US Navy v. Lighthouse: A Parable

24 Jan

I recently heard a parable that apparently has been floating around for decades. Over the years, people have tried to pass it off as a true story, but as far as I can tell, it never happened.

The parable goes like this:

On a dark, starless night, a US naval ship encountered another party off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. Their exchange was as follows:

US Ship: “Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”

Canadians: “We recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.”

US Ship: “This is the captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert your course.”

Canadians: “No. I say again, you divert your course.”


Canadians: “This is a lighthouse. Your call.”

Me Too

16 Oct

I’ve never been raped and my heart breaks for the millions of women (and men, and children) who have. But have I ever been physically assaulted or otherwise invaded and intimidated and threatened by men? Several times.

Here’s one story.

Several years ago, I hosted my first big fundraiser. I was very nervous and working hard to manage the event’s many moving parts while trying to remain sociable. Before the start of the event, when the venue was very quiet and the lights were up, I said “hello” to the manager and chatted with him. I didn’t know him well but I had met once or twice before, as he was a friend of some of my colleagues. At a certain point in the evening, we had a couple of people from our organization speak briefly, and then we had a performance planned. By that time, the venue was full of people, and it was difficult to move from one place to another. I was preparing for the speakers when I realized that the microphone they were going to use wasn’t working. In the meantime, the performers were ready to go.

I struggled to move through the crowd to the bar. The manager was standing behind it. The speakers and performers were waiting and wondering where I was. I tried to get the manager’s attention, but he couldn’t hear me over the noise of the crowd. So I edged my way behind the bar, hoping that if I got closer, he would hear me and help me.

When he saw me behind the bar, he charged at me. He grabbed me by both arms and lurched forward, forcing me back several steps. The heel of my shoe got caught in the mat on the floor of the bar and I fell to the side, slamming my upper arm into the bar.

I can’t describe how shaken I was, physically and emotionally. While he was shoving me back, I screamed at him multiple times: “I’m managing this event!” Apparently, he hadn’t recognized me and thought I was — I don’t know — robbing the place? It seemed absurd to me then, and it seems absurd to me now, because, as I’ve said, I had met him before, and had spoken with him at the beginning the evening. But whatever was going on, he felt it was wrong that I had stepped behind his bar, and so he felt he needed to remove me by force, without a question, without a second thought. In fact, he continued to make the point to me that I shouldn’t be behind his bar, even as he clued in to who I was and why I was looking for him.

I was so angry at him. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I tried to transition quickly from, “Why did you do that to me?” to “I need your help,” as the crowd was getting restless and my colleagues were waiting. I somehow got my message across and he got the microphone working. The evening went on.

The event was very lively and lasted for several hours. But the venue, as crowded as it was, was small, and I struggled to stay there and engage with guests while avoiding him. At first, he offered me ice for my arm (he was more aware than I was at the time, of how hard I had slammed into the bar). I refused his offers. Later in the evening, he insisted on giving me shots of tequila. I repeatedly turned him down, but he wouldn’t leave me alone until I took one and clinked glasses with him.

At the end of the evening, after everyone was gone, my colleagues said goodbye to him. At the time, I felt I had to keep up a façade and went to say goodbye to him, as well. But I was seething. He hugged me. He may have kissed me. I don’t remember.

The next morning, I had one of the worst bruises I’ve ever seen on my upper arm. It was large. It was black and red, with pooled blood under my skin. It was painful. It stayed for months. I told one of my colleagues what had happened. But I never told anyone else, including the people who worked with me who were his friends. Do you know why? Because I believed at the time that they would tell me I was overreacting about him, and laugh at me for being so sensitive. And if that happened, I wouldn’t have been able to keep working with them. So I stayed quiet.

Day 9,063

1 Sep

On November 8, 1992, I was 24 – to be exact, I had been alive for 9,062 days. I was lying in a coma at Toronto General Hospital. In the weeks leading up to that day, my liver had stopped working. The liver failure had happened so quickly that I was not aware that it was happening. In a matter of days, I had stopped thinking coherently, I had become weaker and weaker, and I had lost consciousness. My only chance for survival was a liver transplant.

Patients on transplant lists typically wait months or years before they receive an organ. Many die waiting. After I was admitted to the hospital in early November, my doctors had given me only a few days to live. But on November 8, 1992, against all odds, a liver became available for me. I was prepped for surgery and I received a new liver.

As you may have guessed, the surgery was a success. Within a day or so, I was wheeled out of ICU and my journey back to life began.

Which brings me to the reason for this post. I received my transplant 9,063 days ago. As of September 1, 2017, I have lived longer on this Earth with a liver that someone donated to me, than I survived with my own. Everything I’ve seen, everything I’ve done, everything I’ve accomplished since that day has been possible thanks to the gift I received from my organ donor and their family. I have finished a Ph.D., traveled to several countries, moved from Canada to the United States, gotten married, gotten divorced, switched careers, purchased a home … I have done a lot of living. And hopefully there’s a lot more to come.

Leaving aside the numbers on the calendar, I see many signs around me right now that my life as I know it is changing. I sense that a transformation is happening. I believe that this milestone (which is arbitrary, as all milestones are — we are the ones who choose to give them meaning) comes at an auspicious time. It’s one of three related milestones I’ll be marking in the next few months, as November 8 is the 25th anniversary of my transplant, and then January 18 is my 50th birthday.

Although many people around me know about my transplant, I’ve been a little reluctant to talk about it, and there are many people who have no idea. But I’ve decided to put aside my hesitation about letting people know, because here’s the thing: I’ve now been alive for a total of 18, 125 days. 9,063 of those have been gifted to me by an organ donor. I’m not religious, but I do believe there is a miracle in that. And that’s something to be celebrated … you know … out loud.



That Old Saying About Assholes

4 Jun

I was listening to an episode of the Dharmapunx NYC and Brooklyn podcast recently. At one point, the teacher, Josh Korda, referred to an “old saying”:

If you’re going about your day and you encounter one asshole, chances are that person was an asshole.

If you’re going about your day and you encounter two or more assholes, chances are … you’re one of the assholes.

I think that’s a saying worth remembering.

The Tug Boat Captain

29 Dec

The tug boat captain knows that size doesn’t matter.

She knows the things that count: finding the proper points; being confident; being consistent; exerting the right amount of pressure at the right moment.

No matter how many years have passed, no matter how much technology has changed, her job has remained the same.

And in doing it well, she can turn any ship around, no matter how large, and no matter how narrow the space for maneuvering.



Crowning Miss Universe

21 Dec

All of my news feeds are clogged with headlines about how the host of Miss Universe (I won’t name him … I think we’ve heard enough about his very public mistake) crowned the wrong participant as Miss Universe.

What is much more shocking to me than one person’s error in a moment of pressure, is the fact that Miss Universe still exists.

Surely there are better things that sponsors can do with their money, and that supporters of the competition can do with their time, than to uphold this system of ranking human beings based on their looks and on other similarly superficial categories.

Let’s move on.

My Mother’s Eyes

4 Nov

My mom is blind.

Her eyes can’t see the things we see.

But they let her see things we can’t see.

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