Saturday, June 23, 2012

Just Do It, Dammit

Over the years, I’ve noticed something interesting about people  - there are 2 kinds of them (yes, this is one of *those* observations. Stick with me, it’ll be OK).

So, the two kinds of people are those who “Process Then Act (PTA)” and those who “Act Then Process (ATP)”.

“What does this mean?” you ask. I’m glad you did. It gives me a chance to wax eloquent (who Eloquent is, and why they need to be waxed is a whole other blog). But I digress.

What this means is that when the feces impacts the oscillating device, when action is required, when an emergency situation arises, people will do one of two things:

A)     PTA: Observe what is going on, think about it, look around to see what can/is being done and by whom, think about it again, and then do something in reaction – either assist, encourage, observe passively or flee.
B)      ATP: See something that triggers a response, respond, then think about what just happened.

I have observed this behavior pattern directly several times in my life, read about it many times in news articles or seen it on news videos.

The most recent example of the latter was the case of a driver who lost control of her vehicle, hit a tollbooth and flipped partially over. She was trapped, since the doors wouldn’t open, and the car started to smolder. Several helpful folks milled around, trying to figure out what to do to get her out. The video shows them, talking, pushing, pulling but nothing was happening – some started to back away from the obvious danger that the car posed. Another passing motorist (an off-duty Air Force serviceman) strides up, grabs a fire extinguisher from somewhere, climbs up on the burning car, and proceeds to smash the window into oblivion. He reaches down, pulls the woman bodily from the shattered wreck, sticks around long enough to see her under medical supervision, and then goes off about his business. I’m pretty sure he got the shakes on the drive home, but it didn’t matter a damn by then.

Emergency situations have arisen several times in my life, and the same sort of thing happened each time. The scenarios ranged from minor (a surge suppressor popping and starting to burn; folks going down from heat, horses escaping from their paddock) to major (a friend being badly beaten; an attempted kidnapping). Each time, I reacted instinctively, and without thought. Sometimes, someone else did the same along with me, and it was like being in a Matrix “bullet-time” scene: WE were moving at a normal pace, but everyone else was moving like molasses. Act. Don’t think, Act. Boom, boom, and done.

In each case, the actions were generally correct and the situation was handled, but I take no credit for that – because I had NO idea what I was doing at the time. Something just impelled me to NOT just sit there. It’s very strange, because (as those of you who know me) I am a very methodical person. Hell, I’m a Systems ANALYST, for pity’s sake. I analyze. I think. I plan. I don’t like being rushed.

And yet, on occasion, my mind makes me toss all that out the window, and go for it.

I’m not the only one to be puzzled by this behavior. There are so many interviews with servicemen who – when asked why they did the actions for which they were being awarded a medal – simply say something like “it needed doing, and I was there. Anyone would have done the same”.

I don’t know if that’s necessarily the truth, though. I’m pretty sure everyone would have WANTED to do the same, but – even though training clearly helps – I think some folks are wired differently. Not necessarily better - because we don’t usually find out about folks who reacted but failed because they picked the wrong reaction – but different.

Regardless, I strongly believe that the “A” part of the PTA/ATP acronym is the most important. Civilization has always been kept moving forward by people who ACTED based on their beliefs, inspirations, and passions. So, whether you are wired to think first or not – ACT. Do not just observe events, or watch others participate in them. YOU can do something – small, large, it matters not at all. Leave your mark on the world – make a difference.

I never worry about action, but only inaction.
Winston Churchill

Monday, June 18, 2012

Take Us To Your Castles

Something you should know about me: From the age of 3, I was raised around History. I grew up in Europe, so it was pretty much everywhere you looked.

Now, this wasn’t the dry, dusty, boring history that overworked and underpaid High School teachers are forced by State mandates to pour into kids’ brains until those vital organs are reduced to the consistency of oatmeal (and have about the same amount of processing power). No, instead, I was raised around LIVING history. History that you could touch, climb on, hear tales about and viscerally FEEL. I scrambled through castles, walked in awe through soaring cathedrals, wandered battlefields and cemeteries with tears pouring down my face, that matched those on my Mom and Dad’s faces.

I saw up close the brutal effects of war: A sections of trench at Verdun left in place for younger generations to ruminate on, partially caved in by the terrible effect of a nearby shell explosion, with the tips of rusting rifles and bayonets left sticking up out of the dirt as a grave marker for the brave men who were entombed there. It made a hell of an impression on me, as did the rows upon rows of stone crosses near the beaches of Normandy and the forests of the Ardennes.

I marveled at the contents of numerous national museums, spending hours and hours wandering hallways looking at painting, sculptures, and suits of armor. I became so familiar with the Casemates of Luxembourg City (a 17th-century cave system expanded for centuries as a natural fortification) that I gave impromptu - and quite unauthorized - narrated tours to English-speaking visitors. I must have done ok, since they tipped me well…or, come to think about it, maybe they were just trying to get rid of me. I digress.

I wandered the Colosseum, Pompeii, Athens, Cambridge, Berlin (back when there was still a wall dividing it), and Trafalgar Square. I grew up in a city where the “New Church” was four hundred years old, and the “Old Church” – a squat, circular building built during the Norman times – was more than 900.

In short, I was extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to be exposed to the buildings, the artifacts and streets that had a FEEL to them. The feeling that other feet had trod where you stood, that untold numbers of humans had somehow imbued the stone, the glass, and the wood with their presence. The tombstones in the old churchyards seemed to cry out “Remember us” and remind me that I was just a link in a long chain of humanity. It was enough to make even a young man pause and ponder his mortality and place in the world.

I don’t think many American kids get that chance – and it’s a damn shame. Think about it – what’s the oldest thing American kids see on a normal basis? To them, an “Antique” is a record player, or maybe a 1950’s tract home. If you really push it, and you live in Texas, it’s something like the Alamo, which dates all the way back to (gasp) the early 18th century. Not a whole lot, is it?

Which brings us to the subject of Castles. We need them. Scattered all around the U.S. Our youth needs them – hell *I* still need them.

We need castles – or very old buildings …old manors, pubs, forts, or even a thatched cottage will do. Just something we can take kids to during the summer, on school field trips or on weekends. Something to remind them that they are not special (sounds harsh, I know, but I think Americans as a whole take on this “We’re from the New World, we’re automatically superior to you stinkin’ Old World types” attitude). Something to make them think about the folks who have come before them – the things they built and the dreams they dreamed.

It shouldn’t be too hard – I mean, there are falling down castles, keeps, towers, and palaces all over Europe that the folks on the other side of The Pond just can’t afford to keep up. Heck, half of Pompeii is falling down, and the Italian Government (now THERE’s an oxymoron for you) can’t seem to find the money to save these priceless examples of their own heritage

So let’s buy ‘em. Fork over some cash, ship ‘em over here, set up turnstiles and gift shops and make a metric ton of money charging folks entry. Not much, maybe a couple of bucks a head, but I’d visit Vianden castle every week if I could. More often if it was next to a water park.

Yup, it’s cheesy, and yup, I’m wincing even thinking about removing these buildings from their provenance, but it might actually save them in the long run. And the kids would learn what history is all about.

I’ve got 5 bucks. Anyone want to pitch in? I think there’s a small town in Ireland that’s up for sale…

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dads, Sons, and Life

Hi! Thanks for taking the time to read my stuff. As it turns out, today happens to be Father’s Day, so I guess it’s appropriate that I write about that. Oh, and go hug your parents if you’re able to…

For the record, I've always hated Father’s Day.

As a kid, I was permanently broke and could never think of anything to get my Dad. If I asked, it was always the same answer – socks. Or a hug. Neither of these felt like they were enough, so I usually drew him something or made him a model airplane. He seemed to like them, but I still felt guilty.

As I got older and moved to college, it was hard to maintain contact with him and Mom since they were still in Europe and I was in Arlington…and this was the pre-internet Stone Age. So (if I remembered at all) I’d send him a card and hope it got there in time, but I still felt guilty. More dislike of the holiday.

As I got older – and I started to understand what it was like to be an adult, I got a bit better about checking in with my Dad.
Time seemed to speed up. He and Mom moved back here, I found a girl who would actually put up with my insanity, got married and then - all of a sudden, *I* was a Dad.

Very quickly, I began to understand my father. The things that annoyed me about him as a child now became completely clear.
  • The forgetfulness and repetition of stories?  Stress and sleep deprivation.
  • The muttering under his breath? Trying to remember something important while distractions hurtled at him.
  • The sadness in his eyes as he politely declined another insistent request to play Panzerblitz (yeah, I was geeky when geeky wasn't cool)? Sheer fatigue from driving and working 12 hours a day.
  • His flare of anger when I tried to “help” him fix a bike or other machine, and screwed it up? He just wanted the damn thing over with so he could take care of the 500 other items on his list.
  • His retreating to the bathroom for as long as he could before being rousted out? Dad loved to read, and he never, ever had enough time.
These points became clear because I started to do the same things. OK, maybe I spend less time on the loo than him (I have a man-cave in which I can do my reading, a luxury he never had), but, really – I am becoming my father.

He hated Father’s Day as well. Didn’t like a fuss being made over him, he said.

After Mom passed (colon cancer, terrible to watch), Dad moved in with my brother. Kayli and I built a house just a few blocks away so we would be close, and my son would be able to stay near to his grandfather.  Dad’s cigarette-smoking past caught up with him, and he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He fought it hard, and – with the help of awesome doctors – kicked it to the curb, where it remained in remission for 6 years. The Docs were amazed at his toughness, but I just smiled. That was just Dad. He had grandsons he wanted to see grow up, and he for damn sure wasn’t going to be deprived of that pleasure.

He succeeded, and almost lived to see my son graduate from High School, but cancer is patient.

So now, I still hate Father’s Day, because I think of socks, and hugs, and wish more than anything in the world that I had to worry about what to get him as a present. I think I figured this year’s out though…

…hey Dad – I got you a blog post. Hope you like it :)