Finding Normalcy

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In a week of incomprehensible actions and inactions by the chief occupant of the White House, I’ve been heartened and disheartened by the responses and non-responses to Donald Trump’s refusal to single out white supremacists and neo-Nazis who rallied just one weekend ago in Charlottesville, Virginia.

I don’t know about readers of this blog, but my new norm is to check the headlines every couple hours on my computer, stare at them for a few seconds in disbelief, take deep breaths and sometimes a five-minute walk to process, and, if I feel the world is in danger like I did a few weeks ago when Donald was thumping his chest about North Korea, start to recite The Lord is My Shepherd.

HulaAnd then I look for reassuring ways to make life seem normal again: take our gorgeous daughter to hula class, or plan a mildly exhausting but satisfying family outing on one day of a three-day weekend. (I love that Hawaii observes three state holidays connected just to Hawaii in addition to recognizing national holidays!)

Or dig below the top tennis headlines to find out about the vicissitudes of careers of players who probably aren’t household names. There have been a few this weekend. Melanie Oudin and Vera Zvonareva have tasted the highs and lows of the professional tour for many years. After health setbacks and a few comebacks that have stalled, Melanie has decided to retire. She had many memorable moments early in her career when she was very young, particularly at the US Open, but she now is struggling to win matches on the ITF Tour, the minor leagues for professional players. Vera just played her first match on the main tour in two years after taking a long break to get married, have a child, and earn another Master’s degree. She now hopes to qualify for the US Open where she was once was a finalist.

I take in all this news — too much at times — and have to drink lots of water so I don’t get dizzy and start to overthink about which Democrats or Republicans may retire or strive for comebacks, about which fans may respond to them, about which sponsors — in Donald Trump’s case corporate chieftains, his arts council, and members of his evangelical advisory board — will hold true to them.

And then I go back to basics or what has become for me the familiar and beloved: family time, raising a child, checking off work deadlines.

In her retirement tweet, Melanie Oudin thanked friends and family, coaches, fitness trainers, physios, sponsors and her agent. I wonder if Donald will thank as many people when he retires. Not to overthink again, but I wonder if he might want to retire a little early rather than strive to stay on the political circuit in Washington, D.C.

I’m a ways from considering any kind of retirement. I savor what I have now: parenthood, family, a satisfying job in a great school. Like Melanie, I know what I appreciate most: a team effort.

 

 

Mahalo, Senator Schatz

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I was probably too stunned to cry last night, and I think I still am.

What I can do is thank Senator Brian Schatz, from the great state of Hawaii, for inspiring me after he stated “As a Jew, as an American, as a human, words cannot express my disgust and disappointment. This is not my President.”

I am now stating that as a gay man, as a human, as a father of a daughter born with an extra chromosome, as a citizen, I am forevermore beyond hope for the current occupant of the White House.

Sure, as an optimist, I’ve thought that Ivanka and Jared might have had a few meaningful conversations with the grandfather of their children. Or that Elaine Chao, who came to the United States as a young immigrant from China, might wake up at midnight, decide that enough is enough, resign, and show greater loyalty to her husband, Mitch McConnell, whom Trump has publicly humiliated, than to the man who nominated her as Labor Secretary. Or that Melania might say to her husband, “Take a good hard look at yourself in the mirror and ask what messages you’re sending to our young son.”

But even if any of those scenes actually played out, I truly doubt it would change what Trump has now broken: faith that the person occupying his current office will protect and preserve civil rights.

There is a silver lining: more and more citizens of the world are expressing out loud their commitment to diversity, inclusion, and to respect the rights and worth of every individual.

 

 

Many Sides

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Even before yesterday, Charlottesville and for that matter vast parts of Virginia would not be places my husband, daughter, and I would travel together. We have strong connections to West Virginia, but we won’t be walking down streets in that state holding hands together anytime soon either.

Since Donald Trump moved into the White House or has visited upon occasion when he isn’t staying at his resorts at taxpayers’ expense, much of the United States no longer feels safe to me. On my own, I might “pass” for straight (although even many of my friends may dispute that!), but I sure would be giving my real identity away were I with my husband and our daughter who was born with an extra chromosome.

Mark Twain, who hailed from America’s heartland, once wrote of Hawaii, “It is the only supremely delightful place on earth.”

No place is perfect, and as a guy of northern European heritage who can’t speak Hawaiian pidgin, I am reminded at least twice a week by well-meaning and sometimes not so well-meaning people that I did not grow up here. But all in all, in the part of the state we live, my family has been warmly embraced by the communities where we work, live, learn and play. We’re even featured by one of those communities in a national diversity effort.

It does take effort, and in many cases years, to open minds and hearts. A decade passed after I came out of the closet before some of my immediate family could acknowledge publicly, without embarrassment, that I am gay. After I brought my husband to a family reunion as my husband, the first time a same-sex couple in my vast family had done so, I was chastised for being a little too open about the nature of our relationship. Now, fortunately, I have several gay cousins, many of whom are also raising children, who no longer have to pretend or be subtle and taciturn in ways no one has ever expected from a straight member of my extended family.

My husband and I are very grateful for ending up in a part of the United States where we can be proud of who we are and raise our daughter to be proud of who she is — and appreciated.

Donald, do your part so that all families can feel this way in the other 49 states you are president of. By condemning yesterday as an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” rather than calling it by its name, white supremacy, you’re making the Land of Opportunity a No Man’s Land.

The Little Things That Help Us Get Through the Day

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Ruckmann-by Kubota!After a pretty lousy night’s sleep, I climbed out of bed grateful for a new morning.

With a six-hour time difference from the Mainland, I usually watch news reports about the Continental United States that is well into its day.

Fortunately, this morning, my daughter insisted on watching her show while she did advance homework for second grade.

That gave me a little more time to brace myself for the latest headlines on my computer like Guam Threatened, or the more terrifying North Korea to Create ‘Enveloping Fire’ in Guam.

For me at least I’ve come to expect the completely unexpected from the chief occupant of the White House. Yesterday, I thinks it’s safe to say I was one of millions he scared the dickens out of, especially, and most immediately, women and men on Guam, with his threat that North Korea will be “met with fire and fury.”

Here’s an idea: why not have the Commander in Chief, who actually never served in the military, leave the comfort of his extended vacation at his golf resort and fly to Guam and other places in our neck of the Pacific to offer a few reassuring words?

The likelihood of that happening? I think it’s more possible that Billie Jean King, who is the same age as Donald Trump, will come out of retirement and win Wimbledon again.

So in this current twilight zone of looking ahead to the future and trying to greet it with hope rather than dread, what are a few of the little things that keep me grounded?

  1. Helping my daughter navigate her first days of second grade
  2. Talking with my husband but knowing well enough not to overtalk
  3. Having very concrete goals at my job and checking them off
  4. Keeping track of daily tennis results
  5. Taking walks
  6. Writing
  7. Responding whenever possible to anyone I see with kindness and gratitude

What is helping all of you, Dear Readers? Whether in Guam, Hawaii, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., or anywhere else, we are all in this together. Let’s reach out to each other.

 

Spouses and Consorts

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Ruckmann-by Kubota!Before I was married the first time, I learned my wife to be was the direct descendant of a baron which I guess made her a baroness.

So what would that make me? Well, technically speaking, given the country of her heritage, I was allowed to receive her styling which would have made me a …

A source of great humor for my running friends in Baltimore, a group of women whom I met after my divorce who are far better athletes than I ever will be and who taught me how to endure thousands of miles, whisk away pain, laugh at myself and at world events over which we had no control but great insights at 5 in the morning as we trained before work!

You cover a lot of ground, literally, when you prepare for marathons, and lively conversations make the miles more enjoyable. My running companions included specialists in medicine, science, journalism, and my own field, advancement, so I always looked forward to hearing about their assignments and accomplishments and about their families and their past lives.

My past included my first marriage which probably accounts for my heightened interest in royalty, not a surprise for a gay kid raised by hardworking parents who were the first in their families to attend college. My grandparents worked on farms, factories, and in my maternal grandmother’s case, in classrooms after she received college degrees in her 50s after raising six children.

In other words, my roots are pretty humble, but I had a wealth of role models who influence me to this day. As a young gay man, though, reading about royalty provided escapism from some of the darker moments I made my way through. By the time I was lucky enough to be part of my favorite running group in Baltimore, I was older, dating men, and could recite trivia to my friends about quite a few princes and princesses. It helps to laugh when you are a distance runner, and my role in life to some degree has been to provide comic relief. We all need to give back some way!

I’ve thought of my friends from Baltimore in the past days after having read headlines like Denmark’s Prince Wanted to be King. So he Refuses to be Buried Next to his Wife the Queen.

Oh boy.

For those who want to know, Queen Margrethe II is head of state in Denmark. Her husband, Prince Henrik, who received his title and styling after his marriage, has been pretty grumpy for the last 40 years or so because he was never made a king consort, merely just a plain old Royal Highness. His most recent pouting has included a statement that he no longer wishes to join his wife in a glass sarcophagus carried by silver elephants after their deaths. So the queen, now 77, will rest there alone when the time comes.

Well this sure puts my concerns about the world in perspective!

Wait, we have a president who in his first six months in office has all of us holding our breaths wondering if one of his early morning tweets might end our lives and who is now embarking on a 17-day vacation.

Oh how I miss my friends from Baltimore. We would have found resolutions to all our concerns, including poor Prince Henrik and Donald Trump, by 6 a.m.!

They also would have reminded me, now that I am married to a man, that I’ll never again have to wonder if I received or should have received my wife’s styling!

But wait, aren’t we all equal anyway or shouldn’t we be? Come on, Henrik and Donald, join our Baltimore running reunion in Hawaii, share a few miles with us, and we’ll convince you!

 

Overtraining

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Ruckmann-by Kubota!Dear Readers,

It’s one of those funny times of the year.

My daughter has not quite started second grade although she will in a few days (they start early in Hawaii) and she’s been attending summer enrichment programs (a fancy name for summer day camp!).

After approaching the end of my fiscal year at work and driving my family bonkers as I was seeking a strong finish, I have a rare week or so where I can regroup and gear up for the new year.

After preparing for my 19th marathon a few weeks ago and driving my family bonkers as I was seeking a strong finish, I have a rare month where I tell myself a couple times a day: Don’t Overdo It!!

It can happen easily. After an unexpected surge of energy and endorphins at both work and during the marathon, I felt great, extremely fit, and relieved. I had made new friends, wrote a poem (my last post before today for my blog), made inroads into the new fiscal year at my job, worked with my daughter on her penmanship and sentence structure, attended a concert with my family.

And now I need to allow myself to take a few extra hours off from work before I can’t with a busy autumn around the corner, enjoy the wonders of sleep, not overdo it with comforting pasta and comforting MSNBC.

And savor moderation!

It would be so easy to fall into the mindset of “Gee, I can have more pasta and sauce if I were to spend an extra hour on the treadmill!”

Wrong.

Instead, I can use that hour to seek out fresh vegetables and berries (I am a vegetarian after all) and save some freshness in my legs by paying attention to the twinges in my ankles and calves.

This is a time where if I maintained the pre-marathon pace, injuries instead of regeneration could set in. I’ll look for a pool, a nice yoga mat, a good walking trail, or a few more concerts with my family. I’ll strive not to overthink, but that could be harder than running a marathon!

Hawaii Kai

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Deep in Hawaii Kai the ocean opens
like a generous shrine of blue under a sky
crossed by winsome clouds of white.

We ran toward it and turned away
to face mountains before the sun broke through
and reminded us of the silly sacrifice

of grinding through miles on legs finding
stretches of roads fresh with morning rain
before we runners came, our faces etched

by too many hours of pain but fed by hope
and sweet faith that these extreme distances
lead to something more as we called out to each other

heads bent by exhaustion, voices strained
but awakened by knowing we were not alone,
that the path had become clearer and suddenly our own.

It’s been five days since I left Hawaii Kai and friends I met
for the first time. I wait and wonder if I left too soon
or if now I need to let go, half healed, altered and spent.

Written by Rüdiger Rückmann
on 28 July 2017

Marathon Letdown

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Ruckmann-by Kubota!Yes, dear readers, it’s happened: the marathon letdown.

I’ve met the letdown before, but never this bad. Then again, the marathon I completed last Saturday was like no other I had ever run.

I’ve competed in marathons with 5,000 athletes and thousands of spectators cheering us on, in cities, on trails through wooded areas, past skyscrapers, rivers, oceans, over railroad tracks, on bridges, in rain, snow, stepped on autumn leaves or morning frost. I’ve received finishers medals of all sizes and shapes, been saved by volunteers handing out water and other replenishing liquids including beer! I’ve run entire marathons talking most of the time with friends — either partners I’ve met on the course or those with whom I’ve trained for years — or in complete silence.

So having run miles of all kinds in a dozen different places, why is part of me on Wednesday still with the 40 or so athletes on that difficult course in Hawaii Kai from last Saturday?

Because even though my legs are still tired, I rediscovered an idealism about sports and perhaps life that I thought had maybe faded away like so many dreams we believe in as children or even in the heady years of young adulthood.

Most of us who ran last weekend in the dead of summer in Hawaii Kai were probably in the 35 to 55 age range. Many of us showed strain on our faces as we climbed Heartbreak Hill to complete the next mile. And yet we all shouted encouragement to each other wherever we were on the course, smiled past the pain, lifted our heads to nod to each other, used dwindling reserves of energy to give each other high fives. And when we finished we shared our relief, properly introduced ourselves and even our families who came to support us.

I likely won’t see a lot of friends from last weekend again, many of whom traveled a great distance to Hawaii Kai. But I won’t soon forget this marathon that has made me embrace anew the many miles we run together.

More Miles and Gratitude

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Number 19!Well, dear readers, I did crawl my way to the finish line. Actually, I ran on one leg and dragged the other, probably looking like a wounded kangaroo as I hopped along the last mile to reach a personal time goal and complete my 19th marathon.

For a good six hours afterward, the runner’s high kicked in. Nothing bothered me until 11 p.m. when I woke up crying out with painful cramps that interrupted a blissful sleep. I stood up and staggered out in the dark hoping for relief that my husband provided with an emergency massage of my legs. Then all was well again except for my daughter’s stuffy nose — as if she, too, had held out to the end and then her body let down.

At this point, a few of my 19 marathons blend together, but some stand out more than others.

Yesterday’s event will be one of those. I found out about it by accident when an acquaintance told me that there were two marathons on this island, one in July and the other in December. That was a real surprise. I had always planned to run 20 and then stop although even my husband thinks I’ll find a new goal given that I had promised to hang up the sneakers after finishing 10, then 15, then 16.

Yesterday morning, though, I told him about the parable of a man who lived in the Alps. Every spring, summer, and autumn he would go down his mountain to tend to his fields. Every winter he would go back up the mountain to his hut and wait out the cold months. One year, he knew he would not make it back down the mountain. He stayed in his hut forever.

I’m nearing my stay in the hut phase for marathons. My husband and I will do one together in December, his first and my 20th in our 15th year together. Life doesn’t always present such lovely numbers. But to reach this symbolic mark of togetherness and tenacity with my husband, I needed to squeeze in my 19th marathon at a time when my training has been on the lighter side.

Perhaps that really helped yesterday. I joined a group of athletes for an event that over the years had grown from a training run for extremely fit runners to an ultra run for with men and women from 11 states and Canada who chose distances from 13.1 (a half marathon) to 100 miles.

Some 40 of us encountered warm temperatures and hills that would have made my parable friend from the Alps proud. We ran, walked, and crawled 9-mile loops to reach our distance goals. We often were on our own but sometimes we kept each other company. We drank water or electrolyte replenishing drinks from stations often unmanned. Very few people cheered us on, except for a few curious onlookers, but every cheer, including our own high fives to each other, helped us keep going. The scenery was breathtaking and the route reassuring. Having completed one loop, the second and those that followed seemed like familiar friends (albeit ones so new I wondered at times if I might get lost!), just like the big trees on the course where I stretched to keep my muscles from tightening too much, the rocks that became mile markers, the traffic lights that helped us reach the next destination point.

The finish was as organic as the whole experience. Instead of loud cheers and a giant clock, a dirt path in a park led to the check-in canopy tent watched over by event’s organizer who gave us finisher certificates, water, food, and his calm wisdom about endurance! In fact, Kawika gave me all kinds of assurance when I first called him about seven weeks ago to see if I could actually be part of the Hawaii Kai Ultra Run challenge.

The older I get the more grateful I am for every mile. I was not alone yesterday. In addition to the other runners and Kawika, I wore my school’s Run for Peace singlet, my daughter’s watch and carried my husband’s small running towel to rub down my leg muscles. And I carried faith that helped me smile most of the nearly six hours I willed my body to grind through a marathon course again before I finally know after December and a race I will share with my husband that I won’t be coming down the mountain for a long while.

Miles and Gratitude

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Ruckmann-by Kubota!In the days leading up to my 19th marathon, I’m washing my hands more thoroughly to make sure I don’t catch a cold the week of the marathon as I have for my last three. After going through all the hard training, the body lets down even though all 26.2 miles for the actual marathon loom ahead.

I also have taken on minor muscle strains and pulls and taken off five or so pounds I always lose during months of training and more mindful eating. My blue blisters on my toes are a badge of honor. I read about but try not to overthink the marathon course. This Saturday’s run features a Heartbreak Hill that increases from 50 feet above sea level at the base to a steep 286 at its peak.

I have my running gear, including what I’m wearing, ready to go. I’ll aim for decent sleep and no major surprises this week.

Am I starting to get a little nervous? Sure, but to be truthful in a self-indulgent way. After all, I’ll be without parenthood responsibilities for several hours before, during and after the marathon. Whatever I face on the course, I’ll be able to translate into a new chapter in my life that will include a running theme but also recurring threads like faith, endurance, mind over matter, the love of my family.

It’s one thing to be a healthy man d’un certain âge in good shape, of modest means, but within grasp of my goal of completing 20 marathons. I’m also lucky that if I stumble on the course or anywhere else I have good health insurance to help me get back up.

The headlines and subheadings today about the Senate effort to repeal Obamacare include a pretty hefty fact: according to the Congressional Budget Office, if the bill were passed, 32 million more people in the United States would be uninsured than under current law. Here’s another piece of news that stands out: the new bill would mightily favor the very wealthy who may be going prematurely gray, but not because of wondering if they can afford to fall ill.

So while I take greater notice of my aches and pains these next few days, I’m also extremely grateful that I’ll get over them pretty easily and for insurance just in case anything truly serious were to happen.