Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Thoughts on the DNC convention...

NOTE: Some of you may have already seen this on facebook last week. That evening, Sept. 5, something was going wrong with my blog, so I couldn't post it here, as I had intended. It seems all is now recovered, and I'm putting it up on the blog. More to come soon... 

We have a major choice facing us in almost exactly two months. Will we reelect Barack Obama or will we elect Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan? 

We all know the economy is struggling. We understand that while we are technically no longer in recession that jobs are growing at too slow a pace and home values are being slow to increase. 

But, what do we do now? 

Do we throw the Current Occupant out because he hasn’t solved all the problems in this country or do we give him a little more time to try to do so? How quickly should we expect any president to solve a problem that was 8 years in the making? 

Here’s the thing: This president inherited the worst economy since FDR in the Great Depression and yet he’s turned around the hemorrhaging of jobs. We are growing this economy now, it is no longer shrinking. Is it fast enough? No, it’s not fast enough for anyone, but it’s going in the right direction.

He passed health care reform that Presidents – both Republican and Democrat – have fought for for 70 plus years. It’s here now. And, it’s making a difference. Millions of young people who are no longer denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, millions more who are able to stay on their parents’ insurance until they are 26. Soon, NONE of us will be denied for pre-existing conditions, and lifetime caps will be a thing of the past. 

These things matter. 

These things count. 

Bill Clinton spoke forcefully and powerfully tonight at the DNC convention, attempting to make a case for why Barack Obama deserves four more years as our President. I think he hit it out of the park. When we look back at the last 50+ years, by every measure, our country has done better economically under Democrat presidents than under Republican presidents – those are the facts. And, there’s a simple reason: Democrats believe, I believe, that we grow the economy best from the middle out and the bottom up, NOT the top down. It works. It is proven. More jobs are created, Wall Street does better, Main Street does better. Our Veterans are more cared for. 

Now is the time to choose. And, it is critically important that we all cast our votes. Whomever you vote for, what’s most important is that you vote. This is what democracy is all about. 

Bill Clinton pointed out tonight that Mr. Obama appointed several Republicans to his cabinet, and several rivals, including Hilary Clinton, whom he appointed Secretary of State. This underscores and illustrates what’s great about our country. As Bill Clinton said, “Democracy is not a blood sport.” We have a healthy, vigorous competition and then we get on with the business of governing. Or at least that’s how it should be. 

The Republicans haven’t been very interested in that these past few years. Since 2010 their singular goal has been to, in the words of Mitch McConnell, “make sure that Obama is a one-term president.” That’s not leading. That’s obstructionism. And it is un-American.

I was no fan of George W. Bush, but I never rooted for his failure, because I could never root for America’s failure. That’s the difference. I didn’t like Bush. I didn’t vote for him. But, he was my President, and my hope was that he would succeed. That he didn’t (in some important respects) will be recorded in the history books. 

But, even when there was a President of the United States that I did not support, I never hoped he would fail. That’s the difference between then and now. As I see it. 


Saturday, March 24, 2012

One Significant Value of Fiction

The last several days in my immediate family have been challenging ones, characterized by a frightening accident, a call to 911, and too much time spent in a hospital. While I will not go into the details of the accident, the hospitalization, etc., in this post, I want to, rather, reflect on the value of fiction writing in our lives.

When unexpected, or surprising events occur, we are often confronted with fundamental questions about how we are living our lives, what really matters, and so on. Earlier this evening, I began reading Anne Lamott’s 2010 novel, Imperfect Birds, and although I’m only 62 pages into it at this point, it is proving to me one of the most important reasons that fiction matters in our hyper social-network driven world.

Fiction, good fiction, reminds us that we all live complicated and mixed-bag lives. We all struggle with questions of identity, of our places in the world, of whether or not we are doing what we should do, or were meant to do, and the like. Good fiction – and, Imperfect Birds is absolutely in that category – reminds us of our shared imperfections, our shared continual quest to figure out how best to navigate this gift (that sometimes feels like a curse) we’ve been given called life. By recognizing the humanity and the faults and the glories and the foibles in fictional characters, we are (if we are lucky) able to take a step back to reexamine our own lives and ask: Well, maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world that I did x, y, or z? Perhaps I can forgive myself – perhaps I can forgive my mother, father, brother, sister, lover, spouse – for doing something that was hurtful, childish, annoying, or, rude?

Early in this novel a character suggests that perhaps we are living in “the sixth day,” evoking the creation story. In other words, perhaps God is not quite done. We are here already… we are living in this environment that He (or She) created, but it is not yet time for God to rest. Because the work is not yet done. I like this idea. I like it a lot. It almost provides an answer to those questions many of us so often ask: “How could a loving and caring God allow (fill-in-the-blank) to happen?” Well, maybe it’s because the job’s not quite done yet. Maybe we are all living in the sixth day.

Each of us will encounter unexpected challenges throughout our lives, and each of us will have a moment (or more) of feeling shell-shocked that whatever happened just happened. A close friend dies or is seriously injured or is diagnosed with cancer; a simple misstep leads to days in the hospital and weeks of recovery and pain; the dog you are walking lunges after a rat and pulls you down to a painful fall in the process. These things happen. They do.

Good fiction reminds us that we are not alone in this fate. We are all susceptible to the whims and fancies of… whatever one might wish to call it. Fate? God’s will? Bad luck? Good luck? The point is, stuff happens. Our job is to learn from it when it does. Our job is to recognize the humanity in one another. Our job is to empathize and listen and learn and take heed. Because tomorrow, it may well be me or you or the other person reading these scribblings who is caught by surprise and suddenly learns that stuff happens. Whenever, wherever.

We persevere. We go on, as Beckett notably observed. We adjust, learn, recalibrate.

Fiction helps remind us that we are not alone in the doing. Fiction creates a safe space in which we can face the scary realities we may well have to face in our own lives when we are least prepared for it, because, let’s face it – that’s when they come.

So, cheers and thank you to the great fiction writers of the world. And, while I’m at it, cheers and thank you to the great nonfiction writers of the world, because they often can (and do) achieve the same purpose. (I almost wrote porpoise, by the way… just a side note.)

Cheers, writers! You tell stories that remind us of our shared humanity; of our strengths, our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities, and our charms. You remind us that we are all on this crazy trek together – like it or not.

This evening, as bedtime nears, I look forward to reading a few more pages of Imperfect Birds, and then climbing into bed with my lovely wife and thanking whomever for all the blessings of our lives. Hardships happen – of course – but they are not the whole of existence. They are bumps in the road. We move on, persevere, keep writing our own stories, and, embrace what is, and what’s next.