Positively Kick Ass

First and Last, Kick Your Own Ass

You might need help with this one. Photo by lulemon athletica.

You might need help with this one. Photo by lulemon athletica.

Yes, kicking our own asses is awkward, but it's also necessary - something akin to Jesus's advice regarding motes, logs, and first stones, only not so stringently peaceable or self-effacing. It doesn't mean that we have to be paragons of virtue before we start mixing it up - we only need a couple of well-worn, homegrown examples like Abraham Lincoln and MLK, Jr. to remind us that history's most eloquent (and compassionate) ass kickers have all dwelt somewhere lower than they dreamed of ascending. Hypocrisy is sometimes unavoidable on the middle path between perfectionism and paralysis - if we wait to speak up until we're breathing the cold, thin air of righteousness, our voices may die in our throats.

Words imbued with struggle and hope are words in motion; they surge with the power of desire. Words of attainment - been there, done that - have never moved me much. One of my all-time favorite cartoons depicts a small band of men standing on a snow-covered peak, next to a flag that reads "BECAUSE WE'RE JERKS." I encountered it many years ago on the refrigerator of the man who became my husband... the same man who later climbed Kilimanjaro with my father and brother, puking his guts out at 18,000 feet and slogging through the garbage left by thousands of other jerks.

These are the internal contradictions that I don't care to live without, in myself or those I revere. There are people who toss babies out with their bathwater every morning, but I tend to avoid their company. Heroes, like family, ought to embarrass us now and then.

When I was a kid, I worshipped Pete Rose, and I have never regretted it. I didn't guess at the depth and breadth of his assholery when I was eight, but it was there all the time, and it was part of what made him great - that pure current of self-interest that sent him barreling around the bases whenever he knocked out another hit. Pete lent me strength and a dose of "fuck you" attitude that helped me survive a typically rocky adolescence. Maybe every eight-year-old girl needs an asshole to admire, preferably (much preferably) from a distance. Close up, they're not so great.

The Pete-Rose-sized hole in the Hall of Fame is a travesty, a monument to misdirected sanctimony erected by men who confuse baseball with religion.

And that brings me back to my original subject: the weird yogic practice of kicking our own backsides. I was in college when Pete Rose finally got busted for gambling, and then for repeatedly lying about it. I didn't feel betrayed; I didn't feel like everything he'd given to me had been stolen away. I still felt grateful. But damn, did I wish him just a smidgen of self-awareness. He'd worked so hard once upon a time to make himself an "athlete" - it was always going to be in quotation marks! - and now that he was permanently benched, I longed to see him devote some fraction of that focused effort to the remaking of his character. Like a lot of other admirers, I would have been happy even to hear him acknowledge that the floorboards were rotting.

But that's the challenge, isn't it? We know better than anyone where we want to go, but we can't see our own butts to kick them. We can rely on trusted friends to guide us, we can try to expand our peripheral vision (meditation as vitamin A), but we finally just need to get into the daily habit of pretzeling ourselves and letting fly: "You're really not all that, Gretch. And you know you need to call your grandmother."

So I want to say at the outset that most of what I post here will be written in the "royal you." I'm not saying "go kick some butt" because I've already reached sublime heights of strength and wisdom. I'm telling you what I need to hear, as I gather my courage to head out and make a new mess of mistakes.