Monday, February 28, 2011

“Patience: A minor form of despair disguised as a virtue.” Ambrose Bierce


What are we afraid of?

It takes a lot of patience, getting older. One can’t go off half-cocked at the latest insult from the rant-filled right wing talking fat heads. Patience is required when being lectured by those who won’t abide being lectured and instead take another to task for having an opposing view. Attending a rally for the rights of one people does not automatically make me hateful of the people who live under the government that practices the apartheid I protest. Those younger males who laugh at Sarah Palin’s ‘antics’ demand my patience as well. After all, they weren’t around in the Dark Ages when young women like me were making furtive plans with the unknown to have an illegal abortion. I have to patiently calm the cynic in me who has seen what flowery political campaign speeches turn to strangling weeds in the cold light of post-election.

One has to choose one’s battles.

I went to the Planned Parenthood rally/demo/protest/political grandstanding last Saturday afternoon with Rennie, Beatrice, Christina, and The Mister. While others were pleased with the turnout, I thought it only a fair showing. Maybe it was because Manhattan is a bastion of Liberalism anyway. We have avuncular Chuck Schumer cheerleading the troops. Kathleen Turner offered up her ashtray voice for Planned Parenthood to a giddy crowd of admirers, older admirers that is. All spoke in the shadow of a 60-ft, black granite sculpture called Triumph Of the Human Spirit by Lorenzo Pace. It’s meant to represent an abstract female form and serves as a monument to honor all Africans brought to America. Surrounded as it is by government buildings I can also imagine it as a great big ‘up yours’ from said human spirit.

The Mister, as usual, cautions me not to get arrested. At this stage it’s a long-standing joke. I heed the cops who direct me to the freedom of speech pens blocks away from a perfectly empty area of the rally. I bite my tongue. A lot. Though I did indulge my inner Pollybollocks and shouted to the cops flanking the peaceful parade of demonstrators. I cheer and tell them, “This is about all of us, this right to our bodies, our selves. We are marching for you, too.” All smiled and nodded in return. Except for a lone female cop. She was kinda on the short side, it has to be said, and remained stoically grim-faced.

The cops may have been more at ease in their skin on Saturday. It was, after all, a bunch of women, but any change, any perceived threat to their authority and you’d be closed in so fast you wouldn’t know which way the tear gas was blowing.

Perhaps what got any decent-sized crowd out at all was the recent move on the part of the anti-abortion group, Life Always, which is based in Texas. They had a news conference in Manhattan last week to discuss the opening of an advertising campaign intended to reach black women. This misfired on a grand scale when New Yorkers spied a huge billboard above a Mexican restaurant, located a half-mile from a Planned Parenthood center in SOHO. It showed a young black girl in a pink dress and the words “the most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.”

Really? Did they seriously expect New Yorkers NOT to react? This city is thriving with enough educated, righteously indignant Black women alone to have given them pause. The billboard was taken down within days. In keeping with the ‘blame game’ the reason given for the retreat was that employees of the restaurant were being threatened, their lives were in danger, of course. What still exists are the advertisements, with a similar message of intolerance from the same group, on the outside of city busses.

Ah, but I was talking about patience and fear. What don’t I have patience for? What do I fear?

Friends responded to my query with humor—“I think of the consequences of not responding to your request!!!”—and seriousness— “Being strangled, restrained by anxiety and weighed down.” Some expressed the fear of death, or of missing out on something, which will certainly happen after death. “Fear; being trapped…in any sense of the word—physically, psychologically, emotionally. Panic attacks are the worst.” I was relieved to see this friend had added: “Mine are all gone.”

I can always rely on the cheeky retorts of my Leicester Friend: “Being trapped in a room with 20 beautiful young ladies for a week. At my time of life I don't think I would come out alive !!!” Or the wry commentary I have come to expect from Noozeguy: “When I think of fear, I think of getting emails that ask me what I think of fear.”

Isabel, who is a journalist and a writer in Barcelona echoed some of my own fears, things we have discussed: “Fear to be sick, fear to be subjugated to the medical system, fear of dying because of their shamanic death sentence, fear to be homeless, fear to become crazy, mad before the injustice, fear that the world becomes more and more subjugated, that critical people are eliminated...” Kalev, too, anticipates a great suffering, “…which, after all, is what fear is.”

“When I think of fear,” Julie wrote, “I think of holding my breath—not feeling comfortable to exist.”

Missy’s definitive assertion suits her relentless optimism: “Fear is the greatest sin and the biggest roadblock to progress. Mine or a nation’s or whoever’s.” While fear of the unknown and dwindling prospects causes a sleepless night for another.

“Cool, great question,” Lexie wrote, “but requires maybe three sentences.”

“There are two types of fear, one is useful, and the other is not. The first kind is essential and alerts us to danger, it’s animalistic, and it kicks in when you know, without knowing why, that you’re in a dangerous situation and something must be done NOW to avert a bad thing from happening. I like to call this the lizard brain and it's in our DNA we can choose to take action, which is usually wise, or not (at the risk of appearing foolish) to our own detriment.”

“The other kind of fear is usually self imposed and serves no purpose at all other than to keep us in a status quo, unable to move forward or reach for a dream for fear of losing whatever it is that we think we have. This is the fear of failure or success and it is completely pointless and debilitating.”

“Ok there's a third kind of fear that governments and the media instill in us, equally useless but it keeps us in our place. Either by continuing to buy and consume or by allowing atrocities in the name of safety, I know I don't have to elaborate on this one. So, what do YOU think of when you think of fear?”

Well, pretty much what has already been described? Ill health, the prospect of hospitalization sends me into that sphere of anxiety that tightens my chest like a vise. Close friends have recently ended their days in hospital beds. I fear the surrender a doctor demands from the patient. I fear capitulating to that demand.

I fear the complacency on the part of Americans, and what nefarious use powerful, greedy, soulless individuals will make of that complacency. I fear the patience I have been striving to achieve will be undermined by inaction, that I will continue to go to protests, but that I will capitulate to complacency and allow myself to be penned in these new-age freedom of speech zones. I fear that I might not make the best traveler on my own odyssey, that I might not get to complete a self-examination that will strip away the fear and replace that with courage to bolster my convictions, no matter how others might react.

And, while I am trying my best not to, I fear encroaching age for a myriad of useless reasons. Rob Will is a young man I know on death row. He has every reason to be fearful and yet he ploughs through his fears with activism behind bars in a world that I am gradually learning more about. A world that is really the culmination of all of our fears; the Kafkaesque rabbit hole any one of us can fall into and never crawl out of; a place so dire and soul crushing.

I have to learn not to mistake patience for complacency. I have no patience for the feel-good-soft-focused-within-an-inch-of-their-screen-lives moments.

Terrorism is all smoke and mirrors, dangerous smoke and mirrors to be sure, but we have to wrench that smoky curtain aside and see just who or what is running the smoke machine and installing all those mirrors.

Rob’s incarcerated youth is my mirror as I age. He shows me what I must value, where my priorities must lie.

I went with friends to another rally some weeks ago, where even fewer demonstrators were in attendance. This one was in support of the peace activists in the Midwest who have been hounded and arrested by the FBI. The case before the Grand Jury is a fishing expedition and could very well be thrown out of court. But the government has very long poles and plenty of them and they will keep fishing until the fish are too exhausted to fight.

“Stop the subpoena!

Stop the raid!

We are here and not afraid!”

As I chanted with my friends Christopher and Tom in that moderate-sized clutch of demonstrators, so much older than the ones we saw at the Planned Parenthood rally, I felt the familiar surge of, if not fearlessness, then, at least, willingness.

A very tiny and elderly white-haired lady scrambled to the podium toward the end of that rally. “This is what happens when you become part of a movement,” she cried, “if you’re small you stand tall.”

And when you are aging, you will be young again.

"Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy." Dale Carnegie, American lecturer, author, 1888-1955

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