Sunday, November 30, 2008

Anniversary Redux

Friday was another anniversary of sorts.

My father passed away the day after Thanksgiving last year, and in some ways that seems a more meaningful reference than the 23rd of November, the actual date.

Associating my dad with Thanksgiving just feels right. Its themes—cherishing family and counting one's blessings (not to mention food and football)—were the themes of his life. He kept things simple and knew how to be happy.

It's hard to do better than that in this world.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Today marks a year since my father died.

Time has been up to its old mischief, and it feels both infinitely longer and far shorter since that saddest of days.

I've been anticipating this anniversary for quite a while, expecting it to deliver some kind of meaning or carry some kind of significance.

But today I woke up to a morning like any other. And though I had hoped for a visit from my dad, he was entirely absent from my dreams—as he has been, with one brief exception, all year.

A wise friend wrote to me the day after my dad's memorial service last year. Her own father had died shortly after we first met, and we had never really talked about it because we were barely acquaintances back then. I'm not even sure I offered my condolences at the time, which shames me to this day.

In her note to me, this friend described grief and mourning, in her experience, as having had "a very clear before and after. Like a cloak lifting off, and once it was off, it was off."

That poetic image stayed with me, and comforted me, over the past year.

And yet now that I look back, I see that my experience was very different. Not only do I think the cloak never lifted—I'm not sure I was under a cloak at all.

Perhaps because my dad's last year was so medically fraught, because he had virtually no independence, because his quality of life was so drastically circumscribed for so long, his death, while an incalculable loss, was also an overdue relief from his incalculable suffering.

And so maybe there was a cloak after all—one that lifted off of him, rather than me.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Through the Looking Glass

Over the last week or so I got a taste of what it must have felt like for my friends to learn that I had breast cancer.

A dear friend of mine just went through a very scary medical emergency, which I found out about after receiving an unexpected message from her husband. All he said was that he was calling to talk to me about my pal.

My first reaction was to freak out, because although his tone wasn't ominous, it was highly unusual for him to be calling me.

My second reaction was to convince myself that he was calling about plans for her birthday, which is approaching. I actually kept this fantasy going for a pretty long time—long enough for me to call him, leave a message, and wait for him to call me back.

As soon as I heard from him, I went right back to freaking out—inside, anyway. I stayed remarkably calm while I spoke to him, mainly because I knew that's what he needed me to do—and I knew that because of the people who stayed calm when Zach or I told them about my first diagnosis back in 2001 and my second in late 2005.

I continued to simultaneously freak out and remain calm for the next five days, until my friend's name flashed at me from my cell phone's caller-ID screen and I finally heard her voice.

Those were five long days of fear and helplessness, which I realize must be what our friends felt after hearing our scary news and having no choice but to wait for further word.

A few days later, my dear friend called again with the best possible update: she's OK, she's expected to make a full recovery, and there's every reason to believe that she will be perfectly fine forevermore.

So now I also know what it feels like to release a long-held emotional breath, to uncross one's figurative fingers, and to feel the whoosh of metaphorical air as a just-dodged bullet whizzes by.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


Last night, a huge rally took place right on our corner. A swarm of people gathered to protest Proposition 8, California's anti-gay-marriage ballot measure.

Prop 8—or Prop H8 ("Prop Hate"), as it has come to be called—narrowly passed last Tuesday, forever tarnishing the historic day on which Barack Obama was elected President. Similar bans passed by wider margins in Arizona and Florida, and Arkansans enacted an equally abhorrent measure designed to bar homosexuals from adopting children.

I can fathom none of these initiatives, nor the thinking of those who supported them.

And I can't begin to imagine how it would feel to wake up the morning after an election to the news that the citizens of my state had collectively determined that my marriage—whether long-term, recent, upcoming, or merely hoped-for—violated the law, public policy, and their narrow-minded, discriminatory values.

How is it that a society can strip its members of rights and protections, can reinstate segregation in a different form, on the same day that this nation rendered a resounding verdict on countless generations of racism? How can we have embraced Jim Crow all over again, merely in a different guise?

Zach and I have been together nearly 19 years, married for almost 16. As far as we know, no one is threatening to invalidate our marriage. But that hardly matters. When the rights of any one of us are under attack, we are all vulnerable.

So we stood on our corner for nearly an hour, with news helicopters buzzing overhead and a phalanx of police officers in riot helmets in the street, and we chanted along with the protesters:

What do we want?
Equal rights!
When do we want it?

Gay, straight, black, white
Marriage is a civil right!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

So Close

In 1984, when Walter Mondale named Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate, the enormity of the moment overtook my dad.

"I never thought I'd live to see the day," he said, choking up.

His reaction left a huge impression on me because it had never occurred to me that a woman couldn't be Vice President—or President, for that matter.

But my father was born in 1926, and he knew just how momentous a milestone this was.

How I wish he had lived to see Barack Obama elected President.

I know just how he would have greeted the news—with disbelief, with joy, and with deep pride in his country.

He would have marveled at the trajectory of this man's life and considered himself blessed to have witnessed this moment in American history.

And I have no doubt that he'd have been smitten with Michelle Obama and especially with Malia and Sasha.

It breaks my heart that Madelyn Dunham did not get to see her grandson's triumph, that she missed it by a single day. But I bet she is smiling down on the President-elect, and I know she's in good company up there.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


There's a long list of unimpressive reasons why I've been MIA for much of the nearly five months since I arrived in La La Land: new job, new city, new home, long-distance marriage, rewrite deadline, travel, unpacking, unpacking, unpacking, summer Olympics, election coverage, general settling-in, staggering lack of furniture upon which to comfortably sit and type, confounding time difference, unmentionable plumbing episode, are you even still reading this?

Not only have I neglected to post, I have fallen down on the jobs of returning phone calls, replying to e-mail, remembering birthdays, and all of the other social niceties that I previously observed.

Mainly this is because I found myself with very little in the way of down time during the long stretch when I was here by myself. (New job/city/home + 3,000-mile separation from husband = physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion.)

But it's also because once Zach did arrive, we spent nearly all of our newly available down time indulging in a recent obsession.

People, have you seen "The Wire"???

Because wow.

What incredible writing.

What compelling characters.

What intricate plotting.

What a stunning demonstration of the potential of television, as a medium, to reflect and comment on our society.

I'm glad that Zach and I came late to this party and had to watch the first four seasons on DVD and the last one via TiVo. I don't think we could have waited a week between episodes—let alone months between seasons.

As it is, we tore through the series as fast as our Netflix queue would allow, finishing one episode and immediately starting another, no matter how late it might be or how much sleep we'd be sacrificing.

We finally watched the last episode last night. (Well, early this morning.)

For months we were addicts in perpetual, relentless pursuit of the next story line, the next revelation, the next climactic moment.

And now, of course, we are in withdrawal.

Although with lots more free time on our hands.