Tag Archives: Vietnam

It’s Not Easy Being Green

23 Feb

 

 

It’s Not Easy Being Green

L. Stewart Marsden

Control v. the lack of control is a conflict I’ve lived with for most of my life. It’s at the heart of AA’s mantra — and gaining the wisdom to know the difference is, in my experience, a life-long pursuit. In retrospect, I’ve been far more foolish than wise.

I’m hesitant to write these thoughts, as inevitably someone will point out there are no excuses for some/many of what I struggle with. The good news — at least to me — is that I do struggle with them. In a world that seems to have become black and white on so many issues, I’m in that fifty shades of gray area, and I’m not talking about the book and its focus. 

What I absolutely cannot and did not control:

  1. When and where I was born;
  2. Who comprised my family;
  3. What level of social status I was born into;
  4. What level of income my family had;
  5. What my level of innate intelligence was;
  6. What my skill tendencies and talents were/are;
  7. When and how I will die;
  8. What levels of pain those I love will go through, and whether or not they will endure them;
  9. Who I am attracted to;
  10. What tragedies will impact my life.

No doubt there are more, but the short list should suffice.

It has taken me these many years (I’m approaching seven decades on this earth) to realize and accept the responsibility that all of the above are not excuses, and that I have either controlled or abdicated control over the effects of those things over which I had no control. In other words, allowed the uncontrollable to control me. It’s the laissez-faire tendency that has been a challenge to overcome. The “well, that’s just who I am” attitude of helpless resolution.

I’m currently watching (binging, really) the Netflix series, “Grace & Frankie.” To mark just how far and to what extent American culture has changed, the show would never have been produced back in the early days of television. That’s not what goes through my head as I watch it, though. What goes through my head are the various elements of the series that I struggle with. I’m supposed to simply be and let be, right? And if I am uncomfortable about various scenarios of the show, that’s an indication there’s something wrong with me, right?

I won’t spoil the series for you with detail, other than the basic plot is two male partners in a law firm announce to their respective wives they are gay, and are divorcing their wives so that the men can marry each other. Archie Bunker would have dropped dead. I’ve never been an Archie Bunker type, but found myself not understanding it, either. 

What does that make me, then? Homophobic? I probably am. And I could probably point to the era into which I was born as an excuse, or the implied revulsion of the Bible over people who act out their same-gender sexual orientations. Or the myriad of conclusions the rigidly straight world makes as an explanation to one recurring question, “Why did God make me this way?” I won’t belabor the responses, which are just as fantastic as dogmatic believers explaining how the world was created in six days. That particular “sin” has found its way to the top of the charts, and has remained so in the religious minds of many.

Still, I admit to being bothered by it. So I’m left with what can I control about this issue? My mouth, for one. Not out of fear of being labeled myself, but making sure whatever I say and however I react is carefully measured for its impact. 

My children are more tolerant of far more than I. I’m not sure that means they are better people than I am — whatever that means — but they are certainly more understanding. They have lived with a variety of change that really wasn’t change for them. 

I grew up when the south was segregated. Separate, but equal, ran the dogma. Bathrooms. Movie theaters. Schools. Water fountains. And my parents hired black women to do various necessary things about the house — even though my mother didn’t work outside the house. Not every white family had maids or people to do yard work. But we did. How do I reconcile that past with what is now the norm? It clearly falls under the controllable part of my life. I wasn’t born a racist. As Rogers and Hammerstein clarified in South Pacific, “You’ve got to be carefully taught.” But I have worked sincerely on that aspect of my life in a variety of ways, yet, I suppose the term racist does apply to me at some levels. 

I grew up when “gay” didn’t refer to someone who preferred to sexually and emotionally connect with members of their own gender. Or when the other parts of LGBT where code words, and not political referendums.

I grew up when sex was not explicit — either in attire or behavior — on the scale it is today. When one-night-stands were not necessarily planned, and when females were more coy than aggressive in relationships. When married TV couples slept in single beds separated by a lamp table.

Grace & Frankie takes shots at many of these, including guns (another sacred cow). That’s probably the only controversial issue I have settled for myself: I don’t and probably won’t ever own one. It’s your right, however. What I cannot understand is how we’ve gotten to the place nearly all school children from kindergarten up have to be drilled in safety procedures to protect them from someone with a gun.

It’s a difficult transition from the world I grew up in to the world in which we now live. My pathway has been along lines that are less absolute. I wouldn’t have either thought of or predicted that when I was sixteen. But when I was eighteen? As I’ve written before, the convergence of civil rights, women’s rights, and Vietnam was the point 9 earthquake that seemed to shake things up forever. Of course, these are not excuses either.

I’ve often looked back to wistfully remember “the good old days.” I realize they weren’t good for everyone; that the agonizingly slow change for the better for them has not been as easy for me and others like me as well. We had to either change as well — or dig in. Many chose to dig in. Others of us have elected to change within. Either choice has its results and/or consequences. Neither is easy.

It’s not easy being green, said someone very wise.

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Pain

19 Aug

 

Pain

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

When I was about ten years old, I began having intense attacks of pain on my right side under my rib cage. It was deep inside. The best way I found to describe it was it felt as though a double-bladed knife, triangular in shape from its tip to the hilt, was being slowly inserted into me. The pain would gradually increase over hours, and I did everything I could for relief to no avail. It got so bad I would force myself to throw up in order to empty my stomach. Again, useless. I even banged my head against the wall to distract my mind elsewhere.

I was checked and tested for a myriad of maladies, including hepatitis and ruptured appendix, during which time I must have drunk gallons of pasty, chalky “stuff” that would show up problems under x-rays.

Nothing.

The attacks repeated over a number of years, seeming to get more and more painful and intolerable. And the duration also lengthened, from several hours to a day and a half. The usual guess at a diagnosis was severe indigestion. So whenever I felt an attack coming on, I’d drain a bottle of Pepto Bismal – thinking it might lessen the severity. That’s what you get for thinking.

Finger down the throat. Head banging on the wall. Even had a pediatrician give me morphine once. Well, that worked, but it sure wasn’t going to be the normal treatment.

Over the years I suffered dozens of attacks. Only complete exhaustion and drop dead sleep helped me survive.

The spring before Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinkley, the attacks began to occur within weeks of each other. At the around the same time, I found out my older sister had her gallbladder removed due to having painful attacks.

Gallbladder!

A gastroenterologist told me I couldn’t have gallbladder disease, and my pain wasn’t the result of gallbladder attacks because I had been having them since I was ten.

“Improbable,” he surmised, having never heard of someone so young diagnosed with the malady.

This time the tests – for gallbladder – came back positive, and proved the doctor wrong.

The surgery took hours longer than was expected. My gallbladder had shrunk up under my liver, and the surgeon cut a large half-moon opening to the right of my stomach area in order to actually move my liver So he could get to the gallbladder.

It looked like a dried-up lemon, he told me later. And it was packed with dozens and dozens of BB-sized stones that had been produced over the years.

Pain.

It tells us something is wrong, and compels us to do something about it. I’ve heard preachers say metaphorically that it is God’s way of steering us in the right path. I have a response to that premise, but I can’t write it down in mixed company.

The solution for my pain over the years was first the diagnosis. And no one for the longest time reached a correct conclusion. At the time of those attacks, I was happy merely to have the pain go away, which they eventually did, but only to come back again.

There is no such thing as timeliness as far as pain is concerned, in my opinion.

I’ve been told that the pain of a gallbladder attack is at the same intensity as what women experience when in labor. I wouldn’t know. That could only be asserted by a woman, and I trust they would know.

We’re in a time of pain. The country.

Just shy of fifty years ago we were also in a time of pain not dissimilar to now.

Then, the sources of the pain were evident. On Sunday evenings when CBS covered the war in Vietnam on 60 Minutes. Kent State. Martin Luther King assassinated. The Black Panthers. The bombing of Hanoi. Bra-burning. Marches, marches, marches.

And like a gallbladder attack, it was like a two-edged knife being slowly inserted into the gut of the country, and there was no relief to be found.

We’re there once again. The faces are the same, only the names are different. Afghanistan. Syria. Al Qaeda. ISIS. Terrorism. Police brutality. Denial of rights to a different set of minorities. Racial tension. Political buffoonery. Fascists. Bigots. Racists.

For those of us who were around the first time during the 60s and 70s, it’s deja vous all over again. Ground Hog Day. Like the unseen gods are saying, “We’re going to do this until we get it right”-kind of scenario.

Is it just me? Or have I felt this pain before? And will we ever have a definitive diagnosis? Will we go into surgery to have this malignancy removed at last?

Were it only that simple.

In the meantime, we have the pain, which will persist and recur until solutions are found.