January 9, 1998

HCL Syndrome

I just could not stand it any more. I had been waiting for three days for the rain to end, but there was no end in sight. My body was crying to move in broad, crisp strokes and I just could not do that inside.

I set off down the street, wrapped for the weather as best I could, but how do you prepare for horizontal rain? The temperature was about forty degrees, sparing us from mountains of snow or the ice storms that were causing havoc for our northern neighbors in Maine, New Hampshire and Canada. But the wind was nasty.

My friends in Arizona will not know what I am talking about. In Arizona, they bow down in reverence to the rain. They go out and dance in it. They get so little rain that there is no bad rain.

I had no intention of dancing at four in the afternoon in the rain. I think it was still daylight, but with the low lying clouds it was hard to tell if the sun ever came up. On days like this the sky changes from black to a little less black. Some call it gray, but that is stretching the imagination.

Arizona averages three hundred and thirty days of sunshine per year. New England averages ... well ... less. I do not want to learn the real answer. It probably would be too hard to take. Lots of people around here suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) due to a deprivation of light. I do not think that I am one of them because my ups and downs seem to transcend the seasons.

Instead, I suffer from HCL Syndrome. No, that is not a condition caused by the hydrochloric acid from acid rain. I am told by the scientist in my family that the acid in rain is sulfuric acid. No, my HCL is Hibernation Claustrophobia Syndrome. It is caused by continued exposure to New England winters. The symptoms are that you hunker down and never want to go outside, thereby never communicating with others. At the same time, the walls of your home squeeze tighter and tighter because you cannot stand to be alone with only Oprah, Jerry and Montel for company.

So how do I deal with HCL? I call, email, and meet for breakfast, coffee or lunch. I try to be part of something bigger than me in which I can interact with others.

But sometimes I just do not want to do “it,” whatever “it” is. At times like this, the answer that works is one that works for a lot of things in life: “Sometimes, you just have to walk through it.” It even works for rain.

January 6, 1998

Statue of Limitations

I was trained at an early age to compare. And others would sometimes do the comparison for me. I am sure that some of the comparisons were favorable, but those are not the ones that I remember.

I could not sing as well as Kevin McGrath. I was not as handsome as Jackie Newhall. I was not as hard working as my cousin, Bobby. I did not study all of the time like my cousin, Jackie. I was not as smart as Tommy Kosnic. I was not as good at sports as my brothers.

These patterns of being “less than” were carried forward. The names above are all from grammar school, but I could give you other lists from high school, college, adult work life and social life.

Comparisons are still part of my life today. I am not as physically fit as so and so. I am not as good a writer as some newspaper columnist. I will never be able to hit a softball as well as that guy who is ten years older than me. And on, and on, and on.

Michaelangelo’s The David is an ideal which does not suffer by comparison. You never hear, “Yeah, that statue is pretty good, but did you see the one in the other room?” Or, “He was good, but have you seen the stuff by that Rodin guy?” No, The David stands alone. Were he alive, he would probably feel pretty good about himself.

I was reminded of the power of comparison when listening to sports radio. I know, it is an unlikely source of wisdom, but a nugget dropped in. Larry Johnson, a sports cartoonist, talked about having a noticeable talent for drawing as a child. His cousin was also talented and one family member told Larry that he was good, but that he would never be as good as his cousin. Instead of all of the praise which he had received, this one comment came back to him over and over through his years. The comparison turned into a limitation.

The problem comes when I allow my comparisons to limit me. Notice that all of my comparisons are now self-generated. I no longer need others to do my dirty work.

The insidious part of these comparisons is that they are all true. If truth is the measure, I am cooked. If I accept a negative comparison as a failing in myself, it becomes a limitation. Too many comparisons and too many limitations lead to paralysis.

So what is the answer here? Well, not making comparisons would help, but that is a tall order. The answer is to ask a different question. The better question is, “So what?!!!” And you have to ask it loudly. So what if someone is taller, shorter, thinner, fatter, or smarter. SO WHAT?

In grammar school I would have answered, “Sew buttons on your old man’s shirt.” That is just another way of saying, “It does not matter.” Say it loud, IT DOES NOT MATTER! The comparison is true but it does not matter because I am still me with all that I bring into the world.

I am physically fit enough to move comfortable through the world. I may not be the very best writer, but I am good enough so that others want to read me. And I can still hit the ball often enough to contribute.

That is enough. The statute of limitations on that old way of being controlled by negative comparisons has run. I am sure that The David, if he were not so limited, would smile.

January 5, 1998

Dead Ducks

I recognized the sounds but they really did not register. I had just begun a walk down my street when the guns exploded. At least that is what I surmise happened. I suppose that they did not actually explode. In fact, I know that they did not because I saw them intact later on. But the sound was loud - the source of the compression unmistakable. No one had dropped a load of lumber. No one had lit off-season fire crackers. No, these were gunshots - two of them and then no more.

So I guess the sounds did register, because I can still hear them. But at the time they did not seem like any big deal - just faraway sounds that maybe were too loud and too close.

I continued my walk on this spring-like January day - a day which softens us up for the real blows of winter to come. But even with that knowledge, it is still a liberating experience. The future feels more open and opportunity beckons.

At the bridge near the end of my street, the creek was rushing towards the ocean and hunters were on the move - two men toting guns moving purposefully in opposite directions across the marsh. One disappeared into the small creek about two hundred yards away, his head popping up from time to time. His partner was further down the road and he headed to the same spot in the creek with a large branch in tow.

I could not figure out what they were doing, but in a few short minutes it became clear. They strode back across the marsh with their rifles and their prey - two hunters, two gunshots and two dead ducks.

I sit and sob while I write this. This is not an anti-hunting diatribe. I recognize their right to hunt. I eat meat and I have eaten duck. No, the tears are not for the ducks or the hunters. The tears are for me. The tears are for the violence.

Real violence at any level rips me apart. Oh, how I wish that it were not so. But my brain and body are hard-wired for a reaction of unreasonable anxiety and depression.

It is about my childhood. There were no guns in my childhood and I have never held a gun. But there was a different kind of violence - the subtle and permitted violence of angry, anxious, frustrated and depressed adults. I am not going to go into the details. I know the details and that is enough.

What I want to do is to change the wiring. If this is how I react to just being near hunters, can you imagine how I react if I am part of an angry confrontation? I was recently the target of a verbal attack by an angry woman whom I had just met, and that put me in a tailspin for two weeks. I want this to change.

I know that the first step in change is awareness, so perhaps the hunters gave me a gift. The impact of violence on me has never been so clear. I can only hope that the cold clarity will lead to answers that today I do not possess.