Terror Strikes the Heart of London

My son landed in London on March 22, the same day that another mad terrorist drove a car into pedestrians walking across the Westminster Bridge leaving 40 wounded and 4 dead including an American. Fortunately our son called before the attack to say he that he arrived at his British girlfriend’s home where her family too was safe. But my relief was short-lived, replaced by a sickening dread that I have come to know too well.

Berlin, Brussels, Madrid, Paris, now London capitals of long standing democracies are targets of terrorism again. Each time it happens I feel a renewed sense of horror.

When will one of my friends or loved ones be caught in the crossfire of evil by innocently standing at the wrong place at the wrong time?

When you are part of an international community living abroad you will have friends in nations’ capitals that are in closer proximity than my families homes in Chicago, Cleveland, and Minneapolis.

A year to the day of Brussels’ airport and metro bombings, terror strikes the heart of a western democracy again. A group of French high school students- 3 of the injured – were among the tourists admiring the Westminster Abbey housing English parliament, one of the oldest symbols of democracy in the world. I have visited European capitals with students on similar educational field trips that teach art, history, language and culture far better than any textbook could. I can imagine the shock and fear of the students and their families.

Even as nations beef up security, the task seems insurmountable. Mere days prior to the London attack, pandemonium broke out in Paris’ Orly airport when a French born terrorist held a gun to a soldier’s head inside the terminal. The gunman was killed before any civilians were injured, but as the airport’s south terminal was evacuated, terrified travelers were left stranded outside in the rain.

Governments issue states of emergency, heighten vigilance and tighter security, but how can anyone prevent an attack in a free society?

Each time another assault happens, we grow more hardened. But I will never resign to a world of terror. Though each attack leaves me a more saddened and anxious, outraged and impotent, I will continue to leave my house, walk in public places, visit capitals and travel by plane.

So I can offer no easy answers to curb the reign of terror of the 21st century, but I do know what doesn’t help.

Our leaders must stop spewing invidious words and taking discriminatory actions against our own citizens by revoking hard fought laws that guarantee civil rights. We must foster mutual respect with our allies and open the doors to dialogue with our enemies by keeping the lines of communication open between countries. And we must do more at home to integrate our alienated youth in society.

There are no easy answers and I am not sure how to accomplish this daunting task, but I do know it begins with tolerance with respect for other countries and cultures. Terror will only escalate by having leaders whose rhetoric fuels fear and hatred.

We must reach out in solidarity. Violence – whether in the streets of Chicago or Baghdad, London or Berlin, Istanbul or Brussels – destroy a piece of all of us.

To ensure the future of humanity we must stand on higher moral ground. Always.

London my heart mourns with you.

March Madness My Way

Though I miss the basketball frenzy in America especially at this time of year, I learned to celebrate March Madness my way. As an expat in Europe for the past 35 years, the only March Madness I experienced was in 2014 when I traveled to the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point to be the keynote speaker at the DIII Final Four banquet in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Title IX.

Fortunately after my international playing career ended, I joined a collect of coaches – many former players – who brought a taste of March Madness to the international schools in international and national competitions.

I have had my fair share of championship teams and though I am every bit as competitive as my cohorts across the Atlantic, over here the stakes are not as high. My players don’t perform in front of sell out crowds and my job is not dependent on the number of wins.

So though I retired from teaching in June, no one who knows me will be surprised that after medical treatments in the States, I came back to coaching in Switzerland to finish the season with my high school team.

At our international tournament in Basel, my team felt like they let me down when they lost their defending title to Zurich in the SCIS.

“I didn’t come back to watch you play basketball,” I said in the locker-room after the game. “I came to be with you. To help you get your international baccalaureate degree and to remind you that I believe in you. Always. Even in defeat. Especially in defeat.”

No one goes through life beating every opponent. It is what you do when the chips are down that builds character. Second effort is the difference between, well, going on and giving up. So after that disappointing defeat, we went back to gym and practiced. A month later we beat that same Zurich team to win the Swiss championship SGIS.

We can beat ourselves up reliving our errors. Forget the mistakes. The game goes so fast no one else will remember that you dribbled off your toe, threw the ball out of bounds or shot an air ball, what they will remember is that you hustled back down court on defense and played tough until the final buzzer.

The emphasis in international schools is less about winning and more about learning, so academics always play the biggest role.

No doubt I have book smart players. But playing basketball teaches self-discipline and perseverance and other valuable lessons that can’t be learned in a classroom.

This year one of my star basketball players is heading to Stanford and another one is off to Oxford; they won’t be going on athletic scholarships. They play hard, but study harder. And maybe that is how it should be.

Basketball basics 101 – a valuable part of any curriculum. It’s a throw back to the good old days in the early infancy of Title IX when we played for love of the game and to get a good education.

March Madness my way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating You on my 60th Birthday

I dream of throwing a big birthday bash bringing together the people from around the globe who have touched my life. Since that is not possible, you are invited to my virtual 60th birthday celebration. The guest of honor is not me but you. You who have stood by me during the hard times. You who have shared my highs and carried me during the lows. You who have given sense to my existence.

Today I am whooping it up for those people who have sustained me at different ages and stages during my past 6 decades.

I raise my glass to my family of birth, my parents and siblings. You have seen me at my worst and loved me unconditionally. You forgave my sharp words, ignored my flaws and overlooked my shortcomings.

Skål, to the nieces, nephews and cousins from coast to coast Oklahoma to Maryland and as far away as Norway who welcome me with open arms just because we shared the same ancestry.

Santé to my family by love, to the Frenchman who helped me transition to coach when injury ended my playing career, who wiped away tears after another health setback, who believed in me always especially when I most doubted myself.

Cheers to my children, who filled my mommy days with joy and adventure and now as young adults bring comfort and companionship. My daughter sensing my despair wraps me in a warm hug. My son seeing discouragement in my eyes offers to walk and talk. Each one reciprocating those simple acts of love that nourish our soul.

Prost to friends scattered across the world, who shared snippets of my life from my Sterling High School classmates, to my Illinois State University teammates and roommates, to my American, British, French, German, Swiss and other friends. To those folks who I may not have seen for years, but whose memory still makes me smile and fills my heart with happiness.

Salud to the members of my international community – colleagues, students, athletes – who taught me so much about tolerance for other cultures and customs. Your enthusiasm for learning fueled my weary soul through dark days of illness where our next lesson, practice, game was the only motivation dragging me out of bed.

Hail to my healthcare professionals specialists from Eagle River to Minong from Minnetonka to Geneva who believed me and kept searching outside the box for answers to help ease my pain.

Cin cin to members of my writing community who share the burning desire to communicate the old fashioned way, word-by-word. And to my faithful readers who give my writing meaning and whose comments offer inspiration.

February 28th may commemorate the date of my birth, but today I raise my glass to you, you who shaped my life. Because of your support, your loyalty, your love, I am still here raising Cain, full of « piss and vinegar » in my 60th year.

Women’s Rights Are Human Rights

The inauguration day of our 45th President was a day of despair that I spent wrapped up in a blanket shivering from illness and shuddering from the political tsunami. The stark contrast between Obama’s gracious farewell speech to the campaign of the new president-elect whose words offended everyone with his disparaging comments about women, minorities and immigrants made me cringe.

But a day later on January 21st, my spirits lifted when millions of women (and men) took to the streets in America’s largest protest ever. Wearing pink hats and carrying signs, protesters peacefully chanted slogans and mocked Trump’s sexist demeanor and discriminatory rhetoric.

I did not have the strength to join the peaceful demonstrators marching across the Mont Blanc Bridge in Geneva; I was on the phone crying with my sisters as I battled pneumonia again. Like so many other women and minorities, I am worn out. Weary from this nonsense. Why must we continue to fight the same battles we won decades ago?

My only consolation was in knowing that we are not alone. The movement spread to 670 places nationwide and overseas ranging from Berlin, London, Stockholm, Sydney and others. Spurred by Facebook event messages, thousands paraded down the Parisian boulevards protesting the sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and racist ideology Trump defended during his campaign.

Around the globe, demonstrators objected against all aspects of intolerance. In South American countries, gender violence topped the list. In Tokyo, the right to education was a major issue and in other parts of the world health care reform was the priority.

The demonstrations stemmed from Trump’s campaign fueled by audacious claims and divisive rhetoric. He dismissed allegations of sexual assault and his lewd comments, like “grab them by the pussy” as “locker room talk.”

I grew up on the sideline listening to demeaning locker room talk. The ultimate affront to emasculate a male was to call him, “a pussy” insinuating that he was a pansy, a sissy, a girl.

In the past women were insulted daily, treated as second class citizens and obliged to fight for the right to vote, to participate in sports, to earn higher education, to hold office, and to lead companies.

Today I did not have the strength to join my sisters and take to the streets, but tomorrow I will rise. I will return to the gym, encouraging my international athletes to keep fighting in face of defeat. To take that energy, that strength, that power back to their homelands and to use their gifts to make a better world.

From our streets to our offices to our playing fields discrimination remains insidious and girls are still reminded in so many subtle and not so subtle ways that they don’t count.

I cannot change public policy, but I can make a difference. Everyday. I can use my voice, my example, my courage to inspire other girls and minorities to reach for the stars, to believe that they count just as much as their white brothers and that their contribution is equally valuable.

We must all continue to make our voices heard.

Slow Down to Savor the Holiday Season

After a tumultuous year, pause to take stock, and reflect on the true meaning of the season. Holidays are loaded with sugar and sentiment and sometimes sadness for losses are felt so much more greatly at Christmas time. Don’t let the holiday frenzy take hold make time for kindness. You never know what burden that impatient, grumpy, long-faced lady in the line in front of you carries in her heart.

Do not let the twinkle of lights, sprinkle of snowflakes, and razzmatazz glitter blind you to the season’s true blessing.

Take a deep breath. Remember in the big scheme of things does it really matter if the cookies burn, the packages arrive late, the cards never get mailed? The true beauty in the holiday is in its’ imperfections…the crooked tree, the lumpy potatoes, the mismatched socks.

For as much time as you spend shopping, baking, buying, be sure to also pause to express gratitude to people working behind the scenes to pull off the holiday extravaganza… the postman, sales clerk, special aunts, and selfless moms.

As people journey across the miles to gather with loved ones, be mindful of the snowplow drivers, airline pilots, policewomen, firemen and other folks who remain on the job. And doctors and nurses, like our daughter and niece, who forfeit holidays to remain on standby to care for sick kids.

Personally, I want to thank my readers for your loyal following. A writer’s mission can only be fulfilled by sharing ideas with others; you give my words meaning. I appreciate the time you take to reflect, comment, tweet, share and repost my musings.

Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or any other special tradition -I wish you a merry, peace-filled gathering. Regardless of how or with whom you celebrate in your mixed, blended, adopted, foster, same-sex, cross-generational, cross-cultural or whatever other combo makes up your family tapestry, seize the moment and savor it. There is no such thing as a perfect holiday in a one-size-fit-all family.

Regardless of which deity you worship or not, what makes the holiday “holy” is not pretty packages, bright lights, fantastic foods – it is the fellowship. This holiday season cherish your time together and give thanks for one another.

The true value of the season is measured by our human connections.

Our lives are richer because of each other.

 

 

A gift to you from us, another French favorite – candied slow cook leg of lamb.

American Election An Expat Perspective

12665885-silhouette-of-a-sad-politician-on-american-flag-background-with-vintage-look-stock-photoTo me it’s not about politics. It’s not about liberal or conservative or agreeing to disagree on what we each think is the best way to ensure that the US is a great place to live.

It’s about the values  I thought we held regardless of our political leanings.

After hearing the election results on November 9, I cried. I felt a gut wrenching fear and despair that knowing there was no turning back. I walked out the door and wanted to keep walking right off the planet. My disappointment was magnified thousand-fold with the heartbreaking knowledge that half of the nation believes in a leader whose platform was filled with empty slogans and derogatory rhetoric based on repression, intolerance, bigotry, misogyny and ignorance.

I know that realistically not all those who voted support those views and that they have very legitimate reasons for wanting change, I know that for many it was an act of anger, frustration and hopelessness, not racism or misogyny. But it’s hard for me to feel that in so-voting, those views, which I find so abhorrent and antithetical to the very rights we fought so hard for in the past, weren’t being endorsed. Regardless of what happens at a policy-level, I’m fearful of the message that has been sent, of the noxious sentiment that has been aroused, and of the no-longer unrealistic possibility that the rights we have fought for could be taken away, or at the very least not truly be guaranteed for all.

I understood why thousands of Americans took to the streets in protest chanting, « Not my President. »

Not my country either. Not the country I loved so dearly for defending the unalienable rights we hold so true … liberty, justice and freedom for all, not just those who shout the loudest or have the biggest bank accounts or have ancestors born in Western Europe and have less melanin in their skin.

Having lived in Europe for the past 37 years, perhaps I have no right to judge. I do not know what it feels like to be stopped in the street for the color of my skin. Or to be a working class man facing unemployment when my job was outsourced overseas. Or to be homeless waiting in line for a food pantry hand-out. Nor the despair of watching my child grow sicker and weaker due to an inability to afford health care.

But I do know the fear of standing in line in a French immigration office fearing that I will be deported. I do know the humility of depending on German teammates for a roof over my head. And I do know the gratitude of people – international friends and colleagues – who ignored where I came from and accepted me for who I was.

And I know what it feels like to be left out. In the early Title IX days, I left the USA to pursue a dream denied in my homeland. In 1979, I moved to Europe on the heels of the Vietnam War at the height of the Cold War, during the Reagan era.

While living abroad, I tried to mitigate the stereotype of the loud, arrogant, ethnocentric American by speaking softly and keeping a low profile. I demonstrated the ideals of tolerance on which my country was founded by showing respect for others who worshiped different deities, spoke different languages and practiced different customs. As a guest in others homelands, I discovered firsthand through friendship the beauty in our diversity.

I came back to a nation where people were more connected than ever on social media, yet profoundly divided in real life and unable to communicate in civil terms.

Recently retired from teaching abroad, I stayed in the states longer and followed the election with mounting alarm, stunned not just by how vitriolic it turned, but how easily we condoned it. When did the election in one of the greatest democracies become more about digging up dirt on one’s opponent than discussing critical policy issues?

I felt as if I’d been flung back in time to an era when women were objectified, Jim Crow Laws kept blacks in their place, and gays hid in the closet for safety. Trump gave free licence to discrimination. His dismissal of anyone who is not a white American male echoes an Aryan supremacist ideology that nearly destroyed us.

« Make American great again ! » Trump proclaims. What was great about America was that everyone had an opportunity to pursue the Dream.

« Build walls to keep out immigrants ! » America was built on the backbone of immigrants who came here for a better life.

On the heels of Brexit, Trump’s victory, following a campaign filled with disdain for women, minorities, immigrants, gays and the disabled only fuels the extreme right of the world. Marie Le Pen is kicking up her heels in France; Geert Wilders is dancing in Holland.               .

The nightmare I woke up to November 9 reverberates around the globe. We may only worry about what is happening in our neighbourhood, and I get that, but what we don’t realize is that, like it or not, any decision made in America affects the rest of world, environmentally, socially, and economically.

We need to remember that regardless of our political party, religious affiliation, national identity, race or gender, we don’t own this planet.

We cannot go back and change the outcome of the election, but that does not mean we should give up on those ideals. We can speak up for those who are victimized or do not have a voice. We can continue to teach our children to treat everyone with kindness and respect. We can encourage the many politicians in both parties who have condemned Trump’s racist and misogynistic rhetoric to continue to do so.

We can do better.

We must.