Tuesday, July 31, 2012

London Olympics: Hearts of Gold

I've been watching the Olympics rather religiously. It was a tradition of sorts in my family, and it seems that the ritual has stuck. After all, who cannot appreciate the world's finest athletes competing, sacrificing, and fighting for gold. There is no lack of drama, back story, media hype, and suspense. Perfectly sculpted bodies, with laser-like focus, disciplined, and meticulously trained keep us on the edge of our seats as they run, flip, fly, dive, kick, paddle, reposte, fling, spike and shoot.

The margin for error at this level of competition can be a hair off center, a splash, an extra hop, a perry, a point, or hundredths of a second. The majesty and poetry of what their bodies are capable of doing is inspiring, jaw-dropping, and often downright unbelievable. With steeled nerves, icy veins, and expressions that indicate their minds are on parallel planes, they take their positions...gravity is defied, time slowed, and sometimes for only mere seconds, they captivate millions. On this stage, heroes are made, naysayers quieted, nations shocked, hopes shattered, careers forged, and dreams fulfilled.

The true magnitude of what these athletes can accomplish boggles my mind. Some show such resilience and perseverance, while others succumb to pressure and scrutiny. While we all love to see our respective countries victorious, I think we allow ourselves to be consumed by whether or not a medal is won. Such seductions are inevitable, easy even. However, my attention is often stolen by an athlete who is simply grateful and humbled by the opportunity to compete, tasked with carrying not only their own aspirations, but those of an entire country.

A couple of nights ago, I was watching men's gymnastics and saw an unlikely competitor, an underdog from Ireland that had overcome amazing adversity. The announcers mentioned the sacrifices this young man had made simply to make it to the games in London. They alluded to the support from his family, all the bake sales and car washes, scrounging together enough funds to compete in various events. But that isn't all. He overcame countless injuries, a botched leg surgery that left him with extensive nerve damage and doctors that told him he would never walk again. Later, he suffered a brain injury that threatened his gymnastic hopes again.This too he overcame. With such a display of tenacity, resolve, and sheer will, who could not wish him the best? Who among us could not root for him?

I don't want to take away from any other athlete's success, plight, or their similarly daunting obstacles. Please revel in the dominance of the USA's women's beach volleyball tandem of Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh. Cheer for the Michael Phelps's, the Dana Vollmers, and the Ryan Lochtes. I certainly did, but don't forget that the hope of some countries rests upon the shoulders of young men with torn rotator cuffs, on surgically repaired legs, and damaged brains...upon the dreams of boys so brave that they defied doctors and science, simply refusing to give up.

In my mind these are the true champions. Not the privileged with unfettered access to facilities, unlimited resources, or those endowed with impressive frames or inherent physical prowess, but those who were laughed at, ridiculed, and told no. Kieran Behan did not win a medal in this Olympics, but he won something more grand than gold: not only was his dream of reaching the Olympic stage realized, but he walked away with our hearts and knowing that he has set an example for everyone who will ever face adversity, or have to hear the unsavory echo and seemingly insurmountable weight of the word no. It is this aspect of the human soul that makes me truly awestruck and fraught with compassion. Winning an Olympic medal is undoubtedly an impressive feat, but sometimes just getting there is in a class all its own.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Bloodshed at the 1984 Olympic Trials

Because my little sister and I were closest in age, we generally were forced to entertain each other against our will. From time to time, boredom would overcome our desires to push each other off of a cliff and we would be civil enough to play a game or two, but usually our loathing was too much to suppress and we'd end up fighting, me armed with superior intellect, and her with sharp teeth.

One day my best friend Robert and his little brother David came over to play. Our driveway was at an impressive incline, which made for perfect high-speed descents in my flashy new wagon. After a while, my little sister wanted in on the action. She was obviously unaware that girls are not allowed on all men, Olympic training bobsled teams and I was certainly not budging on a hundred year old policy. In an act of misplaced female activism and defiance, my little sister marched to the pole near the bottom of the driveway and in silent protest, blocked the wagon's path. 

I issued multiple warnings as Robert and I prepared for our next run, but little sis held fast in her sacrificial stance. I figured that once she saw the wagon speeding towards her, that she would naturally move out of the way, but I truly underestimated her resolve and passion for bobsledding. True to my word, Robert and I pushed off and quickly jumped in the wagon, hunching down to maximize acceleration. Fatefully, I was at the helm, steering the red bullet as it raced down the slope, all the while expecting the deviant holding on to the pole to bale on her useless tirade at any second. Before I knew it, the handle flew from my hand and the wagon, seemingly possessed, careened towards my sister as it picked up speed. 

I fumbled to regain control, but the handle fell forward and away from my grasp, and was now shooting straight out like a spear, and a split second prior to impact, I was made aware of its target...my sister's hand. This wagon was not made from plastic, but of rugged, unrelenting iron, and it pierced through her pudgy, 4 year old flesh and sinew like butter. Before we knew the reality of what had transpired, shrieks of murder ringed in our ears and the sight of a thumb hanging on for life by a sole strand of tissue, was indelibly seared into memory for eternity. Our mother, well versed in first aid, immediately came to the rescue. Unfazed by the sight of blood, or the dangling digit, scooped up the wounded bystander, wrapping her hand in ice and towels, and rushed to the hospital.  

My initial response was, "I told you so", but after the bloodshed and horror, I was truly remorseful and upset. The whole time she was gone, I hoped that her thumb could be reattached and that the Olympic trials would eventually resume without any more hiccups. I now know the answer to the question posed by many physics teachers, "What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?" In the end, the little brat returned bandaged and well, and so began a deep seeded hatred that gave birth to years of my little sister's vengeful wrath, and eventually another story of when she had to be rushed to the hospital after another one of my brilliant ideas.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

About a Boy

When my sister asked me to be a guest writer on her blog, my initial thought was that she must have gone crazy, obviously forgetting my penchant for sarcasm, innuendos, and fanfare. Not the first choice for mommy-blog material. Even though I often push boundaries or flirt with impropriety, I also venture into the contemplative caves of the mind, and peer deep into the reflective pools of my subconscious, asking questions, turning over rocks, and creating ripples. I suspect this is where she wants her readers to go...and not waking up naked with a hangover, next to a monkey smoking a cigarette.

While my sister and I do share a love for baseball, movies, books, and dogs, we couldn't be more worlds apart. For instance, we both talk about boobs...me for my adoration of them and her for their ability to sustain life. She lives on the East coast, and I on the West. She is family oriented and domestic, while I live the whimsical, risk-taking life of the hopelessly romantic bachelor. She has four amazing sisters...and I win have been blessed with five.

I don't suppose most guys are raised in such an equally nurturing, yet hormonally volatile environment. And truth be told, while I never got to watch what I wanted on T.V., or use the bathroom without a wait, I was bestowed a unique perspective into the female psyche. I'm certainly not going to sit here and tell you that I am a guru in such matters, but I am privy to the source of many female-specific behaviors that usually stupefy my less intelligent, neanderthalian brethren. Okay, well perhaps I don't have the actual answers as to "why" they do what they do, but I do have a fairly fool-proof crisis management and survival guide, which I personally think is more practical anyway.

Growing up with five sisters is kind of like being raised by wolves. You're allowed in the den and are considered family, but they can still tear you up if you get out of line. I'm not exactly sure where I'll go with my post, but I've lit the fire, and within the cauldron, something mysterious brews...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Great Expectations...

The past few days have been a mixture of disappointment, contemplation, reminiscing, and revelation. I've had a chance to spend a considerable amount of time with my Dad driving around taking pictures and thinking about the old days. I can't express how much things have really changed here. Many places we go, the ones we can get to anyway, no longer look the way they once did. Skyscrapers, overpasses, shopping malls, casinos and the like now pepper once sparsely populated areas. Prices have shot up, along with toll roads, and construction sites. A subway station is being built, large sections of the city's inner sanctum look as though a giant worm has tunneled his way across town. A metro rail is good in many ways, but the project is long, and strains an infrastructure already bursting at the seams. An old tropical landscape slowly transforms into a formidable metropolis like it's Northern counterparts.

Much of what has changed saddens me. It makes me feel even more out of place in life. This was the one place on the planet I felt like I was inherently a part of...at least more than any other. And now, this too has slowly turned its back on me and has begun to walk away. Nostalgic epiphanies notwithstanding, today was exceptionally nice. I went out with my Dad taking pictures, and hiked up a hill that overlooks the whole city...letting the juxtaposition of being in a jungle that towers over a booming city marinate in my mind. After the hike I had fresh empanadas and a papaya milk shake, the familiarity with the native food was comforting...as well as the price.

Earlier in the day my Dad and I had gotten haircuts together. He doesn't have much left, but I admire that he likes to keep what remains well groomed. For only four dollars, I can't blame him. My haircut was as good as I remember them being, but the service was not. I have been sobered by the realization that people do not have as much pride in their jobs as they used to. Difficult to say if this is due to a new generation, a loss of faith in the economy and government, or a result of wealthy foreigners and drug dealers inflating prices and alienating the poorer class.

Taking pictures of my old neighborhoods and those of my childhood friends brought with it a great sense of peace, happiness, and fulfillment. Although I couldn't remember exactly which houses everyone lived in, I could remember how I felt spending time there, which is a million times better. Much of my longing for these earlier times is not entirely because of how the Panama Canal Zone was physically, but also because it represented a simpler life, unfortunately one that no longer exists. I think I'm coming to the realization that this trip has a lot to do with letting go...surrendering to the shift in the cosmic current and shedding regret or desire of an imaginary place on the spectrum of space and time. I too must grow, construct new beginnings, blossom, and to stretch towards the infinite...ever hoping that the foundation holds steady.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Cool Runnings

A lovely rain fell today. There is a phenomenon that I have dubbed "the cool before the storm". The sky darkens and the temperature drops considerably. You can actually feel the cool moisture in the air, the foreboding wind often giving you goosebumps. The clouds become swollen and heavy, like the bulging bellies on many Buddha statues. The atmosphere instantly makes you sleepy. Then....the voluminous rain drops begin their descent, saturating everthing in their path. Plants glisten, puddles form, streams and currents carry off the day's litter, and droplets chase each other down window panes...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Raining Cats and Dogs

I've never been a huge fan of cats. I'm a dog-lover to the bone. However, Minga is different. I don't know if it's because she's Panamanian, or if the humidity is getting to me, but I like her. She doesn't have this entitled pretense in her mannerisms. She lets me pet her, and genuinely seems to like my affection. She does her thing, and I do mine, our paths mainly crossing either while I type at the computer, or when she meanders past my legs as I watch the television. She is like that cool, carefree person you meet at a party and instantly connect with. There's some engaging conversation devoid of commitment or pressure, neither person with an agenda...just enjoying each others intermittent company.

Her food and water is on the computer desk...presumably to keep it away from the dogs, and because it's next to the window. The window is her portal to the outside realm, and all of us are trained to slide the screen to facilitate her passage. She often sleeps on the balcony, and on hotter days under the shade of my Dad's car. She has a small frame; a black and white cat that moves silently...never exerting more energy than what is necessary. I haven't heard her speak a word the whole week I've been here. She gives an inaudible meow, only mouthing her intent and waving her tail as she looks in your direction and then at the window, trusting that you know what she wants, then patiently waiting for you to comply.

Minga is refreshingly easy to look after. In fact, there isn't much actual looking after. A stark contrast to my 80 pound doberman. I love him to death, but he is the antithesis to Minga...always on alert, anxious, pacing....a sentinel awaiting his next command. His bark is loud and frequent, he consumes a lot of food, requires copious amounts of attention, and must be exercised regularly. These responsibilities are mostly fulfilled with affection and willingness, but at other times I wouldn't mind a nap...or only having to slide open a window screen.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Musings from Panama

I'm not sure rain is the proper word for it...the sky has opened...spewing forth a deluge that apparently has been accumulating for months. The verdant landscape drinks, the jungle's inhabitants taking refuge beneath the broad leaves of the tropical flora that bend and sway under the weight of the rain's onslaught. 

The downpour is vigorous, but short-lived, as is often the case in Panama. During the rainy season, on even the most beautiful and sunny of days, dark and heavy clouds will often seize the sky in moments...tormenting the prepared and unsuspecting alike. A few minutes after the rain has subsided, parrots and parakeets become vocal, but are wary of venturing far from their refuge.

They must know the fickle weather well, for a second wave of rain begins...not as powerful as the first, but steady, and accompanied by a low and rolling thunder in the distance. My mother's cat, Minga, lies lazily next to a window, enjoying her slumber, undisturbed by the torrent just outside. The heavy raindrops pound the roof and cement creating an orchestra of sound as the rain picks up again, falling as punishingly as before. It doesn't appear that venturing out today is feasible. Perhaps I should take a cue from Minga, who only stirs to change positions...