My grandfather came over on the boat from Sicily at the age of 20, landed at Ellis Island in New York Harbor on April 30, 1900, settled among his Italian relatives in Brooklyn and set up shop as a barber. Four years later, he married a Sicilian farm girl, newly arrived in America from his home village of Juliana in the mountains above Palermo. He was naturalized as an American citizen on May 6, 1905. My grandmother gave birth to four children — three boys and a girl — and my grandfather made sure his family never wanted for food or shelter, in no small part because he had a great mind for numbers and regularly won at pinochle. He and the other Italian men in the neighborhood would play the game for hours after work. Several times a week, he’d use part of the winnings to buy ice cream or pastries at the corner German bakery for his kids. He’d help out his brothers and cousins with a loan when they asked. He’d take half a day off on Sundays to be with the family; otherwise he was in his shop.
At least, that’s the story that I was told by my uncle and my aunt. I repeat it because I like it. It is a pioneering, self-assured, make-your-own-way-in-the-world American story. Support a family by day by the labor of your hands, and by playing and winning at cards at night — it sounds tough. Treat the kids, and help out the relatives — it sounds tender. Work your tail off to provide, because that is our lot and we embrace it — it sounds noble.
But that is all I really know about my grandfather. He died before I was born, and my father never really talked much about him. So all I have to go on are these sound bites: provided for his family, always put food on the table, good at cards, a pioneer, gutsy and principled. That is the only memory of my grandfather to survive today. And since I am the only one of my generation to have heard these stories, I doubt that much, if anything at all, about my grandfather will survive beyond the tomorrow of my life.
I don’t know that my grandfather gave much thought to how he wanted to be remembered, or that he cared about being remembered at all. I suspect that he had his hands full just getting from one day to the next. As he lived and toiled and took care of his family, my grandfather was just being who he was. His memory would take care of itself. He died in 1953. History has all but forgotten him.
I doubt that much if anything about my life (or my interests or accomplishments, or failures for that matter) will survive beyond the brief memories of my contemporaries.
And what is remembered of me will take on a different form for the many people with whom I crossed paths along the way: parents, partners, lovers, friends, teachers, teammates, therapists, colleagues, coworkers, children, caregivers, casual acquaintances … the list can go on for pages. What is certain is that in the minds of most, the sound bites are all pretty much set. There is little that I can do to recast the image or impression that I have already left. And so while I might wonder, “How do I want to be remembered?” the reality is that in the fleeting moments that I might be recalled to mind at all, I will be remembered in ways that I can neither control nor change.
I used to get unduly wrapped up in the idea that I needed to leave a legacy. I used to feel pressured to be memorable or to do things that would be memorable. I don’t any longer. I don’t want the pressure. I don’t need the pressure on top of just getting from one day to the next. I know more clearly now that the memory of me and my life, like that of my grandfather, will prove to be little more than a handful of sound bites, remembered by few, spoken of seldom and forgotten too soon.
What a relief.
Now, I get on with the life I have in front of me, one day at a time. And I get on with my life with presence and with deliberate purpose. Sure, I still sometimes ponder, “How do I want to be remembered?” But much more often, I ask myself, “How do I want to be?” I focus less on when I am gone, and more on as I am, today. I try to pay attention to the right here, the right now — to the moments that, of their own accord, and without any help from me, coalesce into the hours, the days and the years of my life, today. I pay attention to my behaviors, my words and my choices that of their own accord show me who I am today. And I try to live the behaviors and words and choices that help me to be the person I strive to be, today.
I have grown to cherish the sacred nature of this work.
– From The Citizen Leader by Peter Alduino
She took my breath away when I first saw her walking across campus on a spring day thirty-seven years ago. She was the most beautiful girl I had seen in my two years at this small New England college. There were only 1200 of us on campus, and of that number only 400 were women. How had not seen her until now? Who is she and how am I going to make sure I see her again?
It’s not that she knocked the breath out of me. It’s more that when I saw her I gasped. I was unable to let go of the breath lodged in my lungs. I was stuck, suspended – so taken was I by her light. This hadn’t happened to me before. I had read about it – it was that semester that I was taking an elective in Shakespeare. I’d heard about it – 60s and 70s swoon songs. But now it was happening to me. I wasn’t breathing. I couldn’t breath. I was completely and utterly seized.
When I did exhale, I let go of my breath with a spontaneous and surprising and audible, Oh Wow! She didn’t hear me, but I heard me. I was stunned.
Thirty-seven years later, I remember and re-feel and re-hear that moment as clearly and as viscerally as if it happened this morning. This is the first I have written of it. But not the first I’ve recalled it. Oh no. Not by a very long shot.
On a trip back to campus 3,000 miles away some six years ago, I went back to the very spot where I was walking when I first saw her. I breathed in the memory deeply. For a couple of moments, I relished the nostalgia. Then I sighed and walked on. I don’t know if or when I’ll return to campus again, but if and when I do, I’ll repeat that same bit of reverie. That moment changed everything. She changed everything.
I am a competent surfer but not an accomplished surfer. And certainly, I am not a pretty surfer, unless caught in a photo at just the right instant. The few seconds on either side of the snapshot would reveal otherwise – feet turned out rather than pidgeon-toed, hips too centered over the board rather than forward to accelerate or back to break, hands over the same rail rather than opposing rails, head looking down rather than up and down the line. Okay, in all candor, perhaps there are more than the occasional good pop-ups with all of the elements of my stance coalescing and contributing to a steady ride down the line.
I paddled into my first wave some 13 years ago at the age of 45. In these past eight months since my near drowning on a reef break in Costa Rica, I am making peace with the notion that I am just not a natural. I suspect I am about as good as I am going to get. And that is okay. My efforts from this point forward will surely produce a share of fun rides and even some thrills, but whether I’ll become markedly better at dropping in and trimming and carving on larger waves, that remains to be seen.
Is a part of me disappointed? I don’t know yet. But I do know that a part of me is relieved. It’s that part of me that believed that I’d be cool if I was a really good surfer, or that in order to be cool, I needed to be a really good surfer. Either way, I am fine with not being a really good surfer. I am fine with not being cool and with not needing to be cool. I am cool with just being me, being Peter, whomever I appear to be or however I appear to be to the world around me. If and when I surf, I’ll go out because I want to be on the water, or because I want to paddle since paddling is a great workout, or because the waves look accessible and fun and even challenging. I’ll go, too, if someone invites me to join them in the line up. How ironic it would be if now, after all this time in Santa Cruz, after having given up the fantasy of really good surfing and instead settling into my more humble reality, I were to develop a small tribe of buds because of surfing.
I am in culture shock within the first few minutes of arriving in Tamarindo after having spent seven days in the secluded, lush and quiet hamlet of Guiones only fifty miles south, but a world apart. Paved roads, lines of traffic, dozens of pedestrians on the shoulders along any 100 meter stretch of the road. Barely a view to the beach – so jam packed is the beach-side street with stores, restaurants, hotels, hostels and outdoor markets. A pickup truck with a loudspeaker makes its way down the main drag – its prerecorded announcement shouting out the attractions of the newest bar in town. Nicaraguan peasants blow bird calls through hollowed out wooden whistles and hawk a collection of hand-made beads, bracelets and other ornaments to passers by. A man with a mostly full bottle of vodka in one hand and a cup of iced liquid in the other staggers and props himself against a telephone pole while muttering as I pass by. Shirtless young men strut their stuff, their board shorts pulled low below their navels all but inviting further investigation. Girls in sarongs cluster, stroll, shop but curiously pay no attention to the guys. Am I the only one taking notice?
I slept soundly in Guiones. The fourteen of us at the surf resort were crashed out and regenerating for a new day of surfing by 10pm each night. Last night, the fourteen or so other guests at the hostel in Tamarindo were awake and sharing and laughing well into the late hours of the night. The self proclaimed “Meanest Night Club in Tamarindo” next door blared music into the night air until 1:30am. I was dead tired for my 6:00am surf session. And it could have been a great session – out on the boat, anchored off shore at Playa Grande, head high waves, no crowd. Not even dunking into the ocean water helped. I found myself yawning as I waited for sets. A few waves, a few wipeouts, a lot of sitting on my board trying to rev up. It was not to be. I paddled back to the boat after only an hour. I struggled to stay alert as the boat driver kept trying to engage me in a back and forth. The one other guy who came out with us stayed out for a good while longer. I closed my eyes on and off wanting to nod off.
I had breakfast alone when I got back to shore.
I woke up so refreshed yesterday morning in sweet Guiones. I didn’t surf, thinking that one day off would reenergize me for these three days in Tamarindo. It’s noon here now. I’m going to put in the ear plugs, take a nap and perhaps drift back south.
I go on surfaris because I have grown to enjoy the community I meet and make along the way. This week in Guiones, Costa Rica, my tribe is a patchwork of varied and delightful men, women and boys. Two best-of-friends, adventurous, twenty-something Brazilian men are here on a stop while traveling around Central America for a month. For the more intrepid between them, Costa Rica is the forty-first country he has visited in the past two years. A navy doc dad and nurse mom are here with their two teenage sons learning to surf as a family. As the days go by, the sons are naturals in the water – not so much the mom or dad. But I am loving my evenings talking with them over glasses of Argentinian wine. A prosecutor novice surfer whose job back home has beaten down her spirits is here on the Costa Rican coast to get completely away and laugh and smile and feel alive for the first time in too long. And she is doing all of the above and is becoming more beautiful each day that goes by in this land of pura vida and the happiest people on the planet. A recently divorced dad talks lovingly and adoringly about his three-year old daughter and I can feel how hard the surprise of the separation and the negotiations around his daughter’s care weigh on him – every weekend taken up with looking after her, and his hours during the week consumed by his chiropractic patients. He is the hardest working surfer among our tribe, returning time and again to paddle out through the relentless onshore breaking waves. Now on day four of our week’s stay, his in-water therapy is giving way to a lovely playfulness and smile on land. The pharmacist in our group is a man in love with his profession. He is the more boisterous member of our tribe this week and enjoyably so, fueling and engaging our own enthusiasms. Our quieter business consultants are coming out of their shells as the week goes on, as we get more comfortable with one another, as the evening libations flow. Last night it was charades acted out from under a sheet – a post dinner party game fueled by mai tais, beer, wine and the punchy humor brought on by our collective exhaustion after two sessions in head high waves. For the novices among us, even the whitewater has been challenging – a turtle roll followed by another and another, just to get to the outside and then set up for dropping into a smaller unbroken wave.
Were I to be surfing these waves on my own without the community created by this crew at 6am yoga, eating breakfast, drinking post-surf smoothies, at lunch, on the beach, in the water, rinsing off in the pool, around the table at dinner, celebrating birthdays and laughing over party games afterwards, this surfari would be solitary, lonely, uninteresting, uninspired. Community is inspiring the experience. Community makes all the difference. And this week I have happened to fall in with – we have all happened to fall in with – a handful of individuals whose alchemy has created an upbeat and enjoyable community of companions.
The following video of our tribe was created by the very talented folks at Surf Simply in Guiones, Costa Rica
French Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira’s Speech to the National Assembly after the passage of the bill opening marriage and adoption to same-sex couples
Mister President, Mister Prime Minister, Congresswomen and Congressmen,
I must admit that I am overwhelmed by emotion. Still, I hope that I’ll be able to say a few words. I am extremely thankful to the Prime Minister and the President of the Republic for giving us the opportunity to pass this beautiful reform. We passed it with force. We passed it with the constant support of the government. We passed it with your active participation. You all improved this bill. You enriched it. You were there during the long nights of debate. You were there. You were stoic, sometimes in the face of hateful speeches that were against our deeply held values. But there were also great and beautiful expressions of democracy. In the opposition, we had speeches from congresspeople who fought against this bill and who made their firm objections known through their arguments. We are grateful to them as well, because their objections will also be recorded by history.
In passing this law, we know that we built something together. We know that we did not take anything away from anyone. When the first signs of dissent sprung up in society, we asked ourselves questions. We asked ourselves if our beliefs were enough. We attentively listened to the fears and protests of the opposition. We responded. Lucidly. Clearly. Frankly. And we pointed them towards the content of the bill. We asked ourselves what the most precious things in the lives of heterosexual couples and their families are. And we did not touch those things.
One week ago today, the Senate confirmed Eric Fanning as Undersecretary of the Air Force — the second-highest civilian position in that branch of the United States Armed Services. On that same day last week, the executive committee of the Boy Scouts of America announced that it would propose changing its position on whether gay boys and men would be welcomed to participate as scouts and troop leaders. Under the proposed changes, Undersecretary Fanning would be unfit and unwelcomed to step into the role of a Boy Scout troop leader. Why? Because he is a gay man.
Fanning has been deputy undersecretary and deputy chief management officer for the Department of the Navy since July 2009. When Bill Clinton was president, Fanning was a research assistant with the House Armed Services Committee, a special assistant in the Immediate Office of the Secretary of Defense, and an associate director of political affairs at the White House. But because he is gay, the Boy Scouts of America consider him to be unfit as an adult leader for its young members.
Under the new guidelines being proposed by the executive committee, the Boy Scouts will no longer ban or discriminate against gay boys who have the courage to come out to their peers and their troop leaders. That is, until they reach the age of 18. The day they turn 18 years old, according to the new guidelines, these young men become unfit and unwelcomed to participate in Scouting in any capacity. Why, because at 18, they are gay men — no longer gay boys, but gay men. And that, according to the thinking behind the new guidelines, changes everything and renders these former scouts a danger, a menace, a threat to the teenagers who were their peers the day before. And it renders them unfit for the rest of their lives.
What idiocy is this?
It is the kind of idiocy that continues to allow employers in 29 states to fire an employee simply because he or she is gay.
It is the kind of idiocy that is rearing its ugly head in legislative efforts designed to permit anyone to refuse to extend any and all services to gay men and women simply by invoking a First Amendment right to freedom of religious expression.
It is the kind of idiocy that carries with it the moniker homophobia.
And the new guidelines proposed by the Boy Scouts of America, camouflaged as progressive policy, do little more than reinforce their entrenched homophobia. For all intents and purposes, the executive committee is just passing the buck to the next generation of Boy Scouts of America leaders.
For my part, I have every confidence that the next generation of leaders will have more courage than the current timid group to stand up, to speak up and to act to assure the equal treatment and the equal respect of all American citizens — our Undersecretary of the Air Force included.