#20: Reaching Across the Aisle: A Cough Drop at a Funeral, Cornering an Irishman in the Oval Office, and Scalia/Ginsburg, the Opera
In a pandemic, one would think our country would come together, knowing we battle a common enemy. We have not. Paradoxically, the United States has become more and more divided. There is a real sense of us and them, seeping from politics into our personal lives. We forget the United States has had gaping divisions in the past and managed to bridge many of them. It started with individuals having profound differences of opinion, doing the hard work, and finding a way to get things done. Some of these former adversaries even became friends.
Abraham Lincoln and his "Team of Rivals"
The 1860 election between William H. Seward, Edward Bates, Salmon P. Chase, and Abraham Lincoln was a bitter battle documented beautifully in Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals. Lincoln, knowing of the deep divisions in the country, brought his opponents together to form an unprecedented cabinet. He wanted a deeper understanding of their diverging ideas, and knew embracing their differences rather than openly opposing them, would work toward uniting the country. William Seward, one of his most staunch foes, became his Secretary of State, a trusted advisor, and with time, a dear friend.
Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill
During republican Ronald Reagan's presidency, Tip O'Neill was the democratic Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi's role now). Although passionately opposed politically, they found commonalities and a way to work together. Reagan quipped, "Imagine one Irishman trying to corner another Irishman in the Oval Office." Regarding Reagan, O'Neill said, "That's just politics, after 6 o'clock we're buddies–we're friends." And if not friends, they did know the importance of getting along. Frequently they went out for a beer after an especially difficult day, and there are pictures of them celebrating their Irish roots on St. Patrick's Day. After the assassination attempt in 1981, Tip O'Neill visited Reagan in the hospital. Finding him in worse shape than previously reported and sharing a common faith, they recited the Lord's Prayer. During their tenure, they worked to end the Cold War, pass tax reform, stop the violence in Northern Ireland, and create immigration reform.
Bill Clinton and George Bush, Sr.
Bill Clinton and George Bush, Sr. battled each other in the fierce 1992 presidential election. Bill Clinton won, effectively making George Bush, Sr. a one-term president, something he never got over. Twelve years later, after the catastrophic 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, President George W. Bush, Jr. tasked former opponents and presidents, Clinton and Bush, Sr. with leading a disaster relief team. Both men thrived in their new roles, spending a great deal of time together, learning of unexpected shared values, and becoming good friends. After their joint venture, they visited each other's homes, played golf, and traveled together. Barbara Bush called them the "odd couple," and George Bush, Jr. joked, after Clinton's surgery, he "woke up surrounded by his loved ones: Hillary, Chelsea...and my Dad." When asked about their relationship, Clinton responded, "I think people see George and me and they say, 'That is the way our country ought to work.'"
George W. Bush and Michelle Obama
At John McCann's funeral, George Bush, Jr. was famously photographed handing Michelle Obama a cough drop. In a political climate where the public is hungry for politicians reaching across the aisle, this moment captured everyone's imagination. On NBC's Today Show, Michelle Obama said, "I didn't realize at the time that anybody noticed what we were doing. President Bush and I… we are forever seatmates because of protocol…So we're together all the time, and I love him to death. He's a wonderful man. He's a funny man." Bush jested, "She kind of likes my sense of humor. Anybody who likes my sense of humor, I immediately like."
Now the media purposely tails them, attempting to capture a little more of their unusual connection. Pictures spanning the internet
show them hugging, laughing, sharing those iconic cough drops, and demonstrating Americans with strong opposing political views can still be friends.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Antonin Scalia
During their tenures, Antonin Scalia was one one of the most conservative supreme court justices, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, one of the most liberal. Somehow, these polar opposites became friends.
There are pictures of them riding an elephant in India together, attending the opera, and their families celebrating the holidays. There is even an opera, receiving rave reviews, chronicling their improbable friendship: Scalia/Ginsburg. The tagline for the production is: We are different. We are one.
For the most part, both sides of the aisle love their children, want the best for our country, and would help others, no matter what party, in a catastrophe. Can't we remember this?
Reaching across the aisle, in these troubled times, is part of a Life Well-Lived.
P.S. I have gotten lost in the videos of past presidents at their library dedications. They talk about each other's successes and joke about their own failures. It is refreshing and even healing. A great book to learn more about presidential friendships is The Presidents Club. (I was surprised by the relationship between Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton!)
A train trip is not a great idea right now, but I hope this piece provides you with a little escape. Writing it certainly gave me the respite I needed.
Every once in a while, when my to-do list is becoming lengthy, and I am feeling a little overwhelmed, I toss my paperwork, laptop, a bunch of pens, and a couple of post-it pads into my canvas messenger bag. I don my favorite comfy sweater, some snazzy jeans, sneakers with thick cushy socks, a light jacket, and a pashmina, pulling me together. I tap out a first-class Amtrak ticket on my cell, grab a cappuccino and catch the 7:30 northbound train from San Juan Capistrano to San Luis Obispo, about 250 miles away.
A seat on the upper level with a panoramic unobstructed view is where I land. I pull down the tray, set up my laptop, organize my office supplies, and refresh my coffee. (First class benefits!) This will be my office for the next 6 hours. I plan how I am going to use this valuable time in a detailed to-do list, prioritizing items, and assigning time allotments to tasks. Sometimes I create a comprehensive bucket system for my finances, or I plot out clothes for an upcoming trip. Responding to emails with thoughtfully worded responses is usually on my list, and I might send a cute online card or write a couple of thank you notes. Often, I am making big decisions with long pros and cons lists. I have a first-class ticket, coffee and pastries down the aisle, and a bathroom downstairs. The proverbial "corner office" has nothing on my workspace.
The rhythmic hum of the train paces my work as I concentrate, periodically looking up. Every train station has its distinct character, and I take a few seconds to appreciate them. Santa Ana is a lovely combination of wrought iron, white stucco angles, Spanish tile, and large arching paneled glass windows accented with palm trees. In stark contrast, the Anaheim station or ARTIC (Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center) is a massive, modern bowing structure with glass quilting, housing shops and eateries. It is the entrance to the Honda Center for concerts and events. On the way home, if I am lucky, bright colors will dance on its surface, presenting a light show for me and all the neighboring areas to enjoy.
The world rushes by fueling my diligence, and I happily work until I see the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles: the cylindrical U.S. Bank Tower, mirrored Wilshire Grand Center, and gleaming iconic City Hall. (Its architecture is based on the Mausoleum of Mausolus, one of the Wonders of the Ancient World.) An hour and a half has passed, and we are entering Union Station. I have no layover and feel a little sad because Union Station is such a treat. There is the Streamliner Lounge reminding one of a speakeasy from the 20s, the massive, cathedral-like waiting area with Spanish style chandeliers dangling from the paneled ceiling, art deco font message boards relaying one's possible destinations, and heavy wood-framed leather chairs. It is the crossroads to Santa Monica, Olvera Street, the Rose Bowl, Hollywood, the Mission Inn, and so many other guidebook hotspots. But I have work to do and no stopover.
Photo by Mary Minerman
At this point, I always double-check with the conductor to make sure I have a westward looking window. I want an unobstructed view of the mighty Pacific.
Departing Union Station, I happily return to my paperwork, but my concentration is more patchy. I do not want to miss Chatsworth, north of L.A. in the San Fernando Valley. Its rock formations sweep the landscape appearing oddly familiar. During Hollywood's Golden Age, Chatsworth was a popular setting for movies. John Wayne rode his horse in "Stagecoach" here, and the area became China in the Academy Award-winning movie "The Good Earth." Lex Barker also swang from the trees as Tarzan and Shirley Temple starred in Rudyard Kipling's "Wee Willie Winkie." There is magic in its familiarity, and I find myself spellbound, but the reverie is suddenly broken when the train goes black. We are entering the Chatsworth Tunnel running 1.2 miles long, completed in 1904, and one of California's longest.
I should be halfway done with my To-Do list by this point. If I'm ahead, I loosen up and start enjoying the scenery a little more, but if I'm behind, I redouble my efforts to get things done.
With my first peek at the ocean, I become a little giddy, take a couple of minutes to soak it in, and marvel at my good fortune. I get to sip a cup of coffee and luxuriate in a multitude of $10,000,000 plus unobstructed views of the largest ocean on the planet. I see people camping, riding bikes, and living their lives. ( I really need to take up camping.) The old-fashioned Santa Barbara station greets us with its massive banyan tree, and the downtown area, within walking distance, but I have no layover and work to do.
Beyond Santa Barbara, we enter the desolate Bixby Ranch area, where few people travel unless they are on the train. Miles of unsullied coastline and mountains stretch before and behind us. I become a little more distracted. In another life, due to a series of complicated connections, I stayed at the Bixby Ranch. I watched a sea lion rolling in the surf, and spied strewn abalone shells on the virgin sands. I toured the Point Conception lighthouse and keeper's house with its peeling wallpaper. I witnessed the crashing waves and the cove where sharks find their prey. We four-wheeled to the World War II gunneries and partied at the ranch. I have been here and know its mysteries. So perhaps this place means more to me.
At this point, I always need to discipline myself. I took this trip to get work done. If I don't, I can't do this again. I get back to it but still periodically peek at the coast. I've seen a massive beached whale, dolphins playing, and lone sailboats in its vast waters.
The train glides past Vandenberg Airforce Base, and I always look for a rocket but never see one. Inland we head to Guadalupe through bucolic valleys full of little ranchitos stuffed with chickens, goats, cattle, and horses in the hilly Old California landscape. My friend Patty lives here, but there will be no adventuring with her today.
Sweeping valleys with pointed peaks swathed in clover greens and wheat yellows greet us. We are entering charming San Luis Obispo with its Spanish style casitas.
After over 6 hours, I have arrived. I check my to-do list and make a couple of notes. I pack up my office, give my seat a nostalgic glance, and exit the train. There are tons of little eateries within walking distance, and I choose one with exceptionally healthy food. After a delicious bowl of couscous, quinoa, fish, and microgreens, I throw my bag over my shoulder and head up the Terrace Hill Trail. The word terrace is somewhat misleading as the trail heads straight up with no switchbacks, and I quickly become winded. Knowing my train is leaving in an hour, I push forward. The slog is rewarded with panoramic views, some much-needed exercise, and peak bragging rights. I hustle back down.
Photo by Mary Minerman
After grabbing some snacks, I jump on the train heading home, sitting next to another westward viewing window. The conductor serves wine, and I appreciate the long shadows coursing green valleys, closing out the day. As we trundle down the track, the sun sets on the Pacific in a panorama of pinks and violets, and I make a silent toast. The world is not leaving me behind, working at my desk. I am moving with it, soaking up its beauty, and getting stuff done.
A day truly well-spent and part of a Life Well-Lived.
Watching this pandemic play out, one witnesses humanity at its worst:
With the world going rogue, we still get to decide who we want to be in this new reality. I choose being a good human, and many others are doing the same:
We are truly “in this together” and get to choose how we want to handle it. Being a good human is and will always be part of a Life Well-Lived.
Over the last six months, I’ve had some big disappointments. Circumstances forced me to withdraw from a long-anticipated humanitarian trip to Africa 12 hours before I was to leave. A project, making family lives better and taking me months to put together, fell apart 15 minutes before it was to happen. After much enthusiastic reading, organization, and expectation, my Turkey/Greece adventure planned to make me feel better about the missed Africa trip is now also canceled. I feel wrung out from all the planning, drained of excitement, and empty.
I realize, in the big scheme of things, this is nothing. There are people who...
Reading over this list, I realize I’m good. Sorry for whining.
In a massive disaster, we will be the first responders for our communities. Emergency personnel simply do not have the resources to reach all of us at once. That is why being prepared is so critical. CERT (Community Emergency Response Training) is a great way to get ready.
Last weekend I took the training. Firefighters, paramedics, and others shared their stories, and I learned well-intentioned people in emergencies often do more damage than good. In an attempt to become part of the solution and not part of the problem, we learned how to:
The community provided breakfast and lunch, showing its appreciation for attendees blowing out their weekend for this potentially life-saving knowledge.
Upon completion, the mayor shook our hands, gave us certificates, and thanked us for making our community safer.
CERT training, definitely part of a Life Well-Lived.
Every 2 seconds someone needs blood in this country, according to the American Red Cross. People suffering from burns, accidents, cancer, undergoing heart surgery, organ transplants, and a plethora of other maladies truly do rely on the kindness of strangers. And blood donation is so easy to do:
The donee is not the only one who benefits. Blood donation:
And if you have a rare blood type, you will be the bell of this blood ball!
Making the world a better place through blood donation is easy and promotes Lives Well-Lived.
There is nothing much better than sitting back with a cup of tea or wine and cracking a big fat, dense, non-fiction book. The reading journey is slow and labored. Looking up the Sword of Damocles, the history of the Louvre, or a Republic of Congo map, takes time. Sometimes I barely make it through 3-4 pages before falling into a rabbit hole of interest, happily googling obscure factoids.
And I’ve had so many WOW moments:
~In the Hippodrome of Istanbul stands the Serpent Column rendered 2500 years ago of melted Persian weapons from an ancient battle. This iconic figure was referenced in classical literature, and its twisted shape with the three snakeheads is featured in many old drawings, maps, and paintings of the city. Constantine the Great had it moved to Constantinople in 324, and it is still there! (The three heads are gone, but the twisted-column remains.) ~Istanbul, Thomas Madden
~During the 18th and 19th centuries, there was much speculation about Marie Antoinette’s son Louis the XVll after the French Revolution. What happened to him? Many imposters claimed to be the lost dauphine, and Mark Twain even featured a character masquerading as the prince in his classic Huckleberry Finn. This book solves the mystery. ~The Lost King of France, Deborah Cadbury
~What has directly or indirectly killed over 52 billion people? The mosquito. Even our DNA has reacted to this fact. Scientists have learned sickle cell anemia is a cell mutation evolved to combat mosquitos in the human body in Africa. At one time this was beneficial, but with longer lifespans this mutation has had dire consequences for African Americans. ~ The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator, Timothy Winegard
~The Medici family dominated Florence for two centuries. Their financial support underpinned the Italian Renaissance, and the paintings, architecture, and sculpture still adorn the city today. Members of the family were well connected to many of Italy’s historical figures: Galileo, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci. Their name also figures strongly in history with 2 popes and a French queen on their family tree. ~The Medici, Paul Strathern
As one ages, one becomes more calloused, and life ceases to surprise us. Reading these books brings back the wonder and curiosity of childhood.
With time I have adopted some rituals adding to my book enjoyment. I now read them on my Kindle because I can define challenging words effortlessly. Also, I use my phone for maps and images. (The newer Kindles can probably do this.) Funny enough, I love buying the book too, and putting it on my shelf. It’s my version of a trophy for finishing the book. Also, it can open some fascinating conversations with friends.
Exploring the complexities of this world through big fat non-fiction books is definitely part of a life well-lived.
The other day I was mindlessly “thumbing through” Facebook and saw a former classmate’s obituary. If his picture had not been included, I would not have recognized his name and would have ignored the posting. You see, Chris and I did not know each other well. We only spoke once, ever.
It was years ago. I was visiting my hometown and meeting some friends at the local hotspot. Finding me momentarily unengaged, Chris had approached the table. He made no attempt at common courtesies or cursory greetings and jumped right in. He asked me how I had done it. How had I pulled up stakes with a kid and moved? How did I escape the security and safety of our small town and finally leave? He said a lot of people talked about doing it, but no one ever did. How had I finally gotten the guts to move on?
I was somewhat taken aback. I did not know him and was surprised he knew my story. He was obviously very unhappy in his present situation and needed to make a change. I do not remember how the younger me responded. I do know I tried very hard to be inspirational, but as I recall, my words fell flat. In the end, I wished him well, felt good about being brave for a few minutes, and did not think about it again. He was one of those many incidental people we meet in life; we have neither the capacity nor the time to stay connected.
Now, reading the tribute, our long-ago conversation came back to me. His torment. His unhappiness. His frustration. But my sadness for him in dying young and his missed opportunities was short-lived. According to the text, Chris had not stayed stuck. Not long after our conversation, he had moved to Hawaii, never returning to the mainland or our small town. Chris had done what he thought he could never do but desperately wanted. He was brave, moved on, and lived life the way he wanted.
And dear reader, how can anyone be sad about that?
My octogenarian parents live in the middle of Wyoming. They are 23 miles from a hospital and 900 miles from their children. They moved here in 1990 when hiking and cross country skiing were their passions. Ten years ago, my folks thought they would move closer to us kids, but not finding any place they liked as much as Wyoming, their window was missed.
Now, my mom has become forgetful, and my father is not very ambulatory. With icy roads and walkways, 3-4 feet of snow accumulation, sub-freezing temperatures, and long, very dark nights, it is definitely no place for old men. (I'm looking out the window at a country lane where 2 vehicles spun out of control into a snow-covered gully and red lights of an emergency vehicle are flashing.) I have spent the past month trying to find a safe situation where they might actually be happy. It's a tough task.
This has brought up a lot of issues regarding responsibility in caring for elderly parents. I've heard non-committal "if it works in my schedule" and "we'll do what we can do." I also learned of a woman with dementia whose family has deserted her but always comes sniffing around when money is discussed. I met a darling hunched up woman in an assisted living facility who said her son says the place is too expensive and she needs to move. I doubt he will find a cheaper option. The home has at least a dozen residents with one harried caretaker.
It's funny how some make it a gender thing. I was talking to a friend who mentioned his sisters caring for their parents. I asked why this was the case, and he said women are stronger than men. Not long after, an elderly friend mentioned how attentive her daughter has been as she has aged, but added her son has been useless. She said daughters always seem to take the responsibility. I further read an article about long-living men and how they often had a daughter caring for them. So, why have so many men eschewed this shared responsibility?
I honestly do not know the answer, but I do know we get to choose who we are in this world. Part of that is doing the hard work of caring for those we love. Do we really want our parents, who have given us so much, to be alone? I think not.
Photo by Daryl Baird on Unsplash
Happy New Year!
As we all know, resolutions never seem to work. We all go in with the best intentions. Some of us last a few days, some a week, and the strong-willed may go a month. (I’m in the weak-minded 3-day camp.) Creating significant change and making it stick is tough.
James Clear, in his New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits, points out how micro changes in daily habits can create a huge impact.
He suggests the reader try habit-stacking. One takes an established habit and pairs it with a desired one to create a new, better routine. I drink coffee every morning and want to implement an exercise routine. I do my upper body exercises while the coffee is brewing. My reward, when I am finished, is the coffee. Simple.
Inspired, I have also implemented habit stacking in my evening routine. I took an enjoyable activity and stacked it with a desired one. I'm not fond of planks, but I love playing word games on my phone, so I habit stacked. At night I do 3 sets of one-minute planks. To make them more palatable, I play word games on my phone while I am "planking." The benefits are trifold: I’m building my upper body strength, my brain is being stretched, and I look forward to my evening ritual.
I hope you’ll try habit stacking and read James Clear’s book. After all, healthy routines are definitely part of a Life Well-Lived.
P.S. Do you have any habit stacking ideas? I would LOVE to hear them!
M.J. Minerman writes for spinsters around the world who have "not found their lids and are pursuing lives well-lived."