For the love of sanctuary

In times of upheaval, noise, and fear, like those we’re going through now with the Trump administration’s penchant for dishonesty, disregard for equal rights, and seeming dislike for democracy itself, finding healthy places of refuge are important. I can’t tell you what the healthiest places are for you, I can tell you what they are for me.

Books, music, dance, nature, love,  are all sanctuaries for me. In his essay, “Nature”, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Here is a sanctity which shames our religions, and reality which discredits our heroes. Here we find nature to be the circumstances which dwarfs every other circumstance, and judges like a god all men that come to her.” I agree with Emerson, far beyond the reach of any mastery of words I might have in my possession.

For me, the sanctuary found in nature’s embrace protects the soul while the sanctuary in a loved one’s embrace protects the heart. We are all connected.

And yes, of course, music. Classical, jazz, international, Springsteen, the Beatles, and so on. The right music can take the blues away and allow an already happy day to strut its stuff in the clouds. Nature and music aside, it is safe to say books are my primary refuge. They have been for nearly as long as I have memory.

Of all the gifts my parents gave me, I rank my love of reading at the top. I read thirty to forty-something books a year on average. I am baffled by those who go through life without them. No doubt they are aware of other sanctuaries life offers that are utterly lost on me. I hope so. We all need them, and, more importantly, we all deserve them. From my days of homelessness to now, being connected to a book makes the shifting currents of life easier to manage.

Through good times and bad, if you’ll permit me the use of an all too worn phrase, I’ve been part of the infinite number of worlds found in the pages of books. Along the way I spent time with Dickens and Steinbeck, Edith Wharton, Jon Dos Passos, Whitman, Updike, Anna Quindlen, James Salter,  and on and on and on. My mind has traveled the sentences their minds created! And, along the way, I’ve hung out with Pip, and listened to Steinbeck’s Charley bark like crazy at the bears in a canyon out west. I spent time with Lincoln and his cabinet in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s, “Team of Rivals.”

Your refuge can be a rich resource of knowledge. I gobbled up Shelby three-volume, “Civil War: A Narrative,” a collection of work so extraordinary I almost believed I was living in the 1860s and nowhere else.

Taking healthy care of yourself is not an act of disloyalty to anyone else. Moreover, remembering to take care of yourself, a retreat into a loved sanctuary, a conversation with a friend, say, will make you far more effective when you turn your focus to the benefit of others. Something we all need to do in today’s climate.

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Break for freedom – Day 12 (Adding distance and hills)

Day 12 – Tuesday, August 22, 2017 (Adding distance & hills)

6:08 a.m. – Years ago, not long after the shooting, me and my close friend Dane Arnold belonged to the 23rd Street YMCA in New York City.

We used to play paddle ball as a pair against these two old guys who were so good they barely had to move to, well, basically wipe the floor with us. That’s not quite true, we did win some, lost more, and were always in the game, but they were far more skilled with their placement of shots, and the English they could put on their shots would impress Houdini. As always, I played with all I had which meant diving for a ball, crashing into walls in order to fire off a shot, and so on. On one occasion, after I dove for a shot and crashed into a wall, one of the older guys, smiling from ear to ear and laughing, asked Dane, “Does he always play like this?”

Dane said: “Are you kidding me?! He does everything like this. You should see him wash the dishes; it’s like he’s trying to get the pattern out of the plate.”

Now, my gentle reader, I know this may sound silly, maybe even a stretch, but I believe the same part of my character that plays that hard, or, to put things in sharper focus, the part of me that doesn’t like giving up, is the same part of my character that helped me stand up after I got shot.

Right or wrong, it sure as hell is the same part of me that’s decided to double the hills and the length this morning’s walk.

7:54 a.m. – Back home.  A shade over one mile: 1.1 to be exact. I am smiling. A long way to go, but this morning felt good. Still does!

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For Dane Arnold

Break for freedom – Day 11 (Enter calm)

Day 11 – Monday, August 21, 2017 (Enter calm)

8:43 a.m. – Back home, and I’ll be damned if there wasn’t an unexpected calm during this morning walk. Lasted right up to the moment I realized there was an unexpected calm. But it had happened. For a few minutes, I was in a lovely morning walk, patches of air perfumed by flowers in nearby gardens. When the sun is gold and the air is perfumed by nature, it’s easy to dream, and calm.

Not surprisingly, noticing the calm sent me straight into the arms a fear. This does not worry me; I know my opponent, and I know his moves. I responded to the fear exactly the way I wanted to; I walked up two more hills.  Surrender is not on the table.

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For Brooklyn, NY

Break for freedom – Day 10 (The bullet)

Day 10 – Sunday, August 20, 2017 (The bullet)

7:51 a.m. – Back home from my walk. I looked up around 6:40-something this morning and said: “I want to go out.” In short order, out I went into the early morning cool.

I did not get as sweat-soaked today. I think (I don’t want to say this too loudly) I may be beginning to carve away power from fear. If you happen to bump into fear at a social event, please don’t let on. Fear is quite the control freak, any sign that someone is breaking free of its grasp makes it angry.

For whatever reason, perhaps because this is the month I got shot, I found myself thinking of the bullet lodged in the frontal lobe of my brain during the walk. The brain has no nerve endings, so I don’t feel it. If I were to identify one disappointment linked to its presence, it would be this; I don’t set off airport alarms. I had plans of approaching an airport metal detector and bowing my head forward so it would be the first to thing enter its realm. My thought was, the bullet will set the alarm off, the inspector will point at my head and ask, “So whattaya got in there?” and I’ll respond, “You’re never gonna believe this.” But, alas, these detectors don’t detect lead.

The bullet has been part of my being for most of my life now, 33 years the 24th of this month. It has done its damage, and no doubt plays a role in my life, to some degree. It has its limitations. Name one, you ask? Sure. It couldn’t stop me from taking my morning walk today.

KahrmannHeadXray2.jpg

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For James Scott “Jim” Brady aka Bear

Break for freedom – Day 9 (The wall)

Day 9 – Saturday, August 19, 2017 (The wall)

8:21 a.m. – Back home. It was hell getting out the door today.

I’ve run six marathons in my life, slowly I might add. My fastest was five hours, eight minutes: five New York Marathons and one Marine Corps Marathon. When I began training for my first, I’d hear about this thing every distance runner hits called, “the wall.” Some moment when your body essentially says, You’re on your own, kid, and leaves any further leg movements up to your mind, your will power.

My thought was, how thick could a wall be? I mean, a half mile, a mile maybe? You go through the wall and come out the other side, no? No. No, you don’t. You hit the wall and that is where you stay for the rest of the marathon. My understanding is most hit it between 18 miles and 20 miles. I’d usually hit it around 20 miles, which is why I tell people, the last 6.2 of a marathon, 26.2 miles in length by definition, is 10 times harder than the first 20. It’s all willpower. Which is why, finishing a marathon saturates the finisher with joy, and pride. And so, it should!

When I woke up this morning, I realized I’d hit the wall. I was reeling a bit from nightmares, afraid to even take Charley out. All of me wanted to go back to bed, back to sleep. Just, sleep. And so, I went back to bed and set a timer. When it went off, I got up, and got into the shower. It was the feeling of the hot water on my body and the movements of washing my body that ignited, first the notion, and then the awareness, that I would get out the door.

And so, I went out the door and the walk was, in truth, not so bad. Later this morning I will be in Albany meet with some old friends in the brain injury world and sit in on their workshop. In the meantime, I am going to have another cup of coffee and shoot the breeze with Charley for a while.

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For Fred Lebow