Thursday, August 27, 2009

Best Job Ever

Twenty-six years ago today, I was in a birthing room in Plano, Texas taking my first "paycheck" for the most life-changing job of all time - motherhood.
Payday! 8/27/1983
This is my oldest son. He was born at 3:22 AM on August 27, 1983. Labor was 30 hours, delivery was heroic on everyone's part, and the first few days were exactly what they are for all parents new to the job - delightfully harrowing. At so many levels, the work has nearly ruined me. At so many more, it's made me the human being I was meant to be. I don't think I'd be over-dramatizing things if I said I've spent the last 9,490 days of my life doing all I could to stay a half-step ahead of action items handed to me directly from the boss (I don't have to tell you who that is). Some days I've fallen behind...and on the days I've celebrated getting ahead, I've usually awakened the next morning to the truth that getting ahead in this business is just an illusion that is allowed to keep us from driving our cars into the river. Don't apply if you've got the tiniest urge to become a successful Type A CEO. Or a reclusive mystic. And don't be thinking you'll make a Woman of the Year cover story for TIME magazine, either. Unfortunately, the rewards for we mothers of the world's most beautiful and bright (every mother's child) are not that public. They come instead on quiet mornings in rocking chairs by windows, on back porches with melting red popsicles dripping on our legs, at piano recitals and basketball games and meet-the-teacher nights; as our little projects learn to walk, then run, then fly away from the nests we've built and re-built and protected from predators. A very wise woman told me years ago that the best mothers work themselves out of a job. I have come to understand her wisdom in the physical sense...I no longer wash this child's clothes or pack his lunches or even pay his bills. But in matters of the heart, my friend was wrong. A mother's job of hoping, dreaming, encouraging, loving is never done. In every way imaginable, motherhood has been - and still is - the most demanding and frustrating and rewarding career of any I have pursued. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity I've had to be a mother...best job ever!
Still payday! 8/1/2009
Happy Birthday, Austin!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

At the Mercy...

My friend Sam Baker releases his third CD today. It's titled Cotton and you should pick it up as soon as you can. I hope you've heard Sam's previous two releases, Mercy and Pretty World, because he considers all three part of one good work - he calls it The Mercy Trilogy. Sam knows something about mercy. He was on a train in Peru in 1986 when a bomb, placed by a terrorist political group known as Shining Path, exploded in his car. Everyone Sam was traveling with died that day. He suffered life-ending injuries - but lived instead - to tell the story. I am glad the story has emerged as mercy. I've wondered, in the five years I've known Sam, how an experience like his might have grown inside me. As hate? Fear? Helplessness? Surrender to evil? A waking nightmare? Would there have been one moment after that day in 1986 in which I might have imagined this big ol' goofy place we inhabit as a pretty world, as Sam has so beautifully done in the title song from his last CD? It's hard for me to believe I have that kind of Spirit of Wholeness inside me. I tend to find conspiracy to make me unhappy in everything from traffic jams to empty milk cartons... How does a person walk into each day with a memory like Sam's and walk out with a song?
God is in every face we meet - and not just in every face - in every plank of cedar that's tacked to the outside of our houses, in the rosemary that grows in the yard. The question then becomes: how can I learn not to turn away? - Sam Baker
Learning not to turn away... How much might I learn if I stopped turning away from what's difficult in this world? I'm betting it's possible mercy lingers there. Peace.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Heroic Voting

Is there a living American who can fathom the idea of paying for a vote with a finger? As in - having a finger chopped off because you voted. Perhaps there are those of us who can conjure up some legitimate angst over votes stolen, elections railroaded, taxes levied on select populations that want to vote, campaign signs ripped up in the front yard...but a finger for a vote? It happened in Afghanistan - not 200 years ago - last week. The two known amputees were reportedly women. Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Gloria Steinem stand back in my mind's hall of heroic women. Make room for the burka-clad, face-covered, quietly determined women of Afghanistan. Peace.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Only Three Things

We sat around the kitchen counter with a small circle of people last night who have been part of our lives for more than 20 years. We've celebrated births and ballgames and barbeque with these friends. We've grieved the loss of jobs, parents, siblings, and a child standing hand in hand. We have pondered the presence of God and the absence of justice in the world inside these safe and sacred friendships. Our stories are warp and weft to one another's. When the weaving of these threads of Life...some dazzlingly colorful, some irritatingly nubby, some worn to a shine...begins, the Fabric that emerges is always something to behold. Once or twice during the evening, I zoomed out of the moment to observe, with gratitude, the wonder of long friendship. Money cannot buy this, is what I was thinking. The occasion of our reunion last night was the delivery of one of "our" babies to college. We spent, of course, no small amount of time telling the University of Texas freshman all about the day she was born, the first time we saw her with a sunburn, and the cute way she memorized books to make us think she was reading. Money cannot buy this kind of kinship. The children we knew as tummy bumps and toddlers and twinkle-toed ballerinas have - right before our very eyes - become doctors and engineers and philosophers and musicians. The young parents we were, struggling to navigate careers and potty training and trouble with in-laws have become observers and counselors and funders of dreams. We are in it together. Growing older in the company of friends. Passing the future to children we have helped raise. Looking ahead with hope and great shared joy. Money cannot buy this kind of health insurance. I woke up humming a Guy Clark tune this morning - Homegrown Tomatoes. Here's the refrain of the song, if you don't know it:
Only two things money can't buy... That's true love And homegrown tomatoes
And one more thing, Guy- friends like these... Peace.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Promise to Daniel

There is no way to discuss the tragic death of 18 month-old Daniel Hu without judgment. I bear none for his father, who is likely wishing for his own death right now. I ache for his father. I am struck, most profoundly, by the American human doing exposed in this tragedy. The shame is on all of us. We who are busy, busy, busy...late, late, late...focused, focused, focused... We who expect everyone else who is productive and responsible to be behaving in the same way. Daniel died in his father's car last Thursday. The car was parked in the lot at his father's place of employment, which happens to be just a mile from my front door. Daniel's father, who has told police he "just totally forgot" to take his son to daycare that morning, arrived at work at 9 AM. It was 85-degrees. Daniel was found seven hours later. It was 102-degrees. I know no other details - except this morning there is a story in my newspaper about a woman who parked next to the car with the baby inside. . .at 9:30 AM. She apparently told a security guard what she'd seen, and went on - we can assume - into her busy day. The security staff reportedly made a search of the lot, to no avail. And that was that. Until 4 PM. I have forgotten many things in my haste to keep a professional commitment. I have trusted others, many times, to find a solution to my own concerns because I think they are less busy, or more accountable for the outcome than I am. I have given up on a project countless times because it seemed like a time-waster in light of everything else I had to to. I have rushed past so many people who need me - people in my family, people on the street, people standing at my desk - because I am just too busy. Today, in the name and memory of a baby I never knew named Daniel Hu, I declare myself a human being. And I pray I will never again fail to pay attention to life as it shows up on my preoccupied path. We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers. Let it be. Peace.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Whole Freedom

I thought about it for a minute when I read John Mackey's libertarian view of the current proposal to reform health care in America (if you haven't heard, he's not for it). But then I remembered I'd mostly given up Whole Foods for another reason...it's too pricey. If I'm going to spend $6 for a handful of tomatoes, I'd like to shake the hand of the person who grew them. Find your farmer's market. And lay off John Mackey. Who cares what he thinks anyway? I live in his town, and I can tell you he holds no particular sway here when it comes to what's law and what isn't. He's just a rich guy who everyone apparently assumed was a left-leaning liberal because his store is hip. We left-leaning liberals have learned to be wary of hip. Particularly if it's money-making hip. Because there's something about having lots of money that makes it easy to say things like:
A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. That's because there isn't any. This "right" has never existed in America. -Mackey, Wall Street Journal
Which of course is true, unless you have a left-leaning liberal slant on: "promote the general welfare"...which is right there in the preamble to the Constitution. And there's always the left-leaning liberal take on this line from the Declaration of Independence:
...laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
We might as well get over John Mackey. He's certainly not going to change his politics because we decide we won't shop at his store. He doesn't have to. He's made his zillions. Besides, our energies would be better spent trying to discover what kinds of alternatives our elected representatives are heading back to Washington, DC with at the end of the August congressional recess. These are the people making adjustments to our foundations and principles. Write, call, or show up in their offices. Don't take waffley politician talk for an answer. Ask for specifics. Tell them John Mackey laid out a point-by-point plan...why can't they? Then promise to boycott them at the polls next election if they aren't thinking clearly. Then, if you're still in the mood for a boycott, the sponsors of Glenn Beck's FOX network show are a more powerful place to start. I'll hazard a wild guess that Beck's audience is much bigger than John Mackey's Wall Street Journal reading crowd. Make the most of your right to be part of our processes. Peace.

Monday, August 17, 2009

You May Say I'm A Dreamer...

I'm an egalitarian. That means I like the idea of removing inequalities among people. I haven't quite figured out why the place and circumstances of my birth and background should entitle me to more of the world's wealth or resources or health care than most of the world receives. If you read here often, you know this about me. If you don't...you may be thinking I'm a socialist. Political pigeon-holing aside, I'm really just a dreamer. I generally believe in good triumphing over evil, in right making up for wrong, and in the basic human leaning toward taking care of one another. Consequently, I believe this is a good idea:
... provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans and reduce the growth in health care spending.
It's the stated purpose of House Resolution 3200 - the bill Congress is pondering and Americans are shouting about from town hall to shining town hall meeting. Read it before you jump into a chest-pounding debate over it. If you don't have time for 1,017 pages of legislative-lawyer-speak, there's a reliable summary, posted at congress.org. If you'd rather hit the high points of contention, at least get the facts right. You could start with factcheck.org's Seven Falsehoods About Health Care. I also believe this is a wise and very democracy-grounded American opinion:
I don’t believe anyone should be in charge of your health care decisions but you and your doctor — not government bureaucrats, not insurance companies.
Barack Obama said it. Read his op-ed piece from the New York Times yesterday. I'm also a fan of the public option piece of health care reform. How in the world could this be un-American?
The public option would be a government-backed plan available to consumers through a health exchange where people could buy insurance, public or private, that best fits their needs. While a public plan might require some government financing to start up, the idea is for it to be financially self-sustaining and require no subsidies. (Some) argue that a public plan would invariably drive private insurers out of business and prompt employers to drop private coverage, pushing people who are already insured onto a plan run by the government.
If you're still confused about what I believe... Follow the money, my friends. Corporate America is not egalitarian. Peace.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fair's Fair?

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. - the yet-to-be adopted Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution
I had a martini last night in the upscale bar of an historic downtown Austin hotel. It's a great spot for a good drink and for watching the basically upscale people of my town parade and preen through a Friday night. I left after one drink feeling more than a little grumpy over the clear evidence of inequality in the standing of women in America: We are not allowed to grow old and fat like men are. Couple after couple walked through the upstairs bar at the Driskill hotel last night, and I am not exaggerating when I tell you my scientific survey of the bar population showed 2 of 3 couples were mismatched in this significant way: Men were generally overweight and under dressed and the women on their arms were fit, fashionably dressed, and eye-catchingly accessorized. What's up with that? Why do we women feel the need/obligation to keep looking like the pick of any litter, while men are allowed to eat and age? One might argue that women prefer men who are not preeners. But, come on my sisters - you know you're looking at the 1/3 of the male population that's staying in shape and thinking, "I remember when my husband looked like that." And, you also know that you're staying beautiful just so he won't look around and think that. Here's a news flash, girls. He's looking around anyway. Do your own survey. The matter of equality comes to two questions: Do we women want our men to stay gorgeous like we are, or do we want to be allowed to abandon the compulsion to look like Barbie until the day we die? My husband tried to put the questions to rest by pointing out the extended life bonus women statistically own in the United States. Women, on average, outlast men by about 5 years. I suppose his implication was - women who stay in shape outlive men who don't. All I could hear in his logic was the promise of a chance that I might have 5 years at the end of my life to get as out of shape and out of fashion as I like. Forgive my idle Saturday pondering...but if you have time to squander over such trivia - think for a moment about the cultural icons of couplehood below. How would life be different for women if Wilma Flintstone or Marge Simpson or Alice Cramden or Lois Griffin had been the chubby ones? Peace.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Oh I Wish It Would Rain

We are looking to the heavens and praying for rain today in Austin. It's so dry. Our lakes are receding. Our cucumbers are shriveling on the vine. Our lawns are turning to straw. We had 26 days in July with temperatures over 100-degrees. It rained 1/4 of an inch. We're parched, to understate things. And August is, historically, our hottest month. Why won't it rain? Everything is longing for a good soaking. Even the sidewalk. If I sit still long enough with my eyes closed, I can almost conjure up the smell of rain on the hot pavement and the sound of a solid storm thumping my roof with life-giving water... Of course a clean glass of fresh water is as close as the tap in my kitchen, or in one of my three bathrooms, or at one of my outdoor faucets..front or back. But, oh, I am so tired of moving sprinklers around the yard. Wah. Wah. Despite historic drought conditions in Texas, I do not have to walk 4 miles to a water source, or carry 44 pounds of water in buckets back to my home. In fact, when I flush a toilet I use more water (6.5 gallons) than most Africans use in an entire day (5 gallons). A five-minute shower covers the per person daily water consumption for most of the rest of the developing world. East Africa needs rain. China needs rain. Bolivia needs rain. Australia needs rain. People in these countries aren't worried about their water bills. They're worried about the survival of entire cultures. Here's a picture of drought in my world... Here's a glimpse of some of the rest of the world... It is time to look toward the heavens and expand my prayers. Peace.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Who's Oldest?

I had imagined I'd wax nostalgically and eloquently here today about the men who defined my generation's music scene: Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, and Willie Nelson. I went to see the Trifecta of Music History last night, the happy guest of a generous friend who'd snagged tickets to the sold out Summer '09 Ballpark Tour. I will skip the erudite nuances noticed only by those who review music for a living and say simply - it was awesome. I will also say I'd have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been mad about my camera. "Sorry ma'am, you can't take this in," is what the purse-checker at the gate told me. "Are you kidding me?" I said, wondering if he'd refused every person carrying an iPhone. "No. You can't bring it in." So, in spite of the fact that Willie was already playing and my car was parked a 100-degree mile from the ballpark entrance - I trudged back to my car to ditch the illegal Panasonic point-and-shoot. I did entertain the idea of stuffing the camera under my shirt and waiting five minutes before heading back to the gate. But only briefly. I am the cursed rule follower known as the oldest child. We are compulsive rule followers, in case you hadn't noticed. And we'd really like it if the rest of you followed the rules, too. We feel so stupid when you don't. Before you write every oldest child you know off as a curmudgeonly old beast who can't have any fun, let me defend our post with statistics from Dr. Keven Leman, who wrote The Birth Order Book - Why You Are The Way You Are:

Of the first 23 astronauts to blast off into space, 21 were first born children. The other two were only children.

In the last election, of the 11 people who wanted to be President of the United States, eight of the 11 were first-born sons or first-born daughters in their family or only children.

First borns tend to rule a little bit. They’re the movers and shakers of life and they lead everything from the PTA to the U.S. Presidency.

So we have our place in the world. But we have no pictures of Willie, John, and Bob - even if we're only 50 yards away from the stage. Here's all I got last night:
(That's the stage Willie is playing on on the far right...)
Yes - once inside the gate, I saw that every third person there had a camera. They were not oldest children. Here's what they got: I actually had to pirate this photo from the daily newspaper, so I won't be posting it on facebook - even though I'd like to. There are copyright laws, you know... So if you have a friend with a picture from last night's concert in Round Rock, Texas - I'm betting he/she is not an oldest child. Please ask him/her to send me a copy of their best shot. It will help me make peace with my inner oldest.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

It has occurred to me today that Barack Obama is the first US president in my personal history who is younger than I am. I've grown accustomed to police officers and fire fighters and doctors showing up in my life looking like their moms packed their lunches...but, the president? Gulp. If I'd thought this through last November, I might have voted for the older guy... In truth, I am exhilarated by the evidence that another generation is pulling up to the table of this feast that is our world. My people (only a few years older than the president) are beginning to focus the gaze on retirement and grandkids and fishing poles...or motorcycles. We fell into the post-moon-landing, post-Vietnam, post-Woodstock, first-ever-vote-for-Nixon/McGovern stew of human thinking. I can't conjure up much we created that was earth-shattering, unless you count millionaires with nothing to accomplish but making more money on your list of things the world needs more of. It just might be the right time for us to let someone else do the cooking at this party. Let's continue to elect people younger than we are. Hire executives who Twitter. Go to dentists with Facebook pages. We'll stay behind and wash the dishes. We'll take a weekend to march for peace. Plan a volunteer vacation to work on the trails in the Cabinet Mountains of Idaho. Send our money to war-displaced Pakistanis trying to recreate home. Let's claim a seat in the back of this bus and celebrate the routes our younger leaders are choosing for the adventure. Happy Birthday, Mr. 48-year old President. The older kids on the playground have got your back.
President Obama is having lunch with the entire Senate Democratic Caucus this afternoon. “Chuck E. Cheese was booked,” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs joked.
Peace.

Monday, August 3, 2009

It's a Sign

This is the long and open road I spent most of 12 hours on last week. Isn't it something? I was headed to and from a writer's retreat in Alpine, Texas. The retreat began - as you can see - on the drive. In fact, I saw so few cars on Texas Highway 190, I began to see mirages of cars. Really. So I found myself with way too much attention to devote to road signs, which actually are a great source of entertainment and inspiration. This one occupied quite a bit of my 70-mph-cruise- control thinking time: I suppose this might have been true...except I was driving in the right lane, and it didn't seem to end at all. I was sure it was the lane that continued. Had someone been with me, perhaps the case would have been made that the sign said it was the right lane ending, so the left lane must have been the lane that continued. I might have argued that the sign I'd seen just prior to this one said: LEFT LANE FOR PASSING ONLY. So, if the right lane ended, that would leave only the passing lane for driving. I also would have argued that it felt like the right lane continued as I zipped past the sign. Personal truth is determined by the lane you're driving in, not by the words on a sign. My nephew had a phrase he used when he was a pre-schooler and didn't know words like perception and awareness and consciousness. "In my reality," he'd say. In his reality, the pool was never too cold to swim in on January 1. In his reality, he had always eaten enough of his broccoli to have ice cream. In his reality, turtles really could be ninjas. Why argue with someone else's reality? What we think about God or gay people or peace or Sarah Palin, or sushi or health care or more taxes for rich people...it all depends on the lane we're driving in. Maybe TIME TO SHARE THE ROAD IN ONE LANE is all the information we need. Does it matter, really, which lane ends? Peace.