Monday, August 1, 2011

Golden Oldies: The town hall meeting

I'll be on vacation for most of the month of August, and I've decided to use my blog to re-share some of my old Facebook notes. This one, written nearly two years ago after a disillusioning town hall meeting with my former Congressman, Chet Edwards, was my first venture there into political turf. (Ted Kennedy had just died, hence the comment on brain tumors.) It received very positive reactions when I shared it on Facebook, but it also began the process that led to my decision, early this year, that extended political statements need to go somewhere else, because they are Not Ready for Facebook—or because some of my Facebook friends are not ready for them.

Since I wrote this, Chet Edwards has been defeated and national health care legislation has passed, albeit not in the form I would have liked to see. This week, though, it's become clear that the same loud, irrational, abusive people who dominated the town hall meeting have made their voices heard in Congress, and have brought democracy to its knees: hence my decision to re-share this story.

As a postscript: Jennifer will soon be starting her sophomore year at Baylor, where she is majoring in speech pathology. She was so disillusioned by the experience that she has nearly lost interest in politics. This week, however, she's been as mad as I have. As someone who teaches college students, I have strong hopes for her generation. They're going to have to rise to challenges that most of their elders have never imagined.

This Time It’s Personal

So Facebook is a social networking space: a locus for light interpersonal interaction and the occasional sharing of deep personal details with a few hundred semi-anonymous friends. I’ve come to terms with that, and with the additional limitations that come with my chosen position as a professor/mentor/role model. Thus, I generally do not avail myself of the option to share deeply. I’ve been tagged in several people’s “bucket lists,” and at some point shortly after putting an x next to “been on a blind date” I realize that discretion really compels me to keep most of these things to myself.

Or maybe it really is a generational thing. For a 53-year-old, I’m relatively high-functioning from a technological POV. I “get” Facebook. I just don’t necessarily share the casual assumption that the personal is political. You’ll notice that I have left “Political Views” and “Religious Views” blank on my profile. This doesn’t—trust me—mean that I don’t have any. I just don’t generally air them in this part of the cyber-universe, because of a perhaps overly prudish sense that this is not where they belong.

All of which is to say that if this note seems to hang up either a political or a religious position on the public laundry line for prurient eyes to gaze at, the motivation is neither political nor religious but, this time, so deeply personal that keeping it to myself feels like a betrayal.

The two photographs posted here were taken this morning while I was waiting to get into the “town hall” meeting held in the cavernous Waco Convention Center by Congressman Chet Edwards. I was attending with my daughter Jennifer, whose interest in current events has blossomed agreeably since she began a government class this past week.

My main reason for going, though, was that my wife Barbara couldn’t be there, since she wouldn’t have been able to hear, having gone completely deaf six years ago as a long-range result of cancer treatment in her early 20s. She has since received cochlear implants in both ears, which allow her to hear in most social situations but in few public ones. Each of these implants cost Blue Cross/Blue Shield close to $100,000. I have no complaints about the company or the service they have provided.

I am deeply aware, though, that Barbara is exactly the kind of person that any self-respecting insurance executive would be paid a bonus for booting off the rolls. If she were not married to me, her pre-existing condition would make her permanently, irremediably uninsurable, and she would still be consigned to the solitary confinement of profound deafness with none of the benefits of community that accrue to those who have grown up that way.

“Brain tumor” has been a buzzword this week, so yes, she had one, and she is living testimony to the ability of health insurance, responsibly administered, to save and to heal. Unlike those pictured here, she was very lucky: a fact of which I am deeply appreciative on a daily basis. At the same time, though, I am constantly haunted by a deep and unredeemed shame at the knowledge that not everyone would have been entitled to the same advantages that luck and matrimony have placed in her path.

Thus, I was disturbed, when the “town hall” finally began, to find out that the vast majority of those in attendance were far more interested in drowning out the Congressman with shouts and boos than in listening to what he had to say. This was not an illustration of the political process as it is supposed to work, when those with honest disagreements meet and talk and listen and consider and then resume their life together as a community. The luck of the draw did not give me a chance to speak, but for two hours I listened, and I left with a heavy heart and a sense that the two people pictured here were being thrown to the wolves without a hint of compunction or mutual responsibility.

Earlier this week I stated on Facebook that my daughter is a senior, and that I can scarcely believe she has grown up this quickly. This morning she must have grown up a bit more, and that knowledge is as bittersweet as it was before, as well as being, in Tennyson’s words, “wild with all regret.”

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