Posts Tagged ‘family life’


My friend Leslie called yesterday:  “I’m worried about Hillary’s health.”  I talked over her: “Jeez, don’t worry about it. It’s walking pneumonia. The rest is just right wing blather to make her look old and doddery and frail. They gave her a big-ass dose of antibiotics. She’ll be fine.”

Leslie pressed on:  “Well I mean, last year when I had pneumonia, I had to go to bed for two weeks. I would wake up in the morning and make breakfast for the kids, and then I had to go back to bed.” I snapped back: “Well, that’s not an option.”

Then I took a breath. Oh.  When Leslie said she was worried about Clinton’s health, she didn’t mean she was politically worried.  She meant she was worried about her as a person. She was worried about the fact that Hillary Clinton must feel horrible—weak, thirsty, feverish, ready to cough up a lung—and yet she has to get up before the sun, make speeches at the top of her voice, and embrace thousands of strangers like second cousins on Thanksgiving Day. That must suck. How is it even possible?

Right. Leslie was worried about Hillary in the way that compassion dictates—concern for your fellow human.

Well, that was unimpressive. That I blew right past the suffering of this poor, overstretched woman and went right to counting votes in North Carolina. Later, after the dinner dishes were washed, I snuck a peek at the news. The CNN headline: “Hillary Clinton Stumbles–Will Her Campaign Follow?” The Washington Post led with: “Hillary Clinton’s health just became a real issue in the presidential campaign.”

Let’s set aside for a moment the crassness of overshadowing the fifteenth anniversary of the nation-stopping tragedy of 9/11 with a breathless account of a respiratory illness and consider this: Just last week, the headlines were things like:  “Clinton Campaign Wants to Humanize Hillary” and “Hillary Clinton: Campaign Attempts to Humanize Her Again.” The worst of this batch came during the Democratic Convention: “Bill Clinton Praises His Wife’s Feminine Side.” Ok, ick. And from the New York Times no less.

But here’s a news flash for all of us—members of press and members of the public alike—humans live in bodies. Humans are bodies. There is nothing more humanizing than having a head cold. No matter how hard we struggle and argue that we “don’t have time to be sick,” we don’t have a choice. We shiver and sneeze and cough until the coronaviruses run their course and decide they are done with us.

These presidential campaigns are brutal. They are inhumane. They are—indeed—unhuman in some very fundamental and creepy way. And we hate them for it. We hate the poll-tested messages, the spin rooms, the inaccessibility and craven manipulation of the electorate. We hate the size, the scale. We hate the money and the advertising. We hate the glitz and the confetti and the phony carnival of the balloon drop.

And we should. Somehow, in the deep recesses of our cynical hearts, we do know that a government of the people, by the people, for the people requires actual people. And people come with all the inconvenient frailties of the mortal, animal bodies that we’re born into. That includes head colds and menstrual cramps and poor eyesight and foggy thinking when we’re exhausted.

Of course, we can’t talk about this without taking note of the skin-crawingly gendered nature this conversation. We love to use women’s bodies—in all their glorious humanness—to question and marginalize and cast doubt on the competence of their (our) minds.(I’m thinking about Hillary Clinton’s dash to the podium after using the ladies room in an otherwise all-male debate.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve watched enough West Wing to know that it’s a bad idea for presidential candidates to cover up major, chronic health issues. But Hillary Clinton’s pneumonia is a chance—among many—for us to take a breath and re-set. We say we want authentic candidates—and elected officials—who represent us and who understand what we’re going through out here in the provinces as we muddle through our days sleep-deprived and rumpled and plagued by head colds. That said, though, we have to grow up. We can’t have it all. We can’t have the perfectly polished, elegantly coiffed, gaffe-less candidate who is also authentic and empathetic and real.  Real is real. And sometimes real gets a nasty case of pneumonia.


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On Missing

my grandparents, edna & coy

my grandparents, edna & coy


I realized today that the human activity  I engage in above all others is missing people.  Of course, all my family members are gone tonight doing one thing and another, so I miss them.  And right now, I am baking mac and cheese for the family of one of my dear friends, who is on a dream trip to the Bahamas.  So I miss all of them, too.  And my true heart’s best friend has gone to the Redwoods or to a treehouse in Southern Oregon or to some fool place she says makes her feel like a hippy or an Ewok.  I miss her too.

Every single day of my life, I miss my Grandma Edna.  She died 13 years ago this month, and I’m still a little mad that she didn’t hang around to meet Violet.  But I miss my grandfather, too, though he died when I was three.  I can scarcely remember what he looked like, but the smell of a pipe can bring tears to my throat in a hot second.

I love my co-workers now, but I still miss my colleagues from City Club and the Federal Defenders Office and Energy III, the insulation company where I worked after high school.  I miss my friends from law school and college and kindergarten.  I miss Rodney, the boy who died in a car crash when I was in the fourth grade.

The odd thing is that I’m not lonely.  Not at all.  In fact, it is a rare and beautiful thing to be alone at the dinner hour when I can eat cottage cheese over the sink while I balance Martha Stewart Living on the cutting board.  Nothing to cook, no dishes to wash. I can think my own thoughts, and they are not all entirely melancholy.

The vast majority of my time is spent with people who I admire and enjoy and love.  But in the back of my mind, I am missing all the others.  In fact, sometimes I miss the people I am with because I am thinking about the fact that they will grow up and go to college or get a different job or go the grocery store without me.  As I drive Ruby and Violet to school, I often think I miss you even though you are still here.  Sometimes I even say that out loud, but they look at me—as they say—like I have nine heads.

I also miss people I barely know—like the friendly barista who has worked in the coffee shop around the corner for the last few months but who doesn’t seem to be there anymore.  And I miss all the dogs I’ve ever had – Zeke and Kaikatsu and Katie and Romeo.  And Kia, the German Shepherd that we boarded for two weeks when I was in second grade.

I miss restaurants and coffee shops where I ate and argued and laughed with friends and lovers and kids—Ron Paul on Broadway and Chance of Rain and especially Esparza’s, where we went for chicken fried steak on Thursday nights even though I am a vegetarian.

I miss my Uncle Eldon and my Great-Grandfather Harry, who I never met.  I miss my cat even though I have never had a cat and I don’t see a way in which I would ever have one.  But you see, I know that if I did have a cat, his name would be Diego Rivera and he would be a calico, and he would have a gray eye patch. I miss him.

It’s a pathology, all this missing.  I can’t decide if its ingratitude or an over-abundance of gratitude. Or if it’s just plain looking a gift horse in the mouth.  But I do know, in that moment just before I say goodbye to you, when you are both there and not there—it is the sweetest thing I know.  It reminds me how fleeting it all is.  It reminds me we are damn lucky to be here. Now.  Together.







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