Contemplating Normalcy

Today I should be happy. Since I wrote my last post, the orange man lost his job. It was the first time I’ve seen people after a presidential election rejoicing over the defeated incumbent by dancing in the streets. In addition to the national celebration, folks in places worldwide joined enlightened Americans in jubilation. After four years of what many of us considered purgatory, we went – as my cousin Anita cleverly expressed it – from “hell to hallelujah.”

In a couple of months – 62 days to be exact – let’s hope that things will return to normal. WAIT a minute! There is that word – normal. It’s a red flag pop up for me. I don’t like using the word, but sometimes it slips into my vocabulary surreptitiously. There is nothing normal about normal; even the definition is complicated. In my opinion, the word should be banned from the English language.

Speaking of opinion, I am reminded of a Washington Post article where esteemed author and National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates said, “The need to have an opinion on everything at every moment corrupts thinking.”

Coates may be right. However, I don’t have an opinion on everything (Surprised?), but I have plenty to say about normal. If the word surfaces in my mind while I’m composing something or slides off of my tongue during a conversation – my awareness screeches to a halt like tires on asphalt.

Normalcy is like beauty, it is in the eyes of the beholder. What some people consider normal, others do not. Opinions differ. Sometimes I want to climb up on the rooftop and scream, “Somebody tell me what is normal!” And someone is sure to point to my dark silhouette against the light blue sky and say, “That’s not normal behavior.” Do you see what I mean?

The concept of normalcy is complicated. We all have different ideas and viewpoints on what we consider normal.

Five will get you ten that if a news reporter randomly stopped adults on the street and asked them to define normal, even the most intelligent ones might rack their brain to come up with a sensible answer. Some might say that normal is an acceptance of societal and cultural standards defined by the general public. Others might say that normal means average and widely accepted. A smart-aleck (sometimes spelled ass) might say that “Normal is whatever I say it is.”

The smark-aleck’s answer may not be too far from the truth. We live in an anything-goes society where some people believe that normal is overrated; others will tell you that there is no such thing as normal.

Carolyn Gold Heilbrun, an American academic and author of numerous books, was said to have strong opinions on many things and was considered brilliant by those who knew her. Her friend Judith Resnik, a Yale Law professor, described Heilbrun as “a person who was inventive and energetic and gutsy.” Heilbrun, wife, and mother of three grown children, once said, “Normal is absolutely my least favorite word.” On October 9, 2003, the septuagenarian who had no known physical or mental ailments committed suicide. Do you think that what she did was normal?

I don’t know how many times I have heard people say things like, “Normal people don’t act like that.” “There is no such thing anymore as a normal day.” And here’s my favorite, when my doctor says to me that something is “normal for your age,” I bite my tongue to keep from telling him, “Dying will also be normal for my age at some point.”

Wry humor aside, just as many of us grown folks believe we have a handle on the old normal, a paradigm shift in the social order propels us into a so-called new norm.

I wish that we could all get on the same page and determine a precise definition of normal.

I would close this entry with a traditional greeting, “Have a good day.” But as sure as I do some cynic would ask, “How would you define a good day?” That would be easier for me than defining normalcy. But everything is relative.

 

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The Trump Effect on Relationships

I recently had a mildly civil discussion (for a change) about the White House’s current occupant with a close friend who is a Trump supporter. Trust me it is hard as hell to maintain this friendship. Having a root canal would be more comfortable. But I am trying to salvage this one.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, I abruptly ended a 30-year casual friendship with another MAGA-man supporter. It wasn’t easy to do, but the bickering got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore. That friend, who I will call Tony, is a good person. I used to think that he was level-headed too – until I didn’t. His only reason (so he said) for not supporting Hilliary was the damaging announcement about her emails. What a gift that was for her misogynistic opponent. Nevertheless, Tony fell for the okey doke. Just as the October surprise killed Hilliary’s chance to win the office, it destroyed my friendship with Tony.

Trump, who exposed himself as arrogant, vulgar, and narcissistic while running for office, has proved that he is ten times more profane than our worse nightmare. For four years, this country has been living in a dimension more frightening than the Twilight Zone and broader than an alternate universe. I sometimes think about sending Tony a taunting email with a single question:  How do you like him now? But I won’t.

Different political views should not kill a relationship, but it sometimes does. This matter has become so prevalent that numerous articles are being written about it, including one in The Hill.

As hard as I try, I cannot understand why in God’s name would anyone in their right mind vote for Trump. I apologize — using God in the same sentence as someone I see as evil incarnate seems sacrilegious.

In my view, there are two kinds of people who support him. The first group is androids, programmed with many or all of their power-hungry leader’s despicable characteristics. They are arrogant, devious, self-centered, conniving, vulgar, contemptuous, not needy, but greedy.

The second group is cousins to the androids. They are more needy than greedy. Some of them are merely uninformed and easily persuaded by the media. The rest of them are intellectually inferior,  spineless, submissive, and gullible. They can be lead to do anything from injecting bleach to kill coronavirus to following their leader off a cliff. Like their well-to-do cousins, they are blind loyalists to a politically impotent apprentice.

(I apologize, Michelle, for going low when you said we should go high, but please indulge me. )

It boggles my mind when I hear people say they like the faux-politician because he speaks his mind. Those wimps who admire him because he thoughtlessly spews vulgar, insensitive, hateful and ignorant dialog more often than not need to ask themselves what does it say about them.

What’s to like about a despicable man who shows contempt for intelligent women? The same wannabe macho man who won’t leave home without his orange makeup, reveals his insecurity when he begs suburban women for their votes, “Why don’t you like me? I need you to like me,” as he did a few weeks ago at a recent campaign rally.

As for Black people who support him, I suspect that many celebrities and prosperous Black people suck up to him for the same reason wealthy white folks do — tax breaks. The others, the low-to-no-income group who let themselves be used as props, perhaps don’t know any better. They are no different from politically unsavvy whites who thoughtlessly jump on any passing bandwagon for a free ride. Some of the Black people, many of them young, who are spotted sitting behind Trump at his rallies and peppered amidst the standing crowd, are hired help. Reports by reputable news outlets state that numerous black people have their travel and lodging paid for by organizations like BLEXIT, created in 2018 by conservative activist Candance Owens, to lure people of color – specifically Black Americans – away from the Democratic Party.

I believe in different strokes for different folks, but it bothers me when I see people who look like me selling their soul and integrity for a few dollars and 15 seconds of TV camera time to someone so undeserving. It reminds me of the compelling words popularized by Zora Neale Hurston, “All my skinfolk ain’t kinfolk.”

And one last thing. Forty-five has made it clear that he hates former President Obama, who is admired by millions of people, Black and white. Obama is everything that 45 is not. He is intelligent, empathetic, handsome, and charismatic. Have you ever heard President Obama boast about how smart he is or how much money he has? Someone needs to remind America’s would-be authoritarian that a “stable genius” doesn’t have to boast about being one.

I pray that the gig will soon be up for the orange one. We will know whether the nightmare ends or – God forbid – it continues in five more days.

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Soul-Searching with a Cup of Java

It’s overcast outside. Grey clouds are threatening a downpour at any moment. On autumn days like this one, I like to put on some easy-listening music, grab a cup of coffee and sit and think.

I call it quiet introspection.

People who know me say that I am transparent. I admit that I am also opinionated. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Holding my tongue not only belies who I am; it agitates me like an itch that gets worse the more I scratch it. There are some things – not many – that I will not speak openly about unless I am asked, and my answer may be brief but candid. Depending on the topic, my advice is if you are not prepared to hear the answer, then don’t ask the question. It’s a play on the axiom, “Be careful what you wish for; you just may get it.”

Someone else’s viewpoint about an issue is their opinion, and mine is mine. They may argue that my perspective is wrong, but I will not change my mind to appease them. By the same token, if someone disagrees with me, I won’t try to change their mind, but I will let them know that I feel differently.  Everyone has an opinion (though, but some folks would never admit to it). The best thing for strengthening an opinion is having reliable information to support your position. For instance, if I say that over half of the people in this country drink coffee every day, that is my opinion. If I say that a Reuters study shows that 64 percent drink it daily, I’ve backed up my opinion with data provided by a verifiable source.

I try to be open-minded to suspend judgment and to accept without condemnation things with which I don’t entirely agree. I am no more perfect than the next person, and I wouldn’t think of casting the first stone. But what I am not – is a hypocrite.

This nonconformist does not follow the herd. I will not pretend to believe that day is night, left is right, and what I perceive to be wrong is right just because society may dictate it or because everybody else thinks it’s okay. Nevertheless, my doctrine is simple – live and let live.

My mother was dutifully religious. I consider myself more spiritual than religious, but the disadvantage of being a child imbued with a strict religious upbringing is that it sticks with you through adulthood. Mother has been dead for six years; however, in my mind, I still hear her quoting Proverbs 22:6. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

I don’t know how many times I heard her say that when I was growing up.

Sometimes we deviate. That doesn’t mean that we forgot the lessons. God bestowed us with free will, and fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, we make a conscious choice to choose the other of the two roads in our path instead of the trail we were taught to follow.

Since the scriptures prophesize that we “all have sinned,” sometimes I think that trying to walk a righteous path is futile. If I could say that to mother now, she would immediately remind me that the Bible also says that each of us will be judged according to our deeds.

So, I reiterate that I will live and let live. But I refuse to be fake. Sometimes even when I go along to get along, I feel like a fraud. Anyone who wants me to accept them for who they are must, in turn, take me for who I am. Because we disagree doesn’t mean that we have to be nasty about it. It merely means that we have a different point of view.

Indian philosopher Krishnamurti said, “The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.” I haven’t reached that peak. Maybe I never will. But I don’t worry about it, because I have plenty of company on the concourse level.

It takes an extraordinary person to look at something – anything – in a completely neutral manner. Can someone be open-minded and critical at the same time? Is it feasible to think that even the smartest person can observe something and not draw a conclusion? I wonder. Because someone doesn’t publicly express an opinion, but that doesn’t mean that he or she has not formed one?

There is nothing like relaxing to some easy-listening music, a cup of coffee, and quiet introspection – in my opinion.

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Visiting Black Lives Matter Plaza–Part 1 of 2

Last Sunday, I took a walk through the valley of the shadow of death. OK, I’m being overdramatic. However, the nearly empty roads along the generally bustling Sixteenth Street corridor resembled a scene from the Twilight Zone. Hardly anyone was on the streets.

Until that day, aside from a doctor’s appointment and a couple of outings to the store, I had not wandered outside my home since mid-March. That’s when the COVID pandemic showed up like an uninvited houseguest and drove everybody into isolation.

My first time taking the 6.04 mile walk along Sixteenth Street happened on 911. Planes had flown into the twin towers in New York, and another crashed into the western side of the Pentagon. Reporters broadcast that a hijacked plane, later identified as United Airlines Flight 93, was believed to be heading to the White House or the U.S. Capitol. Subsequently, that aircraft crashed in a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. D.C.’s Metro service had been canceled, and everyone was scrambling to move away from the business district ahead of another anticipated terrorist attack. I had no choice but to take the long, solitary walk home.

I had not rewalked that path since retiring a decade ago. Until Sunday, September 13, Grandparent’s Day, this energetic nana decided to challenge herself, to see if I could still go the distance. My purpose was twofold. I had been yearning to visit the area north of Lafayette Square (nicknamed the President’s Park) since June 5, 2020. On that day, hundreds of demonstrators turned out to protest the murder-by-cop of George Floyd. Later, the defiant D.C. mayor renamed the block Black Lives Matter Plaza.

A longtime history buff, I wanted to visit the area and feel the history. To walk the path and stand on the spot where the late Congressman John Lewis made his last public appearance on June 7, five weeks before his death.

So at 7 a.m. Sunday, my daughter and I leave my home and trek over to Carton Baron. From there, we head south. I’ve lived all my life in Chocolate City, and the scenic, tree-lined 16th Street, bordered by nicely manicured lawns, clean sidewalks, and charming houses, has always been my favorite thoroughfare.

Sixteenth Street runs north-to-south in a straight line. If you start at Eastern Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland, and go south, you’ll pass picturesque homes, the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Rock Creek Park, and Carter Baron. Also along the way are several foreign embassies, including the Embassy of the Republics of the Congo, Cambodia, Lithuania, and Angola.

Near the halfway point of our excursion, we stop briefly in Malcolm X Park. I’ve loved that place since I was a teenager and used to visit there occasionally with my friends. Also known as Meridian Hill Park, the property sits across the street from Howard University’s Meridian Hill Hall. The Hall was one of Howard’s dorms until the building was sold in 2016. The developer plans to convert it to rental housing.

Continuing downtown, we pass Scott circle. Mounted in its center is the equestrian statue of Civil War General Winfield Scott. A short distance away, on the right-hand side of the street, the National Geographic Museum stands temporarily closed. Its windows boarded-up since the George Floyd protests. We go a few more blocks and 90 minutes after we started our trip, we cross K Street and arrive at Black Lives Plaza.

At the entrance of the plaza, on the right-hand side at the corner of 16th & K, stands the Regis Hotel. (Decades ago, when I worked in a government affairs office in the building directly across the street, it was called the Sheraton-Carlton.)

As I stand there, reminiscing, I remember spring 1991. I am watching from the fourth-floor window as Queen Elizabeth and her security detail exit the hotel, climb into her motorcade and drive away. How thrilling, I think at the time, I’ve seen the queen. She was in town then, visiting President George H.W. and Barbara Bush. I later learned that the queen also toured some areas of the city with Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon and other locals.

It was that same window that I rushed to one morning about a year later, after hearing screams coming from outside. I looked down to see a young woman who I later learned worked for Xerox, being dragged beneath the back wheel of a box truck. Pedestrians screaming and gesturing eventually caught the attention of the oblivious driver, and he stopped the truck a few feet beyond the entrance of our building. Paramedics rushed to the scene and extracted the women from beneath the truck. She survived. News reports revealed that the truck driver, who had numerous prior driving violations and was subsequently fired, said he had not seen the woman when she stepped off the curb.

My old workplace building has a new facade and now houses P.J. Clarke’s restaurant. Posted in front of the structure, to the left and right of the double doors, are two large Black Lives Matter signs. Nearly every building on that block and several nearby have signs of assorted shapes and sizes displaying the same persuasive message.

On the same side as the Regis, at the opposite end of the block at H Street, is the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Police cars stationed at both ends of the block restrict vehicles from entering.

There are only about a dozen people in the plaza. In front of the building alongside the Regis, four or five young people are seated in a semi-circle in what appears to be folding lawn chairs. They look as relaxed as if they are socializing in their living room. I wonder if they are some of the numerous activists who participate in the protests that have been ongoing intermittently since the death of George Floyd. (Continued in Part 2)

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Visiting Black Lives Matter Plaza–Part 2 of 2

Lafayette Park lies at the northern end of the plaza. The once bright yellow, all capital letters leading up to the park that seems to shout “Black Lives Matter” have dulled, and the asphalt has huge cracks in some places.

The park is encased by a black wire fence that appears to be about 8 feet high. Positioned against the fence, near the small passageway for pedestrians, is a large orange triangular-shaped street sign that instructs readers to “Watch for Black Lives.”

As my daughter and I walk through the entrance behind the wall, I am wondering – Is there only one way in and one way out?

Upon entering, I see that behind the taller fence is a jersey wall, and behind the jersey wall are decorative safety bollards. The bollards are slightly taller than fire hydrants. A fence behind a fence behind a fence. I ask myself – All of this to keep the public away from a statue?

The outer fence is papered with flyers. Some of them show photos of black people who have been murdered by police offices. Many of the papers are imprinted with relevant messages. One states, “Trump must go.” Another reads, “Hello and #F*** Trump.” The explicit was spelled out. There is a photo of a young man I do not recognize beneath the caption “Rest in peace.” There is another one with a picture I remember immediately, young Trayvon Martin wearing a gray hoodie.

The statue of President Andrew Jackson that protesters attempted to topple – until forced back by law enforcement officers – still stands in the center of the square in front of the white house behind yet another fence.

I feel happy to have made that trip. It doesn’t matter that after I returned home, I forgot the cardinal rule to be followed after every workout – stretch. I paid the price for forgetting.

By the end of the day, and in the two days following, every inch of my body is aching. My ouches have ouches. Sitting down and standing up is a struggle. When I say that I had to drag one leg behind the other to walk across the room, I do not exaggerate. My body felt like it had been hit by a bus. Epsom salt baths gave little relief.

As much as I dislike popping pills, on Monday night, I took a couple of extra-strength Tylenol and did a few gentle stretches before carrying my ice pack to bed with me. By Tuesday afternoon, I was feeling a little better, and by Wednesday, better still. Today, I am almost up to par.

Although my mind constantly reiterates the mantra of “The Little Engine That Could,” my body reminds me that I am no spring chicken. Nevertheless, as long as my health prevails and granny doesn’t fall and can’t get up, I will continue to challenge myself.  I know I can. I know I can. I know I can.

 

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