Free Like a Bird: Being What You Are and What You Ain't -- and Flying High.
Here I am reporting live and on the scene for the TV cameras at a recent gala event in Worcester, Mass. It was at the Festival of Lights opening of a new ice skating oval on the common outside city hall.
What? I ain't no TV reporter!
Bear with me. I'll explain.
If you live on the same planet I do, you know that everyday life is super serious and nonstop busy. We all must deal with unending to-do lists, iron-clad schedules, running here and there, and crises large and small.
That's life. But it can get old, be a real drag, and create all kinds of stress -- which can lead to serious health issues.
So once in a while, why not take a break from it all? By that, I don't mean going irresponsible or dropping out from life or taking your standard vacation. Far, far from it.
I mean venturing outside your comfort zone to experience more of what life has to offer, and to fly like a bird.
First step: empty your brain of all the usual, conforming, day-to-day thoughts. Now you are ready to go where you wouldn't ordinarily go, do something that you wouldn't ordinarily do -- and revel in it.
Instead of how you live now, you go with your inner flow. You replace reality with fantasy. Before you know it, you might just become who you really are and, just as important, who you ain't.
As I said, I ain't no real TV reporter. (Would you believe that I used to teach English?) But I did something I never do and, well, you see the photo above of me being what I'm not (See, I can write correct English) and loving it.
With December 21, 2012 looming, if you're ever going to spread your wings and fly, you'd better do it now. Oh, you didn't know that 12/21/12, four days before Christmas, is doomsday? Well, for your information, that's when the 5,125-year Mayan calendar comes to a close.
At that time, according to many "believers," the world as we know it will end. As believers around the world scramble to prepare for Armageddon, you're there shopping for Christmas -- and stuck in the same-old same-old?
Not me. I decided to be a bird, a TV reporting one, an ice-skating one, a hiking one, a doomsday-denying one.
"Just for the hell of it," I said to my wife Barbara, "I'm going ice skating tonight."
I never voluntarily go out at night. Never, never, never.
She looked at me funny.
"Yeah, tonight. The new outdoor ice skating oval is opening in downtown Worcester. Might be interesting. I don't know when I'll be back."
My good wife was OK with that.
She knew I would not be out drinking and getting into a fight in a bar. Nor, with my lothario days long over, would I be chasing women. Nor would I be going to a strip joint to leer at dancers for hire, though I do plan to interview one later and write about her.
I think that my interviewing and writing about a stripper is okay. In doing so, I'll be going to where I shouldn't, where I don't belong, and where who knows what I may learn -- about a person, the stripping life, us, our world.
But for now, I got out my skates and went out the door.
By the time I got to downtown Worcester, parked, and arrived at the oval, the place was already packed with people and ablaze with holiday lights. At 12,000 square feet, the oval is larger than the storied rink at New York's Rockefeller Center.
A serenade of piped-in holiday music gave the setting a festive air. All the city pols were there mixing with the crowd and being interviewed. Lt. Governor Tim Murray, City Manager Mike O'Brien, Mayor Joe Petty, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern all spoke, praising the oval as a huge achievement rejuvenating downtown and bringing people together from all walks of life.
Choirs from Worcester public schools sang holiday songs. Beth-Anne Duxbury of Paxton, a professional figure skating coach, organized a figure skating exhibition which began at 6.00 p.m. With my skates drooped on my back for the public skating to begin at 6:30, I walked around enjoying it all and taking pictures.
People were giving me a second look. "Look, a greybeard going skating," one youngster said to another as I passed by. They got a chuckle out of that.
"Hi," said a man with a camera. "I'm from Worcester Magazine. Mind if I take your picture?"
I was surprised. But, hey, why not? "Sure," I said.
He snapped it with the oval in the background and asked me for my name. I gave it to him and he wrote it in his notebook.
"Now you have to take one with my camera," I said.
Finally, it came time for public skating. As a life-long hockey player -- I went to Merrimack College on an ice hockey scholarship -- I quickly found my skating legs.
Okay, to tell the truth, I did a little showing off.
"Hi, can we talk to you?" said a voice behind me. It was a reporter with a TV camera man.
"Sure." I was beginning to feel like a celebrity.
"Hey, you don't need me," the reporter said, handing me the mike. "Here, just talk to the TV camera the way you have been talking to me."
So I did. And, with the TV camera rolling, the reporter took a picture of me with my camera. The resulting photo is the one that starts off this story. I never saw the interview on TV but a friend said he saw some of it on Fox TV.
"Look," he said to his wife. "There's George on TV."
Pretty weird, I know. But, then again, we are NOT talking here about normal.
The next week I decided to play a little hockey with my son Jon, 44, near where he lives in Berkley, Mass. I played regularly with his group last year, but this would be my first time this winter.
Most players are in their 40's and 50's. Some in their 20's and 30's. A few are in their 60's. I don't know for sure, but at 74 I was probably the oldest player. To select the two teams, we throw our sticks on the ice. The sticks are picked at random into two teams.
Jon and I were on opposing teams. "I hope you are not thinking payback," I said to him.
He just smiled, giving me no clue as to whether he was going to crunch me into the boards or not. (He didn't.)
My team got wiped out. The other team simply had the strongest skaters. But it was a great workout and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I felt that I had held my own. I didn't score but had a couple of good chances. I did not feel the least bit out of place.
Of course, this could be -- and probably is -- delusional. But I think delusion is good, if it makes you feel better.
I was wearing the USA jersey that I wore some forty years ago in a multi-nation European tournament in Switzerland. I told Jon that I was going to try to play more often this winter.
The next abnormal thing on the agenda was that Barbara went out to Seattle for ten days and I stayed home -- by myself, without adult supervision of any kind.
Barbara was going to Seattle to help with our daughter's four kids while she and a friend prepared for a grand opening of their new business (a nail salon). Barbara and I had just been out there together this summer and I didn't see a need for me to go again; I would be excess baggage.
Then came a timely phone call from an old friend from way back, Bill Murray. Bill and his wife Tracy live in Nantucket. "It's time," he said.
A man of few words, he was saying that it had been too long since I had been in Nantucket and that I should get my ass there. "You know, Bill," I said immediately, "you're right. I'm coming."
We decided then and there that I would go to Nantucket for three days, starting on December 6, the very day Barbara was flying to Seattle.
She had no problem with that. We may be married, but we are both as free as birds. Actually, didn't I say earlier that I AM a bird? I thought so. And if suddenly out of the blue sky, I chirp that I'm gonna fly off to Nantucket, I know I do so with Barbara's love and support.
Same the other way around, of course.
Being the adult in our household, Barbara immediately started working on making sure I didn't get lost (map-questing directions to Hyannis), have everything I need (taking charge of my packing), and making sure I know what has to be done while in the house by myself (detailed to-do list).
Then December 6 came. After goodbye hugs in the kitchen, I drove off at 9 am. At 3 pm, the limo came to take Barbara to Boston for the flight to Seattle. Texting each other along the way, we both made it safely to Seattle and Hyannis.
And, wouldn't you know, I came to a veritable treasure of Hyannis history, the JFK Museum. I didn't even know that Hyannis had such a place.
I went in and spent a solid hour visiting Camelot. Hyannis, after all, was the legendary summer home of the Kennedy clan. Below is a group shot of the clan from the early Hyannis days.
The photo on the right is of Jackie Kennedy at Hyannis Port in August of 1960. It was after the Democratic convention and before the national election. I had never seen these photos of happy Kennedy times before the tragedies to come.
While in the JFK Museum, I could not help recalling President Kennedy's assassination. I was in the little village of Kisii in Kenya, East Africa, getting my 1961 red VW serviced. I was teaching in Kenya.
The Asian mechanic came up to me with hands clasped, head bowed. In a soft, halting voice, he said, "Sir, I'm so sorry sir, but I must tell you that your President, President Kennedy, he has been shot. The radio says he is dead. I'm so sorry, sir."
And he backed slowly away. I was the only American in the village. One after another, Africans came up to me and expressed sorrow at the loss of my President. Those were the days when Americans were not only respected but loved.
The time I spent in the JFK Museum, completely unplanned, was an unexpected, thoroughly engrossing bonus. When you just wander around, curious, daydreaming, completely out of yourself, you never know what you may find and learn.
"Well, we discussed a few things like that."
Then two of us, as we always do, proceeded to do our quixotic thing. Mornings, Bill and I went to our favorite hangout in Nantucket, Centre Street.
There we spend a couple of hours reading The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, sipping coffee and munching on raisin toast or a bagel -- and barely saying a word. Bill is shown at left outside our hangout.
Then for the rest of the day, we hiked around Nantucket, which has lots of open fields, untouched forests, and woodsy walking trails. I found the Squam Swamp with its beech trees especially beautiful and entrancing.
Bill and I are both very physical. And when I say we hike, I don't mean a stroll around the corner. For all three days, we kept up a mean pace for many miles, most of the time hardly saying a word.
Instead, we took in the varied sounds and sights of the natural world everywhere around us -- great trees, winter winds, flitting birds (the female birds excited at seeing me), scurrying squirrels, and often a serene almost reverential quiet.
Even a short time in a natural environment has significant -- and measurable -- emotional and mental benefits. According to new research, untamed landscapes are restorative, calming frazzled nerves and refreshing a cortex tired of nothing but problems.
Psychologist Ruth Ann Atchley of the University of Kansas has quantified how even brief exposure to the outdoors makes people more creative, happier, and better able to focus. Reporting on her findings, Jonah Lehrer of The Wall Street Journal, wrote: "If there were a pill that delivered these same results, we'd all be popping it."
Writing in the New York Times, Jesse McKinley, who is going through a divorce, said that his therapist advised him to "take a hike." It wasn't a blow off. He wrote that it was "like, you know, outside, among trees and trails and stuff."
Now, in my opinion, there's one good divorce therapist.
One day, Bill and I added swimming to the regimen at a pool in a local school. Bill kept up a furious pace for a full mile. By unspoken agreement, the swimming was not competitive. We both swam the same distance but at our own pace. I did a more leisurely breast stroke. So Bill, no winner. Agreed?
In between extreme hiking and swimming, Tracy treated us to delicious meals. Despite being super busy at her job, she somehow managed to rush home and have a home-cooked meal waiting for us. Sometimes Bill and Tracy's son Tyler, 28, and Margaret (Maggie), 20, joined us. As young adults, they have their own friends and busy lives. (Bill, a builder and skilled woodworker, recently retired and now does occasional jobs.)
At night, Bill and I lost ourselves in movieland. The movie, "My Cousin Vinny" with Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei, had us both laughing.
One night, we did something else I had never done before. The three of us, along with about 10 others, went to a friend's house to watch a documentary of astronomers and other scientists explaining what December 21, 2012 means.
Afterwards, we all sat in the host's living room to discuss what we had just heard. Typically, Bill and I didn't say a word. We just listened. But other guests spoke at length of the spin of the earth, the pull of the moon, the arc of the sun, while explaining the astrological meaning of December 21, 2012.
As this learned and civilized discussion took place in Nantucket, thousands of frightened people were hurriedly making their way to the earth's supposed one safe haven from doomsday. It is Bugarach, a tiny village of about 200 in a remote, mountainous area of France.
The inflow of believers -- locals call them "esoterics"-- is expected to swell the population of Bugarach to as many as 100,000. Such a population surge would, in effect, be the end of the village as its current inhabitants know it.
Well, what about our world? The conclusion of the documentary we saw in Nantucket and the discussion afterwards was this: our world is not going to end on December 21, 2012.
So be a bird.
Take deep, deep breaths. Relax. Take a break from the fears and stress of everyday life. Go someplace you've never gone before. Do something you don't ordinarily do.
Go for a hike in the woods, a long leisurely one. Your brain, sighing with relief, will love it. So will the rest of your body.
Look around. Wonder. Imagine. Fly.
There's no telling what you will see and what you may learn. You may well end up feeling healthier and so much better about yourself and the world.
And, who knows, you may get your picture taken by a magazine reporter or even be interviewed on TV.
So long and keep moving.
Seven Tips for Surviving the Apocalypse
P.S. If the world as we know it does end on December 21, Brian McFadden, cartoonist for The New York Times, illustrated seven tips for surviving the Apocalypse. They are summarized here:
1. Use potatoes to recharge electronic devices to flaunt your potato wealth to the starving masses.
2. With the internet likely to go down, print out the entire internet.
3. Use printed newspapers for kindling, clothing, and insulation.
4. In the new dystopia, find a poor person to advise you how to eat.
5. Read textbooks approved by the Texas Board of Education on how to rebuild society.
6. Use spray paint as your new Facebook.
7. Avoid archeologists. They'll only spoil the apocalyptic fun.
Labels: 12 21 2012, end of times, getting away from it all, hiking, Hyannis, ice skating, JFK Museum, Kennedy assassination, Nantucket, personal growth, self discovery, self fulfillment, stress, stress relief, Worcester