Are you a rain grump or a rain buddha?

3 10 2009

As I slog around Boston this stormy Saturday, I am reminded that you can tell a lot about people by how they react to the rain.

There was the woman I saw on Washington Street, in the South End, darting feverishly from overhang to overhang and contorting herself as she dodged puddles.  Her tensed body was absolutely panicked it would be get.  Nervous that even a single raindrop would burst the fragile bubble of perfection and control her well-manicured nails clutch around her.  A burst that would toss her from her comfortable cocoon of illusion into the messy reality of, well, reality.  That woman needs a drink, I thought…or a good lay.  Or both.  And I wouldn’t want to be the one to give her either.

Closer to home, I saw a college-aged kid stomping in puddles as his girlfriend laughed uproariously.  Neither had an umbrella.  Their H&M outfits were so drenched that they may as well have been nude.  And they could have cared less.   They seemed to be the kind of people who have mastered the dance of life at a young age (or maybe it was that age hasn’t yet robbed them of the mastery we’re all born with).  My bet is that they greet a downpour with the same sh*t-eating grin they welcome a sunrise.

As for me….well, I used to be a rain grump.  I’m not yet a rain buddha, but I’m making progress.

14 years ago, I stopped being annoyed at rain…and started tolerating it.  I have the first Boston-to-New York AIDS ride to thank for the change.  For 1 1/2 days of the 2 1/2 day ride it rained.  Nonstop. I wore glasses at the time, which meant that I went through the entire state of Connecticut without sight…or brakes.  I distinctly remember going down a steep hill, literally unable to see what the flashing lights at the bottom meant, praying that it didn’t mean I needed to stop (because that would be impossible), and then…suddenly…knowing that a day of rain was nothing compared to a life with AIDS.  “Get over it,” I told my drenched self.  And I did.

Last year, I went from tolerating rain to revering it.  I was in South America at this magical place where the rain forest comes right up to the ocean’s edge.  I was there to spend two weeks doing deep dives with Ayahuasca.  It was the rainy season, which meant that it pretty much rained all day…and all night.  And I couldn’t have been more grateful.  There, immersed in a ritual shrouded in mystery, rain became a life savor.  Its wetness was as warm…and essential…as a mother’s embrace, welcoming me back from Ayahuasca’s vine.  The sound of the raindrops became the thread I would use to trace my way from the darkest crevices of the universal grid back to shore…or at least my chair.

I returned home from that trip forever grateful to rain.  Now, each rain shower offers  a chance to wash away the hurdles we too often let others put in our way (or put there ourselves).  A chance to wipe the slate clean.  To water the soul.

A chance to stomp in life’s puddles, celebrating the gift of being alive…wet or dry.  Shall we dance?

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Will a Gay March on Washington work?

8 06 2009

Cleve Jones confirmed yesterday a rumor that’s been bubbling for a few weeks:  that there will be a national gay march on Washington on October 11 (see Boston Globe story).

I love Cleve Jones and was honored to meet him a few times in my past political life,  but I wonder if a glbt march on Washington–excuse me, a GLBT March on Washington–is the right thing for these times.

Marches began because they were the best vehicle to get folks’ attention–for a prolonged time.  But in an age of iPhones and Blackberries, Facebook and Twitter, YouTube and tiVO, is that still true?  IS flying down to March on Washington the equivalent to using a rotary phone to chat with someone (a Princess rotary phone, to be sure)?

Which do you think is more effective:  A half-day March or millions upon millions of emails (or, better yet, Tweets) flooding Capital Hill and the White House for a sustained period of time?

Put another way, will Obama–who, I assume, is the Target-in-Chief look up from his Blackberry long enough to notice?  Will this decidedly NON-1960’s president pay any attention to this most 1960’s tactic?

What about the media?  Sure. It’ll make for great tv–for 15 seconds.  And then, like most parties, it’ll be remembered fondly by those who were there and quickly forgotten by those who weren’t.  To paraphrase LBJ, are gay marches like peeing in a dark suit?  They make you feel all warm inside, but no one really notices?  I’m not sure whether Cleve is a fan of golden showers or not, but Is THAT what he has in mind?

And what about our community?  Is a March really where we should be focusing our time AND money?

Face it:  more than a political statement, marches–at least GLBT Marches–are an excuse to party (and stoke the considerable egos of those who call themselves gay leaders).

I am am sure this morning that HRC, the Victory Fund, GLAAD, the DNC,  AIDS Action, et al have their fund raising arms in motion—trying to secure the hottest spot to have the hottest party.  And they’re dialing for dollars, calling sponsors to ask for big, big, big bucks to put their logos in front of a gaggle of gay boys who are high as a kite.

Imagine if those dollars went to actual lobbying?  To AIDS research (I know, I know–crazy.  Who wants to find a cure for AIDS when you’ve made such a nice career out of it?!?!!).

And imagine if all those glbt’ers took the party hardy dollars they plan on spending in DC and gave it to a small non-profit that actually gets work done.  Can’t think of one>?  Start with GLAD (the legal force behind gay marriage in MA and the current DOMA federal case).

Actually, GLAD’s a great case statement for what our community SHOULD be doing now.  Mary Bonauto and her team had the balls to push for gay marriage when the only–and I mean ONLY–glbt organization that thought it was a good idea was Freedom to Marry Coalition, led by the always amazing Josh Friedes. (I know from whence I speak.  I was in the room for many conversations when gay “leaders” slammed their fists on the table and/or literally walked out of the room because they thought the idea was insane).

GLAD and MassEquality (the dressed up version of FTMC) never threw big parties (until they actually had a win to celebrate).  They didn’t do big, fancy ads, or whore out for big sponsorship dollars.  They just did the work of building a sound legal argument, finding great plaintiffs, and relentlessly pushing their message where it mattered most:  Beacon Hill.

And it worked.

Now, look at Prop 8 in CA.  Are those “bigoted” Mormons, blacks and Latinos to blame?  To an extent.   But a big share of the blame rests at the feet of those who fought FOR gay marriage.  They are Exhibit A in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

So, what would happen if the gay community told our self-anointed leaders “Thanks, but no thanks”?  What if we had a virtual march—not on those who oppose us–but on those who pledge to lead us….and fail repeatedly?  What if we asked HRC or the DNC “what have you done for us lately” and told them that letters, proclamations, parties and taking our money did not count as answers?

And what if, to borrow a line from my former boss and forever hero Gerry Studds, rather than Party on Washington on October 11, every single person who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender simply stood up–wherever they live their day-to-day lives–and said, simply, “I’m gay.”  Or, what if we borrowed a strategy from our immigrant brothers and sisters and called in sick to work on October 11 (remember what got corporate America’s attention on AIDS???).

As Gerry used to say, if everyone who is g,l,b or t did that–hell, if 1/3 of everyone did that–it would all be over.

Now, THAT’s a reason to throw a party!!





Should there be an expiration date to health care access?

8 05 2009

Access is one of the biggest buzz words in health care…and it’s a primary driver in the reform efforts underway in DC, right now. But is that access open-ended or, in a time when science has replaced nature and dollars are few, is it worth asking whether there should be an expiration date to access…or at least some controls?

Ellen Goodman raises this question to some extent in an op-ed in today’s Boston Globe. She starts with a recounting of the Obama family’s struggle with the issue of whether to provide life-extending–but not necessarily enhancing–treatment to his dying grandmother. They opted not to. The President told the story not so we could be voyeurs to the painful decision he and his sister wrestled with. He raised it to shine on a light on what he called a difficult moral issue related to sustainable health care.

I’m glad he did…it’s a question that should be front and center in American discourse today. The bottom line is that this country too frequently keeps people alive not because they should–but because we can. Rather than compassion for the individual, it’s an act of ego in the case of the medical providers (look, ma, I’m God!) and selfishness on the part of the loved ones (we may not want to deal with you as we tuck you away in a nursing home or in front of a tv, but we sure as hell aren’t going to let you go).

And it’s an act that raises not only ethical issues and quality of life issues, but increasingly financial ones.

As the Baby Boomers age, do you really think we can pay to extend their lives as long as science allows? Forget the cost to their individual quality of lives. What do you think the cost will be to everyone else? To the adults whose taxes pay for that care? To the kids who, most likely, will be denied access to keep seniors here for just a little bit longer? At a time when the Dems are adding to the federal budget at a rate of $100 million PER MONTH to right our domestic ship (following eight years of Republicans spending untold millions per month to sink our international one), how much longer do you think we can keep printing play money to pay for all this?

Now, rest assured Mom that I’m not implying in these questions that we should gather all the old folks at age certain and bid them a fond adieu. Life’s real questions don’t have easy, absolute answers.

But that doesn’t mean we should avoid the questions.

It does mean, however, that we won’t find the answers through political posturing (which means Members of Congress and the media can’t participate).

Answers won’t come from the scientific community, either. As I’ve watched what’s happened with AIDS in the past few years, it’s been horrifying to see what a disease that once was fueled by anger and passion now fueled by cold-hard-cash and career advancement/security. So, let’s leave the scientists (and docs) out of this conversation, too. It’s in their interest to keep folks alive as long as possible.

But, let’s do have this conversation among ourselves. Around dinner tables. On front porches. Even on the phone if distance makes face:face dialogue impossible.

Let’s ask “to what end” (thank you GES) we are overruling nature and keeping people alive just because we can. Is it for them…or for us? “To what end” is the cost–financially, but also to the cycle of life. Are we standing in the way of Life by blocking Death (because we so fear Death)? And what kind of life does that give us, anyway?

No easy answers, but–as one of Rilke says–maybe we can begin to “love the questions”…and each other, not for science’s sake, but humanity’s.