************************

I crossed the campus and reached the street.  My heart was beating wildly, I was panicking.  I could feel the uniform clinging to me with its scratchy wooliness.  I couldn’t see any cars or people on the street at all.  It was like everyone had advance notice of the torrential downpour but me.  I ran and ran, thinking to myself that the less soaking wet it got the better.  I ran through puddles I tried in vain to avoid, then slipped and almost killed myself trying to jump over one up onto a curb.  My meticulously permed and then blow-dried-to-perfection hair was now just long, wet curls.  I was whining aloud periodically…”Shit!…oh come on…Shit!”.

I ran two blocks that way.  So scared of what would happen to my uniform, my book, that I’d get in trouble, that my parents would have to pay for new ones.  When I got to the beginning of the third block…I stopped at the park which still exists at the end of the street I grew up on, close to the football field.

I just stood there.  Breathing heavily.  Book held loosely in my right hand down at my side.  I brushed the drenched hair from my forehead, put my left hand on my hip and leaned on my right leg.  I remember it all so clearly.  Then I shook my head, leaned forward and yelled out “HAH!”  I think it was to the Gods.

Then…I let go.  I just had to let it go…the stress and panic of ruining my book and my uniform.  There was nothing I could do about it.  I had no control.  I simply had to let it go.  And when I did I felt so, incredibly…happy.

The rain was cold but I wasn’t.  I felt warm and I felt liberated.  I was alone on the street, possibly in all the world; just me and the rain and everything else that ever was.

I ran some more, toward nothing really.  Not toward home or school or shelter of any kind.  I walked in circles.  It suddenly felt so good to be drenched and free of my immediate worries.  I felt strong.  I began jumping around.  I jumped with both feet into a puddle sending mud and muck up my legs, inside of my hideous shoes.  I laughed out loud.  I yelled aloud at no one, and no one could hear me.  I felt powerful.  I wiped the rain away from my eyes and realized I was breathless from laughter.

I stood in front of the park and looked down my street with its big orange-leaved maples hanging over on either side touching at their tops to create a beautiful tunnel.  And then I walked…straight down the middle of the pavement.  No people, no one.  I felt free.  I carried my book close to my chest with my right hand and I swear to you I could not stop giggling.  I zig-zagged back and forth between each side of the street, up onto the sidewalk and back to the middle of the street.  No one was watching me.  No one could hear me.  I was alone, and I loved it.  I walked back to the park and then started to run again.

Mid-way down the first of two blocks toward my home I stopped and leaned over with hands on my knees, book under my right armpit, to catch my breath.  Water was running off of my face and the back of my neck in a torrent.  The pelting water from above was loud…I couldn’t hear anything but its pounding on the ground and parked cars on the street around me.  It felt like minutes, but in probably only a few seconds I lifted my head and looked up, still breathing hard.

There was a familiar car right in front of me.  I hadn’t heard it approach at all.  It had stopped and not hit me, which was nice.  I didn’t flinch.  I didn’t stand up.  I squinted through the sheet of water and insanely fast-moving windshield-wipers to see if I could determine who was driving it.  It was my Mom.  She beeped and held her hands up as if to say “Get in the car!”

I knew she or my Dad would come looking for me.  Still, I didn’t want anyone poking through this bubble I was floating in.  I walked to the passenger side window and she leaned over and slowly rolled it down.

“Hi!”  I exclaimed, smiling.

“Oh my God, get in the car!” she yelled.

“No…please…please.  Let me just run home.  It’s okay.  I want to.” I pleaded.

My Mom sighed, irritated that water was pouring into the car.

“What?  No, you’ll get soaked…and sick!”

I shrugged and said “Too late.”

I expected my mother, usually very forceful when it came to protecting my health, to protest and demand that I get inside.  But she didn’t.

She paused and said, “You’re crazy.  But okay.”

I love her so much for that.

I smiled and walked past her car as she slowly drove the opposite way.  I turned and watched her round the corner and drive out of sight.

Then I ran again.  I kept going until I got to the grade school across the street from my house.  I walked up onto the black-top of the school yard and looked West.  As torrential downpours are wont to do, they come on hard and fast…and abruptly end.  The rain was slowing and it was clear with an orange glow on the horizon.  It made me feel sad.  I didn’t want it to stop.  I didn’t want the moment to end.

I turned and looked at my yellow-bricked house with the crab apple tree in front.  I tilted my head.  It looked a little different to me somehow.  Smaller.  Suddenly…impermanent.  As the rain subsided to a drizzle, I crossed the street and went inside.

************************

All told, from leaving my school to walking through my front door, it was about fifteen minutes of my life.

But it was the first time I remember having the feeling of surrendering to a higher power, of having no choice but to let go of expectations and fear and consequences.  It was the first time I remember truly feeling free, and feeling alone in the world.  It was the first time I remember feeling peaceful and joyous amidst “chaos”.

There have been countless, much more important and life-changing fifteen minutes I’ve lived through.

But of all the fifteen minutes in all of my life, I remember very few with such clarity.

It was fifteen minutes of nothing.  But it meant everything.

What I wouldn’t give right now, nearly 29 years later, to be able to achieve that letting-go moment once again.

I’ve thought of that afternoon many times during the course of my life.  It’s stayed with me.  In some small way, it began to change how I viewed my life and my place in the world from that point forward.  I felt bigger, less afraid.  More…grown-up.  And it reinforces for me to this day that sometimes the smallest things make the biggest difference.

I will always encourage my children to experience those kinds of moments, but I know you cannot manufacture an indelible memory.  They simply…happen.  They spring forth from nothingness into somethingness.

I’m betting my mother remembers very little, or nothing, of that afternoon.  Other than me possibly recounting it to her at some point, she’d have no reason to remember it.

I can tell you that I look very forward to the day when each of my children asks me, “Mom, do you remember that afternoon…you know, when I……?”  I’ll think back and try to remember, shake my head and say sweetly, “Nope”.

But I’ll smile, my heart will swell, and I’ll hope they had their fifteen minutes running in the rain.

******************************

Then again…maybe my mother smiled to herself as she watched me in the rear-view mirror.

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Fate vs Destiny

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Fate:  the will or principle or determining cause by which things in general are believed to come to be as they are or events to happen as they do – Merriam-Webster

Destiny:  a predetermined course of events often held to be an irresistible power or agency  – Merriam-Webster

They sound so similar.  Instinctively though, most people feel very differently about them.  “Google” them and you will find that overall, people feel this about these two things:

Fate:  Passive.  No control over the inevitable outcome.  Per one website with a discussion on the differences:  the course your life will take in spite of your actions.

Destiny:  Dynamic.  A degree of control as to how you will reach the inevitable outcome.  Per the same website: predetermined events within your life that you take an active course in shaping.

In general, “fate” seems to have negative connotations to it while “destiny” is used in a much more positive context.

“It was his fate to be the first soldier to step foot on the shores of Normandy.”

“It was her destiny to go to the bar that night and meet the love of her life.”

How differently would we feel about these two sentences if the words were inter-changed?:

“It was his destiny to be the first soldier to step foot on the shores of Normandy.”

“It was her fate to go to the bar that night and meet the love of her life.”

Very.

If we say it was his or her fate, even though the outcome is preordained, it makes us feel as if it all happened without their choices as the driving influence.  If we say it was his or her destiny, for me at least, it automatically makes me feel as if they made choices or came to some sort of peace about the end results…whether or not the end results were something everyone would consider positive.

Words and how they are perceived matter.  A whole lot.

As a woman nearing the age of 43, I am naturally thinking about – my life.  I am looking back, reflecting on what has transpired to date… the place those events either of my choosing or thrust upon me have led me to thus far…and where the place I’m in now tells me about where I’m going.  I’m not alone in this.

I suppose some might call this the beginnings of a “mid-life crisis”.  As a younger person, say in my 20’s, I would have agreed with them.   But “mid-life crisis” has the same type of negative connotations that “fate” has.

In your 20’s it’s very difficult to conceive of a life lived long and hard enough to reflect upon, and society has all but assigned, with impunity, the “mid-life crisis” to men in their 40’s buying Ferrari’s they cannot afford and women of 40+ hooking themselves up to a Botox-drip to regain any infinitesimally small vestige of the care-free youth they are now old enough to realize is gone forever.   I assume that’s because of the word “crisis”…which instantly implies something negative to be dealt with.  An emergency situation.

I’m trying very hard not to see it that way.

I believe it’s only natural and human to reach what you hope is the mid-stage point in your life and feel the need to take serious stock in what has happened to you, what you have created for yourself and how that will affect what is left of life you will lead.  You no longer have your “whole before you”…you have, maybe, half – or less – of your life before you.  And therein lies the problem.  Once you’ve been lucky enough to live your life to a point where you know you’ve lived more already than you are likely to live in the future…a slow, boiling fear sets into your gut.

What have I done?

What have I accomplished?

Have I lived up to my potential?

Have I loved enough?  Cared enough?  Given enough?……….

When I die, will I feel the power of the love I made and gave given back to me?  Will it envelop me and carry me forward?

It’s very difficult to imagine living the final moments of your life and not being able to answer “yes” to those questions.  And if you can’t answer “yes” to those questions when you ask them of yourself, which can really only be asked when you’ve lived long enough to assess the answers realistically, there is an overwhelming desire to not let another minute of your life go by….not another single minute….. in which you don’t at least attempt to fulfill…your destiny.

I am a mother.  I have three wonderful, beautiful children.  The majority of my personal energy, strength and love is channeled into guiding them toward living strong, healthy, happy lives.  And that’s how it should be.  My parents are wonderful…they did the same for me.  The appreciation I have for them with regards to what they gave to me, and gave up for me, is limitless.  But at the same time I hope so much that they were able to secure some piece of what they believe their personal destiny is along the way, despite having given so much of their lives to their children.

We all have dreams and ambitions and goals for ourselves that seem achievable.  Before you hit, oh…about my age, it seems that you can say to yourself so easily….”There’s still time.”  Staring down the barrel of 43 I can realistically say to myself,  “Self, there might not be that much more time.”

And then I hear Morgan Freeman whisper to me, “Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.”

I’ve achieved some of the goals in my life and am so eternally grateful for them.  But ohhhhh…..I have thus far fallen woefully short of the smile I hope graces my face at the end of my life when I ask myself “the questions”.

I wonder what am I waiting for. (Something to make it all easier?)

I ask myself what’s holding me back. (Fear?)

I worry about whether my happiness and personal fulfillment can exist in tandem with what I owe to my children and the other people in my life whom I love. (I don’t know the answer to this.  I’m not sure I ever will.  All I can do is my very best to make sure… it can.)

I don’t want a Ferrari or Botox.  Well, I don’t know.  Maybe.  Wait…no.  I’m getting sidetracked here.

I don’t want a Ferrari or Botox.

I want – need –  to start actively taking the steps which will move me closer to my destiny.

We all end the same way.  But how do we get there?

Whether on the beach or at the bar, and despite the “crisis” apparently inherent in reaching this point, I don’t want to be fated…to anything.

I just don’t.

You Herd It Here First.

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Life is hard.

Very hard.

Even for the most fortunate among us, it… is… hard.

For the “most fortunate” of us…all the money, all the opportunities…earned or given…, all the hard work, breaks, intelligence, first chances and second chances, windfalls and blind-stupid-stupid luck that any one person might have…life is still hard.

I believe that.

Having all of those things even in spades does not make a person immune from sadness, anger, heartbreak, loss, death, tragedy, mistakes…or regret.  Maybe it helps sometimes, but it doesn’t make them immune.

I am not one of the “most fortunate” among us.  And neither are most people I know.  I consider myself  and my circle to be in the “very fortunate” category.  We are fortunate, but not excessively fortunate in terms of worldy things….we are comfortable.  We have enough of what is considered “good”, enough so that our families can live well; not “want” for anything we need, and usually not want for anything we want.

We have homes.  We have food.  We have employment.  We have a good education.  We have doctors.  We have friends.  We have love.  We have opportunities afforded to us through our own hard work, and sometimes given to us through the most fortunate or equally fortunate network of people we meet while living our lives.  These things give us comfort while we try very hard to deal with and endure the hardships that are simply a part of being  –  human.  And so we are comfortable.

But I wonder often, very often, what it would be like to be one of the “least fortunate” among us.

We all know what poverty is, but have you actually seen it with your own eyes?  Known anyone who… has lived in it, or tried in vain to move past it, or begged-borrowed-and-stolen to break free of it? 

We all know what bad-luck means, but have you actually known anyone who… has suffered through seemingly unending streaks of it? 

We all know what a lack of an education means, but are you friends with or personally involved with anyone who… has received a very bad one, or very little, or none at all? 

We all know what a job is, but do you know anyone who… has lost one and cannot find another to support his family, or who despite their best efforts is unable to keep one, or who is not qualified to earn one, or who has never seen an example of a respectable one?

We all know what a home is, but do you know anyone who… lives transiently, or lives in a shelter, or finds shelter on the street, or simply “exists” nowhere at all?

We all know what food is, but do you know anyone who… doesn’t have the means to buy it, or grow it, or must beg for it, or who is hungry as a permanent state-of-being?

We all know what health care means, but do you know anyone young or old who…has no means with which to see a doctor, or receive check-ups, or pay for the simplest of medicines? 

We all know what love means, but do you know anyone who… has repeatedly lost it or who never had it to begin with or has been betrayed by it to the point that they essentially can’t conceive of or remember what it means…at all?

Do you know anyone in your life for whom the answer to all of these questions is………… “yes”?

I don’t.

Now let me ask you this:  do you think about those real, flesh-and-blood human beings?  Do you think about them?  Have you ever tried to empathize with what it would feel like to answer “yes” to just one…one…of those questions?  What about two of them?  Three??

I do.

And I’d like to think the majority of people do.  To what degree our empathy shapes our beliefs and actions varies, of course, due to our own personal circumstances.  But your average, every-day, healthy cynicism aside…I think most of us as individuals, when asked to picture walking a mile in the shoes of the least fortunate, feel compassion.  I believe it truly pains the overwhelming majority of us to see other human beings in anguish, desperation and need.  I believe that to be true, literally…for nearly every single person.

I believe that one-on-one, human beings have an instinctual desire to do right by each other.  To literally care for one another and act on it in ways that are measurable.  And I believe that one-on-one, there is no enemy in the person in need – and no enemy in the person who wants for nothing.

Imagine you’re on a street, alone.  Save for one other person…you know the one…the one for whom all the answers to those questions is “yes”.  It’s you and him and the lamp-post.  No matter your political affiliation, race, creed, upbringing, social standing…I truly believe that no matter who you are it would be nearly impossible to fight against your instinct to see that person as a human being who needs help.  And your gut tells you to do just that – help.  Care.

But oh my God…how is it that our innate desire to truly “take care” gets so unbelievably screwed-up when we amass as collectives?

Why does that happen?

Some say The Rapture is coming.  On May 21, 2011 to be exact. The day that God will literally call up the “believing” and “worthy” of us…and leave the rest of us sorry-bastards here to fend for ourselves against the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse…something like that.

But I don’t know.  Something about that smells a little fishy.  Soooo… God will call to Heaven the “individuals” who He deems righteous enough to warrant it?  Seems simple enough, albeit very time-consuming.  But will God judge us on our merits as an individual?  Or, rather, will he judge us on our merits as a collective?  Very often, these two things do not mesh.  There is the individual.  And then there is….the herd.

Herd Mentality:  The inability or refusal to listen to one’s own instinct or ‘gut feeling’ but to instead follow the majority for fear of being wrong, ostracized or ridiculed.

I believe in God.  I can’t say I haven’t gone through my rough-patches with Him…if “rough patch” includes not believing in him at all at different points in my life (cymbal crash…”Don’t forget to tip your waitress on the way out!”)…..

But seriously folks, I do believe in God.  I also believe that he surely isn’t fooled by the fair-weather philanthropist who gives at the office, but who throws up a little in his mouth at the very thought of supporting the people who answer “yes to all of the above” in any meaningful, long-term, societal way.  His gut might tell him what’s-what, what is right and true and good.  So he appeases that gut with his generous contribution as an individual.  What though, does that philanthropist support as part of his “herd”?

Does his herd frown upon the downtrodden, the weak, the strong-but-unlucky, the indigent, the poor?  Or does his herd put forth into the world the same amount of compassion stirring in his gut?

All I’m saying is that I believe God is efficient.  Come The Rapture, I’m thinking he will look at the the herds as opposed to the individuals.  Courage and convictions are only truly righteous when what you feel in your soul is made known to the world, regardless of the consequences of what others may think.

In my humble opinion.

If you think this is all a thinly veiled cautionary metaphor of  political malpractice regarding oh say, something like the Tea Party….come on.  ((laughing, snorting))… That is only a coincidence.

Ugh.  That’s not true.  It’s not true at all.  I’m lying.  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry!

Trying…..to keep…..it inside………..

I THINK MAYBE GOD MIGHT SUCK THE ENTIRE “TEA PARTY” UP

WITH A VACUUM CLEANER ON

MAY 21st!!!!

((Exhale, exhale…..whew)).  There, I’ve said it.  I know.  It wasn’t very nice.  I am sorry.  I just had to say it.  It’s been trying to BUST outta me for a week now…..lemme catch my breath.  Hold…on…..hold….on….

Okay.  Again, I’m so sorry.

I’m hoping that God has a sense of humor.  Or at the very least appreciates lame attempts at it.  Or at the very, VERY least, you know, maybe likes the Lib-herd a little and I’ll be able to blog to you come Sunday.

Then again…..I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t push my luck right now.

The Allegory of Super Mario

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I have a six year old son. He loves video games. Oh-boy-howdy does he. Obsessed with them I’d say. All manner of them. If he can control a virtual world in the palm of his hand he’s in Heaven. It’s an obsession that I know I must quell if he’s to learn to read, write, speak in full sentences or ride a bike. I know. Video games are both the bane and savior of most parents I know. Many times it’s a near tantrum-inducing struggle to pry the game out of his hands to get him to go outside and play or read or interact with his two brothers. But come ON…is there a parent among us who hasn’t at one time or another actually shoved the thing into their hands and said “Please for the love of GOD play this so that I can make dinner in peace!”? (If you haven’t done this please just keep it to yourself).

I think the real problem I have with my son’s relationship with video games is that, well, I loved and still love them myself. Ohhh, my addiction was different to be sure. We’re talking Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pac-Man here. Atari…the very genesis of virtual games. And I was really, really good at them.

So about a year and a half ago I’m cleaning out a dusty Rubbermaid tub in my basement and there it is…the Holy Grail of video-gaming systems: the original Nintendo. My friends in college threw me a 20 1/2 birthday party my Sophomore year (mainly under duress because I pissed and moaned so much about having a summer birthday and no one being around to celebrate it with me), and one of those friends gave me his Nintendo. Again, pretty much under duress because I had essentially taken the thing over and become increasingly annoyed when HE played – saying out loud with a hiss when it was his turn “Oh just DIE already”.

Anyway, there it was. Old, dusty, spatterings of beer staining its gray casing…but it made my heart race none-the-less. “Oh my GOD…” I thought, “I wonder if it still works?!”

I could not wait to see. I was beyond excited. I was in hyper-speed.

I seemed to remember needing a professional-grade tool-box, an electrician and a crane to move the television to get that thing going back in the day, but as you might imagine I just walked up to the kids’ T.V. and whoa…there were the little yellow, white and red hook-up thingys right there in the front! So I plugged it in, put in the cartridge (roughly the size of a small microwave), closed my eyes and turned that bitch on.

And. It. Worked.

The tinkly, upbeat music of the original Super Mario resonated forth. I jumped up and pumped my fist and let out a “Woo-Hoo!” Sad. So sad, I know.

So here is my son nearly needing a 12-step program to rid him of his addiction, but I didn’t care. The first thing I wanted to do was show it to him.

The next morning after he got home from school I led him into the playroom. I put my hands on his shoulders and faced him toward me. “Son”, I said with all the import and drama of a talk normally attributed to the “big” subjects in life, “I have something to show you….”

Then with pomp and circumstance I turned him around and led him to The Box.

“What IS it?” he asked.

“Wha…wha…what IS it?” I stammered. “It’s only the first Nintendo with the first Super Mario game!” and I held my hand up for the high-five that I just knew was coming…..but………….never……………came…

“Is it Mario Cart, or Mario Galaxy?” he asked a little more interested.

“What the hell are THOSE? No, man, NO….this is the very FIRST Super Mario game…it’s AWESOME!”…and I turned it on waiting for his burst of excitement to come forth.

((Tinkly Music. Flat, one-dimensional graphics.))

“What do you do with that?” is what came dryly out of his mouth.

“You PLAY it!” I yelled.

And so we did. Because I’m a great Mom, I let him go first. He wasn’t used to it. It wasn’t advanced enough. He was confused by the slowness of it, the inability to simultaneously push twenty-five buttons at once to achieve some super-nova type effects. It was almost too…simple for him to grasp.

“Argggh, lemme show you”. I played and played with wild, reckless abandon. I remembered everything: where all the hidden coins were, the way through the mazes, where the secret extra-life mushrooms were. Everything. But most of all I kept not-dying.

“Wow”, he said “You’re really awesome Mom!”.

“I know, Son, I know”. I smiled. I suppose I just wanted the recognition of my awesomeness and I got it. Then I jumped off a cliff and let him go again.

We laid on the floor and I watched him play and when he died I’d play and curb my competitiveness so he could go again. It was so much fun.

As I watched him play and gave him tips and hints, I laughed to myself remembering one night in college in particular playing that game.

My very good friend and I were playing Super Mario one very late, most assuredly drunken night. No one wanted to play with me because, well, remember the awesomeness? She would though. She’d always go first. I wish I could say I was lying here when I say that it took everything I had to wait for my turn. Wanna know why?

Because she was       S O                 F R E A K I N G                   S L O W.

Good Lord. She was meticulous. The levels were timed and she’d take every single available second to finish them: cautiously jumping, aligning herself just right under each brick to get the coins, artfully squashing the Goombas so as not to let the timing ruin her next jump. It makes my blood-pressure rise as I write this just thinking about it.

As soon as it was my turn I’d exhale and you couldn’t see Luigi through my dust. Crazy, insane jumping…flying through the air, jumping on two Goombas at once, breaking record after record in finishing-time and getting every coin in the process. Oh I finished each level alright…in a blaze of glory.

Man, we’d laugh playing that game. I’d ridicule her method of playing, she’d ridicule mine. We’d drink and talk and laugh some more. And that night we came to a profound conclusion: “You play Mario like you live your life”. And damn if that wasn’t true. We are still great friends, and to this day we still say that to each other and laugh. And it’s still more-or-less true. We both set out to achieve our goals in life, with varying degrees of success, but we both went about it in pretty different ways.

So as I laid there with my son on occasional afternoons playing Mario with him, and as he got the hang of it and started to like it, I watched for the tell-tale clues as to how he might live his life.

Only before I was able to assess that divine truth, my son had invited some neighbor kid over to play it and that little punk broke it. Oh, I know it was him because I heard him do it. I heard him say “uh oh” as my son and I were getting snacks in the kitchen. Yeah, dead. I’m not sure if he jammed a screwdriver into it or what. I still haven’t found the murder weapon, but kill it he did. That thing survived four years of college parties and beatings born of frustration amongst countless numbers of co-eds, and twenty-five years in a Rubbermaid tub only to meet its demise at the hands of a punk five year old. It’s carcass is still sitting there. I don’t have the heart to remove it.

Now how the hell am I supposed to figure out the inner-potential of my oldest son? Sigh.

I know. If you’ve read this far you are probably wondering how to get back the few minutes of your life you’ve wasted reading it.

But I figured after the Pro-Choice post… it was best to lighten the mood.

R.I.P. Nintendo…you served me well.

Bruce Willis…With a Complex.

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I am a Liberal.  I am not a pacifist.

I’ve always had a hard time explaining to people my views regarding guns.  I think most  Conservatives I know revel in trying to pin me as the stereotypical Democrat; weak, tree-hugging, cares more for animals and newts than people, won’t own a gun but wants my neighbor who does to come to my aid when I’m being raped or robbed.   While I’m generally very clear on my views and why I hold them, I’ve had a hard time putting into words what I feel on the subject of gun ownership.

Perhaps my inability to explain my views is because I’m often ridiculously verbose and passionate and get tangled up in my own commentary to the point which I end up saying something like this professorial little gem while debating at the family barbecue:  “I hate guns and war, ok!  But I know they’re often necessary and I would wish I had a gun if some asshat broke into my house but….argggghhhh….is that potato salad German or American???”  I’m a master of deflection when I can’t express myself.  See, there’s that ridiculously verbose thing.

Perhaps, though, my inability to explain my views is as simple as….I’m a hypocrite.

I suppose I’m writing about this because I read a story on Michael Dukakis the other day and was reminded of the question asked of him by Bernard Shaw during a debate with George Bush Sr.  Shaw asked him if he would support the death penalty for someone who had raped and murdered his wife.  Many credit his dispassionate response of essentially “nope” as the death-knell of his presidential ambitions.  Many decried the question as patently unfair to ask to begin with.  While possibly “unfair” in terms of throwing someone off-guard with such a personal, graphic, hypothetical question about heinous crimes committed against a loved one…I don’t think it was that unfair.  I think politicians tend to separate themselves and their beliefs from what their own realities are, i.e., you’re against same sex marriage until your daughter comes out as gay and in a loving/committed relationship and suddenly you realize, “Hey, ok…I guess it’s not that bad”.  I think the real courage displayed by politicians is when they can empathize with, and respond accordingly to,  the plight of human beings without first having to experience that same plight for themselves.

And I believe that real courage in every-day human beings not only reflects that same empathy, but the balls to admit that while you might not believe in something in “principle”, when it gets right down to it, you believe in it anyway.

And therein lies my internal conflict on the issue of guns.

I’m no pacifist.

But I don’t want to own a gun.  They scare me.  They cause permanent, horrible, debilitating damage to real flesh-and-blood human beings in a lightning-flash.  The thought of one in my house anywhere near my children makes me cringe.  The thought of millions of them floating around out there in the hands of – just about anyone who wants one – terrifies me.

But you wanna know what else terrifies me?  The thought of God-forbid someone breaking into my home, with a gun, and killing my family, my children, me.  If that ever happens and some deranged criminal is climbing the stairs toward my kids’ rooms…. I guarantee you the following will be my first thought:

Why don’t I own a fucking gun?  If I had a gun I would cock it, march up the stairs stealthily, sneak up behind the asshole who dared to harm those who I love, press the barrel of the gun again the base of his neck, march him out of view of my kids, ask him if he believes it was worth it……and then before waiting for his answer – calmly say “Yippie-Ki-Yay Mother Fucker” …and pull the trigger.

I’ve thought about this scenario more than once.  Every time I think about it it makes my heart race and my brow sweat because the only thing that makes me feel better is to…not think about it at all.  I am not courageous in this regard because I have a serious internal conflict.  I want nothing to do with guns.  I don’t think people should be able to own damn near any kind of gun they please, and especially not guns that come chock-full of as many clips and bullets as they can load into a picnic basket.  But the fact remains that when I want a gun, need a gun as is warranted in my most feared scenario, I want it to be there at my fingertips.  And I would use it.

I struggle mightily with this irony.  I don’t blame Michael Dukakis for answering the way he did.   The choices were to either completely disassociate yourself from the raw, primal human emotion of wanting to slaughter those who would harm anyone you love, and come off sounding like a “Republican” – or – take your emotions completely out of it and answering in a distinctly non-empathetic manner so that you can continue to state what you believe in.   In theory.  In principle.  A “Democrat”…with no guts.  It was a lose/lose outcome no matter which way he sliced it.

For now, all I can do is hope and pray to any and all higher powers that I will never be confronted with the scenario in which I will forever regret not having a gun.  For now, all I can do is continue to trust that I will never need one in order to save my family or myself.  For now, I have to be content that what I believe in principle does not necessarily mesh with the reality and possibilities we live with every day in this messed-up world.  For now, all I can do is admit to myself that I have internal conflict over this issue, which is a nice way of saying “I’m a Hypocrite” publicly with what I profess to believe – and what I feel in my gut.

Yippie-Ki-Yay…ahhhh.  Just forget it.  I don’t have the balls to say it out loud.

…So THAT Was Awkward…

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I live in a very RED, South Side county in Illinois.  In fact, most of Illinois is red, conservative.  Except for Cook County which contains within it one of the greatest cities in America – Chicago.

The county I live in about forty minutes outside of Chicago is, dare I say, blood-red.

During the lead-up to the 2008 election I was very cognizant of what the mood was around here.  Huge McCain/Palin support rallies took place down the street from me.  All attempts to avoid driving past those things proved fruitless as there are only two major streets to use in order to get to the grocery store or gas station.   I had to dig deep to avoid flipping the bird to these supporters as I drove by and saw signs that said “Honk if you Hate Obama”.  The only campaign signs on the neighbors lawns read “McCain-Palin”, and there were many of them.  The view driving down my long, winding street was very much like driving through a field of annoying, red flowers which I was having an allergic reaction to.

I had ordered my “Obama-Biden” swag but as the election drew nearer I still had not received it in the mail.  It irritated me.  I wanted to put my signs up too even though I fully anticipated wiping farm-fresh eggs off of them daily.

But finally, my order came in…the day before the election.  I had ordered “Obama-Biden” buttons too.  I have three small sons and was in a hurry to pick them up from afternoon daycare.  I put one of the buttons on my coat, forgot about it in my haste and left.

I love the daycare my children attend.  I love the people there, am very friendly with them and trust them completely with the care of my kids.  I’ve known the caretakers there, and many of the parents, for four years.  We’d always had great conversations and genuinely liked each other.

As usual, I walked up to the Director’s desk before getting the kids bundled in their coats.  We’d talk about our day, have a few laughs, etc.  Only on that day she was…odd.  Stand-offish.  I just chalked it up to her having a very busy, hectic day.  I turned to say hi to a parent, and then turned back to her.  That’s when I realized that she was staring at my button.  The look of shock on her face was well, shocking.  In my head I thought about ignoring it and continuing on with our conversation.  But I’ve never been one to ignore, literally, the elephant in the room.

“Ohhh….the button.  Are you surprised?”  I asked lightly with a laugh.

“Um, yes, I guess I am.”  she replied.

“Really?  Why?  I know we’ve never really talked about politics or anything, but I kind of just assumed from what you know about me that I am pretty Liberal.”

“Well, I don’t know…it does shock me I guess.  I never really pegged you for a Democrat.  Do you really LIKE Obama?”

“Ha!” I retorted.  “Yeah, I’ve been a Liberal my whole life.  Really Liberal.  And yeah, I like Obama a lot.  Are you going to kick my kids out of here now?” I again asked with a lilt.

“Oh, no.  No, come on.  I’m just kind of shocked that’s all.  Everyone’s got their own beliefs, that’s what it’s all about… I guess.”  She said half-heartedly.

“Yeah, we’re a real melting-pot, huh?  Okay, well I’m going to get the kids now.  See you later!”

End scene.  Wow.  Tension.  It threw me.  It really did.  I felt off my game.  And I very rarely feel off my game.  As I walked throughout the building retrieving my three boys I began to notice the other stares I was getting from people.  As if I were moving in slow-motion.  Looks of incredulity.  It was fascinating.  It was if I had walked in there naked, with a bullhorn, shouting “Hey, piss off people!  You suck and I’m an idiot!”  That’s what their looks on their faces seemed to convey, but maybe I was just so weirded out at that point that I interpreted them that way.  I doubt it though.

It took a good couple of weeks after the election for things to return to “normal” between me and the people there, but they did.  Sort of.  We never mentioned the election or its outcome and never mentioned the scarlet letter “O” that they had clearly seen emblazoned on my chest.  However, I’m pretty sure in the backs of their minds they are still shaking their heads…tsk-tsking me….sighing heavily, not understanding how they could actually like me, but liking me none-the-less.   See I never had that emotion.  I assumed that all of them were very conservative, wrongly or not.   But I don’t think it ever occurred to them that anyone would walk in there proudly wearing blue.

Then again, I’m a die-hard Cubs fan.  Wait’ll they find THAT out.  That’s when I’m really screwed.

What the…?!?!

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So I get one of those e-mails sent to me by a very conservative relative, someone I really love and respect.  But you know the e-mail I’m talking about…”I Vote Democrat Because”…and then an onslaught of ridiculously implausible and stereotypical declarations follow, all designed to really get-my-goat.  Goat gotten.  Feta being churned as we speak.

Yeah, one of those.  I’ve blown those damn things off so many times that I’ve created my own weather pattern.  Not today.  Not the day after the revelation of  THE LONG FORM BIRTH CERTIFICATE.  No.  Couldn’t blow.  I’m a proud Lib. I retorted with my own not-so-implausible-not-so-stereotypical declarations of my own.  See us Libs, well, I tend to think our beliefs – flawed as they may be – come from a little bit of a “better place”.  Possibly from that place of “moral superiority” that our detractors are always talking about.  My point is, I’m not above taking it as long as I can dish it out.

I wrote this on the fly today and e-mailed it out.  I can’t account for 100% accuracy in my assertions.  Again, you know us Libs…we’re so, so…emotional.

TOP 12 REASONS…WHY I VOTE REPUBLICAN:

1. I voted Republican because I drink the kool-aid and believe that the oil companies raking in billions in profits in the worst economy since the Great Depression is a coincidence and has nothing to do with my party’s allegiance to big oil’s lobby.

2. I voted Republican because I believe that in an enlightened democracy, the greatest the Earth has ever known, I shouldn’t have to give one red-cent to my government to help those in need or in desperate situations (job loss, too old to work and garner insurance through an employer that won’t hire them, etc) – just so long as “I’ve got mine”, and because I’m too smart and invincible to think I’ll every need the help of that government. But if I do need that help or safety net, it better f*&%ing-a well be there.

3. I voted Republican because Freedom of Speech is fine, as long as I can shout “Socialist/Marxist/Communist” and “You’re not an American!” at the top of my lungs toward anyone who doesn’t believe what I believe, without a shred of evidence to support those claims other than they don’t wear a flag pin or want ALL Americans to have a shot at basic healthcare and not have to rely on a private company hiring them in order for them to afford it…you know, stuff like that.

4. I voted Republican because semi-automatic and automatic weapons with the capacity to hold 20, 30+ round clips was EXACTLY what the Framers of the Constitution meant when they spoke of the right to bear arms, and any person who attempts to restrict my right to go anywhere I damn well please with a portable arsenal, is not only Anti-American, he’s an “appeaser”, a “coward” or a “hippie Liberal”. As a Republican, I have a divine knowledge of what the Founders meant by everything they wrote.

5. I voted Republican because I have a unique ability to deny what I can see before my eyes – that glaciers and polar icecaps melting couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the toxic spew we’ve been throwing into our air, Earth and water for generations. And as a Republican I have a unique ability to not-care about any visible evidence that our planet just might be in trouble from what humans are doing to it. AND, as a Republican, because the polar ice-caps melting doesn’t affect me directly, any even microscopic attempt to regulate pollution will only be seen by me as an attempt to harm the corporations who produce the waste – and that means that you are at the very least anti-Capatalist, and definitely a Socialist.

6. I voted Republican because I have the unique ability to refuse to accept or understand that a human embryo/fetus is encapsulated inside of a… woman… who by law has a CHOICE, not a mandate, to decide what is best for her own physicality or that of her embryo/fetus. Because I am a Republican and do not believe in “big government”…I know that what is RIGHT (and naturally “small government”) is to pass a law forcing my own religious and social beliefs on that woman and to FORCE her to give birth to a child against her will – regardless of how she became pregnant, whether or not she can care for a child, regardless of the health of her or that child in the womb or once it will be born…AND…once it’s born I know, as a Republican, that it’s not even a blip of a thought in my head as to the kind of life that child/mother will live. And I don’t care, because in this world you just pull up your bootstraps, never get sick because you can’t afford to, get a great college education and get a high-paying job. Remember, I’m a Republican….I don’t believe in “big government”.

7. I voted Republican because I think anyone who is foreign is scary and I know that they are after what is “mine”. I only see things as black & white, and forget that by undeniable, stupid luck I was born on American soil and am therefore inherently just kind of, better, than people who weren’t. I have no real capacity to see illegal immigration, or even legal immigration, on a multitude of levels aside from just the “icky foreigner” one. I don’t have the capacity to see the human side of it. Well, that’s not true, I like Carlos a lot. He’s the illegal immigrant who cuts my lawn and who I pay in cash under the table, and Thank God, because well, that job is really beneath an American anyway.

8. I voted Republican because I believe the dogma that my party spews at me in that businesses should be treated as “people”… only really, really “special people”. So special, in fact, that they shouldn’t have to adhere to any sort of guidelines or restrictions or taxes of any kind that are in proportion to the profits they make. As a Republican I believe that every very wealthy business or person inherently pays their fair-share for the upkeep of our Republic and it’s populace simply by hiring people or pumping money into the economy…and so be it if the people they hire or the money they make and then pump out is into a foreign country. As a Republican I believe that the tax loopholes our lobbyists have created for the wealthy are uniquely American, and so is our right to make sure that we pay as little as possible to non-Americans for the work they hire them to do. I like “trickle-down economics” because trickle sounds like “tickle”, and who doesn’t like a good laugh?

9. I voted Republican because I believe that Conservative “activist” judges are perfectly within their rights to decide American Presidential elections, declare that corporations have the same rights as individual people, and hopefully overturn a law that currently guarantees choice for a pregnant woman and votes to make that same pregnant woman a criminal if she doesn’t forcibly give birth. Remember….small, non-intrusive government.

10. I voted Republican because I absolutely refuse to accept that oil is a finite, destructive resource and think that it’s better to drill, baby, drill as opposed to sinking that money into reliable, clean renewable energy. Because I’m Republican I look the other way when our party’s leaders “go to bed” with the “people who hate us” when it comes to oil. And I look the other way and scoff, naturally, when the hippie Democrats complain that drilling will completely wipe out entire species of living, breathing things on this planet, and ruin what little pristine land remains in our world…forever. Why drive a Prius when you can drive a Hummer? I’m sure that’s what the Founders would say.

11. I voted Republican because the words “hope and change” upset me a great deal. Living in America, what could we possibly hope for, or change, that would be any better than what we’ve already got? Why strive for anything better when right now, I’ve got what “I” need? It’s not about the Democrats’ moral-imperative to help others who have a very difficult time helping themselves, it’s about “hoping” those sorry people will just go away and “changing” nothing so long as I’m ok.

12. I voted Republican because I really actually LIKE my head up my ass. The view from in here really stinks, but it’s my stink…MINE….so I don’t mind it so much.  And there’s a flag-pin in here, which is nice.

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