It’s Mother’s Day, and yes, I miss my mom. It’s been five and a half years, and I still feel like calling her on Tuesday evenings. This week, I thought of that and imagined telling her about leaving for Malawi in July. I would have to brace myself. I’d have to practice the lighthearted voice making it sound like a cruise to Mexico, something she (not I) would love! I’d have to keep up the banter for a bit, highlighting all the points that would reassure her. I’ll be in a big city this time! I’ll be teaching at a University! (that’ll sound secure) I’m not going alone!
This would give her a chance to hide her concern for me, her frustration with what she called “my need to do crazy things.” Though she tried, she couldn’t understand or relate to my lifestyle. She did learn though, to stop trying to talk me out of it. And I loved her for that. It always helped that her friends thought what I was doing was great. That, and her faith. She was a good mom. Before I left for Congo and was frantically getting the house ready to rent, she wanted me to give her a job that would be helpful. She was quite infirm by then and couldn’t do any lifting or cleaning, so I placed a large basket of fabric in front of her, and she carefully folded and stacked my precious scraps so I could pack them away. She never admonished me for saving them or questioned the value of the smallest piece. She simply smoothed them out on her lap with crooked fingers, folded them, placed them in a tidy pile beside her, then reach in and pull out another scrap. It was such a labor of love.
But the question did come up this week, “Why are you going away NOW?” And I had to stop and think. Why am I going away now? The reasons start going through my brain. I shake them out, fold them and start stacking them in a tidy pile.
- I want to go, and why wait?
2.I’m about to stand in front of a potentially worldwide audience in two weeks and declare that if we want maternal mortality to decrease we need to have more midwives. Shouldn’t I help train more midwives?
- I’m addicted to Africa and I am constantly thinking about how to go back.
I’m craving another adventure.
I don’t want to start something here and then leave it, so I might as well go now.
I’ll write the book better there.
Why do I have to explain this? Isn’t it my life to do what I want with? I’m turning 60 for Petes sake. When do I get to do “crazy” and not have to explain it????
Then I think, I don’t have time to think of this! I need to memorize, practice, apply for international license, get shots, get medical forms done, practice, practice, practice. Find someone to rent this house. Practice.
So, about that practice. I’ve done a lot of public speaking since the book came out, and I love it. The only time I’m nervous is just as they are introducing me and I feel my heart beating what seems like, way too fast, and I think I am going to have a heart attack. I think, I am going to stand up and try to walk to that podium and I will have a heart attack. I also cannot think of what I am supposed to say. My mind is completely blank. I sense panic coming on, but then the introduction ends, and I get up there, and as soon as I start talking it all vanishes and I feel like I could stay up there forever. The time evaporates. It really is a rush. So I did not think my nine minute TED talk would be something that would cause anxiety until the walk to the stage. I was wrong. (A line from the talk. One I have down pat. One, I’m sure, George would love to hear me say more often.)
This week was a rehearsal on the stage. A big stage. With bright lights shining in my face. Light sabers. Search lights looking for my soul. It was completely disarming. Funny, that I would use that word, disarming, just now. Yes, it takes away your armor. Those hand gestures I do automatically? The lights turn them into a disorganized, uncoordinated dance that the audience isn’t enjoying. I was frozen. I felt like there were light sabers pinning me to the spot, so my legs stayed still, but my head started sweeping from side to side like a Weeble. That did go through my head, I am acting like a Weeble who wobbles but won’t fall down. I told myself to take a step, but I couldn’t! I actually couldn’t! My feet were pinned to the stage! So I used my hands more. That doesn’t work well. I pointed to emphasize my points. Bad, I thought. This is bad. I’m scolding the audience. It’s not their fault the maternal mortality rate is rising in this country. Stop it. But I couldn’t. The more the lights disarmed me, the more I felt like fighting. (They said to pick out a friendly face in the audience. I couldn’t see the audience! I could barely see the theater! They were like interrogation lights!) That is foreign country to me, up there, the stage.
Afterward, I felt like pleading for forgiveness. I thought, dear Kathy, who has given so much of herself to help me, is going to kill me. I just chucked everything she told me out the window. She is going to kill me. She’s going to turn her back, walk back to Tennessee, and declare me a lost cause. I used a feeble defense. “I haven’t been on a stage since the stupid little part in the chorus of Oklahoma! in high school!” (She, of course, had a lead in that play.) “You were on a stage last week!” she fired back. (Notice the military language here. This really did feel like combat.) I defensively and pathetically retorted, “Not like that stage!” She didn’t even bother replying. She was trying to figure out what the hell to do with me.
I left for the Maine Democratic Convention where I was a delegate for Hillary. I worked on memorizing in the car. I appealed to some goddesses for help. I only have one chance and I don’t want to blow it.
I’d never been to a party convention before. In my 60th year, I thought I’d acquire some new experiences, and I believe in Hillary. To me, she represents all the women I am fighting for. Poor women are judged and blamed unfairly for their lot in life–––they don’t work hard enough, they should leave the abusive husband, they don’t show up for appointments, they should get themselves off drugs. I hear it over and over and it makes me want to puke. These women are trying to survive in a system that abuses them. The system that is supposed to help them, treats them as criminals. And while Hillary Clinton is certainly not poor, she is judged and blamed unfairly for her lot in life. She’s abused by a system she is trying to change. She’s the most qualified candidate ever and she’s treated as a criminal. And it makes me want to puke.
I went off to the convention thinking I would be energized. After all, we are all striving for the same goals, I thought. Instead, I came away deeply disturbed. The vitriol and disrespect for opposing opinion was deeply disturbing. I get the vision. I want it too. I want universal health care. I want equal rights for women and minorities. I want fair elections. I was impressed with the format of allowing 4,000 people a way to participate. At the beginning I thought, “Wow. This is true democracy.” Two microphones, line up to speak, three in favor, three opposed, two minutes each. Fantastic. Until the speakers at the opposing microphone had to spend a minute of their two, drowned out by booing and cat calls. I sat in shock. I turned to the intelligent-looking, booing-people behind me with a look of utter disbelief. They stopped, but they scared me. Hundreds of others did not stop. This was an arena full of people who had just been espousing the right for every voice to be heard. The irony was beyond description.
Barney Frank was the speaker for Hillary, and he was subject to more of it. Huge heckling and booing. Shameful. Embarrassing. I looked around at the people with Hillary signs, quietly waiting for the speaker to be allowed to resume. Something in me froze. The hostility was worse than those lights. It’s not like he couldn’t handle it, though, and when he stopped his speech and said, “Excuse me, what is it about this democratic process that you have a problem with?” On the stage, with bright lights shining in his face, he was not disarmed. He deflected the arrows. He took heckler’s questions! He let them have a voice. He handled it with grace and incredible wit and I thought, “Yes.”
I stayed for the Bernie speaker, who was the drummer for Phish. I was surprised at the choice, but assumed they wanted someone who isn’t a politician, who Bernie has inspired. I wanted to hear what he had to say. I wanted to be respectful. I, more than ever, do not want to be like the people booing an invited speaker. That is not who I want to be. I learned a lesson I thought I already knew. Sitting in the midst of rancor was very different from watching a clip of it. This energy is moving from passion to hatred, and it’s scaring me. I get it when you feel your voice isn’t heard, that feeling of needing to say it louder, angrier, harsher, and accusingly. I get that. But there is a line that is being crossed and it’s scary. I’m grateful for this lesson.
I want to push forward with the grace and wit I see in the candidates I support. I’m proud of the team I’m on.
I’m ready to learn how to live with those lights.