There is an inspirational story that has been floating around the Internet for some time that I never really paid attention to until recently. It is the story of someone who overhears a father and daughter at the airport saying goodbye and wishing each other “enough”. Perplexed, the storyteller stops the father to ask him what they mean, by “enough” to which the father explains that he is old and that his daughter lives far away so the next visit his daughter makes will most likely be for his funeral. The old man continues to say:
“When we said ‘I wish you enough,’ we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with enough good things to sustain them,” he continued and then turning toward me he shared the following as if he were reciting it from memory.
“I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright. I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more. I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive. I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger. I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting. I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess. I wish enough “Hello’s” to get you through the final “Good-bye.”
This story has been sitting heavily in my mind and my heart over the last few days, as I reflect on the relationship I had with my Grandmother, the direction my life is moving and the strange interconnectedness of everything that has happened in the past week.
On the morning of Monday, March 18th, I woke up to a text message from my dad. It was the message I had been dreading and expecting for some time. As the sun rose that morning, my grandmother had passed away. It is strange that as much as you can expect something like this, you can never prepare yourself for the intense feelings of loss and disconnection from the universe at large.
My grandmother was a strong woman, someone who didn’t put up with anyone’s crap. She fought for her family, and at times served as a second parent to me when things grew too heated at home – and anyone who knew me as a teenager knows that those were not rare occasions. I can’t tell you how blessed I was to have shared some time on this planet with her and to learn the things I have in the too short time we shared together.
One of my mom’s favorite quotes is a John Muir quote that goes something like
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”
As I have grown up, I haven’t been able to help but marvel about how accurate this observation is. And as I look back on this story that has been running through my head over the past few days, it is the last line that I feel is pulling at me the most: “I wish enough “Hello’s” to get you through the final ‘Good-bye.’”
Because, as I have been struggling to deal with how to deal with this huge loss, I have also been working towards building a new future for myself and working on a great new “Hello”.
Last week, I formally accepted a position with a new national campaign called Caring Across Generations. This move, for me is huge. I have been involved in electoral campaigns on some level or another for the past decade; this shift away from electoral work is as unexpected for me as I am sure it is for many of my peers. But, as I was lying in bed recovering from two major surgeries, I had plenty of time to think about what direction my life was going in and reason through how difficult the past year has been for me building the motivation to work to elect people into a system where they can’t really accomplish anything meaningful – don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe in electing progressive champions, I just feel I am better served building the capacity of the elected officials constituency.
The decision to take the job with Caring Across Generations was not one that was easily made, I found myself in the odd position of having three job offers at the same time, each offer with an organization that I would love to have worked with or supported. In the end my decision to join the team at Caring Across boiled down to three points.
1.) The team that Caring Across has built is one that I know I can learn so much from,
2.) Caring Across is engaged in not just shifting a political discussion they – we, are working on bringing about a cultural shift in the way American’s think about aging and disability,
3.) For the last few months of her life, my grandmother was able to spend her time at home thanks in no small part to a home health aide who spent a few hours a day helping her do tasks around the house and move around the house.
This person who I have never met was able to be there with my grandmother in the twilight of her life and give her the comfort of spending her last days in the house she and her late husband built together. How can I, when presented with the ability to fight for the rights of thousands of people like this individual, turn that down?
The simple answer is I can’t, and I didn’t.
America is facing what the media has called the “silver wave”. Every 8 minutes someone turns 65, which means that by 2020 there will be 55 million people aged 65 and older in America. We are rapidly approaching a time when more American’s than ever before need professional care service and the fact is we don’t currently have the capacity to handle the growing population of care consumers, forcing compromises to the quality and dignity of care provided. So we need to start to have a conversation now about how to provide quality care and how to do it at a fair wage, with employment protections for our caregivers.
During his first campaign President Obama said something that forms part of the foundation of my political belief:
“One voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room, then it can change a city, and if it can change a city, it can change a state, and if it change a state, it can change a nation, and if it can change a nation, it can change the world. Your voice can change the world.”
This is what needs to happen; we need to start having conversations with our families, then our communities and eventually with the entire nation. This is one part of what I hope to work to accomplish with Caring Across Generations.
I am not going to lie, this shift terrifies me, but at the root of everything I’ve learned, everything I believe is that true community organizing, true movement building transcends electoral, issue based and cultural campaigns. I have a lot to learn, and I think, I hope there are some things that I bring to the table.
I thought long and hard about how to talk about my grandmothers passing here, how to best honor the life she has led, the path she showed me to move forward, and while I struggled with the idea of putting both of these major life events in a single post, I couldn’t find a way to separate these events, because it was my grandmothers experience that led me to want to do this specific work, and while losing her hurts in so many ways and I know that I will miss her for the rest of my life, I can think of no better way to honor her, to honor that person who could be there for her when I couldn’t to do the dignified work of helping her to live life the way she should, and to leave the world where she wanted.
I miss you Grammy. I miss you so much.
Onward and upward.