Saturday, January 21, 2017

Two Americas (Unites States of)

I know that there are two Americas (or rather, two United States of Americas – because “America” refers to far more than the U.S.). The one that white people live in, and the one that people of color live in. And while I am always learning more about the latter, my default view (and only experience) is the former. Trying to understand the reality sometimes makes me see double.

I know that electing Obama 8 years ago was a proud, historic moment for this country. We crossed a racial barrier. The symbolism of a Black man (a biracial man) reaching the highest position in the land was something that could inspire every child in the country, and provide a role model particularly for non-white children. That is real. That is significant.

I also know, because of statistics and because of what my friends share, that the lived daily experiences of people of color has not improved in the past 8 years. Racism is very much alive in the U.S.A. It lives in the hearts of Americans, and it lives and breathes within the very fiber of the government and the systems of economics, education, and justice.

So was the election of our first Black president a racial victory, or not? I suppose yes and no. It was a victory, but it did not change everything; it most certainly did not end racism. Sadly, it did nothing to even diminish personal, systemic and institutional racism.

Fast forward to today. Within white U.S.A. there are two vastly different perspectives. The white Americans who voted in President Cheetoh and want the rest of us to “get over it and come together in unity,” and those of us who despaired to discover that for our neighbors and coworkers, Mr. Thinskin’s vicious racism, xenophobia, and misogyny was not a deal-breaker.

Comparing the two elections feels like a parallel universe. How can this be the same country that elected a Black (biracial) president eight years ago, to now vote in a fascist? What happened? When and how did we become such a racist, hateful nation?

And then I hear from my friends of color, who tell me that nothing has changed. This is still the same country that it has been for them all along. There is something about McRacistPants that makes white people, specifically, alarmed. Perhaps because it is not just people of color that he has attacked: he has insulted a white reporter and white women. He talks about rolling back protections and benefits that will impact white people.

I certainly noticed that vocalized outrage (from the media, the GOP and celebrities) dramatically escalated when it became white people who were targeted.

Still and all, I think of this horrendous man who represents the worst of the U.S. (ego, greed, bigotry, lack of self-restraint or self-reflection, inability to take responsibility, to name a few) taking the helm, and I feel sick to my stomach, and sick at heart. What rot lies in our hearts that we allowed this to happen, chose this?

And then I’m brought back to the other reality. Many Black people are saying that The Orange Menace does not represent anything new to them. They are still fighting for equal rights. They are still fighting for their lives. They have struggled and fought under oppression for hundreds of years and have survived; they will survive Agent Orange. And they notice that white people who are only getting upset now have clearly not prioritized the ongoing oppression of and violence against people of color.

I can only exist in one reality; white people live in white America, whether they want to or not. We benefit from the privileges of a society build by and for us, whether we work to dismantle white supremacy and racism or not.

But still, I feel like my vision keeps going in and out, from a perspective based on my white existence, to one trying to integrate the reality of the other America (and honestly, the “other America” is the real America – because it shows the entire picture).

Was yesterday’s inauguration the beginning of the end (white America)?

Or was it simply another chapter in the long history of white supremacy (real America)?

Can both be true? Because I feel both things.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Starting Over

Ten years ago I had just started a 3 ½ month long police academy for park rangers. One of my fellow cadets recently reminded me. It’s hard to wrap my head around. Ten years! In many ways, it seems a lifetime ago. But then I think about being in the best shape of my life as if it was just a couple years ago. 54 full, consecutive pushups – that was probably my biggest fitness achievement, considering I started from 1.

And it was in May, returning to my park after graduating academy, that I responded to a collision between a car and RV with a fatality that changed me and the course of my life. So I’m approaching the ten year anniversary of that first event that caused my PTSD. (

For the past ten years I’ve been struggling, fighting, floundering, and healing. I only now feel like I’m able to start over. I think it is the rare individual who doesn’t have to start over again at some point in their life. As smart, determined, regimented, or disciplined as we may be, sometimes life smacks us to the ground so many times that it takes a good long while before we’re able to get back up again.

And now, at last, I’m standing up again. I have no savings and I have no house. But I do have this trailer which I love enough to stay in as long as it takes. And finally, finally I have a job that I love. I’m making ends meet, and just beginning to work enough to resume saving. It is daunting when I think about my age and limited number of years before retirement age, and how far I have to go before achieving any kind of financial security. But the worrying leads to feeling anxious and overwhelmed, which only makes me stay in bed with the covers pulled over my head. So I try to remind myself that I can only go at this new pace; pushing myself is a thing of my past, like it or not.

My well-conditioned body has fallen into neglect and disrepair. Even my lifelong habit of healthy eating fell away a year or so ago. My PTSD led to muscle cramps and joint pain that ended my running. And anxiety has led to a more and more reclusive life. While ten years ago I knew the confidence and rush of relying on my body to carry me through any challenge, now I fear to try anything that might lead to sore muscles, a sprain, or exhaustion that would simply make life harder.

But suddenly (perhaps it was the doctor’s weigh-in that made my jaw drop) I figured out how to start back on the path of fitness. Youtube brings the perfect workout into my living room, and allows me to stop when my body tells me that I’ve pushed it enough. I exercise immediately after work, before sitting down or eating dinner.

Once the medium occurred to me, the style was also obvious: kickboxing. When I was a park ranger, I struggled to learn our defensive tactics. So after academy I started working with a personal trainer and taking twice weekly martial arts classes. Over time the impact of kicks, punches and other strikes became extremely therapeutic. In fact I considered my martial arts to be my lifeline during times of greatest stress when I was a ranger.

Unfortunately, contacting full-force with a bag takes a toll on joints. I find a serious kickboxing class to be a good alternative. Your body still goes through the familiar motions of kicking, punching, using elbows and knees, all without the impact. And all the while the balance required is excellent for strengthening your core.

At times being on the starting line reminds me of how far I have to go – and that makes me nervous. But then I think about how good it feels to have a job that I enjoy, and I realize that I have every reason to believe that my finances are going to improve. And I think about how good the kickboxing feels, and I realize that every day I punch and kick the air is just going to build momentum – the way exercise does. 

If there’s been an enduring life motto for me, it’s been “live life at my own pace.” It’s as true today as it was ten years ago. But it sure feels good to get up off the floor and start walking again!