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Thursday, March 4, 2010

This I Believe #7

Please post your TIB essay for this week by noon on Friday, March 04.

11 comments:

  1. In the Summer of 2004 my sister and I worked for Cincinnati Pool Management as lifeguards at the new Florence Aquatic Center. After a few weeks it became apparent that shady things were going on in management. The head of Cincinnati Pool Management was an Australian who had hired a bunch of foreign exchange workers. Not only were they receiving all the hours, but we found out that they were being paid much less than us. On top of that their housing had been arranged through Cincinnati Pool Management and the cost of the housing was removed from their paychecks, at twice the actual amount of rent.

    All the lifeguards new it was a bad situation, the local lifeguards were getting few hours, if any, and the foreign guards were being taken advantage of greatly. Despite knowing this no one wanted to do anything to fix the situation. Not even me. My sister however became a crusader. She took the issue to city council, despite threats from management about losing her job, despite always being put on bathroom detail the few hours she worked, and despite the hostility that started to surround her in the workplace. She tried to recruit me to her cause, but I was a coward. I signed the petition and sat meekly with her at the council meeting but I refused to be of any real help.

    My sister and I share a birthday. She is a year older than I am. She has often compared herself to me in ways that make her seem lacking, but these comparisons are wrong. Yes, I learned to read first. Yes, I got better grades in school. Yes, I made more friends. But when it comes to making things happen and championing causes my sister is the best. She is stronger than I will ever be because she does not let fear get the better of her, ever. She is a fighter. She is assertive and strong. She will always be successful because she does not take no for an answer; She does not back down.

    Today, my sister is in Kenya. She is working with the Peace Corps at the Kenya school for the deaf, where she has become a crusader for “her girls.” A few weeks ago she heard of female genital mutation for the first time: clitoral circumcision. There is a law in Kenya banning this practice, but it is rarely followed. After talking with her girls she discovered that all but three of them have had this done. My sister with all of her determination has taken it upon herself to protect these girls. The school she teaches at is a live-in school and the girls spend most of the year on the compound. When their families come to pick them up for break she plans to inform them that if her girls to come back in the same way that they leave she will inform the police. If they do not come back at all she will also inform the police. If these tactics do not work I am sure my sister will find a way to protect her girls.

    I believe in my sister. I believe that she is stronger and braver than I will ever be. I believe that she has the power and drive to change things, to make things better. I believe that she will protect her girls and keep them safe. I believe that her courage makes me ashamed of my cowardice in a way that helps me fight it. I believe that when I am strong it is because I am trying to embody her strength. I believe that my big sister has always been a good role model and sister.

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  2. I believe in my mother. My mother is a towering five foot three inches. Her love for her family has climbed higher than any wall imaginable. I know this because my family is still together. We may have all moved out of the family home, but all four of us were raised with two parents, instead of what very likely could have been just one. My mother is strong because she weathered the storm of infidelity.
    For eight years out of my first 10, my father was unfaithful to my mother, unbeknownst to her. I remember the night she found out. We do not have family meetings in my family. Everything that is needs to be discussed or settled is done so at the kitchen table. This was an exception. We were called into the living room, told to sit, to be still, and to be calm. Our uncle on my father’s side was in the room.
    “The first thing I want you all to know is that we are not going to get a divorce.”
    My mother’s normal squirrel-like timber had dropped to a melancholy alto that she rarely uses, only this time a slight tremble passed through her normally even tone.
    “Your father will be living with Uncle Mike for a while, but everything will be alright.”
    Although we had not been formally informed of what had happened the sadness and disappointment in my mother’s voice told all.
    The next few weeks were hard. However, we, unlike some, only had to live in a single-parent home for a short time. I would be told later by my siblings that my mom told my father that he would stay with us until we were no longer children. That was the least he could do, she said. My father agreed, and said he would move out after he would no longer be responsible for me, the youngest, when I turned nineteen.
    I am only a couple of months from that birthday, but I have no fear of my mother being left. I am not sure how she did it, but my mother made my father love her. Through eight years of school functions, graduations, college send-offs, marriages, and grand-children, she has done it.
    The thing I am most amazed about, however, is that she retains the capacity to love him back. Although I don’t hate my father, this event has irreversibly distanced me from him. I cannot find it within myself to think of him as a father again. I believe in my mother because she has accomplished what I have not, she has forgiven.

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  3. Buying into stereotypes is a fast way to prove your own ignorance.
    All disabled people look exactly alike, and are probably mentally retarded. Just like all black people look exactly alike (and they’re probably all related). This must also be true of Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans. And, just as all of these people look exactly alike (and are probably related) all gay men seek to prey upon straight men, and all lesbians are butch—gays and lesbians are also sexual deviants and perverts, so we should definitely strip them of their Constitutional rights. All men are rapists and all women are victims. Abortion is always murder (as if fur) and college students always experiment with a lot of sex and drugs. Jews are money grubbers, and Muslims are terrorists. Enough said.
    Buying into stereotypes is a fast way to prove your own ignorance.
    I suppose I should believe in these things because it seems like a lot of people do. For whatever reason stereotypes are popular and pervasive; they defame, dehumanize, disrespect, and disparage, so why shouldn’t we incorporate these things into our daily lives, as many times a day as we possibly can? It is the American way, after all, to exploit and capitalize at the expense of others, is it not? And while we’re at it, we should also seek to oppress and dominate as many minority groups as possible while simultaneously abusing animals and neglecting children.
    If any one of the above statements is offensive, uncalled for, racist, or hateful, then they all should be considered equally such. I do not believe in any of these things, and neither should you.
    Buying into stereotypes is a fast way to prove your own ignorance.
    I experienced this ignorance first hand today. You could call it a case of mistaken identity; you could call it an honest mistake. I call it blatant and unadulterated ignorance. You see, today a girl confused me with another disabled person on campus—called me this other person’s name several times until I told her I was not [insert name here]. I can only assume this happened because this other person and myself must look exactly alike—except that she is a blonde Caucasian and I am not. And we speak very differently. And she is taller than me, though I am curvier than her. Not to mention the laundry list of other traits that makes each of us our own unique snowflake.
    I can’t even accuse this person of committing the crime of not seeing past the wheelchair to the person inhabiting it, because my wheelchair and this other person’s “scooter” look nothing alike. So, what else can I cite for this mistake other than the ignorance that comes from buying into too many stereotypes, making uninformed assumptions about others, and not making the slightest endeavor to learn about “people who are different?”
    Buying into stereotypes is a fast way to prove your own ignorance.
    The world must be an incredibly funny place if the only time anyone is taken seriously is when they are a W.A.S.P. male; except, I’m not laughing. And I haven’t laughed in a good, long while. In fact, this situation is so far from humorous that, hours later, I am still stifling my rage and disgust and trying to convince myself not to verbally assault this girl the next time she is unfortunate enough to cross my path. Maybe then, she will remember who I am (or am not). The most devastating part about this ignorance is that it comes from a presumably well educated, well rounded Transy student. Talk about unmet expectations.
    Buying into stereotypes is a fast way to prove your own ignorance.

    I suppose it was wrong of me to buy into the stereotype that education ultimately facilitates intelligence.

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  4. Conservation: Duck 911

    I believe in conservation. Growing up in rural Missouri, the product of farming, horses, hunting, and fishing, wildlife has always been an influential part of the lives of my sister and me. We were taught , kneeling down beside my father, hands cupped with rich soil black with nutrients, the original MiracleGro, to respect even the humblest of creatures as my he handed my sister and I each an earthworm, explaining the role of each segmented creature. Later that day we used them as bait to catch dinner. My early life was indeed a crash-course, Introduction to Life Cycles and Ecosystems. These were to be conserved, protected, and appreciated, with the knowledge that our livelihood depended on them, made me a steward of the land and a wildlife conservationist by five-years-old.
    Never had the Austin home crossed into an Animal Planet rescue series, however, until a warm spring day when mom was attempting to plant flowers at our first home within city limits, a torn down house of history on the El Camino Real. The birds were chirping, the bees were leaving reverberating buzzing sounds and dashed trails in the air; Mom could barely hear the sound of the passing cars over the giggling sun overflowing towards the earth. Then, breaking the harmony came a loud and demanding chirp-like noise, not unlike the demanding cry of an infant for milk. As mom lifted her head, she saw a yellow ball of fluff awkwardly running across the street. Feeling like it was a chicken-joke-come-to-life, she dismissed it as heat exhaustion. Then, out of nowhere, an entire army of ducklings began running around frazzled, inevitably heading for the speeding cars and all over our yard. Mother Duck was more than distraught, her agony and panic creating duck noises I never knew existed.
    Mom sprints inside and reappears with three large paper bags. “Girls!!! Take a bag! Scoop ‘em up!!!”Mom yelled at us with demonstration of flailing limbs, darting, and determination as she ran after a duckling. Well, this got all of the other tiny balls of fluff really going. So there we were, two girls barefooted, dirty, and under the age of six and their mother in utter chaos, chasing little golden road runners as Mother Duck was more or less having a duck stroke. The face of those in the passing cars, providing the only justice to the event, will never be fogotton
    . Finally, all chirping and flapping chicks in Piggly Wiggly paper sacks and Mother Duck feeling a little better, we encouraged their new life on Ol’ Man Wilson’s pond. With the spring death toll of neighborhood wildlife on the rise: Jesse’s German shepherd, four cats, a skunk, and several squirrels, all were convinced that the conservation effort was a success. And even better than that, I got to tell the entire story at show and tell the next day! I believe in conservation.

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  5. You are a child of the universe,
    No less that the trees and the stars;
    You have a right to be here,
    And whether or not it is clear to you,
    No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
    - Max Ehrmann

    I believe in fate. It is not a belief of fortitude but uncertainty. And yet it is stable - easy to acquire and more difficult to neglect. It creates a breath of allowance, allowing for mistakes and disappointments in the name of learning. Someone told me, our lives are like a ball of yarn, and though we don't know how the finished piece will turn out - colors, patterns, textures - we know that it could not have been any other way. The threads could not have spun anywhere else. This is my single faith - our free will satisfies good intentions. Within every hole you may have dug or the world may spooned out for you, the opening is always starlight. Without these negations in our joy or fulfillment, our lives would be stagnant, our tongues consistently stale.

    When I was in high school, my highest certainty was to leave this state. Only outside its boundaries could I be truly boundless, and only in this boundlessness could I truly become "myself." Needless to say, I have remained in Kentucky, due to luck, and for me, due to fate. Only in this state, at this school, could I have met the same people, been offered the same opportunities, found the same sense of belonging. Found art, education, inspiration, and the quest to be limitless. I also recognized balance, no week no year no life was without disappointments or immune to pain. The idea of perfection can be this balance, and I am young enough to test the scales.

    However, during my freshman year of college, utopia was my highest ideal. I saw a need for complete goodness, no matter to justice. I could not accept our world to be so much loss and so little gain, or so little loss and so much gain. The inequities of our lifestyle and the enforced exploitation of globalization, resources, population. My professor told me cycles, and I imagined a tree branching. Civilization roots: societies, philosophies, processes branches branching and intertwining and moving upward, perhaps not towards a final truth, but a betterment. Our universe unfolding in increasingly upward growth and understanding. Eventually, an oak blooming in the spring of our chances for the good life.

    Referring back to Max Ehrmann, if the universe does not have a purpose, if it is not unfolding as it should, then where is our hope? Humanity is a tapestry, we each have a thread, and together, I believe we will create something beautiful. We find purpose for a reason. Sometimes our strings are cut short, but there are knots to tie us back together, everlasting in our ability to live, think, create, connect. I believe in fate, the fates of our free will outlining our existence. Every organism's contribution to a beauty, a hope, a motion that affects another. This is the fate of our world, and I believe we are intertwined for a reason. No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

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  6. This I Believe; High Hopes

    I woke up this morning in my car, unaware of what time it was. I slept there to avoid the cacophonous noise in my slum apartment was too much for me to find any rest. I work my way inside at a late hour, when the people I live with, my sister and her boyfriend, are finally asleep in the only bedroom in the place, and our thunder-footed upstairs neighbor has stopped walking. Unsure of the time, I know I’m not late for class as the sun has not yet risen completely. The alarm clock that hasn’t been used for months glares red digits; 6am. I finish sleeping on the couch, until 8am or so. When I get ready to go to class, I worry my car won’t start for any number of reasons, the most obvious being the lack of gasoline in my car.

    This is any given night/morning through the week, though I manage to sleep indoors from time to time. My hands are tied to change things as they stand, but things would be so much worse had my sister not helped me out. Living on the edge of failure is its own kind of hell. Instead of the hell of depression I would suffer in total poverty, I can linger for now in the hell of perpetual anxiety. I might still succeed in life, but there is no guarantee, no safety net, no chance beyond the this one.

    I believe God is a cruel child with a hammer.

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  7. This I Believe; Father, Son, Holy Spirit

    My father died several months ago. He was alone, walking down the Historic Cumberland Gap Canal that cuts through our home town. Something happened, a heart attack, a stroke. Whatever it was, they found him on the edge of the water, alone. He lived the last few years of his life alone, estranged from all his kin, save his brother. If men can be evil, he was by no small measure; if not, he was a cursed man.

    I feel no remorse for my father’s death, no sadness, no guilt for not speaking to him for over eight years. What I knew of him was ugly, even to the end. I can’t even say if I loved him or not. Time will tell.

    Though not sad about his death, I do feel a kind of sadness, a selfish sadness. There are missing pieces to the Self I’ve lived a long time, pieces only he could give, but now I know for certain he never will even if he wanted too. But he never even tried when he was alive, though he took much, from me, my four siblings and our mother, burned our lives to ashes in his joints, swallowed them in his Scripts and drank them down like the fire water in a bottle of cheap whiskey. If he knew regret for his life, no one ever knew it, he never told us so.

    I’m the least touched by that fire; our family is now a macabre and twisted shadow of something great that could have been. The lot of us are baby birds pressed flat on the sidewalk in spring, only to ever fly in the imaginations of strangers looking down on us. Excuse the crassness, but there are few images so potent as this to describe what destroyed potential feels like.

    These are my feelings: acrid like smoke, heavy like iron, soft like flesh, hot like fire, cold like ice, tense like a steam pipe, limp like a corpse, dark like a hole in the ground, bright as the sun. You will never see this on my face.

    I believe we are all liars.

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  8. This I Believe; I’m Not a Man

    I hate how men act when they hold a gun, try to buy one at a pawn shop or retailer. That cocky “men only” vibe they give off when looking through the sight, or when working on an engine. I hate how they act when they drink or smoke pot, obnoxious and shamelessly derogatory. I hate how men expect you to act like them just because you have a dick too.
    Or how they expect you to act different from them if you don’t.


    I’m too quiet, too controlled, to passive.

    I’m considerate, I try not to be foolish.

    I don’t like sports, and I don’t try to impress girls.

    I create and nurture ideas and object instead of breaking them.

    It’s a drill-sergeant culture, where to be a man is to talk too loud and to have a hard handshake that hurts. You meet someone new and to make a good impression you talk too loud, say clichés and shake hands like you want to break each other’s hand.

    To every man I met growing up, I looked like a football player. “Look at those shoulders”, I’m the biggin over there. I wonder how disappointed those men would be to know I hate sports, and I don’t even like women. It makes sense that I’m an artist now. It’s a shame, I suppose. So much potential, all gone and wasted. I could have been a real “Man’s Man”, neurotically homophobic, abrasive, destructive and self-destructive.

    I believe I’m something other than a man. I will not allow anatomy to dictate my behavior. Broad shoulders and some family jewels will not be the cage I sleep in for the rest of my life. I believe we all carry the keys to our own cage. Fear to use them keeps them hidden from sight, keeps the dogs outside barking, becomes our pillow on the cot.

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  9. I pull back the skirt of fabric making pretty the trusted trunk and secure an illicit delivery: extracted by an army of electric leeches.

    Thickened in a double-boiler with egg yolks and cane sugar, the raw milk—delivered as contraband in a glass bottle with a metal lid too big—yields a dense scent lost to weaker versions found, pasteurized and homogenized, in cardboard boxes and plastic jugs. Released each time the glass lid is lifted, flavored steam reveals a history of meals: great harvests of oats, flax seed, lettuce, and a single Granny Smith apple.

    Cooled by kitchen air, swollen with vanilla and peanuts, the milk—filling the room with the scent of a mother’s meal—waits for the final touch: pureed banana and whipped cream.

    Crystalline, the cream peels from spinning, frozen walls to the rhythms of a small motor, churning. Flakes of finely shaved chocolate descend gracefully, 25 minutes in.

    The distant bell of a Good Humor truck beckons a once-held belief in four different humors: bodies balanced between black and yellow bile, blood, and phlegm. Fluids wax and wane: bodies find no relief until leeches—applied 50 at once—extract the offending stream. Let, the suffering swoon.

    Though it is scooped and served as a solid, our fluids and humors feed on the frozen milk. I believe in Peanut Butter-Banana Ice Cream.

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  10. I don’t know what fears she harbored as she poured water at my feet: cool droplets to smooth my journey. Mid-July, the water evaporated fast and I headed towards my first flight on the way to summer school in Cyprus. My mother and I knew nothing of summer schools, but she opened the iron curtain and I stepped into a different world without a word between us. With no reliable way to reach her, I spent three weeks on an island, practicing English after sunset. I got used to saying the Bulgarian word for “no” when I meant “yes” in Greek, feasted on fried octopus, and painted the world’s last home for lepers. I learned to ask for help and found it in the hands of a leper. I never wondered if my mother could sleep at night.

    Two years later I boarded a bus for Prague, still part of Czechoslovakia. I spent the 24 bus hours hoping the friend I was going to visit would be there to meet me. I didn’t know where there was. I had sent my friend a letter telling her when to expect me. I trusted she had received it. I did find her (Sarah Ackroyd, a woman I had met in Bulgaria during the season for making pickles) after a group of German tourists gave me a map, a ticket, and a set of instructions to navigate Prague’s subway. I had been told Germans were cold, even ruthless. My helpers opened their eyes wide each time they laughed. Holding onto the map they gave me, I explored Prague for eight days. The saints on Charles Bridge became my friends, too.

    I traveled to Greece, Italy, and Romania in the years that followed. Each time my mother made sandwiches. Each time she reminded me to pack a sweater, to be on the safe side. Each time she let me go. Then I left for America and did not return.

    I cannot ask my mother how she let go of me, her only child and a daughter, time after time. We only know how to talk about my kids, her grandchildren: if the baby is teething, whether the three-year-old likes skating. I regret I can’t ask my mother how to teach her granddaughter to trust strangers, how I might let go of her hand even when we are skating next to each other, bound by ice.

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  11. Sitting in grocery cart playing with my silver sparkly toy pony while my mom pushed me down the different isles, checking off her grocery list, and talking with her brother. Age 6, every Sunday afternoon, my mom would take my sisters and I to a different grocery store so her and her brother could shop together. The unfamiliarity of the store became an adventure for my sisters and I every Sunday which masked the real reasons for why we were actually there but being 6 year olds, those reasons never became clear to me until I was old enough to understand. I believe my mom did this in order to make sure my uncle was ok every Sunday. She truly believed she would be able to save him. Not just with our joint Sunday grocery shopping trips but also her constant sisterly annoyance which at age 6, I thought was irritating. What I didn’t realize nor my sisters at the time was the intoxicating problems and situations that my uncle had let himself be a part of. I believe the adventures we had were for fun, for bonding, but in reality it was to my mom’s attempt to drag her brother out of the darkness which had taken over his life and to make him realize what he would be missing if he continued to make the same choices. I am happy that at age 6 I did not realize the alternative reasons for shopping at that grocery store. I remember my mom explaining to my sisters and I on a cold winter day the we would no longer be visiting my uncle on Sundays. I sat there in the rocking chair combing the pink hair of my silver sparkly pony. My uncle had given it to me for my 5th birthday a year before. Death is hard to understand at age 6 but I believe the memories I do have of my uncle are good ones and maybe that’s because I was young and naïve of the situation he gotten himself into with drugs and alcohol. But I rather remember him in that light instead of remembering him as someone who made poor decisions that ended his life at 34. I believe he was the uncle who would always surprise us with candy at his door, gave us the best birthday presents, and who would go grocery shopping with us on Sunday afternoons. I believe my silver sparkly pony is the only thing that brings me back to those memories.

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