Thursday, March 24, 2016

Of Orchids and Oranges

One day when my son was younger, he was eating a sliced orange and out of nowhere he said, “Seeing an orange like this convinces me there is a God.”

I was a bit shocked, in a pleasant way, by his observation. I told him I agreed, but we didn’t go on to have a deep philosophical or religious discussion. There was no need to. He had captured one of life’s little miracles and that was that.

I thought about that comment this morning as I stared into the heart of my pink orchid, which finally bloomed a day ago. I love the very center of the flower.
I marvel at its mysterious structure. To me, it looks as though the orchid has two curved “arms” that reach right out of the blossom, offering up the flower’s unique beauty and architecture.

So here  I have written 139 words trying to capture the flower’s miracle whereas my son did the same thing with the orange in eleven.

Enough said.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

What a Mensch Merrick Garland Is!

Is anyone else awed by Merrick Garland -- the man President Obama has nominated to fill the  Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Antonin Scalia?

I listened to NPR 's coverage while driving to the airport yesterday morning. The President's description of Judge Garland's record and accomplishments was so impressive.
Such a brilliant mind. Such an amazing career. Such a devoted husband and father.

Oh, yeah and what else? For 20 years, Judge Garland has managed to find time to tutor second, third and fourth graders in Northeast DC in reading and math!

Judge Garland is also a man who can freely share his heart and soul in public.

After Obama's introduction, when Garland began speaking, it was clear to me from his gravelly voice that he was barely able to hold it together.

When he said that his mother was sitting at home watching TV and crying her eyes out, I got all choked up. And when he said "I only wish that we hadn't taught my older daughter to be so adventurous that she would be hiking in the mountains, out of cell-service range, when the President called," I imagined Garland answering Obama's phone call. That's when goosebumps shivered up my arms and legs. (OK, OK, I know very well that I am what my husband calls a "smush." :)

Whatever the outcome of the nomination process (and I sadly expect that the Republicans will do what they have promised and sit on their fat a----s refusing to act on the nomination), I am so happy that the President chose to introduce us to this wonderful man, who is both a highly respected judge AND the kind of guy you would love to invite over to a backyard barbecue or a Friday night Shabbat dinner. 

In Yiddish, there is a word for a person who is good and honorable and special in all sorts of big and little ways. We call that person a "mensch," and Judge Garland, that moniker fits you to a T. Now, if only we could work some magic on your behalf and see you sitting where you belong, there on the Supreme Court bench!

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Hillary, Come Meditate With Me!!

This may sound crazy but I think Hillary Clinton needs to meditate.

Watching her speak last night after winning Mississippi, it occurred to me for about the 200th time that she talks and talks and talks but never catches fire the way Bernie does. It's gotten to the point that when she is giving a speech on TV, I close my eyes. I can't stand to see how prune-faced she can look. I can't bear to see her as she was last night, with a kind of schoolmarm attitude, not smiling at all, practically scowling while she spoke.

What Hillary needs is a crash course in authenticity. She needs to step onto that stage and demonstrate both how vulnerable she is, but also how incredibly strong and capable she is (and she is both!) She needs to speak from the heart and really sound like she is doing it! She needs to smile (the way she does off-stage.) She needs to demonstrate that kind of Bill and Barack passion that grabs you and won't let you go. (Yeah, so, we know, Bernie has a lot to teach her.)

Back in 2000 when she was running for the U.S. Senate from New York, I met her at a press conference on prescription drug prices that she was holding with seniors in NYC.  I'll never forget: she wore a bright sunflower power suit,
and after the press conference she stood speaking to a cluster of seniors. Two things amazed me: how warm a person she is when you are one-on-one with her. And two, how she was able within just a few minutes to memorize all of the seniors' first names! She spoke to them with great passion about an issue which was very close to the seniors' hearts.

Fast forward 16 years. She still cares about seniors. She still has the right positions on so many of the issues. But can she convince us that her presidency won't be business as usual? Can we be convinced that she won't balance her convictions against the whopping influences of corporations donating to her election campaigns?

Ok so why should Hillary meditate? Because it is in meditation
that I have gotten some of my most profound insights. It is in meditation that  practitioners often receive insights and inspirations that percolate from deep in the subconsciousness.  I bet if she took an entire day (better yet, a week) to meditate, she might find her soul speaking in a whole new way. She might be able to tap into a whole new source of authentic power that meditation often gives you.

And maybe too, in meditation -- slowing down, breathing deep, over and over again -- she might keep from making costly mistakes. Mistakes like the gaffe attacking Bernie for not supporting the auto industry bailout in Detroit. That was just plain dumb, and she should have thought before she spoke. Maybe meditation will make her a bit more self-reflective. Finally, maybe by meditating she lets go of just a smidge of her GIANT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE EGO. She will come to see that it is our ego that separates us; it is our ego that makes fearful and grasping and proud and swaggering.

Maybe she will see that what draws people to Bernie is in part because he isn't thrusting himself forward; his is a campaign that steams ahead collecting the energy of revved up crowds invested in "revolution."

Well, so I know a lot of great meditation teachers, and should the impossible happen (she would read this and agree), I would  be delighted to make the connection. But no, I won't expect a phone call, a text message or a tweet. Maybe I will just meditate it on the idea.

P.S. If you watched last night's Democratic debate in Miami, Hillary was smiling and looking more relaxed. Hey, so maybe she DID meditate! When asked how she felt about the fact that 37 percent of Americans don't think she's honest, she replied: 

“Obviously, it’s painful for me to hear that. I am not a natural politician, in case you haven’t noticed, like my husband or President Obama,” she added. “I just have to do the best I can” and “hope that people see that I am fighting for them.” A great answer. Honest. Forthright. Speaking from the heart! She is showing both her vulnerability and her determination to do the right thing!

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Together, the Clinton and Sanders Narratives Tell the Story of Progressivism

By Richard Kirsch

After Hillary Clinton delivered her Super Tuesday victory speech, Van Jones said on CNN that his Twitter feed was full of people saying that she had stolen Bernie Sanders's message. But that was only half-true. While Clinton is incorporating more of Sanders's progressive populism, her campaign narrative is in the best tradition of American liberalism.
Taken together, the core stories that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are telling in their campaigns bring together the two main themes in liberal and progressive political discourse in America. They are telling a story that includes both driving ideas: our fundamental shared interest and our insistence that society should work for the vast majority, not powerful elites. Where the candidates diverge is where they put the emphasis in their narratives.
After Clinton's first campaign message--that she was a progressive who could get things done--bombed, she finally developed a powerful campaign story. She began her Super Tuesday victory speech saying, "You know all across our country today they, Democrats, voted to break down barriers so we can all rise together."
But then she quickly pivoted to Sanders's campaign message: "Because this country belongs to all of us, not just those at the top."
The rest of Clinton's speech was framed around breaking down barriers that block people from fulfilling their own potential and participating in the America promise: "Instead of building walls we're going to break down barriers and build ladders of opportunity and empowerment so every American can live up to his or her potential, because then and only then can America live up to its full potential too."
Even when she returned to Sanders's ground of progressive populism, she extended the olive branch of togetherness. This section from her speech captures how she combines the two:
[W]e're all in this together, my friends, and we all have to do our part. But unfortunately, too many of those with the most wealth and the most power in this country today seem to have forgotten that basic truth about America. ... Now I'm not interested in condemning whole categories of people or businesses... So let there be no doubt, if you cheat your employees, exploit consumers, pollute our environment or rip off the taxpayers, we're going to hold you accountable. But, if you do the right thing, if you invest in your workers, and in America's future then we'll stand with you.
Sanders, of course, does not soft peddle his attacks on corporate greed and its exploitation of working people and hijacking of our democracy. But the power of his campaign comes not just from anger at the powerful but in the hope for a more inclusive economy and democracy. As he said at the beginning of his victory speech in New Hampshire, "the government of our great country belongs to all of the people and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors, and their Super PACs." And in concluding that same speech, "Together we are going to createan economy that works for all of us, not just the 1%."
While the energy of Sanders's speeches is based in progressive populism, the tone of his two most recognized campaign ads is in the spirit of Clinton's inclusive vision of the American promise. "America," Sanders's instantly iconic ad, includes gauzy images of diverse, working and middle-class Americans to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel's refrain "They've all come to look for America."
Sanders's other powerful ad, "Together," begins sounding like the new Clinton: "Our job is not to divide. Our job is to bring people together." Its images literally bring diverse faces together. Its narrative rejects division and focuses instead on our common humanity: "When we stand together--white and Black and Hispanic, gay and straight and woman and man." It then returns to the Sanders version of togetherness, contrasting this with the dominance of the powerful. "When we stand together and demand that this country works for all of us, not just the few,we will transform America."
The divergence in emphasis between Clinton and Sanders is seen in the differences in the constituencies that respond most to each. Sanders's populism, along with his bold, transformative agenda, are reaching young people, progressive activists, and white working class voters. Clinton's call for breaking down barriers speaks powerfully to Blacks, Hispanics, and older women. And her moderated populism is more comfortable for Democrats with higher incomes and seniors.
In the best of worlds, the two narratives would come together. Sanders would learn from Clinton to talk about breaking down barriers that are much deeper than economic inequality. Clinton would stop apologizing for her populism and start linking the theft of our democracy with the ransacking of our economy.
Having said that, the good news is that Democrats are finally getting close to a shared narrative--a powerful, values-based story about their core beliefs. Underlying both progressive populism and the liberal idea of breaking down barriers is the progressive meta-narrative, "We all do better when we all do better." This is both a statement of values and of how society works. It is an understanding that when each of us can care for and support our families, when all of us realize our full potential to participate in society, we build thriving communities and drive the economy forward.
Clinton summarized this at the top of her speech: "America prospers when we all prosper. America is strong when we're all strong." Building an economy that works for all of us is a concept that is central to every one of Sanders's policy proposals. It is a story that can reshape what is possible in American politics.
Richard Kirsch is director of a new organization called Our Story, aimed at helping progressives express their core political beliefs. This post originally ran in the Huffington Post.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

A Sad Goodbye to Our Parent's Home

It happens to every family at some point: an aging parent dies and then a home of decades has to be disassembled - but like so many things in life, you never really think it will happen to you until it does. For my siblings and me, the task of emptying 152 Sampson Parkway in Pittsfield MA has been gargantuan and heartbreaking and seemingly endless.

Sunday was one of the worst days of my 63 years of life. To see my mom and dad"s home go from being gorgeous and warm and welcoming and spotless to a total shit pit with huge piles of garbage everywhere you turned was brutally hard. I'm starting to cry because this is so difficult to think and write about.

Mom and Dad, I'm really sorry that your house ended up looking like it did on Sunday. But it had to be done and we all pitched in and did it.

It was so hard to watch my sister Karen work for 2 1/2 hours straight without once stopping  for a glass of water sweeping up piles of sawdust in the basement. That was the same basement where Dad had all of his woodworking tools. So many years and so many projects - so much of dad's heart and soul were in those endless jars of nails and pieces of wood. It was so hard to watch my sister Holly spend weeks sorting through dishes and towels and sheets and blankets and tons of other stuff.

Emptying mom's cabinets and her refrigerator was a killer. And it was so awful watching the movers take her dining room table out the door. We had so many amazing family meals at that table! There will be no more of Dee's pot roasts or apple pies or spaghetti and raisin meatballs. No more of her mouthwatering breads and desserts. Mom fed us so much love in all of the food she cooked in her 89 years of life.

I will never forget last Friday when I found dad in his hat and coat going from one room to the next doing what he called his final "pass through" -- saying goodbye to the house he really didn't want to leave. My endlessly strong dad was crying and I was trying to hold it together for him. I will never forget walking him down the sidewalk and helping him into my brother's car. As I kissed him goodbye he was crying and so was I.

We are all hoping that Dad enjoys his new apartment in Easthampton MA. We hope he makes a lot of friends there! We hope he adjusts to the un-Dee like food!

One big apology: At one point in the basement Sunday afternoon when I realized that there was still another room that had to be emptied I went berserk. I started yelling at you for collecting sooooo much crap and leaving it to us to shovel out. I started throwing things off the shelves into a huge and horrifying heap in the middle of the floor.

Inside I was crying already missing you both. 

Thank you Mom and Dad for being such wonderful parents. Thank you for making a beautiful home for us for so many years. I'm going to remember your house the way it was just a few weeks ago before you sold. I know the pain of packing up and moving out will fade. And my sibs and I will remember 152 Sampson for all the good times and the wonderful days we spent there.