Tag Archives: family

Patriotism and Colin Kaepernick

My dad likes a quote that is often attributed to Churchill: if you’re not a liberal in your twenties, you have no heart; if you’re not a conservative in your thirties, you have no brain.

“Uh oh,” I said on the phone with him this weekend. “I’m almost 30. You’d better convince me soon.”

judge judy

One of the things that we argue about lately is protests that involve patriotic symbolism. My dad reveres his parents’ generation, particularly the sacrifices they made during World War II. From his perspective, taking a knee before the flag is a grievous disrespect to the legacy we’ve all inherited as Americans – especially the sacrifices that fuel the freedoms we enjoy and, sometimes, take for granted. My dad is grateful almost beyond words for all the hardships his parents endured to give him a better life. It is a very touching message. It inspires me to follow his example and venerate my parents more.

I think I understand his perspective. But what bothers me is when people say that protesting the anthem is disrespectful to veterans specifically. It seems like civilians tend to invoke the armed forces as a sort of moral rallying cry. I think this is for two reasons:

  1. They recognize that they have done nothing to sacrifice specifically on behalf of their country, and
  2. They want to make it known that we ought to venerate those who do.

This seems to manifest as feel-good displays of public adoration, big in style but small in results. A recent article in The Atlantic, “The Plunging Morale of America’s Service Members,” says,

Our military is a major part of who we are as a country; it is the force that has undergirded the post–World War II international order. Being an American means being deeply implicated in that, for good or for ill. But… the solution to our current dead end doesn’t lie within the military itself. The military can’t set its own goals, can’t determine its own budget or which ideals it fights and dies for, and can’t decide how its losses will be honored, dishonored, or appropriated after the fact. So while America as a whole chooses to express its love for its military in gooey, substance-free displays, our military waits, perhaps hopelessly, for a coherent national policy that takes the country’s wars seriously.

What would such a thing look like? It would probably look like rescinding the open-ended Authorization for the Use of Military Force and making the president regularly go before Congress to explain where and why he was putting troops in harm’s way, what resources the mission required, and what the terms of success were. It would look like every member of Congress carrying out his or her constitutionally mandated duty to provide oversight of our military adventures by debating and then voting on that plan. It would look like average Americans taking part in that debate, and scorning anyone who tried to tell them they couldn’t. It would look like average Americans rolling their eyes in disgust when our leaders tell us we’re not at war while American troops are risking their lives overseas, or claim that Americans must support the wars their country engages in if they want to support the troops, or when a press secretary argues that anyone who questions the success of a military raid in which a service member died “owes an apology” to that fallen soldier. It would look like our politicians letting the fallen rest in peace, rather than propping up their corpses for political cover. And when service members die overseas in unexpected places, such as the four killed in Niger last year, it would look like us eschewing the easy symbolic debates about whether our president is disrespecting our troops by inartfully offering condolences or whether liberals are disrespecting our troops by seizing upon those inartful condolences for political gain. It would look like us instead having a longer and harder conversation about the mission we are asking soldiers to perform, and whether we are doing them the honor of making sure it’s achievable.

In short, it would look like Americans as a whole doling out a lot fewer cheap, sentimental displays of love for our troops, and doubling down on something closer to Gunny Maxwell’s “tough love”—a love that means zeroing in on our country’s faults and failures.

The essay is worth reading in full. It describes why service and sacrifice don’t exist in a vacuum – they are only as good as the mission, “one that is achievable, moral, and in keeping with the values of the society they represent and whose flag they wear on their uniform.”

“I’m willing to listen,” my dad said, after we had argued back and forth about what it means to kneel before the flag. “Give me something to read and maybe I’ll change my mind.”

So here we are. This brings us to Colin Kaepernick and the NFL.


As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – and Syria, and Yemen, and Pakistan, and Somalia, and Libya, and… – drag on, morale and recruitment are down. The military is visibly, painfully scrambling to keep people in the service and to get them to actually deploy.

Someone over at the Pentagon must have realized that direct advertising wasn’t working. The branches could show commercials until they bled dry and no one would pay attention – at least, not beyond a vague mushy feeling about The Troops™. No, what the Department of Defense needed was to inspire Americans, to appeal to their love of country, to motivate them to action – to join the fight, to continue funding the fight, to keep seeing the fight as relevant and necessary. Instead of promoting the military specifically, they would instead commercialize patriotism itself. At the very least, it would encourage Americans to continue to support the ongoing – endless – wars overseas. At best, more desperately-needed bodies in the war machine.

So the Department of Defense start paying millions of dollars to promote America, the brand. Fly-overs. Service members in uniform. A giant, billowing flag. And, of course, the anthem, our most favorite and sacred song. The government paid millions of dollars to sports organizations to dial the ‘MERICA up to eleven. And somewhere along the way, these patriotic displays went from a sentimental salute to government-sponsored marketing to untouchable and holy – something mandatory.

Known liberal softie who has never experienced the terror of war John McCain (may he rest in peace) wrote,

“Americans across the country should be deeply disappointed that many of the ceremonies honoring troops at professional sporting events are not actually being conducted out of a sense of patriotism, but for profit in the form of millions in taxpayer dollars going from the Department of Defense to wealthy pro sports franchises… Fans should have confidence that their hometown heroes are being honored because of their honorable military service, not as a marketing ploy.” (NPR)

Further reading:
Pentagon paid sports teams millions for patriotic events (USA Today)
NFL’s tangled ties with national anthem don’t run deep (CBS)

This is our starting point. This is, actually, my reference point. I am a white woman. I have never experienced the sort of discrimination highlighted by Kaepernick and many others. I believe he is right and should be listened to, and there is plenty of evidence to back him up. But the point I’m trying to make here is not whether or not Kaepernick’s protest is a valid one; it’s whether or not taking a knee is disrespectful to the idea of America, symbolized by the flag and anthem and, because it seems like we’re always dragged in when it’s politically convenient, veterans.

What idea of America, though? Whose idea of America? Not my dad’s, certainly – the idea of the greatest generation storming the beach at Normandy, raising the flag at Iwo Jima, returning homes as heroes from a just and popular war. That is something terribly idyllic.

Kaepernick and people of color in general have a vastly different experience of America than my dad did – or, despite being Kaepernick’s age, than I did. I am capable of believing that different people have different experiences, and some of those experiences are rooted in other people’s unjust perceptions of them. Surely we have all been in a position where someone treated us badly for something beyond our control. And what is more beyond one’s control than the color of their skin?

Political protest is as old as our country itself. Our country was founded on political protest, and the right to do so is guaranteed in our Bill of Rights. But there is this idea that kneeling for the flag is an abuse of those rights, and moreover, a slap in the face to those who have made sacrifices to uphold them. Who else? It is disrespectful toward the military.

When Colin Kaepernick began his protest of the national anthem in 2016, he started by sitting. But before 2009, teams stayed in the locker room while the anthem played.* A former Green Beret turned short-time Seattle Seahawk named Nate Boyer wrote Kaepernick an open letter, in which he says, “During college football games, both teams usually wait in the locker room until after the national anthem. That always bothered me. Leading the team out of the tunnel while carrying the American flag meant a lot, but I still regretted not being out there to stand for that song.” He describes the pride he felt during his first NFL game, when he was allowed to demonstrate his patriotism. “As I ran out of the tunnel with the American flag I could feel myself swelling with pride, and as I stood on the sideline with my hand on my heart as the anthem began, that swelling burst into tears.”

( * With the NFL’s recent ruling that protesting players must remain in the locker room during the anthem – a return to the previous norm – President Trump said, “Isn’t that worse than not standing?… I actually think in many ways it’s worse.”)

What’s most impressive about Boyer’s letter, though, is the absence of condemnation of Kaepernick’s protests, despite these patriotic symbols holding so much personal significance to him.

Even though my initial reaction to your protest was one of anger, I’m trying to listen to what you’re saying and why you’re doing it… I look forward to the day you’re inspired to once again stand during our national anthem.

Boyer had listened and tried to understand. Kaepernick listened, too. He got in touch with Boyer and together they came to a compromise:

We sorta came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his teammates. Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect. When we’re on a patrol, you know, and we go into a security halt, we take a knee, and we pull security.

 

Kaepernick asked Boyer to kneel beside him. Boyer declined, but he said he would stand alongside Kaepernick – showing solidarity while still staying true to his own ideals.

Listening. Understanding. Compromise. This is the my generation’s version of the idyllic America – different people with different opinions coming together and supporting one another’s rights.

In an interview with NPR, Boyer said something very beautiful about the act of kneeling.

In my opinions and in my experience, kneeling’s never been in our history really seen as a disrespectful act. I mean, people kneel when they get knighted. You kneel to propose to your wife, and you take a knee to pray… So I thought, if anything, besides standing, that was the most respectful.

Further reading:
Colin Kaepernick vs. Tim Tebow: A tale of two Christians on their knees (Washington Post)
Tim Tebow not happy about ‘Tebowing’ being brought into national anthem protests debate (USA Today)

It’s worth mentioning that there are many veterans who disagree with Kaepernick and, by extension, Boyer. Boyer wrote a follow-up letter that echoes these concerns. I think many veterans, fighting increasingly unpopular wars on behalf of population who doesn’t care about them, neglected by the government when they come home, feel like their service is being taken for granted. This is a real and true feeling. They need their sacrifices – the deaths and trauma, the missed birthdays and weddings, the time away from family and friends – to mean something. When we see those coffins come home draped with the flag, we have to believe the flag was worth it. I get it.

But this isn’t about the military. It never was. We keep getting foisted into the conversation because we have the deepest link to these symbols. It’s hard not to take even perceived disrespect very personally. But despite the jets and bunting and songs and confetti, none of this was ever about us or our service or our sacrifice.

It’s about everyone else back home.

Further reading:
SOLDIERS SPEAK OUT ON KAEPERNICK: His protest ‘makes him more American than anyone’ (Business Insider)
Minorities in the Military Open Up About the N.F.L., Kaepernick and Nike (NYT)

(Both of these articles are worth reading. They contain some pretty spicy Hot Takes on racism and civilians selectively caring about veterans.)

One Army veteran is quoted in the NYT article above,

As a black man and former service member with two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, the sad reality is that statistically speaking, I was more likely to be killed by a police officer at home in New York City than by the Taliban or an armed combatant in a far-off land. I have parted ways and broken ties with former comrades who I went to war with because of their foolhardy and abhorrent views on unarmed black people being wrongfully killed and their complete misconstruing of the Kaepernick protest.

These men want complacence and silence, even though we fought for and had friends who died for the right of citizens to speak freely against injustice and inequity. I realized that these same white comrades, even after sharing the bond of service, ultimately only judge and value me in the same way as their favorite black athletes: as a commodity.


But what good does it do? If kneeling causes so much offense and controversy, is it really fixing anything? Isn’t it making it worse? Tearing us apart as a nation?

NFL players occasionally wear pink for breast cancer awareness. Pink doesn’t cure cancer, but it draws attention to a terrible disease and the hope for a cure. After all, wasn’t that the point of paying the NFL to make these patriotic overtures to begin with – to raise visibility of service members?

“It starts the conversation about social issues,” I told my dad. “He has a platform. He is getting people to acknowledge a problem.”

“But he’s being paid millions of dollars to play football,” my dad said. (He was. Now, blacklisted from the NFL, Kaepernick has a contract with Nike.) Why isn’t he protesting on his own time? (See above: platform, conversation.) Why isn’t he taking actual steps to address these issues?

It’s a little unfair to expect Colin Kaepernick to fix racism. But he is still trying to make a positive impact. This must have been such a frequent but inaccurate criticism of Kaepernick that Sports Illustrated did a substantial profile on his charitable work – and awarded him the 2017 Muhammad Ali Legacy Award “for his steadfastness in the fight for social justice, for his adherence to his beliefs no matter the cost.”

Images courtesy of the Sports Illustrated profile – which is already a little bit dated and doesn’t include Kaepernick’s most recent charitable endeavors (see below). It is long but worth reading; it emphasizes how Kaepernick uses his money as investments toward social change rather than as simple fire-and-forget donations.

If all athletes took such a specific, targeted approach to their charitable endeavors, [Adam Jackson, the CEO of a grassroots Baltimore-based think tank] says, they could affect immediate structural change in their communities. “They all tweet, they talk, they wear T-shirts—and that’s cool,” he says. “But that’s cultural. And cultural change can go but so far.

“The purpose of protest is to change the environment that gives everyone else permission not to care about these issues. If there were 100 Colin Kaepernick’s—or 2,000!—then you’d be talking about a real social movement.

“Just kneeling,” he says, “is a cop-out.”

The article also observes the “hypocrisy in NFL teams and fan bases that want players to appear charitable—visiting sick children in hospitals, for instance, or cutting ribbons at community center openings—but not actually jump into the fray themselves, especially on thornier issues.” Kaepernick, by contrast, isn’t trumpeting his efforts, but letting the actions speak for themselves. And these actions are making waves in small communities.

And, of course, we always have to circle back to the military. We’re going to be part of the conversation whether we want to or not.

When Kaepernick first took a knee, he clearly (and later frequently) noted the reason for his protest: to draw attention to police brutality and the need for reform. That act meant even more to Collette Flanagan, [mother of a young black man shot dead by a Dallas police officer], than did the $25,000 he donated to Mothers Against Police Brutality, the organization she started in her son’s honor. It has pained her to see Trump and other detractors misrepresent the quarterback’s initial intentions, to see the meaning of his kneeling shift beneath him. Kaepernick’s protest was never about the military or the flag, as the President has suggested. It was always about injustice, specifically young black men being killed. Men like her son.

Further reading:
Colin Kaepernick Not Stopping, Donations Roll Past $1 Million (Forbes)
Colin Kaepernick jerseys to raise money for charity sell out hours after going on sale (CBS Sports)


My mom, my gentle, patient, affectionate mother, suddenly really likes war movies. Maybe it helps her appreciate the horrors that other Americans have endured for the sake of her freedom. Maybe it helps her relate to the military more, and by extension, me. But when I started having panic attacks as a result of a trauma I experienced while in the military, she said – not out of malice, but helplessness and misunderstanding – that happened a long time ago. Shouldn’t you be over it by now?

get up

But it was only four years ago. Sometimes trauma lasts centuries, spans whole generations, disappears and reemerges, and takes on different forms, like severing the head off the Hydra.

Sometimes we think that time and social progress are correlated, that as we grow in knowledge we will also grow in justice. As a general trend, I want to believe it is true. As an American, I want to be proud of our way of life. As a veteran, I want to trust in the good intentions of the civilian population and lawmakers in particular. When someone thanks me for my service, I want to believe that I represent something worth the gratitude. But the march of time is not a guarantee of positive human development. Believing such a fallacy makes us morally lazy at best and, at worst, cruel or indifferent to the plight of others.

My dad is allowed to object to Kaepernick’s protest. That’s his right as an American, and I will support him. The philosophical underpinnings of those rights are worth fighting for. But he has to find a justification for his indignation beyond his appreciation for the sacrifice of the military. I won’t let my service be used as a political prop to be waved around when convenient. I made an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America” – not the anthem, not the flag, not some symbol, but our actual, written rights. Even if that means challenging my most sacred ideas of what America is all about. Even if that means challenging my dad, who I love very much, and who raised me to be as argumentative as I inevitably became. Our differences in opinion keep us both sharp and passionate. Sometimes we even listen to one another.

When I was in SERE training, one of our last experiences was listening to the prison guards go on a tirade about how awful America is while tearing up and burning an American flag. The officers in our group, kneeling in front of the formation, turned around, putting their backs to our tormentors in silent protest. We enlisted immediately followed suit. We couldn’t stop the enemy from disrespecting the flag (and before anyone gets upset, no flags were harmed in the making of this training – it was torn up in the correct, ceremonial method, but we were all so delirious with hunger and exhaustion that we didn’t realize it), but we didn’t want to acknowledge it, either. It was an extremely moving, unifying moment of defiance. I cried then, linking arms with the sailors beside me. I still get choked up whenever I talk about it in person.

It was emotionally compelling. But it was also the completely wrong thing to do.

Our instructors – those people who were preparing us for the very worst experiences of war – explained later that the flag is just a symbol. It doesn’t mean anything on its own, only the meaning we give to it. America, they said, is who we are. It is what we carry in our hearts, and the reasons that we choose to fight. The flag is just a piece of cloth that can be torn up and destroyed (and, if you’ve invested so much into it emotionally, enemies will use that against you). But America is an idea, and ideas are unkillable.

I’ll end with this: an excerpt from The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a brilliant literary work describing the destruction caused by totalitarian regimes and Soviet communism in particular.

At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). The small hall echoed with “stormy applause, rising to an ovation.” For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the “stormy applause, rising to an ovation,” continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin. However, who would dare be the first to stop? The secretary of the District Party Committee could have done it. He was standing on the platform, and it was he who had just called for the ovation. But he was a newcomer. He had taken the place of a man who’d been arrested. He was afraid! After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first! And in that obscure, small hall, unknown to the Leader, the applause went on – six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn’t stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks! At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly — but up there with the presidium where everyone could see them? The director of the local paper factory, an independent and strong-minded man, stood with the presidium. Aware of all the falsity and all the impossibility of the situation, he still kept on applauding! Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he watched the secretary of the District Party Committee, but the latter dared not stop. Insanity! To the last man! With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers! And even then those who were left would not falter…Then after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved! The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel.

That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final document of his interrogation, his interrogator reminded him:

“Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding!”

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An Obituary for Alice Gleba, My Grandma

Grandma wrote her own obituary. She wrote down what song she wanted to play at her funeral and what clothes she wanted to be dressed in. She last updated it in 2014. This is a comfort: she was ready.

She wanted to be remembered for her family, of course. Her parents and siblings, all of whom predeceased her except for one brother. Her children, two daughters and two sons, and her seven grandchildren.

Grandma was the daughter of immigrants, first generation Americans from Austria. I wonder often about what their experience was like, coming to the USA at the turn of the century. Grandma was born in 1928, only a year before the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. Her family owned a farm and a bunch of land in New Britain, CT, which must have mitigated somewhat the effects of the Depression, but my grandma was always ruthlessly frugal. So is my mom, who shared a bed with her sister during their childhood. She and I would share that same bed when we stayed over Grandma’s.

Grandma worked at Precision Grinding in New Britain, CT for fifteen years. Her children walked to school, just a few blocks from their home, and she wanted to be there when they came home for lunch. She must have given her children a decent childhood. They all turned out very well.

Her husband, my grandpa, died when I was still very young. I don’t remember much about him, besides the oxygen and dialysis machines which kept him alive in his final years. Mom told me that he volunteered for the army during WWII and stormed the beach at Normandy. She said it was a horribly traumatic experience, that he saw his friends dying all around him from a hail of bullets and from drowning. He didn’t talk about it much. He was so poor that the army was his best chance at a better life, if he came out on the other side of it. He did. I don’t know how he and my Grandma met. I don’t know much about him at all. He was very quiet.

My mom and my grandma were very close. Grandma would come see us in Rhode Island, taking us kids out for a day so my mom could have some time to herself. She would walk us down the street to the Newport Creamery. One year, when my leg was broken in a skiing accident, she pushed me in a wheelchair all the way. She would order a scoop of vanilla ice cream and pour a tablespoon or two of coffee over the top. As a kid, I thought it was gross. Now, as an adult, I think it’s very cool.

In her obituary, Grandma wrote that her “favorite pastime was working in her garden and taking care of her yard. She also enjoyed reading and making trips to the library for new books. She liked to take nature walks, ride her bike, and cook her favorite meals.” This is a beautiful and simple summary of a life that spanned almost an entire century.

In her backyard, Grandma had a big tree that cast the whole lawn in shade, like a giant umbrella, and a statue of the Virgin Mary. She kept old road bikes in a small shed, along with her gardening tools. She would ride her bike around the neighborhood even in her 80s. It took getting hit by a car to get her to stop. Even then, she still took daily walks, picking up trash in the street as she went. More than once, she was sprayed by a skunk, which we all thought was super funny. Neighbors recognized her. All of that land used to belong to her family, Mom told me. Now it is just the one house, the house my mom was raised in, and soon, not even that.

Growing up, the whole family went up to a German family resort in the beautiful Catskill Mountains during the summer. We would hike and hit golfballs at the driving range and swim and eat and eat and eat. Someone always got stung by a bee. One time, my brother got stung by about a dozen bees, and it was sort of my fault. It seemed like everyone there knew Grandma, and she knew everyone else. She tried to teach me how to dance the polka. She would clap along to the music and she knew the words to some of the traditional German songs.

She had a sly sense of humor. She liked to play Rummy. Whenever she wrote to me – for my birthday and Christmas and Easter – she would apologize for her bad writing and spelling. It hurt me that this was something she felt like she had to say, because there was nothing wrong with how she wrote. She didn’t think she was smart, maybe because each subsequent generation of her family was more educated than the previous one, but there are many different ways to be smart. My grandma was an intensely practical person and capable in ways that I will never be.

I would video-call her and my mom on Sundays. When I’m on deployment, it was the highlight of my week, giving me a boost in morale that would carry me through the next few days. She had been losing her memory for a while, and when I was away, she would ask me every week: where are you?

“I can’t tell,” I would say awkwardly.

“She’s in West Hartford!” my mom’s fiance John would yell in the background. He had been in the Navy. He knows how it is sometimes.

“You can tell me,” Grandma would say. “I won’t squeal.”

She told me I had a nice smile and, when I expected her to give me a hard time about my haircut, she said she liked it, said it must be much easier to deal with. Grandma got it.

“Do you regret joining the service?” she would ask in a low voice, heavy with confidentiality and some other emotion that I couldn’t quite pin down.

“No,” I would say, trying to sound positive. The word would hang there, suspended between us, never really touching down. I think we both knew I was lying, at least a little bit. I think my Grandma understood what the military takes from its members, even when it tries to give them back something in return.

In the last few years of her life, my mom went to see her every weekend, being there for Grandma as Grandma had been there for her so many years ago; “the circle of life,” my mom says. Grandma knew it was Sunday because her caregiver would help her into her sneakers in the morning. Mom brought her to the mall to people-watch. They ate at the same restaurant and everyone knew her there. She would watch funny animals on youtube, asking John if he knew the animals in the videos personally, and that’s just about the cutest thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life.

Even as her health began to fail, she was charming and funny and stubborn. She refused to move out of her home for an assisted-care facility, clinging to this last shred of privacy and ownership that often gets taken away during one’s old age. It was a source of controversy and, sometimes, frustration for my family – where does her autonomy end and overriding concern for her safety begin? – and demanded a revolving door of lady caregivers, a compromise. For Grandma’s happiness and pride, it was worth it. She was in the most comfortable and familiar place possible when she began to slip away.

Grandma died peacefully on June 23, 2018. My brother, a doctor, was at her side in her final moments. This, too, is a tremendous comfort, and he is very brave. The rest of the family was on their way to my uncle’s surprise birthday party. They were rerouted to the hospital instead. “You know how hard it is to get everyone together at the same time,” my mom said. It was a surprise of another kind, but at least everyone was there.

This is my first time dealing with grief from a grown-up perspective. I’m thinking – constantly, much more than I want to – about what it might have been like for her to die. Did she know it was time? Was she afraid? Did she think about her husband? Her kids? Did she know that her children and grandchildren were on their way to her, rushing, frantic?

“Don’t be sad,” my mom told me over the phone, still in the hospital room. “She wouldn’t want you to be.”

It’s a common idea, but it is true. Grandma didn’t have time for all that.

She was 90 years old. The scope of the history that she lived through is almost inconceivable to me. I think often about how different the world was when she was my age and what things were like for her then. I hope my mom lives as long as her mom did. I hope I do too, and see as much as she did, and be as vivacious and strong and tenacious as she was. I will miss you, Grandma. You were our connection to a whole different world of triumph over hardship and tradition. I’m lucky to be part of your family.

Grandma

Alice Gleba, 1928-2018

 You can find her official obituary here in the New Britain Herald. You can leave a condolence for our family here. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
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ADVICE TO MY YOUNGER SELF

In April 2007 – ten years ago – I was getting ready to graduate from high school and start college. What an exciting time! I had so much ahead of me and I didn’t even realize it. I knew I was on the cusp of something huge and important, but it was all obscured in a fog, and the unknown can be scary.

When I felt insecure as a teenager, I would imagine talking to an older, cooler version of myself, someone who had been there and done that and came out on the other side. It sounds silly but it gave me a lot of hope.

Well, here I am: “Older and not at all wiser,” my Chief from the ship told me once on my birthday. Ten years of life and learning definitely provide a wider perspective, and although I still have a long way to go, here is some advice that I would give to 18-year-old me. (I like to imagine future-me rolling up to younger-me on light-up heelys, wearing shutter shades and drinking a smoothie – because those things are both Indisputably Cool and also Relatable to 2007.)


(In lieu of a meaningful coming-of-age song, please enjoy my unironic favorite jam of 2007.)

It’s okay to do stuff alone. You feel very ashamed about your love of solitude. You will feel judged and weird. You will put yourself out there out of obligation when you’d rather be rolling solo. It’s normal to feel that way; extroverts tend to dictate the rules of the social sphere. You’re going to deal with that insecurity for a long time. But doing things by yourself is so important to who you are fundamentally that you will stop caring what other people think. Your favorite person to spend time with will always, always be yourself.

Making new friends is hard. Your first year at college is going to be the loneliest of your life. But you will make new friends, some of them best friends, and your love for your high school friends will only increase as you get older.

Appreciate your family. Right now, you’re relieved to be away from them, but that novelty will wear off. It won’t be long before you only see them once a year, and it won’t be a guarantee. You’ll think about them every day.

Get help. You’re going to experience depression without understanding what it is that you’re going through. You could talk to someone, or get more sleep, or manage stress, but you won’t do any of these things, and as a result you will spend more than a year not feeling anything at all. You will remember this period of your life in as an empty grey haze. As it turns out, you can’t “cure” depression, but you can minimize its interference in your life so much that it is barely there at all. It gets better with practice.

No one else is to blame for your feelings but you. It’s not anyone else’s responsibility to take away your sadness. It’s not fair to put that expectation on them. Learn to find happiness from within yourself – easier said than done, I know, but once you figure it out, no one can take it away from you. Take care of yourself so that others don’t have to.

Walk away from things that make you unhappy. So much of your life right now is comprised of first experiences, and you worry that each one will also be the last. It won’t. Life is full of new and interesting surprises, but you have to be open to them.

You’re still going to struggle with body issues, even after you lose weight. These struggles get easier with age, and even as your body weight fluctuates up and down, you will learn to love yourself for reasons apart from your appearance.

Stop telling yourself that you’re not as smart as your friends. Everyone is smart in their own ways. You’re going to learn some very hard lessons by categorizing people as “smart” or “stupid.” Figure out what you’re good at and maximize it in your life. Pay attention to how the people around you excel at different things, too.

Get comfortable with failure. Once you get out of school, you’re going to fail a lot. It gets less uncomfortable each time. It makes you more resilient and, most importantly, it makes it easier to…

Take risks. They usually pay off, sometimes in ways you don’t expect, and when they don’t, the fallout is rarely severe enough to alter your trajectory.

Listen to your parents. It won’t be long before you call them for advice before you make any big decision. They’ve done it all before. It makes them happy to help you. They are unbelievably smart and resourceful.

Stop thinking about settling down. The world is full of interesting and wonderful and terrible people. Get to know more of them. You’re going to limit your opportunities by trying to align someone else’s priorities with your own – and you’re not going to meet someone who will do the same for you for a long, long time.

Treat people better. Happiness is not a zero-sum game. Treating someone with kindness makes both of you happy. Be good to people even – especially – when they don’t deserve it; it says more about your character than theirs. In a culture that equates offensiveness with authenticity, being nice will be a radical act.

I can’t wait to see what 38-year-old me has to say, ten years from now!

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2015 IN REVIEW

On New Years Eve 2014, my friends and I went tubing in the snow, and on the way back, the car got a flat tire. We spent hours in the cold waiting for AAA, talking and teasing each other and reminiscing about the year that was quickly coming to a close. 2014 tried to stick it to us for the last time, but we made it home just before the big countdown. After that, everyone agreed that we wanted an easy year for 2015. “Please, please just be chill.”

For me, things turned out very well. Welcome to a really long post about a really great year!

PHYSICAL
When I came home for holiday leave, I kept hearing about how skinny I had gotten. This is very confusing to me because I’m the heaviest I’ve been since 2012. (It’s also a little baffling how easily people offer commentary on my body, but that’s probably for another post.) My focus on running this year has changed my physique a little. It’s not better or worse, I think, just different.

I ran up “the hill” in Busan and around the harbor in Sydney. I set new race records (26:40 for 5k, 53:40 for 10k) and ran a half-marathon for the first time. I started training for a marathon but recently lost motivation for the longer runs. It is really hard to want to spend more than an hour on the treadmill after the workday. Plus, that kind of training demands a sacrifice from strength work. Going forward, I think I’m going to try a more balanced approach. I’m getting a little blasé about fitness because I’m sort of on autopilot now, and other hobbies have been dominating my time and attention. (Read: Fallout 4 came out.)

PSYCHOLOGICAL
I haven’t seen my counselor since the week before the court-martial (more on this another time). Not professionally, at least. I bought her a little glass kangaroo in Sydney to put on her desk, and we chatted for a while when I dropped in to give it to her. She reminded me of how far I’ve come in 18 months. She also told me what I didn’t need to be in a crisis to come see her.

My counselor is one of the best things to happen to me in a long time. If you have ever considered going to counseling but have some reservations holding you back, please give it a try! I know it can be scary, but there is nothing wrong with talking to another person to make sense of things. We do it with each other all the time! But a professional gives you a sympathetic but unbiased perspective, which is invaluable.

With the exception of a few difficult times, I’ve been consistently happy. I’m learning to manage my anxiety in a constructive way. I’m really lucky to have the Navy and my family and friends as support systems. I couldn’t have done it without them. Thank you all for being there for me, especially when it wasn’t easy and I was difficult to love.

INTELLECTUAL
My goal was to read two books a month this year, one physical and one audio. I ended up reading 41! I’m proud of this. A 45-minute walk to and from work made this pretty easy. Here are my top five faves from what I read this year:

  1. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  2. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
  3. Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
  4. Bag of Bones by Stephen King
  5. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)

I did two online classes on edx as well and both were challenging and fun! If you want to learn about something new but don’t want to spend money or, really, deal with rigorous academic demands, I highly recommend this website.

SPIRITUAL
Still going to church, still trying to be a good Catholic. I got the chance to visit cathedrals in Nagasaki and Sydney and Zhangjiang, and while the differences were fascinating, it was the similarities that resonated most strongly with me.

I went to Christmas midnight Mass at home in an area that was mostly wealthy and white. The church and the choir were incredible, but I couldn’t help but notice how miserable the other parishioners looked. Maybe they were tired because it was so late. But, despite the beauty of the place and the joy of the celebration, the people around me made it feel like a funeral. It made me grateful for the joy and kindness that I see at the chapel on base. I’m going to miss it when I leave.

ROMANTIC
I made pretty poor decisions in terms of romantic partners this year. Fortunately, I can look back at them with only mild embarrassment instead of hurt or despair. It warrants serious reflection, though. Why do I find myself attracted to vacant, trifling people? Why do I give so much to people who give so little in return?

I don’t have the answers yet. Until I do, I think I need to be a little more choosy about in whom I invest any emotional energy.

WORK
We had a number of big certifications this year, including one for the system for which I’m responsible (which also involved a coworker and I desperately troubleshooting at the eleventh hour): TMI/MCI, 3M, ATFP, DC. We got the Battle E! I went to a few great schools, including the SAPR VA school, which was one of the most positive and useful experiences I’ve had in the Navy to date. I began my Reign of Terror as workcenter supervisor. We went to China, Singapore, Korea, Australia, Hong Kong, and Guam. I got my second warfare pin and got recognized as JSOQ, which, for some reason, doesn’t seem to happen often for my department. A big thank you to my chain of command for advocating for me!

There have been a lot of changes to my own division this year and most of them have been very positive. We got a bunch of motivated, hard-working, cheerful booters, and I adore each one of them. Our upper chain of command have been almost entirely replaced, and I’m learning a lot from our new leadership. I don’t dread going to work as much as I used to.  I’m happy and grateful to be a part of my division. I don’t think I could have said that last year. (Actually, I know I wouldn’t have – I went TAD to engineering to get away from them.)

PLAY
After coming home from one of our underways, I picked up the ukulele that had been sitting, neglected, in my closet. The challenges that frustrated me to the point of quitting seemed to fall away. I’m not good at it, but I love singing and making music, and it makes me happy even when it sounds like trash. No one has to listen to it but me! (And maybe my neighbors.)

I got a PS4 and have played The Last of Us, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Destiny, and Fallout 4, and if you’ve interacted with me for more than 30 seconds you know which of those takes the cake.

I didn’t see many movies this year, but of those that I did see, Mad Max: Fury Road was the best, and probably one of my favorite movies of all time. Honorable mentions to Jurassic World, The Martian, Spectre, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

I started writing a novel but was quickly reminded how much I struggle with writing fiction. I quit soon after. Oh well. I tried. Shout out to my friends who are still writing their stories! I see you!

Other adventures: I tried pole-dancing for the first time in Tokyo. The Patriots won the Super Bowl, and I cried about it at work. I went to Japan’s bizarre fertility festival. One of my friends made all of my favorite foods for my birthday, including a cheesecake. I bought a living room set! I went to the hot springs in Hakone. I also went to Kyoto via bullet train, where we got to dress up like ninja and samurai! I shot a bunch of guns for work (including M-16 full auto and a laser gun) and for fun (bird shoot while home on leave). I was reunited with a dear friend in Guam. I spent a day with Aboriginal people in Australia. I developed a taste for whiskey. I dressed up as Yuffie from FFVII for Halloween and spent the night in Tokyo. I hit $10k in savings. I cried at the airport on holiday leave when my friends showed up to greet me. Lots of crying this year, but, as opposed to 2014, most of it was happy tears!

GOALS FOR 2016
All in all, the best parts of this year came from my family and friends, old and new. It’s not just the big stuff, either. It’s the little moments that matter, and they most easily come to mind when I slide into one of those dark places. You guys make my world better just by being a part of it. Thank you for sharing your kindness, joy, humor, and passions with me. Thank you for being exactly who you are. And thank you for reading my blog!

Here are some things I’d like to do in the coming year:

  • Climb Mt. Fuji! The ship will finally be around during climbing season. No excuses!
  • Stay single. This will be challenging because I love to love. But I’ve been a serial monogamist since 2008, and it’s time for a break.
  • Read 48 books, or more! (I may have a problem.)
  • PCS. I guess this is inevitable but I’m still excited about it! I love Japan but I’m ready to start the next chapter of my Navy life.
  • Be more diligent about journaling. Day-to-day events seem boring and unremarkable until time passes and you realize those things were actually very special!

I’ll finish with a story:

When I was home for the holidays, my dad and I were arguing about my Life Choices. We both agreed that the Navy is not a long-term situation for me. His perspective is economical: for each year that I spend in the Navy, I’m losing money that I would make at a better-salaried job. I argued that I was living comfortably and had opportunities from the Navy that I wouldn’t get any place else, and that I was going to enjoy it until it no longer served me. Things got a little tense.

After he left the room, I complained to my brother about the argument. “What if I look back on this fight in 30 years and realize that he was right?” I worried. My dad’s girlfriend, with whom I don’t have much of a relationship, told me, very seriously, “Don’t listen to him. Follow your heart.”

She didn’t have to support me. She didn’t have to weigh in at all. She had no dog in the fight; if anything, it was in her best interest to agree, at least outwardly, with my dad. But that simple vote of confidence reminded me that it’s okay to trust my instincts, that I have the support of good people, and most of all, that things in my life are going pretty well. I’m a very lucky lady.

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