The letter to the editor below was published in the New York Times. I quote it in full, because it gave me a window on a part of our world that I have trouble imagining.
To the Editor:
Re "As Omicron Spreads, Vaccine Supply in Africa is Better but Wariness Persists" (news article Dec. 2):
I am a doctor in charge of a health center in a remote area of South Sudan. When Covid-19 vaccinations began this summer, people were inundated with misinformation. Some thought the shot would make them infertile or change their DNA.
Community mobilizers, religious leaders and village chiefs worked together to build trust and change minds, and it's been shocking to see just how successful their efforts have been.
When our clinics opened in October, people arrived by the hundreds, traveling miles by canoe through the worst floods in living memory. We expected to vaccinate 4,000 people, but we received just 545 doses. Sadly, we were forced to turn people away. Many sold their belongings to afford the trip and may not be able to return.
Overcoming vaccine skepticism in Africa is possible; I have seen it firsthand. Now, we must meet demand. We urge the world to donate more shots, and soon. As the spread of Omicron shows, no one will be safe from this virus until we all are safe.
Paulino Buda Geri
Paguir, South Sudan
The writer is a doctor with Action Against Hunger.
There are many astonishing things in this letter: That the leaders in South Sudan worked together to convince people to be vaccinated; that they succeeded; that so many people came by canoe to be vaccinated during a time of floods.
It's really beautiful. An encouraging and hopeful story in one way. And also another sad story of our world's failure to get enough vaccine to their world.
To me, the most amazing thing about the letter is that Dr. Buda Geri expresses no outrage at having only 545 doses for 4000 people. He just really wants to communicate to our world that, at least in his corner of South Sudan, people are READY to get vaccinated.
Thank you, Dr. Buda Geri to for allowing me to witness for a moment your life and work as a doctor in --- not just South Sudan but a REMOTE CORNER of South Sudan. What a long and fragile thread connects me sitting at my computer in San Francisco with you.
I refuse to feel guilty for my jaw-dropping privilege -- because there's no good use for that guilt. Guilt is so unpleasant that it makes me run away from Dr. Buda Geri and the good people of South Sudan.
I want to feel connected to Dr. Buda Geri and the 4000 people who canoed despite floods to the health center.
There is a concept that Buddhism borrowed from Hinduism called "Indra's Net." The idea is that there is a net that covers the universe and at every intersection of the net there is a faceted jewel. And this jewel reflects all the other jewels in the net. Thus, everyone and everything is reflected in, and connected through, Indra's net.
Now, I can see Dr. Buda Geri and all his patients eflected in Indra's Net. It's hard for me to feel connected to the whole world. But I do feel connected to the 4001 people in this letter to the editor.
I guess that's what it means to be moved. You feel deeply connected -- sometimes surprisingly -- with others. It's a good feeling. I will cherish this feeling as I continue to try to figure what I can do to make the world a better place for the 4001.
In deference to the surging Virus, San Francisco cancelled its traditional fireworks over the bay at midnight on New Years Eve. It always draws a big crowd, people jammed together along the Embarcadero. And, as we know, the Virus loves a crowd. The fireworks event was a real loss. It's a great crowd -- a cross-section of San Francisco, lots of families. I always felt embraced by a COMMUNITY as we all watched the lights explode and spiral and zoom over the bay.
However, there was a way to be outside on New Year's Eve and be dazzled by the lights -- in Golden Gate Park!
WHAT WE SAW WILL BE THERE UNTIL FEBRUARY 1!
What a perfect evening. There were no crowds, as the light shows were scattered across a wide area. So no worries about a sneaky virus. Elizabeth and I sauntered around the park at night, encountering just enough folks to always feel safe. What a treat to feel safe in the park at night! You could bring your children, your dogs -- it was a great evening for everyone.
We got there when it was still light and parked in the garage under the Music Concourse. When we came up, we saw a group settling in around the fountain next to the De Young Museum (the purple building on the map). They had just started on their champagne.
This is definitely what I plan to do next year, virus or no virus. It wasn't a warm evening, but it wasn't too cold.
From the Music Concourse, we headed east to Peacock Meadow, which is just beyond the Conservatory of Flowers -- that strangely shaped orange building in the upper right on the map. We stayed there as the sun faded and the light show began. ENTWINED has been created for this winter in Golden Gate Park by Charles Gadeken. All of these first photos are from the Internet. My camera wasn't fast enough to capture the rapidly changing colors.
The intense pleasure of watching the rapidly changing colors and combinations..... I never recognized any repetition. It was always new and surprising and gorgeous. We talked to a woman with a little girl who had come in from the suburbs when her New Year's Eve party was cancelled because of the Virus. What a gift from San Francisco to the whole Bay Area! I felt proud of my city. I could have stayed there forever.
Then we walked the short distance west toward the Conservatory of Flowers. Along the way, the woods were lit up....
The Conservatory of Flowers isn't too shabby all on its own in the daylight. When we got there, nothing was happening yet.
Next year I'm coming with champagne, food, and marijuana and having a PARTY and staying a long, long time!
The response to "Confessions of a Disappointing Daughter" was greater than I had for any other blog, both in number of readers and number of letters written in response. I feel a rush of joy when I read your letters, when you tell me that my words and pictures actually meant something to you.
So many of us have suffered from our families' refusal to truly embrace the human being that they delivered into the world. One bloggelini wrote that she regretted never confronting her parents about their harsh judgment of her while they were still alive. But she felt that when I spoke up to my father, I was doing it for her too, and it was healing.
Thanks to everyone who wrote a letter in response to my "Confessions."
Another Bloggelini wanted to hear MORE family stories, and she suggested a write a BOOK! And this Bloggelini is Kate McDermott, who had the idea for and edited Places, Please, which is only the first anthology of plays by lesbians in the history of the universe! So I take her suggestions SERIOUSLY. Truly, I have never considered a book of stories about my family. But there is one story about my sister Nancy that I've never figured out how to put into a play .... Hmmmm....
An Important Addendum to the "Confessions Blog"
I also left something very important out of my story. The day after I returned to San Francisco from the Thanksgiving That Will Live in Infamy, I went to a demonstration in front of City Hall in memory of the assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. It was the anniversary of that terrible tragedy, November 27 -- which also happens to be my birthday. I was living in San Francisco when it all took place, and I also identify very strongly with Harvey Milk, a queer Jew with a nose job, like me. So going to these memorials is important to me.
Harry Britt, who had taken Harvey's place on the Board of Supervisors, was speaking. I loved Harry. He was a very soulful man. Ultimately, he lost re-election because he had so many absences because he had to take time off to care for his mentally ill brother, and his opponent used that against him.
Harry was a very powerful speaker. That night he spoke about the reality that many of us could not count on our birth families for love and good times during the holiday season. He said that we needed to create our own families, to replace the love and nurturing that had been withdrawn from us because of the homophobia of the families in which we grew up.
Sometimes a great speaker can move you to a new place. After what I'd just experienced down in L.A., I felt like Harry was speaking directly to me. It was as a result of his loving words that I decided to temporarily disown my family, which was a very good thing indeed for my relationship with them. Thank you, Harry. May your spirit be at peace. You gave a lot of gifts to the world while you were with us, and that speech was a very small part of your work.
Second Good Thing:
Holidays with My Chosen Family
I had an absolutely wonderful Christmas this year. Although I don't in any way celebrate the birth of Jesus -- an event that didn't turned out to be such a great thing for the Jews -- when everyone else is getting together with family, I do that too! And I've taken Harry Britt's excellent advice, and now I spend my holidays with my chosen family.
I spent Christmas Eve watching old movies at the home of Tara and her amazing service dog Nella. Here's Nella opening the fridge door for Tara, while Nikki looks on in wonder. Sorry, Nikki, I think you're too much of a goofball to have a future as a service dog.
Tara actually drove across the Bay to pick me up so that Nikki & Loulou could be part of our Christmas Eve. (I don't have a car, have stopped driving,)
I've been a big fan of Doris Day ever since Christmas Day in 1993 in Amsterdam, which I spent with a buncha dyke friends & one gay man watching a triple bill of Day's movies, followed by going to a Chinese restaurant. In fact, we were so enamored of Day then, that we started the Doris Day Gay Fan Club that very night!
So I've always wanted to see what I considered Day's comic masterpiece, Please Don't Eat the Daisies again, particularly on this holiday. I remembered it as being so witty and wonderful. And it turns out that Tara is a HUGE fan of Ginger Rogers, who I also love. AND Tara knew of a movie that BOTH stars were in -- Storm Warning! Plus, she told me, "We HAVE to see Ginger in Batchelor Mother.
So we had a veritable Christmas Eve movie feast of THREE films!
I confess, my Doris Day fandom did not survive the viewing of Daisies, which we mostly fast-forwarded through desperately searching for the divine moments I vaguely remembered. In retrospect, I think we just had an absolutely wonderful time together, the five of us back in 1993, and the glow suffused our experience of the film.
BUT, as a result of the other two movies, I am now also a HUGE fan of Ginger Rogers. I believe a description of the two very different Rogers vehicles deserves its own blog.
Chinese food -- including take-out -- is a sacred Jewish tradition for Christmas. So we ordered in. The food proved to be a little too exotic for me.
We had a great time watching Loulou & Nella careening around the house chasing each other, and then flopping down to rest. Nella of course gets the chair because it's HER chair. And the next morning Tara made the most delicious scrambled eggs & vegetables, with the assistance of the special garlic sauce she's discovered. I'm going to mail order some! I have to wait, though. They're completely sold out (garlicsauce.com). Then Tara drove me and the pups back home.
And then Elizabeth arrived that afternoon, and we forced ourselves to go out in the cold. Having dogs does that to you. We took a walk down Gingko Alley aka Eureka Street. This time of year, it is SO spectacular, with the gingko leaves doing their bright golden thing. Malena who lives upstairs said,
"Wherever I'm going, I drive down Eureka Street on the way." We must savor our golden gingko days while we may.
After dinner, which was a lot of little tasty things that Elizabeth had brought, we had our Christmas Day traditions -- yes, this is the second year and they have now become traditions. We read poetry aloud and ate chocolate. Actually, ELIZABETH read poetry aloud and I absolutely stuffed myself with chocolate. She is one of those admirable people who is not driven to eat all the chocolate within her range of sight.
A friend had sent her a book of poems about flowers. Secretly I thought "Oy vey," but it was really good. There was Wordsworth's classic about daisies. There was a very contemporary poem about flowers blooming in an alley amid all the suffering of the poor. There were flowers we were not familiar with. We googled them to see what they actually looked like. I see a garden carpeted with blue gentians in my future.
Dear Bloggelinis: What a special Christmas holiday with my two close friends. We're all single dykes & we've created our own holiday traditions!
The holiday season always makes me think of my immediate family, which is no more. We were a close family, my father, my mother and my sister Nancy and me. My parents were very affectionate. I was particularly close to my father. As you can see in the photo above, our special connection began early. I was not yet disappointing. At that moment, I was a perfect baby who already adored her father.
Dad and I continued to be close BUT both my parents were openly disappointed that:
I never got married.
I never had children.
I never had the kind of career that they considered a success.
And just to put a cherry on top of their disappointment, I was a very out lesbian.
In other words, although they loved me, they had really expected someone else. I never gave them "naches." Naches is a Yiddish word that means "the pride or joy that a child brings a parent." But naches is not just a FEELING. It's all about having things to BRAG about to other parents. As my mother once said to me -- without irony -- "Other people live for their parents' approval. Why not you?"
In fact, you could say I gave them anti-naches because in the days when it was shameful to have a gay child, they were appropriately ashamed of me. They told me so. Thank goodness society changed, and they changed along with it. So their shame diminished, but their disappointment remained.
They NEVER threatened to disown me. That was simply not in the cards. But put-downs and even insults WERE in the cards. On Thanksgiving 1989, on the drive home from the airport after picking me up, I proudly told my parents I had not one but TWO plays in the very first anthology of plays by lesbians! My mother replied in a mocking tone, "Oh, wonderful! Just what I want for my coffee table." And THEN, I arrived back at my childhood home only to discover they had thrown out the bed in the guest room where I slept and replaced it with a crib for Rose, their new grandchild. So I had to sleep on the couch. A new grandchild -- naches SUPREME! I'd been replaced by a baby who'd never written ANYTHING!
I want to make clear that Nancy, my naches-and-grandchild-producing sister, always totally supported me and how I lived my life.
When I got back home to San Francisco, I called my parents up and told them I was disowning them for six months.
They really did treat me better after experiencing being disowned. They understood that my actual physical presence in their lives was optional. And they did like having their disappointing daughter around.
So we all went along in our loving and disappointed way. Then we hit our first big family crisis. In 1999, At the age of 83, my father had a stroke, went into a coma for three weeks and ended up in the hospital in Los Angeles for four months. My mother was capable of sitting in the hospital room for hours on end but she was emotionally totally overwhelmed. She was not prepared to deal with doctors and nurses. For a while Nancy and I tossed the ball of responsibility back and forth in a beautiful way. We were a TEAM. But Nancy had a family to take care of far away. So the long-term project of Dad's healing fell to me. After all, I was the single daughter.
Thus began twelve years -- 1999 to 2011 -- devoted to my family. It is one of the great blessings of my life that I was able to be deeply involved as first my father, then my sister, and then my mother became seriously ill and finally died.
Fortunately, the stroke only affected my father physically. Eventually his mental capacities returned, and, it was time for him to start rehabilitation of his body. Dad had always been the Golden Boy who does everything right and sails through life. The whole family suspected that he wouldn't want to do rehab. And the whole family was right. Dad preferred to die instead. He explained that he had worked very hard his whole life -- six days a week until he retired at 78. BUT he had never had to overcome any big obstacles. He just didn't feel like overcoming a big obstacle for the first time, after 83 years of an extremely pleasant life. It was obvious to him that it was time to go. I thought, "He's dying and that's alright with him."
The hospital chaplain, a rabbi, came in to talk to Dad. I waited outside the room to hear the results of the conversation. The rabbi came out into the hall and told me, "I don't see a dying man. I see an UNHAPPY man."
Now, if anyone knows what dying looks like, it's a hospital chaplain. So at that moment I realized, "Okay, my father ISN'T dying. I have to convince him to live."
My father refused to do any rehab or eat anything, presumably planning to starve himself to death. I wracked my brains trying to figure out how I could change his mind. Finally, I came up with a strategy.
I said, "Dad, you know that parents teach their children by example much more powerfully than they teach them any other way. Right?" He said, "Yes, of course." Then I said, "By not eating, you are choosing to commit suicide. Do you agree?" He paused a few moments and then said "Yes." That was the first time either of us had used the S-word. I went on, "Well, then you are teaching Nancy and me in the most powerful way possible that, if we're facing a huge obstacle, killing ourselves is a reasonable choice."
Dad was silent. Family was everything to him. He looked at me. He seemed shocked that I had trapped him. Then he looked away for a long time. He turned back to me, a sheepish smile on his face, and said, "What's for lunch?"
Dad lived for six years after he got out of the hospital. But his full energy never returned. My mother had to deal with any house problems that arose. My father was grateful. He seemed to fall in love with Mom again. Sometimes she'd be bustling around the kitchen and, as she passed him, he would grab her hand and kiss it. I'd never seen him do anything like that.
Before Dad's stroke, I had taped interviews with both my parents about their lives. A lot of what they told me was very interesting, but they both wanted it RECORDED FOR POSTERITY that they were disappointed in me.
I did another interview with Dad, because I was certain that the ordeal of hospitalization and rehab and a radical transformation of his life must have transformed him. And CERTAINLY it must have transformed his opinion of ME, since I had shouldered so much responsibility, including convincing him to live.
But no. He still wanted to RECORD FOR POSTERITY his disappointment with me.
A little while after that, Dad, Mom and I were sitting in the den chatting --- I can't remember the subject. Again my father felt compelled to tell me what a disappointment I was.
Sometimes, I feel a rush of energy up the back of my neck. This energy is righteous outrage. It happens rarely but I always trust it and I always let fly and I have never regretted it.
I blew up.
I started yelling at my father, "How DARE you not be PROUD OF ME? I am an incredible person and a great daughter. You are SO LUCKY to have me for a daughter! HOW DARE YOU?"
My father stared at me, speechless. My mother pretended that nothing special was going on. I charged out of the house and went for a long walk to calm down. When I returned, no one mentioned what had passed.
The following Thanksgiving I was back in L.A. again. It was a tradition to gather available family members on my birthday, November 27, in a small private room at Factor's Deli to eat lox and onion omelets. No particular fuss was ever made over me, which was fine. It was just an excuse for the family to get together again on the Thanksgiving holiday.
But this year, my father stood up and said, "I want to make a toast to Terry!"
What? Toasts were reserved for weddings, anniversaries and bar mitzvahs!
My father went on, "I am so PROUD of her! Look at what she's done! She writes plays and travels all over the world performing them! She gives to the whole world through her art! And I don't know what Sue and I would have done without her, after my stroke. And ever since then, Terry has always schlepped down here to help us and just be with us. We are so lucky that she's our daughter."
Dad lifted his coffee cup high in the air, and said, "To Terry!" The assembled relatives lifted their coffee cups and shouted "To Terry!" in unison.
This is a photo of the three of us after that blissful toast.
I love this photo. We're all so happy. Truly, I was filled with shining joy. It was still hard for me to believe that my father was actually proud of me. But I knew he loved me and, out of love, he was saying what he knew I wanted to hear, in front of the assembled family in the small private room at Factor's Deli.
"Skillful means" is a very important concept in Buddhism. Before you act, you figure out what your INTENTION is. And then you take action to realize it -- but not just ANY action. You're supposed to figure out a SKILLFUL way to achieve your intention, because, if you DON'T make skillful choices, it's unlikely that you'll be successful. And if you're NOT successful, then you step back and examine your actions, to figure out if there's a more skillful way to go for what you want.
SKILLFUL MEANS AT THE ARBERY TRIAL
There was a very interesting column by David Leonhardt in the NY Times, discussing the strategy of the prosecutor in the trial of the killers of Ahmaud Arbery. It made me consider how skillful means apply in a courtroom:
Arbery was in a predominantly white neighborhood near his home in coastal Georgia on Feb. 23, 2020, when three men in pickup trucks chased and shot him.
Racism played a clear role in the killing. One of the defendants used a slur shortly after the shooting, according to another defendant. All three had a history of sending online messages tinged with white nationalism.
Nonetheless, the prosecutor in the case, Linda Dunikoski, decided mostly to ignore race during the trial. She accused the defendants of having a racist motive only once, in a single line of her closing argument. She instead portrayed them as lawless figures who killed a young man.
This strategy was EXTREMELY controversial while the trial was going on. When I read that people were upset because Dunikoski wasn't talking about the obvious racism motivating the murder of Arbery, I thought, "Oh no! They've chosen an incompetent to prosecute the case!" In other words, I thought the prosecutor was NOT using skillful means, and that these racist thugs might get off! That would have been a terrible defeat for racial justice.
However, Dunikoski turned out to be VERY skillful. The jury returned a verdict of murder for all three men! VICTORY!!
Dunikoski hasn't spoken about her strategy, so Leonhardt speculates about what she was thinking:
The prosecutor evidently believed that emphasizing race would be a gift to the defense. It could cause the jurors -- all but one of whom were white -- to retreat to their ideological corners. Conservative jurors would be reminded that they often disagree with allegations of racism. Many political moderates disagree sometimes, too, especially if they're white. On the other hand, any jurors likely to be appalled by the racial nature of the case -- three white men killing a Black man in broad daylight -- would recognize the role of race without needing to be told about it....
Race-based strategies are especially challenging in a country where living standards have stagnated in recent decades...
Working-class families of all races have reason to distrust the notion that they enjoy a privileged lifestyle. No wonder that Steve Bannon, the far-right political figure, once said that he wanted liberals "to talk about racism every day." When they do, Mr. Bannon said, "I got 'em."
So Dunikoski's intention was not to prove that racism was a terrible problem in this country. Her intention was not to convince the jury that the defendants were racist. Her intention was to convince every member of the jury that the defendants were guilty of murdering an innocent man.
The prosecutor used SKILLFUL MEANSto achieve her intention. And, while commentators all over the country were freaking out about Dunikoski's strategy, Arbery's family understood what she was doing from the beginning and supported her.
Leonhardt's words again:
When activists try to combat racism by calling it out, they often struggle to accomplish their goals. Focusing on Mr. Trump's racist behavior didn't keep him from winning the presidency. The Black Lives Matter movement has mostly failed to implement its policy agenda on policing.
Both Leonhardt and Bannon are saying that race-based strategies are NOT SKILLFUL -- that they even drive people to the opposite side. And Bannon is absolutely chortling about it. And anything that makes Bannon happy is cause for alarm.
HAS "BLACK LIVES MATTER" USED SKILLFUL MEANS?
"The Black Lives Matter" movement started out powerfully by speaking a simple truth that unfortunately needed to be said, chanted, shouted, sung again and again. Not just the police, our whole society acts as if Black lives are not as valuable as white lives. That is a truth that I have witnessed. And that simple truth repeated again and again has raised the consciousness of millions. We are having a reckoning over race that is painful but necessary and long overdue. This has been very exciting and has transformed our society on a cultural level.
HAS "DEFUND THE POLICE" BEEN A SKILLFUL CAMPAIGN?
But the Black Lives Matter movement has not been skillful in moving towards its goal of changing the behavior of the police toward the black community. In the words of former SF Mayor Willie Brown, the most powerful Black politician in the country until Obama was elected: "'Defund the Police' is the worst slogan ever." Really, how many people, white or Black, want the police to just disappear? With all the guns floating around? Not me! Of COURSE mental health professionals should be dealing with mentally ill people instead of the police -- for starters. But just demanding that the police be abolished is not only totally unrealistic. It has only served to divide people further. It has proven to be very unskillful.
HAS THE VIOLENCE OF ANTIFA AT BLM PROTESTS BEEN SKILLFUL?
In my opinion, the refusal of the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement to disavow the looting and vandalism done in their name has been a huge mistake. Everyone is supposed to consider this violence an "understandable" response to police violence. We're supposed to concentrate on the evil police rather than the destruction the anti-racists inflict. Easy to say unless you're a small business owner whose store has been trashed by idealistic, freedom-loving, anti-racist looters -- or you're a customer who patronizes that store. And who's to say all those business owners and customers are white? Antifa isn't checking to make sure they're only impacting white businesses.
Looting and vandalism and destruction are extremely UNSKILLFUL ways to work for social change. I'm not even talking about whether these activities are right or wrong. Not only do they not work, they make progress LESS likely by deepening divisions in our country, and giving the Right valid talking points.
WHAT MORE SKILLFUL TACTICS COULD REPLACE THE VIOLENCE?
Everyone talks about honoring the life of John Lewis, but nobody's talking about using the tactics HE used SUCCESSFULLY to bring about social change. He and Martin Luther King used, and believed in, non-violent civil disobedience. They did not countenance violence as part of their protests. If someone became violent, others would surround that person so that they were unable to act on those impulses. Yes, the civil rights movement disrupted daily life and economic activity with their protests and sit-ins and marches. But they did not destroy property.
How DO we bring about change in the relationship between the police and the black community? It's a tough problem to solve because we're talking about changing the behavior of people who make their living by carrying around guns and sometimes using them to shoot people. Has smashing store windows and burning cars worked? Has threatening to abolish the police worked? No! In fact, both those tactics have strengthened the right wing.
We have to look deeply at whether the tactics we're using for social change are effective aka skillful. And if they are not only ineffective but fueling the Right, we have to consider what else we could possibly do to make our country a more equitable, just and peaceful society.
How about really honoring the late John Lewis by studying the tactics he used --
non-violent civil disobedience --
Bloggelinis, I have been afraid to be critical of BLM's tactics because I feared being seen as racist myself. I've been squelching my doubts about "Defund the Police" and the violence at the BLM protests for a long time. I guess I'm un-squelching now. Terry