Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Swimming to Antarctica...and other other thoughts on this Valentine's Day.

When Lynne Cox was a little girl on her swim team in New Hampshire, she never wanted to get out of the pool. She wasn’t the fastest on the team and she rarely won races but that didn’t matter: she was always the last to get out of the water.

In her book, Swimming to Antarctica, she tells the story of one particularly blustery morning. All the other eight-year-olds on the team were complaining loudly and energetically about the cold water, the cool air, the ominous sky and the discomfort they felt in the pool. Their coach, reluctant to give up on the practice entirely, offered them a trade: they could get out and dry off if they spent extra time on calisthenics in the locker room. They took him up on it and scurried inside. Everyone except Lynn. She asked him if she could keep swimming.

Turns out that her slower strokes, and her naturally buoyant body allowed her to remain at a comfortable temperature in cold water longer than almost anyone else. As each of her teammates would pass her and complete their laps, they’d stop swimming and linger by the side of the pool. Because of their inactivity, and because most didn’t have as much body fat, they would quickly begin to cool down. It wasn’t until one of her coaches recognized Lynne’s ability to withstand the cold and simply endure being in the water longer than most swimmers that she began to understand that her pace and her body type were assets, not liabilities. She drew on her natural gifts to train for the more challenging, longer, colder swims she came to love. Starting at age fifteen, Lynne Cox began a career where she would set and break numerous cold-water swim records. She documents the natural accommodations her body seemed to make to the water temperatures and many of her incredible achievements in her book.

So what does this have to do with love? In a word: nothing. But in another way, I keep thinking about love and marriage and Lynne and her determination to stay the course. My parents were married nearly fifty-two years before my dad died. Many of their friends have also been or will soon be married fifty years as well. I like to think of them as the long distance swimmers of love, if you will. Maybe all those couples decided, consciously or not some five decades ago, that their marriages would withstand even the coldest of times, because that’s what marriages did.

Seems to me that staying together is a choice couples make every day, year in and year out, whether they acknowledge it or not. Sure, you may have repeated the “in good times and in bad” pledge with sincere intentions but who ever imagines what “the bad” could possibly be over the next few decades? Some years, it feels so very easy to remain true to that commitment. Some days, it feels very impossible. No one ever tells you that. And even if they do, you think they can't possibly mean it.

But I’ll bet if someone asked my parents or their friends about "the bad times," they’d say, “Of course it’s hard! You have your good and your bad and that’s your marriage. It’s called being a human being; being imperfect. It's called life. Why would marriage be anything else?”

And yet, many marriages do break apart. Many of them should. They’re toxic; they’re hurtful and debilitating. The thing us, ending a marriage, even a very harmful one, is a sad time. I’ve never met a couple who were thrilled to divorce. Somewhere inside, even the most hostile partners must somehow mourn the end of their one-time hopeful story of what might have been between them, even when they know it will never be. It’s a loss for everyone around them, too.

Couples like my parents and their friends, or couples who simply stay the course, through tide and weather, and count on smoother waters ahead understand so much about marriage and partnership and loyalty and “getting through.” Maybe they know exactly what many of us haven’t figured out yet. Maybe it’s this simple: sometimes people choose to stay together because they promised they would. That’s it. Sometimes that’s enough. A strong partnership outlasts the bad times - even the bad years – because all the good they share, especially when it feels like a dim memory, is so very worth it. These champions of long time love never jump out of the pool because of a cool breeze or a cloudy sky. They don't start looking for more comfortable surroundings or another way to keep warm when they begin shivering.

They just keep swimming.

Friday, February 03, 2012

The shriek du jour is over. Nothing to see here; move along.

I think I have this straight now.

The definition of “giving in to pressure:” Acting in a way that contradicts liberal sensibilities.

The definition of “doing the right thing:” Acting in a way that supports liberal sensibilities.

[Before we go further, let me say this: Of course! The right-leaning among us could be painted exactly the same way. Just substitute 'conservative' for 'liberal' and there you have it. Done. This is my point, by the way. But please read on.]

On one end, we have three decades of service to women fighting breast cancer by the Susan G. Komen Foundation, an organization that raised and distributed nearly $2,000,000,000 (that's BILLION) toward for their cause. Research accomplished, lives saved, treatments developed, families supported, educational materials developed. The list goes on.

On the other end, we have Foundation cutting $680,000 in funding to Planned Parenthood.

Let me understand this. Today’s outcome is the greater good? The past two days have shown us a dedicated and vocal attempt by those opposed to the Foundation’s decision regarding their funding choices; attempts that could well destroy 30 years of work and hundreds of millions of dollars in research and support because SKG chose not to support an organization the group supports. That was never stated aloud but let’s be honest: wasn’t that one of the possibilities here? Destroying an organization along with a boycott of the companies who support it? Dissent and debate: yes. All for it. It was certainly their right to do so and as of today, those outraged by SGK have achieved their goal: PP funding has been restored.

But with the battle won and the "right-wing pressure" (inaugurated by a Republican serving on a government committee who began an investigation about fiscal allocations)defeated, it might be proper to take a moment here, please. There has been a lot of outrage and shrieks of “shame on you” thrown around for the past 48 hours. All directed outward. With a moment’s clarity, perhaps at least a few of the outraged individuals will turn inward for the next 48 or so, and see what all of this has really accomplished.

Just what we need: more divisiveness. Awesome.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Race for the Outrage

I’ve read dozens of Facebook posts of outrage today about the Susan. G. Komen Foundation’s decision to end their affiliation and contributions to Planned Parenthood, because according to their own standards, they will not support nor continue to support an organization undergoing federal investigation.

The outrage doesn’t surprise me because many people often take whatever opportunity possible to denigrate a political party or group for whom they feel nothing but contempt. In this case, the outrage has been directed toward a conservative politician who requested the records and reports from Planned Parenthood regarding their practices to determine if public funds were improperly spent on abortions, not cancer screenings.

His investigation has been called “politically motivated.” Well…yeah. He’s a politician. The investigation was apparently encouraged by an anti-abortion group. Well, yeah. Why wouldn’t it have been? Regardless, he is an idiot – what else could he be? He is, after all, a Republican. What does surprise me is this…well, several things to be honest:

First: Last time I checked, organizations like Planned Parenthood accept donations from private citizens. So by all means, support the non-profit groups of your choice, including Planned Parenthood. I know that’s not quite as easy as buying yogurt with a pink top but writing a check isn’t that hard, either.

Second: This isn’t a difficult a concept to understand: people who don’t support abortion on demand also don’t support organizations that do, and they really don’t want to see their own tax dollars supporting them, either. I know, I know, I know, I know - they’re all morons who hate women and they need to stay out of my body and they don’t care about any child once it’s out of the womb. And now they want women – especially women who are on the outside of the insured health care model - to be stricken with breast cancer.

Dear God. Isn’t that all just a little ridiculous??? Regardless of your personal beliefs, isn’t it reasonable to expect we have different points of view and understand that we’ll hold to them dearly?

Third: No one wants to watch more women suffer from breast cancer. It’s idiotic to twist this Komen decision into that conclusion.

Fourth: According to NPR, Planned Parenthood conducted something like 4 million breast exams over the past 5 years, and almost 170,000 of them were funded by the Komen Foundation. That’s about 4.25%. It’s not 0% - I’ll grant you – but can we stop with the hyperbole about how all women who are served by Planned Parenthood are going to be refused screening? If the NPR numbers are correct, 95.75% of them will get breast exams.

I know. That’s not 100% and women and their families will suffer as a result. But now that we have a hard-fought health care plan, maybe we can have our country’s health care providers cover that other 4.25%.

Fifth: The accounts I read indicated that the Komen Foundation donated $680,000 to Planned Parenthood last year. (Planned Parenthood lists net assets of $900.3 million and liabilities of $184 million in their 2009-2010 Annual Report.) That means the Foundation contributed .08% to the operating capital of Planned Parenthood.

As I write this, the signature count on the petition posted by MoveOn.org numbers stands at 19,852. So basically, if everyone who signed it would send Planned Parenthood $34 instead, they’d be covered. And that doesn’t count every other petition out there and the people who signed those as well. In fact, this may turn out to be the biggest fundraiser Planned Parenthood ever had. Now wouldn’t THAT show those right-wing nutjobs!!!!

My point here isn’t to try to convert anyone from one side of the aisle to another. God knows there is no more pointless task on the planet. But what I’d love to see is an end to this mindless, relentless shrieking about why everyone who doesn’t agree with this set of standards or that type of political persuasion is nothing short of an abomination to mankind, deserving of scorn, ridicule and yes, hatred.

Enough. Rodney King posed the right question, although I haven’t heard anyone answer him yet.