Tag Archives: freedom

Lincoln Inspiring American Heroes

Inspired by President Obama’s admiration of Abraham Lincoln, my daughter and I have been focussing some of our homeschooling efforts on learning about Lincoln’s life and his participation in American history.

This morning we watched “The Real Abraham Lincoln,” which I’d recorded off the National Geographic channel. I highly recommend it. Fascinating and accessible, even for a 6 year old! It helped that we had read a book about him yesterday so she was able to key into facts she recognized, little touchstones along the way.

What struck me today was how this man from humble beginnings made it so far. How he had the courage to face the conflict with the South, not knowing at the outset who might win.

Something I learned today was the context in which he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. As one of the commentating professors explained, this historic act occurred at a moment when Lincoln was freed by a dark hour of the war, when failure seemed a likely outcome. At this moment when there wasn’t much more to lose, he decided to make his boldest move and free the slaves. Apparently it was a “now or never” act, he had been waiting for the right moment and realized that, if the momentum of fate was truly on his side, then he would have to move forward and commit himself and the country to the profound change that he’d always wanted to see happen, to repair one of the glaring errors our founding fathers had neglected to fix, namely, the inhuman treatment and status of a large segment of the American population.

The connections with President Obama’s election are so deep that I can feel history happening now even as I watch how it happened back then. A black man finally residing in the White House. The desire to move towards a new unity, a more complete justice, a further validation of the rights of all citizens. A belief in the value and the dream of the United States of America. A willingness to dedicate one’s public and private life to serving one’s country. All these details link the two presidents by more than just the fact that President Obama studies Lincoln’s life and words.

The commentating professor also stated that one of the most important characteristics of Lincoln that led to his great success was believing in himself. After all, he ran for president directly after having lost two bids for the Illinois senate seat. A powerful reminder to us all that if we don’t stand behind our own dreams with our whole heart, then we are certainly doomed to be drowned in the inevitable, occasional failure that happens even to the greatest people who have ever lived.

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Another intimate tidbit…

There was a 15 year span in my adult life during which I did not shave my legs.  Ever.

I had spent the previous seven or so years of my life shaving my adolescent legs, because “we have to.”  I hated every wasted minute, every painful red rash bump, every time the stupid guy who sat in front of me in history class would reach back and caress my shin and say either, “Ooo, smooth, who are you trying to seduce?” or “Oh, stubble, time to shave!”  In the way the a lot of teenage girls do not question cultural assumptions or the asinine way that people communicate them, I would inevitably feel alternately whorish or ugly.  And I continued to scrape the sharp metal against my skin.

Until I moved to Oregon in my early twenties.

Now, I know, there is electrolysis, hair removing cream, waxing, and a myriad of other methods.  BUT WHY?  Why do we continue to adhere to the purely vain idea that women must spend time, money and energy regressing to a prepubescent body by removing the natural covering of half their bodies?

Well I wasn’t going to do it anymore.

For those of you who have not had the singular experience of living in an area inhabited by a significant population of freaks, you will not understand the ease with which this decision is made.  You can walk down the street in shorts, leg hair flapping in the breeze (and to impress  you further, my skin is quite pale and my body hair, minus the grey on my head, is quite dark), and no one will bat an eye.  When you are surrounded by folks with their entire faces tattooed, by young people, white and black, with their hair in long scroungy dreads, by piercings and earhole-widening plugs and green spiked hair, the most likely reaction to a woman whose sole foray out of the norm is her hairy legs will be, “Geez, why are you such a square?!”

Thus, 15 blissful years.  

Granted, it took me a while to overcome my cultural training and stop being repulsed by the sight of my own bare legs.  It helped that I saw others similar to me.  I always wanted to high five these women, thank them for being a weirdo like me, but I thought it might progress the cause further if I just acted cool, as though saying “What’s the big deal?” might make it so for the rest of the world.  

I also had, about five years into this experiment, what might be considered a healing dream of sorts: I was sitting in a circle of men, all of us in shorts, our legs casually stretched out toward the middle of the circle so that when you looked down you couldn’t tell us apart.  It fit so satisfyingly into my gender ideal, which is that each person be seen for who they are as an individual and not be immediately put into a box based on the type of genitals they (presumably) possessed.

It was a habit that would be called into question when I met the man who is now my husband.

He is far too kind and understanding to have demanded or even suggested that I shave.  But I knew.  I could tell by those subtle clues that one must use with those selflessly thoughtful people to find out what they really think.  So I began to shave occasionally, usually just up to my knees.  Heck, I supposed that in doing so I was meeting him halfway.  Seemed fair.

And now?  Well, dear readers, I am currently living in the South.  The days of freakdom have (temporarily?) come to a close and I suspect that a stroll down the avenue with gorilla limbs would not be well received.

But I still hate it.  My poor gams are stinging as we speak.  I wonder if they might be willing to walk all the way back to the Land of the Weird and reclaim their right to be shaggy.

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Altered States

Sometimes I feel the need to make sense of our society’s drug policy.  For a brief moment in the ’60s (or so I’ve heard, having not made my entrance into this world until 1970) there was a subculture of people experimenting with altered states of consciousness, often induced chemically.  But besides that, we have all kinds of factions fighting against each other, none of them going anywhere except to hell in a handbasket: the “cool” drug counterculture, the illegal drug making/selling economy, the drug war economy, the poor souls fighting addiction, the puritan idealism that inevitably adopts a hypocritical position of condemning some chemicals utterly while accepting others without question, the pharmaceutical industry, the food industry, the tobacco industry, the alcohol industry, etc.

Okay, well, the legalized industries are doing fine.  But we often excuse their products as harmless, though in the last few decades we have been leaning the other way with alcohol and tobacco.

But we still allow people, including children, to walk around souped up on caffeine and sugar and few of us recognize these effects as altered states.  (I don’t know about you, but the most positive and productive I am all day is the hour or so when I’m flying on my morning caffeine fix.) We are only  just beginning to see them as powerful.  And our inevitable response seems to be to condemn them.

Are we capable of a more intelligent handling of the issue?

No matter where we stand on whatever drug issue, legal or otherwise, we all seem to be operating under the same common assumption: altered states are secretly fun, to some degree dangerous and always carry at least a small stigma of shamefulness.   Even with coffee, aren’t we addicts all at least a little sheepish when admitting our fixation?  Sobriety is held as the ultimate righteous state.

But might altered consciousness be something humans need?  Is it ever beneficial?  We might admire a Native American peyote ceremony for the soul searching and mystical insight it provides, but none of us is allowed to do it.  How would someone’s reputation change in your eyes if you found out they’d done acid?  

We allow, “I was just experimenting in college” and “I didn’t inhale.”  We’ve gotten to where we allow people to be reformed users, like George W., for example.

But for someone to be a respected member of mainstream society who proves their worth on a daily basis and is also a known pot smoker?  Nope.

We all have understandable fears based on anecdotal evidence of some type of chemical destroying someone we know and/or love.  We may even decide to buck the present trend and be against alcohol consumption.  But cars and motorcycles maim and kill lots of people, and isn’t that an altered state for a lot of people?  The power, speed, independence, road rage, status symbol possession… Most of the time we drive in a fairly sober, utilitarian manner, but who among us doesn’t ever floor it or take that corner just a little faster than necessary?  We definitely are not in our natural state, feet on the ground, head surrounded by sky.  Our heavy metal boxes put us in a certain frame of mind.

But we would never dream of outlawing them.

Our tv watching puts us in an altered state, a passive, drooling spectatorship.  How are the hours wasted and life energy atrophied away any different in front of the tube than passed out with painkillers?

Okay.  Granted they are different.  I’m just being dramatic in an attempt to make the point that we try to avoid sobriety in many different ways, some of them demonized as too dangerous and others labeled as simply “entertainment” or “transportation” or “java” some other moniker that makes them untouchable.

What would happen if we said, yes, we need to escape.  Yes, grownups are going to be allowed to choose their method of altering with no legislating and then they will be held responsible for any consequences of their choices.  The pluses and minuses of every method could be discussed freely.  We could openly admit that lots of things we do everyday, even something so innocuous as having a drama queen fit, are forays out of our “right minds.”  We could talk without shame about what we are looking for outside of our sobriety, about what we find there.

Or should we just continue to behave as though stone cold sobriety were the only way to be, ever.  That there is no time or place for getting out of your head or your day to day perspective, unless perhaps you choose Zen meditation, prayer, yogic breathing.  Newsflash — these things are seen as a little bit crazy, too.  Innocuously so, but nevertheless.

I hope this article did not induce any sort of altering in the reader’s awareness of reality as they’ve always assumed it to be — any effects of change in point of view, feelings of lightheadedness or hallucinations were purely unintentional.  Unless you go for that sort of thing.  In which case, you’re welcome. 

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Criminal Element

I am on a bit of a low due to the rash of robberies in our area.  My husband, as you may not know or remember, is a cops & courts newspaper reporter, so every local criminal event is, in some way, a personal event in our household.  

Before you say that maybe my husband shouldn’t bring his work home with him, I LIKE to be part of his life and to hear about how his day went.  And if you’d ever heard the way he tells a story, you wouldn’t want to miss a single one either.

I know robberies happen all the time everywhere, but lately they have been violent around here.  One middle aged waitress was pistol whipped by a scumbag thief trying to rob the restaurant where she was working because she claimed not to know the combo to the safe.  Obviously the s*** for brains criminal has never worked a service job in his entire worthless life or he’d KNOW that there’s no restaurant owner going to trust the lowly employees with the combo to the safe (just about the only jobs I’ve worked have been service jobs, so rest assured I am NOT insulting the employee with my sarcasm.)

Almost as repulsive as this man beating on a woman is the fact that a dishonest thieving rat is terrorizing someone trying to earn an honest living.  

So then I hear about the owner of a small country store being robbed for the third time this year, and he ends up shooting the two robbers, killing one.  I should be saddened by a death.  But it makes me want to cheer.  I feel like this store owner was standing up for all of us, sending a message that this sort of immoral insanity will not be tolerated anymore.  Additionally, there is one less criminal that will be able to wreak his havoc in our area.

I heard a comment stating that the deceased had tried to straighten out his life but due to his criminal record, no one would give him a job.  What else could he do but turn back to crime.

This softened me a little.

Is there ever a second chance?  Is there a way to turn your life around?  Would society let you do it, if you really had a change of heart?

What are we doing to ourselves that we have light sentences for the criminals and strict rules for the cops and courts so that violent offenders end up on the streets either with no punishment or after learning new tricks of their trade inside, and then there is no way for them to walk the straight and narrow even if they wanted to?  Aren’t we just setting the stage for disaster?

I have no solution to offer.  I just see it all up close and personal and there appears to be no end in sight.  Just a few days after the robbers were shot, there was a report of another armed robbery in a parking lot, but this time the victim was shot.  Perhaps, instead of being a deterrent, the injury or death of a criminal will just inspire them to shoot first?

Is there a way to encourage and facilitate the re-entry of criminals into “normal” society, or at least a way to get them to empathize with their victims?  Is this why they commit crimes in the first place, because they have no awareness of the feelings of their victims? Is there a way to determine if an individual is incapable of feeling empathy, and if so, what should be done with those people?  Should they be allowed to run loose?

It scares me to think like this.  I see Big Brother and machines hooked up to people’s brains and citizens in mortal terror of being imprisoned as a “preventative measure.”

I guess we have to value freedom and civil rights and accept whatever consequences come along for the ride.  

I just wish it didn’t always come down to physical safety vs. human rights.  Such a fundamental American conflict, and one that we might never sort out.

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The Last Breath

When I die, I will let go of a breath I have been holding for a very long time.

The base of my neck will unknot, releasing my fear of error, criticism, and failure.

My shoulders will relax, letting go of the fear for my children, for their safety, health, and happiness.

My hands will unclench as I stop clinging to my possessions, those objects of use, nostalgia or monetary value that absorbed my attention, whose loss I daily feared.

The small of my back will lengthen, unfurl, finally free of the crippling anxiety of rejection.

My brow will smooth out as the unbearable tension of a world plagued with every kind of crisis no longer belongs to me.

My jaw will loosen, dropping to let fly all the angry, sad words I held on to year after year, the stream of letters soaring harmlessly up to the stars for their amusement, to be remixed as a satire of Life on Earth.

My lips will unpurse, widen into a smile of relief as the last puff of air escapes.

For now, I keep inhaling hope and desire — the inspiration to continue to live fully with every breath I take.

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Our Disposable Lives

Our possessions — we give them a monetary value; we defend them with guns, security alarms, insurance; we flaunt them to represent our identity, our status, our personal worth.

Our stuff takes up important physical space and mental energy in our daily lives.

But how much does all that stuff contribute to our well-being?

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