If we were sharing a quiet dinner in a neighborhood restaurant, I’d lean forward at some point, speaking in a lowered voice so our conversation didn’t carry. “Are you as scared as I am?” I’d ask.
You might rest your hand on mine, a reassuring gesture. But if you’re someone with a penchant for upheaval, you might brush aside my concerns with a dismissive wave. “We needed someone to shake things up!” you’d say, and even though we might disagree about that underlying premise, we’d find a way to navigate our differences. As friends do. And at the end of the night, we’d hug it out, energized as always by a shared commitment to the greater good.
But virtual meet-ups are different, aren’t they? We can’t read facial expressions. We can’t hear the subtle changes in pitch and tone, and we miss the subtle pauses. We can’t meet each other’s eyes, and we can’t translate what we don’t see.
I’m going to trust you, though, to push past those limitations. As friends do. I’m not expecting you to compromise your own views, but at this virtual dinner, please allow me this moment of grace.
You’d probably notice my furrowed brow, were we to sit across the table from one another. “What’s on your mind,” you might reasonably ask, and while I’d probably start by talking about seals and such, I’d eventually wade into rougher waters.
What’s on my mind? Lemme tell you… I’m deeply concerned about the direction our country is headed. I am mourning the fact that we’ve lost our way, and I’m frightened about the cold, dark place in which we’ve found ourselves this weekend. I hear the drumbeats of war, drawing ever closer. White supremacists roam our streets unmasked–emboldened by a president who refuses to condemn their actions and instead offers a statement against “violence on all sides.” Politicians refuse to step into the breach, and religious leaders are strangely silent. I’m as scared as I’ve ever been, and oh, how I wish Hillary Clinton had shattered that highest, hardest glass ceiling!
This isn’t a fresh concern, mind you. I’ve been troubled by this presidency since Day One.
I worked for the Hillary Clinton campaign for a reason. She represents my deepest hopes and highest ideals. Plus, she’s smart and sassy, and better-equipped, by far. Not without her faults, but who is? She’s as imperfectly perfect as they come. Like many Americans, I was elated about her winning the popular vote, but when she ultimately lost the electoral college to a huckster, that elation quickly turned to despair.
No surprise, when I read the prompt for Susanne Conway’s photography challenge, those emotions bubbled to the surface again.
God forgive me for not thinking of my grandkids first, but this is the first image that came to mind.
My friend and I spent countless hours supporting the Hillary Clinton campaign. How exciting, to be on location for this event! We were joined by countless Americans, gathered around their television sets (or and hunched over their electronic devices), fully expecting that we’d be celebrating a big win. But there was a deep rumbling that night, and a shaking. Our dreams were crushed by the weight of unseen forces.
We walked back to the hotel together in silence, blanketed by wooly clouds that offered little in the way of comfort. I zipped my coat against the cold, wrapped my scarf a little tighter. An outsized rat skittered across the sidewalk, baring needle-sharp teeth as it defended its right to the trash bags heaped at the curb. The Empire State Building–alternating floors glowing blue and red before the polls closed—was awash in angry red.
That was then, and this is now. I’m not dwelling on that night, but I’m mindful of its significance. I’d be hard-pressed to explain how much our country has shifted, folded in on itself, and slid backward. And tonight…well, I’m glad tonight for the warmth and glow of your friendship, because my typically optimistic outlook is a bit faded around the edges.
Everything looks brighter in the morning–that’s what my Nana always said. But if we were to linger over coffee tonight, we’d probably explore this at some length. We’d laugh; we’d cry. I’d give you side-eye and you’d tell me to hush. We’d eventually fall into a comfortable silence, but not before I asked you to share your One Wish with me. As friends do. Then we’d ask the waiter to bring us a gooey, guilt-free slice of cake. With extra forks, please, and glow-in-the-dark candles.
She raked her fingers along her scalp, stopped abruptly when hair came away in her hands.
We stared at our cell phone screens, eyebrows lifted. Close friends from opposite coasts, facing together a new truth.
“Well, that’s not good,” she said, “I was hoping to keep this hairstyle for at least a couple of weeks.”
I can’t say that I blame her. It’s a super-short, sassy ‘do, well-suited to someone for whom every day’s a physical struggle.
“Must be molting season.” I teased.
I flinched, just a little. Whenever I used that phrase as a child, hellfire rained hard upon my head. Even as an adult, it evokes the faintest hint of sulphur. But my outspoken Irish Catholic friend isn’t one for censoring her thoughts. She exemplifies the lessons I’m (re)learning: that conformity is a destructive influence, and speaking your truth is a healing balm, with mostly positive side effects.
Our video chats are lighthearted. Aside from that sobering moment, this one was no different. We extolled the virtues of salt water taffy, and discussed the “catastrophic molt” that harbor seals undergo every spring. Her favorite pinniped was shedding his winter outerwear, and would soon be sporting a sleek new coat.
“Oh hey, you’re just like Freckles!” I said.
The phone went silent for a moment. She wiped the falling strands from her face, swept the hair tufts from her pillow. “My spirit animal,” she eventually said.
“Yes,” I answered softly. “Your spirit animal.”
She was hooked up to an IV when Hillary Clinton called to wish her well. Imagine, if you will, talking to a presidential candidate while you’re undergoing chemo! But she quickly turned the spotlight back to Hillary. “Let yourself be great!” she said to the former Secretary of State. A simple affirmation, served without any fanfare during a hard-fought campaign. That’s the unique brand of compassion my friend is known for.
Chemo, radiation, chemo, radiation–my friend has battled the ravaging effects of cancer for the better part of a year, now. She’s managed to stave off the inevitable hair loss, but given her increasingly aggressive treatments, it came as no surprise to either of us that molting season had finally arrived–for my friend and her pinniped pal, Freckles.
“No way am I going to wear a wig,” she said.
“Of course not.” She’s a bare-faced beauty, 100% natural. Synthetic hair? Don’t be silly.
“I’ll still be me,” she said. “If someone doesn’t want to see my bald head, not a problem. They don’t have to look at me!”
“Yep,” I said. “But hey! You could decorate your scalp with temporary tattoos…”
Red Sox logos, we agreed, would be just the ticket.
That was the last I heard of her hair loss, until our phone chat on Wednesday morning. She mentioned, with no small measure of pride, that she was able to stomach real food at dinner time—roast beef, potatoes and cooked carrots.
She was dressed, same as always, in what I’d call casual chic: black pants and a turtleneck, and a FDNY hooded sweatshirt that helped protect her from bracing winds and rain. Her hair was bristle-short but tidy. It was her first real outing in over a month, the first meal she’d kept down in weeks.
Comfort food. Fresh air and warm hugs, shared among long-time friends at a neighborhood diner. Everything she needed, to help stave off the worst side effects of chemo. Small but important victories, cut short by losers.
Two delivery men hunched over their plates at the next table, shoveling food into their mouths as if they were afraid someone might steal their food. They wore uniforms that identified them as employees of a home improvement store. They were loud and coarse, with unkempt hair that fell below their shoulders.
One workman caught his partner’s eye, hitched his thumb in the direction of my friend. “What is that?” he asked.
Her cheeks blazed.
His partner shrugged. “Can’t tell if it’s a man or a woman,” he said.
They slapped their thighs with glee.
She met their smugness with a steady gaze, rose slowly from her chair, and sauntered over to their table. With surgical precision–think Edward Scissorhands, shaping a topiary from an unruly hedgerow—she then stripped those bullies of their power.
“Are you really making fun of my hair?” she asked. “Well, let me tell something. It’s short because I have cancer. It’s patchy because of chemo. I’m enjoying my first real meal in a very long time. If that’s not okay with you, I suggest you leave, right now!”
The manager scurried over. She engaged both workers in a stare-down, maintaining her resolute posture as she gave him the Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of her story.
Didn’t matter that he was a friend; the facts spoke for themselves. “It’s best that you get out of here.” the manager told them.
They beat a hasty exit.
My intrepid friend? She tucked into her meal again, as if nothing had ever happened.
“I’m so proud of you,” I said, although I wasn’t the least bit surprised. It’s the type of behavior I’ve come to expect from my friend. But I’m still thinking about it today, with no small measure of awe and gratitude. When she rose to her feet, she lifted the rest of us onto her shoulders. When she said her piece, she spoke for everyone who’ve suffered abuse in silence. When she stood her ground, she built a solid footing for the rest of us.
Random recollections, maybe, but they paint a beautiful portrait of my friend. I’m featuring it on this page, where she can’t easily slough it off. She’s a good egg(head), and we’d do well to learn from her example.
Today, more than 600 Women’s Marches are scheduled in all 50 states and 32 countries–an epic, irrefutable display of outrage, commingled with sisterly support for those who feel threatened by our 45th President’s rise to power. I applaud the participants, as well as those who cheer them from the sidelines. Working as one, they exemplify my favorite proverb: “When you pray, move your feet.”
My own prayer is very simple: May these events be peaceful; may they manifest joy and a positive outcome; and may they serve as an honorable reflection of the women who came before us, on whose shoulders we now stand…
Women who stepped from fear into the fullness of their destiny, refusing to remain silent or be silenced.
Women who trembled at the thought of confrontation, but bravely faced their oppressors.
Women who brokered peace in the world and their own lives, based on an inalianable truth: “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.”
Women who served as witnesses to the vagaries of history–and unfettered storytellers, born “for such a time as this.”
Women akin to Sojourner Truth, whose impassioned speech (“Ain’t I a Woman?”) is finding its echo in the footfalls of these global protesters—sisters in solidarity, laying claim to our own birthright.
Ain’t I a Woman?
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.
–Sojourner Truth (Delivered 1851 at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio)
Edited to add: There were massive turnouts at the Women’s Marches, here and abroad. Peaceful demonstrations, 2.5 million participants and counting, and this is only the beginning. (Photo collection courtesy of the New York Times.)
We worked together for several months last year, co-creators of a super-secret project for Hillary Clinton. Two women from opposite sides of the country–upstate New York and Southern California–who shared the same vision and purpose.
Though we’d never met in person, we fell into an easy rhythm. Creativity flowed, as it does when ego’s not an issue. When my new friend fell sick, I filled my planner pages with to-do lists and affirmations, colorful sketches and motivational stickers. She poked fun at those stickers, but it was laughter that helped get us through the more difficult days of her cancer treatments. Oh, and the harbor seals. Hashtag: #StrongerTogether
On Election Day, we finally went public with the news we’d been sitting on, for what seemed like forever:
I could hardly contain my excitement. Pollsters predicted an early, easy victory. But as everyone now knows, Election Night was holding back some surprises of its own.
Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but the Electoral College twisted the other way. Our hopes and dreams, aspirations and efforts…reduced to ashes, inexplicably and unimaginably so.
We explored Manhattan over the next several days, reveling in our friendship despite the pain, and reaching for the proverbial candle in the dark.
But once I got home, well. I couldn’t bring myself to talk about the election results for weeks, much less the video that would never have an audience.
Slowly, eventually…light overcame the dark. Hope stirred; optimism reawakened.
The time eventually came when I could once again look to the future with clear, dry eyes.
The moment came when I decided to take some deep, cleansing breaths. I am an optimist, after all. I’m not immune to injury and sorrow, but I do have an indomitable spirit.
And so it was that, one sunny afternoon in late December, I ventured down to Laguna Beach. Freckles was lounging on the rocks, as usual, smiling that ubiquitous seal-smile of his and waving his flipper. Adorable. Irresistible. Irrepressible.
In that peaceful island cove, I reflected on the pendulum swing between Election Night and the restorative nature of the sea. And I remembered something I’d once read about being simultaneously courageous and vulnerable:
During the process of rising, we sometimes find ourselves homesick for a place that no longer exists. We want to go back to that moment before we walked into the arena, but there’s nowhere to go back to. What makes this more difficult is that now we have a new level of awareness about what it means to be brave. We can’t fake it anymore. We now know when we’re showing up and when we’re hiding out, when we are living our values and when we are not. Our new awareness can also be invigorating—it can reignite our sense of purpose and remind us of our commitment to wholeheartedness. Straddling the tension that lies between wanting to go back to the moment before we risked and fell and being pulled forward to even greater courage is an inescapable part of rising strong. –Brené Brown
Voilà! Like a pearl, hidden inside a rough shell, I discovered my 2017 Word of the Year:
Isn’t that just perfect? I’m no fortune teller, but I predict I’ll be amazed at the many ways this word will manifest itself this year, in my life and in the world around me.
PS I created these posters in Canva, using my own pictures. You are welcome to use them, so long as you leave my watermark intact. (Just now learning, so they’re not perfect, but this is how you raise the bar.)
“These seals seem to know you,” said the movie producer who shared the beach with me this morning. I was snapping photos in the rocky cove; his crew was sprawled across the sandy shoreline, filming a promotional piece for Visit California.
It’s true that the seals are comfortable with my presence. They talk to me, and vogue for the camera.
So naturally, I’ve been posting lots of photos & videos lately. Because: seals. Who doesn’t love ’em?
But there’s also backstory to this, my most recent obsession.
You see, my friend in New York loves seals. She’ll drive all the way to Maine, just to watch them play.
“Do you see seals on your morning walks?” she asked me one day.
“No, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them around here.”
She was really disappointed, because: seals. Who doesn’t love ’em?
It didn’t seem all that likely at the time, but I promised her I’d take pictures–if I ever saw them here, that is.
In a poignant twist of fate, I first saw these harbor seals on the morning of my friend’s cancer diagnosis. I’ve been taking seal videos and snapshots for her, ever since.
These harbor seals keep showing up–for my friend and me, and for anyone who finds delightful these gifts from the sea.
So there’s another other thing I haven’t yet mentioned. Trust me: It’s very much related.
My friend and I are working in tandem on some special projects for the Hillary Clinton campaign. It’s a coast-to-coast connection that makes us feel as if we’re doing something good in the world. And despite the miles between us, it’s brought us very close. Illness or no, we are stronger together.
Well… I didn’t know it when I visited the seals this morning, but my friend had sent a handwritten card to our candidate of choice. She tucked a short note inside, and addressed the envelope to Madam Secretary, Hillary Clinton. “Let yourself be great!!!” she said, and then she signed her name.
And so it was that while my friend was at the hospital this morning, hooked up to the IV line that delivered her third chemo treatment–and while I was in Goff Island Cove, circumventing the film crew and capturing these images–my friend from New York heard her cell phone ring.
Guess who was on the other end?
Yes, that’s right. Madam Secretary, Hillary Clinton.
If you know me, you know already that my eyes were swimming when my friend let me know how things went down. Hillary was gracious, she said, and so very encouraging: “Get well soon,” she’d said, with genuine warmth in her voice; and after thanking my friend for the personalized card (and her volunteer efforts), Madam Secretary mentioned the four, smallish words that touched her so deeply.
“Let yourself be great!!”
A softball coach first shared those words of encouragement with my friend from New York. She was just eleven years old. But as so often happens with words that resonate, my friend never forgot that handful of words. And when the just-right moment presented itself, she passed them along.
You never know where a moment’s kindness might eventually travel.
You might be surprised about the reach of a few, carefully selected words of encouragement.
Like these seals, they imbue a special kind of magic. When you least expect it, they find their way back to you, carrying treasures of their own.
We must find a way to talk about politics, Hillary Clinton said in Orange County, California last Monday, without resorting to pettiness and put-downs—standing our ground when necessary, but rising together toward the common good.
Turns out, it’s impossible to keep separate my personal observations and political leanings, but I’ve done my best to share my experiences here in a respectful, inclusive way. I hope you’ll feel equally inspired to meet your preferred candidate in a local venue and to share your stories afterward.
I carry a clipboard, entrance forms and my camera, wade into the long line at the UFCW Hall in Buena Park, and invite people to share their stories as we wait together for the Secret Service to usher us through the metal detectors.
Here as elsewhere, Hillary draws a diverse crowd, representing (as Leela Daou so eloquently says), the “millions who were born here and millions who were born elsewhere and made the choice to become American citizens…millions of marginalized people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, abilities, sexual orientations, and religious affiliations who have fought and are still fighting tirelessly to be seen and have their voices heard equally.”
People from all walks of life have come together for a larger purpose—longtime supporters standing shoulder-to-shoulder with first generation citizens, curious but as-yet-undecided voters, and people who will cast ballots for the very first time in this pivotal election.
Who says politics can’t be fun?
This little girl carries with pride her research project on Hillary Clinton, says she hopes to get it autographed.
“My hat says it all,” this woman says. Same as Erica Jong, she’s impressed by Hillary’s longstanding support of her favorite causes: civil rights, children’s rights, and women’s rights.
Music pulses through hidden speakers–upbeat tunes from Hillary’s official playlist–as the crowd filters into the Union Hall.
“I’m going to play my Woman Card, says Jamie Lee Curtis to wild applause, before she delivers a fiery introduction.
She’s the Most Admired Woman in the World, 20 times over, the first female to run for the highest leadership position in America. But she greets us warmly, quickly shifts the attention to us.
She leans forward, shakes hands with everyone close and makes eye contact with people in the farthest reaches of the room.
See the blonde head, highlighted by the gold star? That’s me. Soon after that picture was taken by Campaign Staff, I’m nudged even closer to the podium by my thoughtful, ever-so-much taller new friends.
Secret service rim the stage, rove through the crowd and guard the exits. But absent any teleprompters or talking heads, nothing else stands between the Presidential candidate and us.
I’m not one for taking selfies, but quick, look! A Secret Agent man’s lurking over my right shoulder!
Hillary’s energy is palpable, electrifying.
She has a quick wit and an easy laugh, as evidenced by…well, you’ll want to see for yourself. 🙂
Here, a woman who’s not afraid to show the depth and breadth of her emotions, despite what you might’ve read elsewhere.
In this intimate moment, Hillary was recalling for us her first visit to Ground Zero, less than a day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in NYC. You could’ve heard a pin drop in that union hall as she spoke passionately about the need for a steady hand in similar circumstances.
She spoke in glowing terms about the first responders who worked 24-hour shifts, digging through rubble in a desperate hunt for survivors and then trailing their axes through ashes and soot at the end of the day. In her eyes, you see remembered pain, the untold stories of everything she witnessed. But in the set of her shoulders, you also sense the steely resolve she used to forge ahead, and which she’ll call upon again, as she brings us all together on the road to a better future.
Hillary shines in these intimate settings, specifically chosen over larger stadiums because they highlight the importance of listening over speaking.
Presidential candidates, she says, should prove themselves willing and able to:
1) Make positive differences in the lives of all Americans.
2) Keep us safe.
3) Unify our country—its citizens and its elected leaders.
She paints her vision in vivid strokes, and then offers real-life examples that bring home to Orange County the global issues that affect each of us, far beyond the primary season.
We come away from the event, more committed than ever to work for the ideals she stands for, and to help her take her rightful place in the Oval Office.