This week I got to go to the ACLU of Massachusetts (ACLUM) Bill of Rights dinner with my whole family and my grandparents. This was exciting for me on so many levels. First of all, I love fancy schmoozy dinners with cocktail hours. I love to dress up, I love wine, and I love chatting (which is surprising and not surprising simultaneously, for those of you who know me… I’m naturally shy and also an introvert, so go figure). The best part about chatting at these events is that I am there as a guest of my grandparents. My gramma loves to introduce her offspring to people, and it’s one of those times where I can see how much she loves us all and is proud of each of us. It’s sweet, and I love being able to put a good face forward for her to show.

Speaking of being trotted out by my grandparents, at one point during the cocktail hour (more like hour and a half!) I took Zayde to go sit down. He can’t stand for that long without pain, and he was starting to look like he was uncomfortable. I wasn’t about to let him sit in a corner by himself though, so I went and had a nice long talk with him. We rarely get to chat by ourselves for long, so it was really nice. I told him how I feel about cocktail hours, but I told him the funny version: “Hi! I’m Beth. I’m the oldest granddaughter. I’m starting grad school in the fall, I play the fife in a world traveling group, and here are my accomplishments all lined up in a row for you.”

Zayde spat water out he thought it was so funny.

Anyway, it was the ACLU dinner, which meant that dinner was scattered with speeches and cheering. Speeches made by those in the upper echelons of ACLUM, speeches made by those the ACLUM has represented… it was amazing. So many inspiring and uplifting stories. Stories where justice and equality won out. Stories full of empathy, fear, and hope.

Oh, and a speech given by the one and only George Takei.

I got to meet Sulu, but more importantly I got to hear him speak about the day his family was taken to a Japanese internment camp. I could hear the raw emotion in his voice, 74 years later. He spoke about why he is such a staunch supporter of the ACLU, referencing the moment in 1978 that the ACLU defended the American Nazi Party when they wanted to openly demonstrate in Skokie, IL… A town where at the time there were many Holocaust survivors living. He talked about how, the day he got the reminder to renew his ACLU membership, the news about Skokie had broken. He struggled with it, tried to figure out how an organization like the ACLU could possibly support people with such heinous and injudicious views as the Nazis. But, in the end, he realized that the ACLU did not support the Nazis… just their right to free speech.

Listening to Mr. Takei (he introduced himself to my family and myself as George, but I just can’t call him plain George. He’s far too incredible, he needs a more reverent prefix!) I kept thinking about how important it is that each and every one of us in the United States has a right to free speech, to practice our religions, to gather in public places. And you know what? It’s HARD to have those rights! You have to want to defend other people’s right to differing opinions if you want to have your own right to your own opinion.

I keep being reminded of the movie, The American President. In it President Shepherd makes a speech, and says “America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, because it’s going to put up a fight.” And gosh darn it he’s right. Being an active citizen of the US is hard. Really hard. In order for us all to be equal, we all have to treat each other as equals. And as shown by the events of the past year (and all of our history) that is not always easy… sometimes we fail worse than others.

But dammit, it’s so worth it.


Musings on “The West Wing” and Idealism with Dad

Spoiler Alert: I describe some stuff from “The West Wing”. If you want to watch the series without knowing what will happen, you have been warned.

A few days ago I had the pleasure of spending the day with my mum. We were working on a craft project. Without her help it would not have turned out nearly as, well, perfectly, as it did. That is not the point of this post, however worthy a topic mother/daughter bonding is.

Over dinner that evening we sat with Dad and watched a few episodes of “The West Wing”. I adore the show. I’ve seen every episode at least twice, and when my sister and I were figuring out a birthday present for Dad last year we opted for the DVDs. He had never really seen the show and it was our filial duty to expose him to the wonders of President Bartlett and Josh Lyman. This spring he has finally started the show… With Mum.

Let us pause for a moment to explain something about my father: he believes in the system. It’s not that he believes that it is infallible, far from it. What Dad believes in is the ability of every citizen to have a voice. He believes in equality, justice, and civic duty. If you don’t vote in his house, you get yelled at and generally guilted. That senator that was elected that we didn’t want? It’s YOUR fault that he won the election! (Ask me how I know? I was in college, forgot it was election day, AND didn’t have a ride to the booth even if I hadn’t forgotten. I’M SORRY MUM AND DAD!) Anyway, Dad really believes in this stuff. He reads the Declaration of Independence to us every July 4th. One year we were in Washington D.C. for the 4th and we went to the National Archives and Dad peered over the original and tried to read it to us (good thing he’s read it so many times he has it almost memorized). While Dad would never say that he “doesn’t care who you vote for, just vote”, he emphatically believes that voting is the epitome of adult responsibility. Well, that and not killing people. The point is, Dad sees wonder in how our system is set up. And he passed it along to me.

Maybe it shows why we both are drawn to history. Maybe it shows why we both became (or in my case, nearly became) history teachers in public schools. Maybe it shows why we both became disappointed in and un-enamored of the public school system. Whatever it shows, Dad and I are political junkies. And “The West Wing” fuels our addiction.

I first found out that Mum and Dad were watching the show when I saw Mum the first time after they started. “Hey Beth,” she said. “I want to vote for Jed Bartlett. Can I?” My response was along the lines of “Welcome to the club, your shirt will be delivered later this week.” Since then I have received updates from both my parents and my sister (who has seen the entire series through and through) about where they are, what just happened, oh my gosh I hate that guy, etc.

Well, two days ago I got to watch the episodes with the government shut down. With my dad. And you know what? It turns out that we watch the show the same way.

Dad hushed me and Mum whenever we started chatting (even though it was usually about the show). He would also take in a deep breath and hold it when something dramatic was clearly about to happen. (“Oh hey. It’s raining with thunder. Something serious is about to happen! Have you noticed how it’s always raining in D.C. when something big is going to happen?”)

Well, the talks going back and forth about the budget and the extension to work on the budget made Dad talk to the T.V. He was righteously outraged that Josh wasn’t a part of the talks, annoyed with Angela for taking Josh’s place, and relieved when Donna got to be in the room. And then Bartlett ended the discussions and walked out. And Dad kind of cheered. It wasn’t really a cheer, because government shutdowns are awful. They’re bad for everyone. What Dad was celebrating was Bartlett being Bartlett. He was celebrating a president not being dragged around by childish and selfish senators. He was celebrating the president standing up for the people and for what he thought was right. He was celebrating the checks and balances of power built into the system.

Now, I don’t know how many of you have seen the series, so let me fill you in. They shutdown the government because they couldn’t agree. There was $100 billion between the White House and the Senate. The White House gave their $50 billion in compromise, and the Senate didn’t. Instead they demanded the White House give more… and more… and more… and more. So the President said no. The leader of the senators, Haffley, was sure the President would give in. Well, by the fourth day it was not clear if Haffley was right. Something had to be done though, so the President decided to go to the Hill, be the bigger person, and try to talk to the senators again. AND HE ENDS UP WALKING THERE! The senators think it’s just a cheap stunt, and they make the President wait 7 minutes out in the hallway. So the press gets pictures of Bartlett sitting quietly, WAITING! And then Josh suggests that Bartlett has waited long enough… so they LEAVE!!! So the Haffley looks like a buffoon and Bartlett wins. It’s great.

Well, during all the mishegas Dad watched rapt. And when Bartlett got up and left he basically punched the air. He kept saying “Haffley is like Gingrich in the 90s! He ended up looking like an ass and Clinton was the good guy!”

Dad’s reaction to the episode made me so happy. I loved seeing that I am like him, and I love seeing him so wrapped up in something. We began discussing why we love the show, and it turns out it’s because it makes both of us want to change careers and DO SOMETHING. For me “The West Wing” makes me want to go to law school, go to D.C., and kick people’s butts. Dad wants to be Toby, I want to be Josh, and Mum? She wants to be C.J. Dad and I laughed at her talking about it, because she wants C.J.’s clothes. But hey. The show has something for everyone.

And what it has for Dad and me is hope and motivation to try and see good in the country.

Seasonal depression sucks, and Spring is awesome!

Sometimes I forget how to slow down and enjoy the moment. I forget for a long time. And then, suddenly… I remember. And everything feels instantly awesome.

After this past winter (YES I know, I’m still talking about it because I’m still shaking it off) I’m still remembering how to be happy because it’s a day. Such a long time with so much snow, being stuck at home, feeling cold, more dark than light, and the stale air really takes it’s toll. I didn’t realize just how bad it was until the weather got warm yesterday. I have way more energy, I’m happier, and since we changed the clocks I’ve been waking up naturally earlier in the morning when the sun comes up. It’s all around a pretty great time.

Well, yesterday we spent all day outside. It was a truly gorgeous day and we had a fife and drum muster (do I need to do a post explaining what that is? Let me know people… if there is anyone reading this…) so I was all hyped up, all day, because of performing and socializing. The vitamin d didn’t hurt either. Well, the boyfriend and I stayed up late watching movies – ok, we stayed up until about 11:30. We’re old and get up early during the week, we stayed up crazy late last night! – and I still woke up around 7am. That’s not a lot of sleep for me. Usually I’m a 9+ hours girl. But today? I basically annoyed the boyfriend out of bed to make coffee, even though he had been asleep (sorry babe). And we were productive! Usually I hate being productive, but today? Groceries were done and put away by 10:30, I started organizing my closet/getting rid of the huge surplus of clothing I have that I actually hate, we had lunch, I practically took a nap, and we went for a run! It’s been absolutely magical… And I feel more relaxed and well-rested than I did a month ago after a week of full nights of sleep.

All I can do is chalk it up to the weather and sunshine. And maybe my recent return to working out. Endorphins are pretty magical that way.

It makes me sad to think how miserable I was all winter. It scares me to think that the same thing could happen next year. Clearly I need better winter coping skills. I never realized I get seasonal depression… Or maybe this was the first time it got that bad. I’m just so grateful that it’s spring now. I feel absolutely amazing. I feel ALIVE!

I’m finally enjoying daily rituals again. And it feels great. Do you notice these kinds of changes connected to the weather?

Excuse me, I need to go hug my boyfriend again. Because it’s the afternoon, it’s sunny and warm, and I can.