Break for Freedom – Day 3 (Spaghetti Squash)

Day 3 – Sunday, August 13, 2017

7:26 a.m. – Ugly morning. First awake moments loaded with all kinds of discomfort, emotional, physical antsiness.  You don’t plan a day’s first moments; you live them.

In the shower, a few minutes ago, I realized the isolation has separated me from my body. This new awareness, I am pleased to report, riles me up, makes it far more likely I’m getting out the door this morning. I cannot shake the images of violence from the White Nationalist/KKK/Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday. I’m sure Donald Trump’s response-statement further secured his white-racist voting bloc.  If the man ever walks in front of my car I am not going to let my dislike for him have so much decision-making power it makes me to forget the brake-pedal is on the right.

8:47 a.m. – Home. God, what a beautiful word. I walked the same distance, again, without the armor of dog, walking stick, music, pepper spray.

It felt cool out. Three minutes in, I am soaked through and unable to tell if I am actually cold or not. A mishap of sorts from yesterday has me burst into laughter a few times, and that helped. I recently got on Instant Pot, a kind of pressure cooker. My friend, Annie, had suggested it as a help for someone like me whose patience mirrors the size of a gnat when it comes to preparing meals. I thought I’d begin with Spaghetti Squash.

I cut the squash in half, put some water in my new pressure cooker, saw it was set for 10 minutes, and on it went. I suppose the best way to let you know the outcome is to give you a paraphrasing of the conversation I had with Annie afterwards. I called her in Hawaii.

  • Hey, Annie. I just wanted to thank you for the Instant Pot idea. It’s great.
  • I’m so glad.
  • I had spaghetti squash!
  • Wonderful! How was it?
  • Drank it through a straw.
  • You drank – How much water did you use?
  • About three and a half cups.
  • Oh my God!
  • Too much?
  • (Laughing) Peter, maybe three-quarters of a cup.
  • I drank both halves.

Anyway, Day 3s’ walk is under my belt, next to the spaghetti squash.

Once more into the deep!

I’ve been afraid of the water since I was a little boy. Actually, to be more precise, I’ve been afraid of the deep water since I was a little boy. I’d ask the same question when, as a family, we’d be approaching a pool, lake, river. Is it over my head? And no, I’ve not forgotten oceans.  Never mind  oceans. I know all about undertows and know they’d drag me to my doom.  Forget oceans.

My fear had nothing to do with my ability to swim. I was a fairly decent swimmer as long as I knew I could touch the bottom with my feet. The moment I couldn’t, panic set in.

My fear of the deep water has always been with me.

Looking back. Both sets of grandparents lived in New Jersey. My father’s folks lived in Ocean Grove and my mother’s lived in Rumson. Both lived near the water. In fact, my mother’s parents lived right on the water. They had a couple of boats and, hanging off the end of the dock, was a minnow trap. One of my  chores was retrieve the minnow trap every morning. One morning I fell in. I must’ve been about five or six I suppose. The water was green and I was terrified flailing and then a strong hand grabbed me and pulled me to safety. My father had saved my life. It wouldn’t be the last time, either. Although he had died long before I got shot, there is no way I would’ve got back to my feet had it not been for my father’s presence in that moment with me.

Anyway, falling in, as you might imagine, did nothing to erode my fear. My next attempt at taking on the fear occurred when we were all at a public pool. It occurred to me that if I tossed in a kick board and swam to it, and then swam back holding on to it without touching the bottom of the pool, I could work my way from the shallow end to the deep end.  This is exactly what I did. Over and over I’d toss the board into the center of the pool, swim to it, hold onto it, and swim back. I made it all the way to the deep end and then, in an act that amazed even me, I jumped off the diving board into the pool and swam like hell to the side of the pool. When I got back to where my family was they applauded. They’d been watching.

Still, my fear of the deep water persisted.

Which brings me to the present. I moved to my new home in Berkshire County, Massachusetts a few months ago. I then got a membership in the YMCA. I knew, when I did so, that I was going to give swimming another go. It is unquestionably the best all around exercise there is and there is no doubt exercise benefits all areas of life.

September fifth was my first time in the pool. I swam one lap. I got out and sat in the sauna. The sauna, as far as I’m concerned, is the pot of gold at the end of the workout rainbow. The second time I went into the pool was on the fifteenth. I swam five laps. I began to increase the number of times I swam weekly and soon made sure to be there when the pool opened at 6 a.m. It was not lost on me that the man who swam  to my left every morning is going to celebrate his 77th birthday this February. He swims 36 laps every morning, one mile to be exact. The woman who swims to my right every morning swims in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 laps. She is 86. The man who swims to her right swims a mile every morning, he’s 70. You picking up on a theme here?

Anyway, I’ve been keeping at it. I now swim a mile every time I go to the pool, which is about five times a week.

Oh, and one more thing, the fear is gone. The only way to overcome fear is to head in its direction. Sometimes, you just have to swim there.

Into the Arms of Fear

Other than flying out to California to visit my mother Leona when she was dying of cancer, tomorrow will be my first time on public transportation since I was shot in the head in 1984. I was shot in New York City and early tomorrow I am taking a train to New York City. I am giving a speech there tomorrow. The chilly veil of fear has me thoroughly engulfed, but I am allowing it no decision making power.

Over the years I have learned that, with rare exceptions, the healthiest way to manage fear is to stride into it, not away from it. I particularly love the phrase, It’s okay to be afraid, don’t let it scare you. It is a phrase that underscores the notion that we have a relationship with all things and, in this case, with fear. Relationships can be healthy or unhealthy, including those we have with our emotional conditions. And so, tomorrow I board a train and travel to NYC. I never thought I’d be able to do this. But, as Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until its done.”

Lest you think I have not prepared, let me assure you I have. Today I drove to the train station so I could go inside and see it and familiarize myself with it. I picked up my tickets so the task of doing so in the morning would not sit in my mind and morph into an event that would be highly problematic and, well, scary. I scoped out the parking area and visualized myself walking from the parking area to the train. I saw a newsstand and a coffee counter and, to my delight, realized I could buy a New York Times and coffee there in the morning just like my Dad did when he worked in NYC. There is something comforting to me about the presence of newspaper stands and coffee counters

I will be getting up early and so have pulled my small coffee maker out of the cabinet and have it all set up so when I wake up I will push the button and speed the comforting aroma of coffee into my day.

I will, of course, bring a book and my journal along with a twig  from my father’s grave. While I am damned scared at the moment, I somehow know I am going to have a wonderful day tomorrow.