In the course of the last two weeks, two very influential people in my life have passed away, one of my Mother’s closest friends and one of my Dad’s. They were both in their 80’s and vibrant, active people right up until the end of their lives. Over the many decades of knowing both of them, they were, each in their own way, people who embraced life to the fullest.
Naomi Wagner was a single mom in an era when divorced women faced a great deal more stigma than they do today. And somehow she seemed to always have a smile on her face, despite many personal difficulties. When I too became a single mom, she was really the only one of my elders that I could look to as a roll model when I was exhausted and not sure how on earth I would manage. She also knit the most gorgeous blankets, with an eye for color that was truly amazing. And most of all, for me, she was my Mother’s dear friend.
Barry Blumberg was larger than life in oh so many ways, a powerhouse in the world of medical research and then some, with a Nobel Prize to prove it. He was possibly the most enthusiastic, in love with life person I’ve ever known, not to mention warm, caring and hilariously funny. It is strange to read the rather lengthy obits written about him, so many accomplishments, but the thing that sticks in my head are the walks he led us on at Cape Cod so many years ago, the stories of his adventurous life and the long enduring friendship he had with my Dad.
As I write this I am in Washington, DC where there is a strong likelihood that the government is about to shut down. When you walk down the street, it is the only topic people are talking about for the simple reason that a rather significant percentage of the population in this town is employed by the federal government. People don’t know if they will suddenly lose their paychecks, and unlike any state or city, DC’s municipal services are also at stake. And why? Because the GOP party of spoiled, selfish vindictive obstructionists are bound and determined to throw a hissy fit if they don’t get every last ridiculous thing they ask for. And while they bring the government and this city to a grinding halt, they will be among the few who still collect a paycheck. Outrage is really not an adequate word.
Nor is it an adequate word for an energy policy where nuclear energy and coal are still touted as clean and safe in the face of irrefutable evidence that they are not or for our inability to truly address climate change. It is also not an adequate word for our oily logic when we set up ‘no fly zones’ over Libya but ignore the humanitarian tragedies in the Ivory Coast and Sudan.
And it is most certainly not an adequate word for the union busting Scott Walker or the too many to count attempts by the Republican Party to colonize women’s uteri.
So why the juxtaposition of sharing memories about two people that I loved and admired with a rant about the myriad of dysfunctional events that permeate our existence? Because the contrast is instructive. Naomi and Barry were people who made things happen because it brought them great pleasure to love life and to live it to its fullest. They each impacted my life in profound ways and those who today seem hell-bent on destruction and obstruction, motivated by hate and greed, would be well served to be instructed and inspired by these two wonderful, enabling people.