Monthly Archives: January 2020

When a celebrity passes

As you probably already know, former LA Lakers great Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash today, along with his 13-year-old daughter and eight others.

Bryant’s passing caused an outpouring of grief across the basketball world, the sports world, and beyond. At the start of a game between the Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors today, both teams held the ball until the 24-second shot clock ran out; Bryant wore number 24 with the Lakers.

Kobe Bryant fans mourn at LA Live

For some, the outpouring of grief wasn’t necessarily appropriate. Other people died on the helicopter. For instance, Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, and daughter died. Except, if you look up Altobelli’s bio on the college website, it lists two daughters. While Bryant’s wife Vanessa lost a husband and a daughter, this girl lost her entire family.

Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli

In Newburgh, NY, a man, woman, and ten-year-old boy were killed in a home this weekend. A three-year-old survived and is in serious condition.

Not so long ago, a boat fire in Los Angeles killed 34. In October 2018, 20 people, many from the same family, died in a limo crash in upstate New York.

No one rushed to a sports arena to form a makeshift shrine. No one used most of the first minute of an NBA game as a public display of grief. There wasn’t a domination of social media.

While some would point this out as a failure of American culture, that’s not fair. For whatever reason, famous people sometimes capture our imagination. They bring joy or inspiration into our lives. Their deaths shock us as if we knew them.

Think back, if you’re old enough, to remember Roberto Clemente passing. Or Elvis. Or Thurman Munson. John Lennon. Dale Ernhardt. Pat Tillman. Anthony Bourdain. And now Kobe Bryant.

Maybe none of these people resonated with you. That’s okay.

But it doesn’t make the pain people felt any less appropriate. That pain is about human connection–a form of love.

And those are things we need more of, not less of.

I don’t know Kobe Bryant from Adam. As a Celtics fan for the 25 years or so I cared about the NBA, I’m required to sports-hate the Lakers and everything about them. Then again, my sports-hate of the Yankees couldn’t prevent me from feeling Thurman Munson’s death.

Image of Munson on the Yankee Stadium scoreboard in a game played the day of his funeral

It wasn’t that I knew him or was inspired by him. I just knew a lot of people who were hurt–and maybe I was hurt for them as much as for Munson and his family. It’s sort of like the way I hurt for a close friend recently, when someone close to her died.

Seems okay to me.

Praying for miscarriages

In my experience, most of the people turned off by Christianity have been burnt in Jesus’s name by his self-proclaimed followers. In fairness, even the most authentically tuned-in of his followers can have a bad day.

Paula White is not one of those people. She’s been Donald Trump’s spiritual advisor since 2002 advocating prosperity theology–a belief that if you follow God correctly, financial and physical well-being will follow you.

Ms.White and the President

Paula White is hardly the only Ken-or-Barbie practitioner of this brand of faith. And a lot of people who spend serious time in the jungles, deserts, and inner cities serve as vivid counterweights to her arguments. People who’ve lost freedom, their stuff, and even their lives for following would probably disagree with her.

This week, video has emerged of Ms. White praying “we command any Satanic pregnancies to miscarry in the name of Jesus right now.” The emphasis is added, and the entire clip’s just below.

It’s not a quote taken out of context. It’s a part of a perplexing word salad that passed for a prayer. And no one in the room seemed to object.

Theologically, Jesus says to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. There’s no asterisk there, no out. There’s nothing that says you’re relieved of this requirement if you think your neighbor has a Satanic pregnancy–at which point, you can command their unborn children to die.

Christianity should be the easiest thing in the world. The creator of everything is freaking nuts in love with you and will stand by you, through all the crap. He loves you as you are, not as you could be. There’s no command to get good and then get God. It’s just a request to come home.

Ms. White’s message is one of division. It’s one prayed to a weak, pathetic God–a divine chess piece to be moved around and used at the player’s discretion for whatever she deems most important at the time. It has little to do with love and sacrifice. It is not the way of peace, but the way of increased rancor and division.

The Omen wasn’t a documentary. Satan’s not running around tricking women into producing demonspawn. We aren’t about to be overrun by a pre-school army of little Anti-Christs (even on those days when they don’t get their naps).

Paula White may not be everything that’s wrong with Christianity, but she doesn’t represent what’s right with it.

As a flawed Christian who’s trying, I apologize. First, I apologize for the time’s I’ve obscured the truth that God wants you. Then, I apologize for hucksters like this and prayers of death and division.

There’s no defense of them.

Instant winners (’cause that’s a thing)

I posted once online that I ran eight miles. A Facebook friend posted back that it would take her hours to run eight miles. I replied that it took me months.

In a couple of weeks, barring injury, I’ll complete a half marathon. I’m treating the 13.1 miles as a formality at this point. It’ll be a long formality, and there may be internal angst. But I managed 12 yesterday and they give you a t-shirt at the end, so…

In mid-October, I was struggling to get more than three miles. Six months ago, I was doing a lot of walking. A couple of years ago, I was doing the same, mostly walking. It didn’t take me months to get here. It took years. And yet here I am. 

And two friends of mine just completed their first marathon. One of them took a picture of their Garmin watch reading 26.39 miles (why she ran the extra two-tenths, who knows?).

They’ve been training a year for this. Wake-up calls before 5 am to get the miles in before work. Long runs in the dark when it was Satan’s Armpit degrees outside. Running lengths on hot days that sound like violations the Geneva Convension.

Mandatory Miroslav Satan picture, showing both armpits. I wish it were that cool.

I wonder what it feels like to look at your watch and see the numbers 26.39. To know most people will never do that. To know that there were significant times, perhaps even the same day, when you thought you would be one of those people.

To be clear, I’m not saying marathoners are somehow superior. They just focused their attention on a specific thing and worked their asses off, and achieved it. (I can vouch–my friends have very small asses.)

Maybe it’s not a marathon. Maybe it’s writing a novel. Maybe it’s painting a beautiful picture. Maybe it’s playing your favorite song on an instrument.

Whatever it is, it’s there for you. All you have to do is take it. And my take it, I mean put in hours of work over months or years of time. I mean doubt yourself and consider yourself unworthy and your goal stupid (and continue anyway). I mean find someone who will cheer you on, get in with you, and kick your ass when it’s necessary. I mean pour your soul into it.

All you have to do is that, and you’ll achieve your goal.

As I said, I’m going to run 13.1 miles in a couple of weeks. And already, I want more. I want to see what it looks like for my running app to say 26.2.

That means I want to drag my ass out of bed and run long when it’s Satan’s Armpit degrees outside. I want to cruise by people who are happy and comfortable in their beds and consider myself a freaking moron for not being like them.

This could be you. Idiot.

I want to have to say “No, I’m sorry I can’t do that–I have to train,” or “Love to, but my legs are just completely shot to hell right now.” I want to hate running and to decide I’m never going to run another freaking step (until my next scheduled run).

Because, as with any goal, those are the building of getting to the good thing that you want.

Silencing the illusionist

Sometimes when you run, you have to walk. Not only is that okay, it’s the way you win.

I was typically picked last in gym. That wasn’t a result of my body, but my mind. For reasons too numerous and complex to explain outside a trained professional’s office, I convinced myself I could never be more than a weekend warrior. While that idea was never nurtured, it was never challenged, either.

I’ve accomplished a lot since then. I’ve run 17 and 15 miles in single outings. I’ve completed 4 Tough Mudders. And I got up early and handled the worst Tony Horton and Shaun T (Beachbody workout leaders) could dish out.

And yet, in some ways, I’m still the kid picked last in gym.

I’ve got a half-marathon in three weeks. To train, I had to complete 11 miles yesterday. It was a relatively warm and humid morning, I hadn’t prepped as well as I should, and I started off thirsty. Still, after pulling back on pace, I handled about 8 miles relatively well.

Then the crash happaned. Because of logistics, though I had two miles left, I was four miles from the car. Under normal conditions, I’d have panicked a bit, then started kicking myself for my lack of foresight. Beer the night before a long run is bad. Eating only a banana before starting is bad. Walking is bad.

Except I had to cover four miles.

So I walked some–got my breath back. Then ran and crashed again. So I walked, then continued the cycle until the last half mile. It was brutal and horrible and lasted six forevers, but I ran almost all of the last half mile including the last three tenths. (Then walked two more miles to get back to the car–which was almost worse.)

Then, because I typically run again after a long run, I ran this morning. My goal was light and undefined. I’d see what I could do.

The first fifty yards were great–if you’re 116 years old. And though the rust fell out and things started to work, every step was awful. Because of that, I made sure the app said 4.01 miles, rather than 4.00, before I stopped.

Running to the finish yesterday was important. Trying and finishing this morning was important. That last .01 was important.

We all carry ideas about ourselves we perceive to be truths. Some of them are great. But some are leftovers from when we were the last kid picked in gym.

I’d love to say I had some epiphany yesterday that stopped me from beating myself up for the beer and the lack of serious prep. Truth is, I had no choice. The car wasn’t coming to me and I had to get back. There was simply no energy leftover for self-flagellation.

When I start next week’s run–and the 13-miler two weeks after–it’s gonna be an uphill battle (metaphorically only, I hope). I’m not in the shape I was in five years ago. I’m uncomfortable about how it’ll go.

There’s also that guy living in my head–the one who got picked last.

He’s a liar, that guy. He’s selling an illusion.

Barring injury, I’ll finish next week. And I’ll earn the t-shirt and whatever else at the half marathon. It might be awful. I might wind up walking part of it.

But walking got me to 11 yesterday.

There aren’t style points in life. You finish or you don’t. And it’s hard. You don’t have the luxury of listening to the liar selling the illusion.

The only way to beat an illusion is with a stronger truth.

That’s work you have to do with yourself, maybe the most important work.

The power of perception

The Lord, and my legs, willing, I’m running a half marathon the first weekend of February. Each night, I pray for a peaceful solution in the Middle East, for my heart to get a little softer, and that it’s not 85 and humid on race day.

My running happy zone is between 45 and 55 degrees. Get me a morning when it’s 70 and Florida-humid, and I’m toast.

I hate running in the heat and humidity. I’d be counting the days until we move from Florida to a more reasonable running climate, if only I could count that high.

She chose to run on a humid day in Florida. And paid dearly.

Earlier today, I nearly said it’s hell running in heat and humidity. In truth, it’s not hell. Severe sufferers of myalgic encephalomyelitis, the disease I was diagnosed with, are allergic to physical activity and stimulation. Even watching TV can tax them. Imagine your entire life being reduced to the pinprick of lying immobile in a darkened room. I’m not sure what hell is, but that seems like a good approximation.

One of the changes I’m trying to make for the new year is to take back my powers–and that includes the power of perception.

I have the power to perceive things any way I want to. I can perceive a long run on a sticky Florida day in Satan’s armpit as a curse, a travail I have to outlast, if I can manage to do that. I can view work as a death march to the next day off. I can perceive each day as an increasingly difficult maze of unnecessary stupid things to navigate (because with technology comes complication–always).

Or, I can acknowledge that these things are difficult, but not bigger than me. I can view a health issue as something that will strain me, but will not invade my soul. I can view the job as the hell you go through so you can relax on the weekend. I can even view death as the final darkness, the ultimate futility because no matter what, everyone goes there.

But then I won’t notice how beautiful the dawn sky is as another day awakens in front of me as I run. I won’t pay attention to that person on the job that I can help in a way no one else can. And I’ll spend the time until death, carefully cultivating a prickly, cynical armor that hides the soft, gentle soul inside.

It’s up to me.

Sometimes stuff sucks. Sometimes, you have health problems and can’t get out of bed to work. Sometimes, you have a job where you feel compelled to work when you can’t get out of bed. And sometimes, you get sick and know you’ll never recover.

Those things, or things like them, will happen. They’re part of the job description that goes with living. But they aren’t the totality of living. It’s up to us to remember that and, through our actions, to remind others, as well.

A modest goal

Short entry today. A proposal for your consideration and mine.

A lot of the soul searching that’s done around the beginning of the year is really about how we measure success, whether it’s eating better, exercising, being more assertive, learning to say no, and the like.

To that, I want to add bringing at least one person at least one moment of joy each day.

New year, probably the same me, but not for lack of effort

I’m not the man I want to be. I would be better if I were friendlier, thinner, in better shape, more responsible with my dietary choices, writing more, kinder, more charitable, etc., etc.

And so it’s January 1 and time for another round of all that New Year, New Me crap.

Like half of the rest of the world, I jump on this train every year, only to do it the next year. Lather, rinse, repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

You could just say why bother? My very own previous paragraph indicates that nothing changes. Why not just relax and let things be the way they are? Aren’t you good enough the way you are? Doesn’t your religious belief system say that God accepts you that way?

In truth, it does. But complacency isn’t particularly God-like. I may be <cough, cough> years old, but I still want to be the best me I can. For God. For other people. And for myself.

And so I’ll do what almost everyone else does–boldly setting off into the New Year, like an intrepid toddler spoiling her father’s live drop in on the BBC.

A year from now I’ll probably start again with most of the same things. But some efforts are valuable even if you don’t completely succeed.

I’ve been around long enough to not dare 2020 to give me its best. I don’t have the hubris to say anything other than I vow to do my best and let things work out according to their natural order. But it’s still okay to dig a little deeper and make your standards a little higher, and then be kind to yourself after life blows up your battle plans.