Sep 8 2012

Sometimes it Lasts…But Sometimes it Hurts Instead

“Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead.” -Adele

The photo above was taken at a surprise party for Todd Barr on September 8, 2002–his last birthday on earth. I wonder if the people in attendance that day know what a tremendous gift they gave him–just by being there to say we love you and we’re glad you were born. Todd told me (many times over the following days) that day was one of the happiest of his life. It was just like him to be so appreciative of something as simple as a birthday–something he should have had dozens more of.

Todd died three weeks after this picture was taken. He was 34.

A few days ago I attended a birthday celebration for my brother who just turned 57, and as with most ceremonial events in life (weddings, births, funerals and birthdays) Todd came along with me (in spirit) to the festivities.

It was impossible not to be reminded of my deceased fiance as I watched my brother celebrate his special day, but what brought Todd to mind most powerfully for me that evening was the fact that there were so many married couples in attendance–and all of them had been together for decades–happily–according to them.

My brother and his wife went to prom together in 1974 and they remain in love after nearly 40 years. My daughter and her husband met and fell in love in high school in 1996. My sister-in-law’s aunt met and married her “best friend” 19 years ago and another couple had been “matched” by my brother and his wife over 20 years ago. Of the married couples in the room, all but one (newlyweds) were in relationships that had stood the test of time, and the word “soulmate” came up in conversation over and over that night.

So, of course, I thought of Todd often, though I didn’t speak of him in that context. His name did come up, not in a discussion about love and soul mates (I find that bringing a dead fiance into those discussions tends to bring the level of joy down in a room), but in a discussion about swimming in the Pacific ocean and its danger vs. safety.

One of the women there was saying she would never get on a boat or even go on a cruise because she was afraid of drowning in the ocean. The old (pre-Todd) me would have insisted she was missing out on a beautiful relationship with the sea, and that she should maybe reconsider, don a good life-vest, and partake of the beauty and majesty of the open water.

The new (post-Todd) me doesn’t quite see it that way. The new me now understands and can relate to being afraid.

When I was a child, I swam and body surfed in the Pacific ocean with my brothers and sisters with absolutely no fear of any dire consequences. We would swim out to catch the “big ones” and ride the waves back to shore, sometimes rolling and tumbling in the surf when an especially powerful wave hit us. We often resurfaced tangled in seaweed, gasping for air and laughing with joy at the “fun ride” the Pacific can give.

I would never do that today. Nor would I let my children.

I told the ocean-phobic woman I thought she had good reason to fear the power of the sea, then I explained to her how my fiance Todd (a very strong swimmer) drowned in it.

She stared in my eyes for a long moment and promptly changed the subject. “You are not over him,” she told me.

I know.

One thing survivors of loss know is that you don’t “get over” the loss of a loved one. Ever. What you do is experience the grief, then move forward, slowly at first, until life returns to some semblance of “normalcy.”

Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s grief model, commonly known as The Five Stages of Grief, lists 1) denial, 2) anger, 3) bargaining, 4) depression, and 5) acceptance (not necessarily in that order) as the stages a loss-survivor will experience over time.

I can testify to all five.

But, I would add a sixth (and possibly most potentially debilitating) stage that persists long after those five stages are traversed.

6) fear.

I don’t have anything wise or witty to say about it. I can only say that I remember what it was like to be fearless, and I miss that.

Happy Birthday Todd. I miss you. I wish you didn’t have to leave so soon.

 

(This is a cross-post from WilliamToddBarr.wordpress.com)



Aug 13 2012

Teen Poet Nails the Gabby Douglas Hair Issue: ‘When I Look at Her, I See Me…’

If you caught my post about Olympic gold medalist Gabrielle Douglas last week, you may have noticed that I chose to focus only on her stunning, beautiful success, and ignored that “controversy” the media picked up and ran with.

I personally think the number of folks who had disparaging things to say about Gabby’s appearance is small, and the members of that group are mostly young and culturally insecure.

I really didn’t want or plan to ever use that 4-letter word that starts with ‘H’ on the same page with Gabby’s name, not because it isn’t an important discussion as it relates to Eurocentric standards of beauty, but because it seemed a petty distraction from Miss Douglas’ moment of glory. A distraction she didn’t deserve.

I would have stuck to that plan if I hadn’t stumbled across this video on YouTube featuring a teen poetess who nails the problem and the solution in under three minutes.

Well said, beautiful.
Love her.



Jul 30 2012

1968 Olympics Black Power Salute: Ever Wonder What that White Guy Was Thinking?

Peter Norman, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, 1968 Olympics

When American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black fists in protest and solidarity at the Mexico City Olympic games in 1968, I was much too young to understand the significance of the moment. I do remember the controversy it stirred.

I have vague recollections of the negative and positive opinions voiced over the years by the adults in my world regarding whether the two men were heroes or fools. I recall that most of my people were of the opinion that it took immense courage for those two young men to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.

What I don’t remember is anyone ever discussing the white guy who stood there with them.

Ever.

He was the second fastest man in the world. Was he too stunned to move? Did he know in advance that this “political” statement would be made in his moment of glory? Was he as appalled by the black power symbolism as much of white America seemed to be? Was he just a bystander, or did he know in advance that he would be a participant in a civil rights protest of world-reaching proportions?

That white guy’s name was Peter Norman. On that day at the summer games Norman had just earned the 200 meter dash silver medal for his home country, Australia, and yes, he was well aware of the protest in advance. Peter spoke with his co-medalists about their plan, told them he believed in what they were doing, and wore a button on his jacket identical to the ones worn by Smith and Carlos which read “Olympic Project for Human Rights,” a black American organization formed in 1967 by amateur athletes.

The founding statement of OPHR read (in part):

We must no longer allow this country to use…a few “Negroes” to point out to the world how much progress she has made in solving her racial problems when the oppression of Afro-Americans is greater than it ever was. We must no longer allow the Sports World to pat itself on the back as a citadel of racial justice when the racial injustices of the sports industry are infamously legendary…[A]ny black person who allows himself to be used in the above matter… is a traitor to his country because he allows racist whites the luxury of resting assured that those black people in the ghettos are there because that is where they want to be… So we ask why should we run in Mexico only to crawl home?

Norman agreed with that premise, stood proudly with Smith and Carlos, and like them, he paid a heavy price for it.

Most people who are knowledgeable about that moment in history know Smith and Carlos were ejected from the games immediately and stripped of their medals. Though some in the black community hailed the men as heroes, their “official” reception back in the U.S. was beyond frigid. Both men had difficulty finding jobs and Smith was dishonorably discharged from the Army Reserve for “UnAmerican activities.” Both received death threats.

The Los Angeles Times described the raised fists of Smith and Carlos as a “Nazi-like salute.” Time magazine replaced the Olympic logo’s motto “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” with “Angrier, Nastier, Uglier” in their scathing version of the event. The Chicago Tribune called the act “an embarrassment visited upon the country,” an “act contemptuous of the United States,” and “an insult to their countrymen.” Sports writer Brent Musberger, in another reference to Nazis, called the two men “a pair of dark-skinned storm troopers” who were “airing dirty clothing before the entire world.”

And then there was Peter.

He returned to Australia to suffer a lifetime of sanction and ridicule. Though no Australian to date has ever been clocked running faster than him, Norman was never invited to represent his country in the Olympics again.

“As soon as he got home he was hated,” explains his nephew Matt Norman, director of the film “Salute!” a documentary Matt filmed about Peter’s life before and after the 1968 Olympics.

After hearing he’d been cut from Australia’s Munich team (despite qualifying) Norman quit running, and in 2000, when his country hosted the Olympic games in Sydney, he was not invited.

“At the Sydney Olympics he wasn’t invited in any capacity,” says Matt Norman. ”There was no outcry. He was the greatest Olympic sprinter in our history…He suffered to the day he died.”

Though Carlos and Smith were eventually restored to their proper place as activists and heroes in the struggle for civil rights in America, and both were honored in 2008 at the ESPN Espy awards, Norman died an unsung hero in his homeland on October 9, 2006.

At the funeral both Smith and Carlos gave the eulogy, announcing to the mourners that the U.S. Track and Field association had declared the day of his death “Peter Norman Day” — the only time in the organization’s history that such an honor had been bestowed on a foreign athlete.

Carlos & Smith carrying Peter Norman’s coffin in 2006. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Both men helped carry Peter Norman’s coffin before it was lowered into the ground. For them, Norman was a hero.

Carlos referred to him as “A lone soldier,” for his determined stand against racism.

“Peter Norman is my brother from another mother…” said Carlos. “I’d die for him…”

For more information about the film visit Salute the Movie.

To read an excellent article about the Olympic black power salute and the events surrounding it, DO NOT MISS this informative piece by Dave Zirin, who is also the co-author of The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World.

 

Awesome trailer for the film Salute, the Movie. Glad I watched it. Inspiring:

“I believe in human rights…” – Peter Norman, 6/16/1942 – 10/3/2006

 

UPDATE:

“Salute” the Movie is now available for streaming on Netflix!