Happy Valentine’s Day!


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FeiertageHappy Valentine’s Day, Dear Readers, from my family and me!

May your day be filled with joy.

I rarely do this, but if you are heartening for a Valentine’s Day movie, I recommend Three Colors: Red by Krzysztof Kieślowski, a film that has taught me everything I’ve wanted to know about life. I’ve seen it nine times! Take the movie in slowly and if you can’t speak afterward, that’s perfectly fine. I’ve seen it often with friends and loved ones (after the children have gone to bed as the themes are a bit intense and complex) and we sit in silence for a while — and usually I’m the only Quaker in the crowd!



Teaching Moments – Part 2


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Ruckmann-by Kubota!The end of my last post was a cliffhanger.

I was surprised by the very kind responses from readers of my blog. I don’t consider my life to be that exciting!

But I’ll continue where I left off on Wednesday: I was barely in my 20s, had spent a year in New York City working for an attorney for the German Consulate, had modeled a bit to see what it was like, had written for a weekly newspaper, and attended Business German classes at New York University.

My full-time job was in a very small law office. I was by decades the youngest person there. But part of my work was finding and translating documents in German at the New York City Municipal Archives and New York Public Library, glorious quiet places filled with books and history. My modeling, weekly newspaper assignments, and courses at NYU helped me through the jungle of New York City — and the loneliness.

I was a very young man in the ’80s, and although I would not admit it to myself at the time, I was (and still am) gay. Truth be told, the decade was probably the worst to come out of the closet. The AIDS epidemic was reaching new heights every day. Articles in New York City newspapers back then were filled with accounts of young men covered in lesions, dying excruciating deaths, and shunned by their families, even friends and doctors. I was terrified which in retrospect might have saved my life.

So in addition to my growing fascination with my heritage — an aunt had recently reestablished contact with the part of the family in Bavaria that had stayed behind in the “Old World,” and wanting to keep my promise to my grandfather to become truly fluent in German — I was also scared out of my wits about being gay.

I was ready to flee New York City and immerse myself in the German world. I applied for all kinds of jobs and graduate school programs. Then, to my shock, I received a Fulbright Scholarship.

I’m not brilliant like my husband, who received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate from Harvard. But I can have a fearless streak. When I was interviewed by the kind people from the Goethe-Institut, New York, I was relaxed and told them about learning everything I could about my grandfather’s family, how I savored hearing that he and his 15 siblings and their parents would say their prayers in German in their farmhouse in a remote hamlet in the mountains of Pennsylvania, how much I enjoyed the Business German classes at NYU and how I loved to read Rainer Maria Rilke in German.

About a month later, I received a letter from the Fulbright Commission stating that while many applicants wishing to be in German-speaking country would be in Germany, some teaching assistantships were available in Austria. Would I be interested?

Guess what my answer was?! It involves a monastery.

To be continued … !


Teaching Moments – Part 1


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Ruckmann-by Kubota!I’m an administrator at a small private school in Hawaii.

How’s that for an exciting lead?!

I wanted to be a writer for Sports Illustrated. After I graduated early from college and one of the best journalism schools in the country, I applied for many editing and writing positions. While working in a doughnut shop, I also saw a tiny ad in The New York Times for an assistant for an attorney for the German Consulate. I was intrigued.

I had squeezed four years of college into three. One of my regrets was not being able to  enjoy the classes as much as I hoped nor take fun electives because I wanted to save money and graduate early, with honors if possible.

I had chosen Magazine Writing and Creative Writing to be my duel major. I took German literature courses, but felt I had a bit of a home-court advantage — and a bit of my grandfather’s Bavarian-Pennsylvania intonation. When a professor asked me if I would consider being a German major,  I said, “Oh no, German is Grandad’s language. I want to be a journalist.”

So when I saw the Times ad, I thought, “Boy, I could improve my written German working for an attorney and enjoy what amounts to a fourth year of college while I am in the work world.”

Long story short: I was offered the job. For a small-town boy, living in New York City was exciting and terrifying. I worked for the attorney and as a freelance journalist and model. I also attended Business German classes at New York University.

After a year, I knew I wanted to live in German-speaking Europe. I applied for graduate schools everywhere in Germany, called friends of friends of friends living in Germany to see if they needed an assistant in their business or to be a handyman for anything.

Then the shock of my life happened: I received a Fulbright Scholarship.

To be continued … !


In this World but not of this World


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Ruckmann-by Kubota!A few days ago a person caught me off guard in the middle of a week filled with deadlines when I was still grieving for the loss of a brave friend who twice tried to overcome cancer. My patience was not limitless for an extended, uninvited conversation. I had hoped as much as possible to keep to myself that day, to savor silence.

The person started yelling. I said I would be happy to talk any issue through, but I’m a Quaker.

Maybe I’m not masculine enough to want to engage in yelling contests. Maybe I take way too long to process. Maybe for most of my life I’ve looked at way too many angles, the dreaded overthinking.

What happened in midweek made me grateful to be a Plain Quaker, to embrace gentle, peaceful discussion and to savor silence.

It also made me reexamine how I can keep up the two existences I lead: engaged with technology, trends, and all the noise of my public and professional life, and my choices in my private life — living as simply as possible and staying faithful to the Light in me (and in all of us) without the layers upon layers of distractions that the modern world presents. In a sense, I withdraw from the world whenever possible when I am alone during non-working hours. As a husband and father whose husband and daughter are not even Quakers let alone Plain Quakers, that usually means about 10 hours a week not counting sleep! I hasten to add that my husband has as an astonishing reservoir of patience for my choices in life.

It can be a challenge to live and be successful in both worlds, but I’ve learned to sprint when sprinting is needed in public and to appreciate the hours whenever and wherever I can quietly enjoy and practice my faith, a journey longer than even an ultramarathon.


Australian Open


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MarathonDear Readers,

I would not be doing the title of this blog justice if I did not write a little about tennis, especially during or after one of the game’s four major championships.

As the years go by in parent- and husbandhood, it’s been harder for me to devote as much time as I would like to the sport, either by getting on the tennis court or spending hours watching it on television.

But there’s nothing like a Grand Slam tournament to pull me back into thinking about the game. As a kid, I wanted to play like Connors, Evert, and Borg, have the grace of Ashe or Goolagong. Later, when I lived in Austria, I was into my German phase: Graf, Becker, Stich. Before marriage 15 years ago and parenthood eight years later, I played in a men’s singles league that was ridiculously competitive for this Quaker guy who believes that the joys of being an athlete can be found on peaceful turf. Hence, I turned to long-distance running!

So here I am, a middle-aged guy trying to relate to the recent winners of the men’s and women’s championships at the Aussie Open, both of whom have taken home more prize money and fees from endorsements than my entire vast extended family — many of us teachers or school administrators — will ever earn in the classroom. Roger Federer and Caroline Wozniacki are two players I will likely never meet as I did Evert, Graf, and Goolagong as a tennis reporter. Their playing styles would be difficult for me to emulate even if I had the time, unlike the hours when I was young and practiced my two-handed backhand and grew my hair long like my idol Björn Rune Borg!

So how can I relate?

Well, this quote from Wozniacki:

“As an athlete, you always want more, no matter what it is — if you win one Slam, you want two. There’s always more… At the end of the day, sometimes you have to be nice to yourself and just go, ‘You know what, this is a day-by-day process. As long as you put the effort in, that’s all you can do.’ ”

And this reporting about Federer:

“The nerves returned for the Swiss … Even after 20 grand slam titles, the tears gushing down Roger Federer’s cheeks after winning his sixth Australian Open crown on Sunday.”

Before Federer’s final, one of my best friends reminded me I have finished 21 marathons. Why yes, I guess like Wozniacki stated, I always want my body to do more, even if my legs are begging for a break. And like Federer, I often cry after a marathon because no matter how many times I complete one, I still can’t believe I’ve done it!



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Dear Readers,

I was all set (no pun intended) to offer a rare tennis post to you today. After all, the name of this blog is Tennis, Trisomy 21 and Taking in Life Together, and the Australian Open, one of the sport’s four major tournaments, just ended with two stunning champions in the women’s and men’s singles.

But after reading a Facebook post this morning and taking it in all day, I’ll wait until my Wednesday post for the Aussie Open.

Instead, I want to dedicate my weekend post to an angel named Ann.

AnnThrough her husband, my best buddy in college, she also has a connection to tennis.

Ann lost her long, brave fight with cancer a few days ago. To quote her husband, “Ann left her earthly body behind and passed on to the next realm.”

I only met Ann a few times. She was one of the most beautiful, natural, kind, generous angels one encounters while being alive in this realm, the realm that allows us to read this post, the realm that allows us to feel frustration and elation when raising a young child, the realm that allows us to dread an impending visit to the dentist, to decide how to spend a Sunday evening, to ponder what our work week may look like, what appointments we choose to keep and to forego.

Ann would have handled all of this with grace, made it look easy, and never — not once — would have complained.

Ann was married to the man who gave me hope, who turned my life around. Whether he knows it or not, he saved me in college when we were both aspiring journalists. He had the courage to get to know me and then invited me to change my dorm room, on paper a simple turn of events.

Except that a few months before, taunted beyond my high threshold of tolerance of suspected of being gay in the ’80s, I had attempted suicide.

I did not succeed. Luckily.

Chris brought me into friendships and acceptance that saved me at college. He played tennis with me. When he invited me to meet his family and his stunning girlfriend and later wife, I could only love her.

So many times in life we take people for granted.

I always knew Ann was an angel. My heart is heavy tonight for Chris and for their daughter Diana named after our beloved Princess Diana.

When I joined a volunteer meeting at our YMCA today in Hawaii, a state Chris has always loved, and sat with my young daughter for two hours, I could only think of Ann, how much she would given to have those hours in this realm with her daughter, how much she would have contributed in modest ways to the gathering, of her gentleness, of her astonishing aura.

I sat across at the Y today from a young woman with a young daughter. The woman has Stage 4 cancer. Gently, after reading her body language and receptivity, I told her everything I knew about teas and other ways to survive, even though I do not myself have cancer but have lost too many friends who have been unlucky and I have read everything I could to figure out what can one do.

I never asked for the name of my new friend at the Y today. I only wanted to emulate my dear Ann, to try to be an angel.



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Dear Readers,

I learned this week that I’ve had a poem accepted for display at an international conference!

I started writing poetry when I was 7. My first poem was published in our school’s parent newsletter. Years, I mean decades later, I’m still thrilled when I have a poem accepted in a publication or for a display.

In my teens, I once had a poem included at a state cultural expo. A national or international conference, though, is a first.

I encourage my students to go out on a limb and share their writing. To receive recognition for doing so is an unexpected reward, like completing another marathon! For me, the hours spent becoming a better writer are like the many miles run to prepare for a marathon. Not every mile is exciting, and some are accompanied by aches and pains, but getting to the finish line is heaven!

I am grateful to:
1) My daughter for inspiring me to begin this blog where I first introduced the poem I wrote last summer.

2) My husband for putting up with me.

3) All of you for inspiring me to continue my blog after I had reached my goal of writing every weekday for an entire year. Your feedback is wonderful!

4) Amelia Earhart, one of many courageous pioneers I have always wanted to know more about. She was a woman ahead of her time, but in so being, she brought more attention to Civil Rights and inspired others to soar higher.

This was the poem I submitted:

The Ballad of Amelia Earhart

All I wanted was to fly higher,
to find endless skies.

Men determined too much of my life:
a father, giddy from flights of wine
who came crashing down
from his career and then we had to leave
one town after another until I found
more promising horizons and offers
to soar into the unknown.

But why did fame always greet me
with men who wanted marriage
to keep me safe and home?

I had to prove them wrong,
to fly higher and solo,
to hold my own and not drown
if I came too close to the sun.

All along, though, I knew
someday I would come down
so far that I would never
again leave the ground,
and men who ground me forever
except when they decide to tease me
about my one last flight
as if perhaps I’m still around
like a myth who never leaves
with wings intact or broken,
whose final act is interrupted,
tragic and unspoken.

Written by Rüdiger Rückmann
on 8 July 2017

Everything I’ve Ever Wanted – Almost


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NeujahrAround this time last Saturday — just one week ago even though it already seems like last month — I was waiting anxiously in a hospital basement with my husband, our young daughter, and many others. Some of us, like me, were still in our pajamas.

We had been warned about a ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii and this was the real deal. About 20 minutes later, though, another message that appeared on our phones confirmed what most of us had been praying for: a false alarm.

A week has passed, and on my two-mile walk home from work, I pass two grand cemeteries, including the Royal Mausoleum of Hawaii. I have no fear of cemeteries. When I was very young, I bought a plot near my beloved grandparents, who had not yet died, in what was known then as the “German cemetery” behind the “German church” in a small mountain town in Pennsylvania settled by Bavarians. Everyone laughed a bit at that time. Now, decades later, a few of my cousins wish they had done the same.

I have always found cemeteries peaceful and fascinating, knowing they are filled with history. Every person who has a place in a cemetery has had a life, some long and fulfilling, others perhaps equally long but lived with some degree of disappointment.

I seldom let my mind go to what for me would be the most tragic stories in a cemetery: lives that ended way too soon and unfairly although it’s a given that life is not always fair.

Since leaving the hospital a week ago that became a temporary shelter for a few hundred people wondering if we were going to live another day, I’ve realized that if it were just me knowing that I had only a few more minutes left, I would be at peace.

For real? Yes. I’m middle aged, and I still have plenty of personal and professional goals, but along with the inevitable lows that come with many hopes and dreams, I’ve also tasted the highs. In fact, I consider myself extremely blessed.

I want my daughter, though, her classmates in her elementary school, the students in the high school where my husband and I work, and for that matter all young people to have their chance.

I’ve decided last Saturday to be more mindful of ways I might be selfish, to be a better parent, friend, teacher and coach, to strive to give more even if I’m nudged out of my comfort zone. It’s a way to give back and to thank all the adults and young people — family, friends, role models (some of whom didn’t even know they were!) — for helping me navigate the intriguing, at times frustrating, but ultimately satisfying and always worthwhile marathon of life I’ve been privileged to live.


Perfect Timing


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Ruckmann-by Kubota!Since I moved to Hawaii four years ago, a state so breathtakingly beautiful that I’m still in disbelief every morning I wake up here, I’ve noticed a repeated pattern that must have a deeper meaning beyond anything I’ve ever heard or read about: when I look at a clock — at home, work, anywhere — the time is often precisely on the hour or half hour.

It happens when I wake out of deep sleep and check the time: it’s 2 or 4 or 5 a.m. It happens when I’m at work, look at my computer, and see 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. When I am home in the evening with my family and decide it is time to eat, it’s 6 or 7 p.m.

Rarely when I check is the time not to the hour or half hour, say 5:17 or 11:12, for example.

I’ve never owned a watch nor an alarm clock. Friends at college could not figure out how I never missed a morning class.

I come from generations of farmers. In their honor, I greet the day before the sun or rain do. I sleep when it’s dark. I try to live simply, not turn on a light unless I absolutely have to. When I lived in a monastery, the monks used to say that we arose at 4 a.m. so our prayers would be heard before the world was filled with noise.

But until I moved to Hawaii, I never experienced the phenomenon of time almost standing still on the hour or half hour. It’s almost like I’m in a movie where a greater than life message is being imparted to me.

Only that I don’t know what that message is.

Dear Readers, could any of you share your wisdom about what this could be?



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AlertWell, Saturday sure has been eventful!

Around 6 a.m.

My husband and I teach our seven-year-old daughter not to stand in front of the refrigerator demanding cookies for breakfast. A few minutes later, I tell her she can turn on all the lights in the house when she is able to pay the electric bill. We mix in lessons about patience and gratitude for our modest but comfortable house, for the joys of a weekend, for her hula class in a few hours, for the YMCA down the road that has become our second home.

Around 7 a.m.

I start to write my blog post for the day as my daughter plays in her room and my husband, a teacher, starts to write letters of recommendation for his college-bound students. I make tentative plans to run a few miles to my office to get ahead with my work before joining my family at the Y.

Around 8 a.m.

Life changes rapidly. My husband receives an alert on his phone about a ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. My phone has the same message. Quickly we check the local news. Nothing. Finally, on PBS Hawai‘i, we find the warning. All this happens within two minutes. We hear our neighbor yelling. My husband and our neighbor head for the car. Unshaven, I throw off my pajamas and throw on a shirt and shorts. I pick up my bewildered seven-year-old daughter. She loses a sandal. I try to retrieve it but my husband and neighbor are in the car and tell me there is no time.

We head for a hospital a mile away, park, run in, and take an elevator one floor below with a long waiting ramp that leads toward the medical radiation treatment area. We are joined by patients, hospital personnel, and residents of Honolulu, old and young, frightened but also friendly. We reassure each other. People check their phones for the latest news. I need to find a bathroom but wonder if it is worth leaving my family. I decide to take the risk for a few minutes, wondering what the impact of a ballistic missile would feel like. I tell my family I love them. I wish, in our rush, that I had grabbed my grandfather’s rosary.

Around 8:30

I come back to my family. I ask my husband to text a friend who is well informed about security in emergencies like this. Miraculously, the friend writes us back twice: the first time, he does not know what is going on, then, about five minutes later, his news helps us all breathe easier. A half hour has passed. We let our neighbor and our sudden friends at the hospital know we are safe. Our phones tell us the statewide alert was a false alarm. We head home with our neighbor.

Around 9:30

Our daughter is dressed for hula. I’ve shaven. We’re ready for the Y. My husband tells me I need to change the theme of my blog post for today. I try three times to call my mother on the Mainland but cannot reach her.

Around 10

We see our friends from hula. One of them tells us her sister and mother had run to their garage that morning, lay on the floor, and sobbed uncontrollably for about 15 minutes. The wonderful manager at the Y tells us about the concrete-fortified basement with enough food for five days. I shake his hand and breathe better knowing that the Y will be our new destination if we ever receive another alert like we had just a few hours ago.

Around 11

Halfway to my outdoor running goal of 4 miles, I reach my favorite large tree. I hug it. On the way to it, I take a little extra time to say hello to people.

Around 11:30

Nearly back at the Y, I stop at a cupcake shop I had always passed by. The family who owns it — a mother, father, and two young sons — open up to me that when they received the alert they held each other, said “I love you,” and then opened their business. We make a point of saying our names to each other. I let them know that I work right up the street and will visit again soon.

Around Noon

I need more running time. As I finish a few more miles, I watch the news on the treadmill screen. I learn that the alert was sent after an employee at the State Department of Defense and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency pressed the wrong button.

Around 1

We head home. Our daughter still has school assignments. My husband and I still need to catch up on work and laundry.

Around 3:30

I finish this post. We’re headed for the grocery store. I’m left wondering if this had happened in another state, would people take to the streets, say enough is enough of having a sense, since the last presidential election, that we’re on a slippery road on a high cliff and with much luck have not yet driven off.


We’re pretty laid back in Hawaii. I’ve noticed people being kinder to each other and a few more hugs than usual at the Y, but in many ways it’s another warm Saturday afternoon, grateful for a few uneventful hours.