In It Together

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My sons are the center of my life.  They are the center of my husband’s life. 

Today, Congress began changing the future drastically for my eldest son by endangering his ability to obtain insurance when he is an adult. 

Today Congress rolled back Obamacare, and with it, protection for millions of people with pre-existing conditions (replaced with high risk pools).  My son is one of those people. He was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder (a lifetime diagnosis) that requires medications that would be unattainable for us without insurance. 

He’ll be a man soon, and, again – through no fault of his own –  he may find it more difficult to get coverage or possibly even job, since he will have to evaluate the laws in each state and not every employer will want to cover hires in his situation. It will  Even so, he’s lucky compared to the millions of Americans who will lose insurance outright. He’s still on our insurance plan, and we’ll keep him there as long as the law allows.

Jimmy Kimmel hinted at some of this the other night in his emotional monologue. He briefly touched on the fact that, prior to the ACA, a child like his would have reached his lifetime insurance cap before he left the NICU. If that child had appendicitis, or a broken bone, or cancer, that cap would have left many parents bankrupt at best or burying their child at worst — even if they had insurance.  

I have thought a lot about those other parents in the months since our son was diagnosed. When we get our meds, I silently thank our company for making it possible and then shake my head that anyone in a country as rich as ours might have to watch their child suffer or even die.  I shake it when I wonder how many people die prematurely because they don’t have access to the same healthcare we do, and I wonder how we benefit as a society from treating children and poor people like disposable objects. 

I call my representatives. I donate. And I shake my head. But today I’m done shaking my head.  I’ve thought about moving our family back to a country with stronger healthcare, but I’d still be shaking my head at the drugstore, wondering how people back home were managing without access.  

So now I’m still calling my representatives and donating, but I’m also looking for new ways to show solidarity with my son and with all the other people who are being pushed out in the cold. Because, as Jimmy Kimmel so beautifully stated, “We need to take care of each other.”  

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Yours, Mine, Ours

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For some reason I had a lot of gay friends in high school. It wasn’t something I planned or even thought about until senior year, when a number of friends started coming out.

Homosexuality was not an issue prior to that, and my friends were my friends. Who they loved would never became an issue for me.  They were wonderful people before they were out, and they were (and are) wonderful people after they were out.

Those relationships stayed close beyond high school and brought new friendships with them.  It never occurred to me that there was anything unusual about having a lot of gay friends because that was what I knew.

Most of my close friends had relatively supportive families when they came out, but over time I heard horror stories of people being shunned and even threatened with violence by their own flesh and blood.  I knew of at least one friend who was beaten up simply for ‘acting’ gay even before he himself had seriously contemplated who he was.

It wasn’t until I started dating more that I realized that some people really did have a problem with homosexuality. Some of the objections were religious, but more frequently, there seemed to be an unfounded fear of unwanted sexual advances (ironically often in men who themselves were aggressive with me).

I ended relationships when it became clear that the man I was seeing would never accept my friends.  For a long time, I believed my own intractable position was founded on the fact that my friends were a non-negotiable part of my life, but as I’ve married and we’ve gone our own ways geographically, my feeling is stronger.

It wasn’t until I had a son who defied convention with his tutus and fairy wings that I understood why it had mattered to me so much back then that any companion be accepting of my gay friends.  But when my unconventional son began asking to wear his rainbow wig to the diner, the empathy and love I had felt for those people crystalized.

It wasn’t just acceptance of my friends, I had wanted. It was the assurance that if any child of mine was different, a future husband would respond the way the Big Guy does — by asking if our different child wants to wear his superhero cape with his wig.

It hit again Sunday when the news came in from Orlando, and I read of a mother reading the last texts from her son, knowing he might be dying and that his last moments were filled with terror.

It hit because as a mother I knew that the last thing she probably cared about at that moment was who her son loved.  The only thing that mattered was that she wanted him to be safe so that he could love.

I knew that could have just as easily been my kid who had wanted acceptance and freedom from fear.  It could be your kid that was refused housing or service or even medical care. It could be any of ours that was in that night club in Orlando, murdered for the crime of loving someone.

I don’t know what the future holds for my unconventional son, and it is not our job to project an orientation on to him. It is our job to make sure he knows that our love doesn’t come with conditions and to work for a world where everyone’s kid can be honest about whom they love without fear.

Town Meeting

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I had the picnic basket packed with pasta salad, cheese and crackers, and watermelon by 7PM.  We had an hour to go.  It was a only a five minute drive to the church yard, but we’d need to get there early to find a good spot.

When we arrived, the unofficial meeting was just coming together.  There were dozens of young faces – some just a few months into this world.  There children born on the other side of the globe lolling on picnic blankets with kids whose grandparents and great-great-great-grand’s built this town.  But, while the faces are different, the feelings of the attendees – unlike on official Town Meeting day – were very much in sync.

Everyone, regardless of how they felt about the latest stop sign or school budget line item, greeted their neighbors happily.  Some had brought dinner. Others brought dessert.  In front of the congregation was what looked like a laundry line, draped with colorful sheets.  It looked like the make shift stage Thing1 and Thing2 had created under our swing-set a few years ago.  

By the time the sun dipped behind the mountain at the edge of the field, the meeting was ready to begin. A wiry man with a snowy white beard walked to the center of the lawn making introductions and as he left the grassy stage, players bearing elaborate marionettes glided into view. 

For the next two hours, we watched field in front of the mountain darken, with the only light coming from lamps clamped to teepees at each side of the stage.  The players and puppeteers told tales of foolishness, mercy, greed, and, finally of one of those rare but wonderful instances of man’s humanity to man.  

The last story of a lifetime of generosity and love ultimately benefiting the generous concluded with the illuminating of paper lanterns constructed to look like houses. The puppeteers dimmed the stage lights and soon, the only sight was the tiny houses against the mountain and the only sound was the rushing river nearby.  And the only thing we knew for that moment was the peace that we were unconsciously sharing with everyone in that field.

That moment was a gift from the players.  It was also a gift from the Arab and Jewish storytellers who gave these stories to their children and to the world. As our moment of peace came to a quiet end, I thought of their descendants a half a world away, locked in endless conflict and, gazing at the stars, I wished peace for both sides – for their sakes and everyone else’s.  I wished for us to remember that, we all have an inheritance like this – one that could unite us more than we allow it to us divide us if only we’d claim it.  

It’s only a wish,and, as John Lennon said, I may just be a dreamer.  But I didn’t imagine these stories or that moment.

The Path Taken Together

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“We are now arriving in Rugby.  Rugby, North Dakota,” announced the conductor over the loudspeaker.  “For those of you who don’t already know, Rugby is the geographical center of North America.”  My two adult dinner companions and I looked at each other and smiled as the youngest of our party, six-year-old Thing2, absorbed the information.  It was the first time he had been silent since we had been seated with the Boy Scout troop leader and den mother.  

The train may not have reached the geographical center of North America at its appointed hour, but the dining car staff was a model of down-to-the-minute efficiency.  Feeding 400 people in two hours required military precision and, as in our case, sometimes seating strangers together to ensure every booth was used to its fullest potential.  

I had seen the Boy Scout troop board the train earlier in the day.  We had just reached the border of North Dakota when the uniformed flotilla of teenagers marched past us and then forgotten about them – a tribute to their chaperones’ ability to keep a dozen boys in line for hours on end – until the seating hostess put me and Thing2 together with their leaders.  

Twelve years of living in a very small town has not undone my urban-cultivated and media-nurtured policy  of never talking to strangers.  However, for Thing2′ – born and bred in the country – strangers don’t exist.  As soon as we sat down he began chattering with our companions, asking about their badges and where they were going.  

Sociability had been his hallmark for the past two days of our cross country train trip, and it kept him happily busy as he played with other children and introduced himself to friendly passengers in the observation car.  He showed neighboring passengers the pictures he was taking and cooed at babies.  He chatted with a friendly Amish woman about her dress (which he found beautiful).   And, as he got to know people from all walks of life, so did I. 

Now, as we sat with our companions from the midwest, I thought of the pundits and pollsters who love to claim that Americans are completely at odds with each other – divided by region and class.  Listening to the troop leader talk about changes in North Dakota topography and things that were high in the minds of his neighbors, I was reminded that there were probably more shared values on that train than insurmountable, opposing ideologies.

We may have had different boarding points and destinations, but we were on the same journey.

Lettuce Listen

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Today I hustled. I fed. I chauffeured. I walked. I shopped. I chauffeured some more.  I prepped.  I cleaned.  I chided.  I sat at a desk in a windowless office watching the light change as clouds softened the sunlight hitting the door.  I messaged.  I read and typed.  I focused and tinkered.  I emailed people in Hawaii and Maryland.  I ran.  

When evening came, I washed and peeled and chopped and cut and cut until I noticed I had one more thing to wash and cut and walked through the door into the rain and out to the garden.  I walked to the middle of the deserted plot and knelt down to pick some lettuce.  I plucked, and as the raindrops softly plop-plopped on my bare shoulders and rat-a-tatted on the lettuce leaves, for the first time all day, I stopped thinking and working and hustling, and I listened.