Heroes Unmasked

I get it. Heroes are still human. Fallible. They fall from the pedestal from time to time. But to me, the real superpower of my heroes has been the ideals they stood for. Sure, their accomplishments grab our attention. Their charisma opens doors, and draws increasing numbers of followers. Their persuasive powers expands their platform.

But I was always drawn to the purity of their cause. The integrity of their purpose. That injustice anywhere was a threat to justice everywhere. That truth, equality, and liberty were ideals to be protected and cherished for all races, genders, ethnicities and religions. Right was right, and wrong was wrong, regardless of political affiliation.

Yet many of my former heroes have been unmasked. It isn’t their humanity in question, but their integrity. In a world that has swiftly grown more and more divided, they are taking sides. In a world where extremist views and voices are emboldened, these heroes are conditionally silent. When the distress signals of injustice flare in the sky, they selectively choose to remain in their caves or look the other way if the call to arms isn’t from their chosen side.

Their capes no longer represent the defense of ideals that should be applied to all of us, but instead they have specific labels and colors, mostly blue or red, for the segments of the population they identify with. These fallen heroes have traded ideals for ideologies.

Sure they still fight for truth, justice, and liberty, but now it is conditional. No longer do they protect principles and populations. Now they specialize in protecting parties and storylines. They share your thirst for justice, unless it calls into account someone from their team. If your freedom is threatened, they’ll come to your aid, as long as you wear their team colors.

Disillusionment sets in when we see our heroes unmasked. We struggle to believe they can be so myopic. So partisan. So conditional. Perhaps they’ve lost their way for a time, and will eventually see the fallacy of choosing ideologies over ideals. Perhaps they’ve grown tired or protecting our national values, and have chosen an easier, narrower path. Hopefully, as the number of distress signals continues to rise, and our nation is further divided, a new crop of heroes will answer the call.

We’ve lost a fair number of heroes in the past few years. Our values and ideals are under assault from some of the very places expected to uphold them most. As Dr. King reminded us, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. May idealists everywhere reject disillusionment, and continue to cherish the principles our nation was founded upon, finding ways to answer distress calls without furthering the divide.

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Ballot Box Longings

I abhor partisan politics

I won’t vote blue

I won’t vote red

I’ll choose a mix of candidates,

For a diverse nation.

I prefer principles

Over parties.

I long for leaders

With integrity

And character

Who haven’t sold their soul

To corporations

Or lobbyists

But who heartily represent

Their constituents

And their consciences.

I long for citizens

Who love liberty

For all

Who welcome the oppressed

Who protect the rights

And dignity

Of all races

Genders

And ethnicities.

I long for women and men

Who think critically

Who discuss respectfully

And who rise above

Mindless, partisan division.

People that recognize

Poisonous platforms

And renounce toxic behaviors

Regardless of which party

Or which race

Or which demographic

They originate from.

I long for countrymen

That pledge allegiance

To a flag

And live by its creed

Instead or wrapping themselves

In the stars and stripes

While denying its freedoms

Or using Ole Glory

As a backdrop

Of false patriotism

While spewing hateful rhetoric

Or denying people the right

To kneel before a flag

That has failed them.

I long for a people

Who if they worship

And pray

Do so for all citizens

Without furling the flag

Around their church

Mosque, or synagogue

And any particular party

Constricting the voice

Or soul of their faith

From reaching others

Untarnished.

Micro American-omics

American values have long been a bedrock of our national persona. Similar to our iconic symbols, the Stars and Stripes, the Statue of Liberty, or the national anthem; there were certain principles that we all held dear. We believed in the integrity of our national institutions. We believed that our votes were all weighed equally. We believed that we could disagree with our leaders, or other citizens, within an environment of civility and safety. We held our principles dear.

Like many citizens, I am disheartened by the current state of affairs in our nation. But this isn’t about left or right; blue or red. This is about our national principles. The ones we claim to cherish.

It seems principles are no longer our bottom line. They are no longer our bedrock. Instead, our American values are now micro-selected on a case by case basis. Violations of our principles are first scrutinized to determine if the offense is red or blue; right or left. Parties now trump principles. We’re practicing micro American-omics.

Take this past week for example. In a normal society, 14 IED devices being sent to various citizens would alarm an entire nation. A society would be galvanized to find the perpetrator, and to secure the safety of our citizens. But instead, we’ve become a society that first checks to see if party, ethnic, or race lines are involved. What is the race or religion of the bomber? What party or ethnicity were the targets? Our outrage, or our silence, is often determined only after we’ve first decided how it fits our current narrative. Principles give way to partisan lines.

Instead of patriotism around national values, a divisive groupthink is further entrenched.

For the record, I do not consider myself blue or red, left or right, Democrat or Republican. I vote on both sides of the aisle, although I do have many concerns about our current president and his administration. But my hope is that citizens would look beyond parties, and focus more on the principles they hold dear and the character of the candidates.

Social media has the power to bring us together, but also to pull us apart. I find it harder and harder to read the posts of people who decry political violence, but only when it fits their narrative. Rather than employing critical thinking skills, citizens quickly dismiss stories that call the tactics of their leaders into question, labeling them as “fake news”, regardless of any amount of science or facts. It simply doesn’t fit with their pre-conceived story. The other side isn’t only viewed as ideologically wrong, but as morally corrupt, intellectually inept, and incapable of grasping the truth.

I’ve posted my own share of concerns, as I’ve found myself continually shocked by the seemingly bottomless lowering of our national discourse, especially where our nation’s leader is concerned. I falsely assumed my words might make a difference. That others would pause and consider the reflections, or at least engage in thoughtful discourse. But sadly, most are either turned off to the political noise, or they are already entrenched in their narratives, and only interested in trolling the comments of others.

Even some of the people I respect and admire the most, have fallen prey to entrenched partisan thinking. Their praise, criticisms, and outrage are selectively applied, only when it suits their pre-determined partisan affiliations. Principles only matter when it fits their narrative.

While I respect that we all share different convictions about multiple topics, we can all agree that the encouragement of violence against our political rivals has no place in our national discourse. If you condemn threats against political rivals, I hope you publicly condemn both the actions of the bomber, as well as the presidents’ own threatening comments; with a similar vigor, regardless of your party affiliation. Calls for violence are despicable, whether they come from the left or the right. And when the violent rhetoric is only selectively condemned, depending on which party it originates from, or benefits, then it appears that it is no longer truly a principle we stand on, but a partisan talking point. And I’d like to believe that you and I want to be above that partisan divide. We want to be, whenever and wherever possible, voices that heal. Voices that unify. We might not unify people around similar topics or issues, but we can do so around principles of mutual respect, and decency. Those principles are macro, not micro. They transcend partisan talking points, and should always be the bedrock of our national heritage.

“What Place Did You Finish In?”

“What Place Did You Finish In?”

That’s usually the second question I hear after a marathon.

The first question is often “How did the race go?” Some people also want to know about any lingering aches and pains, or they ask to see the medal or race shirt.

I get it. Friends, family and colleagues mean well. And they’re curious about this seemingly super-human accomplishment. If you’re a runner, perhaps you’ve forgotten when finishing 26.2 miles seemed like a big deal. But to most people, running a marathon, or any distance race, is an other-worldly feat. One that the vast majority of our population think “I could never do that.”

But isn’t that precisely the beauty of the marathon? Proving to yourself that deep within you beats the heart of a badass? Mining the transformative joy of accomplishing something you once believed to be only capable by the rarest of athletes? You endure months of training, and then race the streets in celebration, crossing a finish line that punctuates your journey, while also symbolizing the start of new dreams, possibilities, and adventures ahead. The medal placed around your neck declaring that the once impossible peak has been summited, and you are no longer the same person who tentatively registered for the race months before.

You’re stronger.

Your vision is clearer.

Your dreams are bigger.

You’ve overcome fears, doubts, injuries, weather, naysayers, and an array of other obstacles, one mile at a time, and along the journey, you changed.

Running taught you priceless lessons. Running made you a better version of yourself. Running opened new doors, and broadened your selection of new starting lines.

“What Place Did You Finish In?”

It is an innocent question, but perhaps it is the wrong question. It asks us to compare ourselves to others, and threatens to rob us of the joy forged over countless miles. The question tries to measure what is immeasurable, and quantify qualities that are intangible. Most of us don’t run to measure ourselves against others, but to measure against ourselves.

The joy of running past another runner is short lived and shallow, but the joy of passing our own previous thresholds, is enduring, and solid. We run to inhale nature and beauty. We run to exhale the negativity and pressures that invade life. We run to experience new destinations, interact with other cultures, and explore the wonderings of our spirits and the yearnings of our souls.

We run for camaraderie.

We run for solitude.

We run for purpose.

We run for freedom.

We run because we can.

We run, because we know others who cannot.

“What Place Did You Finish In?”

The question is asked because on some level, the people who care about us, run with us. They cheer us on from near or afar. They race through us, vicariously, imagining what it is like to be in our shoes, without really wanting to be in our shoes. Because let’s face it, the marathon is daunting. The marathon purges your muscles, your diet, and your schedule. It requires all your energy, and then takes your reserves. It depletes you, exhausts you, and breaks you down, completely.

But the marathon replenishes. It builds new muscle, new habits, new friendships and new dreams. It pays you back a hundred fold, and in the process, removes toxic habits and attitudes, cleansing you in the process.

The marathon is daunting. So is any obstacle you willingly throw yourself into. A new career. A new relationship. A new address. Writing a book. Tackling a triathlon. Going back to get that degree. Starting your own business.

Whatever the obstacle, it may be daunting. But within you, lies an undaunted spirit, waiting to be forged and fashioned. Sign up for it. Register yourself. Go all-in. Your own personal “whatever-athon”. It doesn’t have to be 26.2 miles. It might just be one. Or it might not require running at all. But it will scare you. It will at times terrify you, calling up the haunting voices that whisper failure in your ears.

Your “whatever-athon” will require more of you than you ever though you had, but that is the beauty, because if you stay the course, you’ll find out there is a lot more inside of you than you ever realized. There is more courage. More grit. More brilliance, compassion, patience, and hope. Nobody else may have recognized it before, and the naysayers may have tried to make you believe that it wasn’t there, but remember that all the good stuff is on the other side of fear. Don’t be afraid of what lies ahead of you, or what is buried within you, because both of those places have immeasurable treasure waiting to be discovered. Your “whatever-athon” may be daunting…

But you can be undaunted.

“What Place Did You Finish In?”

You’re still curious? Fine. Well, I didn’t win the race. I wasn’t the first across the line. But I finished 1st place in my division. You know, the grouping of males, aged 50-55, who share my same birth date, birth parents, and birth name. Out of the over 45,000 finishers, I was the 31,0111th person to cross the line. But I finished, with arms triumphantly raised, an elated smile across my face, and just as proud as the first person, or the final person. The once impossible, now in my rear-view mirror, and a vast expanse of possibilities before me. Ready for my next “whatever-athon”. My finish line, bearing witness to wonderful new starting lines.

Away from the Tribe

Step out of the tribe for a moment, and reflect.

Much of our national divide comes from a tribalistic mindset where adherents defend a point, policy or person simply because she or he is on their “side”. People troll conversations, posts, or ideas contrary to their own, and instead of listening, considering, and respectfully participating in the discourse, they simply and thoughtlessly insert their dissent.

As a tribe member, your reflex is to stick to the team script, ignoring any contrary evidence or facts. Because the tribe must be right. At all costs.

As tribe members, we even merge or conflate various reports in order to defend the otherwise brutish behavior of our leaders. The behavior itself no longer matters. Character no longer seems to count. It is only the side, the team, the jersey, the mascot, or the color that holds sway. This defense is part of the entrenched, tribal mindset that is gripping our nation with its’ corrosive and divisive results. We hear it daily:

“Us vs. them.”

“Blame the media.”

“Blame the other side.”

Find some nugget of “their” view that isn’t perfectly articulated, and plant your flag of defense there.

Yet as citizens, we must think more critically than defaulting to basic tribalism. The right isn’t always right. Neither is the left. Or the center. Or red. Or blue. The only acceptable aren’t a monopoly belonging solely to CNN, FOX, or your favorite media outlet. And those in search of facts are not the enemy of the people. It is the manipulation or perversion of truth that seeks to uproot and divide us.

Character matters. Truth is truth, regardless of your party affiliation, or which direction you want the future court to lean towards. We must expect and demand truth and civility from our leaders, no matter which party they are from. Even when our president, and the bevy of other elected officials, refuse to lead with civility and truth, we must expect it of ourselves, our leaders, and our children. We should never accept less, since our tribe isn’t Republican, or Democratic. Our tribe isn’t left or right. Our tribe is America, and our tribal creed is liberty, and justice for all.

I Chose Bald, Because They Didn’t

Pulling into school

Day One of being bald

I reached for my cap

To cover up.

It’s cold up there

Barren.

Vulnerable.

.

I reconsider

I chose this path

Proudly

“Brave the Shave”

To raise awareness

And support

And to stand alongside

The courageous kids

Who also walk baldly

But not by choice

Their hair lost

Temporarily

To cancer.

.

I chose bald

Because young Analise

With her flowing blonde locks

Never looked more radiant

Than when she was bald.

.

I chose bald

Because Noah is fierce

And relentlessly hopeful

As he fights for his brother Jonah.

.

I chose bald

Because young Rosie chose bald

For the fifth time

Even though she had brain surgery

Just

Last

week.

.

I chose bald

Because Kaya is brave

Because Alexi is audacious

and Erin is elegant.

Because Elijah and Aurav

Will do anything for others.

.

Our school is filled with heroes

And family

Raising funds

Shaving heads

And lifting hearts.

.

Reminded of this,

I forego the hat

And stand upright

Entering our building proud

Amid smiles

And dropped jaws

And high fives

From other bald staff

And students

Who braved the shave

All of them

Beautiful.

.

I’m proud to be bald

Proud to stand with these kids

Proud to declare

In some small way

I’ve got your back

We’re in this thing

Together.

I Chose Bald, Because They Didn’t

Pulling into my school

Day One of being bald

I reached for my cap

To cover up.

It’s cold up there

Barren.

Vulnerable.

I reconsider

I chose this path

Proudly

“Brave the Shave”

To raise awareness

And support

And to stand alongside

The courageous kids

Who also walk baldly

But not by choice

Their hair lost

Temporarily

To cancer

Leaving the hat

I stand upright

And walk in proud

Amid smiles

And jaws dropped

And high five

From other bald staff

And students

Who braved the shave

All of them

Beautiful

I’m proud to be bald

Proud to stand with these kids

Proud to declare

In some small way

I’ve got your back

We’re in this thing

Together.