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Archive for the tag “Affordable Care Act”


Unknown“Love is not a victory march,” wrote Leonard Cohen. “It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.” And it plays in my head, this lyrical fragment, quite often. (The Jeff Buckley version, may he rest in peace.) I find it profound and beautiful and even hopeful, though my sense of what it means changes from day to day. When I hear it, or think of it, I picture two people who love each other, embracing. Perhaps crying. One has just forgiven the other, I imagine. Or one has just been marked for death, or a long departure. Something is broken. Some cosmic chord has gone cold. Nothing could be further from what they are feeling than victory. And yet they are more intensely aware of their love, in this instant, than they have ever been.

The name of the Buckley album that includes Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah is “Grace.” A difficult concept if there ever was one: spiritual grace, that is, as opposed to ballet or Mozart or Matisse. But though it may be difficult to describe, there are moments in life when grace is visible. Palpable.

And the last two weeks have been full of those moments.

“I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you,” sad Nadine Collier to the expressionless face on the video monitor, the face of the man accused of murdering her mother, Ethel Lance, and eight others at Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17th. jones_pict

“I forgive you.” Startling words. Powerful words. Over and over again, the family members of the nine who were killed that day said those words. And in doing so, they gave all of us the gift of witnessing grace. A broken, beautiful Hallelujah.

Fast forward a handful of days. The hallelujah train began to pick up some serious steam, as it headed right for the United States Supreme Court.

First came the Affordable Care Act: saved from its umpteenth and, God willing, final court challenge, on a six to three vote. Then the 1968 Fair Housing Act—47 years old, and still fighting off threats to the very basic notion that housing discrimination on the basis of race is indeed against the law—it, too, was saved, on a five to four vote.

And then on Friday, came Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s grace-filled, historic phrase: Equal Dignity. Kennedy’s explanation of the high court’s ruling that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage was long and often poetic. Quote, “As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death,” Kennedy wrote, and in conclusion, “They ask for equal dignity under the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

But there was still more grace to come that morning. After applauding the Supreme Court’s ruling, President Obama was off to South Carolina to attend the funeral of Reverend Clementa Pinckney. And when I turned on the radio and heard him end his eulogy by singing, a capella, in a voice as out-of-tune as my own, “Amazing Grace”—I laughed and cried.

Grace is like that. “How sweet the sound:” yes, even when love feels cold and broken by nine senseless deaths. Sometimes—as it was on Friday at the Supreme Court and in South Carolina—love is everything, all at once: it is a victory march, triumphing over hate, and it is cold and broken and grief-stricken, and yet it is still a resounding Hallelujah.

This just in: my OpEd in the Wall Street Journal on volunteering for research, published Monday, June 29.

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Night of the Shutdown

DSC00865On the night the Republicans shut down the government, I was teaching at Seattle Central Community College: “Intro to Memoir Writing,” a non-credit class offered through Central’s lively Continuing Education program. While my students and I tackled the mysterious mechanics of writing about our lives, other students and other teachers labored in classrooms all around us: French, across the hall; English as a Second Language, a few doors down; history and sociology around the corner. While Congress wasted the country’s time, we devoured time hungrily and with purpose: teaching, listening, learning from each other. While House Speaker John Boehner did his best to dismantle the democratic process, we were building—in our cases, stories, built one word at a time with sweat, tears, love and hard labor.

At some point earlier in their careers, surely Boehner and his colleagues must have wanted to build, rather than tear down. Maybe not: maybe the Republican party has always been dedicated to ending government as we know it. Government, as we were taught in classrooms long ago, in which bills are drafted, debated, rewritten, passed, signed and then become the law of the land. Law: not a target for blackmail and subversion, but law.

It cheers me to think of all the learning going on in community college classrooms, not only on Monday, September 30, but on any given evening. Because this is where Boehner and his cohort are going down. The people the Tea Party et al fear so much—people who think, people who want to learn rather than be spoon-fed half-truths and untruths about how democracy is supposed to work—I’m here to tell you there are more of them every day. And they’re not home watching Fox News after work, they’re going to night school.

What angers me is that some of those students might also be among the 800,000 federal employees who are out of a job, thanks to the selfish grandstanding of the zealots on Capitol Hill.

It helps a little to know they’ll be able to get health insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Law: the Affordable Care Law. Passed by the people’s representatives, signed by the democratically elected president, upheld by the highest court in the land.

I love how that works.

Just as I love teaching in a continuing education program at a community college: where people are excited about opening their brains up to new ideas, rather than pretending new ideas—or new laws—don’t exist.

Best Days, Worst Days

“If I die tonight it will be with every single thing unfinished (like, I suppose, any other night), and yet, what a gift to die on the verge of tears.” I didn’t write that. I wish I had, because I find it so beautiful. It is a quote from Pam Houston’s autobiographical novel, Contents May Have Shifted.  She goes on, in this one paragraph of speculation, to ask questions like “why my best days and my worst days are always the same days.”

I read this book three months ago and yet my mind keeps returning to this passage. Because there’s something about these notions—our best days are also, often, our worst days; we feel most alive when we are on the verge of tears—that feels important to me. Especially after a week in which there were so many bests and worsts. The Affordable Care Act—upheld! Writer and director Nora Ephron—for 30 years one of my role models—dead of a rare leukemia.

This verge-of-tears week started with a funeral for an old friend, Kathy. The opening hymn, which I’m sure Kathy selected, was “Joyful, Joyful We Adore You.” She wanted us to feel joy in the midst of our sadness; joy at the wonders of love and life, whether it ends with ovarian cancer at 55 or continues for many more decades. And I did feel it; I cried but I felt uplifted at the same time.

It didn’t last. The day was dark, wet and cold, even for June-vember, and we had a nail in our tire. Our plan was to drive to Chelan, get up the next morning, take the ferry up the lake and hike the 18-mile Lakeshore Trail. The forecast for usually-sunny Chelan was pretty mixed. Shivering in the rain outside the tire store, we were tempted, for a few minutes, to call the whole thing off.

But we didn’t. And once we drove over Snoqualmie Pass, sure enough, the sun started to break through.

We talked about Kathy a lot that night in Chelan and the next two days on the trail. Kathy came to our wedding. Big deal, you might think. Our wedding was in Scotland. There were seven guests. Not only did Kathy come, she and I went to Ireland together the week before, a trip she completely arranged. When we got there, she sensed immediately that I was in a useless, romantic, pre-wedding fog and took me in hand, by which I mean she took me shopping for a wedding dress in Dublin. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about what I would wear.

I met Kathy when we both worked in TV news. She was a gifted video editor who taught me, a writer and producer, how to do my job better. She took my messy scripts and tapes and turned them into little movies. Often, I exasperated her, as did many of the producers and reporters who plonked their stacks of tapes on her bench.

Often, life exasperated her. Challenged her. There were a lot of curve balls, and she batted them with grit and grace. Cancer was just the final one.

And yet we sang “Joyful, Joyful” as we bid Kathy goodbye, on a day when the Seattle sky refused to lighten but the sun flooded over us in Chelan. It was a best and a worst kind of day. I was on the verge of tears for, well, hours. I’ll never forget it.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

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