Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Random Places

Perhaps you’ve wondered how Steve and I ended up in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, of all places. The short answer is that around our thirty-fifth anniversary, we thought a place in the country might be fun. A family retreat for our children and grandchildren appealed to our sense of adventure. But, like a lot of things, it’s more complicated.

In 1974, we moved to an expansive home next to Lake Michigan in Evanston, Illinois. Some years later, we renovated the nearby University Club, converting it to a celebrated public museum only to have it destroyed by an electrical fire before its third birthday. Once the details of that disaster settled, and the last of our children left for college, I felt the urge, the necessity, to move away. It didn’t matter where. Just someplace new and different. Long Grove was both of those things and it was there we experienced both anonymity and life as incorrigible misfits. After two years, we returned to downtown Chicago, a place we’d enjoyed living as a young couple. Our four story townhouse suited us perfectly and we’d probably have stayed, except that our landlord, Lee Miglin, was murdered by Andrew Cunanen in a garage that bordered our back yard.

Then we saw “Random Hearts”, a forgettable film except for one relevant scene where Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas rendezvoused at an ancient log cabin. When the river appeared in the background, rushing behind an autumn blaze of trees, I knew that’s where I wanted to be. Out of the city and into the woods. A few months later, we toured Wisconsin as far west as the Mississippi, north to Sauk County, south to the Illinois border and came up with a hundred acres of trees, meadows, valleys and ridges, a solid house, a stream, herds of turkey, deer, a few foxes and tons of wildflowers. Dodgeville was six miles away. Madison the closest city.

We added a studio, a barn, bought an air-conditioned tractor with a CD player designed for city folk and left Chicago congestion behind. I found a job as Director of the Family Resource Center and for a time, life was comfortable. We drove to Madison once a week for a film and dinner, took a few classes, made some new friends, and traveled to Chicago and St. Louis to visit our children. Then Ben was diagnosed with ALS.

We live in Madison now. Our condominium incorporates everything I’ve loved about our past homes– lake views, new construction, high style, family nearby, great friends, wonderful restaurants, theaters and entertainment.

Dodgeville is for sale.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Building the Dream

Forty years ago, John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King inspired visions of hope, respect and a world view of peace. Then, within a few short years, all three were torn from our lives. We’ve been wallowing in the squalor, grief and disappointment, the mediocrity of a government steeped in scandal for forty long years. Finally, we’ve a chance to come out of the desert and build the dream into reality with a leader who embraces integrity, intelligence and compassion.

Barack Obama mesmerized over 20,000 attendees Tuesday evening at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. His vibrancy and charisma offered the belief that together we can recover meaning and purpose for ourselves and our country, restore respect and rebuild community. Obama’s plans to provide college tuition brought cheers and roaring approval when he said the money would have to be repaid in the form of community service, that hard work lay ahead, that sacrifices might have to be made. He uses the inclusive pronoun ‘we’ and speaks of our future together, recovering the light we thought extinguished.

Later that same evening, I read once again, Ben Byer’s extraordinary essay, The Reality of Hope, published on his blog this past Monday. His brilliant tour de force weaves together the political travesty of our times with his physical disintegration, reminding me, once again, how the political climate affects each of our lives. How embryonic stem cell research efforts to find a cure for Parkinson’s, ALS and many other horrific diseases has been polluted and hijacked by the few who consider Monty Python’s “every sperm is sacred” joke a truism.

Locked inside his failing body, Ben’s intelligence and sense of hope for himself and so many others, shines through. Together with Barack’s vision, my own wish for a brighter day might have a chance. We can each become a part of this amazing moment in our history. We don’t have to wander another 40 years in the wilderness.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


We’re buried inside on this snowy day. Winds blow thick tufts against my balcony door. Driving is a needless risk, walking past the mailbox a foolish notion. Super Tuesday primaries have settled enough to turn off the television and enjoy Leonard Cohen’s music, read a book, write a few words.

Years ago, when Rebeccah was a toddler, a similar snowstorm piled mountains of the stuff on our front lawn, covering sidewalks in five foot drifts and blockading streets. A Chicago mayor lost her job, disgraced by irate citizens for her delayed response to the blizzard. But for me, those few days remain a cherished memory. Time stopped. We had plenty of food, wine, books, each other. Quiet moments, safely inside. Respite.

I’ve recently emerged from a different kind of respite, one filled with fear and sadness. But being at this end reminds me that I can still surface, that I still have enough spirit left to carry me the distance.

Just a few days after I last posted, Steve slipped on ice from a similar storm, while walking our adored, twelve year old Shar Pei-Staffordshire Terrier, Emma. To avoid crushing her, he landed against the curb and ruptured his kidney. After 12 pints of blood and 10 days in intensive care, he came home to a slow recovery. While he improved, Emma deteriorated, first from arthritis and then from a neurological insult to her spine. Time slowed as I barricaded myself inside, carried Steve his dinner, helped Emma walk. No distractions existed apart from what was needed in the moment.

Three weeks later, Emma died. The next day, Steve returned to the hospital for yet another week with a pulmonary embolism. I found Pema Chodron’s book on my shelf, When Things Fall Apart, and managed to read a page a day. Once again, my days and evenings were spent at the hospital. Steve improved. I joined a friend for a coffee, squeezed in an hour at the health club. Two days earlier than expected, I brought Steve home.

Today, for the first time in two months, I’m writing a few words. I can talk about Emma without crying. Steve looks trim, having lost more than 50 pounds, and feels confident his health is improving. Freezing rain coats the road below my window. And so it goes.