Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Human Experience

Something about Nora Ephron’s death has touched me deeply.  I think it’s partly her wonderful snarkiness which is being remembered, and the way she celebrated women’s experiences as captured in her screen plays and movies.

But, the most touching detail of all about her life to emerge is her list.  Her collection of essays entitled “I Remember Nothing” included two lists: things she will miss and things she won’t miss.  Among the things she won’t miss are—dry skin; taking off makeup every night; panels on women in film; Clarence Thomas…read the whole list for yourself.  Among the things she will miss are—her kids; fall; reading in bed…

The list ends “Taking a bath; Coming over the bridge to Manhattan; Pie.”  That closing raises such a lump in my throat.  And, then I realize—what she is saying she will miss is the human experience.

It is such a trite and obvious observation that it hardly seems worth noting but the only way we experience anything is through our existence.  We are born humans and that is how we perceive and know all we know.

A while back in this blog I posted a poem I had written in 2006.  Herewith—


This is a road on which
The only detour is death.
The body ages undeniably
There is no turning back
So helplessly you watch—
As skin sags
And flesh congeals
But you keep on living

The lure of living is knowledge
In death there is no knowing
So you live because you want to know.

By Donna F. W.
© March 2006
Among the comments I received on that post was one from my father who suggested: “how about writing a sequel to "Knowing", about life after exchanging this land of the dying for the land of the living, one pointing to eternal death, and eternal life?”

Well, I never did write such a poem.  I am firmly planted in this life’s experience.  I do not deny that some people believe in another existence to come.  It simply is for me that whatever we believe is born out of our human experience and understanding in this world.  We can’t really KNOW if there is anything else.

So, Nora Ephron’s list touches me deeply.  When the human experience draws to a close, there will be things we will NOT miss and things we do miss.  Perhaps the most compelling thing is the ability to experience any of it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Simple Matter of Fairness

I am grieving tonight.  

This evening, I attended the viewing of an acquaintance of mine.  This man was one half of a couple I have known for quite some time.  He was too young to die--well, he was 60 but that is too young.

He had lived for more than 30 years with a debilitating illness--multiple sclerosis.  But even so, his death was unexpected.   I didn't even know he was sick enough to be facing death.  But for my husband happening by chance to read the obituary in our local paper, I would have missed the news altogether.

But it is not his death that has me grieving.  I am privileged to consider this man's partner a dear friend of mine.  And that is why I am grieving--perhaps you guessed it.  This couple happen to be a gay couple.  The particular cause of my grieving is that when the man died, he was in the hospital.  And his partner of more than 30 years was not immediately allowed to see his "significant other" until after five hours had passed.

My friend told me in so many terms--"because I wasn't family, I was not allowed to see him immediately."  

A simple matter of fairness.  If you are reading this, and you are married, when you die or when your spouse dies, you will be allowed to see your departed loved one.  Why? Because you are married.

Why couldn't my friend see his partner?  Because he wasn't married.  Why wasn't he married?  Well, you know the answer.

What a cruel inequity our society imposes on people such as my friend.  And it grieves me.

Friday, June 08, 2012

The Great Divide

Our recent river trip through Germany took us across a continental divide.  While not so grand as the North American continental divide (think the Rockies), the rise took us from sea level at the North Sea to the Black Sea.  To traverse this continental divide we traveled through a series of locks, first rising bit by bit, then—after crossing the divide—descending the same distance. 

So, why this musing on the European continental divide?  Well, I am deeply troubled these days by the great divide that has grown in the U.S. over the past decade or so, that only seems to be deepening.  Part of what troubles me is trying to think how we might extricate ourselves from our current poisonous political environment and find a way to move forward as a country.  And the analogy of the series of locks to traverse the continental divide came to mind.  Isn’t that what we have lost?  Locks operate by incremental movement.  Need to achieve a rise of several hundred feet (or meters)?  You can do so by moving up a few feet or meters at a time.

I recently heard Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, who have collaborated on a recent book with the intriguing though depressing title of It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, note that presently in the U.S. the Republicans in Congress are functioning as though we have a parliamentary system.  Allegiance to the party’s mindset overcomes and “trumps” any thought of working together or compromise.

I can’t claim to have thought nearly as elegantly or as compelling as that observation, but it did strike me early on in President Obama’s presidency that some Republican leaders had hit upon a perfect way to defeat him.  Senate Minority Leader McConnell announced, practically from day one, that his only goal was to make Obama a one term president.  To accomplish that—block every initiative put forth by the president. 

While we have had previous times in our history where the country has been pulled this way and that by hyper-partisanship, today’s impasse strikes me as coming close to what led to our Civil War. 

Many issues seem to be at the heart of the great divide.  We battle over how to spend government money, we battle over how to raise government money.  We have elected officials who are badgered by non-elected self-appointed guardians of democracy who extract pledges never to raise taxes, before the elected official even takes office.  We have values issues, where one group's values become the dictates to another group’s freedom of conscience.  We have issues where choice means you cannot choose, and other issues where choice means you can opt out of public participation in something as basic as education.

And so I come back to the great divide.  I confess to a great heaviness of heart.  What does this ever-widening chasm portend for our country?  Forgive my Cassandra tone, but I am looking, very seriously looking, for someone who can lead us toward the locks that gently elevate us, and then lower us—to help us cross the great divide.