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Catholic circles are talking a lot these days about evangelization and the new evangelization. Much of this is because of the writings of Pope Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XV and now Pope Francis. Our Church leaders have called us to be aware of how we “preach” […]
When pursuing victory, one of the most counter-instinctual things to do is to retreat. It goes against our nature to step back when momentum seems to be carrying us forward. Yet there are many examples of this strategy working. During Sunday’s Super Bowl, with their team on the edge of victory, the Ravens special teams unit was told to prepare to take a safety and thus give the 49ers two unearned points. Given the competitive nature of professional athletes, that had to be a bitter pill to swallow. Punter Sam Koch has never been charged with a safety — it’s the sort of thing a good punter generally avoids — but he followed orders and danced in the end zone for eight precious seconds before the 49ers caught on and forced him out of bounds. The result was that the 49ers did not have time to score and the Ravens won the championship.
Sometimes retreating to win plays out in the realm of business, like when a conglomerate spins off various brands that no longer relate to its core mission. Or when the post office decides not to deliver bills (or anything other than packages) on Saturdays. Unlike most businesses, the U.S. Postal Service is subject to the capricious whims of Congress, which has created requirements that make it hard for that amazing national system of sorting and delivery to adjust to competition from the Internet, FedEx and UPS. Naturally there’s a lot of debate about whether the Postal Service has the authority to change its hours and whether or not this move will damage its network irreparably. It’s possible that canceling Saturday service is a ploy to force Congress to pass a reform package. But for now, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe says that such a retreat is the responsible thing to do to preserve the future of the postal service.
In other words, a small retreat now serves a greater good later. Just ask George Washington, whose use of strategic retreats preserved the Continental Army for later victories. Similarly, women fighting for the right to vote retreated from yearly petitions to the U.S. Congress to small referendum victories, state by state.
I don’t know the exact number of States we shall have to have…. but I do know that there will come a day when that number will automatically and resistlessly act on the Congress of the United States to compel the submission of a federal suffrage amendment. And we shall recognize that day when it comes.
— Susan B. Anthony
For examples in popular culture, check out Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess of Grantham, who seems to know exactly which battles are worth fighting, which must be conceded and which must simply be ignored.
Tonight the Nationals lost a game they had been leading 9-0.
After 3-run homers in three different innings, including a season record 465-footer by Michael Morse that landed at the Red Porch restaurant behind center field, the pitching staff wilted in the rain and the power hitters of the Braves took full advantage. Danny Espinoza’s wonderful plunker into the Braves bullpen was an exciting moment but ultimately tying the game merely postponed the loss. It’s an unfortunate lead-in to tomorrow’s double header, but this team has frequently defied expectations. That’s about the only thing it does consistently, and the response to this humiliation will determine whether they are truly playoff caliber or just having a surprisingly good season.
Die hard fans have a lot to freak out about, but I’m not a blind passionate fan of anything. That’s just not my style. I scream loudly for my chosen heroes but I can appreciate a good performance, even from the other team. I might be a little more down if I had actually sat in Nationals Park for the four hour game in the rain and then had to hustle to the Metro, but I’d probably forget about it as soon as my husband kissed me goodnight.
Then again, I’m aware that I’m fortunate to have him at home and kissing me. Friday morning, our country woke to the news that a lone gunman had randomly opened fire at the beginning of a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, uncannily confusing fans who thought he was a performer hired to match the action on the screen.
Tonight, there are twelve fewer people kissing their loved ones goodnight.
Dozens more are injured, and an entire community is shattered while we as a country wonder why such tragic shootings keep happening. Random violence is a problem that’s too big, too systemic, too beyond our control to prevent. Or so we think. Most of the perpetrators are isolated young men, often with a history of instability. Their odd behavior causes many people to avoid them and gives them the freedom to acquire arsenals and attack gear right under our noses. As the people of Norway discovered last summer, even the strictest gun control laws can’t prevent a determined, intelligent lunatic from stockpiling weapons and planning sophisticated attacks.
What evil has been unleashed when college students can’t attend class, a congresswoman can’t meet her constituents at a grocery store, and families can’t attend the movies? We’re so inured to it that we try to find reasons where there aren’t any, we analyze what happened down to the smallest detail, and then we do nothing to create change.
Yet, we always pray. Whatever our religion, after these tragedies we gather, we hug, we sing, we pray, we light candles, and leave flowers and draw posters. We honor the dead and support those they left behind. A lot of goodness erupts. We don’t always notice through our tears, but eventually we look back and can trace a line of hidden blessings that emerged in the aftermath.
The entire premise of Batman is creating good from tragedy, justice prevailing over evil. Maybe the message for us today is that we don’t have to be superheroes. We just have to take care of each other.
It shouldn’t be dangerous to wear a skirt in daylight in DuPont Circle.
Actually, it shouldn’t ever be dangerous to wear a skirt. Or jeans.
It should not be dangerous to walk while female.
Yet most women take sensible precautions all the time as they make their way through the world. As we choose what to wear, where to meet friends for a drink, when to leave, in the back of our mind we consider whether a given location is safe. Sometimes we think so and find out otherwise. Sometimes we decide to take a risk that turns out to be quite worthwhile. Sometimes we plunge into an experience and discover a wonderful new neighborhood park. Sometimes we find that we have crossed an invisible line into the lion’s den.
Whether statistics bear out our fears or not, we know there are criminals who may attack us at any given time. Many women deal with it consciously by traveling in packs, keeping their keys handy in case they need a weapon or talking on their cellphones loudly so those around them know they are not really alone. We do everything we can think of to protect ourselves and prevent something from going wrong.
And yet does.
In her recent blog post, On the Reverse “10-5 Rule” and Walking While Female, photographer Liz Gorman wrote about a man who sexually assaulted her in broad daylight in DuPont Circle. For those of you not familiar with DC, that is a neighborhood filled with coffee shops and embassies. It is definitely not the Cologne train station at midnight where a similar thing happened to me twenty one years ago.
I was a college student with a Eurail pass and a shoulder bag of clothes. I’d planned to switch trains for Paris only to learn that they were fully booked. It was too late to get a hostel and too dark to explore the city. I wandered around the train station looking for an alternative and witnessed paramedics trying to revive a train conductor on the platform. It did not appear to be a successful effort; I can still see the man sprawled out on his back, immobile in a white shirt and dark pants, his belly swelling out of his clothes, a florescent light shining down on him as we travelers passed by. That fleeting glance made me think of death and escape. I was spooked and determined to get out of that station.
Seeking refuge, I climbed aboard the next train heading west only to have an old man grin madly at me and grab my crotch as he exited the train. His fingers were quite deliberate as he pressed through my jeans, but he didn’t get very far. I shoved him hard and swung my shoulder bag at him before fleeing down the aisle and into a compartment. There were angry shouts in German but no one followed or questioned me. Maybe the person behind him saw the whole thing and set everyone straight. Maybe the old man knew better than to press charges and covered my defense with a lie. I didn’t care; I was just glad to wake up somewhere else the next morning.
Except that memory is still there. I thought of it immediately when I read this column about the many women now telling their stories and that leering face slips by me at least a few times a year.
I don’t think grab & grope sexual assaults are going to magically end just because we’re talking about them. Dirty old men may die but they’ve been with us for centuries. What needs to change is our response when these things do happen.
It’s often been said that that definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We all do this to some degree, partly because we’re wired for it. Our bodies like to eat and sleep at the same time every day. Most of us have a morning routine like coffee in bed, an hour of reading, a leisurely breakfast… oh wait, that’s just my fantasy. Reality includes coffee in bed, but the rest of the timetable speeds up a bit.
Patterns can help us get through our lives, but I know they sometimes get disruptive and disconnect me from my best self and those I love. For instance, I am a homebody who loves to read, which is a nice way to live occasionally but a constant pattern of it eventually leads to isolation or depression.
So what do I do? I try to start a new pattern, a healthier one, because ironically the cure for an unhealthy pattern is the deliberate, repetitive practice of a better one.
Repetition is a driving factor in nature and art. Look at fractals, those beautiful pictures of nature repeating its patterns over and over to achieve something even more beautiful. Listen to a piece of music that builds on a theme and you will hear the same notes over and over again. Now notice that what makes a flower or a song really interesting is not perfect repetition, the same thing over and over, but variations. The variations may be a deliberate choice, or a random accident but either way the result is beautiful.
As a recovering perfectionist control freak, it’s a relief to see that even randomness can become beautiful. What’s interesting is the effect a variation has on the structure around it. Whether the variation emerges from a mistake or a deliberate choice, strong, repetitive patterns either amplify the shift into something more amazing and powerful, or sweep it into the whole, letting the change occur without destroying everything. We don’t have to get it right every time, we just have to know the ideal that we’re aiming for and eventually we overcome our unfortunate mistakes to create either a beautiful new variation or an even better pattern.
Recently I played Game On, a diet contest that focuses on breaking bad patterns and starting good ones through a very rigid structure of eating times, meal composition and other factors. What I noticed was that the structure made me more attentive to what I do over and over and the positive or negative effects of those choices. When I don’t drink tons of water and exercise every day, I don’t feel as well. Change is hard but there’s something about friendly competition and encouragement that helps this contest work. Everyone comes out a winner because we’re all working to change habits, to create new, beautiful and powerful variations in our personal patterns.
The same thing happens on a spiritual level during Lent. We deny our usual patterns, we say no to coffee or cigarettes or our favorite websites and advice columnists. All the readings, the fasting, the fish on Fridays, the small sacrifices and generous alms are designed to make us break a pattern of complacency and grow closer to God.
And this is where the big ‘NO’ comes in.
God loves us so much that He says NO. Not in the same sense that a parent warns a toddler about touching something hot but in an even deeper manner. God tells us no in order to make us say yes to Him. The Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, the crucifixion itself are all one big plea from God: “I love YOU. Choose Me.”
- NO, I will not spare my only Son from the Cross because His sacrifice redeems YOU.
- NO, I will not accept mere politeness between people because YOU deserve a deep, abiding true love, the kind YOU must share to receive.
- NO, I will not tolerate lying, stealing, murder, jealousy or adultery because those things hurt YOU.
- NO, I will not abide disrespect for your parents because whatever they may do wrong, they did one great thing right and that’s YOU.
- NO, I will not allow you to work constantly without rest because I want to spend quality time with YOU.
- NO, I will not share you with Mammon or Gaga or whatever other idols your world invents because I want all of YOU.
- NO, I will not accept any substitutes because I made YOU.
Basically God is breaking the pattern of a society that says ‘yes’ to virtually everything and inviting us to say ‘yes’ to Him by saying ‘no’ to those things that harm us and separate us from Him and those who love us. Our small ‘no’ can change a pattern and lead to an ever greater yes.
Yesterday my beloved and I successfully ignored all the pressure to shower each other with gifts, indulge in fine dining and otherwise pretend it was anything other than Tuesday. Ok, it was Tuesday with extra kisses in the morning, but still just Tuesday. We’ve done quiet Valentine’s dinners at a lovely restaurant in the past, but until recently he worked in the restaurant industry and therefore was always working on the 14th. We’d reschedule the celebration to his nearest day off, which makes it both more special and less hyped. For us, it seems that Valentine’s Day is just an affirmation of how we live our love all the time.
Any dude that waits till Valentine’s Day to treat his woman like a Queen is failing 364 days a year . – Adam Sandler (or a meme by the same name)
I know very well that many women can’t stand the thought of Valentine’s Day without roses, presents and the royal treatment. There’s nothing particularly wrong with any of that, it’s just not what I need or want. Apparently I’m not high maintenance. On one of our early dates we got all dressed up for a night of dinner and the theater and I suggested parking on the street instead of an expensive lot. That was when he knew I was a girl who appreciated sweet gestures and the finer things but didn’t have ridiculous expectations. What I remember about that night is the magic, not the money.
Of course we would love to have any excuse to give each other big expensive toys. In an alternate fairytale universe, our Valentine’s Day would start with breakfast in bed and pillow presents, most likely e-readers. Then we’d indulge in a morning of massages followed by a gourmet lunch and an afternoon at the movies. Just as everyone else emerged from offices and started filling up restaurants, we’d head home to open gifts. I’d unveil for him a large screen television fully installed and equipped with a dvr, cable, blue-ray and the entire Criterion collection. He’d hand me a smoking fast MacBook Pro fully loaded with Adobe Creative Suite and Dragon software. We’d make a steak dinner together, top it off with dessert and our favorite wine, and then spend the evening enjoying each other’s company.
So how did we really celebrate our first married Valentine’s Day, the first time in our entire relationship that he didn’t have to work? He made dinner, we drank some wine and talked, talked, talked. Then we played rummy with deuces wild, reviewed his resumes, and watched the Mirror, Mirror episode of Star Trek.
Basically the same without new toys. I’d like to think that’s how we’ll always be, loving and supporting each other no matter what the calendar says or how much we’ve got in the bank.