Tag Archives: Emeli Sandé

Death Is Not All That It’s Cracked Up To Be

2 Feb

Judging from the title of the article, one might guess I am going to reflect and write about what feels like the death of a nation — the death of the United States. It certainly feels as though we are witnessing the demise of a nation– I thought we were so much better than this — I thought we were a nation that was working to eradicate racism, homophobia, misogyny, and hate. While there maybe some overlap, I am actually writing, reflecting, and processing my own death.

I need to record this because I am still processing all of what happened and I am afraid the current political climate of the United States has hurt, delayed, and undermined my ability to recover. At the same time, I have never experienced such unconditional love and caring: a love that has carried me through all of this, a love that makes me cry even while writing this. I have learned and witnessed how human beings step up or sadly step back during a health crisis. Fortunately for me, the number of people who have stepped up with such enormous love is too many for me to list. The people in my family of origin who have stepped back and have been completely absent has hurt me in such a profound way, I hardly have words to share or express the hurt, so I shall focus on the love I am able to bask in instead.

Yes, I have been quite busy in the past four months. I was diagnosed with cancer in September and then had cancer surgery in November. By December, I was recovering from cancer and finally reached a space of reflection of “I’m grateful the surgery went well. I don’t want to do the chemo. I hope the cancer does not come back.” Quite unfortunately, on Wednesday, December 20 at around 5:30 in the morning, I had the first of two massive heart attacks. The night before I had enormous pain through out my right leg but thought nothing of it. Now I suspect, it was the blood clots that moved from my leg into my lungs and caused the heart attacks.

My husband Robert found me on the bathroom floor. According to the paramedics and an amazing and wonderful team of doctors at OHSU in Portland, this was the first time I was dead. I know was resuscitated at some point because I heard a man’s voice ask my husband: “Was he like that or did you throw a bucket of water on him?” I honestly remember thinking what a stupid question. Yes, as is typical protocol, my husband threw a bucket of water on me when he thought, “Hmm, Michael seems to have had a heart attack. I shall throw a bucket of water on him and see if that does the trick.”  The next thing I heard was a man’s voice saying: “Okay, he has turned blue.” Honestly, I really did think to myself, “Well, that can’t be good.”

At this point, I truly thought this is it and I’m going to die. All I could think of was that I needed for my husband Robert to know and to hear how much I loved him. I needed for my last words to be, “I love you very much, Robert.” Thankfully, he heard me. I remember maybe all of 10 seconds in the ambulance and apparently my heart stopped again. In the short ride to OHSU hospital on Pill Hill, apparently they were able to resuscitate me again. Rather sadly, as I was told by the doctors and nurses, my heart stopped yet again before reaching the hospital. The rest is what was reported to me by the amazing medical team at OHSU.

Apparently, I was dead for 30 minutes. The team and the social worker told my husband Robert that I continued to have no heartbeat and continued to be unresponsive. They intubated me at some point. They were going to try a machine that basically does CPR, which they did for 30 minutes. During this whole process, unfortunately, six of my ribs were broken and my sternum was broken. Yes, I will just say an emphatic OUCH! As a side note: we just received the bill for just the emergency room and the bill is for $72,000 — yes, almost as much as my first home cost in Atlanta. Now reader, I ask you this: Does it not seem like I need to ask for a rebate for the 30 minutes I was dead? Why should I pay for services if I was dead? Or, can they at least pro-rate the amount owed?

Being Dead: I must admit that I have always been one of those people that was quite skeptical when hearing stories from various people or reading stories about people’s experiences when they were dead and before coming back to life. Now I have my own narrative about dying and coming back to life. I know it to be true and I can only ask that you make of it what you will.  I do know that I was dead. I was processing it while it happened. My exact thoughts, if one wants to call them thoughts, were: “Well, that did not work out.” I know I left my body and I remember knowing, well I am dead. I also remember I did not seem to have a name, nor did I have a body. Strangely, I felt very safe with no anxiety, no fear, and no worry. I was quite at peace. Yes, I did see the proverbial “white light.” I would not have described it as a Heavenly light, but it was quite intense and it was all I could see. The light did seem to have a center and I remember walking towards the center of the light despite the fact that I did not have a body. Once I reached the center of the light, I knew intuitively that I had two options. I could go to the right or go to the left. At this point, I could sense Robert to the left. I did not hear him saying anything, nor could I see him but I knew his name and the sensation was so strong, I knew I needed to go to the left towards Robert. The next thing I remember was that I was in the ICU.

One of the gifts I received from coming back to life was the ability to witness human beings doing their jobs in ways that for me seemed magical, and I reflected and shared with all of the people who were amazing how magical they are. For example, the first nurse I remember in the ICU was named Anna. She was so lovely and sensitive with me. Anna and everyone I encountered in the hospital remarked how lucky I was and how absolutely amazing it was that I was actually alive. At some point, Anna was on the phone and I heard her say: “No, no, he is here. I am here with him right now. I am talking to him.” Anna shared with me that the paramedics who came to my home to try and save me had called the hospital to offer that they did the best they could do and they were sorry. When she told me this, I remember saying please thank them for me! Later, Anna shared with me they thought I was dead, as I was dead when they dropped me off at the hospital.

Another person who made such a huge difference was Dr. Kathy Wonderly — how appropriately named, as she is a true wonder. Dr. Wonderly came in and asked if she could sit on my bed with me and rubbed my legs and echoed (this seems to have been the chorus in a Greek play, as everyone human being I encountered in the hospital kept saying) how lucky I was to be alive. She then touched my hand and asked if there was anything she could do to to be helpful. I cracked a political joke and she laughed and said she would do her best. I have to underscore the power of touch here. Dr. Wonderly’s empathic ability to touch my legs and touch my hand had a profound impact on me. I am certain it helped me heal and made me feel safe.

My friends Janet and Sara were also with me every day in the hospital and would hold my hand (honestly, I think Janet was also searching me for spare change, for I have seen her search through my cupboards and steal my good china) which also helped me heal. I also have to share that my colon surgeon Dr. Herzig is nothing less than a gift to the world. He made a special visit to say hi to me and offer his well wishes and his sadness about the heart attacks. As an aside, I typically do not like surgeons. However, Dr. Herzig made me fall in love shortly after my cancer surgery. He came to check on me the day after he performed the surgery and asked if I was okay and if I needed anything. I replied that I was actually quite upset with him and said: “Dr. Herzig, I am really quite upset with you. I came in for a face lift, eye lift, and neck lift, and it is clear that you focused all of your energy on my stomach.” To which he immediately replied: “No, that’s right. We are just working our way up.” How many surgeons do you know that are that witty? I was so exceedingly lucky to experience so many people who just do their jobs everyday but they are quite remarkable and so exceedingly compassionate, at least that was my experience.

Love Fest: When I was finally discharged and was allowed to return home, it was clear that I was not allowed to be alone and would need a great deal of care. Robert had already taken so much time off for my cancer stay and heart attacks stay at the hospital, he could not take any more time off. Family of origin not only did not bother to call me, there was no way they were going to offer to come and help Robert and me. Sadly, my birth dad, whom I shall refer to as the sperm donor, for that is as generous as I can be toward him, was completely absent when he found out I had cancer. His absence continued when my baby brother let him know about the two heart attacks. Strangely, his girlfriend, who is quite lovely, called almost every day to check on me and on Robert. She also made apologies for the sperm donor’s horrific behavior. (The sperm donor had his feelings hurt two years ago when I called to wish him a happy thanks giving and my in-laws called in while I was on the phone. I explained that I had to take the call so that I could talk to my in-laws. The sperm donor went into a rage and said how dare I take their call, for they are not my blood and he is my blood. One should note that the sperm donor had no contact with me for decades. He was a very physically abusive man to me and to my mom when I was a little boy.) I explained to his girlfriend that if he could not set aside his narcissistic injury when his son was dealing with cancer and two heart attacks, I have no use for his abusive self. She just kept apologizing. I honestly feel quite bad for her, as it must be awful to see the true character or lack of character of your partner in life.

Enough bad energy, I have been able to also witness how people step up during a crisis and show up no matter what and are available with love, patience, food, books, and just sitting with me. All my friends in Portland have been amazing gifts and I am forever in their debt. All my friends that flew in from all over the country to help take care of me, I am forever in their debt. I am able to truly live and walk in gratitude.  I am also in awe of my husband Robert. I have a life partner who not only saved my life twice, but has been so supportive all while trying to deal with his own trauma around the past four months.

Healing: While trying to heal and with extraordinary physical limitations, I knew I had to stop listening and watching the news. Trump and the GOP represent all that is the worst of humanity and the daily assaults from these sociopaths was too much. The racism, the misogyny, the homophobia it was too much for me, to the point I wondered if perhaps I should not have come back to life. One particular assault by Trump and supported by the GOP was the Religious Freedom Act: that health care workers could deny LGBT/queer people like me services based on their religious beliefs. I am so grateful I live in Oregon and that this act has not passed yet. Thus I had to do something else and try as best I could to stop exposing myself to Fascist America.

Because reading has been hard while on pain meds, what I found extraordinarily healing was I watched Netflix’ seasons one and two of The Crown at least 30 times. I love Claire Foy. I also watched Netflix’ Latinx reboot of One Day at a Time season one at least 30 times. I am in love with Justina Machado and Isabella Gomez.  I have to say that I am now watching season two of the Latinx One Day at a Time and it gives me hope! Season two, for me, is what the United States can really be. We can be a country that works to tap into shared humanity, a country that works to encourage and support all people, that we can be a country that can lead the movement for social justice — to expand civil liberties. We can resist hate; we can resist fascism.

Finally, I will conclude with a simple thank you to all of the human beings who have touched my life for the better. When I die, and I will, I want there to be people who will reflect and say I touched their lives for the better — that I helped to make the world a better place for all human beings. I now challenge all of us to work to be our best selves, to be engaged in making the world a better place and to not engage in hate, or talk of building walls, or justifying “there were some good Nazis.” We can do so much better than this. Let us work in community to make some huge changes in 2018. I implore you to vote during the midterm elections in November of 2018! I also need to share how grateful I am to my husband Robert! This song from Emile Sandé is for Robert.

With great love and affection,

Michael

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Walking in Gratitude: Thanksgiving 2017

23 Nov

While I am trying to walk in gratitude and be thankful right now, I must confess that it is a struggle. I am exceedingly grateful that I had successful cancer surgery and for all of the many people in my life who have been so loving and so supportive of me! And, I am struggling that now they want me to do six months of chemo. My struggle regarding chemo pales in comparison with how I am struggling to survive living in the United States with a bizarre monster for a president, and today I am committed to being in a place of love and gratitude.

Trump’s support of Roy Moore is nothing less than monstrous. Alas, for today, I offer an invitation to all people: invite some joy and some gratitude. For those of us who are truly fatigued by the Trump administration  and his putting party before country, can we know that we are not going to change the hearts or minds of his base supporters. What we can do is show up in bigger numbers to the polls.

But for today, can we tap into shared humanity and be grateful? I am going to try and hold the messiness and the tension of the horrific ways in which we have treated and still treat native peoples, while also walking in extraordinary gratitude for the amazing and lovely people in my life — people who provide light and love and sustenance for my soul, for my heart is full.

I will hold the tension of our history and invite joy at the same time. I am reflecting on how we collectively, as Americans, conveniently choose to forget the genocide of the native peoples living in North America – the use of bio-warfare?  Yes, multi-generations of white folk have benefitted from the slaughtering of indigenous populations in North America and stealing land. It is ironic that the early survival of the Plymouth colony depended so heavily on the agricultural and fishing advice of the Wampanoag. To all the GOP governors who say “no” to Syrian refugees, I remind you that you wouldn’t have states to defend in bellicose, racist, and — yes — unconstitutional rants if a certain set of religious refugees had been treated similarly 500 years ago.

The whole idea of a “first Thanksgiving” is historically murky at best, with both religious and civil harvest festivals easily traceable to the Spanish in St. Augustine and British colonies in Jamestown and Plymouth. The native populations also had histories of harvest festivals, thus rendering a colonizer’s claim of “first” another in a series of misappropriations. Regular Thanksgiving celebrations as fixed civil events became common much later, dating to the 1660s.

As with so much of early colonial American history, most of what we “remember” is filtered through centuries of creative reconstruction: bucolic paintings, myths of noble savages and honest oppressed British outcasts, grade school songs and pageants. It is understandable that we prefer not to dwell on our collective responsibility for the decimation of whole populations, but it is an important part of our nation’s history. The colonizers’ relationship with the native populations was complex (and occassionally grateful) but seldom benefitted the natives and almost certainly did not involve everybody sharing a lovely meal around a table in peace.

Let us not forget this was no mere land grab but a decimation of Holocaust proportions. Our mistreatment of the indigenous peoples in North America went on well into the 20th Century with the Termination Act, Allotment, and the creation of Boarding Schools where white people thought their job was to “kill the Indian to save the man.”

The root idea of Thanksgiving — shared by the Europeans and the indigenous peoples — as a celebration is a good one. Be thankful for what you have; celebrate the cherished loved ones in your life; take time to remember what is good and bountiful with no expectations of gain other than shared love and thanks. Let us move forward as a nation, correctly learning, remembering, and growing from our history. Let us work hard to return to this spirit of Thanksgiving. It need not be buried in any trivia: upcoming shopping orgies (conspicuous consumption), 437 sporting events, overindulgence for its own sake, or cute “historical” imagery that overlooks a complex history.

We all have people and events in our lives worthy of celebration; that is what we should use today to be truly thankful for. I hope everyone reading this blog will be able to spend time with cherished loved ones, be it families of origin or families and communities we create. I leave you with this a song by Emeli Sandé, Highs and Lows, for I am so grateful for all the people in my life that love and support me through the good and the difficult times.

Black History Month 2016: Nina Simone

21 Feb

nina-simone2Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to one of my personal heroes, Nina Simone. Simone would have been 83 years old today.  I remember crying my eyes out on April 21, 2003 when I heard that Nina Simone died. I fell in love with her smoky jazz voice so many years ago.  Emeli Sandé credits Simone as one of her major influences

Eunice Kathleen Waymon was born in Tryon, NC, and aspired to be a classical pianist. Despite her prodigious talent, she was denied scholarships and admissions and pursued a career in clubs instead. Eventually signed to Colpix, she was boxed into a pop-jazz mode for a few years. She took the standards she was given and began subverting them with her unique style — she was described as being a piano player, singer, and performer, “separately and simultaneously.” Over the years her stage set became famous for her powerful interpretations and righteous original songs.

Simone’s response to the assassination of Medgar Evers and the bombing of the church in Birmingham that killed four children, was Mississippi GoddamIn Mississippi Goddam, we see Simone taking her place in the civil rights movement. Unlike Dr. King, Simone advocated violence if necessary in order to establish a separate state for African-Americans – who could blame her. You can only feel beaten down so much without building up a great amount of rage. I have such a great admiration for Dr. King for sublimating his rage into non-violent means. The song Backlash Blues was written by her friend Langston Hughes. Simone was also friends with Lorraine Hansberry and turned one of her plays, To Be Young, Gifted and Black into a civil rights song.  In 1972, Aretha Franklin did a cover of that song. The song Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood was written specifically for Simone. Her version works simultaneously as a love song and a protest song, showing her emotional depth and complexity.

Sadly, it is painfully clear how much we still need Nina Simone’s voice and activism. I suspect she still inspires many of us. Happy Birthday to the national treasure that is Nina Simone.

Inviting Joy…

21 Dec

JoyI have been working on this particular post for the past few months. 2015 has not been an easy year for me.  Since August 4th, I have lost four very dear friends. Our dear friend Jim passed away on August 4th from liver cancer, leaving a hole in our hearts. A week after Jim passed away my friend Ross, whom I was friends with for 20 years, died of pancreatic cancer. Naomi passed away yesterday and I will miss her terribly. Another significant loss was on December 3 when Beth died of liver cancer. Beth and I had been friends for over 30 years. She was my college girl friend. She would have been 52 yesterday. At times, it is all I can do just to get up in the morning. Throughout the day, it feels as though I have been punched in the stomach. Sadly, it also puts me back in touch with the loss of Bonnie, who was like my twin sister. This much loss is so unsettling that I am working exceedingly hard at staving off depression.

I have been watching and observing friends of mine and my husband and am in awe of their resiliency. These observations have led me to question how do I — how do we all —  invite and make space for joy. For me, this is a task that at times escapes me and seems to grow increasingly difficult.

Being aware of the embarrassing pustule on humanity known as the current Republican party (GOP) only adds to my sense of loss — the loss of common decency in our discourse.  It is exceedingly easy for me to give way to a misanthropic abyss when I think about how the discourse from EVERY Republican presidential candidate participates in and perpetuates racism, homophobia, misogyny, classism, and all of the intersections therein. Let us not forget, this is not just the nefarious Donald Trump, since every candidate believes as Trump does. They may not be quite as vociferous, but they share the same racist, homophobic and misogynistic beliefs. Sadly, even those Republicans who condemn the horrific rhetoric by these presidential hopefuls, still maintain that they will still support the Republican nominee. Yes, even while Paul Ryan slams Trump for  his racist, even Nazi like approach to this race, Ryan will still vote for him. This is more than just a little nonplussing.

So how do you, how do I invite hope, not just hope but how do I invite joy? Here I will share things that actually do bring me joy and I invite all of you readers, how do you invite joy? I want to learn from all of you!

Being in my classrooms teaching MSW students brings me great joy, such joy that I don’t have language to fully articulate how giddy I feel when I watch these students and how they reflect and leverage their privilege for equity. I am in awe of these people and they bring me joy and give me hope.

Spending time with my friends’ children next door brings me joy. Hank (who is only six years old) who grabs onto me and most insistently tells me stories brings me joy. Spending time with my amazing colleagues and friends as we are vulnerable with each other and support one another brings me great joy. Spending time with my husband as we talk, listen, drink wine, and support one another, and watch RuPaul’s Drag Race brings me joy!

My failing seems to be how do I hold on to all of this? How can I keep in contact with all of this joy and sustain my gratitude?

How do all of you do it?

Black History Month 2013: Bonnie Sanders

19 Feb

Michael & Bonnie June 2008This particular tribute is especially difficult for me to write and I only hope I can do Bonnie justice.  Bonnie and I were friends for nearly a quarter of a century.  She would have been 61 years old today, but sadly we lost her all too soon.  Bonnie was born and raised in Akron, Ohio.  She lived the last part of her life in Atlanta, Georgia. Just by the way Bonnie lived her life, she was an exemplar of social justice.

Although she could present a gruff exterior — and we all know she did not suffer fools lightly — she had a heart that embraced all marginalized voices. From the nine turtles she saved and adopted, the many dogs and cats she rescued, to standing in solidarity with the LGBT community and with the aging community, her dedication to civil rights and women’s rights was unparalleled.  Bonnie walked in every AIDS Walk Atlanta since the very beginning. Bonnie’s voice will be sorely missed.

Bonnie was the boss of all of us and inspired everyone to be their best person, although I have to admit she did have a devilish way of making me act out.  Although she was chronologically older than I, she referred to me as her Granny.  Probably because I would just hold her hand, fix meals for her, and fuss at her if she did not go in for her mammogram.  To be honest, she also called me Granny because I can’t stay up past 9:00.

Our traditional New Year’s Eve extravaganza would usually start at 4 and Bonnie, Joanie,  and I would be asleep by 8:00.  Our friends who knew us well knew you had to leave by 8:00 because we would be asleep.  I did wake up at midnight and would wake up Bonnie and Joanie for a quick toast to the New Year and then back to sleep.

I was in my early 20s when I met Bonnie and was immediately in love with her — with her contagious laugh, her irreverent sense of humor.  Over the years we built a life together and have a shared history.  Bonnie knew I was gay before I did, as she was wont to remind me of often.  Bonnie is one of the reasons why I married my wonderful husband, for Robert had to get her approval.

The pain of losing someone so close is at times unbearable; there are times throughout the day that I feel as if I’m choking, or I break into tears.  Other times something funny will happen and my immediate reaction is to want to call Bonnie.  Right now it feels as though a huge part of myself has been ripped out and I cannot retrieve it.  I desperately try to just be grateful Bonnie was a part of my life for so long.  I know she lives forever in our collective laughter and acting out.

A heart is not judged by how much it loves, but by how much it is loved by others; it is obvious how Bonnie’s heart embraced the world and I am all the better for just having been connected to her.  Her light and wonder were contagious and should be shared!

For those that knew Bonnie, please, I invite you to share a funny story that shines as an example of how witty and irreverent she was.

I love you, Bonnie.

Love,

Granny

Happy Anniversary

2 Jul

My husband and I had our first date on July 2.  We are both activists and we met volunteering at what used to be the Atlanta Gay and Lesbian Center.  He was the librarian there and I was running support groups. Activism has been a huge part of both of our lives, and as we are getting older, I seem to get even more militant around what I call any type of “othering.”

There are times when I really do feel bad for my husband.  I think I have a tendency of zapping any pleasure from watching television, or movies, or social media.  My vigilance around issues of feminism, homophobia, racism, and the intersections of oppression can, at times, make people want to slap me bald.  I would like to say that being in social work school has made me this way, but let’s face it, for those that know me, I have been this way for the past 25 years.

The above cartoon, sent to me by my friend Katherine, a strong feminist and LGBT ally, and my husband interrupting my tirade while watching Chopped made me reflect on my militancy.  It is very hard not to notice the misogyny on Chopped–I’m just saying.  Of course, while on one of my many tirades, my husband looked at me and said: “Can we please just enjoy the show, please? Can you not be a social worker all the time?”

Of course, I’m grateful that we are both passionate about social justice and that my life partner (since we are not legally allowed to get married yet) just “gets me,” as I understand him.  It is magical and wonderful to have been with someone so long that there is a history created, a type of palimpsest–I know he will always be next to me:

Never in my life have I met someone like him
I’m blown away by his love for me
If you ever wonder where it is you’ll find him
You will find him, you will find him next to me

Our move out west has been fraught  with a great many frustrations and now with no money and no employment we both are trying to re-invent ourselves.  I suspect what prevents each of us from having a total meltdown is that we at least have each other during this journey which is both bizarre and rewarding.  Sometimes we just get lucky and we know it is The Right Thing to Do.

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