Still Auditioning

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I’ve run twenty-one marathons
and next Saturday I start another
on legs pretending they’re still young.

I’ve been married sixteen years
with many days questioned and mended,
but ready to audition for my part again.

I’ve given my daughter imperfect dreams
and lessons I’ve rehearsed with myself
over and over before I’m out of time.

I’ve worked three careers most of my life,
finding ways to keep them afloat
no matter if the tide is low or high.

Why do I keep trying?
It’s an honor to reinvent my new starts
and still be in the running for the parts.

Written by Rüdiger Rückmann on 15 July 2018

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4th of July

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The noise and fear in our home
drove us outward, past mountains
and families and friends gathering
for celebration. We traveled on roads

paved with ease, silent in our dread
of our forced retreat to a gated village
filled with children pulling their parents
past random peacocks, a closed store,

stacks of apartments facing a corner of ocean.
We carried food and dread up flights of stairs
to an apartment rented out to those
hoping for adventure or rest and relief.

We stayed one night and then fled early,
saying goodbye to women and men we never met,
awed by their ease of showing children ways
to embrace the day and its unrehearsed surprises.

We drove to a piece of untested ocean and swam past
self-imposed boundaries, too deep to turn back,
our only choice to forget our minds and join families
holding each other and laughing, making ourselves believe
that an uncertain world can be safe and kind.

Written by Rüdiger Rückmann on 8 July 2018

Consistency

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MarathonDear Readers,

Thank you for reading my posts these last two years, for taking time out of your day to get to know my family and me.

Blogging has opened up new worlds for me. I now follow 20 fellow bloggers from different parts of the world. Every time I read one of your posts, I can feel my brain accumulating healthy layers of insights! Sometimes I laugh or cry. Sometimes, as a good Quaker, I’m just silent! I am grateful to have joined the blogging community.

I also have been able to stay in touch with new and old friends in what I consider a more meaningful way than Facebook posts. And I’ve gotten to know my husband and our daughter better as they often are the subjects of my blog posts!

Writing has always rescued me. I first had a poem published when I was 7 years old. By the time I was graduated from high school, I had been harassed verbally and physically every day for several years, but I had also won 15 or so national writing awards, most of them for poetry. I even had poems shown at museums and statewide arts exhibits.

In many ways, my writing voice has often been more confident than my speaking voice. I’ve written and spoken English and German all my life. As a gay man of my generation, for decades I could trust my written more than my spoken words to convey the me I wanted to convey. Fortunately, for the past 20 years, I’ve embraced who I am even without feeling like I have to win an award to be accepted.

In my heart of hearts I’ve known I’m not as natural or gifted a writer as many people are, but I’m pretty determined, and I love consistency!

Which is why in three weeks I will look to finish my 22nd marathon, why making deadlines has always felt good, why I’m starting my third year of writing this blog with hope.

Like most of us, I have felt time rushing by as I’ve gotten older. For the first year of this blog, I wrote every day except weekends and holidays; in the second year, just two days a week as I juggled other priorities such as taking a more active role in raising our young daughter and becoming a better friend (and yes, making work goals!).

In my third year, I will endeavor to write a poem a week as my post, although I’m stating in writing that I will occasionally go back to prose! I feel the new format for this blog will help me become a better poet because it will enforce a discipline for which I could otherwise make excuses: I had too many work deadlines, for example, or my daughter’s homework took over our lives this week, or I was just too tired.

A wonderful friend and artist told me 20 years ago, “I paint every day no matter what. Try to write a poem every day.”

My friend didn’t run marathons or raise children, but his message has stayed with me. I’m going to honor him in a modified way: at least one poem a week. I hope you will like the poetry, dear readers! Please feel free to give me your feedback. Thank you for being part of my life and for letting me be part of yours.

All That Matters

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Pumpkin at ScoutsI’m nearing the end of two years of faithful blog posts for Tennis, Trisomy 21 and Taking in Life Together, celebrated a(nother) birthday yesterday, and am beginning this evening two weeks of vacation. I haven’t taken this many days off for nearly four years.

And here’s what really matters most: the two people in this photo, my daughter and husband.

Heaven Right in Front of Me

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Draussen vor der Tür!I have always been fascinated by living with very few material possessions and nourished by memories of my maternal grandparents’ home in rural Pennsylvania.

Reaching the foot of my grandparents’ driveway was quite an adventure: steep hill upon steep hill for miles on dirt roads that opened to far fields and farms, creeks (or “criks” as we pronounced them), pine trees that stretched to an endless sky, and a few homes and hunters’ camps.

My grandparents lived on a small mountain overlooking a road that led to a town named Emporium. Their house was modest but felt like a castle to me. At one time it was home to them, their six children, and, during deer season, a lodge for hunters who literally helped feed the family. It was clean, sparse, and filled with books, a few images of the Holy Father and his Son, and magazines.

I could never hear enough about our vast German-American family, how my grandparents met at a dance and married when they were in their teens, how my grandmother had three of her children before she was 20 and later, after they had received college diplomas, she enrolled at a university when she was 50 and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

My grandmother and I both loved Lena Horne and Billie Jean King and my grandfather, a quiet man who never went to high school and probably preferred to speak German than English as he often did with his parents and many of his 15 siblings when he was young.

In a way, my grandparents are why I’m living in Hawaii, why I believe in seeing heaven right outside my door as I did this morning when I took this picture. They taught me how to dream, how to reach high like all those pine trees, how to be kind, generous, determined and resilient. They might have thought I’m a bit sentimental, although legend has it that my grandfather would secretly shed a tear after his many children or grandchildren left his home after a visit.

To this day my grandparents are still with me every mile I begin and finish in this heavenly mystery called life. I know they greeted me when I first stepped outside today and looked at the mountains and glorious sky.

 

Father’s Day and Gratitude

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Meine FamilieWell, our Father’s Day was a success, and my appreciation for it has increased at least a hundred times once I saw images of families separated at the border who are trying to enter the United States.

I was stunned, and on the Monday after Father’s Day I closed the door to my office a few times and cried.

Never did I imagine that in my lifetime I would witness people elected to serve their country push the envelope of human decency by ripping children away from their parents. In fact, my husband and I made a decision to leave Germany with our daughter, who was then a baby, and moved back to the United States where we are citizens because for our bright, beautiful girl born with an extra chromosome, America is still the Land of Opportunity where she has a better chance of realizing all her potential.

And now I’ve read that Donald Trump’s former campaign manager has refused to apologize for his sarcasm about a 10-year-old girl with Down Syndrome who reportedly was separated from her mother in South Texas.

What has this country come to?

Have any of the men and women who have endorsed separating families ever spent time in a cage? Have they ever had their children taken from them?

As challenging as parenting can be at times, I look at our new Father’s Day family portrait with renewed gratitude for the welcoming community we have found in Hawaii, for our neighbors who embrace our daughter, for her wonderful teachers who bring out her many strengths, for all the joy she and we have discovered here.

I wish I could package some of that joy up and send it to the families and especially the children at the border.

Tapering for Father’s Day

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MarathonWhen the regular school year is over, many students and faculty disappear for family vacations or individual travel dreams. Some work summer jobs away from school, often outdoors, and return looking tan, fit, and refreshed. Still others appear for a few hours or so at school for summer sessions and then leave for the rest of the day.

I have always found that hanging around less a few times a year at work is better for everyone, especially in small learning communities where the intensity during the traditional academic year can be like training for a marathon week after week with the same people. All distance runners I’ve known take precautions for overtraining. Many are wise to savor the camaraderie of running together but also appreciate a few miles just on their own (while grateful for the distances they’ve reached with friends).

Which is my segue into my Father’s Day weekend post!

As many followers of this blog know, I’m an administrator (or facilitator of philanthropy as I like to be called!) at a small, wonderful school in Hawaii. I’m also a marathoner, a father of a young child and a poet.

We’ve now crossed the halfway mark in June. And I’m feeling it! The miles that I start to log in usually start the second or third week in July when I’m working to prepare for the new school year are really catching up with me now, some 11 months later. And I still need a strong finish for the two weeks left in the current fiscal year!

But I’ve been a facilitator of philanthropy in small learning communities for 22 years now. And I’m training for my 22nd marathon. In fact, in a few hours, I will start my long run of 20 miles before I start to taper down for my event in July.

So after this weekend I will be in taper mode — officially tapering off at work for a few weeks and running fewer miles to save my legs!

I’m not a great traveler, but fortunately I live in Hawaii in my family so I’m not yearning to find a dream destination. I’m already living in the most beautiful place on earth!

Instead, I’m celebrating after my training today with a new haircut, by savoring Father’s Day weekend with my husband and our daughter, and gradually becoming a bit more scarce at work for the rest of June and early July.

And not only saving my legs, but saving myself from burnout.

With or without a new haircut, I want for my sake and my colleagues’ sake to make myself a bit scarce during the one time of year when I can, to show my face a little less, to enjoy hours of Quaker silence before all the noise returns.

Why? So that I can stay in good shape for many, many more marathons — both the actual and metaphorical distances in life that I would miss terribly if they weren’t part of my life.

 

Up and Running

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MarathonWell, Dear Readers,

I guess my last post was a little intense, so let me aim for more lightness this time!

To stretch a theme a bit, I’ll just write that I’m lighter on my feet today!

As a vegetarian and a marathoner, I’ve had some excitement with proper nutrition and when I’ve had my blood drawn for yearly physicals.

I’ve learned to take the results that come back from the blood tests in stride (no pun intended!) and ask doctors questions when I need to.

Advice to readers: don’t be afraid to ask questions when it comes to your health. If a doctor makes you feel that you’ve offended him or her by asking too many questions, look for a new doctor. It’s better to ask than to websurf and possibly drive yourself or those near and dear to you crazy. Being frozen by fear is pretty pernicious for the mind and body.

If you reward your body, it will often reward you. I’m training for my 22nd marathon. Recently, my new doctor asked me why. I gave him the best answer I could: “I love training and being part of marathons.” I assured him my personal best days are several years behind me and that I’m not overtaxing my body. I have embraced being slow!

He asked good questions about maintaining good health, and I did additional reading and consulting with him on vegetarianism, distance running, making sure I get enough protein, vitamins and recovery after training as a middle-aged runner.

I’m excited to have increased my knowledge base in the last few months so that I can run and enjoy three marathons between now and January. As frugal as I am, I celebrated this past weekend by purchasing an expensive pair of running sneakers. I’ve worn them the past few days and feel like I’m walking on clouds!

Suicide is Not Painless

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Ruckmann-by Kubota!My last post, this past Wednesday, was a tribute to my fellow bloggers, two of whom I feel have become friends even though I have never met them in person! Their writing is inspiring. One blogger usually writes about food; the other about many topics, including her successful battle to like eating again.

I received permission from BeautyBeyondBones to “draft” off her recent post about “10 Things I’d Say to 15-Year-Old Me”: https://beautybeyondbones.com/2018/06/05/10-things-id-say-to-15-year-old-me

Her posts often speak to me, as if we are sharing a good meal and conversation about how we’ve overcome life’s challenges. Her writing is fun, relevant, honest, purposeful and imbued with faith but not preachy.

I left myself time for the weekend to draft off BeautyBeyondBones’ theme of looking back on her life and what she wishes she could have said to herself when she was younger and struggling with her eating disorder.

Some of my own followers have thanked me for writing about growing up and fearing I was probably gay but making it through that dark tunnel that took decades to navigate and finding Light at the other side.

Then Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain committed suicide this week.

My drafting theme for this post has changed a bit. Rather than write about staying true to oneself, it may be more relevant for me today to write about staying alive.

I’ve tried twice to commit suicide.

The first time, I was barely 18, a sophomore at college who had a good eight years of daily verbal and physical blows sent my way because I was gay.

At that time, it seemed to me the whole world was ready to make that proclamation.

But I wasn’t.

I endured. Until one night, hungry, I went to the large cafeteria in my dorm hall. All I wanted was to eat and mind my own business. I sat down at the end of a table alone. People at the other end started passing notes and snickering. I waited them out. Eventually, they left. I read the notes. On one of them I saw the words, “Better be careful not to breathe the same air as the faggot at the end of the table.”

Devastated, I left and walked upstairs past a lounge on my way to my dorm room. Beautiful, healthy college students engaged in lively conversation stopped speaking when I walked past. As soon as I did, they started laughing about “the skinny faggot.”marathon

I made it to my dorm room. A message had been taped to the door: “Watch out for the faggot who lives here.”

In a trance, I walked to a classroom building known as the Hall of Languages. I entered an unlocked room, moved a desk near a rope holding a map of the world, tied the rope around my neck, and jumped.

The world was dark until found myself staring at the section of the map and the country in front of my eyes: Austria.

The rope had broken.

I thought at the time, “If I want to succeed and receive my degree early, I better go back and study.”

A few years later, I received a Fulbright Scholarship to study and live in Austria.

The wonderful Fulbright Commission in Austria extended my scholarship a second year so I could write poetry in German, English, and French and teach in a secondary school.

In my second year in Austria, a man who lived near me began a friendship. We were both 23. We went to movies, played tennis. After a few months, he said he wanted  a relationship.

I had never had a relationship with a man. In high school, I dated two wonderful young women, and in college, I fell in love with a woman from Japan. Years later, I realized I had also fallen in love with a man. But actually having an intimate relationship with a man, something for which was very clear to me would make me an outcast in a straight world that was the only world I had known, where I hadn’t been welcomed as a teenager, and had even been beaten up physically, not to mention verbally taunted relentlessly, was not in my life plan. I didn’t think I had the courage to dive off the deep end into a same-sex relationship.

But I tried in my young 20s in Austria.

The man and I became intimate. (And thank goodness in a safe way.)

And then he dumped me and never explained why.

And at age 23, I poured myself a warm bath, ate a good meal, sat in the tub, and threw in a radio so I would be electrocuted.

I was literally so shocked I jumped out of the bathtub!!

And survived.

Unlike the first attempt, I let my parents know. Back then, people didn’t write emails. I called them and heard the desperation in their voices. A week later, I received cards from both my mother and father, both telling me how much they loved me, both imploring me never to try again to take my own life.

And I never have.

Many years and one failed marriage to a woman later, I found the man of my dreams. We have been together 16 years, 8 of them legally married. We have a stunning daughter. I live for them and for me.

marathonSince my two suicide attempts, I have had a successful career, finished 21 marathons, successfully coached tennis teams, had poetry published, have found friends all over the world, have found my dream home in Hawaii.

And had good counselors who have helped me look at the dark tunnel of doubt and loneliness and pain and see all the Light that surrounded me and the people who have loved me and whom I have loved.

I’m so grateful that decades ago I failed at my two suicide attempts. I was lucky.

I must have had a few angels at my side who guided me through my 20s and 30s and 40s.

And a desire to run another mile no matter what happens.

My prayers go out to the families of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain and to any family or friend of someone who has attempted or succeeded at suicide.

Please, whoever is reading this post, if you ever have a thought of ending your life, please reach out to others. Talk with them, cry with them, whatever it takes. Share a meal, many laughs. As my mother once wrote me after my second attempt so many years ago, “Please go to a place where you can hear a child’s laughter and see people who love each other and know that life is good.”

Finding Community

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Ruckmann-by Kubota!One of the unexpected benefits of blogging these past two years has been joining a worldwide community of bloggers!

A few months after starting my blog, I noticed patterns of “likes” from friends and other writers. I was flattered! Then I started reading other blogs, including one from a young woman in Canada who stopped writing posts because she felt too squeezed for time with her full-time career. I felt sad and read in her comments section that many of us hoped she would one day return to her blog.

Two of my regular followers, both women, live on the Mainland, one in the Midwest and the other on East Coast. I love reading their writing! It’s a favorite part of my day, like how I used to feel when I lived in Baltimore, awoke early, and trained for marathons with an amazing group of women at 5 a.m. or earlier before we left to get ready for work but only after we had solved the world’s problems! (It was fun being the token male!)

With the Hawaiian time zone five and six hours later than the Midwest and East Coast, I awake early after most of the Mainland has been up for a while, read posts from my favorite fellow bloggers, and start my day inspired.

Let me give gratitude and shout-outs to them:
https://whatsfordinnermoms.com
and
https://beautybeyondbones.com

To use a running term, I “draft” off these writers, just like I drafted off my marathon teammates in Baltimore who are far better runners than I’ll ever be! I miss them.

Drafting off a runner or writer, or anyone who inspires you (poets come often to my mind or musicians with whom I’ve played in orchestras — another topic) is a compliment as long as decent etiquette is followed.

If I’m in a marathon and looking for inspiration to help me finish the next mile, I will sometimes begin a light conversation with another runner, often someone I’ve never met, and stay with that person for a while, even try to emulate her or his pace and style for a while.

This week, the author of https://beautybeyondbones.com wrote a post that I keep thinking about because I found so much resonance in her words that give meaning to the many miles I traveled to gain confidence and my self-esteem, and, fortunately, survived in doing so.

I asked https://beautybeyondbones.com if I could draft off her topic. She told me it would be an honor.

With that setting up for my next post when I will draft off beautybeyondbones this weekend, I will say good-bye for now, but I have a brief postscript: I told my husband that finding this community of bloggers is as rewarding as the many miles I ran with my friends in Baltimore.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all meet in Hawaii, run a mile together, share our writing and a meal or several together, talk story as they say here, and stay friends for life? I am ever hopeful!