What Jimmy Kimmel Said

63 years ago, an 11-year old boy who loved baseball sat right next to his mother while a kindly old pediatrician explained to him–you have a hole in your heart. This meant for that young boy, no baseball, no track, no basketball.

I imagine this appointment broke that little guy’s heart, and his mother’s too. They didn’t have a lot of resources, and whatever disappointments they were handed, they took chin first. I have a picture of them in my mind, sun filtering through a high dusty window–dust motes flickering in the air. There were no tears.

Not quite 20 years later, my dad had open-heart surgery at The Cleveland Clinic to repair that hole in his heart. He had a scar that began at his belly button and traveled up almost to his collar bones. My mom remembers seeing him for the first time post-surgery, the breathing tube running into his throat–he looked like he’d been hit by a Mack truck. Family legend has it that her knees gave out and she sank to the floor right where she stood.

He survived the surgery (and another one 40 years later) and continues to live even though his heart still gives him the business. But his heart disease was a pre-existing condition. My parents spent the next 40 years, making sure that he had some sort of employee-sponsored insurance plan, and my dad worked his damn ass off–that’s for sure. But when he changed careers late in life, my mother went to work to make sure they had insurance. It wasn’t a given–not until they aged into Medicare.

 

***

30 years ago, a skinny college student with short hair, packed up her 1974 Dodge Gold Duster and drove home. Her parents were admitting her to a psych/eating disorders unit with her consent. She could no longer remember eating a meal that hadn’t been fraught–food was both enticing and frightening. She couldn’t eat with control like other people. The vomiting. The shame.

For close to 60 days, I lived on a split-third floor in a residential psych hospital. Half the floor housed mood disorders and half the floor housed eating disorders. There was overlap. I was not cured when they released me a few days before my 21st birthday, but the long stay did disrupt the cycle of binging and purging that marked the hours of my days.

There would be no more treatment. I now had a pre-existing mental health condition. Insurance companies could attach this nifty little thing called a rider to insurance policies. A rider excludes coverage for certain conditions. I aged out of my parents’ policy because I was no longer a student and I was 21, so insurance was out of the question until I was married and on my husband’s policy. I learned quickly to omit those 60 days from my health history.

***

In 2013, my 14-year-old daughter lost 25 pounds, drank a ton of water, and stopped menstruating. I thought she was following in Mom’s footsteps, but I could find no evidence that she was purging. In fact, it was weird, she was drinking sodas and gobbling down big bowls of Captain Crunch and Frosted Flakes. She had never been a sugar girl. She’d always preferred popcorn to Pop Tarts, peanuts to pie. I couldn’t figure this one out.

There was the strange issue about her smell though. She smelled like fingernail polish remover. I sniffed her. It drove her crazy. I sniffed her some more. She frowned and pouted and peed like mad. It took me a day or two of sniffing, but finally I looked it up–breath that smells like fingernail polish remover. And there it was–diabetic Ketoacidosis.

The nearest children’s hospital is almost three hours away. The ambulance was just the right size for the nurse and the IV delivering life-saving insulin and my daughter. I tried to climb in there with them, but there wasn’t enough room, so I had to travel with my husband. It was a quiet trip.

Insulin, test-strips, meters, needles–they aren’t cheap, but they cannot be done without. Type 1 Diabetes is an auto-immune disorder. My daughter’s pancreas doesn’t produce insulin. There is no option for discontinuing treatment other than death. As we prepared to leave the hospital–to begin our post-diabetes life, the social worker told us–You are lucky the affordable health care act is in place. She was even a little scoldy, perhaps she was tired of arguing the ACA’s benefits–without Obamacare Type 1 Diabetes can be a nightmare for young people.

***

Just last week, while I sat in a hospital room with my dad who was soon to have his  heart shocked back into a sinus rhythm after a year of atrial fib, the House of Representatives voted to repeal and replace certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

While our president mouthed all over the place that pre-existing conditions would continue to be covered, the  new provisions allow states to apply for waivers that would let health insurance companies offer paltry policies. These policies wouldn’t be required to cover the 10 essential health benefits mandated in the ACA. States who wanted the waivers would have to set up so-called high-risk pools — to protect insurers from high-cost patients–like my sweet daughter.

My daughter, Peanut, and is 18. She graduates high school in one week. She can remain on our health insurance policy for 8  years. But what happens when she leaves our policy? What happens when she graduates college but finds a job that doesn’t offer employer-sponsored health care? She can’t go one day without insulin. How does she survive?

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Peanut on her way to Prom May 2017 (dad and Wonder photobombing in back left corner)

Here’s what a caring gal told me on FB about my concerns: if one of my four children was in a position where medical premiums or costs were incurred I would advise them to disconnect their internet, get a cheaper car or take the bus, and eliminate things that weren’t essential to take care of that responsibility.

I couldn’t respond to that.

How do you respond to that?

I guess this post is my response.

I’m going to leave you with Jimmy Kimmel who said it all so well.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning–On Love

51 years ago today, my parents were married. 25 years ago today, my oldest daughter, Isky was born. Two days ago, my husband’s mother, Grace, died after a long illness. I’ve been thinking about how the ways these three life events come together–how we can celebrate the whole of a lifetime by honoring the weave of love.

Here is a sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning that calls to that love.

Sonnet 43

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.





The LOVE Is Already There

Last Monday, around 11:30PM, I received a private message from an old high school friend. She wanted to share with me the FB post of another classmate and friend of ours–a post that poked fun at folks like me who are using FB to stay informed and to connect with like-minded people looking for constructive and loving ways to protest the policies of the new administration. It was a clever, for sure, but snarky too.

I might not have answered if I weren’t determined to stay awake. You see, my 17-year-old daughter, Peanut, has Type 1 Diabetes. Lately her blood sugar has been dropping during the night. When this happens, I read or watch TV until her blood sugar numbers are in the safe zone. I have a nifty little app on my phone that alerts me to Peanut’s low blood sugars, and I had just returned to bed after watching my daughter drink a half a Gatorade, when my old high school buddy popped in on Messenger.

I was fatigued, and I had to stay up, and my heart began to race. I responded (not unkindly at first although eventually I did get pissy) and this unleashed in my old friend a bundle of ugliness.

I’ve been pondering this post for over a week now. In the meantime, I turned 50 and was the recipient of many lovely birthday wishes, an Italian cream cake baked by my mother an outspoken Republican and baker extraordinaire, and three champagne toasts. I attended a visitation for an old friend’s father and was sung Happy Birthday to by the lovely ladies cooking the funeral dinner.

I finished a book called Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russel Hoschild in order to try to understand the whole “Make America Great Again” business. I remain baffled (but this might be mere stubbornness) although Hoschild’s book was both an illuminating and tender examination of the tremendous gulf between liberals and tea partiers and a call to action based on empathy.

I’ve had lunch with friends and lunch with daughters and lunch with mothers. I sat on the porch with my husband on an unseasonably warm day and we drank beers and willfully ignored the fact that it’s not supposed to be 65 in southern Illinois in February. I watched a bunch of 5th grade girls play basketball and grieved for those days when my own children played 5th grade basketball.

According to my Fitbit, I’ve logged 54 miles walking and pondering the conversation I had with that old friend. First I wanted to shine a light on her late-night rantings. I mean, who starts a mean-spirited political discussion with someone at 11:30 at night in a private message? I wrote (in my head) reams of scathing responses that were not empathic at all.

And then I waited. You see, she said one thing to me that evening that I want to focus on here. She wrote to me, in response to my latest blog post about love, “none of us, NONE are buying into your…’I love everything and everyone and every person.'”

She’s right.

That stings. Because I want to love big and expansively. I want to “love the hell out of them,” as Martin Luther King Jr. told his followers. I want to L O V E the way I believe we are intended to, and still I fall short.

I do NOT extend my love to donald trump or jeff sessions or betsy devos. I talk a good game about love because I really do believe in it. But let me tell you, there are days that I spend most of my time watching MSNBC and reading The Washington Post or The Guardian, and what I am filled with is definitely not LOVE. It’s a twisty, knotty, tangled derisive, divisive outrage. And there are days when it threatens to blow my head off (did you see how they silenced Elizabeth Warren as she read Coretta Scott King’s letter?).

So how can I in good conscious continue to write about LOVE?

In the days since my old friend took me to task for writing about love, I’ve listened to John Lewis’s interview on Krista Tippett’s On Being more than once. I printed the transcript from the interview, and I have scoured it for some formula that might help me love those I do not want to love–because that is part of the problem. I want to parcel love. NO sending love to those not worthy of such an elevated feeling.

John Lewis describes love as “a way of being” He contends that love is “a way of action. . . It has the capacity, it has the ability to bring peace out of conflict.” 

I can sort of wrap my mind around this. Love, not as an elevation of feeling, but as a “way of being” in this world. This is what I aspire to. It’s hard work. This sort of love demands presence. It demands that I open my arms to the world as it is, not as it should be or as I would like it to be. It demands that I look at the world as John Lewis does to believe that “the good is already there. The love is there.”

It’s just up to us to make it real.

 

**on another note, yes. I did turn 50. But the blog will remain The 49th Year. Keep reading and loving.

 

 

love–can’t resist without it

What to write? I’ve been wrestling with self-doubt, frustration, lack of time, and plain old pissedoffedness. Instead of writing, I’ve fulminated over FB posts I can’t stand and fissures in renewed relationships that have gone cold over the election of an autocratic narcissist. I flew to Florida with my sister just to drive a car back to Illinois. This was actually kind of fun because we listened to Ellen Degeneres‘ audiobook Seriously. . . I’m Kiddingbought some new shoes at a roadside super shoe store (who knew?), and laughed a lot, but it wasn’t conducive to writing.

In the last couple of weeks, the US lost a classy, smart, funny, even-handed and compassionate President (This is my opinion, and it is one shared by many people–and it’s based on facts. Seriously, there’s no reason to comment if you do not agree; I know you are out there.) and installed into the highest office a Sharpie-wielding contractor who just this weekend executive-ordered the turning away of refugees who might be Muslim in an action that is in direct odds with the values of a majority of citizens who believe in the long-standing American ideal of giving refuge to those fleeing violence and persecution.

It’s enough to make you sick, and that’s just one crazy-assed example of the shit that’s been going down.  It’s enough to make you angry, scared as hell, and too muddled to write.

In spite of all this, in spite of a spiritual fatigue fed by the constant-silencing folks who don’t like messy protests by determined patriots who will not lie down and get with the program of the new administration, in spite of my almost pathological desire to crawl through a portal to pre-November 8, 2016, I experienced something super cool this morning. It woke me up and blew me away in its simplicity and sweetness.

My kids, 18-year-old Peanut and 15-year-old Shel, walked out the door together for school.

This is the first year in a whopping 20 years of having school-age children, that I do not have to run a daily school drop-off or pick up. Instead, I stand at the front door in my jimmies and robe with a warm cup of coffee in my hand and watch them open the front door and walk together into the brisk morning air. I say “love and see you,” because that is what we say here at Jensenville, and they say, “love and see you,” before shutting the door behind them.

This happened this morning, and love showed up. Nearly knocked me the hell down, if I’m telling the truth. Love showed up and I got all wobbly-kneed and teary-eyed. It felt good, folks. It felt good to be so undone by love.

It’s hard to hold that kind of love in one hand while resisting with the other. And as I write that, I realize that it is the only way to resist. It is what keeps us soft and open to those we disagree with.

It’s hard. I know I already said that, but damn, it is hard. There are a lot of conservative-leaning folks who are tired of their liberal friends posting the latest troubling news on FB. They are both overwhelmed and disgusted by our distress. They want puppy dogs and kittens (hell, who doesn’t?).  I contend that it’s possible they don’t want to be reminded of actions that make them a teensy-bit uncomfortable about the new administration and some of its policies.

I am mostly a people-pleaser, and it’s difficult for me to post newspaper articles and calls to action because I know I’m pissing people off. I don’t like pissing people off. I’m not confident enough to piss people off. I feel under informed–what I mean is that I’d like a political science/history degree before I start making statements, but I don’t have the time for that. None of us do.

So I have to rely on love to keep me strong. I saw this video on FB this morning after my kids left for school together, their breath mingling all puffy in the cool air, and maybe because I was still all loosey goosey with love, I cried while watching.

I’m still crying. All that we share.

Love.

Love is something I share with those folks detained at airports, with women whose bodies must be self- and not government-regulated, with the Dark-eyed Junco hopping around in the bare Burning Bushes outside my window, with the people who for the first time in their lives have healthcare and don’t want to lose it, with the pine tree whose shed needles make the winter ground soft to walk upon, with the bullied and the ass-head bullies, with the bigots and the open-hearted.

Love.

We can’t resist without it.

Things To Love

I want to keep this simple.

I am just home from a walk around the same block I have been walking since the fifth grade. The block has changed a bit. Sidewalks mean that I no longer have to walk alongside the ditch like my cousin Daun and I did when we were in high school and exercising before the first morning bell. Fields of corn and horses have turned into a ball park, a beautiful park with swings and slides, a bike park, a soccer field, a swimming pool, and now a super cool tree-identification park. Each time the block changed, my stomach roiled. I’m not big on change. I liked the fields. I liked the horses. I liked the corn and the butterflies and the quiet.

Even so, it’s a great place to walk. And I am learning to love each change–super-cool-tree-identification center easier to love than ball park, but then I’m a slow-learner.

Just now, I went out walking in order to look for love. I’ve been adrift these past several weeks. I watch the news nonstop. I knit. I light up the house and wrap presents. I drink wine in the evenings and watch more news and go to bed with a fist-sized knot in my chest and when I wake, it’s still there.

Last night, my husband and I were watching TV (the news much to his chagrin–he prefers old episodes of Bonanza) and, of course, coverage turned to trump’s weird tweets about a jacked-up plan for nuclear security. We began to reminisce longingly about the days of George W. and his friend Dick, of how much we miss those guys and John Boehner. My husband said a couple of pretty-unloving things about the administration-to-be, and we sat silently together for a little while.

We are not mean people, and yet I feel mean-spirited, angry, frustrated, and anxious. I know what it is–I am surprised. I am shaken. I am shocked, and I do not know how to process these feelings of groundlessness so I turn to anger. It’s easier, after all, to be angry than it is to face the deep abyss of who this election tells me we are.

And it all feels a little silly to me too. After all, I have a very nice life. My house is lit up with lights and candles. My tree is in the front window, and beneath its piney-looking limbs are way too many presents wrapped with bows. I just took two loaves of cinnamon bread out of the oven, and I’ve got a ham in the crockpot. The next few days, I will spend time only with people I love. We will eat too much, exchange gifts, sing Christmas carols, go to church, laugh at each other’s jokes, drink Christmas punch, and be stupid awesome together (that’s for you my cousins!). I feel a little silly being so sad.

And yet I am.

So I am looking for things to love. And I wonder if you would too. At least for the next couple of days. I have to tell you that each time I go outside, I find something to love. The natural world is so full. Today the treetops were furred with starlings. Their soft, dark bodies perched in the bare limbs filled my heart. They are always there, aren’t they. But when the days are stark and the trees have shed their leaves, I can see them. What a gift.

There is so much love in the world, and it is love we have to cultivate. It is only love that will save us. I believe that, but it’s easy, so easy to forget. So I thought maybe we could help each other here. I’d love it if you posted pics (I think you can) or stories of things to love in the comments below.img_2303

Happy Holidays!