It’s Been a Long Year…


I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,

who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,

who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,

who do what has to be done, again and again.

These are the words of Marge Piercy; Hillary Clinton cites them in What Happened. And doesn’t it fit for this year – a year that, for many of us, felt like we were harnessed to that heavy cart, like water buffalo, trying to not make what was happening around us the “new normal.” Never, we said. Persist, we chanted. And we did, and do, persist.

I, who always hated politics and still do, found myself calling and emailing my members of Congress almost daily. When I started, I told myself that I would stick to two issues: gun control and universal health care. A glutton for punishment, you say? Well, punishment it was, but, with those numbers on speed-dial, I developed a tolerance for the smirk and smarm from the staff who answered our politicians’ phone lines – that is, when I could actually reach a live human. Most times it was voice mail, or, thank you very much Senator Burr, a message saying that voicemail was full.

And I found that I could not stick to my two targets – each day there was a new cause, one that needed to be reckoned with. Hard not to become overwhelmed and discouraged, there were times when I had to take a few days off. But I persisted. Not for myself. This year brought the many blessings that I have into a new perspective. I had healthcare; I had a prescription drug plan where my 90-day supply of medicine cost me $3. And so, I asked myself, and my congressmen’s interns, why would I not want that for everyone? Why wouldn’t they?

I asked how much they took from the NRA – they promised to get back to me on that one – I’m still waiting. I asked about our national parks, about climate change, about the tax plan now under consideration, and I begged them to do something to remove the president from office.

Did it help? Who knows? I can only hope that it didn’t hurt. North Carolina’s two Republican senators, and my Republican member of the House (thanks to gerrymandered districts) stuck with the party line. But I persisted, and persisted, and persisted. I called up energy I didn’t know I had.

And then there’s Hillary. A few weeks ago, I stayed at the New Yorker Hotel – where she gave her concession speech, one that I cannot read without weeping. And as I read What Happened, that familiar knot in my throat returned. The book is long and has more names and facts than any sane person could grasp, but it also tells the story of a real person, someone who has survived heartbreak time and time again on a public stage, who has looked inward and recognized her personal strengths, and weaknesses, in life and in politics. I liked that. I like her. I’m still with her.

So, after this long year, I’m still here. My heart hurts; I am angry at the choices that some of our citizens made and continue to make. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it; I know I’ll never be the same. I am committed to doing, and saying, what I can to make our country one that builds a longer table, never a wall.

End of soapbox oration. Tuesday saw some triumphs for candidates who have a more sympathetic philosophy, but it is far too soon to do any victory laps. Persist, and persist, and persist. And just maybe, one of those staffers will respond, yes, the congressman is in full agreement. I’m waiting for that day.



I Wish I Could Paint

watercolor poppies

I Wish I Could Paint

When I can’t find words, when our country can’t find words, to express our feelings on this past week, I wish I could paint. I wish I could put together pinks, and blues, and greens in cloudlike forms, wispy traces of white, something, anything that could help us see hope.

Hope seems to be in short supply these days. Killings just one more item before turning the page, changing the channel, though this week seemed worse than most, at least since Sandy Hook, or Columbine, or….  And who can remember the murders just last month?

When President Obama, at his Saturday press conference, was asked about gun control, he sighed. And that sigh said it all, for all of us. We can write on Facebook; we can Twitter #enough, yet in the end we sigh.

And I wish I could paint., Another Sunday

None of Us is Golden

outer-space1 (1)

None of Us Is Golden

We’ve lost some good souls these past weeks – two young, bright lights in Roanoke, and a few older ones, whose radiance remained bright through the years, Oliver Sacks, Wayne Dyer. These were the “famous” ones, the ones in the news. And some of us also lost people whom we loved, who contributed to our lives as only they could, people whom few outside their small world would know, ordinary people, ordinary, just like us. We understand why we feel sad, bereft when they leave us. But why do we ache when strangers, but only some strangers, die? We feel sad, for a few seconds, when we read about fifty Syrians who suffocated in a truck; we shake our heads in sorrow when 100 are drowned in a hurricane that struck an island that is “somewhere down there,” or the forty-five people who were murdered in Baltimore in the month of August. It is sad, but far away from us. We breathe a sigh of thanksgiving that it was they, not us, and feel, for a moment at least, that death cannot touch us.

But a young woman, beautiful with a million dollar smile, a camera man, who looks exactly like someone we all know, murdered almost in front of us, that hits home. We carry books written by Oliver Sacks, feel that he is speaking just to us. We read Wayne Dyer, and take to heart at least some of his advice about the power of intention, the personal power that each of us possesses to find and bring happiness to our lives and the lives of others. These two left a legacy, a written one, as well as one written on our hearts. When those whom we admire from afar vanish, it brings us back to reality. If it can happen to them what chance do we mortals have? For none of us is golden, none of us is safe, from life, from death.

The two young journalists left us a legacy of appreciating the moment, of a spirit and a smile, and perhaps a groundswell for reasonable dialogue on gun control.

And for those of us whose losses are more private, those we love have left us a legacy as well. And it is ours to remember:

“They leave holes that cannot be filed, for it is the fate – the genetic and neutral fate – of every human being to be a unique individual to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.”

Oliver Sacks, 1933-2015