Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Personal Revelation About a Political Revolution

Last night I was at my grief support group meeting of TheCompassionate Friends, and a light bulb suddenly went off in my brain. 

Anyone who has seen my Facebook feed over the last 9 or 10 months cannot escape my frequent and unabashed enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders as my candidate of choice for President of the United States. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that many people were surprised by my sudden outburst of political fervor (normally I stick to personal updates with the occasional GMO labeling or “save the bees” type of activism). I have to admit, it kind of caught me by surprise, too.

What I already knew
On the surface, I support Bernie because I believe that he is a rare kind of politician who has the integrity and courage to stand up for what’s right—fairness, equality, and justice for all including our planet—without being swayed by Big Money interests or political favors. And I agree with his priorities and his positions on the issues.

What’s more, because Hillary Clinton is running again this year, the inevitable comparisons to the 2008 presidential race have caused me to become aware that I really don’t remember very much about that election. I was in a fog in 2007 and 2008 having just suffered the death of my precious daughter Natalie (July 29, 2005–March 18, 2007). 

What I realized last night
Last night it dawned on me how my passion for Bernie is also an expression of my grief. It’s a little complicated as grief can take some unexpected turns, but I’ll do my best to explain.

First, a few notes about my political background and why I support Bernie
I believe that this election year, the United States is at a critical crossroads in its history. For most of my 49 years our country has been sinking into a dangerous and inherently “un-American” system that has turned our democracy into an oligarchy—a system of government in which a few rich and powerful people are in control.

In 1984 I became eligible to vote in my first presidential election. I have always taken my right to vote seriously and have exercised it faithfully in every election since—presidential and otherwise. With the exception of 1988 when Jesse Jackson ran for the democratic nomination (I saw him speak three times that year), no candidate has ever really gotten me particularly excited.  It seems like every time election year rolls around, it’s the all-too-familiar choice between the “lesser of two evils.”

The truth is, aside from voting, I have never really been involved in politics.

Now, for the first time in my life, a candidate has come along and ignited a fire in my political being. I’ve almost become an activist—even going so far as to become a delegate candidate on the Rhode Island democratic ballot. Thanks to Bernie Sanders—a man who has a proven record of fighting for equality and justice his entire adult life (just look at his various speeches over the years)—I am now keenly aware that the middle class has been shrinking and the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

Roslyn’s and Gabriel’s future
And I started thinking about my children’s future: what kind of world are we going to leave them and their kids? Bernie’s idea of tuition-free public universities is sounding pretty darn good right now. So is his idea of universal, single-payer healthcare. Not to mention his deep commitment to addressing climate change. I want the world to be a better place for my children, not a dark, dystopian future that we see in popular fiction like “The Hunger Games,” where an oligarchic “Capital” controls everyone else through fear and propaganda for its own gain.

But in order to make any of these things happen, we need to get Big Money out of our political process. It’s not democracy when anything other than the will of the majority of people takes precedence. Yet the influence of Big Money and special interests has become standard operating procedure in our country. Bernie wants to fix the system.

A more compassionate society
Former President George H.W. Bush once said he wanted a “kinder, gentler nation.” It is a noble goal, but one that he was unable to achieve, nor has anyone else since. Why? Because the people we have elected to the highest office are not people of clear conviction and integrity that inspire others to be better human beings. Remember the line in the movie “As Good As It Gets” when Jack Nicholson says, “You make me want to be a better man”? That’s the kind of feeling I’m talking about. To inspire that in others you must set the example—and Bernie Sanders is doing that all over this country.

As a Bernie supporter, I have noticed an amazing thing starting to happen in our country. Through the incredible immediacy and intimacy of social media, people are connecting with each other. There is a sense of community—an American community—that doesn’t seem to have existed before. As I watch voting results come in across the country, I am deeply grateful to the people in those states for having the courage to vote for change, to vote for hope, to vote for integrity. I felt a glimmer of one-ness with my fellow citizens I had never felt before—like we are all in this together. And that is at the core of Bernie’s message. We are one people. Let’s help each other. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s stop the “me first” attitude that rears its ugly head so often in our daily lives.

Why we need a political revolution
It takes a lot of courage to change. But I believe that Bernie is the catalyst for truly bringing about the reform we need in our government and our society. His political revolution embraces the inherent principles of democracy, which is what the United States of America is supposed to uphold: Government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We have strayed and it's time to get back on track. Bernie is the only candidate who can make that happen.

Our ancestors fought for the freedoms many people now take for granted—the right to vote. The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The right to be accepted for who you are. 

I am just one voter. One American citizen. One mother who wants the best for her children. And that is why I am voting for Bernie Sanders.

Back to the grief connection
So… last night I was sitting in the meeting listening to people talk about their grief and something clicked.

For people who have lost a child (myself included) one of the most difficult things to deal with in the grieving process is the unfairness of it. Children are not supposed to predecease their parents. I still find it impossible to accept Natalie’s passing. It is just wrong. But I don’t have anyone to blame or be angry at (except the universe, and frankly, that’s just not good enough).

With the wrongness of losing a child comes a feeling of powerlessness. There was nothing we could do to save her. Hope dies, too.

When Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy, on a level buried very deep within me, I saw an opportunity for hope and I was compelled to DO SOMETHING in a way I never had before in my life. And so political activist Beth emerged. It came from a deep need, an all-consuming craving, for there to be fairness and justice in this world.

Natalie is gone. My only hope for her now is that her memory will live on among those who knew her and those who may be touched by her life. But I can still hope for a better future for Roslyn and Gabriel, for my fellow citizens, and for our planet. I know it’s an uphill battle. But does that mean we shouldn’t try?

My very insightful and caring husband
When I shared my revelation with my husband last night after the meeting, I was surprised and touched that he seemed to have understood my motivation all along. Last summer, he had expressed concern over me getting too invested in Bernie because he saw from the beginning how it was connected to Natalie and he didn’t want to see me get crushed. (Like many people, he was skeptical that Bernie could win against the enormous power of the political Establishment and the Clinton machine.) I am humbled by his insight. Sometimes those who love us know us better than we know ourselves. It just took me longer to figure it out. I am grateful to Christopher for that and so much more.

And I'm pleased to report that he has joined me in feeling the Bern!

Friday, January 29, 2016

You Can't Undo Death

Yesterday evening when we went to tuck in our chickens for the night, my husband found one of our four hens had died. I had let them run free for a couple of hours that afternoon and hadn't yet closed the door to the coop. Immediately I assumed that a predator had gotten in there. Already I was feeling like it was my fault. But when Chris picked her up, we examined her and I noticed she was in perfect condition. There were no wounds or signs of any sort of distress. We ruled out an attack, which then left the question of what caused her to die? Not even a year old, it wasn't her age. What else could cause a seemingly healthy chicken to just die? I had just seen her less than 2 hours prior and she was running around with the flock. So what happened in that short time frame to cause her to die?

I googled this question and found out that other people have had similar experiences. Maybe it was a heart attack. Maybe she was "egg bound," a condition that occurs when they can't release an egg. Maybe she was sick (though she didn't show any symptoms). Who knows?

I couldn't get to sleep last night as I cried and cried over this poor chicken. I felt a little silly until I realized how similar her fate was to my precious Natalie's. I am forever plagued with the question of what caused Natalie to die quietly in her sleep? There were no warning signs. Just like this chicken. There are no answers.

We didn't take any pictures of Natalie that horrific morning of March 18, nor as she lay peacefully in her casket when our family members visited her the night before her memorial service. (I have those images imprinted on my brain forever.) But Roslyn did take a picture of our poor hen and posted it on her Instagram account with the caption "RIP Gaspar or Sleepy" (it was hard to tell the three RI Reds apart, but we're sure it's not Birdy) and some crying emojis. Looking at that peaceful bird makes me keenly aware (yet again) of how precious and fragile life is. One minutes they're here, the next they're gone. Poof!

You can't undo death.

As a result of not sleeping well, I'm tired and I've been in a bit of a funk. In fact, I've been in a funk for the past couple of weeks as now we are well into the new year and March 18 is just around the corner. It seems to happen every year around this time. The passing of our poor, sweet chicken has triggered my grief big time. I'm in the thick of it again. I struggle to get through this season coping with the enormity of my loss and my forever longing for my daughter who I will never get back. Because you can't undo death.