The New Abnormal

Ever since a close friend visited me in the hospital, and mentioned to my wife that we will now have to adjust to “the new normal” (post heart attack), we have batted that expression around and discussed the variety of possible changes in my/our life from this point forward.

I began cardiac rehab six weeks after my myocardial infarction, and my blood pressure and a number of other factors have been measured from time to time. By my count I am improving, so I figured health care professionals would heartily agree with my self assessment.

Sadly . . . they have been reticent on the subject.

This has led me to face repeatedly the very real possibility that my heart’s pumping power, i.e. ejection fraction may not (despite my desire and prayers) come back to a healthy percentage. I should know the verdict by December 7. [I choose not to comment on any possible allusion to that date which may come into the reader’s mind. Hush!].

And that has prompted me, today, to begin to think in terms of what I affectionately call the New Abnormal.

Whether or not you have experienced a heart attack, some other life threatening or otherwise debilitating situation, you are no doubt familiar with the universal life experience of dashed dreams, unexpected tragedy, or a simple change in plans with far reaching ramifications.

What was once the normal flow of your life is radically altered, and you enter the interim phase that sits prominently between the Old Normal and the New Normal; I call it the New Abnormal. I call it that because: (1) it is indeed NEW; and (2) it is anything BUT normal for you.

Harsh realities have a way of winning out in the end. In fact, the only way I know of to avoid acknowledging them is to enter into a fantasy world that could easily be referred to as psychotic. So, unless you want to go down that path . . . acceptance becomes the hurdle you must vault.

And acceptance rarely comes without a fight.

I don’t know what view you have for your life, or what features you have banked on, counted on, depended on in order to reach a place where you would say you have lived successfully. That varies greatly, of course, depending on factors that relate to emotion, religious faith, financial income, health, relationships, etc.

But I do know this:

every one of us has in our mind’s eye
an idea of how life ought to turn out for us.

You may not have written your idea down on paper, but you have one. You may not be able to clearly articulate it . . . but it is present, deep in your psyche. In fact, it is like the ground upon which your mental house sits; you assume it, and never question it until an earthquake compromises its soundness, or a large crack in the foundation indicates its erosion.

You trust this idea, this perspective, this emotional lens (if you will) until your mental spectacles are dropped and broken, someone else cracks the frames, or you realize (perhaps for the first time) that the images you see through those glasses are out of focus, blurry, and clearly misrepresented.

Congratulations! You have now entered the New Abnormal, where everything in your life must be looked at again; where your time worn plans, objectives, and expectations must be reevaluated and refocused; where relationship with yourself and others changes, and

what was in the past can no longer be from this day forward.

When I was young I used to observe older men exercising, e.g. walking in their slacks, etc. And I used to say something like this: “If I can’t do enough exercise to merit wearing gym shorts, etc. I wouldn’t even bother exercising!”

But today, at cardiac rehab, I walked a 2 mile per hour pace on a treadmill for 15 minutes, then rode a recumbent bike at Level 4 for 15 minutes (careful not to get above 50 RPMs), and finished with stretches. All in long pants. And not at any speed I would have honored in the past. And there is a chance that in the coming month I may receive the news (as incredulous as it sounds to me now) that I am. . . disabled.

Today . . . I was the consummate old man I used to observe as a young man.

You see, I am in the middle of the New Abnormal. I am in the process of grieving the loss of past strength and health, and discovering what expectations to construct for the future. Because no matter what happens on December 7 . . . things will never be the same again.

My initial reaction to unwelcome change is disbelief, anger, and fear. But as time goes on I will have the chance to see new opportunities. I can (as my friend, Landon Saunders, once said) learn to . . .

use my wounds as tools.

My life is not all gloom and doom now. New adventures lie ahead. New discoveries about myself, the world I live in, and the people that people that world. And if I will but surrender to the New Abnormal . . . the sun will indeed shine in my future, and . . .

A New Normal will emerge.

Photo by Carlo Mirante

Photo by Carlo Mirante

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The Making of a Widow (Part 5)

Photo by John Martinez Pavliga

Photo by John Martinez Pavliga

Anyone who has watched a sporting event where the sidelines of the competition are crowded with spectators, has no doubt been witness to, at one time or another, what could fairly be termed collateral damage.

I’m talking about the tackle in a football game that transgresses the white sidelines and hurtles into several unsuspecting cheerleaders. Or the basketball player whose post-lay-up trajectory slams him into a cameraman poised for a shot.

We’ve all seen it happen. And we’ve all felt quite helpless witnessing it. Because the truth is this: there’s not much one can do except sympathize. Before any hero has a chance to intervene . . . the unfortunate deed is done.

This was certainly true of the collateral damage caused by my heart attack. For while I was writhing in pain, uncertain of my future on this earth, others were being affected simultaneously. Maybe they weren’t in the throes of death, but they were significantly affected nonetheless.

In most lives I’m sure there is at least one BEFORE and AFTER experience.

Sometimes it represents a change brought about by a moment of high elation. But more often than not it is a life change far from our choosing, one which we would pay almost anything to avoid, one which on the surface (and usually much deeper) spells disaster and heartache.

Before my heart attack; after my heart attack.

But for my family it was: before my husband’s heart attack; after my husband’s heart attack. Before my father’s heart attack; after my father’s heart attack. Before my brother’s heart attack; after my brother’s heart attack. Before my nephew’s heart attack. After my nephew’s heart attack. Before my cousin’s heart attack. After my cousin’s heart attack.

And I could go on. Numberless friends. Former students. Beloved neighbors.

My granddaughter is too young to understand, but my grandson may remember his own unique version of Before and After. He asks me each time I see him, “How’s your heart feeling, today, Papa?”

My youngest daughter journals a great deal. The other night she read to me (amidst tears) the 20 handwritten pages of her journal which concern Before and After. I was moved to tears myself.

When you take your eyes off your own self, and you gaze at the loved ones surrounding your hospital bed, you are staring into the beloved faces of those for whom collateral damage is not just a remote concept. These are the people who, although wounded and scarred themselves by what has happened to you, have nonetheless come to offer even more of themselves if need be.

The friend who handed my wife $500 on my first day at the hospital, or the neighbor who hand washed our dishes while we were away, walked our dog, and left us $150 in cash. The families who took the time to make it possible for us to eat for at least two weeks without going to the store and preparing our own food. The next door neighbor who repaired our leaking toilet when I was too weak to even get up off the couch. The two sisters who sent us a check for $1,000. The good friend who repaired our ailing wooden fence.

Prayers have been prayed in my presence and as far away as Montana. Gift cards have been sent to us by friends and family. Get Well Cards from those who love us. Emails, and Facebook remarks without number. Calls from old friends. One sweet friend brought a bag of books for me to read. My work sent a beautiful plant arrangement. And there have been special greetings from heart attack survivors welcoming me into “The Club.”

Even my dog, Lex, knew something was up once I returned home. And he has been gentle with me, and considerate of my new daytime home on the couch. In fact, he has rather enjoyed his new napping partner, snoozing near his bed in the den.

My youngest daughter has faithfully continued to sacrifice and help care for me, and my eldest and her husband have pitched in whenever possible, all-the-while juggling the affairs of two small children.

Above any othermy wife of 40 years has cleaned for me, cared for me, administered meds for me, provided food for me, been my chauffeur, and hovered over me like a mother hen. I can hardly begin to tell you of all her sacrifice in what ostensibly is my drama, not hers.

She continually demonstrates what true love is all about. But I cannot begin to imagine her pain in all this, often falling to sleep at night with tears as she ponders what “might have been.”

“No man is and island . . . .”

The unwanted disturbance in the middle of the pool of my life in the wee hours of October 4, 2016 sent ripples all the way out to the shore; the splash made waves that rocked those closest, but also those farthest away. Because that is how it is in this life. Our ponds may seem small to us, but their waters mysteriously are able to touch every ocean on this orb.

When a large sporting event has concluded, a winning and a losing team has been announced, spectators have gone home, and players have made their way to the locker room, the highlights of the game become a memory. Those memories usually center on the spectacular plays of the night and the unforgettable outcome of the contest.

But for those caught up in the drama of an accident on the sidelines . . . a completely different memory remains. And it is indelible. It is an ink stain that is permanent. Even if the players themselves should forget that it happened (as inconceivable as that might be),

the faithful fans along the sidelines . . . never will.

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The Making of a Widow (Part 4)

3219069891_e3d74d2018_z “Timing is everything.” It’s true in comedy; a vocally well delivered line can fall flat if the timing is off. Exactly when a pause is required, or an inflection employed can bring an audience to tears of laughter, or . . . uncomfortable silence.

But timing is priceless in so many other aspects of life, too. From the timing belt in your car, to the pie you bake in the oven, to your attendance at a loved one’s special event. A word of encouragement spoken at just the right time; an embrace or a kiss of genuine love and concern expressed at the very second it is most needed. Yes . . . timing is everything, isn’t it?

My maternal grandfather’s heart attack, and (days later) his death on Saturday evening, Feb. 11, 1961, has always stood out in my memory; it was my cousin John’s 7th birthday – one he will never forget. My brother and I had already gone to bed in our 600 square foot little house that my father and that same grandfather had converted from a chicken house to a human house. But I remember the ring of the telephone, and mother’s answer from the other room. Maybe I remember the hushed sounds of her voice, but I can’t be sure now. She informed us of what had happened the next morning.

My grandfather was 62 when his fatal heart attack came; the same age as me. Coincidence, I guess.

The night of Oct. 3, 2016, just hours before my LAD artery closed completely and the circulation in my left arm was inhibited, my wife and I had been happily driving toward the setting sun, admiring the beautiful cloud formations and color of the sky, and discussing – our preferences for the interment of our remains (in that far off time when and if that should occur). We wanted to make sure we weren’t a burden to our children and grandchildren (with regard to finances or last minute decisions during a difficult emotional time).

I said to her that evening as I drove down the highway east of Snellville, Georgia: “How would you like to be eulogized? What would you want to be remembered for?” And then I shared my wishes regarding myself. Coincidence, I guess.

The group of firemen gathered around my bed in the wee hours of Oct. 4 were working hard to save my life; we are forever grateful. And their insistence (once I was loaded into the ambulance) that we go to a hospital 4 miles away as opposed to our preferred hospital 8.7 miles away, was an assertion based on timing. And in my case, timing was everything.

“Most don’t even make it to the cath lab,” my family was told. Upon arrival, we had to wait for the cath lab nurse who was “on call” to arrive. I don’t know how long it took her to arrive in the OR, but I can tell you this: the timing was critical.

They must have sent my EKG to her cellphone en route, because she later came to my room in the ICU to show it to me. A series of tombstones all in a row. I am forever indebted to her for her sense of timing that morning.

And, at the risk of repeating myself, I must also add that the cardiologist who said to me 18 months earlier (without performing any tests on me), “Quit wasting my time! You look fine. Come back when you have some real symptoms!” [my General Practitioner had referred me to him because of some anomalies she saw in me] – he was the same cardiologist whose skills saved my life that momentous morning. Coincidence.

I absolutely LOVE great timing, don’t you?

My friend, Klaus, was awakened in the early morning of Oct. 4, prompted to pray for someone in great need, but unaware until hours later who that might have been. Timing.

When a great musical composer writes a piece of music he/she plans the piece with care; not only is it critical for him/her to decide the meter and speed of the music, but the build up of particular instruments, and the entrance and exit of vocal harmonies are all painstakingly decided, calculated to convey the strongest possible feeling in the music.

Whether or not we explain the timing in our lives as interesting coincidence or the work of an unseen divine determinant, it still remains remarkably true: timing is everything. Patterns emerge. Intersections appear.

They make me smile. And they make me nod . . . in acknowledgement.

“I see you.”

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The Making of a Widow (Part 3)

photo by Adam Kubalica

photo by Adam Kubalica

“It’s the little things,” people will sometimes say, “that make the difference.” Do you know what I mean?

For instance, you’ll remember a momentous occasion (be it tragedy or celebration), but you will also remember some seemingly insignificant or off-the-wall details surrounding that occasion, embedded in your mind. The macro and the micro.

It reminds me of the little bit of rock climbing I did when I was 15 and 16 years old. The smooth face of a mountainside can only be scaled with the use of numerous tiny hand and foot holds. From one vantage point they seem insignificant and small. But while you cling to them on the face of the rock . . . they appear as dear as life itself.

My memories of the heart attack are like that, too.

I asked the cadre of nurses and firemen in the OR (operating room): “Would you be doing this for me if you weren’t getting paid?” One sweet nurse said, “Of course!” One realistic fireman said, “No, I’d be at home in bed!” I am always looking for a laugh, you know. Especially when I am in a dire personal situation.

In the OR, in semi-consciousness, I recall hearing the cath lab nurse (Christie) saying to the cardiologist (Dr. P), “I’m going to give him 5,000 units of heparin.” To which the cardiologist responded, “No, give him 8,000!”

Of course, heparin is an oft used anticoagulant (approved in 1939), usually coming in increments of 5,000 units/ml. My memory of the doctor’s request for an odd number of units is puzzling. All I recall is a burning sensation in my left hand, and I suspect it was the heparin. I do recall asking for something for the pain in my left arm, but I don’t yet know what they might have given me (versed, perhaps?).

Then the man working on my right wrist (it must have been the cardiologist preparing to enter the radial artery) said, “Now I’m going to give you some novacaine right here.” I said to him, “Novacaine? Really? Like the dentists used to use? I thought they stopped using that years ago!” To which he said, “Well, really it’s lidocaine, but nobody ever knows what that is!” I said, “Well I certainly do!”

While this was going on with me in the OR, my wife and daughters were trying to enter the waiting room, but found it locked. Security was called and a key was produced. But when the door was opened by the hospital staff they found it had been barricaded by a young homeless man who had stashed all his earthly goods in the way. He quickly left once they discovered he was not an employee, etc.

Once in the ICU room I was attached to a monitor that annoyed me no end! The blood pressure cuff was placed around my left bicep (the one place where I had experienced my only heart attack symptom); the monitor was set to beep obnoxiously every few seconds, and the BP cuff would inflate every 5 minutes, squeezing the arm that had been getting my attention with pain every since 2:30 that morning.

I was almost afraid to tell the nurses that my left arm still hurt, but finally I mentioned it since I thought it would be silly for me to fail to disclose this. The nurse (Phuong) asked me to squeeze her hand with my left hand, and I was able to do so without any problem; this seemed to satisfy her. She said I might be feeling some residual discomfort in that arm, or that the increased blood flow there might be paining me as well. She shifted the cuff to my forearm to relieve my upper arm. There are sometimes so few definitive answers in medicine, it seems.

The nursing care I received was first rate, I think. Thanks to nurses Jasmine and Gwen, especially, my short time there was beneficial. I got no sleep as usual (you know you just can’t sleep in the hospital) in the place where of all places you need rest. And thanks, too, to the nameless nurse in solid blue who wiped my derriere with baby wipes after my one final successful poop into a bedpan (my oh my, it was gross, too).

There is no shame in the ICU. I had been shaved in the OR in places that I didn’t even know were places!

Finally, at 10:30 PM on Wed. night, Oct. 5 we were home; only about 43 hours had passed. But immediately upon entering the house I got the chills. I went to bed sweating and shivering, wondering if something else was going wrong, and that this unwelcome drama was going to continue. No one had warned me that night sweats and a low grade fever were natural results after what I’d been through.

Now I am over 2 weeks away from what could have been my last breaths on this earth. Do I worry about it? Truthfully, yes. Whenever I feel a pain in an arm, or notice a flutter in my chest, I wonder if it’s a sign that something is awry. But one can’t live in that fear! Not well, anyway.

I did wake up last week thinking to myself,

“I could be 10 days dead, today.”

The thought was ominous. And I considered how life would have gone right on without me, relegating me to a mere footnote in the lives of those around me. A significant footnote, mind you. Like the ones I used to use in my graduate school papers, citing “original sources” whenever possible. But . . . a footnote, nonetheless.

One of the most interesting details I will retain from the whole ordeal is one I would not have known about had my wife and daughter not told it to me. It was a detail I guess I hadn’t considered before, but the absence of this insight in life’s hardest dramas could be devastating. It was when the firemen told my wife and daughter, “Don’t try to follow us! Follow the normal traffic laws no matter what we do in the ambulance.”

Of course! Good advice. And thanks for taking the time to relay that little, all-important, less-than-self-evident detail. I don’t know if it’s Fire & Rescue protocol to address this with citizens or not, but it sure is important to say to clear the air of any uncertainty.

All in all, I’d say this is the BEST heart attack I’ve had yet!

And the worst.

I don’t yet know the quality of life on the other side of it.

But I know this! Whatever it is . . . it will be – good life!

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The Making of a Widow (Part 2)


Many years ago I was intrigued to learn this common expression was a slang condensation of the phrase “God be with you.” Since that time we have shortened it even more to a simple, “Bye.”

Sometimes you’ll hear people say, “I’m not good at goodbyes.” But of course, who is? Especially when the parties involved think it may be . . . the final goodbye.

As the firemen wheeled me out on a stretcher that ominous Tuesday morning I knew I could be experiencing my last few breaths; at least, the thought went through my mind. And I considered whether or not to stop the whole entourage of first responders so that I could tell my wife I loved her, and to voice that difficult expression, “Goodbye.”

But the moment escaped me as I was caught up in the individual drama of my own heart attack pain; I began trying to focus on settling myself down, and leaning in to what I hoped and prayed would be a successful resolution to this unexpected life and death crisis.

But it haunted me. Not getting to say, “I love you” one last time; not getting to say, “Goodbye.” And I wondered if I’d blundered the last moment of my life, being so focused on myself.

When one of my daughters returned to the house many hours later she was confronted with what felt like a crime scene to her: the bed where I had writhed in pain; the disheveled sheet and blanket; damp wash cloths on the floor; the subtle evidences that a large group of strangers had been in the house. It unnerved her.

It shouted a “goodbye” – almost frozen in time.

When a soldier goes off to war he kisses his sweetheart. When a cancer patient goes into surgery he/she gives one final squeeze to his/her loved one’s hand. Because whether or not we think we are “good” at goodbyes, we are convinced of their importance, we are obedient to their invitation. We want desperately to have said, “farewell,” if at all possible.

And so . . . my omission haunts me.

Not so much with a feeling of guilt as with a renewed awareness that moments of finality escape us more often than not. We envision our final breaths as in a motion picture; that is, we see ourselves surrounded by family and friends, and in those final moments we are speaking our last words of wisdom and love.

But that is far from how it usually plays out. We are in a coma. Or a car crash takes us in seconds. Or a heart attack immediately shuts us down, and like the computer screen in front of you everything goes dark, or the Operating System crashes and even though something is still on the screen it is lifeless, frozen in time.

It has often been said that we should live as if each day was our last, because, in fact, it may truly be our last. But our busy lives make that sentiment last only a while; it is never permanent. Then we go about our lives business-as-usual . . . until the next tragedy gets our attention.

I wonder . . . is it possible to make each “Hello” as important as each “Goodbye.” And rather than focusing on the FINAL goodbye, perhaps we should focus on each and every goodbye. How is this possible?

I wonder if the answer is simple. I wonder if all that is needed is not an awareness of our final moments (like an actor practiced in the execution of a closing soliloquy) since most of us will not be aware when that moment is actually upon us. Rather, maybe all we need is to learn to be fully present and genuine each time we say, “Goodbye.”

No clairvoyance needed. No premonition.

Just every day living and loving. Kermit the Frog had it right: “Life is made up of meetings and partings. That is the way of it.”

I will try to forgive myself for not saying, “Goodbye,” before the ambulance ventured off into my unknown destiny. Instead, I will try to rehearse each day the truth I have learned, i.e. that a relationship is not honored so much in a final goodbye as it is in the countless hellos and goodbyes of everyday life. Make each one genuine.

One of them will be your last.

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The Making of a Widow (Part 1)


The Grim Reaper may or may not get an undeserved bad rap, but when a cardiologist reads an EKG and sees the telltale “tombstones” on the EKG paper he/she knows that a myocardial infarction has occurred, and that coronary heart disease is the likely culprit; someone has joined the ranks of the approximate one million per year experiencing MIs in the United States alone.

All of this Grim Reaper, heart attack, and tombstone tracing is mere talk until it describes something that has happened to someone you love. Or . . . to you. Twice as likely in men as in women, this event can have catastrophic impact, especially when it is the type of MI referred to as the “Widow Maker.”

This came crashing home to me on Tuesday morning at 2:30 AM, when after going to the bathroom I returned to bed only to find myself completely uncomfortable. Quickly I was aware that my left bicep felt like there was a band around it, squeezing relentlessly. I could not escape the pain. Soon I began to sweat, and became light headed.

I woke up my wife, and asked for a cool washcloth on my head. I said something like, “I don’t know for sure, but . . . I might be having a heart attack!”

This was unbelievable to me! I have always taken exercise quite seriously, and although there have been times when I was somewhat overweight, in general I have maintained above average health and strength for my age. Just months ago the doctor told me to get serious about my pre diabetic numbers, and so I did. I quickly attended a class my neighbor was teaching on avoiding diabetes, learned a great deal, and took it to heart.

Not to brag, but . . . I was “the model student.” Pounds began to be shed, a semblance of a six-pack gave hints of emerging. I had been a bit tired over the past few months, but I just relegated that to aging and let it go at that.

But early Tuesday morning none of that was any consolation. The Fire Department arrived in minutes, ran a quick EKG, noted by 100/50 blood pressure, put me on a stretcher, loaded me into the ambulance and began to work their magic. I was given baby aspirin to chew up, and nitroglycerin to dissolve under my tongue. I was shaking like a leaf, and miserable.

It is beyond interesting to be transported at high speed, siren blaring, lying flat on your back; equally fascinating to experience the view provided as you are rolled into a hospital on a stretcher, and wheeled into an OR, doctors and nurses awaiting your arrival. The ceiling doesn’t provide a vantage point with which I am familiar.

And I didn’t know it at the time, but they were probably hoping I’d still be alive by the time I got there; my STEMI was a potential killer. When the doctor started the cardiac cath procedure (radial, BTW) it was clear that he was dealing with a 100% blockage in the LAD, the left anterior descending artery. This supplies blood to the front and main wall of the heart.

This proximal LAD lesion is commonly referred to as “the Widow Maker.”

The cardiologist was able to use a minimally invasive procedure, inserting a stent (wire mesh with an uninflated balloon inside), then inflating the balloon to push out the walls of the wire mesh to match the size of the artery, then deflating and extracting the balloon.

The doctor saved my life that early morning. Interestingly enough, he is the same cardiologist who told me 18 months ago (when referred to him by my GP doctor) to “go home, quit wasting my time, and come back when you have some real symptoms!” This time, I think I qualified.

Now I am at home . . . recovering. My blood pressure and pulse are too low for beta blockers (used to help control arrhythmia) due to a very low ejection fraction rate (caused by the damage to the heart). With healing of the heart muscle this should improve.

I am in the classic 40 day period after an MI, trying to rest, trying to avoid illness (since my heart is too weak to handle it), trying to adjust to what several friends have referred to as “the new normal.”

The Grim Reaper arrived that morning and stood nearby, leaving the smell of death in the air (the same smell we discussed when my mother was nearing death), but it was not my time, I suppose. It was like Garrison Keillor described some years ago when he talked about “just pulling the hearse up close enough so you could smell the flowers.”

I smelled them. The whole family did.

My wife was not made a widow this time. But she felt the shadow of the reaper in a very real way. One day we will all cross that proverbial river.

It is more real to me now than ever before.

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Facial Profiling?

When I was in junior high school in the 1960s chains were really cool. All the tough guys liked to wear leather and have some type of silver chain hanging down out of their jeans pocket; you know, like the ones some bikers attach to their big black wallets. I couldn’t afford leather, so the chain was my choice; particularly since I found one on the ground one day. I quickly made it my own.

To look really cool you needed to carry yourself in a particular way; you had to saunter, mosey along as you walked, never in too big of a hurry. And you needed to have a rather surly look on your face; like you were mad about something that had happened, or were ready to be mad about something that was about to happen.

Being cool was tough to pull off in front of your parents, or others who really knew you well. But it was important that you perfect your nods, and other subtle movements, especially in front of strangers, so that their perception of you (I am speaking from a male perspective BTW) would be that you were not someone with which to be trifled; rather, you were a dangerous sort if angered.

You had to portray yourself in such a way that if a person were to encounter you and a wild lion on the tundra, they would have a hard time deciding from whom to run. Got it?

Now THAT . . . was being cool.

That’s why The Fonz was so cool in the 1970s TV hit show, “Happy Days.”

Even after I quit wearing that silly chain when I went to high school, I still tried to maintain a certain amount of cool. However, in my senior year of high school, walking home at 3:00 AM, traversing through the parking lot of some apartments near my girlfriend’s house, an officer of the renowned TPD (Tucson Police Department) decided to stop me and put me in his car for questioning.

Now I knew that I was a good kid and all, and that I hadn’t broken any laws or anything. I was merely making my way home in the darkness, being my regular cool self, making sure that if anyone was awake to see me they would not try to mess with me because I was portraying untouchable, unchallengeable coolness to the max (that’s the way you stay free from trouble, you know).

Actually . . . that’s precisely WHY the patrolman stopped me and put me in his car to question. A young man. After reasonable hours. Roaming through a private area. And being super cool and comfortable with himself.

It reminds me of a number of young girls I have seen who like to dress like they are “wicked city women” (a term my high school history teacher liked to use), decked out like prostitutes, welcoming all comers to the party. But when approached for favors they react insulted, and indignantly protest that they have been unjustly treated and completely misunderstood.

Odd, isn’t it?

We like to dress the part, and we want strangers to think we are in the play, but when the curtain comes up we want to be able to sit with the audience.

When my wife’s niece was recently pulled over by a car with a flashing blue light she felt uneasy. It was not just the fact that she was being stopped by the police (which is scary enough); it was that she didn’t feel right about it somehow. She had the presence of mind to stop in a public area and call 911 for help identifying the patrol car.

Turns out it was a hoax, the kind you read about or see on the television. The “officers” seemed to have the right uniforms, and the right colored lights in their car, but they were not, in fact, law enforcement officers. They were just playing a part for personal gain and mischief. When they saw she was on her phone, and unwilling to open her car door and engage in their charade, they quickly fled the scene.

When we dress a certain way and attract attention to ourselves, or when we carry ourselves in such a way as to portray a “tude” that spells danger, or when we put ourselves in places that “gangstas” are known to frequent, we cannot very well say we’ve been totally and completely misunderstood when we receive the suspicion that portrayal invites.

The world in our minds, created by television, movies and the like, makes it possible for us to pretend we are something entirely different from what we truly are, then cast off that costume and step back into “the real world” at will. And so, we do this day in and day out.

Until one day . . . we find ourselves in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time, or the gig is up when a police officer sees our portrayal rather than what we truly are on the inside (of course, that is all he/she can see at that moment), and it is not only TOO LATE for us to cry “foul,” it is also completely unwarranted.

When I was 14 years old I ran to investigate a house my brother and I were house sitting; we heard sirens and wanted to make sure there was no fire, etc. I was apprehended by a rookie police officer from TPD; his sweaty hands shook as he quickly braked his patrol car, jumped out to apprehend me, then handcuffed me and put me in the back seat of his cruiser.

Other patrol cars converged, and a total of 12 officers discussed the unfolding situation. A Ford Mustang had been stolen in the vicinity, and supposedly I fit the description of the young driver. An older friend of ours was present as well, and he was cuffed, too. My friend thought we were both roughly treated, and vowed to get his father involved in getting back at the officers responsible.

Forty-five minutes later we were released. But not before a friend went by in a car, looking on at the alleged “criminals” being held in custody (I was a little embarrassed). I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It happens. Had I resisted, showed an uncooperative attitude, or portrayed something other than an appropriate level of obeisance, the results might have been catastrophic.

Looking back now, I can see I was profiled – “the act of suspecting or targeting a person on the basis of observed characteristics or behavior.”

Good thing I wasn’t wearing my chain, huh?

If you dress, act, and look innocent – most people (especially law enforcement officers) will suspect you might be innocent (unless they have some reason to suspect otherwise). If you dress, act, and look dangerous – most people (especially law enforcement officers) will suspect you might be up to no good (unless they have some reason to suspect otherwise).

And so . . . if you dress like a thug or behave in a threatening way, whose fault is it if you are perceived to be a thug? It matters not if your particular community venerates thug attire, nor does it matter if your manner and demeanor do not reflect what is truly in your heart. Because no one can know that but YOU.

This life ain’t no movie you are starring in, you know!

So, I have some words of wisdom from the late Jim Croce:

“You don’t tug on Superman’s cape.
You don’t spit into the wind.
You don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger.
And you don’t mess around with Jim.”

8364362147_94941a750b_zDo police officers sometimes overreact? Are some of them guilty of brutality? Do some use their badges as shields that authorize them to use unreasonable force, or to foment rebellion so they can use ostensibly justifiable deadly force?

Indeed, they do. Sadly, they do.

But let’s not complicate the already difficult issues and injustices by thinking we can portray ourselves one way and then claim abject innocence when others identify us as the very image we have portrayed.

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