Inauguration Celebrating Best of American Story

Inauguration Celebrating Best of American Story

“Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, and demonization have long torn us apart."

"The battle is perennial. Victory is never assured.Through the Civil War, the Great Depression, World Wars, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifice, and setbacks, our "better angels" have always prevailed.“

On Jan 20, President Biden’s inaugural speech offered hope signaling a new beginning in the American Story celebration. Just 2 weeks ago during one of the darkest days in our history, Trump denied election results and incited insurrection at our Capitol building to overthrow the government, threatening our 200 years old democracy, now we begin to heal and move forward.

After serving USA for 30 years as senator, 2 terms as VP alongside Obama, Biden took oath at age 78 to become our oldest President. His words, coherent and articulate, enflamed with passion and compassion, pleaded for unity and comprehension in a nation divided.

Kamala Harris, lost the democratic nomination but won the ticket as Biden’s VP and broke the glass ceiling by becoming the 1st female vice president, 1st African-American and 1st Asian-AmericanVP. She inspired young girls everywhere to dream.

And 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, the youngest ever national poet laureate, compensated for an auditory processing disorder and held nation spellbound with her lyrical words, as she recited “The Hill We Climb” to the world.

Oldest President, first ever African-Asian-American female VP and youngest poet laureate. Old, Young, Black, White. This is America. Land of opportunity. For all.

Gorman. who overcame a speech impediment, stood tall; her voice like a healing balm, rang steady in a soothing cadence and natural rhythm.

The Hill We Climb

“…Where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one
And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn't mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose"

…/… (link to the full speech video)

America boasts of sports icons, movie stars, media moguls, but our real champions are these folks who fought the odds and overcame terrific personal losses to keep fighting.

On a smaller scale, heroes exist within our own families. Like my maternal grandparents who came to America for a better life. When my Norwegian grandpa Gustav lost his job during the Great Depression, he walked to the Chicago Public Library everyday to read books because he always wanted to be educated but never had the opportunity.

Or my paternal grandparents who lost 2 sons. Instead of becoming bitter, they dedicated their lives as teachers and college coaches guiding other people’s sons into adulthood.

Or my parents who spent their careers as educators in the same community not seeking praise, but finding peace knowing the value in helping a child read better, stand taller, be braver.

Or me. Losing everything. Beginning again. Not once. But twice. Learning to grip, walk, talk, read and write. Never giving up in spite of great physical pain and emotional despair, looking outside of self to encourage another to get up and go on too. To continue my mission inspiring courage, breaking barriers, creating connections internationally.

That is our American story. Perseverance. Pioneer spirit. Resiliency. Courage. Tolerance. To rise up again. To rebuild Together. Hand in hand. As Biden concluded in his speech:

Here we stand, in the shadow of a Capitol dome that was completed amid the Civil War, when the Union itself hung in the balance.
Yet we endured and we prevailed.
…/…
And here we stand, just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, and to drive us from this sacred ground.
That did not happen.
It will never happen.
…/…
And together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear.
Of unity, not division.
Of light, not darkness.
An American story of decency and dignity.
…/…
May this be the story that guides us.
The story that inspires us.

Link to the full speech video

This is our America.

American Abroad Crying for My Country

On January 6th, I watched violent scenes unfold on Washington DC’s capitol hill on a dark episode in our history and I wept for my country.

Ironically at his “Make America Great Again” rally, Trump’s supporters were incited by his inflammatory speech as he ranted “Stolen election. A fraud. I will never leave office.” The mob stormed the Capitol, breached the police blockage, and ravaged the House and Senate while terrified US representatives donned gas masks and ducked behind chairs.

Fothe Capitol, Washington DCur years under the leadership of this madman ended in this deplorable moment in our history, leaving American citizens shocked, appalled, humiliated and terrified. It degraded our image and lowered our status among other countries.

Is the world’s oldest democracy, a beacon of hope, a bastion of freedom imploding in front of our eyes?

I weep for my country. My spirit is broken. My heart is shattered.

My personal history with Washington DC makes this event even more painful. As a child I used to boast to friends that my relatives - my grandma, uncles, aunts and cousins - lived in our nation’s capitol as if that afforded me special connections.

Washington Metros, WBAIn my twenties I called it home, when I was a player for the professional basketball team, the

Washington DC Metros, a precursor to the Washington Mystics and the WNBA.

Back then, I loved showing off “my city” to visitors, leading them on tours along the majestic National Mall past the Lincoln Memorial and Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument.

Washington DCLong after I moved to Europe, DC remained imprinted in my heart - Fort Belvoir, a US Army base where we practiced, the DC Armory, the national guard training arena, where we played our games, and the Capitol Center where we toured. A kaleidoscope of memories collide warm family meals, heated basketball games, cozy jazz clubs in historic Georgetown, and landmarks of American history.

Growing up, the privilege of American citizenship has never been lost on me. I am the granddaughter of immigrants who sacrificed everything to build better lives on US soil.

Fast forward forty plus years where, as an expat in Switzerland, living in a safe neutral country, I stare at that news report as domestic terrorists, American white supremacists, scale the walls of the Capitol building and rampage after our US President ignites their insurrection by spewing lies, hatred and intolerance.

Though friends, having moved back to the States warned me about the dangerous division infiltrating my homeland, I never believed it could be that bad until I saw the events unreeling on Jan 6.

Yes we must impeach the President, imprison the perpetrators, condemn their actions, but then how do we move forward?

Where do we go from here? How do we reconcile? The world has witnessed with incredulity our values disintegrate on prime time.

How do we, as the oldest democracy, restore the pillars of our foundation — peace, liberty, equality for all — when the essence of what it means to be American has been desecrated?

Washington DCBefore an entire country can heal, we must begin with one person. Reach out. Get to know someone of another religion, race, culture, ethnicity and learn about their universe. What foods do they eat? What holidays do they celebrate? What language do they speak? What deities do they worship? What fears do they face of living in the USA? How can they be made to feel welcome here?

If your neighbors all look, think and act like you, read papers from another country with a neutral viewpoint from another perspective without the biased Democratic/Republican party division.

Not everyone was raised in an accepting family, or experienced firsthand cross cultural living and marriage, or teaching in an international school. I have been lucky to have met, worked with and learned about people from everywhere around the globe.

Tolerance may not be a birthright, but it can be a learned behavior.

It starts in our homes, spreads to neighborhoods, communities, crosses state lines and national borders.

Tolerance begins with the words we speak and actions we take.

Today.

Right now.

In our house.

In our America.

Illustration photos by Praneeth Koduru , Sandy Torchon, and Budgeron Bach from Pexels

4th of July 2020 – A Time of Reflection

4th of July 2020 - A Time of ReflectionOn our nation’s birthday I want to wish everyone a Happy 4th of July, but I don’t feel happy. I am deeply troubled about our future.

This is the first 4th of July since I moved to Europe 4 decades ago that I am not in my homeland celebrating the American holiday with family. Due to the present situation, I am not welcome there nor is my French husband or anyone else from Europe. No planes from abroad are allowed to land on American soil due to the Covid epidemic, but the great irony is that European leaders have done a much better job of handling the crisis than. Trump. The pandemic is under control here especially where we live in Switzerland.

The US has the most coronavirus cases and deaths in the world.

Americans are not allowed in Europe either, which is sad for European business.

“In 2019 around 18 billion Americans came to Europe spending 70 billion Euros (about 78 $billion dollars), “says Tom Jenkins CEO of the European Tourism Association.““

Europe’s borders have reopened to Europeans and 14 other countries – no one knows for how long— but they won’t be open to Americans anytime soon. Long haul flights and exchanges between Europeans and Americans look even more doubtful.

The financial fall out from lack of international trade between Europe and the US is massive; the emotional toll on families even greater.

I don’t know when I will see my children in the States again. My British daughter- in- law does not know when her family will be allowed to visit. My niece’s Chinese boyfriend has no idea when he will see his parents. And my eldest niece, who will be a new mother in two months, wonders what kind of a world awaits her baby.

Like most Americans living abroad, I am ashamed of our country’s leadership. I am alarmed by our President’s incompetence, his total lack of diplomacy, compassion and integrity.

I am worried for my daughter and niece who work in the medical health field in the States at a time when people show lack of respect for human life, refusing to do something as simple and innocuous as wearing a mask.

I am troubled by social unrest created from years of blatant inequality and lack of tolerance

I am horrified by the anti woman, anti gay, anti black, anti European rhetoric that fuels hatred and gives free license to bigotry.

Families may not be as international as mine, but so many of us can trace our ancestry to other parts of the world and so much of our nation was built on the backs of immigrants and slaves. To ignore the role of the African Americans, Asians and Europeans in the making of our country is a travesty, to sever the ties to our motherlands is a crime.

But I hope there are still pockets of America where the old values I grew up with still remain. Places like Summit Lake where time stands still, where hope runs eternal ,where nature heals our broken hearts. A place where the 4th of July is a celebration of a forgotten way of life of what is good about Americans, their childlike optimism and joie de vivre.

4th of July 2020 - A Time of Reflection

 

A place remarkable in its simplicity. Every 4th of July people dressed in costumes ride in decorated pontoon boats that circle the lake waving flags and throwing out candy and icees to people sitting on their docks. Later in the evening fire works explode from the public beach across the lake rivals any big city display. On the dock, wrapped in blankets, we swat mosquitoes while admiring the burst of sparkly colors illuminating the black waters and believe in childhood dreams again.
4th of July 2020 - A Time of Reflection

This year though I am sad for my country, I am thinking of happier 4th of July memories. Still my heart aches for family, for the lake and for a simpler time when we weren’t isolated and separated by a pandemic.

Happy Father’s Day June 21, 2020

Father’s DaySo many of our fathers have passed on, but the lessons they taught remain ingrained. I have been blessed to be surrounded by good men from my husband who has been a wonderful father to our 2 children, to Father’s Daymy big brother, Doug, to my brothers- in- law, Cliff and Dick, to the first man I ever loved, my dad. Papa Mac was a father figure to so many students and athletes who traversed the halls of Sterling high School.He was hard working, loyal, a strong leader and a role model in his community.

My dad taught me to drive a car, shoot hoops, catch frogs, paddle a canoe, and swim laps. When I was just a hyperactive little kid, he tired of shooing me off the “dangerous” dock. Finally, he reasoned it would safer to teach me to swim than to keep track of my free spirited meanderings near the lake and in the woods.

He held my hand as I stepped off the sandy beach into the icy lake. Together we walked out over my head. While my dad’s strong arms held me afloat, I put my face in the water and blew bubbles. He taught me the crawl stroke, flutter kick and to cup my hands. “Reach forward, pull back.” He helped me master the trickiest part – how to breathe without swallowing half the lake.

Though I never had a near drowning experience, after a bad bike crash and later a debilitating car accident, I became trapped in a body that no longer worked quite right. My hoop dreams disintegrated. My aspirations of skiing down mountainsides and running marathons dissolved. I hung up my high tops, tennis racket, baseball glove; I set aside my football, basketball, volleyball.swimming saved my life

I was condemned to the pool where the buoyancy of the water kept me from further injuring my spine and joints. Early on, I became a has-been athlete plagued with bad feet, bad knees and a broken back. The scars of my past calamities never really left me; the sharp twinges and shooting, throbbing, stabbing aches remained.

But weightless in water, I became pain free.

To an athlete being confined to a pool seemed like a death sentence. Yet, after every misfortune, I retreated to the healing waters. Swimming became my solace, my meditation, my prayer.

As a child I learned to swim at my grandparents Camp Ney-A-Ti on Summit Lake. In my teens, I swam through summers at the old Emerald Hill pool. In adulthood, when pregnant – and ordered to bed rest for 3 months to prevent premature births – I begged the doctor to let me swim. In a Parisian pool, I bonded with my unborn child, gliding in sync alongside the baby kicking inside me.

Over the years, I even saved a few lives as a lifeguard. And I once dragged the semi conscious high school quarterback from the pump room when he became asphyxiated from the chlorine. But the real hero of my swimming story was my dad. He taught me to believe that no matter how rough the seas or how high the waters, I would never sink.

With each stroke of my arm and kick of my leg,Dad thought he was showing me the frog kick, freestyle, and breaststroke, but really he was teaching me how to survive.

As a child, my dad let go, so I could take my first strokes solo. As an adult I swam from one side of the lake to the other.
But after my serious accident this past April I am not sure when I will able to swim again. And I won’t be swimming in my beloved Summit Lake this summer because of the coronavirus Europeans are not allowed to fly to the USA.

Everyday as I struggle in physical therapy to squeeze my hand, raise my left arm over my head and regain the use of the left side of my body, I think of my dad and repeat the mantra he ingrained through hours spent correcting my jump shot, tweaking my swim stroke “Never give up.”

Though separated by the pandemic and my health issues, I can’t visit my dad in person right now, I look forward to seeing him every night when I call on face time and he says.“I sure am proud of you sweetie.You are a real warrior.”

With a twinkle in his blue eyes, he ends every conversation by saying, “I think of you everyday and love you more each minute.”

Father’s Day

Though many women will miss being with their daddies on this special day, may we all find comfort knowing a father’s love for a daughter lasts for eternity.

Europe Under Siege Our New Normal?

After enduring winter’s fog obscuring our mountains, I rejoiced to see the sun rise over the Alps and Lake Geneva. Though daffodils dance with the promise of spring, people remain oppressed.

Our resplendent view clashes with the darkness in our hearts, as we face a relentless enemy. As if it blew in overnight, coronavirus swept across the land leaving silence in its wake. No birds chirp in the gardens, no planes fly overhead, no cars rumble in the distance.

We live in a bucolic village outside Geneva Switzerland at the crossroads of the globe only 2 minutes from France, an hours drive from Germany, 3 to Italy. But right now no one travels beyond the block.

How could we not see what was happening?

When the coronavirus invaded our neighbor Italy, we continued daily routines. We didn’t know anyone who was sick. Weren’t symptoms mild? Weren’t only the elderly and infirm at risk? We lied to ourselves “I am healthy, I am robust, I am not that old.”

Meanwhile coronavirus crept into our communities.

Ten days ago, President Macron rang alarm bells urging French people to stay home to protect our most vulnerable.

Champs-Elysées, Paris, March 20th 2020

The following day, Swiss authorities enforced the same protocol. One by one European countries followed suite closing borders, shutting schools, and urging employees to work from home.

Like vultures swooping down on prey, people ravaged grocery shelves stocking up for the siege and stormed pharmacy stock for hand sanitizers, gloves, masks, pain killers. Worse yet, medical staff faced shortages.

Even so, many others still ignored warnings and continued to party in crowds at parks, cafes, night clubs spreading disease with every encounter.

So governments mandated more restrictions. Overnight, France turned into police state. Officers fined citizens 135 euros ($150) for leaving their homes without a warrant.

For first time since WWII, Switzerland deployed troops to help transport supplies and patients from overflowing hospitals. In Ticino, the Italian speaking part of Switzerland, no beds remained. ICU patients in Alsace region had to be airlifted to other parts of France.

Europe Under Siege Our New Normal

Warning signs in Swiss train station

Infections doubled daily, death rates climbed.

Did we do too little too late?

Citizens learned a new vocabulary – Covid-19, containment, mitigation, social distancing, flatten the curve.

And changed cultural customs. No hand shaking, cheek kissing, bear hugging. No funerals, no weddings, no family gatherings. Grandparents can no longer babysit children. Family members not living in the same house can’t meet up. With no entertainment, no social gatherings, no sporting events, we grumbled about the very restrictions that may safe keep our lives.

As free floating anxiety reigned across the land, our lives are stripped to bare necessities — food, water, air.

Tick tock. Tick tock. Italians cried, “Heed our warnings!”

Are we listening?

Who will be next?

Is this the new normal?

Instead of turning inward in self-pity, we need to look outward.

How can we support the overworked medical personnel?

What can we do to help the poor and homeless survive?

How can we reach out to struggling neighbors?

Who can we do to lift someone up today?

French Mamie’s House in Trouville’s Historic Fishermen District

Mamie’s house overlooks the quay of Trouville, France, a fishing village where inhabitants exist in rhythm with the tides and the ebb and flow of tourists flooding her Normandy beach.

Mamie lives in the historic fishermen quarters on the Rue des Ecores, which dates from the mid 17th century when the quay was built. The houses once chiseled out of the cliff to accommodate fishermen reflected the maritime hierarchy. The sailors’ flats had one window and one floor, while the prosperous captains’ homes had windows on either side of the front door, and several floors.

The lower level of the building, filled with cafes, boutiques, and gift shops, opens to the bustling boulevard across from the open market on the Touques River. On the rue des Ecores up above, time froze; fishermen flats look the same as when they were first built. Wooden doors open to pencil-thin homes where rooms are stacked 6 stories high like building blocks.

On the narrow lane under number 55, the door opens into Mamie’s ground floor, which is actually the 3rd level of the building. On the left is her kitchen. Straight through the hallway to the dining/living area, French windows open to a balcony above the quay.

The windows on one side of the apartment face the colorful, lively, bright main street alongside the Touques River; the other side’s windows look onto the darker Rue des Ecores.

In the living room, a wooden dining table, the focus of any French home, consumes most of the space. A love seat, wedged next to the oak, Normand cupboard filled with Mamie’s old wedding china, faces the TV, perched in a corner. Though compact, the 10 x 14 foot room expanded to squeeze another chair around Mamie’s table where family and friends were always welcome to dine on Normandy’s finest fare from land and sea.

In between the two rooms, a steep, winding staircase, coils like a snake, from one floor to the next. The stairway is so tight that furniture had to be brought up by crane and passed through the windows.

On her second floor landing, there is a water closet and 2 bedrooms. In Mamie’s room stands a wardrobe of fine Normand craftsmanship passed down from ancestors. On the floor above that, are a bath and two more small bedrooms where we always stayed. Each morning I threw open the shutters savoring a birds eye view of the river, fish market, and casino. The very top floor under the mansard roof once held Papie’s old workbench and hanging tools.

Every nook and cranny remained filled with mementos triggering happy memories from Mamie’s giant dinner bell, to her French cartoon collection, to her lumpy, duvet covered beds. Artwork and photographs, showing the chronology of marriages, birthdays, baptisms, and graduations, covers every inch of wall space.

Whenever we left, driving away down Main Street, Mamie and Papie stood on the wrought iron balcony waving goodbye and blowing kisses.

The historic landmark, Rue des Ecores, endures as the center of the fishermen district, just as Mamie’s place remains forever as the heart of our French family.