WHAT’S A HERO?

It was a rerun of an NCIS episode from a couple of years ago. The victim had given her life to protect others.

“She didn’t have to do it,” McGee pointed out.

“No,” said Gibbs. “She had a choice. That’s what makes her a hero.”


My cousin is my oldest friend, though we don’t see each other much any more. We communicate via the Internet, not in person.

“You’ve always been braver than me,” she said.

The context was a picture of me and Garry riding the Cyclone at Coney Island. There’s a camera at the first drop. Hard to resist buying a picture of oneself and others screaming as you go down the nearly vertical first drop on an 84-year old wooden coaster.

But brave? It wasn’t as if I’d volunteered to rescue someone from danger. I paid my money and got the best adrenaline rush money can buy. Not brave. Not heroic.

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Some people have called me brave because I’ve survived. As it happens, I would have been just as happy to skip all that and lead a pleasant, uneventful life. For excitement, there’s the Cyclone. I could have lived with that.

I’ve managed to slouch into senior citizenship alive but I don’t deserve a medal. You don’t get medals for surviving or shouldn’t. Saving ones own life (and occasionally as collateral anti-damage, other people’s too) is instinct, not valor.

Staying alive is hard-wired into our DNA. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it.

My definition of bravery or valor is the same as Gibbs’. You have to make a willing choice. There has to be a choice! Taking risks for the fun of it, to make a killing in the stock market, or because your only other option is death isn’t courage.

If it’s fun, it’s entertainment. I love roller coasters. I probably would have liked sky diving had my back not been so bad. A personal passion or hobby involving doing dangerous stuff is not brave. Maybe it’s not even intelligent.

Taking a risk for profit? Shrewd, not brave.

Saving your own life? Finding a way by hook or crook to keep a roof over your head and food on your table? That’s instinct.

I’ve never done anything I define as courageous. I’ve done exciting stuff, entertaining and fascinating stuff. Some of these adventures proved disastrous. Others worked out okay. I’ve occasionally been selfless in helping others when I could. But I never voluntarily put myself in harm’s way to save someone else.

The most I could be accused of is doing the right thing when it wasn’t easy. I don’t think you get medals for that, either.

Anyway, that’s what I think.

SERENDIPITY PHOTO PROMPT 2015 #18 — CHAI — 8-12-2015

CHAI

Chai - 18 - Life

This is the 18th Serendipity Photo Prompt.

Eighteen in Hebrew is “Chai,” which means life. Every ending contains the seed of a beginning. 

Today is our little dog Nan’s date with destiny. We’ve been looking for a way out of this. Trying to find any excuse to make it unnecessary. Make it not true.

Nan Xmas

Life and death are imperatives. No matter how we parse it, Nan has run out her string. She can’t hear, barely sees, can’t manage the stairs. She has little sense of smell and often isn’t sure who we are — or for that matter, who she is.

All of which accounts for my dour mood.

Amber

Simultaneously, Amber, the mini-dachshund, has breast cancer. She isn’t well, isn’t happy, won’t eat. I suspect her final days are approaching too.

dogs with bishop and gar

One is hard. Two are very hard.

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The only good side of all of this is that finally, the family is acting like a family and pulling together. Setting blame aside, now it’s time to do what needs to be done for the good of the creatures we love.


FINDING something POSITIVE AMIDST THE GLooM

It has been a good week for pictures. Garry and I took a lot of pictures in town recently. At the dam, on the Commons.

WHAT ARE THE COMMONS?

The commons is that big green lawn in the middle of most New England towns. Boston’s got a huge one, Uxbridge has a rather small one.

The Commons

The Commons

Originally, these green spaces were called commons because they were a common area where everyone could graze sheep.

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Yes, all you cowboys. Sheep. Because sheep give wool and wool becomes warm clothing, sweaters, stockings, coats. Even big Pilgrim hats.

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Winter in the northeast is a cruel mistress. We need all that wood to make the warm clothing that keeps us from freezing. We thank our friends, the sheep, for their donations. And let them graze on the Commons.


You can write anything about anything, as long as you link a picture to the story. You can link several pictures and more than one story. This is a free writing challenge. Have fun.

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EVERY LITTLE THING

We’re going through a difficult period, mostly because of the dogs. Dogs getting old and sick. Having to deal with stuff we don’t want to deal with.

Everything has hit at the same time. All the family drama and three out of four dogs ill or aging. That’s a lot. Garry and I are by turns, depressed, distressed, and exhausted. Not feeling much like partying.

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Everything has a cost. Nothing is simple.

Our son gave us a new television, which was great because the one we had was getting on in years. It still works fine, but it’s an older technology. Difficult to find equipment that will work with it. We were going to have to trade up, like it or not. Getting a new television was good thing, a positive thing about which to be glad. Right?

The new one is significantly sharper, almost like 3-D. But (there’s always a but), the old one had pretty good speakers.  The new one has speakers that wouldn’t be good enough for a laptop, much less a television. Not only could Garry not hear it, I couldn’t hear it either. If I turned it up loud enough, it over-modulated, buzzed, and emitted a high-pitched whistle that gave me an instant headache.

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I had to get some kind of sound system. Without money to invest in a premium system, I found a sound bar on Amazon. Tonight, we have television sound again. Following three days using headphones all the time, what a relief! I feel like we’ve overcome at least one crisis.

I know it sounds trivial. It is trivial. Just $100 on a credit card. Voila. Problem solved. It was one more thing on top of all the other things. Somehow, it seemed a bigger deal than it ought.

That’s the thing with trivial problems when they show up together with serious ones. When you’ve got enough stress, anything that happens feels like a big deal. Feels like more than the nothing it really is. Small things feel much more important than they are, get more attention than they deserve.

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I got a new lens for my Olympus. A great little f1.8 25 mm lens. Came with a lens hood. But I couldn’t put the lens hood on because there was no thread on the front of the lens. So I called Adorama, from whom I bought the lens. I told them there was no damned thread, so I couldn’t use the hood.

It took them a week to get back to me. There is, they explained (it took them a week to track down this information) a decorative ring on the lens. Remove it and the hood screws on.

They couldn’t include a slip of paper with the lens to tell me there was a decorative ring covering the thread on the front of the lens? The whole “we don’t need no stinking instructions” attitude by the tech industry is pissing me off. Just one more aggravation on top of other aggravations.

Finally, here’s the ultimate stupid problem.

There’s a fly in the house. A regular house fly. Every time he flies past my face, I feel a ground swell of rage, that this stupid fly won’t go away. How long does a fly live? This fly has so far been buzzing around for three days. Isn’t that too long? Just saying.

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The dogs. The family drama. Every little hassle that should be nothing is exaggerated because we’re already stressed.

Soon, it will pass. It always passes. My mother’s favorite saying was “This too shall pass” and truly, everything will settle down. All will be well.

In the meantime, forgive me. I’m cranky.

IMMORTALITY AND THE DAILY PROMPT

And here is my original entry on this prompt. Which, as it turns out, is still pretty funny and as obnoxious as the first time I wrote it.

I am not sure I ever thought I was immortal — probably because I didn’t think about it at all. Until sometime in college, I did not ponder the nature of life and death.

College was a peak time for that kind of mental muck-raking. Was it the drugs? No, I’m inclined to think it was going to classes. You see, college presents no danger unless you actually attend lectures and stuff. If you just hang out on the quad, it’ll be okay. But I took courses like  “The Philosophy of Religion” and went to lectures on Phenomenology. And, I had a steady assignment of existential novels to read by Sartre, Camus, et al. Deep stuff. The kind of books I totally won’t look at any more.

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That this hyper-intellectual phase of my life coincided nicely with my first actual near-death experience was pure chance. It didn’t improve my personality, that’s for sure. There is nothing more aggravating than a teenage college student contemplating the philosophical meaning of life. And death. Had I not already been me, I would have had to expel myself as a punishment for being so annoying.

I’m pretty sure all of us thought we were very smart and had a solid grip on the life and death stuff. Even adding on my botched spine surgery — which nearly killed me for real and all — I was still an obnoxious wise-ass with an inflated sense of my intellectual prowess.

Things have really improved. Now I’m an aging senior citizen wise-ass. Oh, and I am pretty sure — not 100%, but maybe 90% — I am not immortal. Eventually, I’ll know for 100% certain.

I’ll get back to you on that.

WHAT’S NEXT? SING ALONG WITH TOM LEHRER

“What else could go wrong?  How much worse could things get?”

My husband and I have an agreement. We will never say those words. Not say them or even think them. Because no matter how bad things are, no matter how dark life looks, there’s always something else that can go wrong. If you are alive, you are already money ahead. You could be not alive.

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A fair number of people I counted as friends and loved ones are long gone and more are on that final leg of life’s journey. In the immortal words of Tom Lehrer “Soon we’ll all be sliding down that razor blade of life.” Ouch.

The other day, I was deep in a miasma of self-pity. It’s my least favorite place to be except in a hospital bed waking up to realize “Oh shit, this is going to be really bad …” I thought to myself, “You really are going to die.”

Then I said out loud. “Of course you are going to die. Was there ever the least bit of doubt about it? It was never an “if.” We are all going to die. When and how remain the only questions, but that’s a journey we’re all taking.”

None of the people I know have come back to tell me about the other side. Not one single person has reported back, so I’m not counting on going to a better place. I’m going to try to make the best of this place and let the next take care of itself.

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So what could go wrong? You think things couldn’t get worse?

They can go wronger and they can get worser. And given the shit-storm life is, it probably will. Go wronger. Get worser. So I will shut up and enjoy whatever there is to enjoy because we never know. Actually, we know. We just don’t want to think about it.

Tom Lehrer always cheers me up.

A NON-ANECDOTAL LIFE

I keep getting congratulated for taking the “less traveled road.” But it’s not true.

Sometimes, I took a back road because it was the shortest road to where I was going. More often, I traveled highways, because they offered the fastest, most direct routes.

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Always a pragmatist, I was goal-driven. I don’t remember thinking about if it was a more or less traveled path. Sometimes, I made a good choice. The rest of the time, I did the best I could with whatever mess I’d gotten myself into.

I’ve had an interesting life, but not as interesting as it probably sounds. I don’t talk about the boring parts because they’re boring. That’s the thing about blogging. You get to write your life and leave out the tedious stuff.

I don’t write about staying up late cleaning when I wanted desperately to go to bed. Because there was work in the morning. I had to make the kid’s lunch, get him on the bus. Make sure the dog didn’t eat his homework.

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All the parties I didn’t attend because I couldn’t find a babysitter … or was too tired to think about going anywhere. The nights I fell asleep in front of the television, unable to keep my eyes open past the opening credits.

I had good times. Exciting, weird, funny experiences. Tragedies and triumphs interspersed with long hours, short nights, and exploring the wonders of all-night supermarkets.

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Most of life isn’t memorable. It doesn’t bear retelling. My life was just like yours, whoever you are, whatever you did. Most lives are more alike than different.

I’ve had my share of crappy relationships, horrible bosses, and tedious jobs. I had a husband and child to raise, groceries to buy, a house to clean. I was lucky because I also had wonderful friends who were there for me when the going was tough.

Don’t be misled by anecdotes. Between the anecdotes is where life really happens.

DON’T STOP LAUGHING

Everything and everybody changes, but recently a couple of people I’ve known for a long time have changed suddenly and dramatically. Overnight, they became dry and humorless.

It appears they had a humorectomy. While they slept, their sense of humor was removed. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but it’s deeply disturbing. Have they been replaced by pods, like the  “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”?

I could not survive if I did not see how ridiculous my life is. If the absurdity of it didn’t make me laugh, I would do nothing buy cry and bewail my state. Laughter heals me. It’s better than sex. Better than yoga, meditation, medication, or street drugs. It’s free, unrestricted by laws, available to anyone who is not yet dead and is acceptable behavior under almost all religious systems.

Many friends are going through rough times. Their problems vary, but the results are the same. Stress, anguish, fear, worry, insomnia. You worry, try to keep it together until you’re ready to explode.

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What can you do? When the light at the end of the tunnel really is the headlight of an oncoming train, I say: “Buckle up and let your hair blow in the wind. It’s going to be a hell of a ride.”

Laughing at the craziness, insanity, ludicrousness, the utter absurdity of my life — and the demented world in which I live it — is my first line of defense against despair. Take away laughter, strip away my sense of humor, and I’m a goner.

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I laugh any time I find a reason. At anything that strikes me as funny, which isn’t always appreciated by other people. I even laugh when I’m alone (weird, right?). It reminds me why it’s worth staying alive.

My friends make me laugh. I make them laugh. When our lives are in tatters and everything around us is collapsing, we laugh. Then, we take a deep breath, and laugh some more. The more awful the situation, the more dreadful and intractable the problems, the funnier it is. We are not laughing at tragedy … we are laughing at life.

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The difference between tragedy and comedy is how you look at it. Laughter is the antidote for everything. Try it. It’s a cure.