Monday, December 31, 2018

2019: A Look Back

It really is true that each year seems to go by faster than the last. Before this millennium leaves its teenage years behind, I thought I would take a few minutes to reflect on the past twelve months.

I think I did a pretty good job keeping my resolutions for the year. I'm finally getting seven hours of sleep consistently for the first time in my adult life. Forcing myself to bed at a reasonable hour and keeping my phone out of my room helped with that. I finished a half marathon in April in just under two hours and completed my first (and probably only!) full marathon in September. There may have been 3672 people who finished in front of me, but I finished! The side effect of eating clean and my regular exercise and getting good sleep meant I got rid of those extra twenty pounds that slowly have crept onto my body over the past fifteen years. I'm excited to report that I'm forty-four years old and feel stronger than ever!

Catherine and I enjoyed a fun mother-daughter trip to Chicago in February to celebrate her entrance into the teenage years. It was the first visit to that city for both of us. I only have a few more years with her in our home and the time is going by so quickly. I'm thankful that we had a couple of days to talk and laugh together. And I'm thankful for great friends who took care of my boy (who entered double digits this summer!) while we were gone.

Speaking of travel, our trip to New York City and Boston over fall break was one to remember! The kids finally got to meet their new cousin, who is beautiful and amazing, and then we rented a car and headed up to Boston for a couple of days, which was necessary because I challenge you to name a more beautiful place than New England in October! I showed them my old apartment and we even took bus #57 that I rode to work at BU every day. I love Nashville, but there always will be a part of me drawn back to the history and the seasons and the people of Boston and the too brief time that I lived there.

The Terps shocked everyone with their dominating run through March Madness this spring, beating Tennessee by a convincing margin in the finals! And even I didn't expect for the football team to follow that up with a one-loss season (thanks, Rutgers) and a Big Ten championship. Fear the turtle, indeed! 

I've read a lot this year, which was another goal of mine. I turned off the political talk shows and opted for audiobooks during my commute. I now always have a book in my purse so I'm not tempted to scroll mindlessly through my phone while in line somewhere. And, ending my night with a few minutes of reading in bed instead of dragging myself off the couch after staring at the television too long has helped with the aforementioned sleep improvement.

While I haven't accomplished quite as much with my writing as I had hoped, I did make a lot of progress on two book manuscripts - one about the silent majority of political moderates and how we need to use our voices to bring civility and compromise back to government and the other one a "devotional for doubters." For years, I wanted to read from those who struggled with the Bible and tried to reconcile the seeming theological contradictions but who also felt the call and desire for faith. So, I finally decided to write what I wanted to read. (And shout out to writers like Anne Lamott and Nadia Bolz Weber whose books about their faith journeys changed my life over the past couple of years.)

On the topic of faith, after feeling distant from God for several years, I'm so thankful that 2019 brought a renewed relationship with Him. Making it a priority to spend every morning in silent meditation, reading books that challenged and pushed my understanding of theology, and reaching out for conversation with others who have felt that so much of what they see of Christianity does not align with Christ's love and teaching has been an amazing growth experience for me.

I'm proud of myself for being more social in 2019! My daughter made me promise to "get myself out there and meet more people." That's hard to do when you have full custody of two children, but I finally admitted that perhaps I had been hiding behind my kids a bit. Catherine and Ian are older now, and actually are happy for me to leave the house. It's scary to be single and in your mid-40s and an admitted introvert, but I also knew I needed to expand my circle of already amazing friends. So, starting with a group jog around the lake on New Year's Day with a local running group and then saying "yes" to events with some new social groups even if I didn't know anyone, 2019 has been a great year for meeting people.

I'm excited to see what 2020 brings! We get to elect a new president . . . finally! I'm so glad that Governor Larry Hogan (R-MD) stepped forward to challenge Trump in the primary and I look forward to working hard on his campaign. Catherine will be starting high school and Ian will be starting middle school in 2020. That's nuts. I will have to renew my driver's license and I actually really like the photo I got for my license in 2015 so I hope I can use it again.

Well, I guess I will sign off here. One of those people I met this year just let me know that dinner is ready. The kids have been helping him in the kitchen for the past hour. After a decade of being single, I am happy to report that being in a relationship again has been better and a more seamless transition than I hoped. We just fit. I finally know what it's like to have a partner and the kids are thrilled to have a man around who they trust and who loves them like his own. (OK, my son wanted to beat him up for the first month or two, but he has come around and now adores him.) While I usually was just fine being on my own, I will admit there were times I wondered why so many of my friends were able to find new relationships while I continued to remain single. Now I know that every moment was worth the wait and my family is right where it is supposed to be.

Here's to an amazing 2020 filled with love and kindness and community!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The President of My Adolescence

The Velvet Revolution in Prague - 1989
Ronald Reagan was the president of my childhood, but President George H. W. Bush was the man who sat in the Oval Office for most of my adolescence. I was in high school from 1989 through 1993, almost mirroring the presidency of Bush 41. It was a stunning and amazing time to grow in my political awareness and be a witness to history as the global power structure that had held firm for forty years dissolved.

During the summer before I started high school, just a few months into Bush's term, a college student stood in front of a tank at Tiananmen Square in China, declaring in courageous silence the words that Patrick Henry had proclaimed two hundred years earlier - he wanted liberty or he instead was willing to face death.

The autumn of my freshman year, the Berlin Wall came down. My peers and I had spent our entire lives intrigued and frightened by the people who lived on the other side of the "iron curtain." Were Soviet kids just like us? Did they play games and enjoy time with their families? Countless movies had the plotline of facing off against the Commies. Even my favorite sitcoms featured those scary Soviets (anyone else remember when Alex P. Keaton played chess against a Soviet teen and they realized they weren't so different after all?). And now, the secret world was being exposed. As everyone stepped onto the bus to head to school the next morning, we were asking each other, "Did you watch what happened at the Berlin Wall last night?" It was amazing.

Just a month later, hundreds and then thousands upon thousands of students assembled in Prague to demand the same freedoms they saw their neighbors in East Germany now experiencing. Eventually there were a half million people gathered in the center of the city, most of them only five to ten years older than my 14-year-old self, in defiance of a Communist regime that had oppressed them for decades. Their energy and their cause spread throughout Eastern Europe. Absolutely breathtaking.

Only two years later, the entire Soviet Union would be no more. Gorbachev resigned his position and Boris Yeltsin took over as leader of Russia in a world that now looked very different. I remember lying in bed wide awake all night as I listened to news reports of the Communist government's collapse on my radio. I get teary eyed even now thinking about those years of sweeping change. The years of the United States versus the USSR were no more. It's difficult for me to explain to my children what is was like to be their ages and to have an "enemy" like the Soviet Union. As the saying goes, you had to be there.

While Communism fell in Romania and Poland and the Baltics and Yugoslavia, the United States led an invasion to push Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. Some of my friends handed out flyers urging everyone to attend "No War for Oil" protests in D.C. We didn't have cable at my house, but I remember watching 24-hour coverage on CNN with my friends. It was the first war to be broadcast in real time across the globe. We watched the attacks as green streaks shown through night vision goggles. We learned names like Powell and Schwarzkopf.

Whitney Houston sang her heart out at the Super Bowl with a rendition of the National Anthem that is still considered the standard, as our celebration over a quick victory in the Middle East just several months later allowed us to honor and thank our Gulf War troops as well as try to assuage our collective guilt and make amends with our Vietnam veterans who faced a much different homecoming less than twenty years earlier.

Through all of this, the United States was led by President George H. W. Bush. Here is what I remember about his role during this transformative time - not much. And that is a huge compliment. Bush did not, usually, make the moments about him. He did not inject his personality into the amazing events taking place around the globe. He was an even-tempered leader who was taught by his mama not to talk about himself too much.

President Bush guided our nation through these transformative years without comments like "look what I did" and without pushing to be front and center at every photo opportunity. (I actually remember more of his vice president, Dan Quayle, in the media than the president himself. Between the potato"e" scandal and the chastising of Murphy Brown, how could Bush 41 compete with Quayle?) President George H. W. Bush was the right man for the times in which he served. He did not try to overshadow the events that deserved center stage.

This is not to say that Bush was without his faults. As a high school student, I wondered along with many of my teenaged peers if the Gulf War was warranted. I was concerned about what kind of legacy our intervention would create. (My friends and I also discussed in worried whispers the rumor that Iraq planned to send people over here to drive around the Beltway with poison stuck in car exhaust pipes that would kill scores of us.) Bush and his predecessor did not do enough to address the AIDS crisis that swept through our country in the 1980s and early 1990s (and that was the primary reason that Health class became required as I entered high school). He certainly seemed out of touch when shocked by an electronic price scanner at the grocery store. He was unable to maneuver his way out of a difficult economy and his popularity just after the Gulf War was not enough to prevent his defeat to Bill Clinton my senior year in high school.

But he also worked with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to pass the Immigration Act of 1990, which increased legal immigration to our country by forty percent. He wanted to make it easier for people to come here and be a part of an American dream that is better when more voices contribute to its telling. While awkward in his understanding of the deeper issues at play in the Rodney King beating and riots in Los Angeles after the initial verdict, Bush was quick to employ investigators to achieve justice for King at the federal level. He was a commander-in-chief who sent young men and women into battle with the reluctance and with the measured force of someone who had faced war himself. He did not see Democrats as the enemy. In fact, Bill Clinton became one of his most treasured friends and allies for important charity work. He spent his entire life in service to a nation he honored. He acted with humility and class in twenty-five years that he lived after he left the White House. He was part of a great love story.

And, from my selfish and personal perspective, he was president as the world changed around me and as I moved from being a kid to adulthood. I will remember him fondly and wish him eternal peace with his beloved Barbara at his side.