Ricketts Glen in Ice
Monday, January 6, 2014
"It's the Sun" Polyphonic Spree
Just by looking at Ithaca in a guidebook, it’s easy to see how beautiful of a town that it is. There is a boast of over 100 waterfalls in a 10 mile region, and it’s true, it’s true. They’re there, and they’re real and they’re spectacular. For me, I originally found them in Scott Brown’s New York Waterfalls, which goes on and on about the waterfalls in the area – especially if you take it out to Watkins Glen, which isn’t unreasonable if you have a very long weekend from sunrise to sunset to knock them all out.
I had been to that part of the region on 2 different occasions. After hearing a student talk about how great Watkins Glen was, I went there in 2006. Two years later, I went back with the woman who is now my wife. We followed in the footsteps of my grandparents who went there in the late 1930s. The pictures are now a fading version of black and white. There isn’t much difference in color between black and white, and even the black is more of a charcoal color. Nevertheless, despite the tiny nature of the details in the relatively small Polaroid sized pictures, there are still images of what was around in a time that was roughly 75 years ago. Here, it’s amazing to see how the waters fall the same way and how the paths are still aesthetically matched to the surrounding gorge.
The people in these pictures no longer exist to tell their stories, but I have preserved them. I have given them life where now, nearly 7 years after I resurrected many of these boxes of pictures, their deterioration was halted in time and space. I have preserved their right to life as something more than the ghosts that fill my memories. From the confines of photo albums that were falling apart, I surgically removed their images and transplanted them into newer, more durable photo albums, which is where they now sit, unattended in wait of who will come to have possession of them after their current caretaker is no more.
And just as the sun punched through the tree tops to cast its image on the memories of an adventure that happened over a decade before my mother was conceived and embedded with her own right to life, I can see that same sun’s image on the photographs of both of my trips.
"And it makes me smile."
Visions like this are all that are left of my grandfather. I never knew him. He died when my mother was 8 years old. As a result, I don’t know his sense of humor, his love for my nana, or any of his wisdom that he could have passed on to me in firsthand version. All I know is that there were many treks like this that he took my nana to when they went on their trips throughout the Great Depression and after World War 2, which was when they fell in love and enjoyed his sense of humor and the other qualities that would make him a good father while his life on this mortal coil lasted.
Because of that and the fact that my dad’s dad died when he was just over 1 year old, I have never known the firsthand version of a grandfather’s wisdom, so I do what I can to preserve their presence and to walk over their steps in homage to who they were and always will be in the romanticized memories that I have created out of the bits and pieces of their lives, which I have come to know.
Like other historians and genealogists, I am the caretaker. Like a man whose story I edited and advised upon, I am the one who preserves the lives of the dead long after they have gone. I think of his ancestor literally preserving the gravesites and reburying the bodies after the great Southern floods, and I think of how that is what he and I have done for the memories of our family by typing them out in black and white form on this Microsoft Office program. This is our mission in life. In this, ours is to preserve their right to life in any way that we possibly can.
And if that means that I get to drive the roads that they may have driven way back when, then let me go to all of these back road locations. And if I get to go and see tall, flowing waterfalls that drain into the Finger Lakes of New York, then I’d do that, too.
The weeks leading up to The Great Ithaca Adventure were, as they always are, filled with the pornographic pursuit of adventure, which consists of me going through travel guides and websites without hesitation or restraint. The images of professional and amateur photographers alike is enough to inspire excitement, and for that, I couldn’t wait to see the gorges of Ithaca (after all, gorgeous is what the town is).
And so for Columbus Day weekend in 2013, my wife and I did go to Ithaca to see the waterfalls, and it was memorable, but not completely for what it was set out to be memorable for.
When we got there, we stayed in a beautiful bed and breakfast, which stood in complete opposition to the rains and traffic jams of our drive up to Ithaca. This drive was a 6-hour traffic nightmare that took us from Central Pennsylvania to New York State. It should have been completed in about 4 hours, even with rush hour traffic, but alas, jams and mis-directions later, and yeah… we finally cleared the nastiness of all things and headed into clear skies that speckled with endless stars.
The bed and breakfast that we were staying at was an old hippie farm, which was very pretty and scenic in its place toward the back of a dirt road. It was hidden about a half hour from Ithaca. The wood and country décor provided a warm, homey feeling after such a long drive, and the woman who ran the place was very chatty and friendly. It was definitely better than leopard skin floors and unclean nastiness like the place we had stayed at outside of Atlantic City earlier in the year. Hence, my head hit the pillow, and I was asleep.
The next morning, after a country breakfast, we headed out into the hills as the leaves showed us their fall colors, slowly but surely, which was something that we hadn’t really had yet this fall season (and wouldn’t have for quite a while). Prior to the trip, I wondered if we would be too late, but it seemed we, like Buck O’ Neil, were right on time.
After driving through the mountains and into the outskirts of Ithaca proper, our first goal was to see Lucifer’s Falls in Robert Treman State Park. Standing at 115 feet tall, it dwarfs the other falls along the trail, which are 12, 16, and slightly less feet (thus, preventing these extra falls from making the book as "proper" waterfalls). Nevertheless, it is a quiet little walk back through to the main king daddy waterfall of them all (though the trail ended right after that due to weather-created obstructions). There are some hills to ascend, but it’s nothing much unless you’re really not in mountain shape (i.e. you are used to Pennsylvania mountains, which require more than getting to the Ohio waterfalls and rock formations of Hocking Hills, but that’s a whole other story). Along the trail, the staircases tend to make for the most exertion if only because they are tall and stretch up into the trees, but they’re not tough to do – if you don’t let yourself get overwhelmed counting stairs.
Along the way, the creek meanders, and it occasionally drops because of those earlier waterfalls, and for all of those things, the crisp mountain air beckoned us further and further up the creek until we arrived at the observation deck to look down on the Lucifer Falls, glowing in a more peaceful way than its name would otherwise imply. At its crest, the sun obscured all details of that first drop since that was the place the fiery inferno in the sky seemed to be glaring down on the hardest. As a result, the pictures of this waterfall aren’t as spectacular as they would have been at a different time or a different angle, but they do show the slide and fall of the water through the rocks and how it has gone on to erode the gorge in the beautiful path that has been carved out for it.
After taking my pictures, we walked back down to the bridge and went over to the other side, if only to get pictures from another angle, and from there, we decided to go back downstream rather than to go up to the observation deck on the other side out of a need to see the many other waterfalls in the region. After all, we only had 2 days to see them all!
With our most pressing need, we still had to go to First Falls, the anyone can see it just walk right up falls of the park, and we had yet to give in to my desire to go 4-wheeling in my Yaris as I drove across Enfield Creek repeatedly to prove that the "Macho Dude" (as my car is officially-known) can take on any dirt road imaginable – especially after its relative successes on the vicious, un-maintained 5-mile stretch of dirt road that is Jack’s Tower Road (the road leading up to Pennsylvania’s best vista: The Throne Room).
From here, we went to Buttermilk Falls and wandered up to the top of the first or last waterfall depending on how you hike to it (Buttermilk, itself), and then headed back down to go and see Sweedler Preserve rather than wander up through to whatever was going to come after it (little did we know yet how cool that would be up there). Unfortunately, for the beauty it would have offered in spring, there wasn’t much water pushing down the mountain. Still it was enough to stand and gawk at it for a while. My wife and I wandered all the way to the bottom, shot pictures of the tiny water streams where we could, and then wandered to the main falls, a 70-footer that stood nicely against the mountain backdrop whereas the 2nd falls was a 60-foot cliff top vision of what was to come after it. From here, the answer was to get back up the trail.
At the time, I had been spending about half of a year working to get in mountain shape. My wife stopped hiking the more "extreme" trails with me after messing up her leg on a fall getting back from Sausser’s Stonepile. That happened in June, and I understand her hesitation to still do rocky, nasty trails of Pennsylvania to this day. I really do understand, and I’m even happier that she wasn’t hurt more than she was on the trek (i.e. I’m happy she could walk out of the forest on her own TWO feet AND that she didn’t kick my butt for taking her on such a rocky trail). Consciously, as I pushed myself up the trail, in the back of my mind, I made a mental note to think of hikes that we could go on together, which don’t feel like 500-foot (or greater) mountain ascents or potentially wet and accident-prone jaunts like the side trek I took into the mini "slot canyon" that is the gorge that is carved out above the 2nd falls.
The far side of this part of the creek at Sweedler is a wall. The front part gradually slides down as do the waterfalls, which makes it nice to walk down. If it were warmer, I might be tempted to go sandal-footed into the water in an effort to climb the falls up to the top, but that might really worry my wife, and sometimes, it’s best that she only know some of what I do out here in the aftermath of me telling her what I have done than showing her what I am doing.
And in that, it’s best to be 98.6° when I’m doing it.
Nevertheless, it was a good day and we were racking up the miles. The moss stood out in a vibrant green color. The leaves beneath our feet were a crunchy tannish-brown. The paint on the trees was the same blue color as the Macho Dude. There were people on the trail, but there aren’t many. In short, it’s a typical 2013 day for hiking.
Up to this point, Ithaca was beautiful. After all, it is the home of a college named after it, and it is also the home to Cornell University, which is a stunning Ivy League campus. All of these things mix well together. It seems like everyone has gone out of their way to make this natural playground so inviting, and why wouldn’t they?
Cayuga Lake was stunning as it pushes up to the edges of the town. The Finger Lakes were all gorgeous. In this area, there seems to be a million things to do in every season, and after we ate our lunch at a Chinese buffet, we determined that we would do more of the waterfalls. In this, our bellies were full, but our legs and lungs were ready to absorb the mountain air.
For this, we went up to the top of Buttermilk Falls. This reminded us a lot of Seven Tubs, which is located outside of Wilkes Barre. There are a lot of really cool potholes in both of these creeks, and the erosive forces of glaciers past have carved out these areas rather nicely.
At one point early on, it seems like the creek rock of Buttermilk Falls could be cut into the shape of a heart. All throughout it, there are levels and layers that can be gazed upon easily because the water is just so clear that it’s almost unreal. Sure, there were way too many people along the trail, but that’s true of any relatively metropolitan natural area. At least there wasn’t trash despite the obnoxious kids that were here, there, and everywhere. The winding, carved section only goes on for a little while, but while it did, just like at Seven Tubs, it was spectacular. Rocks jutted out and up. Lumber lay across the stream. Photographers took turns shooting their images, and all was right with the world on a mid-autumn afternoon.
And like we did at every other stop that day, we traveled on to the next stop; however, this time, we took a couple shots of the distant mountains and their festive fall colors. Our next stop according to Ithaca’s colorful guidebook was to be Dennison Falls. This waterfall was at a nature center, and when we got there, we found out that the nature center was closed, but the trails were open, so we wandered the forest looking for what’s around, and finally, we get on the right path and headed past a couple of cages with raptors and foxes in them. The animals were conked out for the day, but they were still beautiful. As an opportunity to take care of animals that were once wounded, the nature center seemed to be doing the noble thing, which is sharing nature and some of its creatures that are not often seen with children who don’t really get to see the woodlands of the world. To me, any opportunity to do that is a good thing and should be done more often than it is. For that, it’s not hard to throw donations out when boxes ask for them.
As we walked past the animals, there was another family who was also enjoying the park with us. The dad was very proud of his daughter for being at Cornell, but he wasn’t walking with her, even if he told us that he was the father of a girl at Cornell. There was another daughter, too. She was younger, and there was a mom who was also along for the ride. The daughter who was away at school was in her very late teens / early twenties. I can relate to the age. I was there once, too, and things that had no real bearing on my world bothered me the way that things that don’t really affect her day to day reality clearly bothered her. I too tried to establish my identity as she was trying to establish hers, so who was I to judge the image that her haircut and her politics are trying to portray?
And as we walked, I heard their conversation in bits and pieces as we come back from the tree house view of Dennison Falls. Her mother is trying to be patient and attentive as the rebellious teenager, who is now coming to understand it all, discusses her anger and fear that conservatives will take away her reproductive rights. This reflects on the idea that at some point in the very near future, conservative Christians will do what they haven’t done in 40 years of fighting for the most prominent right to life cause and pass a bill outlawing abortion.
Being slightly more cynical to the situation at hand, I wanted to ask her if she was planning on getting knocked up any time soon, and thus, I wanted to know if she was planning on needing to go for an emergency abortion to prevent this catastrophe that is teenage pregnancy from messing with her body and her choices. In short, did she really believe that in her privileged pretty little white girl ways (because ethics are truly the privilege of the rich) that she was going to be discriminated against? Was her true sense of place in the universe camouflaged by a lack of makeup and hippie-esque clothes in such a way that she had now succeeded in being a target of the oppression that others truly feel on a day to day basis? In short, had her true identity as a woman in the world been compromised so viciously that in the event of teen-aged pregnancy tragedy, her only option was to go to back alley inner city "health planning" facilities like the one ran by Kermit Gosnell or to risk things with some coat hanger option if the radical Christians or whatever misogynistic "they" took charge?
But I never did ask these questions.
Besides, who am I to ask, and more importantly, I’m on vacation. This is really none of my business, but it’s a train wreck that I really couldn’t avoid because I was contemplating how at this point in my life, I have become Mr. Spencer when 25 years earlier I was Holden Caulfield. It’s quite a switch, but it’s not an impossible one. In this, a part of me can still remember being the rebellious child to conservative and traditional parents, and I can still remember having learned that my ideas aren’t going to change theirs, and thus, I needed to keep them to myself or not have them at all. Obviously, she hasn’t yet.
Well, it was either that or the fact that she was still the privileged child who went to Cornell and with the liberal education she was most likely trying to receive (something her parents were paying $45,130 for), she now had a well-credentialed education that would be parroted until she outgrew it.
And whoever needed to hear it was going to be entertained with the brutal truth of what she knew to be her rights and responsibilities in life.
Looking at her dad in his flannel shirt, it was clear that he was holding it back to keep the peace with a potentially volatile situation. I can respect that kind of mentality. I would do a lot to learn that for my own life.
As we were walking backing to the car, I also thought about the gridlock, which has kept Roe v Wade’s fragile existence in place since 1973 when legalized abortion as based on the "right to privacy" became law. Not being an expert on the subject or even someone forced with his own decision as to whether or not to help a gal to decide whether to keep or terminate a pregnancy, I admit to inexperience on the topic. Nevertheless, in rehashing those thoughts I can say that I’ve had opinions on the topic, and I think about them in light of what I am allowed to express as clearly defined in "the right to life."
People spend a lot of time talking about the right to life as it applies to a woman’s right to give birth or to abort said child in the womb. In a world that reflects on the "conservative" question, the traditional values conservative and the libertarian conservative do differ in the role of the state deciding who should be the final arbiter of said decision, and yes, there is a more liberal friendly spin on pro-choice when it comes to keeping the termination option open, but nevertheless, that’s not all people everywhere, and when it comes down to the individual baby’s birth being the paint by numbers product of a conservative or liberal, the option can still go either way when it’s still someone’s own baby. That said, if the mass numbers of single teenage Junos and the popularity that could be gained by appearing on an MTV show are anything to gauge it upon, it really does seem like abortion isn’t something that the youth are really considering (either that or they can’t afford it). Maybe it’s about the potential to be a highly-paid reality star looking for other projects, but we live in a world where the potential to make a cool mill seems more "real" than finding $300-950 to make "bad" things not happen quickly.
Nevertheless, when the baby comes out, since that seems to be the current trend in this "decision" making process, much of the debate of right to life moves to whether or not to fight for the nourishment of said womb-free baby. At this point, civility vanishes from options of prenatal assistance and adoption and transforms into the morass of casting welfare politics on an individual that is still too young to support his or her head in a sitting up position.
I get how that happens, too, because there are a lot of ways to take advantage of the system when it’s providing "free" money in every direction (and it is true that much of that does go to help children who can’t help themselves), but that’s not the news / cringe-worthy expression that system abuse is and therefore, it is simply a bleeding-heart liberal or Sunday church position. Therefore, it’s easier to think of the abuses of said "deadbeat" parents and how they have made their poverty happen (because when it’s someone else, it’s all about the individuals choices that have led to this point – not the system that fluidly moved to this place in time and space).
To this end, I only have to think of the Obama money that my wife and I got for buying our first house and how that second version of the tax credit was held up by creating a new form that forced people to prove that they actually bought a house. Of course, we bought a beautiful house and turned it into a home. Over 4 years later, it accumulates our stuff and our memories, but what of the $8000 payments that people were collecting just for having the audacity to fill out a form?
It’s easy to move from this to other aspects of the debate on how far to help and not to help people. Nevertheless, if truth be told, I may have voted conservative in the last several elections, but I must admit to how I am the 98% because I work in an education system that people couldn’t afford if not for financial aid (and yes, I do believe that more people should be able to get assistance, and I do believe that college is way too expensive – even if it keeps my belly full and my body warm), and so yes, I really do directly benefit from the government’s handouts even if I have to go to work to collect them.
Nevertheless, I think of how I am working in an education system where we are directed to boot college "students" who never show so that they can’t take advantage of student grants without actually attempting to go through college (rightly so) since there's so much "free money" out there. And I remember the first time I heard of that, and how I thought the woman telling me about it was such an angry human, but it turned out she was right (even if she was an angry human about it – now, I find that I have become the same angry human, too). And now, I’m faced with living out my own Tea Party position as I too routinely and regularly find myself needing to eject no call no show students as the funding for "education" option has become a way for them to "make ends meet" for another few months before they have to find another way to do it.
And yes, I think of how these opportunities for financially-needy students make things happen, and they should continue to happen. I took these grants. My wife took them, and many other people took them due to a variety of circumstances that were all designed to be combated by something that gave us the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. However, in sharp contrast to a rising tide of people who have been unsuccessful in their college pursuit, when our time in college was over, we became people working in the system, people who pay taxes, and people who are trying to be a part of a society that is creating and providing for other people within the system. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
In short, we no longer wanted to do any more struggling. Like Crash Davis, we just wanted to be, and our Annie Savoys were going to be able to do that, too.
For that, we wanted to give other people the same opportunity that we had. However, we didn’t want to see our money being wasted on those who weren’t choosing to accept the right to embrace this way of life in the same way that we grew up believing. Thus, in this, is it wrong to not want to help people who don’t want to help themselves or help society in any possible way, whether as a teacher, doctor, lawyer, fireman, policeman, scientist, or businessman (or any other job for that matter)?
But instead of thinking rationally and creating a system that inspires success, the failsafe system that affects all those from newborn babies to geriatrics creates something that people can stand against negatively because of the actions of a group that is easy to publicize and demonize. As a result, people who embrace their own life have begun to completely and totally REJECT LIFE that is around them. And as a result, so many people spend all of their time hating those who have come to be needy and destitute, which is a shame. We should be a society that values all human life, not just the half of our world that militantly values life in the womb. We should see all life the way we see beautiful bouncing and smiling babies.
We should empower people to tap into their inner strengths to be great instead of just handing them the right to just live, which seems to be little more than breathe, be fed, defecate, be entertained, and sleep.
But the thing is that we don’t offer them that, and instead, the status quo goes on, and those 5 things (breathe, be fed, defecate, be entertained, and sleep) continue on unabated as the differences between the have life and the don’t have lifes continue on.
As a result, when life arrives, we stop being nice with backdoor laws to define when we will recognize it as viable life, and we go full-on with our desire to discriminate against it on its abilities to be viable as a being that can be educated to do a process.
And that is when we think about whether the child has a fighting chance as based on the circumstances of his or her parents who seem to have chosen to do something positive or the parents who do nothing and to drift into whatever failure that they have embodied (and that’s an easy place for anyone to get to – see my first blog entry). We (me included) make our remarks to the fates of children of single and divided families, and we forget that the child is a child who didn’t ask for any of this (and I’m sure that even some of these kids would want to provide wall to wall counseling for some of their parents for why they couldn’t be more responsible or dare I say better parents, but once again, I digress).
Nevertheless, at the end of the day, the child, whether planned or unplanned, was the result of an act of affection, pleasure, and / or the place of said parents in their time in the universe. The child came to be, and now we the adults have the right to vote for those who will allow or prevent us from making the decisions of things such as right to life. Now, we the fully lived and "rationale" adults must come to some kind of grand conclusion as to whether the child should be and what the right to life really means.
And these are the questions that will get asked with regard to what action should be taken when sperm meets egg:
"Will it prevent me from going to or finishing college?" "Will said child be the subject of a permanent custody battle between me and his or her other parent?" "What if I can’t afford the child?" "What if I don’t know if I can physically raise the child?"
In short, "Will this kid cramp my lifestyle?"
But at the same time, for many people, there is a realization that, "This action is a mistake. It’s still early. What can be done to preserve life that exists here?"
And this is where the words right to life take a turn for something other than debating life in the womb, which while discussed here at length are left for you unanswered since I’m not seeking to answer the final choice or desire for a child for anyone other than my wife and me.
How dare I have the audacity to tell you how to live your life in some way that says no to abortion (and yes, I get the rape clause, the parents wanting to kick your ass for getting knocked up clause, the mother’s health clause, and the I’m a guy clause – hence, the gridlock will go on and on and on forever, but other than limiting how far into the pregnancy it can occur, abortion will always be here)?
How dare I say that a child is a child is a child. I’ve seen the pictures of babies floating in the amniotic fluid, and I have seen the tiny little hands. I think of what they could be someday, too. I think of the hands of Kermit reaching in and killing babies much older than the point when the heart beats for the first time, and I am disgusted at the inhumanity of life with regard to life. Nevertheless, these conflicted thoughts are my journey. Not yours.
As Thoreau said, "I would not have any one adopt my way of life on any account; for, beside that before he has fairly learned it I may have found another for myself, I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbor’s instead."
But with that being said, the issue here isn’t really abortion or welfare politics, even though in many cases it is. It is true that we are a people who spend all of this time debating for a baby’s right to life and a mother’s right to life, both of which have been expanded upon thoroughly, and to this, I must ask are we the ones who are alive and breathing really using the time that we have to truly live, to truly be alive?
In a blog that is about getting out and getting healthy and traveling and seeing the world, that is the most important question going.
Do we get up off of our butts enough to make it matter? Do the pursuits that we pursue make a difference for us when it comes to the things that we will leave after us (will it be more than "hammered stone")? Is there a feverish victory cry in our lungs? What is our moment of jumping on home plate and spilling Gatorade everywhere? Is there even a plagiarized "roar" that we have inside of us? Can we push it forward to show that we have made a victory for ourselves and our cause? Can we rise above our detractors, or do we cringe and fall at the first hater who comes our way? Can we rise above being haters who cause others to cringe and suffer? Can we push ourselves out of our apathy and just getting by to being great?
Can we inspire and push others through their weaknesses to choose to be great?
Or does every single obstacle, real and perceived, get labeled as a bully who hurts people’s feelings? Have we diluted the words feelings and bullies to the point where there is no difference between those who challenge and those who don’t reward mediocrity with those who choose to speak negatively and physically abuse others? Have our psyches gotten so delicate that there is no ability to ever push people through to the next level without the intervention of a great protecting nanny (figure or state), who is willing to stop people from daring to demand a change in the status quo?
And now this reflective period is over, and I am back at the car at Dennison Falls asking myself "to what level of life am I ready to live?" I think of said girl with her parents, and I want to ask her, "To what life are you ready to live punk rock feminist hippie girl? Your parents’ lives are lived. In fact, they’ve given their blood, sweat, and tears to raise you to where you are. They’ve changed your diapers. They’ve held you while you’re sick. They’ve sacrificed to send you to the hallowed Ivy League halls of central New York State. What have you done and what are you going to do with your life that the right to end a "non-life" is such a primary concern to the unrealized life of you?"
As I reflect on all of this, the words of Mark Twight are on my mind and taped to the back of my desk so they will always remind me of who I should push to be:
"I spent 12 weeks on crutches after knee surgery. During recovery, I surrounded myself with wannabes, pretend-to-bes, has-beens, and never-will-bes. I met people who wasted their talent or who were afraid of it. They taught me why I hadn’t become a good climber. Like them, I was afraid to succeed, scared to commit. I didn’t want to be any better than anyone else. Eventually, I sickened of people, myself included, who didn’t think enough of themselves to make something of themselves- people who did only what they had to do and never what they could have done. I learned from them the infected loneliness that comes at the end of every misspent day. I knew I could do better."
And for these words, I am driven to be better. It’s the feeling of getting back in the pushup position and hitting and hitting and hitting them until I’m back where I was before (that 2006 total of 60 in 1 set). I think of what I have to do to feel my arms strong enough to grab the bars and pull myself up and down as I do dips. Along the way, I want to lose the weight that holds me back from pulling myself up on the bar, but if I don’t do it, you can’t do it for me. You can’t give me a trophy for trying. It’s all about doing the 30-day plank challenge and other exercises to see results. It’s all about blasting loud, angry music for the 2-3 hours or so that it takes to get to the mountain I am going to so that I can kick back against the trail that I am about to going to ascend.
It’s the beginning of a new year, a new me. I can be a better person who is breathing in the crisp, cold mountain air, or I can be the same old me. It’s my choice.
Mark Twight also added in the thought that, "You are what you do; thus, if you do nothing, you are nobody. If you once did great things, you think you are great. You coast along on dead, preserved laurels, lifeless and wasting away."
For this, stories of my past lead me to present glory. My dreams carry me to destinations that I want to go to. The ascent of Mount Washington, the icy slopes of Ricketts Glen, and the boulder fields of Central Pennsylvania are all places where I want to be looking down on everyone who chooses to reside in the valley. Sitting here, I can say that I am at home on the mountain top, and for this, I want to be fully alive up there. In the meantime, I will prepare myself physically and mentally to be there.
The heroes who I look up to are the people who stand up to their challenges and rise above the commonplace. Jackie Robinson faced down the racism of the 1940s with no opportunity to speak back against it as a condition for his having the right to go first after Major League Baseball’s "Gentleman’s Agreement" was officially broken is one of many heroes that I look up to. If he can do that, then there is no obstacle that comes before me that will cause me to back down from the dreams that I want to do.
There are many people who fight hard and work intensely to be who they are. I think of all of the great ones, and I want to be like them. We never look down to find our heroes. They might be smaller in stature than us, but they are great nonetheless. Adam Bender stands on one right leg since he has no left leg, but he is a star in baseball, football, and wrestling. This is not just because he does it on one leg, but it’s because he chooses not to think about what he doesn’t have in order to be great with what he does have.
How many of us can do that?
Without knowing it, he has embraced the Stockdale Paradox. He has confronted the brutal truth, but he knows that he will overcome (and in this, his efforts to do have made an overprotective mother reassess her parenting strategies). Unlike those of us who have never been challenged or allowed ourselves to be challenged, he is the "lucky one" who knows how he would respond to the challenges since he faced them without falling prey to the false optimism that he could be buoyed up by. Instead, he has embraced a tough truth found in Admiral Stockdale’s words. It all comes down to "absolute unwavering faith that you can prevail despite those constraints with the need on the other to begin by confronting the brutal facts, whatever they are."
Like Stockdale said, there is no change by Christmas. Victor Frankl could have said the same quote in Man’s Search for Meaning. Laurence Gonzales does echo Stockdale’s story and philosophy in his books Deep Survival and Surviving Survival. The mantras are the same. Whatever it takes. Find a way. Do what you have to do.
Overcome and persevere.
The weekend at Ithaca teaches that, but it teaches its opposite reaction as well. Sure, there is ultimate beauty at places like Taughannock State Park with its 200+ foot waterfall, but when it comes to the waterfalls of Ithaca’s inner city, there is a new feeling of fences and safety nets. Apparently, people need to be protected from themselves as the years and life situations have given people the opportunity to use the natural environment to kill themselves.
As a nation, we fight for the right to keep their lives alive through the womb so that they can live and be, but they choose to not want to live. Why is this?
In this, it seems like the steep drops into the rocky gorges provide a more definite final solution to all of people’s problems than going through the expense of getting a gun or the drifting into deep sleep that pharmaceuticals provide. I say this not to trivialize the serious nature of suicide, since it is a problem that must be addressed, but I say this to reflect on how in the beauty of New York’s Finger Lakes, tourists and residents are forced to reflect on the fragile nature of man when confronted with the inability to escape from his (or her) situation and condition.
I realize that some of this is biological. I realize that some of it is environmental. I myself have felt trapped in my own prisons of time. I think back to the days of being in the Air Force and wondering how long I would be where I am until the next base (I think of many other people who felt the same way). I think back to the days of waiting for a solution to happen on the job front, the relationship front, and the school front. But at age 42, I know that time is not forever. Time is moving. Sometimes, it’s too fast. Sometimes, it’s not fast enough.
In the end, there’s just never enough of it.
I know also in the words of St. Thomas Petty-us that "most things I worry about never happen anyway." Drive by Truckers sang about how "the voice in my brain can be a little unkind sometimes." Nevertheless, "nothing can hurt you but yourself."
I know that, too.
And up in Ithaca and with the permanent pressures of a place like Cornell, apparently, the friendships, relationships, tests, essays, challenges, and pressures are far more real than down here at sea level. The reminder of that, in and of itself, is very depressing, and it puts a damper on every waterfall from Ithaca Falls through to what we can see of Cascadilla Gorge (a lot of it is under repair from adverse weather and a lack of funds) and off through to the major falls of Ithaca Gorge (they’re beautiful, but there is just too much reminder that Ithaca is Fences).
Around Ithaca, it’s clear; we need to be protected from ourselves.
And if we are that fragile, what does that say of those people who really are fragile? I think about the tiny people who are still capable of speaking their feelings about all that has befallen them. For instance, Laney Brown’s inoperable leukemia was too much for her to recover from, but prior to that, she made her wishes and she received them through her limited time up until her untimely death on Christmas Day 2013.
The first of these wishes was to talk to Taylor Swift, who was her favorite singer. Like Laney, Swift was a local to the area of Wyomissing / West Reading (neighboring suburbs), and for this, she made the phone call to Laney, which was not only the right thing to do, but it was the only thing to do. Actors and singers should spend huge chunks of their lives doing things for people. This is especially true for performers who engage kids as actively as Swift’s music does. The power of Make a Wish is incredible in helping kids going through difficult and final times. Just ask Batkid Miles Scott or ask any of the other kids whose wishes were granted. Performers don’t have to be appreciated by adults to make a difference. Let it be Justin Bieber or some fly by night Disney performer. At the end of the day, just let it be someone whose act can show people that there is more to life than selfishness, cruelty, pain, and death. Nevertheless, for so many entertainment websites to put Swift first in the headlines, even if she is the recognized name in the equation, seems to take away the value of what we learn from the wishes of children in tough times.
Nowhere is this truer than in Brown’s other wish: to hear Christmas caroling.
Thousands and thousands of people came to serenade the young girl from outside her house. The cheer of life and Christmas was present for all. Their words expressed online were truer and more heartfelt than most of what we utter in an entire lifetime, even at our most profound moments. Nevertheless, as her passing is the climax of our life’s story, we have to wonder what we will be changed into by the life of a little girl that we would have passed without thought were we to see her in the mall a short year ago. Now, she is a symbol of the life we can lead because she can utter words to speak her dreams and wishes and because someone heard these things.
This is not to trivialize or romanticize these events – far from it. She was described as "Our Little Angel," and it’s true that this is what she became. But what of the untimely demises of the Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzies of this world? What of those people who are too young to have a voice?
I think of my great niece as she fights to recover from her medically-induced coma that was implemented after seizures attacked her 10-month old self on New Year’s Eve. There’s no Taylor Swift phone call for her. There’s lots of loving family in many corners of country who are sending hope and prayers her way, but… what will her story teach the masses? Where is the publicity opportunity for Dora the Explorer or whatever TV show goes on in the background while she plays on the floor?
For all that she has done to make her family smile, what would it all be for if things were to go the other way and she were to shuffle off this mortal coil? What would she be to her younger sibling still in the womb and ready to enter the world anytime soon? What would this be to her family if she wasn’t granted the right to a long and fulfilling life filled with first steps, first words, scholastic milestones, a dream wedding, and children of her own? Sure, these things are all possible, but they aren’t real in our lives… or are they?
What would she be if our last memory of her was a very small thin box lowered into the ground? This is something I don’t even want to think of, let imagine the grieving her more immediate family would feel if it were to happen.
Thus, I think of my nephew Big D and his smiling face staring back at me from the Christmas card he adorns instead. He is the first of 21 nephews, nieces, great nephews, and great nieces to come from the blood of my family, I think about how he has changed everything for his mother, my sister. I think of how he has changed my parents. To see my father playing with "Dilly" is a wonderful sight. Nowhere is this more true than when we watch his eyes light up while he feeds his grandson or watches Big D touch his chin.
To see D placed down in his baby seat as the "golden retrievers" (as my sister calls my dad and I) line up to see him and see who will be the first to hold his smiling and bubbling self as he enters into our worlds and leaves us snookered is a carefree expression of wonder as is to see my mom demand her turn in the line of hugs.
It is all a series of wonderful moments (with more to come), and it is life, so who is anyone to undermine anyone’s right to a happy and healthy life filled with dreams and milestones, as long as they don’t hurt anyone else?
But from the beginnings of the baby books to now, what happens along the way that we just get sad, complacent, lost, and devoid of meaning? What happens in there that when I ask people to tell me something interesting about themselves that they can’t or that they resort to competing with failures like prison, drug addiction, or other sadness, rejection, or quittings? Why do so many people choose to start out with disclaimers instead of mantras of success?
How long must I listen to what you can’t do before it’s time to just do or get out of the way while other people who can do take your place?
Once again, I am back in Ithaca, days after the birth of Big D, and I am wandering down through the different areas that stand above the waterfalls. I am walking along the bridge. I am confronting my demons and fears, slowly but surely, walking out on the bridges that tower over the waters below.
Suicide, whether as a permanent act or a prolonged affair that suffocates life to the point where it may as well be dead, truly is a shame.
I’d rather embrace the light and cast off the nets and fences in favor of the views.
There has to be a better way to address a problem than to pander to the media and the nanny state’s way of shoving it into our faces with these token actions.