Archive for progressive living

The lasting impact of war

My favorite image of the Vietnam War Memorial. It reminds me of my friend, Jerry Donnellan, who served in Vietnam and was awarded three Purple Hearts.

My favorite image of the Vietnam War Memorial. It reminds me of my friend, Jerry Donnellan, who served in Vietnam and was awarded three Purple Hearts.

As a newspaper reporter, I interviewed hundreds, if not thousands of people. Some of the ones who stand out most in my mind were veterans and family members.

Two — one a veteran and one the sister of a man who served — were from World War I, and they were the same age as most survivors of World War II are today.

The woman lives in northwest New Jersey and was the sister of one of the last men to fall in World War I, which, by the way, was supposed to be The War to End All Wars.

The Armistice called for an end to fighting at 11 a.m. on 11/11; her brother was shot and killed less than five minutes before it took effect, and more than 60 years later, she still wept as she recalled reading the telegram. She had felt relief when she heard the news that the war was ending — relief that her brother finally would be safe. Then the telegram came, telling her that her brother had been one of the last to fall, as though that would offer comfort.

The other World War I veteran left the US for Europe filled with excitement at being able to defend freedom, ready to kill Germans. The reality was that Germans shot back, and he watched friend after friend fall in combat. The trenches were so muddy, filthy and disease-ridden that almost as many of his friends succumbed to disease as did to bullets. He, too, wept as he recalled what war had been like.

My generation’s war was Vietnam, and since so much of it was televised, my generation turned against war — at least for a time. My friends and family members came home changed. They arrived alone, not as heroes, but as broken men in too many cases. Many died years later from the effects of Agent Orange and other toxins used in war.

My friend, Jerry Donnellan, who lost a leg in Vietnam, came home and set about living his life, starting a stage production business called Peg Leg Productions. He actually owned a “peg” prosthesis. But one day a falling light caused an explosive noise and Jerry found himself ducked between the third- and fourth-row seats, crying “Incoming!”

He went on to help start the Vietnam Veterans of America chapter in his county and to become veterans’ services coordinator for Rockland County, NY. He tended a watchfire every Memorial Day beside the Hudson River.

The people who actually serve in wars sacrifice more than the time they spend in combat. Even when they come home without physical injury, they suffer emotional trauma.

They deserve our respect, but even more, they deserve the dignity of being able to access health care and mental health care. They deserve decent, safe housing.

Veterans don’t want to hear, “thank you for your service,” with no real effort behind it to actually show appreciation for their sacrifices.

I am anti-war. I believe there are peaceful solutions and that we must have the patience to pursue them. But I live in a society that fights wars, and while I hate that, I do not hate those who have gone to fight.

So today, I thank veterans for their service and I call on our leaders to make certain those people who survive their service get everything they need to come home and live decent lives. Please, no more cuts to benefits and no more talk about turning over veterans’ health care to a private, for-profit entity. Think about what’s best for those men and women you sent to fight, not what’s best to line the pockets of your corporate friends.

So, we’re at “war” again

Really? You're outraged over a coffee cup design? Perhaps you need to rethink the meaning of "Christmas."

Really? You’re outraged over a coffee cup design? Perhaps you need to rethink the meaning of “Christmas.”

Once again, “Christians” are claiming they’re being attacked, this time because Starbucks has introduced plain red cups for the holiday season.

Let me say a few words to “Christians” who are disturbed by this.

First of all, Starbucks is a business that serves people of all faiths,” not just yours.

Second, if you are so self-centered that you think your particular brand of Christianity is the only faith that ought to be recognized, you are about as far away from the teachings of your “Savior” as it gets.

Jesus taught humility. He taught love and acceptance. And he didn’t celebrate Christmas. He did celebrate his birthday, I imagine (I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t), but it was at the time of harvest — most likely in September, not December.

The celebration of Jesus’ birth was moved to December to recruit Pagans into the new religion, since this is when most major religions celebrate the winter solstice, or the return of the light. The Christmas tree is another Pagan tradition. You don’t think Jesus actually bought an evergreen tree and decorated it do you?

As for the Christmas avarice, that’s a relatively new invention. Originally, there was a feast to celebrate the birth of the Christ. Then people started giving foods — nuts and fruits, mostly. Then came small gifts — children left their shoes or stockings out to be filled.

Then came the greed. By the mid-20th century, people were going into debt to buy crap recipients didn’t need and often couldn’t even use.

Now comes the hubris of demanding everyone recognize your holiday, whether they observe it or not. Jews, Muslims, Pagans, Buddhists, atheists — it doesn’t matter. Not only are they expected to wish us a merry “Christmas,” we are allowed to wish them the same, no matter what they observe.

And “Christians” seem to see nothing wrong in this. They have become so self-absorbed that no one else matters — the exact opposite of what Christ (whom they claim to worship) taught.

So, yes, I will wage war against “Christmas,” as long as it is a celebration of greed and consumerism.

I will, however, celebrate Christmas. I will spend money only on materials for handmade gifts. Sorry, kids, no Target gift cards this year. Perhaps I will give you art and craft supplies and offer to teach you to knit or crochet. Perhaps, if you have asked me for recipes, I will print our a bunch of mine and put them in a binder so you can start your own cookbook.

When my younger son was alive, he celebrated Christmas by making a huge dinner and inviting people who had nowhere else to go. And he was never, ever offended by someone who wished him happy holidays, because like me, he believed that phrase included every holiday between Halloween and Martin Luther King Day.

This “war on Christmas” was designed to distract people from real issues like disastrous social, economic and ecological policies. You can’t fight for the climate, for education, for health care, labor rights, voting rights, etc., if you’re obsessed with fighting a supposed war on a holiday.

You claim to worship Christ, then perhaps you should look to the red print in the New Testament for guidance on how to treat people and for the real reasons to be outraged, because you should be really furious about the things going on around you.

I am outraged by the war on the poor, and even more on the impoverishment of millions of people whose jobs were shipped overseas and then replaced by low-paying jobs that don’t provide enough to make ends meet, even though people are working harder.

I hate everything “Christmas” has come to stand for in our culture. I hate the must-have attitude. I detest the car commercials that suggest someone deserves a $25,000 gift for Christmas. I hate the way children start making lists in September because they’re taught greed is good.

I hereby declare a war on “Christmas,” so that I can celebrate Christmas.

I will not set foot in a mall between now and New Year’s. I will go to the yarn store and the art supply store. I will buy handmade from local people or make it myself.

I will not go further into debt.

I will drop off some handmade scarves and hats at Beloved House here in Asheville to help keep people warm instead of vilifying poor people and blaming them for their circumstances. After all, I don’t recall Jesus asking people if they made bad choices as teenagers before he helped them.

I will send cards to Christians wishing them a merry Christmas, but for those I know to celebrate other holidays, I will send cards wishing them happy holidays. I will not take offence at cards that wish me happy holidays.

I will attempt to be kind and generous in the spirit of the one whom I celebrate.

So, to all my Christian friends, I wish you a merry Christmas; to those of other faiths, I wish you the happiest of holidays.


Old habits die hard


When my son died seven years ago from lack of access to health care, I set about telling people that his life mattered. It mattered to me and to my family. It mattered to his friends and to the people whose lives he saved through his work in addiction recovery.

His life mattered. I used that phrase a lot when I spoke in public about his life and death, and I couldn’t think of a phrase that said it better or more succinctly.

So, a couple years ago, when the phrase “Black lives matter,” began popping up, I really, really understood the meaning.

But as much as I got it, I began to realize I would have to give up that phrasing when it came to my son and others who die from lack of care. Yes, their lives matter, and it wasn’t without a tinge of resentment that I realized the phrase now belongs to a civil rights movement that doesn’t necessarily include my son.

Breaking the habit of using it in reference to health care is a hard thing to do. That’s because my son’s life did matter; I just have to find another way to say that because I have great respect for the Black Lives Matter movement, and I fully understand the need to specify that black lives matter.

My son died from lack of access to health care. That happens to people in poverty, and more people of color are trapped in poverty than are white people. More people of color are denied care. More people of color die, and each of those lives matters to me.

What’s worse is that more black people die at the hands of law enforcement; more unarmed black people, in fact. It happens far more often that a person who might have committed a minor offense if slain by police if that person is black.

I understand this. I have internalized this. I have sat at a table with three African-American women and learned that all of them have lost sons to gunfire. I, on the other hand, got to say goodbye to my son. At least I have that.

So, I know I shouldn’t use the “… lives matter” phrasing, but the habit creeps in and it’s done before I realize I have done it.

Recently I used it on a Facebook event page and faced a shitstorm of criticism. I was on the road, traveling to my stepbrother’s funeral and didn’t have a chance to change it immediately, which only made people angrier.

I apologize. Really. I will try not to use that phrasing again. But if I do, please do as one of my friends did and private message me gently. I’m trying to break the habit. It can be difficult for me to remember that I need to find another way to phrase what my son;s life meat, but I am willing to do that.

I know all lives matter, but we must specify until people really understand that black lives matter every bit as much as mine or my son’s.

I understand. I get it. I will break the habit. Just, please, don’t call me names — especially racist.

No more prayers, no more promises. Act now on guns

I took this off of Facebook this morning because it is so powerful.

I took this off of Facebook this morning because it is so powerful.

Ten more people.

Ten human beings.

Ten more corpses.

Ten more bereaved families.

When does it end?

When do we as Americans rise up and tell our legislators that we have had enough?

Something was supposed to happen after Sandy Hook, but nothing did. And the members of Congress who did nothing weren’t fired in 2014. We let them get away with it.

Instead, we blame mental illness.

Well, we’re not doing anything about mental illnesses, either.

Here in North Carolina, our legislature just cut another $310 million out of the mental health budget over the next two years.

So, people who need treatment are getting nothing. But they can get guns.

And not just guns that are good for hunting, either; they’re getting assault weapons, weapons that can kill a dozen people in a few seconds.

The meaning of the Second Amendment has been twisted beyond recognition, thanks to the NRA and gun manufacturers and their purchase of our members of Congress, and we have allowed it to happen.

I say that because I’ll bet not 5 percent of constituents have written to their members of Congress to demand something be done. I say this because these accessories to murder keep being returned to office.

If you’re fed up with hearing the lists of the dead, if you’re fed up with footage of funerals and memorials, if you’re fed up with having to teach your children how to try to stay alive during a shooting, stop voting for people with blood on their hands.

Stop voting for candidates who try to place the stigma on people with mental illnesses when the stigma belongs on them — the people who refuse to outlaw assault weapons, the people who refuse to require universal background checks.

The day of the shooting, I was in a store talking to a woman behind the counter, who believed nothing can be done.

“Regulating guns worked in Australia,” I said.

“That’s not the United States,” she replied. “It can’t work here.”

“So, you’re saying we should do nothing?” I asked.

“No, I think we all should arm ourselves.”

I politely disagreed with her and left the store.

I don’t want to live without hope that we can manage to do anything.

Something needs to be done and we have to stop being distracted by talk of mental illness, because that’s not the cause of mass murders.

The cause of shooting sprees is guns. It is the nearly unfettered access to guns, all kinds of guns — handguns, shotguns, semi-automatic guns — by anyone who wants them. It is the expansion of open-carry rights to the point that we can’t even feel safe in restaurants, stores and parks in our own communities.

Legislators are in the pockets of gun lobbyists, and they’re making our country more dangerous every year.

Now we have mass shootings almost every week, and the response is always the same: The victims and their families are in our thoughts and prayers.

Well, here’s what’s in my thoughts and prayers: We must get rid of the murdering thugs who have done this to our country. We must all wake up and let our legislators know we’re done allowing this perversion of the Constitution and that we will vote against them, no matter what their stands are on anything else.

We want an assault weapon ban now. We want universal background checks now.

No more posturing, no more pandering to the gun lobby.

We are done. If this crop of legislators won’t do anything about it, we will send men and women who will to Washington and to our state capitols.

No more shootings. No more bodies. Do something or go home.

Standing against zealotry

Rowan County, Ken., clerk Kim Davis. Photo by Huffington Post.

Rowan County, Ken., clerk Kim Davis. Photo by Huffington Post.

I apparently started a shit storm on Facebook today when I replied to the news that the Vatican confirmed that the Pope had met with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who is using her religion to deny people the right to marry.

I said, “Well, there goes my admiration for the pope,” which I will admit is a bit of an over-reaction. I still love this man’s words about caring for the planet and for the poor. I admire his humility. But I stand against any support for this woman.

Kim Davis has been married four times — so much for one-man, one-woman. Her twins were fathered by a man not her husband — so much for faithfulness to one’s spouse.

She has no right to stand in judgment over anyone. And yes, I am standing in judgment over her actions. I’ll admit that.

Kim Davis is trying to deny people their rights based on her view of God, which is unconstitutional. Our Constitution gives each of us the right to our religious beliefs but denies us the power to impose them on others.

I was called narrow-minded because I said people have a right to be married. It’s the poor fundamentalist zealots who are being persecuted, I’m told. All they want is for all of us to have to follow their narrow, bigoted beliefs. Gays are bad. Women are inferior because we are descended from Eve and therefore guilty of Original Sin. Addicts deserve to die. Mental illnesses can be prayed away because they are, after all, only demons.

I was raised being taught this crap, and I rejected it because those who believe this all too often ignore the needs of the poor. Because God will bless you if you’re a good person, so the poor deserve to suffer.

I also was chastised for calling someone out on his “pro-life” stand on another post, when he said Planned Parenthood needs to be closed. You’re not pro-life if you would deny women access to the health care provided by Planned Parenthood. You are not pro-life if you think women who want an abortion deserve to die. You are not pro-life if you would shred the social safety net.

If you want to call yourself Christian, read the red print. It says nothing about gay marriage or abortion. Take seriously the admonition to care for “the least of these.” And keep your thoughts on other people’s sexuality to yourself; it’s none of your damn business who I love or marry.

At least the pope gets some of it right. He has admonished us to care for the planet and for each other. He has denounced greed.

Still, I’m disappointed he apparently met with and supported Kim Davis, a woman who simply is refusing to do her job — which is to record (not approve of) births, deaths, property transfers and marriages.She needs to quit, be fired or land in jail for contempt of court. She is a hate-spewing zealot, not a hero.

More insanity from the anti-life league in Raleigh

A North Carolina EBT, of "food stamp" card.

A North Carolina EBT, or “food stamp,” card.

The powers that be in Raleigh have, in the last few years, decided that health care, unemployment compensation, voting rights and education are not necessary for life.

Now they have added food to the list.

As though the passage of a budget that pretty much starves the mental health system out of existence weren’t bad enough, a bill before the General Assembly now would take away food stamps from more than 105,000 adults in the state.

Under federal law, states can suspend work-related time limits on federal food aid in areas with persistently high levels of unemployment. In July, the state applied for this waiver for 77 of its 100 counties because of a severe lack of jobs available in those counties.

The bill before the senate now would ban the state from pursuing this option permanently, no mater how poorly local economies are faring or whether employment and training opportunities actually exist in those counties.

This is one more anti-life measure in the criminalization of poverty by the very people whose policies make it nearly impossible for people to climb out of poverty.

My friend, Sen. Terry Van Dyun (D., Buncombe County), told me recently that her colleague, Sen. Ralph Hise (R., Mitchell County), called people in need of health care lazy.

“He told me they should get off their butts and get a job that offers health care or make enough money to qualify for insurance through the marketplace,” she said.

People who work at minimum-wage jobs can’t afford to pay their bills and buy food. It’s as simple as that. It takes more than double minimum wage to sustain even the most frugal lifestyle — no eating out, no cable TV, no movies or night clubbing, just the most basic apartment, an old car (if you can afford one at all) and the most basic phone service.

North Carolina is a mostly rural state with a few higher-density population areas. It is the seventh hungriest state in the nation. In rural counties, people can’t find high-paying jobs. They might work at a Dollar Store or a Burger King, but they won’t make a living wage in these places and they won’t get a 40-hour work week.

In a city like Asheville, service industry jobs are plentiful, but they don’t pay well, and housing costs are high. That means many people don’t earn enough to make ends meet.

I would ask you to call your state senator if you live in North Carolina, but they have shown no evidence that they care about us or what we think. They feel safe in their gerrymandered districts and they are arrogant enough to believe they can do as they please in all matters.

It looks as though the only way to stop these consistently anti-life policies is to put up candidates in 2016 and fight to unseat all of those who don’t care about us or our well-being.

If you aren’t registered to vote, if you don’t vote because you don’t think it will make a difference, you are part of the problem here. If you care about human life, get off your ass and vote in the primaries and in the general election.


Where is my compassion?

The siblings and their children in 1977. Bill is on the lower right corner.

The siblings and their children in 1977. Bill is on the lower right corner.

The two young men who owned Waking Life Espresso in West Asheville are sorry for their behavior. It appears they really are undergoing some serious self-examination.

In my mind it’s too little, too late.

I do feel badly about what they’re going through. It isn’t easy thinking everything is OK and you’re a real player and all, and then having all of it come crashing down around your ears. I know that must be almost as hard on them as the women who were their victims.

I get it.

But I’m not ready to give them my energy.

Right now, I’m giving that energy to my brother, who is in prison in California for molesting his daughter.

I wanted to walk away from my brother, and I stayed out of touch for several years. But early this summer I got a letter from him. He is alone. Really alone. No one is interviewing him and asking what his future holds. We know what it holds — another 30 years behind bars in a for-profit prison, where he has no money and not enough to eat.

California is charging him $10,000 in restitution, and if I send him money for extra food, the state takes most of it. The rest goes into the pockets of the profiteers who run the prison where he is incarcerated.

The health care in his prison is horrible — one of his fellow inmates died from an asthma attack a couple of weeks ago because he wasn’t getting the care he needed.

As a survivor of abuse, it was hard for me to read his letter and understand his desperation. It took him 10 years to admit what he had done. After he had stopped abusing his daughter because he found God, he figured it was OK if he denied what he had done to humans, as long as he confessed to God.

He has learned that’s not the case, and he has confessed and is trying to work through his guilt and shame. He, too, is a survivor of child sexual abuse. He knows it’s not likely his daughter will be able to forgive him, although he prays it will happen someday. He also prays for reconciliation with his wife.

So now, with me being the only person who will stay in touch with him, I have to try and help him see there is hope for tomorrow. I have to be his support, no matter how much emotional energy it takes. I have to remember that he is human and no one deserves to be utterly alone.

So, when people suggest I need to forgive the two men from Waking Life, who have lost their business but not their freedom, I have to say I will leave that to others.

I chose not to listen to the interview that came out today. I don’t think that means I am unkind or unforgiving; I think it means I have enough emotional work on my plate right now that I am caring for my brother’s needs.

What a devastating day

This is my son, Mike, who paid taxes right up to the time he got sick. After his Stage 3 colon cancer was diagnosed, he became one of the people Mitt Romney doesn't care about.

This is my son, Mike, who was so impoverished by the time he died that he left behind very few belongings. One of those was stolen last night.

I have very few things that belonged to my late son, mostly because our broken system impoverished him to the point that he had very few belongings.

This morning, I found that one of them, his iPod, had been stolen from my car. I bought it for him a few weeks before he died because he had always wanted one and we didn’t know whether he would survive to see his first disability check.

As it turned out, he didn’t. He was dead nine days before that first check arrived, but at least he’d had the chance to enjoy that iPod for a few weeks.

All day, I have felt his loss anew, a stabbing grief that won’t go away. His photos were stored on that device and it was in a compartment in my car, together with a charging cord.

The thief also got away with a projector that belonged to my nonprofit, WNC Health Advocates, a Bluetooth speaker and some other odds and ends, altogether about $1,000 worth of stuff.

When I reported it at the Sheriff’s Department, the deputy behind the glass acted as though I had invited the thief in and handed him my belongings because the driver’s side door was unlocked.

“What are you doing with a thousand dollars worth of stuff in your car, anyway?” he asked, scowling at me.

Not only did I feel violated by the theft, I was blamed. I was the person at fault.

I was left wondering if I would have been so shamed and blamed if I had been a man.

I was so upset, I came home and called Sheriff Van Duncan, who apologized profusely for the way I had been treated.

Meanwhile, I have struggled to hold back tears all day. This is more than a loss of a thing — that thing was connected to my beloved son, and it’s one less connection I have as the days since I last was able to touch him and hear his voice add up.

I left a profane post on Facebook after I discovered the loss, but I know I won’t see that iPod, or the photos he had stored on it, again. The f-bomb helped for a fraction of a second, but it would help more if I could find the person responsible and explain what that small thing meant to me. My first impulse would be to smack him (or her) upside the head, but I wouldn’t actually do that because physical violence never solves anything.

But I would like that person to understand they pain their actions have caused.

It’s bad enough I have to face the rest of my life without my son, but can’t I at least have this one small connection to him?




Forgive the creeps at Waking Life? Not yet.

Waking Life in West Asheville. Photo from Asheville Blog.

Waking Life in West Asheville. Photo from Asheville Blog.

We had a bit of a storm break out in West Asheville over the weekend when a local blogger, Emily Trimnal of Asheville Blog, broke the news that the owners of Waking Life Coffee were the authors of a disgusting, misogynistic blog about their sexual conquests.

Shop owners Jared Rutledge and Jacob Owens wrote posts about the women they had “conquered,” often making fun of the women’s trust in them.

As soon as they were outed, they were sorry as hell. They posted some navel-gazing drivel about their motives and how really uncomfortable they had been the whole time.

In the aftermath, many, including myself, have decided we would rather die of thirst than give their business a penny.

Others have posted that Jacob and Jared don’t deserve to have their business shut down. Let’s be forgiving because, after all, how are they worse than others who use and abuse women sexually?

They aren’t worse, perhaps, but they are as bad, and just because we don’t know about some abusers doesn’t mean those we do know about should get away with it.

As a survivor of abuse, I believe these men deserve whatever karma dishes out to them. And I think having your sex life exposed by men who see you as nothing more than a place to park their penises for an evening is abuse

Let’s talk about what their victims are going through as they read about the fact that they were nothing more than a conquest. Imagine you trusted someone, perhaps even believed he liked you as a human being. You even thought this relationship might have the potential to be something special. They you discover what you really were — a notch in some dick’s dick.

And of course, we as a society usually blame the women for allowing these miscreants access to their bodies. She wore something alluring. She went to a bar. She invited him into her home.

This does not give anyone permission to disrespect, belittle or otherwise abuse you any more than a lame I-knew-I-was-doing-something-wrong gets you off the hook.

As my friend, Jodi Rhoden, pointed out on Facebook this morning, the only reason we believe this story is that the men themselves confessed. If the women had come out and said this had been done to them, would we have been so quick to condemn the men?

Our word is valued less than that of men. When we accuse, we are scolded for dragging men’s reputations through the mud because, after all, it takes two to tango.

Let’s say Jared and Jacob really are sorry, and not just because they got caught but because they had an epiphany. That’s all fine except the damage is still done. Women are still humiliated, their reputations in shambles. The hurt is there for good. The scars last a lifetime.

It’s not up to me to forgive these two men; it’s up to the women they humiliated. And even if they are forgiven, the scars of their deeds remain. You forgive so you can move on in your own life, so that you, not so much your abuser, can have peace.

You can’t undo this kind of damage. When you see human beings as objects and use them as such, you have caused permanent harm.

The owners say they will close up shop for a few days, and when they reopen they will donate profits to Our Voice, a nonprofit that works to fight violence against women.

I have a better idea. Let’s stay away from Waking Life and donate to Our Voice. That way, an agency that does great work gets our support and two misogynists don’t.

These two have betrayed the women they abused and they have betrayed their entire community. They deserve whatever consequences they get.


Middle Passage and the Journey for Justice

Middle Passage and "Granny" Ruth Zalph walking along Highway 401 in North Carolina last week.

Middle Passage and “Granny” Ruth Zalph walking along Highway 401 in North Carolina last week.

I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Middle Passage on my nine-day walk through North Carolina, just a few minutes at a time during mealtime and short breaks.

Still, it was easy to get the honor of the man. He started the Journey for Justice in Selma and walked through Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, carrying the American flag at the head of the line.

My friend, Ruth Zalph, 85, walked alongside him for most of the nine days the walk was in North Carolina at a steady 3-mile-per-hour pace. We called him MP.

I know a little about him: He was 68 and he was a man of peace. He hugged cops when he met them so they would have a loving experience with a black man and be less likely to shoot when they encountered another.

MP was a veteran of the wars in Korea and Vietnam. But instead of bitterness, MP came home with a heart filled with kindness. At the end of the day along the walk, he helped set up cots for other marchers.

Along the walk, we would hear his warnings of uneven pavement or a raised manhole, and at mealtime, we heard his laugh.

Love begets love. I thought of that when I noticed our journey was holding up traffic wherever we went, so I began waving and smiling at people we passed, and if their car windows were open, I thanked them for having patience with us. The response was overwhelmingly positive. People, who had looked peeved and impatient, smiled and waved back, often saying, “No problem!”

Middle Passage came from Colorado to join the march and he walked just about every step of it. He smiled most of the time.

Yesterday, three days from the Journey’s end, he collapsed along the road in Virginia and died.

People are calling him Moses — the Biblical prophet who led his people, but who died before they reached the Promised Land. I prefer he have his own identity: Middle Passage, the descendant of slaves, who led a loving life and led his friends along a nonviolent path to the seat of power to ask for justice.

His death comes as a shock because he seemed so healthy, greeting everyone with a hug or a chest bump. I learned of it late last night. I saw his photo on my Facebook feed with a quote: “We’ve all got to work together to preserve what we have. It’s a struggle. Freedom is not free.”

He died living his passion. I guess there’s something to be said for that. But he will be missed. The march continues into Washington, accompanied by his great and loving spirit. The struggle for justice goes on, and for many of us, his spirit will be a driving force.

A year ago, I heard civil rights great, Rev. Otis Moss Jr., and his son, Rev. Otis Moss III, preach a sermon about stairs and landings. The younger Moss recalled a long stairway leading to a cathedral in Europe. At one landing, an elderly man decided to sit and rest and await his family’s return. It was a metaphor for life, of course, as he turned to his father and said, “You can rest now, Dad. You’ve worked long and hard and you deserve it. I’ve got this.”

I could see my son, Michael, on that landing, waving me on to continue my work for health care justice. It shouldn’t be that way, the son waving the parent on, but it gave me courage to continue the work at a time I was feeling weary.

Now, Middle Passage is on that landing, enjoying a well deserved rest.

Rest in peace, Middle Passage, we’ve got this now.



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