Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Lance Armstrong winning another TdF!
Originally uploaded by belfast-biker.

Took my son to the lab today for a routine screening. While we waited for his turn, I looked at magazines; but I couldn't help seeing beyond their shiny words and pictures.

I saw a man sitting across the room, also waiting. He was younger than me--probably not yet forty. But his gaunt frame and obvious fatigue suggested he spent too much time in waiting rooms like this. He closed his eyes while he waited.

Maybe I looked too closely. The thin man's eyes snapped open and he stared at me. Then the nurse called him, and he disappeared inside, but I continued to see those eyes.

I returned to my magazine. People. It said Lance Armstrong and Cheryl Crow had broken up. I never really knew they were together--which shows how far behind I am on my People reading. The story suggested the couple separated because Cheryl had been candid about her struggles with depression. Lance, on the other attributed his survival and triumph to pushing through. Refusing to admit the darkness.

It made me think of my recent blog survey about depression. Lots of people had been very comfortable talking about their experiences with the disease. I admired their openness--and also the sense that nearly all of them had found a way to live and thrive in spite of it.

Other people seemed almost angry that depression was being discussed. They didn't believe in it! They said no to the possibility of bleak moods and seemed to think others should do the same--by moral force if necessary. At first, I didn't understand that response. But reading People at the lab, it made sense. Maybe those commenters were like Lance, and that was just their way of winning the race. They had to keep their eyes on the victory flag.

My son was called inside for his test. I watched an old couple take their seats. The woman wore a bright magenta scarf and gloves to match--her flag of victory, a talisman. I was beginning to get the idea.

Then a younger couple came in. The man was wearing business clothes like he had taken time out from his day to be there with her. She wore a sweat suit and nestled close to him while they waited. And that was their flag.

Before we left, I noticed an old man trying to put on a grey fleece jacket. He struggled against his own stiffness for ten minutes before he finally succeeded in getting it on.

Later, my son brought it up. "Did you see that old man? I felt bad for him."

"Yeah, I thought of offering to help him, but then decided against it."

"I think that would have just made him feel worse," my son said. "And besides, he finally got the jacket on himself."

And that, I thought, was his flag.

a P.S.: At Mary's inspiration, I listed my personal flags in the comment section. If anyone else would like to describe the banners you wave in the face of mortality and fear, I would love to hear them.


Elena Horowitz-Brookes said...

Patry, This is so moving and has so much truth in it. I've often wondered how I would react if I became terminally ill. Would I put up a good mental fight? Or would it be more of a spiritual one? Or would I just cave in to it all and be wisked away quietly? I think like the later on my exhausted days. What a beautiful idea using the flag metaphor for healing and transformation. I hope your son is well and that his flag is waving brightly.

floots said...

well put
i'm sure you're right re the fight against depression
we all need our own flags
ditto boulies final comment also

Fred Garber said...

I tend to fluctuate between wanting to wear my talismans and wanting to be naked to the elements. The whole subject of clothes,talismans, flags etc. is of interested to me. Soldiers, gang members, ladies of a certain age in red hats, monks, and hippies define themselves and get some strength from their costumes and talismans. Most of us do it. It seems to be wired into us. But sometimes we like to remove as much of that as possible and be naked to the elements. Take our chances ...rely on our inner strength...I like to do both...thanks Patry!

robin andrea said...

Those waiting rooms are full of stories, and inadvertent or deliberate flags. If you are sensitive, or have rather permeable boundaries, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the absolute energy in the place. I find it very moving that your son noticed the older man struggle with his simple task. Not everyone sees those things, or responds with a sense of compassion.

Mary said...

Sensitively observed and reported, Patry. Yes, sometimes, and particularly in the kind of situations and places you describe, these flags become so very important - whichever ones we may choose.

And you've started me thinking about my own flags too ...

And good wishes to your son.

Patry Francis said...

boulies: Thanks for your thoughtful comment--and for your kind words about my son. Fortunately, he is very healthy. His was just a routine screening.

floots: Whether it's a flag or a flute--whatever brings you happiness. Thanks for your comment.

fred: Interesting perspective about naked strength vs. costumery. I appreciate your always unique viewpoint.

r.d.: thanks for noticing my son's compassionate nature. I, too, was touched by that.

mary: And you've made me think of mine. What do I reach for when I need to feel "armed and ready to face something difficult? Probably in this order: my husband, a book like The Way of a Pilgrim, or the poems of Kabir, a glass of wine, and
a pair of spike heeled boots that make this tall woman even taller.

Melly said...

I know I must have flags, only I don't know what they are.
I guess I'm more like a tractor, just keep plowing, or maybe that's my flag?

Lorna said...

As I got older, and more comfortable with the person I am, I thought I would bravely fly flags, but I find instead that all my energy goes into keeping up the mask that tells everyone I'm an Amazon---and pretty much, I am. I wish I could just have a tattoo that says that, but for now the mask will have to do

rdl said...

Nice post. Not sure what mine are.

Sky said...

Badges of Courage:

1. My husband who is much more rational than I am and whose arms give me strength and comfort.

2. Research/information - I try to get a handle on whatever the issue might be if it is something I can identify - knowledge arms me with courage.

3. My sister and/or friends - I talk most things out with others; rarely do I hold feelings inside. Usually this is a soothing balm.

4. I try to climb outside myself and focus on someone else...not because I am loving and kind, but because the distraction of my energy moving outside of me helps deactivate anxiety and empowers me.

Jonathan Wonham said...

My victory flag is that I've stopped wearing a tie to the office.

Adagio said...

fascinating concept patry. solid food for thought. and my brightest flags? independence, in the face of gathering physical dependence. and gardening, vicariously - presently illustrated by the host of pink/magenta/white cosmos blooms waving from the front garden.

Patry Francis said...

Melly: "Just keep plowing" Now that's an awesome flag. Sounds like you're more a Lance than a Cheryl.

Lorna: Who says a mask can't be a flag? I like the tattoo idea, too.

r: come back after you think about it. I know you have them!

sky: A terrific mix of wisdom, love and common sense: four beautiful banners.

jonathan: Here's to the liberated neck!

adagio: What a pretty images your flowers leave in my mind--a bright flag indeed.

Patry Francis said...

In the past couple of days, I've received a few emails from people who tried to leave a comment on this, but couldn't. I've temporarily turned off the spam filter. Hoping that will help.

Anonymous said...

Fabulous. This way of looking at victory flags is great.

Sarah Salway said...

Really lovely idea - makes me wonder about my flag. Your sentence about the guy's eyes snapping open gave me the shivers. Very powerful. Thanks.

chosha said...

When I get home at night I look up into the sky and find a constellation - in summer Orion, and in winter Scorpio (both easy to spot). Somehow it makes me feels that all is right with my world, even on days when it really isn't. I feel steadied by it. I don't know if that constitutes a victory flag, but it gives me the feeling that nothing can defeat me.

By the way, if those constellation/season matches sound wrong, we're probably in different hemispheres. :)

Zhoen said...

Naked face. With a smile from the heart.

(No make-up, and I do not give into the gloom.)

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Books and music -- not so much flags as armor. My children -- my bodyguards.

I admire Lance A.'s triumphs as much as the next person, but I'm suspicious of people who don't face their shadows. Of course, not facing the shadow gets some people very far. The gym I belong to is owned by Lance, and there's paraphrenalia of him all over the place: one of his bicycles; a photo biopgraphy covering one wall; a long quote from him painted on another wall in big letters: "I don't have bad days. I have good days and great days... People ask me what I'm on. I'm on my ass on a bicycle seat six hours a day, what are you on?" The arrogance, the meanness, the contempt for others -- and we're supposed to aspire to it. It's a cultural pathology.

Perfect Virgo said...

Now if I were to be crude then I would observe that Lance will soon find another old bike to ride.

Boulies honesty was an apt first comment to this fascinating piece.

Katherine said...

. . . when things are at their darkest: I blog. I find ways to flip things around so that it is funny, absurd . . . writing is my flag . . . writing is the life preserver thrown to me when the waves are high . . . thrown by who? Myself, I guess . . . but I do see the readers, the commenters and people cheering me on to keep swimming :)

Anonymous said...

actually, they broke up because he cheated on her...shevonne found out when SHERYL was on ELLEN.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Patry Francis said...

Katherine: You're right; readers and commenters do inspire us to keep swimming. Love that.

Grace: Thanks for sharing your special strength.

Neen! You're here. Can't believe that about Lance.

Anonymous said...

I have been surfing the net for awhile and it feels like it is taking forever to find the information I need. Finally some progress when I found your blog. I really enjoyed your most recent post.

car flags

Anonymous said...

The Great Emancipator is always ranked as one of the two or three greatest presidents. His importance comes from his roles in defining the great issues, in organizing and winning the Civil War, in destroying slavery, in redefining national values, in building a new political party, and in saving and redefining the Union. His assassination made him a martyr to millions of Americans.