Walking through the fear; making a break for freedom

Day One – Friday, August 11, 2017

Maybe this is a kind of Break for Freedom journal. I am 63. There is no time to lose. Destroying my fear of going outside can never begin on a fear-free day. The fear will be there, like some kind of emotional fungus, and fungus is a bitch to get rid of.  I live with a brain injury and an ample dose of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) as a result of being held up and shot in the head in 1984. The bullet remains lodged in the brain.

I like to think of Nelson Mandela’s words about courage That courage a triumph over fear, not the absence of it. The exact quote is, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

I love Mandela. My guiding lights? Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Geronimo, Beethoven, Helen Keller. They all dealt with fear, and they all triumphed over it. I’m good on the role-model front.

But, here I am at 7:23 in the morning, preparing to go for a walk at eight. It makes me angry that this is terrifying for me. They use the word anxiety. Fine. But fuck that word. I’m afraid. I’m scared. I’m frightened. There’s no mystery to this. I long ago learned it is not weak to admit you’re scared. Were admitting it an act of weakness, why is it so hard to do?  I need to shower and go. I know I will shower again when I get back, but I don’t care. I feels better entering the fray, fresh and ready — sharp.

8:48 a.m. — I walked about half a mile: no dog, no music, no walking stick, no pepper spray. Just me. I came back my shirt soaked through with sweat, immediately drove to the store, picked up typing paper and a 64GB SanDisk. Now I am safe at home with Charley (my 10-year-old Black Lab mix).

Early in the walk I pressed the index, middle and ring fingers of each hand against the front of my thighs and kept them there. Feeling the muscles move and harden with every stride was comforting. I kept my fingers their most of the walk. It had not been a conscious choice. I just knew to do it; it happened; and it helped. Instinct. Perhaps the most precious gift life has to offer. It humbles me, this uncanny skill our species has for surviving, for keeping life, rather than relinquishing it, especially to a monster called fear.

Day one, under my belt. That this all occurred in under an hour blows my mind. It felt like hours. Now, Peter, breathe.

A couple of close-ups if you will. At one point, there was an inner dialogue, someone asking me, “So what are you so afraid is going to happen if you got out?”

“I’m afraid someone is going to kill me.”

“In Adams?”

To which, my unedited reply would be: “Listen, you stupid fuck. I wasn’t expecting someone to put a gun to the side of my head and blow my brains out when I was walking to work on a so-called nice block in Brooklyn. You let me know when you find a violence-free zone, you stupid shit, and I’ll move there. You think that’s strange? I met a woman who was sitting in a parked car in a nice community upstate, holding her baby, when a drunk driver crashed into her side of the car and her baby’s head was crushed right before her eyes. Like I said, you find me a violence-free zone and I’m in. In the meantime, shut the fuck up.”

I can tell you, this dialogue helped me cover a solid half block in distance. Imagination well spent. Tomorrow’s Day 2. I’ll see when it gets here.


For Chris Albee


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.

Congratulations Mr. President

President Barack Obama is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and there are minds among us so twisted and or self-absorbed that they see this as a negative thing. Pardon me? The leader of your country is awarded the most prestigious peace prize in the world and this is a problem?

Some claim it may impede the country’s ability to reach its goals. Are you shitting me? If a Nobel Peace Prize makes things more difficult for my country, we are in worse shape than I thought. And God forbid anyone gives credence to Mikhail Gorbachev’s and Nelson Mandela’s praise of the Nobel Committee’s decision. Hell, what would those two know? (Answer? A lot more than most.)

That Obama, a president I genuinely love and the first president in my lifetime that I’d genuinely like to meet, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, makes perfect sense. Moreover, it is a stark and blisteringly accurate reminder of how much damage and destruction the Bush-Cheney Cowardice Cartel did to my country’s relationship to the world and its relationship to the very principles it was founded on.

Bush and Cheney were typical bullies. Both were cowards. Deferment Dick and Wimpy W did anything but step up to the plate when their country’s military needed them. Once in power they went around challenging everyone to a fight. You’re either for us or against us, you cretins! they bellowed, like the two spoiled brats they are, their fists clenched tight with a bravery that exists only when you know anyone but you has to do the fighting.

My country is arguably the most powerful country in the world. So just imagine what it was like for those in the world community when the leaders of the most powerful country in the world abandon their nation’s principles and swagger around like a drunk at a frat party looking for a fight. Imagine the relief in the world community and, by the way, in the large majority of the American Community, when an American leader emerges who is rich in strength, integrity, courage and, a trait that continues to baffle both sides of the aisle in Washington, honesty.

Congratulations, Mr. President. Your Nobel Peace Prize is richly deserved.

Waiting on Mandela

Most of us have ways of giving ourselves a lift out of hard times, down periods. My history has been to read about or watch films about extraordinary people or life experiences that required enormous amounts of courage to endure.

Once, many years ago, when tucked away in seclusion not long after the shooting, I watched Philadelphia and Schindler’s List in a single day. Crazy? For some, maybe. But if you’re not inspired by the mind boggling courage in both those films I feel sorry for you.

Today I am waiting for a documentary on Nelson Mandela to arrive. I can think of few people more inspiring than Mr. Mandela. The world is filled with people who talk tough when they are, in truth, anything but. Dick Cheney, for example, has the courage of a tree stump.

The really tough folks in life don’t have to say a word. They are, like my closest friend Michael (as tough as anyone I’ve ever known), proof that actions speak louder than words.

And so as the clouds outside life and the sun enters the day, I’m waiting on Mandela. I already know he is well worth the wait.



Seems I’ve stirred the pot a bit (Peter stirring the pot? Who would have thought?) with the last blog entry, “THE COST OF ADVOCACY.”

While some agreed with my friend’s genuine concern that I learn to pull back at times in my advocacy rather than, say, lose a job, most supported my view (a view shared by the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Elie Wiesel, Mahatma Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela and others) that if you are going to be a human rights advocate, you can’t be one only when it doesn’t call on you to sacrifice or take a hit in some way.

I will not identify anyone who has responded to the last missive because those that have are people I like very much, even though, in some cases, I unflinchingly disagree with them.

One of the several who agreed with my friend’s caution said when I lose a job or take a major hit because of my unwillingness to restrain my advocacy, I “force everyone else to pay for (my) advocacy when instead of keeping quiet, getting another job, pulling back or whatever, you end up having to ask countless people including strangers to help you out because of it. Sorry, but I think your friend is right, a calm life slicing cold cuts at the deli is a perfectly acceptable way to live and also contributes to the world.”

There is no doubt working at a deli contributes to the world in a very real way. However, I would take issue with some of this person’s assertions. I don’t force anyone to do anything. Anyone who has recently helped me has done so because they care and, in most instances, are my friends. This is what friends do, it seems to me. They help each other through hard times and they don’t resent it. Not too long ago someone who is like family to me fell into hard times and I was able to send them a bit of money on a monthly basis for a little while and I felt both grate and grateful that I was able to help. So, no, I don’t force anyone to do anything.

However, this one respondent may or may not have company when it comes to the view that pulling back might be a wise thing from time to time. Yet, a closer examination of their reasoning could lead one to conclude that they are more concerned about my friends being inconvenienced than my welfare. People can share the same opinion for different reasons.

Here is what pulling back on my advocacy would mean to me (which does not mean this is what it means to others, those who agree or disagree with me). Pulling back to me means staying silent when others are being mistreated in order to keep my job, or my apartment, or home, or, for that matter, my life.

Case in point. Years ago, I moved into an attic apartment in Brooklyn after my first divorce. A close friend of mine was black. He came to see me one day. We had breakfast, talked, watched a movie, went for a walk, he went home. Moments after he left there was knock on my door. It was the landlord. They wanted to see me in their downstairs apartment. I went down to see them and they explained that while they had no problem with “his kind” visiting me, the neighbors did and so my friend could not come see me anymore.

I moved out. Was I wrong, should I have told my friend, sit tight, I’m only going to be here a year or so; you can’t come by to visit because you’re black?

A friend and I physically intervened once in a brutally violent situation on Court Street in Brooklyn when a young black man was being savagely beaten with boards and pipes because he had walked through a white neighborhood. My friend and I jumped in, shielded this bleeding battered man from a gang of more than 20 raging young whites, and, with the help of another man, kept him safe for a good 10 minutes before the police arrived.

Should we have stayed out of it so our lives would not be at risk, never mind that had we chosen to stay out of it, this young black man would almost certainly have been killed?

And what would people think the healthy choice would be were I, or they, working in a situation where blacks were called niggers or Latinos were called spics or gays were called fags or Jews were called kikes? Should silence rule so employment remains?

Don’t get me wrong. There are times when honing one’s form of advocacy is a wise choice No doubt, I could improve. We all could. But stay silent or pull back so I can keep a job or avoid inconveniencing friends? I don’t think so. Anyway, I don’t think anyone who is my friend feels inconvenienced, in large part because they know me well enough to know that if they fell on hard times, I’d help them, with joy and humility.

The best definition of humility I have ever heard was, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking less about yourself.”