Crack, Voting Rights, and Ferguson in Context

ferguson

Ferguson didn’t happen in a vacuum, and it didn’t happen solely because Michael Brown was shot and killed.

 

Ferguson is a point on a 400-year timeline of unequal treatment of African Americans in our country, and really, the culmination of the last thirty years of drug policy which specifically targeted black Americans.  Here’s a timeline:

 

  • In 1986, Congress passed the “Anti Drug Abuse Law of 1986″, which was notable mostly for creating a 100:1 ratio between crack and powder forms of cocaine, and for establishing mandatory minimum sentences, even for first time offenders.

 

This was a law squarely targeted at inner city black Americans.  In what was widely reported as an “Epidemic,” the less expensive form of smoked cocaine was widely available in inner cities, and was primarily used by the inner city poor (read: Black Americans).  Ignoring the rapid increase of powdered cocaine by white Americans (more than doubling in usage among high school seniors from 6% in 1976 to 12.7% in 1986) (Facts, 1), the law stated that 5 grams of crack or 500 grams of powdered cocaine were to warrant a 5 year mandatory minimum sentence.  Know what also weighs 5 grams?  A nickel.  So: have a nickel’s weight of crack ( you know, the black drug), or have a half kilo of powder (the white drug) to get the same sentence.

 

So guess what happened:

 

  • The number of Americans incarcerated for drug offenses increased from 19,000 in 1980 to 265,000 in 2008 (a fourteen-fold increase in twenty-eight years, or a doubling every two years) (Porter 2)

 

Now, knowing the disparity between the black drug sentencing and the white drug sentencing, what do you think happened?

 

  • The number of Black Americans incarcerated skyrocketed in the 1980s and 1990s.

 

Today, 1 in 3 black men will be incarcerated in their lifetimes.  This compares to 1 in 17 white men. Blacks make up 36.5% of the prison population, but only 12.9% of the general population.  Whites, on the other hand, make up only 22% of the prison population while making up 63% of the general population. At any given time, 10% of black males in their thirties are in jail or prison (The Sentencing Project 5).

 

It gets worse.  In 1980, there were three times more black men enrolled in colleges and universities than there were in prison.  In 2002, the number of incarcerated black men exceeded those enrolled in higher learning programs (Butterfield).

 

So, we’ve taken a generation of black men, pulled them from their homes, and thrown them in prison. What are the impacts of that?

 

  • The Unemployment Rate of blacks is more than double the unemployment rate of whites

 

Coming out of prison, one can imagine it is not easy to find a job. So, when we incarcerate 1/3 of a subset of the population (black males), it is safe to assume that this has impacts on their employability—and the data bear this out: The effects of juvenile incarceration persist for at least fifteen years, and reduce employment compared to cohorts by 5-10%. The impact is greater than that of dropping out of high school. For adult incarceration, the impact is equivalent, but appears to dissipate after about 5 years. (Western)

 

  • Most states at least temporarily remove voting rights from felons

 

In addition to reducing the employability of black Americans, and particularly black males, we further disenfranchise them by suspending the voting rights of felons. The national effect of this is that one in thirteen black adults is currently unable to vote because of felony convictions. The cumulative effect is the disenfranchisement of entire communities (The Sentencing Project).

 

Removing the ability and incentive to vote and to earn a living effectively translates to revoking citizenship, as the right to vote is often cited as the clearest benefit and responsibility of citizenship. Thus we—white America—remove power from black America and keep it for ourselves. What is the result of this:

  • In Ferguson, a 60% black community, the police force of 53 had three black officers. The mayor, police chief, and nearly all of the city representatives were white.
  • Nationally, less than 10% of house seats are held by blacks. 25 states have never elected a black congressperson. Nearly half of those representatives (49%) come from just five states. Most blacks have never been represented by someone of a similar racial or ethnic background in congress (Blake).

So, we have a population who has had power removed from their hands at their expense and to the benefit of white American, which wields that power to their own economic and social gain. Then, this happens:

  • In the month leading up to the death of Michael Brown, at least four unarmed black men were shot and killed by police. None have been charged with crimes.

We as a nation demand much of our police—we trust them to protect us from harm, and in order to do so we entrust in them a power we do not give to anyone else, not even the president: the power to kill an American citizen, on American soil, if they believe their life is in danger.

In return for this power, we must hold them to a higher standard of behavior, of thought, of action. By and large, police earn this right—but clearly, when they do not, we must hold them even more highly accountable than we would a civilian.

Instead, we have sat idly by.

  • And then, in Ferguson, Michael Brown was killed.

He was unarmed. He was a high school graduate. He was planning to attend college in the days following his death.

He was a suspect in a robbery, but this was unknown to the officer who shot and killed him.

And it was too much. This was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

We in white America, from our places of power and privilege ( and yes, even if you are poor and white, even if you live in the inner city, you have a power and privilege that black Americans do not: you have a representative government, you do not share the hundreds of years of discriminatory policy that they do, the shared history of oppression that black Americans share. You do have privilege, even if you refuse to admit it) decry the “rioting” we see in the streets. We scream into the comments section of news articles “Nobody was rioting when black people kill each other.”

What we don’t acknowledge is that this is not rioting: this is revolution. This is a people whom we have trod upon, whom we have subjugated, whom we have subjected to a series of regressive laws, which, as illustrated above, have removed from them all societal power and kept black America in a place of poverty just as surely as if they were still enslaved. This is a people who are now rising up and declaring “no more,” exercising their power in the only way we have left available to them: violence.
And we sit in our armchairs, and we disdain the savages, and scream into the ether about “black on black violence.” We create a caste of criminals, and then we disdain them for the criminality we have thrust upon them.

We are King George. We are Big Brother. In this, we are the bad guys—and we need to make right. We need to stand with those oppressed and demand that the white people who represent us in Congress make real changes which benefit these communities. And we need to do it now.

Works Cited

Blake, Aaron. “African Americans in Congress, by the Numbers.” 28 August 2013. The Washington Post. Webpage. 27 August 2014.

Butterfield, Fox. “Study Finds Big Increase in Black Men as Inmates Since 1980.” 28 August 2002. New York Times. Webpage. 27 August 2014.

Drug war Facts. “Crack and Cocaine.” 09 January 2008. Drug War Facts. Document. 27 August 2014.

Porter, Nicole D. and Wright, Valerie PhD. “Cracked Justice.” 2011. The Sentencing Project. Document. 27 August 2014.

The Sentencing Project. “Fact Sheet: Trends in U.S. Corrections.” August 2014. The Sentencing Project. Document. 27 August 2014.

—. “Felony Disenfranchisement: A Primer.” April 2014. The Sentencing Project. Document. 27 August 2014.

Western, Bruce. “Incarceration, Unemployment and Inequality.” n.d. Stamford Criminal Reserach. Document. 27 August 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

Life Lessons Learned in a Lake

Surprise continental shelf!

In 1996, I spent the bulk of the summer in the Czech Republic. A friend of mine was to be married to a Czech girl, in the Autumn I was headed belatedly to college. It seemed the perfect opportunity to spend a Summer in a different place.

One weekend, we decided to hitchhike from our base in Prague to a music festival outside the city of Cesky Krumlov. The village was tiny, but had a gorgeous town square which held the 200 or so festival attendees. Our group of twenty dominated the back rows, dancing and cheering, and having a great time.

After the festival was over, we found our way back to an ideal camping spot-a large meadow, nestled on a lake in the middle of nowhere. About 100 yards away, on the other end of the meadow, were two abandoned tractor trailers. It was not unusual to find abandoned property all over the country just five years after the velvet revolution, and we camped secure in the knowledge of our privacy and safety.

It is my sincere hope that every person gets a night like this while they are young enough and unjaded enough to be awed by its brilliance. We danced, and drank, and skinnydipped in the lake. We lay out unadorned under the naked sky, stars unimaginable to anyone who grew up here in the light-polluted megalopolis of the east cost of the United States. We held hands, and flirted, sang songs and danced, and carried on as only those of us in the new bloom of our adulthood truly can, and just as the eastern sky started to smudge vermillion we slept under the dying stars, piled together in a perfect, youthful union.

It was not long after the last of our eyes lazily closed that the buzzing began.

At first, it felt distant-an alarm clock in a neighbor’s apartment, insistent, annoying, and ignored. Soon, though it became pressing, an all-present call to wakefulness. Most of us were confusedly swimming toward consciousness when she first screamed.

I don’t know which of our friends it was, but the scream was Hitchcockian: shrill, piercing, and elongated into impossible length. Pain and terror reverberated through the meadow and echoed across the empty lake as it lay steaming in the new day. Adrenaline shot the rest of us upright, naked into the buzzing nightmare.

The “abandoned” tractor trailers were, it turned out, actually commercial bee hives. Millions and millions of stinging insects enveloped the entire meadow, obscuring vision beyond a few yards.

“The lake,” someone shouted, and we sprinted, eyes closed, hands covering our most tender parts in an attempt to protect them from the stinging cloud, not stopping until the frigid morning waters embraced us in their protective depths. We huddled together as far away from shore as we could manage and still stand, shivering, picking out stingers, and bemoaning the contrast to the perfect night before. We spent the entire day in that lake, unable to leave for even a moment without provoking the swarm.

Dusk eventually arrived, and sent the horde back into its deceptive trailers, and we shivered out of the lake to leave this idyllic Hell far behind.

Someday, I hope this story teaches my daughter. I want her to learn to grab onto those amazing nights, and squeeze every drop of life out of them. Love and remember each second, because you really have no idea what lurks with the dawn.

Tears of a Surgeon

(N.B. – Emma was recently hospitalized again, for much more minor issues and is home and doing fine now.  In the process of her surgery, however, I found myself whisked into the very same room as is described.  It was a figurative punch in the gut, one of those actual flashback moments)

 

He came to get us from the surgical waiting room on the third floor a changed man.  Gone was the confident, jocular, Hawkeye Pierce-like surgeon; in his place stood a haunted shadow of the healer we knew so well.

 

Dr. Rusty Jennings had always been the man who could keep things light. I recall upon first meeting him we were sitting in a radiology room, where unborn Emma and her now-diagnosed teratoma were to be evaluated.  He got on the phone to one of his students:

 

“Hey!  Wanna come see this big neck thing?”

 

I instantly liked him.  He wasn’t wrapped in jargon, he didn’t pretend that nothing big was happening, he just accepted the situation and figured out a plan to fix it.  Along the way, his skills were challenged more than any of us expected, and he took on the role of Emma’s personal champion in that hospital.  He refused to let her die, to let this certainly fatal, recurrent tumor kill her.

 

In geek parlance, he was Gandalf on the bridge, banging his staff and yelling at the demon, “You shall not pass!”

 

So we knew it wasn’t great news when he shuffled us into a room labeled “Family Consult.”  It was small, maybe six feet on a side, and made up like a tiny sitting room in a hotel.  Yellower-than-beige walls, pleather chairs, industrial carpet.  A painting of a sailboat on a wall, clearly done by an adult trying to paint like a child.  Hospital smell.

 

Rusty opened his mouth, closed it.  Tried again:

 

“It’s not good.”

 

And then, he did what I have never seen a surgeon do: he choked out a sob. There were tears on his cheeks, unable to be contained by the formidable will of Emma’s protector. This man, who had been there when Emma was clearly closest to death on the day of her birth, who had rushed in before five on a Sunday morning when her stomach was ruptured, who had gone in and removed the first regrowth of her tumor as it attached to his heart, who had seen what was gunning for Emma, and who had thrown himself between her and malevolence over and over again, this man sat across from us, crying at what he had just been through with my daughter.

 

I had never loved a man more, nor had I ever been more frightened.

 

This occurrence of the tumor, the third, was different.  Ten days before, it had been a pea on Emma’s neck. Now, it was an orange, with tendrils back to the base of her skull, across to her collarbones.  Gripping. Digging in, clawing for whatever it was worth into Emma.

 

Refusing to go easily, as Rusty Jennings lifted this last bit of evil from Emma, the tumor burst.

 

“It looked bad,”  he said. “I worry that this one was cancer.  I’m worried it leaked cancer cells into Emma.”

 

Together, we sat in this tiny yellow room, and we cried, waiting for Emma to be wheeled back to her bay in the NICU, waiting to sit vigil beside her for another long night.

On George Will, Elliot Rodger, #YesEveryWoman, and being a dad.

I am a feminist.

I believe in, and actively work to achieve, a society of equality for all individuals.  I believe that women are as capable as men in all things, and vice versa. I want the women today’s world to have an equal life now, and I insist on my daughter and the women of the future having that equality.

While privilege is a relatively new concept for most of us men, it’s something that I acknowledge.  I know that I come from a place of many privileges: I am an educated white American man, who grew up in a house in the suburbs.  I had all of what I needed, and most of what I wanted.  There were and are doors open to me that were and are not open to others for simple intrinsic biological factors, and I have stepped through those doors.  Once inside, I’ve tried to jam the doors open, but that’s easy to say from the inside.

That said, I don’t always get it right – and here’s where we all need some tolerance.

I’ve been the guy who said “Not all men…” when confronted with generalizing statements about men.  I’ve failed to hear the underlying intent of those generalizations, or the effect of behaviors perpetrated nearly entirely by men on women.  That said, when I – and most other men I’ve known – have said “Not *all* men,” what we meant is “I am on your side.  I am your ally.  How can I help?”

So, responses like #YesAllWomen, while well-intended, create enemies from allies, I fear.  It sets a confrontational tone, when really the whole of us need to be on the same side against those entitled jerks like George Will and Elliot Rodgers, and the many like him out there.  We need to be working together to create a society where their despicable ideas and actions have no place, instead of arguing amongst ourselves over hashtags.

If I get it wrong, I want to know it.  I want to hear differing opinions.  I just think we need to give each other the benefit of the doubt – especially those of us who come from a place of privilege and thus have the mindsets and blinders inherent therein.  Most of us want to get it right, but often we don’t know we’re getting it wrong.  Shouting at us is probably the least effective way to get us to come around.
That said, I have some shouting to do.  The aforementioned George Will, a ridiculous, cowardly hypocrite who rails against education while polishing the frame of his Princeton PhD, implies in his Washington Post column that women falsely report rapes and sexual assaults to attain a coveted “victim status” on campus.  He whines that sexual assault no longer is just penetrative sex, but includes groping, which apparently is not an assault in his withered, crippled little mind.

And thus, he perpetuates these myths and angers on campus.  He creates the sense of entitlement among men on college campuses that women are there for our sexual gratification (“Who cares that she couldn’t walk back to her dorm? She totally didn’t say no!”) and, in fact, confers that same “coveted status” of victimhood onto college men which he so stupidly bitches about in his ridiculous column.

Men like Elliot Rodgers.  Entitled little pissants on college campuses who can’t see past their genitals.  Men who find companionship in the crippled, misogynistic, testosterone-scented basements of the internet where people read George Will’s column and chant “USA! USA!” while trying to convince themselves that they are a legitimate societal movement by rallying under the banner “Men’s Rights.” Men who have nothing but disdain for women, and yet demand that those they hate are there for their own gratification.

Men, like Elliot Rodgers, who then go out and murder in the twisted belief that they are, in fact, the victims.  And why not?  The Washington Post has told them that they are, thanks to George Will and his ilk.

And somehow, we have to parent through this.  I have to raise my daughter to know that it really isn’t all men, and that most of us are disgusted by those who think and act differently.  Somehow I have to raise her with the tools to differentiate between the Elliot Rodgers of the world, and the people are nothing like them.  I have to give her the tools to make decisions that will reduce her chances of being a victim of these people, while not creating the mindset that if she is victimized it is her fault.

That’s all hard enough.  To do so in a world where the George Wills of the world have free reign to perpetuate this sense of entitlement from one side, and in which people who should be allies are screaming at each other over something which is basically poor word choice on the other, well, that’s much harder.

 

Protocols

relay

 

Last weekend, Emma and I moved.

In the final days of packing, I came across a box, hidden in the back of my closet.  I had forgotten it was there, stashed where it was intentionally difficult to reach.

I opened the box unaware of its contents: two binders, a blast of peach and white and dark blue.  On their spines, in the careful penmanship of a nurse was written “Emma’s chemo protocols.”

Instantly, I started to sweat – flopped there on the floor with the heavier-than-expected binders in my lap.  Contained therein were the recipies and instructions for curing my daughter’s cancer, and most likely killing her along the way. Two binders.  Some eighty or ninety pages.  One outcome.

For those who are unaware, Emma’s cancer was exceedingly rare. Her type of tumor just wasn’t malignant. It was big, and mean, and aggressive, but it could be cut out and it would stay out.  It wouldn’t spread its vile genes out into the wildreness of the body to colonize new organs.  It wouldn’t lead to the wasting and pain and death that so many cancer patients endure.

Except Emma’s was.

Only one other example of this type of malignancy in this type of tumor had ever been recorded – posthumously.  The cancer was identified by an expert in Texas.

Immature teratoma with yolk-sac sarcoma.  Cancer.

Even so, this may not have been a big deal.  Perhaps the only benefit of Emma’s tumors being so huge is that they encapsulated the malignancy contained therin.  The cells had not been able to spread enough to get through all of the massive tumor tissue surrounding it.

Except in the removal of Emma’s third occurrence of the tumor, it had ruptured, leaking its contents back into the surgical cavity and giving the cancer the freedom to run rampant.

And so, we were given Chemo protocols.

The drugs:

Cisplatin:  A platinum derivative.  Kills cancer, kills living cells.  Baldness.  Maybe deafness.  Maybe other cancers down the road. Back and joint pain.

Etopocide: Hair loss.  Kills cancer, kills living cells. Mouth sores, black tarry stools, back and joint pain, and more.

Both:  More prone to infection, as they kill off the immune system.

Emma had been suffering from near-constant pneumonia, and these would kill her minimal resistance to infections.

The books went on to tell us how we would need hazardous materials bags to dispose of Emma’s diapers as they would be too toxic to put into the regular waste stream.  They told us how we would need gowns and gloves to hold and her and most things with which she came into contact.  They told us there were no guarantees.

I sat with these binders in my lap, and I was back twelve years earlier, and I cried on the floor of my empty bedroom, surrounded by the detritus of the life that was not ultimately stolen by this disease.

We got lucky.  We dodged the chemo bullet with a “wait and see” decision.

So, so many others do not.  This weekend, Emma and I are again participating in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.  Will you help make sure others don’t have to go through what we had to endure?  Will you keep those binders out of the darkest corner of some other unspecting father’s closet?

Donate here to me, or donate here to Emma.  We don’t care to whom, and every bit helps.

Thanks to all.

 

Terrible Twos

Guys!

 

Earlier this week, the second birthday of this blog snuck by in the background.
Dad of the Decade is two!

 

Despite sporadic commitment, long absences, the doubt that comes with trying to decide if I *should* blog all of this if I am working on a book, and the occasional political rant, you amazing people have stuck with me, cheering me on, and interacting with me on something of a fundamental level.

 

Thank you.

 

These past two years have really changed my life, and you’ve been a big part of it.  With your encouragement, I’ve been able to take my writing seriously, and think “Maybe I really *can* do that.”   I’ve worked toward a degree in writing, and have even had some pieces published.  Without you, who cheered me on from post one, well, I never would have taken these steps.
So thank you.
Here’s hoping there are a few years more in these occasional hands of mine.

Remember Not to Be a Jerk

I recently went on a date.

I know, shocking, right?  About two years ago, this is how I felt about dating. It was terrifying as a single parent, having been seriously hurt/broken by the last big breakup and who had seen his kiddo hurt by same.  I’ve dated some since then, but not seriously.  I guess I was doing the work I needed to do to heal those wounds – now four years old.

And, as all wounds which are not fatal eventually do, those wounds did heal. Sure, I may love with a limp for a while still, but I am  open to and feel ready and excited to find that love again – and the only way to get there is through dating.

Emma is now old enough to know I am dating. In fact, I think it’s healthy now for her to see that I can have and do want a healthy adult love in my life.  I don’t want her to develop an image of her sad and beardy dad sitting home alone out of fear: fear is something she has recently been struggling with in her life, and it’s hard for me to help her conquer hers if she doesn’t see me conquering mine.

So, she knows I date – but she doesn’t know any details. When a relationship progresses to a point that it can not progress further without involving Emma, I’ll figure out the best way to do so.  In the meantime, it is sufficient for her to know I’m going on a date, and that it’s a good thing.
Before this recent date, she was mining for information and I was deflecting all of her deft attempts to trick me into telling her what she wanted to know: “Does she have brown hair?  You should wear clothes that match her hair.”  “Oooh, are you going to kiss?  You need chapstick!”  So helpful, that one.

“Go to bed,” I replied, drunk on power.

The last admonishment before I left was “Remember to not be a jerk!”

I laughed most of the way to the date, and tried very hard to follow her sage advice. It actually strikes me that dating would be much easier for everyone if we all took those few words to heart.  Dating is fraught, especially in the early days, with hidden and unforeseeable pitfalls. It’s easy to unknowingly hurt the feelings of your partner simply by not knowing where the sensitive spots are.

If we go into these ventures with the other person’s feelings foremost in mind, if we pay attention to verbal and non-verbal cues, if we listen – truly listen to what they have to say, maybe we can avoid being accidental jerks, and maybe we’ll find our way to that rare and promised land of fighting over curtains and waking up together to face the world.

When Emma and I next spoke, she asked me about the date.

“It was really great,” I said.

“I think I remembered to not be a jerk.”

“Now mind your own business.”

She laughed and made kissy faces, and I saw that her wounds had healed as well.  Thus, it’s onward, searching for the El Dorado of the heart: over the mountains of the moon.

 

The Hardest Part

For those of us whose kiddos have been burdened with significant medical issues, there are myriad difficulties to overcome on a day-to-day basis. Everything from insurance headaches and working with school systems to ensure adequate care and education to figuring out how to maintain a job and a household and some semblance of a personal, adult life while juggling runs to the doctor, hospital, and other practitioners live between sunrise and sunset. There’s the constant, low-grade miasma of worry lurking just above the base of the skull, occasionally sending its green tendrils out to squeeze your heart, bleach the color from your beard, and leech a few more days off the back end of your life.

And then there are those times where the doctor says “We’ve found something wrong. We’ll need more tests. It might be nothing, but it’s significant enough that we need to explore this more fully, and soon.”

Those times, those eternal middles, those are a special kind of hell. You are stuck between blissfully having never heard of the potential problem at hand and the firm knowledge which will allow you to form a plan of action. You Google and read and curse the entire damned internet, because of course the internet does not list the related cases which turned out to be nothing. It only talks about the cases where it turned out to be everything.

And there is nothing you can do. You are powerless in the face of the future, prostrate to the will of the unforeseen, shaking your fists into the deaf horizon, and remain at the mercy of things beyond your control.

In your most secret of hearts, behind the highest walls, that fear of it being everything thrusts its bitter roots into the oft-tilled soil contained therein, and you wonder how the hell you can take anymore. You are sure that you have reached the limits of what you can bear, and yet the weight of the possible grows ever heavier. You tell people about this feeling, and someone says “God never gives us more than we can handle,” and you somehow refrain from punching them in the nose (n.b. Never say “god never gives us more than we can handle” to someone who feels they are trying to manage more than they can handle. For people of faith, it shakes their foundation, making them think their God is vengeful and cruel. For those of us without faith, it sounds pedantic and dramatically oversimplifies our very real suffering).

You take a moment, you marshal all of your resources, and you try and face the day – all the while working as hard as you can to not let your worry, your dread, to show to your child. You mask your fear to spare them, and worry that they’ll still see the crazy whorls of “what-if” behind your eyes.

And you look at the clock and it hasn’t changed.

I’m in that eternal middle today. It’s probably nothing, and if it’s something, we’ll be able to start making a plan in 48 hours. Until then, despite the best efforts of a fairly battle-tested heart, it will continue to feel like everything.

Counting Down

The middle of the night in a NICU is a strange place. On the one hand, it has the preternatural quiet of a sacred place: a church, a pristine waterfall, a weekend morning under warm covers with frosted windows. On the other, it is an urgent cacophony; the susurus of ventilators, IV pumps, and whispering nurses rushes by under the blazing alarms of machines crying out for attention.

On Emma’s first New Year’s Eve, I sat in this room, lost in the unfamiliar LOUDquietLOUDness of it all, surrounded by babies dying and babies learning how to live.

It was her eleventh day of Emma’s life, and each day showed an equal precariousness to the day before. There had been no miraculous recovery, despite my fervent wishes. There had been no rapid healing, no self-directed breathing.

There had not been the opportunity to hold her, the tenuous nature of her improvised breathing tube prevented all but the most essential movements of her head and neck.

As the hours counted down to 2002, I had never been in a more foreign place – and yet, I had never felt more at home. I was there, suddenly a father, with my daughter. Objectively, nothing I did kept her safe or alive. I was just there, trying to exude love, wanting more than anything for this small being to know that she was the most important small being in the world.

As Dick Clark, as of yet untouched by stroke that would foist Ryan Seacrest on the midnight masses, rocked away the last minutes of 2001, I already had some understanding that 2002 would be momentous in my life. I knew that nothing for me would ever again be the way it had been twelve short months before. What I did not know at the time, and what I did not understand as it was happening, was how formative the coming months would be – those few days at the end of December and the year that followed would be the forge that hardened the boy who entered 2001 into something new: flawed, damaged, but stronger than I ever knew I could be.

At the time, as I heard the Boston crowds in the streets below honking their horns and making merry to welcome the new year, all I new was that this child was here, and that I was hers.

I kissed her head, set off the alarms, and greeted the day in a cribside wooden rocking chair already feeling like home.


Have Yourself…

xmas sweater

Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow.  Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.”

So read the first performed lyrics to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” written for Judy Garland to sing in the film Meet Me in St. Louis.  The lyric – all of the lyrics, really – beautifully capture the contrast between melancholy and hopefulness many of us feel this time of year.

Later, Frank Sinatra was recording his Christmas album, but decided the lyrics were too depressing.  It was the 1950s after all, and by God Americans were just fine so long as we put a shiny bow and some sparkles over any sadness or genuine emotion other than patriotism we happened to be feeling.  Thus, we ended up with the completely nonsensical lyric “Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow.  Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”

What does that even mean?  This song, a rarity in the Christmas music pantheon in that it acknowledged the difficulties many people have this time of year, lost most of its emotional impact. Nobody struggles, no American needs to muddle through, we’ll just add more lights to the tree, more booze to the wassail, and keep our chins up high.

Not me.  I muddle.  I love this time of year, but I do often get a mild case of the Christmas blues.  It’s not extreme, it’s not the real emotional hardship that many people face, but it’s there nonetheless.  It was this time of year that Emma was at her sickest – just a few days old, and very much in danger of dying every day.  It’s this time of year that when people ask what I’m doing for New Year’s Eve I say “laundry” instead of “smooching a bespectacled, smart, kind and funny ginger librarian who loves me, too.”  It’s this time of year when I realize another flip of the calendar has passed by without me making much of a mark on it.

And there’s the melancholy.

So, I’ll be smiling with the family this week, and I’ll mean it.  I’ll be hanging out with many of the people who mean the most to me in the world, and I’ll be genuinely glad for each conversation, for each joke, for each little bite of brisket and every slice of pie.  I’ll be legitimately thrilled to watch Emma revel in the bounty Santa leaves for her.

As for the rest of it, I’ll muddle through somehow.

<N.B.: Friends, depression over the Holidays is a real and serious thing.  If you are suffering from this, please, reach out – to me, to someone in your life, to a stranger who can help.  The Mayo Clinic has some great tips to manage stress and depression this time of year.  So does the Depression Alliance (opens a PDF).  If you don’t suffer from depression this time of year, please keep an eye out for those in your circle who do.  A few minutes to reach out to a family member, neighbor, friend, or colleague can make all the difference in their lives.>