By L Parker Brown on April 6, 2019
By L Parker Brown on March 9, 2019
Every cognizant person will agree that we are never too old to learn. Learning is even better when you enjoy it, and I do. I take pride in acquiring knowledge about new things. There are various ways to learn. Firsthand experience is often an excellent teacher. On the other hand, there is knowledge to be gained from articles, books, and films. Documentary films are high on my list of educational tools.
Some of the numerous documentaries I’ve watched over the years and recently include Time: The Kalief Browder Story, Jane Fonda in Five Acts, I Am Not Your Negro, Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland, Surviving R. Kelly, and The Two Killings of Sam Cooke.
While I prefer films about the Black experience, I don’t limit my viewing to presentations about a particular racial group or subject. Open-mindedness not only helps me to maintain a well-rounded base of knowledge; it expands my critical thinking and prevents me from stating baseless opinions and making irrational judgments.
Most recently I watched the documentary Period. End of Sentence. My first thought as I began viewing the film was that we take so much for granted in this country. You’ll learn why I thought that as you continue reading.
Period. End of Sentence is a 26-minute film that won an Oscar last month for Best Documentary Short Subject. It is about the stigma surrounding menstruation in a rural village called Kathikhera, outside Delhi, India.
I was surprised to learn of the level of naivety of the Indian women (and men) concerning a subject that rarely raises eyebrows in America. In the Delhi town (and some other resource-poor countries including parts of Africa and Southeast Asia) the subject of menstruation is rarely discussed among women and certainly not with men.
As one man in the film is heard saying, “Menstruation is the biggest taboo in my country.” Women on their period are believed to be unclean. Less than 10 percent of women use sanitary pads and lack knowledge about menstrual hygiene.
Few schools have adequate facilities to allow girls to perform proper hygiene during that time month, so there is an increase in school absenteeism and a high dropout rate among young girls. Like other menstruating females, school girls use old cotton clothing or whatever cloth they have on hand when they are on their period.
In one scene in the film, a man operating a crude machine developed to produce sanitary pads instructs his female employees on how to use the machine. When finished, the pads are boxed and then sold to shops in the village where merchants are willing to buy them (not all merchants do, because of the societal taboo). Women from the shop that manufacturers the pads also go door-to-door trying to sell boxes of pads, but some women upon learning what they are for refuse them. Some also questioned the safety of using the pads that are self-sticking to underwear.
The attempts to educate women about menstruation and the use of pads, instead of pieces of cloth that are washed and reused or discarded, are often rejected by women who are embarrassed to buy the pads or discuss the issue when men are around. Even more mindboggling is one apparently middle-aged man who, when told what the pads were for, said that he thought the women in the shop were making diapers for infants.
Perhaps you see now why I say that documentaries are high on my list of educational tools. The next time you decide to watch a documentary check out Period. End of Sentence.
The taboo surrounding menstruation which is still prevalent in some countries prompted the World Bank to create the following video on the subject.
By L Parker Brown on February 17, 2019
If I live, I’ll have another birthday in two weeks. I’ve been trying to downplay it, but I might as well broadcast it because no matter how I try (every year) to ignore the approaching event, someone always reminds me. Just the other day a good friend asked, “Don’t you have a birthday coming up next month?” I know her well enough to know that immediately after I mumbled, “Uh-huh,” and tried to change the subject, and she asked, “What day?” she made a mental note to buy me a card. Oh, snap!
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the greetings and well-wishes, because I do. It’s just that my birthdays are no big deal to me anymore. Unlike milestone birthdays – turning Sweet 16 or reaching legal adulthood, the other B-days are, well, just birthdays. I suppose that nonchalance comes with age. Don’t get me wrong; I know that accumulating years is, as the saying goes – better than the alternative.
Although growing older doesn’t bother me, I am concerned about the undesirable things that most seniors resent like age-related challenges. The body changes: physical and mental. The frequent aches and pains, and the multiple medications some must take daily. According to WebMD, “Adults over age 65 buy 30 percent of all prescription drugs and 40 percent of all over-the-counter drugs.” I was not surprised to learn that many seniors take five or more medications a day. No wonder on the few occasions when I go to a doctor one of the first questions the nurse asks is “What medications are you on?” It is not my imagination that when I say, “None,” I sometimes see her arch an eyebrow before she scribbles her notes on a page attached to a clipboard or keys them into the computer.
My philosophy is, if you are a senior and free of medical challenges or even if you are dealing with them, there are two essentials for aging with strength and grace: (1) maintain a positive attitude and (2) keep a sense of humor.
So many people my age (and many who are younger) are taking age-related medications for high blood pressure, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis. You name it.
Let me knock on wood, my head will do, as I say that I am (currently) not dealing with any of those ailments. I know that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. Life is a day-to-day adventure. One day you could be perfectly healthy. You jump out of bed, cartwheel to the bathroom, hop into your workout clothes and hit the ground running. The next day you could be flat on your back KO’d by the flu or some other sudden illness, a heart attack, a stroke, or a terminal disease.
Life is like that. We may think that we are in total control, but none of us are. Control is quixotic as life is transitional. The only guarantee we have is that eventually, we all die. Better to enjoy each moment while we can. If life is blissful or relatively comfortable, then take it for what it is. If we perceive it to be miserable, then pray that it gets better. Succumbing to negativity only makes a bad situation worse.
As an aside let me share that in June 2014, I spent the last week, day, and final seconds with my mother at her home before she died of cancer. There are numerous things about that week and our time together that are resolute in my mind. Braiding her hair while she was propped up on the borrowed hospital bed provided by the hospice organization. The hissing noise made by the oxygen concentrator feeding her breath. Her smile and slight nods as I read Maya Angelo’s poems to her. But what stands out prominently is that during those weeks and days before she died, on the day before my sister’s birthday and four months before her 87th, mom seemed unafraid and at peace.
Before I digress further, let me get back on track about birthdays and aging and offer some tips to my cohorts.
Some age-related annoyances like occasional memory lapses or waning eyesight can be a pain. It is useful to stick post-it-notes wherever needed around the home as memory joggers. Store your eyeglasses in the same place so you can readily find them to read the notes. And don’t pitch a hissy fit if you can’t open a child-proof product, call a neighbor’s child and ask him or her to come over and open it.
Although, unlike numerous people my age (and many who are younger than I), I am not on any medications; don’t take that to mean that I don’t get occasional age-related discomfort. I do. Some mornings, especially after I have over-exerted myself while working out the day before, I wake up feeling like I rolled out of bed during the night, body slammed myself to the floor and then sleep-climbed back into the sack.
Ask me to what do I attribute my fair-to-middling health, and I’ll say “God and good genes” in that order. A scientist might say that it is the half-dozen vitamins and supplements that I take daily combined with regular exercise. And eating habits. Most days, I eat healthily. I rarely eat red meat. But I admit I am a magnet for sugary snacks. I easily avoid salt. Over the years I’ve developed a low tolerance for it. And I don’t smoke, drink or do drugs. Can I get a witness? (Who said caffeinated coffee is a drug?)
I won’t tell you and all the world how old I will be next month. If you already know, then you know. But if you don’t know, let’s play a guessing game. I will give you some clues. In the year I was born, Harry S. Truman was reelected U.S. President; Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in India, and if I were a canine, I would be 335 dog years old. Now, go figure. But shh, keep it quiet.
By L Parker Brown on February 3, 2019
Youthful indiscretions – is there no forgiveness for them? Who among us hasn’t done something in our youth that we regret when looking back on the misbehavior as a mature adult?
On Friday, the right-wing blog Big League Politics published a racist photo from the 1984 medical school yearbook of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. One of the photos on a page titled with Northam’s name depicts two people, one in a blackface costume and another wearing a Klan outfit.
On the day that news outlets broadcast that photo, there was swift prejudgment and immediate demands for the Democratic governor’s resignation. He issued an immediate apology for the photos but seemed to waver on whether he was one of the two people in the picture. The next day he asserted that he was not in that photo and added that since he had not purchased the yearbook, it was his first time seeing the picture. Only he, the persons in the photo, and God know whether he is truthful.
Flipping the script for a moment – the Me Too movement brought out numerous women making sexual misconduct allegations, some that occurred decades ago, against prominent men. To be fair, some male victims have made similar accusations against women.
The point is whether the issue is sexual misconduct or racist behavior, how far back is too far back to drag up someone’s past and use it against them?
Before I incur a backlash of criticism let me clearly state that I am not making prejudgments against Me Too victims or people who are accused of or guilty of racial injustices. I merely want to emphasize that people do stupid and irresponsible things when they are young (and sometimes not so young) that they might not repeat when they are more mature.
I know that all transgressions are not attributable to youthful ignorance. The arrogance to make sexual powerplays or blatantly or subtly display racial hatred is sometimes deep-seated. But the purpose of this post is not to judge the alleged perpetrators; I am simply wondering how long is too long to hold something that happened decades ago against someone without examining or considering their track record going forward. If a person has a continuous, unrelenting record of wrongdoing that is one thing, but if the accused shows by his (or her) actions over the years that he or she has changed their wayward behavior why continue to drag up the past? When is long ago long enough?
My cousin, Renate Jones recently said this about the Gov. Northam controversy. “While I agree that this was horrific, this was over 30 years ago, and as a young man, he did what a host of many young people do…stupid stuff. We cannot judge this man by what he did so long ago. In the eighties, racism existed, and still will [sic]. How is the man now living his life? Ultimately judge him by his behavior now. I am black and do not feel he should resign. In 1984, I was militant as [could] be…need I say more? Imagine if you guys have some of your behavior come back to haunt you [from] 30 years ago”
After apologizing for appearing in the disturbing photo, the governor said the next day that he wasn’t in the picture. He insisted that neither figure wearing a racist costume was him. He also said that he never bought a copy of the yearbook and that Friday, when the story broke, was his first time seeing the photo. Some people hearing that were left wondering was it an attempt at damage control to save his reputation and job or is he sincere?
I agree with Renate, how far back in the past is too far to go to hold something against someone? (Let me add that I am excluding and find unforgivable certain hideous crimes like kidnapping, child trafficking, rape, and cold-blooded murder.)
So, a young teacher observes a toddler smacking a pacifier out of the mouth of another child in a daycare center. Will that act of aggressiveness be held against the child 40 years later when he is nominated for the position of let’s say, US Surgeon General because the teacher remembered the incident and publicized it during the confirmation period? Sounds laughable, doesn’t it?
What about the high school cheerleader who purposely trips-up a competitor during tryouts. A few decades in the future when the tripper becomes, perhaps, Secretary of Education or even President of the U.S. will she be forced to resign from her position because the tripping act was exposed? Ridiculous!
I am not trying to make light of serious situations, but if every one of us is required to give full disclosure about every racist or mean-spirited thing we’ve said during our lifetime when does the line get drawn? Is redemption or forgiveness possible?
Images of hurtful things can remain seared in people’s minds. I retain a clear vision of an act of sexual misconduct committed on me by a former manager in the workplace. I also recall instances of blatant racism that I experienced at the hands of at least two CEOs at different workplaces while others in the office were aware of it, but pretended not to see. Some people change; others don’t. Such is life.
If someone spends years of their adult life on the straight and narrow, trying to live down previous insensitive conduct is there no tolerance for evaluating that person’s behavior going forward?
Since the Northam incident, and numerous times in recent years, I’ve heard many talking heads on TV say, “There is no place for racism” in our government or our society. There isn’t – but it exists, and it rolls downhill.
When people obviously and blatantly continue to perpetuate evil throughout their lifetime, that is one thing, but when people show by their actions that they are trying to do better because they know better, then I say give them a chance.
If we – individually – are to be held responsible for every wrongful thing we said or did in our distant past, whether it is attributable to youthful imprudence or adult ignorance – who among us would be able to cast the first stone?
By L Parker Brown on January 15, 2019
Each year, a local TV station sponsors a Health and Fitness Expo where no-cost wellness classes and health screenings are available to attendees. There are also hands-on activities including endurance events to challenge health enthusiasts like me.
In years past, I have participated in exercises from aerobic to yoga; but the thing that beckons me most is the rock wall. You might think that a card-carrying AARP member might shy away from something so rigorous. No so, I enjoy a challenge. So upon arriving in the exhibit hall early Saturday morning, I headed straight for the rock wall. Game on!
Before a participant is strapped into the safety harness and allowed to climb the wall, we are required to sign a waiver. It warns that if I should fall and break a bone, sustain some other bodily injury, or worse yet, drop dead – while not acting my age – the contract absolves the promoter of any liability. After signing the waiver, a red, one-inch wide band, similar to the band you receive in a hospital emergency room, was placed around my wrist indicating that I had signed my life over to Divine Providence. Also, in case I wanted to try the climb again later or attempt some other age-defying stunt, I would simply show the band to the staff person.
A previous attempt and failure to scale the wall two years ago made me more determined to try again. With true grit, I was able to propel myself a few stones higher this time. The Lat Pulldown and other strength building gym machines had helped me build my upper body strength, but it wasn’t enough. I was about four feet off the ground when my calves started cramping forcing me to end my quest and indicating that I should have spent more time stretching.
As I walked away from the wall, feeling defeated but not dejected, I glanced back to see a young boy who looked to be about ten years old ascending that wall like Spider-Man on a mission.
Geared up for another challenge I went in search of the Spartan exhibit. Days earlier I had watched a young reporter on TV demonstrate the Spartan race and I told myself “I can do that.”
Unlike the real 3-4 mile Spartan race with its many obstacles and competitors, the Spartan course at the expo is a scaled-down, mini-version. The first thing a contestant does is warm up by running 30 seconds on a curved treadmill. Then, the objective is to go through each obstacle on the course as fast as you can. Since I wasn’t competing against anyone but myself, time didn’t concern me. My goal was simply to conquer each obstacle.
After getting off the treadmill, I walked (did not run) to the first wooden wall, it was approximate four-feet high. The struggle to climb over it took me approximately 5 minutes. (I could have walked around it, but that would have defeated the purpose, would it not?) Next came the bear crawl. That was easy. I scooted beneath the mock-barbed wire fence in about 60 seconds. After exiting the bear crawl, I was supposed to run to and climb over a higher, inclined wall. That wall was twice my height, at least 10 feet. After two earnest attempts, I walked around and found myself facing another wall. It was 7 feet. Pass! The final task was to pull myself up on a rope mounted to a post and ring the bell at the top. Sound easy? It wasn’t.
The two young men on the staff, who shadowed me along the course probably had a good laugh about my senior version of the Spartan crawl, er, I mean race after I left, but throughout my effort, they were encouraging and even gave me a high-five as I strolled across the finished line.
I’m not dismayed that I failed to complete the Spartan course. Completing two out of five obstacles wasn’t bad. I enjoyed every challenging minute. Later that Saturday evening I had some muscle aches, and pains in places that I didn’t know could have aches and pains, proof that I had pushed my body. I think I’m hooked now on the Spartan course.
My cousin, Rai, told me that she is planning to do the real Spartan race. She’s athletic and half my age. I know she will finish the course. I’ll just wait until next year’s expo and try the mini version again.