Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Giving thanks for a true survivor

First, I have to admit I borrowed this title from one of my fellow writers on Silicon Valley Moms blog. She wrote about her 75-year old Mom with emphysema, who's on oxygen but still feisty, loving and full of life. Oh yeah, and still smoking. Well, that gives you food for thought about addiction, doesn't it? One more little thing to be thankful for this holiday season: an addiction-free life.

(We recently heard Martin Sheen give a lecture about life, activism, family, addiction and about a million other topics. His painfully honest tales of his own struggles with alcoholism and his son Charlie Sheen's battle with drug addiction were stirring. I still think of how Charlie Sheen thanked him for saving his life after intervening and getting him into rehab. His Dad insisted that all he did was help him wake up and see how bad he had gotten. He didn't want his son putting the responsibility for saving his life onto anyone else because he knew that if he fell off the wagon, he could also blame other people and not take responsibility. Good lesson. File that away under "Scary things I hope not to have to think about when my kids are older".)

The true survivor I'm thankful for right now is my Dad. He's 65 years old and almost totally disabled from Parkinson's Disease, which he has had since he was 30. You don't see many people who have had P.D. for 35 years. It just doesn't happen very often. So at 65, my Dad is a wreck. The medication he takes works against some other meds he takes for psychiatric problems. He only gets very brief windows now of relief from the "frozen-ness" of Parkinson's as well as the severe tremors. His mind is a chaos of confusion and dementia, with a large dose of paranoia thrown in for good measure. And yet, he still makes cute little one-liner jokes whenever he can. He still loves chocolate shakes and pumpkin muffins. He appreciates going to his weekly exercise class. He loves it when I bring my preschoolers to visit him at his nursing home and always calls them, affectionately, the "small bugs". And he's still just grateful to be alive.

Every time he needs a new medical procedure, I get scared for him. Scared that in as bad a shape as he is in, he might not make it this time. Yesterday, he had to have 5 teeth extracted and even though I knew he would be o.k., I still got scared. He seems so frail and helpless locked in his dopamine-deprived body, unable to move so much of the time. But he came through it with flying colors. He even asked my Mom if he looked "pretty" afterward with his new teeth. And you know what, he did. He looked good. He's a survivor. So there's one more thing to be grateful for at Thanksgiving. The survivors in our lives who amaze us with their resilience and will to live.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

48 Hours in Nevada Helping to Get Out the Vote on Election Day

I just arrived home bleary-eyed and hoarse-voiced from two days in Sin City (Las Vegas), Nevada. Did I go to gamble, party, hit the Strip, drink, smoke or make merry? Nope. Instead I rallied two friends and a friend-of-a-friend to volunteer on Election Day for the Obama campaign and we flew to Vegas to pound the pavement. Kudos to Swanner, Bean and Susan from Santa Monica for rallying with me!

It's 6 AM on Election Day, and we're lost in Henderson, Nevada. We're looking for our staging location to pick up Election materials and maps of the precinct to walk. So we call our designated local campaign volunteer, who, it turns out, has food poisoning. He points us to a nearby volunteer's house and we get our assignment. Time to hit the subdivision perched on the bleak desert hills where we are supposed to hang door hangers reminding people to vote and telling them where their polling place is.

We pound the pavement all day, making 4 trips to the same precinct knocking on doors to be sure people were able to vote. No one is happy to see us. At best, they sullenly admit they voted before slamming their doors. In fact, I'm not sure anyone in Henderson, Nevada is happy, period. One house (with two registered Democrats listed as the residents) has two different signs on the windows with pictures of guns on them warning that if you steal from them, you will be shot. I make a note never to trick-or-treat here.

Mid-morning, we take a break from canvassing to go do "visibility". This means standing on a busy street corner waving our "Vote for Change" signs. We get many honks and waves and one middle finger. The woman who gives us the bird is first of all, a woman and second of all, driving a semi. We decide Henderson could be nominated for "least hospitable town in Nevada".

By 7 PM, the polls are closed. We hit the Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay for a well-earned meal and watch through tears as Barack Obama makes his historic speech. No one else at the Burger Bar seems happy. No one is celebrating. We know we should go to the Rio for the big Democratic victory party but we're too exhausted. Something about the desert wind, the long walks through the near-empty sub-division and the surliness of the residents has taken it right out of us. But we are, of course, elated. We feel great. We helped make history. Barack Obama will be our next president. And that's all that really matters.

When we board our flight home to San Francisco, we realize most of the plane is filled with fellow Obama volunteers. Cheers go up in the plane when CNN announces the big win in Nevada for Obama. It's good to be going home.