Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Boobies Are Coming: Boston 3-Day '09

Dear Friends and Family,

Well, I’ve finally done it: swept away my fears to mingle and swirl with the collective, elemental dust; crammed my self-doubts into a little box, to simper and writhe and suffocate under the weight of newly hammered yes-we-can armor and resolve; ceremoniously tossed over my shoulders, in bold defiance of the Spirit of Misfortune, all those creeping, pernicious oh-my-knees-are-too-old-for-this anxieties, and signed up for the Breast Cancer 3-Day, a 60-mile Walk in Boston next July 24-26 to benefit Susan G. Komen For the Cure and the National Philanthropic Trust Breast Cancer Fund.

The Blue Footed Boobies are coming to Boston!

It’s been a long time brewing. I met my first blue footed booby nearly three years ago, on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Gal├ípagos Islands with my family—my mother, our good friend Joy, my sister and her family, and Jim and the boys. We fell in love with the boobies, who, like the other animals in the Archipelago, have never learned to fear humans, and so afforded us intimate viewing opportunities—of nesting mothers and their new, fluffy babies, of lone boobies hanging out among the mangroves, and on our last morning, zillions of air-borne boobies, zooming inches overhead, circling around, and diving furiously and gracefully into the water to catch their breakfast. Boobies of the blue-footed variety are amazingly beautiful; they are tenacious, powerful, lovely fliers, divers, and hunters, loving, protective parents (despite the fact that most older sibs do away with their younger, weaker ones as a method of ensuring their own survival), and at the time of courtship, hilarious, whimsical dancers, the males lifting one big blue foot and then the other, over and over again, in an impressive mating ritual (and forerunner of the step craze) that brings the female’s attention to—what else?—the color (not size, in a surprising shift) of their feet. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1NAKg46s1DA&NR=1

When I first heard about the 3-Day last spring, I thought immediately of the blue-footed boobies, and how it would be nice to have their spirit infuse the experience with the joy and strength and love they exhibit in their every step. With a little luck, our feet will hold up on the hot, Boston streets as well as the boobies’ feet hold up on the hot, crusty, sharp volcanic rock of the Gal├ípagos Islands. The Blue Footed Boobies will be walking for our girls, and yours, and all those girls grown and gone and those not even sprouted yet.

As much as I wanted to walk this past summer, I was still in between surgeries and trying to make sense of my gimpy left knee, and decided it just wasn’t the time to embark on such on odyssey. The sweeping wave of yes-we-can energy and activism of the Obama campaign and the knowledge that two dear friends from Exeter walked in the Atlanta 3-day this past fall inspired me to try to go the distance myself. And if there’s one thing that I’ve gleaned from this past year’s overflowing basket of lessons, it’s that there is no time like the present. Now that my new girl is nearly done (the new birthday nip-let is doing just fine, thank you, and for an early Christmas present, I’ll be giving myself my first ever tattoo—rosy color to restore some eye candy charm and match my neo-girl to my all-natural girl), I figure I need to keep putting things on my calendar that signify progress, the keep on keepin’ on of this long process of healing and self-rediscovery. The 3-day will truly be a critical piece of not only reclaiming my physical strength but also continuing to recover my soul in the ongoing fabled process of reconstruction and wellness. As well, I’ll be raising money to help women meet this diagnosis with the best possible treatment options available. There is so much I have been thankful for in my experience with breast cancer: the top-notch treatment I’ve received at the hands of caring, skilled nurses and surgeons, the loving support and encouragement I’ve gotten from friends and family, the good news at having caught my cancer early, the ability to regain my relative strength (admittedly, my basketball game is gone, gone) and good health and be able to look forward to participating in something as challenging as the 3-Day.

The current crop of breast cancer statistics are both harrowing and heartening. Breast cancer is no longer an older woman’s disease. My grandmother was in her early 50’s when she first got breast cancer nearly forty years ago. I myself was 42 at the time of my diagnosis last winter. My friend Lisa was just 40. Christina Applegate was only 36. We all know women who have battled or are battling breast cancer, lives irrevocably transformed by a disease that can hide for years under a cloak of invisibility before making itself known. With so many women being diagnosed at earlier and earlier ages, there is hope in that much progress has been made in the early detection and treatment of the many breast cancers that only ten years ago were prematurely ending the lives of many women. And yet, there is still a feeling of helplessness that forces many of us to wonder what we can do.

The 3-Day is a wonderful opportunity to reach out and really make a difference. I hope you’ll consider joining me. There are many ways you can help. You can walk. The Blue Footed Boobies need you! As team captain, I am currently recruiting team members. Each registered walker must raise $2300. The registration fee is $90. The 3-Day provides everything else: meals, lodging (in the form of a pink—what else?—tent city that travels with the walkers), encouragement, and pre-race training. And just think what fun it would be!! To register, go to http://www.the3day.org/ or call 800.996.3DAY.

You can donate. I’m hoping to raise, as a team, at least $8000 for research and community outreach programs that might save the lives of countless women—mothers, sisters, aunts, friends, daughters. Any donation will help enormously. To donate, simply go to the 3-day web site, click on Donate Now, and enter my name (Elizabeth Gardner) or The Blue Footed Boobies and you’ll find me. OR try clicking here: http://www.the3day.org/site/TR/Walk/BostonEvent?team_id=62885&pg=team&fr_id=1292 Keep track of our progress, donate, join the team, or just check in: we’ll need your support.

My one regret is that Luke and Dominick cannot walk with me. I have promised each of them that when they turn 16, I will walk again, this time with them. But they are eager to do their part. Both are helping to raise money for the team by selling handmade crafts—Luke his wonderfully original sculpey creature magnets, and Dominick his special edition 3-Day fairies and sprites—at this coming Friday’s Homeschoolers Craft Fair in Brattleboro (in the River Garden, 4-8 pm). They’ll also be taking special orders; I’ll be sending an email about how to order soon.

To borrow a lovely quote from the 3-Day site, I offer this African proverb that reminds me of the spirit of Ubuntu: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I hope you’ll come with me. I can’t do this alone! 60 miles, $8000, and thousands of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer each and every year: that’s a long way to go, and we all need you. Please do what you can. Give me a holler if you think you might be interested in becoming a Boobie! And thank you, thank you.

So, in the spirit of carpe diem, and in a nod to my own mortality, though I set my sights on the 3-Day, I ground myself in the ever-expanding moments that make up each day. To follow the words of the wise Siduri in the wonderful Epic of Gilgamesh:

"As for you, Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man."

I send you love and blessings for a wonderful holiday season: may you and your family enjoy good health, discover the hidden joys in each and every day, and join the widening, warming circles of community.

Best to you and yours,

Liz

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Praise the bridge that carried you over. --George Colman

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

When our perils are past, shall our gratitude sleep? ~George Canning

After spending the last twenty-four hours rushing about, trying to deepen my breath and quell the anxieties that have swelled amidst the sudden onslaught of holiday preparations and emotional strain, there is a certain calm, hurrah, that has found me. The cleaning ladies (myself included) have come and gone, the floors have been spit polished and shined, the bathrooms scrubbed and set to sparkle, and I, for my part, have moved about the stuff in the circuitous route that takes them, adrift and out of place, mere trifling annoyances, transients of clutter, to their proper homes, where they can gloat and gleam knowing that tomorrow, perhaps, or the day after, they’ll once again move about and knock chaos out of this short-lived order. I am so thankful to have found these two women from Moldova, so happy to have someone to help keep an eye out for the cobwebs and the ladybug infestations and the fingerprints on the woodwork that creep up on me and add to my overwhelm. There’s something about cleaning the house that allows me the space and meditative calm to clean my head, deal with those inner dust bunnies that, if left unchecked, can derail your memory and muck up your thoughts.

What a miserable thing life is: you're living in clover, only the clover isn't good enough. ~Bertolt Brecht, Jungle of Cities, 1924

We’re heading to Williamstown to make merry with my mother, who has offered up her lovely house to host tomorrow’s Thanksgiving feast, and the discombobulated, slightly discomfited depths of collective soul that have risen this week to shout and spill and cry foul. Lately, there have been many reminders that motherhood is indeed a messy business, bringing about an endless cycle of joy and heartache, challenges that strip the protective layers of steely resolve to bare your deepest specks and blazes of soul. Despite her own preference for order, my mother has been often found herself amidst our mess, and I am always grateful for her generosity and willingness to take it on, offer a steadying hand, a word of comfort.

Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul. ~Henry Ward Beecher

There are many things that swirl about, these blessings of each and every day that rage and burn and hold such supreme importance in our lives that they surely would not fit into one small day of Thanksgiving. There are the huge, huge triumphs that emblazon the skies, there are more subtle episodes of grace and love, and there are the daily, hidden missives that arrive to slip underfoot in the hustle and bustle, or, if taken in, time slowing enough to receive the gifts that unfold in an expanding bloom, to burst forth in an eloquent, bathing light. To follow through on my gratitude has always been an intention, and often a failure, of mine. Enveloped with a sense of thankfulness for someone, in my mind I write a card of thanks or make some small notion from my heart, adding them to my crowded mental to-do-list. There they often sit, long-neglected nixies, never quite making it to the out-box or their intended recipients, and the pinch of shame and regret fills my hollows and starts to smolder within. I resolve to do better, to turn the task into a daily rumination, to reach out to you with gratitude big and small.

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. ~William Arthur Ward

Today, there are the lone geese that fly and honk overhead looking to join a formation, a flock, that remind me of my own sense of feeling adrift and disconnected; there is the way the view has opened up into the wetlands and the farmland beyond, easing the distance between these worlds, an invitation to take notice, rest here, soothe spirit and slow the pace; there was the sunshine that exploded out of the sky for a short while only to hide again behind these grey, pilfering clouds of November; there was the way my dog nestled her head into my hand and looked at me with eyes that promised love and loyalty no matter how it might take to settle my fears and crash the gates. And there’s more, there’s always more.

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder

Soon, soon, I’ll be looking for a river to skate away on, but for now, I rejoin the flow of family life, keep an eye out for the flock and the treasures that fleece and line these chilly dark days, and welcome the festive warmth of the season into my heart. I send you love, I send you thanks, I wish you well. xx, Liz

Give Thanks

When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength
Give thanks for your food and the joy of living
If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies within yourself

~ Tecumseh

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Ebb and Flow

I hate
this wretched willow soul of mine,
patiently enduring, plaited or twisted
by other hands.

~ Karen Boyle

I’ve limped along this week with an acute awareness of my own fallibilities. I have felt vulnerable to these winds of change that have brought back the bitter cold and the sense that there is no turning back, that we’ll just have to run it out, and wait for the flip side of the cycle, for the return of summer sun, and the easy, loping pace through our days.

These days, my life often appears before me, spread out as a travelogue through time and space and prods me with queries, where are you now? how do you fit in?, and then, heavy with stipulation, find your place, it demands, wherever that may be, whether beneath the bellows of your underinflated lungs, or the soles of your calloused feet, find it, and lay claim, fill the hollows, and stay a while. I’d welcome a few incantations these days, some whirling, spiraling energy to infuse my spirit with the light that seems to have been snuffed by these revolving days and our place so far from the sun, a roving guide to take me by the hand and show me just where there might be space for me, a magical charm to right my wrongs, fix my mistakes.

This past Thursday night, Luke broke his left arm during a pick drill at basketball practice, a freak accident that left his arm looking a bit like Harry Potter’s, oddly bent and dangling, after Lockhart tried to fix it and oops! accidentally removed all his bones before heading to the hospital wing, where Madam Pomfrey made it right with the skelegro potion. It wasn’t until Friday noontime, after a sleepless night, and a morning spent at the doctor’s and the hospital for x-rays, when we found out that Luke, too, was in need of some skelegro potion or episkey charm to mend his fractured radius. He’ll be fine, but for now, is trying to keep his devastation in check and readjust his reality to include three to four weeks of recovery time before he can fully resume full contact basketball with the NMH JV.

Before Luke’s run in with Jimmy, the gentle, earnest 6’7” 15-year old from Beijing, he’d had his interview and tour at NMH, and I was reminded of my own first forays into the realm of self-marketing and carving out my own path and following my feet, when, as a thirteen year old, I quaked and stammered and tried desperately to shake off my own self-doubts before somehow putting together a brave face, full of the promise that someone, somewhere had seen in me. Despite my own recalcitrant objections to actually putting my best self forward, I managed to eek out a performance that seeded my reeling self-confidence with some sort of acceptance, the start of my own protective patronus shield that would grow in strength and stamina and serve me well over time. I saw strong measure of Luke’s own growth and maturity on Thursday, and I was proud of him, for taking risks and putting himself out there, for trusting his own brave face, despite his apprehension, his own doubts, the residual ache from this past difficult year. And yet, there was a sadness I felt, too, witnessing this passage of time, and a sense of loss and of leaving something behind, of moving forward into something new and different and strange, even, and of once again feeling unsure as to where exactly, if anywhere, I fit in.

And then, whoosh, the broken arm, the dashed hopes, the sudden tug back into a kind of mothering that I often think is in my past: the tender pampering that I myself have needed, craved, relied on so much this past year, a gentle scrub in the tub, careful help with getting dressed, and skirting the dangerous waters that lie somewhere beyond the balance of between doing too much and doing too little. And the regeneration of intimacy that swells and fells and fills the dark forests that have sometimes grown between us with light allows us to find our way back to each other, and we are reacquainted, he with the depth of my love, no matter how my heart may ache, or how I struggle to support him in his quest for independence, and I with his quiet determination as he, too, navigates through his own ceaseless, flowing currents of change and growth, and, as I tug on his socks, with just how big his feet have become.

To bring up a child in the way he should go, travel that way yourself once in a while.
~Josh Billings

It's not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can't tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself. ~Joyce Maynard

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Do it for the Next Generation

Is there really anything more to say? (thanks, Angie!)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

what would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? (yes we can)

Have you felt it, too? That overwhelming sense of relief, that swell of pride, that robust feeling of accomplishment, that up-lifting buoyancy and lightness of joy that makes you want to run around and shout YAHOOO all day? It’s been two days since the election, two days since the people of the US braved long lines, last minute rabid robocalls, and other pathetic, desperate attempts to mislead them with false information about polling places and voting rights, and voted to take back our country, restore a dignified intelligence and a fresh, energetic competence to the office of the presidency, right our reputation in the world, judge a man “not on the color of his skin but on the content of his character”, and elect Barack Obama as the first American president of my generation to the White House. Two days, and I still can’t get enough of the victory, the celebrations from around the world, the vastness of the response from all corners, the flood of emotions that catch me off guard every now and then to send me into a spin cycle of weeping and dancing. Two days, and I still can’t stop crying every time I watch Obama’s speech. It feels delirious to know that this man, this rousing, intelligent, gifted, eloquent community organizer, this go-get-‘em, pro-active, make-it-happen unifier, heart-on-a-sleeve family man, and Yes-We-Can-Man will be our president. (And I really like his wife, too).

On election night, we went down to the newly opened and restyled Gill Store and Tavern, where the owner had invited some friends to watch the results on his new giant flat screen TV, enjoy some food and drinks, and swim for awhile in the flow and tug of community that has been at the heart of the Obama campaign. It felt good to settle in for the night, see some friends, and unload some of the nervous tension that had been building up all day. Our house had been reeling with a crazy anticipatory energy that rivaled the old excitement of Christmas Eve. Earlier in the day, when I took the boys with me to the fire station to vote, we had run into lots of friends and neighbors, chatted with the local newspaper reporter, and nearly, I found out later, gotten kicked out of the polling place because of our Obama-gear (Despite warnings from Luke, who is clearly much more up on the rules than I am, I allowed Dominick, wrapped in a large Obama sticker, sporting the Obama-Hope sign on his cheek, and GOBAMA, emblazoned on his forehead, to come in with me while I voted. I myself was wearing an Obama t-shirt under my jacket, which I had thrown on in case they wished me to zip it up and hide my pride). A neighbor, who also happened to be a poll-worker, had told us that there had been a discussion, presumably when we were in our little voting booth, filling in the ovals with the thick black marker, totally oblivious to the uproar behind us, that several poll-workers, those sweet little old ladies sitting behind the tables, no doubt, had insisted that we were intentionally provoking the state law that states one must not wear such things when one casts her vote, else risk intimidating other voters, that something must be done. “I was proud of you guys,” our neighbor told us, with a big smile. Despite my unintentional rabble-rousing, nothing was ever requested of us, save place our ballot in the box, and we walked out of the fire house completely unaware that underneath the steely smiles that followed us out of the room, lurked something else, perhaps, than simple warmth and good cheer, that we had unknowingly escaped the inquisitional reprimands that might have been, and injected a little excitement into the generally staid, quiet comings and goings of election day in this little town of less than 2000.

By evening, Dominick was in full face paint, courtesy of Luke, who had also painted Jim’s face in Obama colors (mostly blue but with a little bit of red lest anyone accuse him of being anything but a fiery Patriot). We might have been going to a Patriots game, but it was Obama who had captivated us, drew us in, and inspired such fanatical antics.

It was great to be with other people on election night, to cheer on the results, switch over to watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for a little comic relief, release the build up of fire and brimstone, and exhale, finally. We had spent a chunk of time earlier in the day looking at the electoral maps and most recent polls, making our own predictions, creating our own maps and trying to understand just what would need to happen for Obama to take all. It felt a little like filling out our NCAA basketball tourney sheets, checking the morning paper to see how our selections had fared, crossing off the losers, circling the winners, but this was no March Madness. This was bigger, better, and far more exciting, a momentous rush that I haven’t ever felt quite so supremely, quite so far deep in my heart, my toes, in that all-over shimmer of spirit that tethers and ties us to one another. Down at the Tavern, we colored in blue states and red states as they were called for Obama and McCain, felt enormous pride when New Hampshire was called for Obama; Pennsylvania, where my mother had been working so hard; New Mexico, where it appeared at least some of the Obama signs my sister had erected must have endured, and been heard; and finally, Florida, where Obama’s volunteer ground troops outnumbered McCain’s unpaid national force in a dazzling display of grass roots, community-run campaign brilliance.

We headed home about twenty minutes before they called the race—and as we got ready for bed, heard the rising excitement in the pitch and tone of the anchors’ voices, watched the map filling in, state by state, all blue skies ahead. And then, just as Dominick crawled into bed, they announced what we had been waiting to hear for so long, that Obama had taken the election, that somehow, the majority of the American people had mustered a heroic response to combat their deep dissatisfaction, answered Obama’s call, and taken the hands of those around them and the race into their own hands, assumed responsibility for the outcome, hit the streets with a force and passion not seen in a long while, and Baracked the vote. YAHOOOOOOOO! We hooted and hollered and I cried—such relief, such joy—my tears flowing, finding some quiet in the blazing enormity of the moment.

John McCain was, by all accounts, gracious and strong in his concession speech. He silenced the haters in the crowd with a respectful and admiring tribute to his opponent, and with a poignant acknowledgement of the race’s place in history. This was the John McCain that truly deserved the 55 million votes he got, not the Palin-saddled, anger-addled fighting man we saw for most of the campaign. In his place was the subdued, deliberate, articulate, generous spirit of a man who had been beaten, and knew he had been beaten, by a better man who had run a better campaign.

Obama’s speech was beautiful, touching, for its quiet strength, for its powerful, moving nod to history through the journey of the 106-year old heroine Ann Nixon Cooper, its loving expression of gratitude to his family, and to all the people who had worked so tirelessly to get him elected, a lovely, impressive reflection of not only the man who has inspired so many to trot out their absolute best for this country but the moment as well that will inspire so many for years to come. A good friend once gave me a daily muse etched into a rectangular metal block that sits on my desk: what would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? The same friend reminded me of it on Wednesday: “Well,” he wrote, “Obama knew it. And did it. And now he'll be reminding us all to do the same.”

Before Obama was elected, the sheer number of mega-issues awaiting attention and resolution seemed overwhelming, catastrophic even, as if the apocalypse was just around the corner. We all still have a lot of work to do, but somehow, the rough edges have been smoothed over, the dark demons have retreated amidst the expanding light. Everything seems much more manageable now, and with the building blocks of Hope, Change, and Unity in place, anything can happen. Is it too much to ask for a new world order, one based on a peaceable trust rooted in mutual respect, tolerance, and cooperation, on the renewable bonds of community, and the spirit of Ubuntu?

The world seems a whole lot warmer now with Obama positioned to take over the White House in January. And I’d like to think that the world will continue to respond in kind to Obama, that he will be welcomed, heard, respected, and that the chasm that has split this country will heal in time for the real work to get done. As for Sarah Palin, perhaps it would be best if she were to go by way of Dan Quayle, but only time will tell. One thing is for certain: aside from heralding the installment of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States of America, much of the hoopla surrounding Inauguration Day will no doubt be reserved for seeing George W. Bush out of office. It’s been a long eight years, and I for one would love to have a farewell party for Bush. Perhaps the boys and I will post our “The Search for Bush’s Brain: a Collection of Bush Babies” collage project as a final salute to the meathead who offered up so many repugnant, hilarious, shocking moments, and so much incompetence to parody, lambast, skewer, and run from (especially if you were John McCain).

After the festivities, it’s back to every day. I need to catch up on sleep, schedule my tattoo with Dr. Pitts, keep on keepin’ on. I trust you’ve found something to be grateful for today; I know I have. It starts with ourselves, and expands outward in concentric circles, connecting the individual to the family, the family to the communities, close and far, the community to the global family of all inhabitants here on Earth. Thank you, Obama!

It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.
~ Alan Cohen

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"Bad politicians are sent to Washington by good people who don't vote." ~ William E. Simon

Election Day is here. It seems like we’ve waited a long forever for this day, our impatience starting to wear a little thin, our eagerness getting the best of us. The metaphoric meanings echoed in this campaign are overwhelming, and it seems the planets and the stars are working overtime to set the stage for this battle not just between McCain and Obama but between “the past and the future, tradition versus innovation, order versus rebellion, logic versus intuition, and the status-quo versus revolutionary changes” as well. This reflects a classic show down between Saturn and Uranus, with Saturn’s push for Fear now in many ways fighting against Uranus’ (yes, yours and mine) the urge toward liberation. Sound familiar? The gods are tinkering, conniving, pushing forward change on this battleground, giving it a heroic Homer spin with divine squabbling and intervention, insisting on the shattering of old bonds and the letting go of the established ways of doing things. And because the repercussions of this election will be so utterly massive and global in scale, the resultant splintering and reshaping will no doubt be unsettling, shocking. Regardless of what happens, I hope everyone can keep his or her head. With the Moon still in void for much of the day, it’s time to swim with the river. I’ve had my stitches out, I’m healing up, and I’m feeling awfully glad that I can expand my circle and refocus on something so huge and massively important, something that taps into how connected we all are to that living, breathing, pulsating all-encompassing organism of oneness, that collective consciousness, that universal god or goddess or primal being that lives and breathes in all of us and that pulsates with the communal thump of our heart, the interwoven web of our thoughts, and the shimmering essence of our spirit. Hokey dokey, yes, but it’s something I truly believe. This election taps into who we are as a nation and where we’re going, it looms large because of the weight of importance it carries, the scope and breadth and depth of influence it will have on global tides and trends and tsunamis, and it resonates with the dread and fear of the uncertainty that swirls about our children’s future, insisting upon a better way, infusing each step forward with hope and unity and community on many levels.

My mother is in Pennsylvania stumping and canvassing, trying to bring it home for Obama. My father has been in New Hampshire, trying to counteract the possibility of this reality: My aunt and uncle have been rallying the troops in Northern New Hampshire and Maine, cousins have been fighting in battleground states, and my sister out in New Mexico has been trying to secure Obama/Biden signs in and around her neighborhood outside of Albuquerque. Every sign, she said, even the ones she had rock climbed to protect, had been taken down by the next morning. We lost our own lawn sign sometime yesterday afternoon to McCain vandals running afoul of respect for personal property. It was surprising, given how much this valley has rallied around Obama, but this has been a divisive campaign, and no ugliness has been spared. Yesterday, we caught a first-hand glimpse of the joys and horrors of this campaign.
The boys and I traveled to Keene, NH to canvass for Obama, stopping first at the makeshift Obama headquarters in downtown Keene to pick up our instructions, then spending most of our time checking in on Obama supporters in low-income elderly housing apartment buildings, making sure they had the correct polling information, and a ride if they needed one. Most everyone was kind, welcoming, warm. An 89-year old woman named Thelma practically cried when she realized that she would actually get a ride to the polls and be able to vote; she had been wondering, worrying what she would do. She invited us into her tiny apartment, and she sat, rather breathlessly, tears coming to her eyes every now and then, and talked as if she was just happy for a little company. Many lit up when they saw the boys, and happy to be able to unload some of their leftover Halloween candy, rushed off to retrieve a handful of Twix and Butterfingers. Nearly everyone wanted to talk about how important this election was to them, how in all their 85 or 78 or 92 years they had never felt so strongly about a candidate before, how it had inspired many to vote for the first time in a long while, about how it didn’t matter if Obama was black or white (and actually, we heard him described as “colored” more than once), that he was the absolute best candidate, our best chance to turn things around, our only hope. They talked to the boys about the importance of history (“study lots of history,” one woman said, “it’s the only way we can learn from our past mistakes!”), about how they should never take the right to vote for granted, and how grateful they were that someone was checking in to make sure they were able to exercise this basic human right. A few we visited were bedridden, or in wheelchairs. And each one of them had done their part despite the obvious obstacles, putting in the time to cast their absentee ballots, be counted.

In the first building we canvassed, an old man tumbled out of his doorway into the hall, where he wheezed and coughed and eyed us suspiciously as we waited to see if the woman in apt. 304 would answer our knocks. “Hello,” I called to him, “how are you today?” Cough, cough. “We’re here today giving out information about the polling places for the election.” He started to back up and slink behind the door frame, and then, “The whaaa? Polling?” “Yes,” I said, “we’re here with the Obama campaign, making sure everyone knows where to go to vote tomorrow, making sure they have a ride if they need one.” As soon as I said "Obama" I saw his eyes narrow into slits, his face darken. I walked a little closer, smelled the cigarette smoke that floated out of his apartment, saw the untamed hair that danced on his head, the scowl etched onto his face, the dark shadows of failing health under his eyes, where a dark, deep hostility had suddenly begun to blaze. He took his final steps of retreat, coughed several times before regaining his breath, and growled, “Well, you don’t want to talk to me, then, because I’m no Muslim!” Slam. The kids and I stood and stared, jaws dropping, eyes wide. I had hoped that we wouldn’t encounter any of the ugly, dark side of this campaign, but here it was, this bold-faced ignorance jumping out at us in a way that caught us all off-guard. We longed for the warmth and reason, the humanity, of Thelma’s kitchen, and were glad to be able to leave the building.

On the way home, we circled round the square in downtown Keene, where supporters from both sides carried multiple signs stacked one on top of the other in a kind of political totem pole, and waved to passing motorists, who beeped and honked, grimaced and shook their heads. Suddenly we noticed a crowd of photographers, journalists, passersby surrounding a young guy who stood inside the iron gates, shouting, gesticulating, his face full of fire as he started to burn the flags that hung above him. We couldn’t hear what he was saying, but we watched his mouth carve out a ceaseless flurry of what must have been fighting words, the emotion clearly burned on his face. A blue flag went up in flames, the eagle etched in gold disappearing, and then he grabbed an American flag, and there was a sense of urgency, as cameras were shoved into the action, people running and rushing to see, cars slowing down and people shouting their objections. As soon as the flame hit the corner of the flag, it took less than a second for it to engulf and destroy the flag. His mouth was working overtime. We rolled down our windows to hear “This flag will never represent America!” A woman screamed out her car window, “No American should ever burn an American flag. YOU SUCK!” The signs he had positioned around his display had the last word: “No gods, no masters, just liberty.”
Today, we wear our Obama t-shirts and stickers and pins. Daisy has her Obama Girl collar on. Luke and Dominick have made signs to replace the one that someone stole. Dominick has painted his face. To them, this race has taken on the mythic proportions of a Game 7 World Series Red Sox win or last season's championship run by the Celtics. (We won't compare it to last winter's Patriots' Super Bowl debacle). We’re headed down to the fire station to vote soon. The boys wish they could vote, too, but are glad for the chance to do their part. And If Thelma gets a ride to the polls today so her vote can be counted, it will all be worth it. Alice Paul would be happy.
I want to be happy, too, to bask in the glow of simple possibility, to stand tall and feel the winds of change against my face, to trust that the currents will take us where we need to go. But there’s a lingering, underlying dread that the corruption and malaise of the system will tamper with our votes, that Saturn's Fear will somehow pinch off the flow of reason and openness and tolerance and defeat the need for liberating change, and that despite the desire to believe that Thelma, and each and every one of us, will be fairly and justly counted, that something sinister will once again contaminate the process. Will it be, as Stalin once said, that “the people who cast the votes don’t decide the election; the people who count the votes do.”? Ouch. It’s hard not to let that cynicism creep in, and until the dust settles, I won’t rest. But this day holds so much promise that it is hard not to be swept up in the sheer possibility of it all. It's what we all must hold on to, and if there was ever a time to use those visualization techniques, this is it! Obamanos! The time is now for President Obama!

Above all else,
Peace out, XX

L.