27 February 2009

The meaning of "courage"

If I see one more article connecting the phrase “Patrick Swayze” and “courage,” I am going to barf.
In case you haven’t heard, the former “Dirty Dancing” star (and “Donnie Darko” standout) was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer recently, and has been making himself known on the talk-show rounds. While I sincerely hope that Mr. Swayze, whom I have nothing against personally, as I do not know him, makes a full recovery, I take umbrage at the notion that what he is doing is particularly “courageous.” In order to beat cancer and stay alive, he’ll have to fight it. He doesn’t have a different option to meet that goal. Of course, he could give up, and be all whiny about it, which would also not be courage.
Let’s get one thing straight – courage is what you delve into when you make a decision to do something dangerous when you have other options and could choose to remain safe. Courage is charging a Japanese foxhole to throw a grenade in it. Courage is running into the burning Twin Towers to face immolation. Courage is making a picture-perfect water landing on the Hudson River in a jet (which is highly, highly NOT recommended in any manual). Courage is NOT about choosing to wear a daring dress to the Oscars.
What has happened to the word “courage” is the same thing that has happened to the word “survivor.” You are a survivor if you made it into one of the Titanic’s lifeboats. You are a survivor if you had to eat the dead from a plane crash to survive. You are NOT survivor simply because you’ve won a game show of that title (are you listening, Richard Hatch??). You are NOT a survivor simply because you know all of the words to the Destiny’s Child song and can somehow relate to it.
In a world which, until recently for us anyway, was predictable and soft, throwing around words like the two I wrote about probably gave us a sense of being part of something larger than ourselves. Personally, I think our great-great-great grandparents, the ones who fought a hard life after likely seeing at least one person they knew die during childbirth, would laugh at our notions of what is considered “courage” and “survivorship” today, and eat wimps like us for breakfast. Most of what passes for either these days is likely a laughably pale imitation of what the actual words used to mean.
I think, as the world spirals downward chasing the dollar, that we will see a bit of this begin to change, as more and more Americans start to lead lives closer to the conditions of their great-great grandparents. It may be a bleaker existence than the ones we would have hope for, but I’m looking on the bright side – I look forward to the day when “courage” is defined as something larger than Jennifer Aniston’s attempts to find a stable mate after she turned 40 years old.

25 February 2009

Blah blah blah

I think I would have made a good peasant.
At this point in time, I think it’s safe to say I’m overwhelmed by the amount of technology that is competing for my attention. When I come in to work every day, I’ve got voicemail to check, person and private e-mails to be read, an inter-company communication system to sign into, a Facebook to check, etc. etc. It’s hard to keep up with them all, and frankly, I wish I could stop trying. I don’t think human beings are meant to be stretched from so many angles when what they are supposed to be doing is using the technology to “enhance” their lives.
Remember the late 90s? Before everyone and their dog had a phone? I remember very clearly seeing adds for AT&T’s latest creation and finding that I wanted the on-call, on-the-go lifestyle that was portrayed in the ads. Now, nearly a decade later, I find myself in a love/hate relationship with the same technology, loving the fact that I can call for help if I need it, and hating the fact that I feel available all of the time. Oh yeah, people say, you can turn off your phone. But you know what? You’ll just have to listen to the voicemails, sometime or other. Or not, I guess, now that I think about it. But knowing my personality, and how I like to have things finished, I couldn’t stand turning on my phone and not clearing the little “Voicemails” tape-loop icon off the screen. Damn that tendency of mine.
I haven’t done a good job keeping up with my Myspace account. In fact, I still have yet to make any sort of announcement on it that my wife WAS pregnant, let alone had a baby two months ago. It simply seems like too much work, with another system to sign into to check messages from another set of friends who use one of several communications methods.
My point is this – no one who uses this stuff is a bottomless well of worthwhile-reading-creativity. Even Shakespeare would have run out of things to say eventually. So whom are we kidding? Has society become so self-absorbed as to think posting a message about running to the store is something other people want to see? Granted, the curmudgeon in me is writing this column, but sweet Jesus, give me a break. I like keeping in touch with people, but I refuse to constantly update my status or, worse still, Twitter. I simply don’t see the need for any of what boils down to “social busywork.”
So, I don't want to Twit, Tweet, Twoot or whatever the latest trend it. I don't want to Buzz Up a story about the Octomom (a subject for a blog entry in itself). I just want to keep in touch with friends and family. But I could never imagine how much work keeping up with that would entail given the myriad of ways there are to do it.

02 February 2009

Left Behind

Last night, as I was sitting in a comfortable living room watching the Super Bowl, my phone beeped to let me know I had a text message. I ignored it at first, laughing with friends as we played several spirited rounds of “Scattergories.” A few minutes later, I flipped my phone open. What I read took my breath away.
“Mom n dad are in. (A family friend) killed himself.”
I could feel my face slacken as I digested the message’s terrible content. The person in question was the young son of family friends. He’d gone off to college this fall, having shown us all in the years since his birth that he was an incredibly talented person. Now, there are only questions. After I read this text message, I could not help but to stare at my seven-week-old daughter and wonder what it could possibly be like to comprehend that she could one day be taken from me by her own hand. I cannot possibly fathom how parents in this position can go on after such a terrible event.
I am no stranger to suicidal ideations. Even as an eight-year-old, I was fascinated by the sheer drama in the concept. This grew in romanticism as a depressed teenager. I never seriously considered, planned, or tried it, but I knew it was an option, which, in my darkened state at the time, brought me a measure of cold comfort. Only now, years later, do I look at that behavior and realize how impossibly hurtful it must have been to my parents. I understand now, after having the smallest glimpse of parenthood, how hard it is to not be able to comfort a child. In the eyes of a parent, getting a kid through high school cannot be that far removed from comforting them in the middle of the night as an infant, and when that can’t be done, it’s painful for both parties.
When someone commits suicide, they take their own life - but they also take parts of other people’s lives with them. I know our family friend’s parents will never be the same. I know the boy’s two sisters will likely never be the same. I can imagine that they will be haunted by the thought of “Why? Could I have done something to save him?” for the rest of the lives. Will they be able to look back at the boy’s life without a case of “Monday morning quarterback,” wondering if otherwise trivial events could have taken him one step further down the road to the unthinkable?
My thoughts are with a beautiful family today; a family that has gone through many things together, only to be faced with a situation no family ever should.
The first thing I am going to do when I get home is kiss my daughter. And never let her go.