Walk away worries !


When I was growing up, I abhorred walking. Walking was too slow, too boring, for old people. I would bike, run, skate, even parade around the block on stilts to reach my destination. After a car accident ended my athletic career, I aged overnight. Forced to give up the pavement pounding I once loved, I concentrated on being able to put one foot in front of another and walk again.

In the beginning, I still hated walking, too slow, too boring, for old people. But now that I am old people, I have learned to appreciate it. Europeans helped me acquire a taste for walking. My German friends insisted on “spazieren gehen” through the woods surrounding Marburg. In Paris, like the French, I escaped my tiny apartment by heading outdoors, rain or shine, to a “promenade” in the park. In Switzerland, walking is as natural as breathing, especially in this nation of hikers, where every mile is beautiful.

In our techno, fast-paced, modern world, walking has become a lost art. Yet walking, which combines fitness, relaxation and meditation, is the safest sport. It costs nothing, wastes no energy, burns calories, builds muscle, fights fatigue. When I feel anxious, angry or depressed, I walk until worries slide off my shoulders.

I step outside my door into orchards and vineyards on the fertile slopes above Lake Geneva. While the sun slinks behind the Jura Mountains over my right shoulder, light shimmers around the white-peaked Mt Blanc to my left. The fields flame in amber, gold, rust of autumn marking the harvest in earth’s last hurrah before lying fallow for winter.

Walking forces us to slow down long enough from our hectic lives to appreciate the beauty of the moment, to take stock and count our blessings. Even though I live thousands miles from loved ones, I picture them walking in their daily lives. My sister paces around Yorkville’s newest subdivision at dawn, my daughter strides the halls of Minneapolis hospitals during morning rounds, my parents meander around Northland Hills mid day, my son dashes through Macalester quad to ball practice early afternoon, my niece marches in the band across Shaker Heights football field after school, my sister and brother-in-law stroll oak-lined streets of Golden Valley hand in hand at dusk.

Somehow when I walk, I am closer to family, matching each footfall step by step round the clock. Every hour of the day someone I love, somewhere, is walking to work, school, or practice.

I once dreamed of running marathons and skiing mountains, alas injury and illness prevented those goals. Though each year it is harder to roll out of bed, instead of lamenting what I can’t do, I focus on what I can do – walk. No matter how badly the rest of the day has gone, I am filled with wonder and wellbeing. Suddenly all is right with world.

Proud Moment for Americans

After a mere nine months in office, only history may tell whether President Barack Obama is deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize. But as an American living abroad, that is not the issue; what is at stake is the image this honor symbolizes for my country. Thirty years ago, I moved to France during the Rea “gun” era. I have endured the Bush blunders and survived a backlash of anti-Americanism ever since by keeping a low profile. If anything, USA has always been the country everyone loves to hate.
Obama’s role is like the one I once played as a professional basketball player on European teams, only on a much greater scale. He is expected to win every battle without stealing the show.
That he received such an unexpected honor one morning, and met with a war council that afternoon, reflects his precarious position during an unsettling time. War is no farther away than the next terrorist act – acts that respect no borderlines.
Should the USA withdraw from Iraq? Should we send more troops to Afghanistan or enter Pakistan? In retrospect, history allows us to weigh repercussions of past decisions such as dropping the atomic bomb in WWII. No one, however, can predict the implications of today’s policies. The stakes are even higher. A nuclear war would never allow hindsight.
What has Obama done in a short time to deserve such a highly esteemed award? He turned around the image of the Ugly American. In a nation once divided over slavery and split by centuries of racial inequality, his election as the first African American to sit in the White House gave hope to other oppressed ethnicities around the world.
He extended an open hand to the Muslim world, demanded a ban on nuclear testing, reopened the Israel-Palestinian peace process, and reversed the unilateral American foreign policy by becoming more compromising and multilateral.
The Nobel Peace committee awarded Obama the 2009 Nobel Prize, “For his extraordinary efforts in reinforcing diplomacy and cooperation…. creating a new climate in international politics.”
Humbled by such an honor, Obama stated that “this not about my accomplishments, but an affirmation of my country… I accept this award as a call to action.”
Instead of demanding what HE is going to do to prove his worthiness, I ask what are WE going to do in our own lives to help him in his vision. As everyone insists, one man alone cannot change the world.
Obama, nor the USA, exists in a vacuum. For better or worse, in sickness and health, in rich times and in poor, all of us – black, white, Jew, Muslim, capitalist, communist –are intermixed, destined to share one planet with limited resources.
When asked if Obama merits such an award, former Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, said simply, “He is a good man.”
At the International School of Geneva in Switzerland, I struggle to unite my class of freshman English students hailing from dozens of different countries, speaking in as many different mother tongues. I can only imagine Obama’s challenge in addressing the United Nations where policy decisions affect the wellbeing of entire nations.
“What has Obama done so far? “Nothing,” critics insist, “he is only a great orator.”
Well, that’s a start.
Words may be our safest weapon, language our best tool of communication. Communication fosters understanding. Understanding breeds compassion. Compassion makes for a better world.
Today, I will ignore the naysayers and stand tall. Congratulations, Mr. President. Thank you. For the first time- in a long time- I am proud to be an American.

Empty nest

Sept. 13, 2009. Now that printed word is dying, the only way I foresee getting published in the near future is 10 seconds in cyberspace. So Gerald sent me up to become a blogger even though I am of the fraidy cat generation anxious about technology. The economic crisis of 2009 has become so dire that many worry newspapers will not survive. Magazines will be the next to topple.And lastly, books may bite the dust. A bleak outlook for a wannabee writer.Pessimism abounds in our home. As a printing company director, Gerald sees the writing on the wall, but refuses to read it –what is life without words? Email, SMS, Facebook, twitter, blog, it’s a brave new world. How will the over the hill, hard print loving, fifty somethings – ever fit into 21st century.

The existential crisis is nothing new for me.I never outgrew the adolescent angst about, “who am I? ”My life course complicated the question. I moved 12 times in 18 years between 4 different countries on 2 different continents. Since the age of 26, when my pro basketball career ended in a harrowing accident abroad, I kept rewriting the script.

My most recent transition… empty nester. Our daughter long gone enters the medical world as a doctor-in-training in Minneapolis. Our son joins her at Macalester in the Twin Cities. Our living room is tidy, the grocery bill dropped, washing machine stopped spinning, phone never rings, and no one limits my computer time. The house has never been so neat, organized and easy to run. What am I crying about? The emptiness, the haunting loneliness, the bittersweet nostalgia of days gone by when I was M-O-M on call 24/7.

Waves of sadness hit me at random moments when I least expect it. At 8 am as I drive to school sans an inert jean-clad, body slumped in silence under a hoody riding shotgun next to me. At 5 pm when I come from work, the trail of snack wrappers, Poweraid bottles and notebooks trailing from the kitchen to the bedroom has disappeared. Lebron T-shirts, mesh shorts and blue jeans no longer dance in the breeze on the line outside my window. No one asks, “What’s for dinner?” “Can you take me to practice?” “Got any money?”

If my refrigerator, gas tank, and pocket book are so full, why is my heart so empty? Everyday I give myself a pep talk… Isn’t this what I longed for, uninterrupted time alone, no socks to wash, no meals to cook, no one asking to toss the football, catch the rebound, or edit an essay, “ASAP it’s due tomorrow, Ma!”

“Quit moping! Snap out of it,” I repeat like a mantra. He didn’t get hit by a car, fall off a mountain slope, join a cult, drop out of school, get sent to Iraq or any of the zillion other things a mother worries about. Instead he accomplished more than we ever dreamed. He graduated with honors and flew off to college 4,000 miles away. While he enters new adventures, his dad and I remain behind marveling at how that kid, who now towers above us, grew up so fast when we weren’t looking. In a blink, he is gone from day to day lives, but never far from our hearts where he remains cherished at every stage, all ages, always and forever our beloved, green-eyed, Franco-American boy.