I can be pretty slow at times, especially when I ride my bike. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As the only person actually peddling on a road where others are simply pushing a gas pedal, I notice a lot.
For the past couple years, I’ve been regularly riding on a country road that gives me a great deal to think about:
A plowed cornfield with only one stalk left standing;
And a gate that, for all I can tell, is completely ineffective.
The gate crosses a gravel road that runs between two fields. Until this week, green stalks of corn filled one of the fields, while the other had no discernible crop. This week, both were plowed. So the road now runs, and eventually dead ends, between two muddy, empty fields.
Other than providing farm workers easy access to the fields, the road doesn’t serve much purpose. It certainly doesn’t lead anywhere interesting or provide enough privacy to be a lovers’ lane. Because of that, the importance of a locked gate with a fading private property sign eludes me. Since there is no fence on either side, the gate isn’t really preventing anyone from simply driving around it.
After passing the gate day after day, I finally took a picture and posted it on Facebook with a question about its purpose. I got a variety of responses ranging from people who took the question seriously to those who didn’t.
The general consensus was that there had probably been fences around the fields at some point. When they were torn down, the gate stayed to mark private property.
While this concept still puzzles me, it also reminds me of human behavior in general: we often tear down fences but leave gates standing.
We say we believe in equal rights and demonstrate this by tearing down barriers for others. Yet we still leave up gates to protect what we believe we earned or deserve and fear others may access or take away. Sometimes these gates are words. Sometimes they are the policies we support. And sometimes they are even religious beliefs.
But whatever the reason, the gates are there. And, just liked the locked gate I pass every day on my bike, they provide a false sense of security for some and serve as a challenge for others.
At times, I know I’ve protected my own gates. But the rebel in me also spends a lot of time thinking about how to get around gates. And I admit, there have been many times when riding my bike on the country road, I’ve been tempted to ride around the gate. The silliest thing is I would have no desire to ride on the gravel road if the gate weren’t there. I certainly don’t want to cause any problems or do any damage.
But then, I don’t think people who are seeking greater opportunities have any desire to trample on the achievements of others. They just know the possibilities would be endless if they weren’t constantly slowed down by so many locked gates.
“You were NOT a Republican,” she stated. “There is just no way.”
“Not just a Republican,” I replied. “I was actually heartbroken that, because of my age, I missed voting for Ronald Reagan by only three months in the 1984 election.”
Since I was talking to my friend on the phone, I can’t confirm that her mouth was actually hanging open, but I’m pretty sure it was.
“What happened?” she finally asked.
“I don’t know exactly,” I replied. “But by the time I graduated from college, I’d changed political parties.”
In all honesty, I do know what happened. I’d identified the core values that would guide the rest of my life, and they simply just didn’t align with the Republican Party.
I don’t think my friend, or anyone else, really cares about how I arrived at my decision. And, until this past week, I didn’t feel any need to explain.
But after witnessing one too many debates about how people who receive SNAP (more commonly known as food stamps) may be eligible for additional benefits if they were affected by the derecho (http://www.catholiccharitieswv.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=300%3Awv-long-term-disaster-recovery-derecho-storm-a-power-outage-disaster&catid=45%3Aannouncements&limitstart=1), I felt the need to say something.
On the surface, the gist of the conservatives’ argument against the additional benefits was that the government was once again frivolously spending taxpayers dollars.
But, as the arguments continued, a different, more self-centered concern actually emerged. Several people were turning the discussion into a conversation about fairness, or more particularly unfairness, in regards to their own lives: ” I lost all my food when the power went out, and no one is paying me to replace it.” “I have a lot of health care bills, and the government isn’t stepping in to help me.” “Basically, I’m being punished for having a job. ”
Sadly, I could relate to their complaints. That kind of thinking was the reason I had originally registered a Republican.
At the age of 18, I really did believe that everyone had an equal opportunity in this country, and if a person worked hard and persevered, they should be able to meet their own needs. If they couldn’t make ends meet, they needed to work harder or get a better education to get a better job. I believed in responsibility: if people made bad decisions then they, not I, should have to pay for those decisions. And I believed that our leaders had our, not their own, best interests at heart.
I held onto those beliefs because I was surrounded by people who believed the same thing. Then I went to college, and I was surrounded by people who didn’t.
I met too many people who had been denied equal opportunity through no fault of their own. I met too many people who had made poor decision after poor decision only to be bailed out by family while others fell into bad luck and had no one who could help. I learned more and more about greed, inequality and political corruption. And I learned more about myself.
At some point, I was confronted with the ultimate question: is life about what I can do for myself or is it about providing unconditional support for others, even when it sometimes costs me?
I chose the latter.
Don’t get me wrong. I can be very self-centered, and I know a lot of Republicans who are anything but selfish.
I just don’t think the core of my political beliefs should be about what makes my, or my family’s, life better or easier. I think public policy should be about ensuring the safety and well-being of all Americans, particularly those who haven’t had the same privileges that I’ve had: good parents, a good education, a decent I.Q. and a lack of any significant health problems.
When I look back on 18-year-old me, I still understand where I was coming from.
I still think people should do their best and be responsible for their behavior. I also think corporations and millionaires should do the same.
I still believe in hard work and self discipline. I also believe that too many people work very hard and still don’t get paid a fair wage so they can’t make ends meet.
I still wish life were fair. I also realize that making life more fair for everyone requires public policies that provide additional support for those who need it.
The difference between 18 year-old me and 45 year-old me is I don’t think the world owes me anything. Instead, I think I owe the world. The difference is I know some people put their own interests above the interests of others, even when it comes to the environment or safety or health. And I know that the most effective way to ensure such people do minimal damage is to implement and enforce regulation.The difference is that even though I don’t agree with wasteful spending, the wasteful spending I’ve seen isn’t for the programs intended to make the lives of most Americans better.
The difference is that I have enough life experience to know that life isn’t about being fair.
And that’s why I got so frustrated with the debate about additional SNAP/food stamp assistance. The debate wasn’t about whether people needed the assistance. Instead, it was a debate about fairness. I’m pretty sure if you asked the majority of people who were eligible to receive the help, they would be the first to tell you life isn’t fair. If it were, they’d be fortunate enough to afford to replace their own groceries while complaining about those who couldn’t.
On Monday, October 31, 2011, I left work earlier than usual because it was Halloween and I had important issues to deal with. At least, they seemed important at the time. I needed to make sure my daughter was dressed in her costume, that the jack-o-lanterns were lit and appropriately placed and that we had a plan to ensure the dog behaved himself during trick-or-treat activities.
On that same day, Marine Lance Corporal Brian Felber, was severely wounded in Afghanistan when he stepped on an IED and lost both his legs.
My concerns on Halloween seem unimportant in comparison. But, like most Americans, I was oblivious to the events that changed his and his family’s life forever. I was absorbed in the trivial details of my own life.
But the next day, I was sitting in my office when Jan Callen’s cell phone rang. Like everyone else in the office, I knew the call was from his wife Susie since she has her own ring tone. What we didn’t know was that she was calling to tell Jan about Brian, the husband of their 22 year-old niece.
As a retired Army Colonel, Jan reacted in true military fashion. He adjusted his plans accordingly and took the most appropriate course of action: instead of going to Nashville for the week, he and Susie would go to the Walter Reed in Bethesda to do what they could for Brian and the rest of his family.
In the meantime, I did what I thought was appropriate. I took Jan’s suggestion and liked a Facebook page supporting Brian: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Support-Combat-Wounded-Marine-Brian-Felber/281745445190900.
I admit, at first I did this because it was just what I thought was expected of me in such a situation. I’d never met Brian and didn’t really relate his situation to my own life.
But then I looked at the Facebook page and the photos.
He appears to be a guy I would genuinely like. In one photo, he has his arm around his young wife. In another, he has his arm around a dog. And in yet another, he’s playing with a band.
Dogs and music? Brian seems like my kind of guy.
That Facebook page made him more than just another news story or statistic. He’s become real to me. He is a person with a family and a life outside the military. Yet his service in the military will shape the rest of his life: a life that’s changed forever.
For most of us, our lives are going on as they always do. We pay attention to those things we think directly affect us with very little consideration to those that don’t.
As Jan said when reflecting about the time he spent with Brian and his family this past weekend, “When we were at the hospital, we saw all these young guys with lost limbs and young wives by their side. We saw an entire floor of a parking garage for handicapped parking. And then we went home, and the world goes on like nothing happened.”
His words remind me of lyrics from the Cat Stevens song “Sitting.” They are lyrics I’ve always loved. “Life is like a maze of doors, and they all open from the side you’re on. Just keep on pushing hard boy, try as you may you’re going to wind up where you started from. ”
The meaning of those lyrics can be debated, but to me, they’ve always meant that to move forward, we not only have to think beyond our own circumstances, but we also need to approach life from a perspective other than our own. We need to turn around and walk through the doors from the other direction.
When we do this, we just might actually see and appreciate all the people we never met who have been helping hold doors open for us: people who are contributing to our lives. As someone who didn’t grow up with close family or friends in the military, I’ve too often failed to recognize how members of the military help hold my doors open.
I hope Brian knows that his circumstances have served as a reminder to me. A couple of years ago, my son, Shepherd, also reminded me.
My husband and I were in a parent-teacher conference when Shepherd’s teacher told us she was very impressed with his thoughtful writing. We were surprised and asked what she meant. Apparently, he’d been charged with writing an essay in answer to the question “If you could change places with anyone for one day, who would it be?”
My son had answered a soldier. His reasoning was that, while he never wanted to be a soldier, as an American, he needed to understand what they are going through.
Wise words from a sixth grader and words to think about on this Veteran’s Day.
I hope we all take time think about the side of the door that our active troops and our veterans are facing. Members of our military do what they are asked, and they respond to some horrendous situations. And, most importantly, they do their duty out of love for our country.
On this Veterans Day, we should all consider what we can do to help hold THEIR doors open.
I’ve never considered myself a snob. Not an “I want to feel more important than someone else” snob, or a food snob or a music snob.
Especially not a music snob. How could I be when you can find me listening to just about anything on my Ipod? And when I say anything, I really do mean anything. The music on my beloved Ipod ranges from musical theater to punk and just about everything in between.
But even I, the person who knows all the lyrics to every song in the musical “Oklahoma,” have my limits.
And they were reached this week at the local Sheetz station.
I admit that I generally enjoy the music playing over the speakers while I pump gas. It tends to be fairly retro, so I can happily sing along to the Eagles or Lynard Skynard or Bob Segar while ignoring the dollar amounts flying by on the gas pump.
I used to think it was a great marketing strategy dreamed up by someone half my age: “Play old-time music, and those middle-aged people with their gas-guzzling SUV’s will be so distracted they won’t care about the cost of gas. They might even buy a made-to-order food item because they aren’t paying attention to the cost.”
I was wrong. Either that, or someone who developed the playlist for Sheetz had absolutely no clue what they were doing.
Because this time, as I swiped my debit card, I heard the strains of a song that took me back – but not in a good way. Instead, it was more like a fingernails scraping on a blackboard way. (For those of you who don’t know what a blackboard is – it’s the prehistoric version of a smart board.)
At first, I couldn’t believe I was actually hearing it. “Gonna f ind my baby gonna hold her tight. Gonna grab some afternoon delight. My motto has always been when it’s right it right. Why wait until the middle of the cold dark night.”
Really? It was only 7:30 in the morning and I was taking my 13-year old son to school.
Instead of putting me in a good mood, the song was irritating me. Really irritating me. Because, even though I don’t like the song, I know the words. So when I went inside to buy a coffee, I actually found myself singing along.
Singing along to one of the most obnoxious songs in history.
I tried voicing my complaint about the music selection to the clerk, but she gave me a completely blank stare, ignored my complaint and asked if I needed anything else. When I told her that what I really needed was for her to change the music, I got another blank stare.
So I reverted to my only other option.
I posted my complaint about the music on Facebook.
By the time I got to the office, there were several comments about my Facebook post, including one trying to convince me the song was actually about the menu at a restaurant and not about an afternoon tryst. But others were eager to set that person straight. And while I appreciated the support, none of the comments were helping get the song out of my head. It was just there.. repeating over and over again.
And since I was suffering, I felt the need to make others suffer. So, I brought the song up on an office computer and made my co-worker listen to it.
Not only was she not happy, but my boss, who had been in an executive committee meeting, took that exact moment to leave the meeting and come into our office. He sauntered over to the computer and asked what I was doing.
What could I say? There, in all its glory was the Starland Vocal Band, singing about rubbing sticks and stones together and making sparks ignite. If the lyrics weren’t bad enough, the band members’ horrible hair and the bell-bottoms were.
My boss glanced at my computer and said, “Hey, I remember that kind of music,” then walked away.
I decided Facebook was safer. I clicked off the video and back onto Facebook. I decided to “like” the comment from the person who said she thought she saw a blog coming on.
And, to her credit, there was.