A Birthday Present for Latvia

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Ruckmann-by Kubota!Jelena Ostapenko celebrated her 20th birthday today by reaching the final of the French Open!

Ranked 47 in the world, she is the first unseeded player to reach the final when Mima Jausovec was then playing for Yugoslavia 34 years ago.

For tennis aficionados: Mima reaching the final in 1983 was not a complete shock: she won the title in 1977!

Ostapenko is from Latvia. Both Jelana and Mima hail from countries once led by communist governments. (Mima is now head coach of the Slovenian national female tennis team.)

Given a general feeling I have that the world has moved into a more precarious place since the last presidential election in the United States, I consider Ostapenko’s win today a victory for democracy!

One of three Baltic states, Latvia was long under Russian rule and Soviet occupation. It regained independence not that long ago in 1991. Many people in the Baltics are a bit uneasy about current relations with Russia.

I’m sorry to write that there may be (quite) a few citizens of the United States who know very little about Latvia. Ostapenko’s astonishing run at the French Open this year, though, may prompt more Googling about Latvia’s location and history.

Athletes have long shown that sports can transcend politics and bring us closer together. Happy Birthday, Jelena! Good luck in the final and thank you for showing great courage on a world stage!

Do Happy Endings Really Happen?

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Ruckmann-by Kubota!Yesterday I wrote about my family being featured in a national promotion for diversity and inclusivity. Life is definitely a marathon, but it sure is nice when all the miles invested in training make the vicissitudes of the course a little easier to navigate. If my family’s story can help others along not only in preparing for the unexpected, but also in enjoying the highs and lows of any marathon, then I can pay forward all the times when a little encouragement has gone a long way for me.

I also wrote about tennis legend Margaret Court and her decades-long mission to deny gay men and women the right to marry and have children together. Margaret has ramped up her vitriol considerably during the French Open, currently in its second week. The woman whom Margaret has gone after directly for years, fellow West Australian Casey Dellacqua, has reached the semi-finals of the women’s doubles. Wouldn’t it make a great happy ending if Casey won the tournament with her playing partner Ashleigh Barty? It would be her first Grand Slam victory.

What about you, Dear Readers? Do you believe in happy endings? Would you like to share any on this blog?

 

Small Steps Forward

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Ruckmann-by Kubota!If Serena Williams were playing the French Open this year, she and the woman whom she is looking to tie as winner of the most major championships in tennis, Margaret Court, would be the talk of Paris mostly for their achievements on the court.

Serena is enjoying the tournament, but as a spectator this year as she is many months pregnant.

Margaret decided during the tournament to ramp up her decade-long rant against gays and same-sex marriage. A fellow West Australian, Casey Dellacqua, who is still in contention at the French Open, has for years been on the receiving end of Margaret’s tirades. Margaret claims she likes Casey personally but can’t condone Casey’s decision to have a woman as a life partner nor their parenting their two children.

If the world were in a more normal place, Margaret would probably be mostly ignored. Unfortunately, with the new occupants of the White House, all ground gained in the last decades in Civil Rights is no longer guaranteed.

A friend recently asked why I write about this. After all, he said, I have a nice life and my husband and I and our daughter who was born with an extra chromosome have been largely accepted by the communities where we live, work, and play.

My response is that I still get hit with Big Macs (why not a wrapped Double Cheeseburger?!) and people will yell “Fag” at me when I’m walking down the street minding my own business. Even in settings here in Hawaii very  familiar to me, I hear comments and questions — not always kind, occasionally laced with disdain — about my style, mannerisms, choices, and sometimes about people of all ages who are figuring out their sexuality and identities.

I’ve learned, more often than not the hard way, not to take it personally. To answer my friend’s question more specifically, as long as I have a voice, actually as long as I can breathe, I’m going to live my life and write and speak so that people like Margaret Court might wake up one day with a willingness to imagine what it’s like to walk in my shoes (or tennis sneakers) even if she never can (nor I in hers).

Change happens. For many years I did what was expected when work colleagues, friends, relatives, and close family members would talk endlessly about dates they had gone on, their children, their marriages, their weekend activities. I was expected to take in all this, be friendly and supportive, but never talk about myself. But every once in a while I would pop in with something like, “You know, I went out on a first date with a guy a friend introduced me to. I think it might have been our only date!”

I would be greeted with snickers or ignored. Once in a while, I would be taken aside and told I had been “offensive.”

Times have changed, slowly, but actually more so than I ever would have imagined. My husband and child are recognized as full-fledged members of my vast family. We are accepted in our work and faith communities where the majority of our friends are straight. I actually don’t define myself as gay or straight. I’ve never been a huge fan of labels.

I’m also happy to share some really good news: I found out yesterday that my family will be featured by a well-known organization for its national promotion of diversity and inclusivity. This is an organization founded well over 150 years ago in part to improve the health and well-being of people in countries throughout the world.

It’s funny, but on my walk home yesterday, after finding out this news, I thought, “For this to happen makes all the Big Macs that have landed on me, the thousand times in my life I’ve been called ‘Fag,’ the bruises from being beaten up, it has made all of that worth it.”

I never have thought of myself as Mr. Advocate. But if I can help anyone move to a place of greater acceptance of differences, then I have my answer for “What’s it all about?”

Four Degrees of Separation: Evonne Goolagong

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Ruckmann-by Kubota!Evonne Goolagong won the French Open the first time she played the tournament, the only player in the Open era ever to achieve this.

Guess what? I once played alongside Evonne in an exhibition doubles match. Truly. If I were on the Mainland, I would find the framed picture I’ve kept (and will keep forever) and include it in this post. Since I moved to Hawaii more than three years ago, though, I have never been back to the Continental United States. Given the current occupants of the White House, I’m in no rush whatsoever to cross the Pacific.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Evonne, not only because of the French Open. Before I played in that doubles match with Evonne against Pam Shriver and a former anchor with CNN, I had the privilege, perhaps even trumping the honor of meeting a Pope, of having a one-hour interview with Evonne for an article I wrote for a tennis publication.

When I overcame my severe fear of flying and visited Iceland for a week, the afterglow lasted 10 days when I returned to the Mainland. After I interviewed Evonne for one hour, the afterglow of her spirit, graciousness, aura, and je ne sais quoi lasted at least that long. I lightened up, a nearly impossible feat. After our  interview I wanted to do good things for the world.

Many players on the men’s and women’s professional tours, tennis legends like Martina Navratilova, and tennis fans around the world want Show Court 1 renamed the Evonne Goolagong Arena following the latest inflammatory comments about gays and same-sex marriage by Margaret Court for whom the stadium is currently named.

Is Margaret entitled to her opinion? Sans doute! Does her privilege to exercise free speech carry responsibilities? Sure. If you want to be portrayed as a loving compassionate person of faith, then don’t speak like a bigot. Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King have a stadium and an entire tennis center named after them. Both fought most of their lives for equality.

Evonne Goolagong will be forever associated for her graciousness and lifelong advocacy of inclusiveness. She is currently traveling across Australia to encourage Indigenous young women and men to stay in school and enroll at tennis camps sponsored by her foundation so they gain confidence as athletes and scholars.

Martina Navratilova has pointed out that sporting venues are named for a person’s “whole body of work… who they are as human beings.”

Margaret Court’s cruel ranting for decades against LGBTQI people isn’t free speech. It’s hateful speech that promotes bullying endured every day by women and men of all ages. Read my blog post, Margaret, about my being called a fag last week and getting hit with a Big Mac. I could laugh about it this time around. Decades ago, when it happened the first time, I sought answers no teenager should have to ask: why do people hate me? Only through love, tenacity, luck and finding caring communities do I know now that hatred is not about me — it’s about those who throw Big Macs and shout loathsome words and much, much worse. It’s about people like Margaret Court preaching from a very privileged perch.

Preach all you want, Margaret. If the stadium remains named in your honor, though, I hope it will remain empty.

Friday Picture Post: When Viewing the World from a Pineapple Makes Sense

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Pumpkin bei Dole PlantationGiven the decision by Trump and his close advisors to ignore what is staring everyone in the face — our climate is changing so fast that Antarctica will soon be green and a major tourist destination — life makes sense to me at times like this when I stop trying too hard to make sense of it.

After a few conversations with close friends and my husband, I go back to what gives me hope: making time to be more active so the world will be a healthy place for my child and all children. I want them to look forward to viewing the world from an oversized pineapple or other vantage points and see trees — palm trees, maple trees, birch trees, any trees will do — clear, blue skies, and water they can drink safely and swim in.

One of my close friends told me after the presidential election that now more than ever people need to become more resilient to decisions imposed upon us by the new occupants of the White House. This resilience can take the form of art, poetry, other forms of writing, community activism, taking on leadership roles in faith groups — in general taking on a more active role rather than passively despair.

And still enjoy and appreciate life! And keep disappointment in perspective but taking delight in what we have: the joy and innocence of children and the possibility of making the future better for them.

A (Margaret) Court of Opinion

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Ruckmann-by Kubota!For a tennis player, especially alegend, to have the last name of Court, is pretty remarkable. What has become, sadly, even more legendary about Margaret Court are her vitriolic remarks against gay people and her stance against same-sex marriage.

Court, who acquired her last name through marriage, hails from Australia. Although she won a record 24 Grand Slam singles titles decades ago, nearly half were won at the Australian Open, in her day — it was usually held around Christmas — far and away the Grand Slam tournament with the weakest field. The tournament, now one of the most popular events on the tennis calendar (and held in mid-January) turned itself around. Margaret, a critic of homosexuality for decades, never did.

Court became a Christian pastor in her second career. Recently, in a letter published in The West Australian newspaper, she wrote that she would stop flying Qantas “where possible” because the Australian airline “has become an active promoter for same-sex marriage.”

Soon after, she offered a few more volleys for Sky News: “God made man for woman and woman for man to go and multiply the earth.” “Well you know two men can’t multiply and two women can’t.”

The center of the universe for women and men on the professional tennis tour is right now in Paris, and many players, including fellow West Australian Casey Dellacqua, have stated that they have put up long enough with Court’s passing shots.

After Martina Navratilova, a young rival during Margaret’s final years on the tour in the ’70s, won her last Wimbledon, Court said Martina was not a good role model due to her sexual orientation.

In another interview Court called homosexuality “a whole plot in our nation and in the nations of the world to get in the minds of the children.”

Dellacqua experienced both Margarets: the tennis player who practiced with her on the court, and the preacher who blasted her off it.

Dellacqua has two children with her female partner. After the birth of their son four years ago, Court wrote a public letter lamenting that “this child has been deprived of his father. … I simply want to champion the rights of the family over the rights of the individual to engineer social norms and produce children into their relationships.”

Dellacqua did not respond at the time. Yesterday, she had had enough.

“I’m very conscious of the fact that everyone is allowed their opinion, but when you start singling out my family especially, that’s when it’s not OK.”

vor einem Jahr-small-1For me, marriage is all about two individuals committing to one another in life, for life, through thick and thin. That commitment, whether between two women, two men, or a woman and a man, goes a long way in providing a healthy environment for raising children.

“Tennis is full of lesbians,” Margaret Court has said often when complaining about women’s tennis.

Although Margaret is certainly free to express her opinions, she chooses to ignore a great deal.

In her day, Margaret’s playing style was considered very “masculine.” She was tall and lifted weights. Her style on the court was a relentless serve and volley attack. Generally, though, she was praised for bringing more athleticism to the game rather than mocked or worse as Navratilova was in the ’80s. Double standard, anyone?

Many of Margaret’s doubles trophies were won with partners who are gay. Her most famous rival, Billie Jean King, now a gay activist, put everything on the line to establish the women’s professional tennis circuit from which Margaret profited. During the early years when the women’s tour was struggling, Margaret played it safe until national tennis federations finally approved the Women’s Tennis Association founded by Billie Jean.

Many players are considering proposing to Tennis Australia that Margaret’s name be stripped from the stadium bearing her name on the Australian Open grounds.

The United States National Tennis Center, site of the U.S. Open, was named in Billie Jean’s honor. Billie Jean received standing ovations. Courage is rewarded — and lasting.

5 Degrees of Separation: Maria Shriver

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Dear Readers,

I’m home today with a fever, so if my writing is a little off, please forgive me!

While struggling to get out of bed for a cup of coffee, I saw a news segment about Maria Shriver leading an event this Sunday with prominent journalists hosting panel discussions in major cities about topics that include fitness, food, nutrition, and sleep.

The event, MOVE FOR MINDS, will bring women together to increase awareness of Alzheimer’s as a women’s disease and the need to raise research funds to find cures. Participants will be encouraged to take part in workouts that challenge them physically and spark neural activity in the brain. The event will also promote brain healthy food and lifestyles.

My daughter, like most people born with an extra chromosome, is susceptible to Alzheimer’s. For Ellen and others who have Down syndrome, Alzheimer’s tends to appear 10 to 20 years earlier when compared to the general population.

Ellen - BabyWhen I first held Ellen in my arms a few days after she was born, I knew she would lead an incredible life. (But don’t most parents feel that way?!)

When she was a few months old, an early education specialist visited our home. She asked me if there had been an official diagnosis. I said yes but asked why she asked. “I’ve been around a lot of children,” said Sharon. “She is so alert. There is so much going on.”

It may not have exactly been at that point, but soon after my husband and I intensified our research about Down syndrome. We learned a lot about nutrition, lifestyle, early education, physical activity. We joined a wonderful online forum for parents of children born with an extra chromosome. We met parents of teenagers who had graduated from high school. Unsere kleine Katze

As all parents of children who are “different” know, it can be at times a lonely path. But we have been blessed by the encouragement and knowledge of many astonishing women and men whom we call Team Ellen.

We are also lucky and grateful for Maria Shriver and others for their courage, humanity, activism and advocacy. They inspire and engage scientists, philanthropists, politicians, industry leaders, and ordinary people like my husband and me who together may accelerate finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, especially as many baby boomers will be staring it in the face or in the faces of their loved ones.

Ellens EssenThere is a lot of hope. Ellen has been following a nutritional regimen since she was six months old. My husband and I feel like it has made quite a difference. She loves nothing more than to climb walls at the YMCA! She is verbal (at times a bit too verbal) in two languages. With patience, her fine motor skills are improving. Most recently, a link in the online forum Ben and I belong to featured an article about a drug in trials that could reverse the progress of Alzheimer’s.

So what about my 5 Degrees of Separation from Maria Shriver? In my work in philanthropy, I once spoke with Sargent Shriver, Maria’s father, who was first director of the Peace Corps and former president of Special Olympics who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2003. Thank you, Maria, for looking out for women like my daughter. Because of your advocacy, you inspire me to do my part.

A Tale of Two Cousins

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Ruckmann-by Kubota!A colleague came into my office today and talked a little about faith. I work for a private school that is affiliated with a faith tradition. In fact, I’ve worked most of my life in small, faith-based private schools that are inclusive.

I want to note that while this kind of work environment is very rewarding, these schools also have budget goals that need to be met. I’ve been working in the philanthropy field for over two decades. I’ve always been inspired by learning about people’s life stories, and it is an honor to become acquainted and sometimes even friends with donors. But deadlines abound for most of the year. By meeting financial goals, I help the school, students, parents, and colleagues.

So a rare, short conversation about faith with a work teammate on a quiet summer day is a nice change of pace.

My colleague asked if I consider faith a big part of my life. “Absolutely,” I said. “Why,” he asked. I smiled and said there are many reasons and I look forward to talking about them in the years ahead. He smiled as well and said, “Fair enough.”

After he left, that brief interchange got me thinking about faith, fate, and my friend Gail.

I met Gail in one of the schools I worked in as a German teacher. I’ve been lucky that in addition to having full-time jobs as a fundraiser, I’ve also been allowed to teach German at my workplaces a few hours a week for about 15 years. I’m able to get to know students and families on a different surface, so to speak. It also helps me keep a promise I made to my grandfather that I would always keep our family’s heritage language part of my life and try to pass it onto others.

Gail is one of those people in life to whom people gravitate. She is smart, optimistic, fun. She gets things done. I always wanted to get to know her better, but at the same time I had a funny feeling I already knew her.

Then one day our six degrees of separation became two, possibly fewer.

Gail showed me a document written in old German script and asked if I would translate it for her. I immediately recognized it was a marriage certificate from 1903. Then I read further and the name Herzing appeared. “That’s funny, Gail,” I said. “That’s my mother’s maiden name.” Then my eyes scrolled down the piece of paper a little more and widened considerably. “Hold on, Gail. Johann Herzing resided in Pegnitz [in Bavaria]. That’s where my family comes from.”

We looked at and hugged each other. “We’re cousins.”Gail

And have been all our lives but didn’t know it. Or maybe on some level we did even before my husband and I completed a thorough translation of Gail’s document.

Gail and I didn’t grow up together, and for much of our lives we lived in different cities and only met when I began working in a Waldorf School in my 30s. Now, though, Gail is part of my family and related to my daughter and by marriage to my husband who also taught Gail’s son.

So yes, if readers of this blog don’t know already, I’m a big believer in fate and faith. I’ll never have either of those weighty topics figured out, but seeing signs of each is one of the reasons I get up every day!

Friday Picture Post: Summer has Begun

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Dear Readers,

What an intense 11 months since this blog began! Even in Hawaii, where the weather does not change a great deal ever, though, the pace has changed and it’s starting to really feel like summer.

For our daughter, that will mean learning math, hula, Hawaiian language and culture, exploring the island with her parents, and enjoying her new hobby of painting!

For her dads: preparing for the new school year, reading, training for a marathon, and for this blogger, imagining myself in Paris or London by watching the French Open and Wimbledon!

I wish followers of this blog a wonderful holiday weekend. I hope you will be able to devote time to savor something new or familiar, on your own or with your family. See you back on Tuesday!

Pumpkin malt