Leukemia Journal 113, Dec 4, 2016 – Birthday Celebrations, 2

Our MAC hard drive crashed, probably from post-election trauma, so for the last two weeks I have not had access to the internet or email. I’ll post this Monday morning from my local public library, one of the great institutions of American democracy. Heather, the experienced, knowledgeable and extremely patient reference librarian, walked me through the process last week. She’ll help me again tomorrow.

Worse, and based on post Nov 8 behavior: his unwillingness to meet with the press or offer public accountability, his cabinet recommendations thus far, his arbitrary use of language, the president-elect may deliver a gut shot to America’s fragile democratic process. His behavior is clearly an affirmation of corporate feudalism as public policy. I call him Orange Head, but it doesn’t help much.

Journalist Masha Gessen, in a Dec 2 NPR interview with Brook Gladstone, On the Media, spoke about the meaning of language in the current political climate, and the phenomenon of democracies choosing populist right wing leaders. Gessen came to maturity in the Soviet Union, and to America in the 1990s as a Russian immigrant seeking political asylum. Familiar with autocratic leaders, she said Trump’s election is part of a greater worldwide pattern we should have anticipated in the U.S. Comparing his absurdist, contradictory discourse to theirs, she said, and I paraphrase, What they say is unreliable; pay attention to what they do.

On the good side, one of my official birthday presents to myself was to have my study painted a warm, soothing gray. I hired a woman who chose to come election day. I tried to schedule another time but she said she wasn’t registered to vote; besides, she said, she needed the money, wanted to get my small job out of the way so she could get to bigger projects before Thanksgiving. I wish she’d voted; maybe it was an omen I missed.

The next day Elena gave me a small oval basket for my birthday, woven with red strips and blue strips with white stars. I call it my Hillary basket; it sits on my study desk a reminder of liberal values I believe in, friendship, caring, lost dreams, but a container of hope for the future.

All month the top shelf of my computer cabinet was lined with birthday cards; on the desk a thick pile of printed congratulation emails and Facebook messages. Phone calls and fresh cut and potted flowers kept coming. I spent November eager to check email and mailbox, answer the phone or doorbell, hugging myself for all the people who like me!

I usually avoid night outings, but mid November went to our son’s church for his 15 year old daughter’s Young Womanhood Award program. Sat in the back row to avoid crowd and coughers, and bawled through the end-of-program slide show. This dear child, participating from age four in sandbagging projects with Dad and big brother, church and community service projects with parents and siblings, planting her community butterfly garden along the Meramec Greenway with family and friends, her Pike’s Peak hike with Dad this summer, gives me hope. I’m neurotic and anxious always about family, terrified of the new administration, but this program confirmed my belief in the strength of ordinary decent Americans, their kids, and the future. There are many strong families like my children’s. We’ll just have to work harder for what we believe in.

Another afternoon Lexine walked me through the U City Public Library exhibit, “Living for the Moment,” of Zizi Liu, from Beijing, MFA graduate student at Washington University. Lexine shared a copy of her artist’s statement from the opening reception, and her analysis of consumerism in big cities around the world. The strongest exhibit I’ve seen at the library gallery since the Swiss Verena Brassel’s “Contemplation,” of March, 2015. The UCPL art gallery is a small St. Louis cultural gem.

A few days later Galloping Horses; Artist Xu Beihong and His Family in Mao’s China came in the mail from folk dance friends. A memoir by the artist’s daughter, a folk dance member, of their life and struggles during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, it is an unexpected but explicit reminder of the suffering autocrats cause their people.

One Monday I invited my husband to see “A Man Called Ove,” a Swedish film with subtitles. We went to the 4:10 show, watched with eight others in one of the small Plaza Frontenac theaters. Ove the curmudgeon’s plight is my kind of thoughtful, funny escape.

It’s fun to be hugely self-absorbed the entire month of November, but part of my celebration includes gifts to others. Before Thanksgiving I sent my niece Sonja, daughter of my younger sister, killed by a drunk driver when Sonja was nine, a big Christmas box filled with family and Chinese Christmas decorations, our children’s re-made felt stockings, red Wachtersbach mugs with Christmas trees and snowmen on them because her family name is Wachter, and a few of our favorite family games. My youngest brother, closest in age to my late sister, and his wife, have from the my sister’s death been surrogate parents and grandparents to Sonja and her family. I’ve been involved, too, but with Lisa’s cancer treatments the past year, I decided to share beloved Christmas stuff. Sonja is a devout young Mormon woman who home schools her children. I think she’s crazy, but I love her, and want her to feel the support of her firm-minded old Lefty aunt, in spite of our different beliefs.

Last Saturday Blanche stopped by with her sister and niece from Las Vegas. I showed them my Chinese room, and the young girl was taken with the Chinese zodiac animals wall hanging, enthusiastic about the zodiac animal book I gave her. She’s getting involved in a Las Vegas Boys and Girls Club, and is a zodiac monkey; I’m a goat.

I gave Blanche my copy of Jacob Lawrence and the Migration Series, the 32 page illustrated color booklet from the Phillips Gallery exhibit I’d visited in D.C. with Judy Murphy in 2007, an art treasure and reminder of happy times with another beloved friend who is gone. The Migration Series includes 59 color plates painted by Lawrence of the migration of African-Americans from the rural south to the industrial north beginning in World War I. Completed in 1941, it is modern art and American social history at its finest. Blanche will share it with her son, a talented artist working in Las Angeles.

For the past four years I’ve helped sponsor a young African girl in an Ethical Humanist high school in Uganda. The Ethical Society of St. Louis has multiple member sponsors for the project; these Ugandan girls cannot complete high school without tuition funds. It’s a privilege to be involved, even in such a distant way.

This week I learned that a dear friend in California who has battled uterine cancer for the past 18 months, went on hospice last Sunday, Nov 27. Early this fall cancer was discovered in one lung, she was having trouble breathing and in serious pain, but agreed to one more round of chemo doctors said “might” help. We’ve been emailing and chatting on the phone, talking about our lives with cancer, joking about how awful it is but how lucky we’ve been in life, about who would go first, which of us would be waiting to greet the other after death. Silly, comforting talk we could only have with each other. Cancer friends – the worst, and best kind of friendship. She told me the end of October she couldn’t take any more chemo. It was terrible, hadn’t helped, they’d discovered even more tumors. She was waiting to see her son, coming from New York City Nov 17. After that, she said, she didn’t care what happened.

The MAC started acting funny about then, so I began mailing her hand written notes each day. Too weak to email, her husband let me know she gets them. He and my husband were business associates. Years ago the four of us had lunch together in a D.C. restaurant, accompanying our husbands on business. We played, they worked. I chattered about the small, off the Mall museums I’d discovered, how exciting D.C. was.

She told about working there in the 1960s, as an aid or secretary or some other support job in the Kennedy administration. Agreed it was exciting, and told about John F. Kennedy’s invitation to a dalliance. He’d propositioned her, she said, giggling as she told the story. She was a beautiful, then middle-aged woman, high spirited, shrewd and funny. She’d been a Rose Parade princess and California beauty queen in college. At the table she giggled again, looked embarrassed and said, “I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to. I said no.”

Political power can be an aphrodisiac. Kennedy was rich, smart, powerful, probably seen as the most attractive man on earth, although my fantasy preference is still Sean Connery. My dear friend was a physically beautiful woman; she is also a woman of integrity and courage. She fought her cancer with surgery, chemo, radiation and hope. Now she’s dying and far away, but I can still be with her. Years ago my mother-in-law’s hospice nurse told me the dying can hear till their last breath. My dear friend will feel my presence in each note I send.

As I am writing this Sunday afternoon, Dec 4, Michele Keenan’s husband called me to say she died this morning at 6:30. He thanked me for the notes. “I read each one to her,” he said.

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.