Weekly Column


What Does This Country Need?

What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar. Thomas Marshall, United States Vice President

The cigar quote is attributed to Woodrow Wilson’s two-term Vice President, Thomas Marshall. Presiding over the Senate and after listening to an interminable senatorial speech on what America needs, Marshall allegedly leaned over to a colleague and offered his pithy assessment of what the country required. And, of course, Marshall is remembered today. A footnote.

What do you think America needs today? Seriously, if you could wave a magic wand, what would you implement/initiate that would make America a “better” place?

I think the nation is “half-measuring” itself to the dustbin of history. We seem incapable of achieving two important tasks: 1.) Determining (as a society) important national priorities and, 2.) Agreeing (a consensus) on how to achieve/pursue them. I am sadly disheartened regarding the course of America.

Is there one particular example that best exemplifies where 21st century America finds itself? I am sure that my more reflective readers could provide an illustration, or two. Send me your examples but I insist they be unambiguous as to how they clearly demonstrate the nation’s descent to mediocrity.
I make the distinction between specific acts of self-interest (recall Alaska’s bridge to nowhere), which was merely legislative “PORK” run-amuck. It is a timeless practice, based on greed and power. No, I want clear-cut examples of systemic deterioration of the national fiber.

Among the many examples that immediately come to mind, I’ve one that clearly captures the challenge confronting the United States.

In the summer of 2012 the Texas Republican Party agreed to the following provision in its Party Platform: Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills . . . which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

To go on record, publicly no less, that as Republicans you oppose teaching our children critical thinking skills is a staggering indictment of the nation as a whole. Why oppose critical thinking? Because it might challenge one’s “fixed beliefs?” What? Critical thinking might actually lead to behavior modification? For shame, that we ever change our thinking or –horrors!– our behavior!

My goodness, Jepson, I’m not sending my kid to school so she learns to think for herself! Sacrebleu!

What does it say, that the governing political party in the second largest state in the United States goes on public record opposing higher order thinking skills, critical thinking, because—bottom-line—authority may be challenged?

This is at the crux of much of human history. Time and time again, authority opposed change because change is threatening. To power. To privilege. To wealth. To what is known. To the status quo. To the “sacred” unchallengeable verities.

Fortunately, for humanity, such rearguard reactionary actions never succeed in the long run. Change is as predictable as each new day. Mercifully so. No nation, no people remain “in” power forever. We like to think we (Americans) are different in that regard. That history is irrelevant, that we will be on-top forever.

To oppose the teaching of critical thinking facilitates America’s decline and is emblematic of us today, as a culture. Someday future Americans will sadly ask, “What were those people thinking?” The answer: we weren’t.

Nay, Republicans are actually on record opposing it.

I Can Take No From
Anyone But You.

Ah, love. Is it like pornography? You’ll know it when you see it?

I marvel at human beings. We’re this complex soup of chemicals that one moment we’re higher than a kite on adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin, such, we’re “riding high in April.” Only, to be (at times), “Shot down in May.” Sing it, Frank!

I confess to thinking babies are cute. I don’t think that necessarily makes me a girly-man (although I do like fabrics, too); I imagine our species is chemically induced to think as much. Consider the alternative. That we (men & women) didn’t go “Aw-shucks” at the sight of the newborn. Young love, however, is much more interesting to observe than the immediate byproducts of our, hmmm, unions. Young adults (so beautiful and physically lean)—all ga-ga in love—are such a hopeful expression of what it means to be human. Being in love puts a kick in your step, is inherently hopeful and, I think, makes you more generous toward your fellow man.

That you are in this chemically-induced state of euphoria and that it is attributable—directly linked—to your being enthralled with another person is a fairly predictable (regular) human experience. I read a study suggesting that it takes oh, about 90 seconds to determine if you “fancy” someone. And it’s based on body language and the “speed and tone of their voice.” Not so much on what you say as how you say it. It’s initially all about how you look and how you talk. Not to rain on anyone’s parade but what’s the definition of superficial?

And why is that? It’s the lament women worldwide wail. That, that . . . MEN! . . . are all about the physical. I hate to disabuse my feminine friends but that GONE IN 90 SECONDS phenomena mentioned earlier applies to both sexes. And I again ask, “Why is that?”

Why would the human species place such a premium on what we today determine to be superficial, all surface—substance to be determined later?

Because, contrary to what anyone might suggest, there is no more meaning to/in life than the perpetuation of the (a) species. Arguably, pursuing the meaning—any meaning—in life is an individual trek (and expression). But from the perspective of our species, making babies (and having them live) is it.

We are hardwired, chemically induced to copulate. At some core, primitive level of our being (if you will), our attraction to one another (male/female) is predicated on perpetuating the species. All those wondrous chemicals that our bodies so eagerly produce when we first encounter “our desired” are created so we will “create” the next generation. It’s all about sex. In the beginning.

Actually, I am not convinced it isn’t the underlining impetus for all human encounters/ unions/bondings (at any age, even in your 80s). These chemicals (Better Living Through Chemistry, for sure) we so willingly manufacture are with us, to varying degrees, all our lives. We may have sex in our 80s with no chance of a baby outcome but how we came to be in the sack (so to speak) may be the result of the same driver that has us making love in our 20s. It’s really not so mysterious after all. Perhaps.

I am reminded of that famous—so hauntingly melodic—country-western classic, I Can Take No From Anyone But You, that this Valentines Day, a hot “Yes!” be on your lips. Go ahead, blame it on the drugs. You’d be justified.

It’s All Mirth To Me.

But you’ve got to try a little kindness
You show a little kindness . . .
. . . overlook the blindness
Of the narrow minded people
On the narrow minded street.

Glen Campbell

I get sorrow. I do. It’s part and parcel with being human. Lives abruptly end, rudely out of natural “sequence” (my incredible sister Susan for example, a son in Afghanistan or a child at birth). Floods (see: Katrina/Sandy) wash away our possessions (mom & dad’s treasured marriage certificate and photos – my gawd how young and beautiful and full of life they were!). Relatives/friends deconstruct in real time—over decades no less—sorrowfully sucking the joy out of daily life. Tragedy (sorrow) is one job loss, one car accident, one diagnosis, one fall, one moment away.

And then you die. I am 63 and by my reckoning I have 19 years remaining. And I am completely okay with that. My grandfather lived until age 83, my father until age 81. I’m splitting the difference. I’ve eaten far less red meat and consumed but a mere fraction of the whiskey they downed. Each generation, however, has its vices. I’ve also been exposed to far more pesticides and industrial chemicals/additives—we’ve all been—than our parents and grandparents. I will, however, be extremely disappointed (and will, indeed, rage) if I do not get my full 82 years. Give or take six months.

Intellectually, I am disappointed that this shell called Christopher Robin, like all human carapaces is built for speed (metaphorically speaking – our all too brief life spans) and not for the long haul (hundreds/thousands of years— as some trees for example).

My death does not in the least perplex me. I wish I could have it “all” but, alas, sigh, my end is knowable and certain. I entertain no fantasy of an everlasting afterlife sitting at God’s feet, in raptured bliss, singing hosannas to His splendiferous magnificence. That is so much nonsense (to me). Asserting there is life after death is a mythology, a bridge to get “you” through the darkness of that long night (the realization and disappointment accompanying the finality of individual human existence).

Some argue that in order to rein in humanity’s excesses, religion was created (by man) and the cudgel of “judgment” the ultimate instrument of control. What you do in this life determines the quality of your next existence. The Ancient Egyptians had Ma’at. She weighed souls in the underworld and a “feather” was the measure of whether or not your ultimate destination was paradise. Christian beliefs are essentially not much different.

It’s all myth to me. Or, shall I say, it’s all mirth to me.

Ah, the timeless question. If there is no personal god, no life after death, how then shall we behave today? If I am not going to be judged—rewarded or punished—why act one way or another?

I find this question infantile. You don’t rape your neighbor’s daughter because you might go to hell?

We’re a young species, out of the trees, walking upright but for a brief few moments (relatively speaking). We’re (humanity) making it up as we go.

This Thanksgiving, let’s all pursue, as pragmatist Richard Rorty recommended, “The creation of a world in which tenderness and kindness are the human norm.”

Yes, as Otis Redding once so melodically sang, “Try a little tenderness.”

Make that your Thanksgiving grace. For all seasons.

All Aboard!

There is a part of me that wants to be more detached from the daily hub-bub of modern life. I don’t want to care so much about who won Tuesday’s election or whether or not the Florida Constitution is amended—again—by right-wing craziness. Obama-Romney? Tweedle-dee-Tweedle-dum. But, but, but he’ll nominate Supreme Court judges who’ll, who’ll . . . Yep, he probably will. Yet, as Annie sings, “The sun will come out tomorrow.”

I’ve been reading of late on Epicureanism. I recommend, my informed reader, that you do as well. The faithful are typically told to dismiss Epicurus and his philosophy as treacherous hedonism because of his emphasis on the pursuit of pleasure and happiness. Oooooh. Nasty, nasty. Pleasure and happiness. Nasty. Read last year’s Pulitzer Prize winning book for history titled, The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt. Quite an enjoyable read on how the West (Europe) was fortuitously reintroduced to Epicurus in the 15th century.

Epicurus was a 3rd century BC Athenian philosopher who advocated sensible approaches to living, one of which, however, I have a hard time following. Epicureans avoided politics (governance), that hot, tumultuous cauldron of public life. Epicurus recommended we literally tend our “garden” and avoid the meaningless distractions from that riotous mob forever barking nonsense at your “garden’s” edge. Mind your own business, be contemplative, pursue friendships, live moderately, happiness and pleasure are life’s legitimate pursuits, think/live rationally and do not fear death. That is quite a reasoned agenda. And, one sadly at odds with our increasingly superstitious and religiously reactionary times.

I am drawn by the idea of withdrawal from society or, rather, withdrawing from actively participating in the idiocy of my fellow man.

I am such a fatalist, at this point, concerning the environment of Florida, or of any of the, as yet, still pristine parts of Earth. For that matter, I am beyond weeping for what “we” are losing or have already lost. Everyday a new report is issued on the ongoing rape of the planet. If Republicans think—really?—that women experience illegitimate rapes, one can only imagine their explanations for the ongoing rape of our Mother Earth. Democrats are complicit as well in the desecration of the planet. It’s all a matter of degree, of proportionality. It’s all about jobs don’t-cha see.

As well it should be. Seven billion swilling at the trough today, another two billion predicted to arrive this century. 310 million Americans today, perhaps 500 million before 2100? Won’t that be just great, so environmentally healthy for North America? Sustainability? Why consider such nonsense?

Our industrial farming is poisoning our land and water and our agricultural practices are washing our topsoil at record levels to the sea.

Our military is a bloated albatross around our national neck but instead of lightening the burden we forever mindlessly salute the Stars & Stripes and look for other world “opportunities” to liberally impose democracy at the end of an American gun barrel.

I enjoy mindless bromides such as, “There is no I in Team.” Well, we’ve reached a point where, “There is no “WE” in America.” Our politics, our leaders, our policies are obscene.

Perhaps this is what fixes our interest and participation. With fingers splayed, we watch transfixed at this utterly fascinating train-wreck called humanity. Such art! Obscene? You bet! But, my gawd show me more.

Mr. Conductor, puh-leeese, punch my ticket through to the end of the line.

I’m going all the way! Woo-Woo!

I See Republicans . . .

Recall the 1999 Bruce Willis movie titled The Sixth Sense. Out of that quite good little drama came the now famous line, “I See Dead People. And They Don’t Like You.” That catchy expression morfed into many variations but my t-shirt favorite went, “I Hear Voices . . . And They Don’t Like You.”

I’ve been trying to understand what is going on in the Republican Party when it comes to women, their bodies, sex and fertility. It’s essentially a male run concern, the Republican Party, although you have a predictable number of Republican women serving as faithful acolytes. Outliers, if you will, at odds, in their solidarity with their American sisters at large.

American women who willingly participate in their own subjugation remind me of those unfortunate women who perform the barbaric female genital mutilations in Sudan and Somalia. No woman, free of male domination (thinking), would voluntarily oppress other women in such ways.

It is as if Republican men are ignorant of history. For past 8,000 years, the male boot has been firmly placed on the neck of females. I do not know if we’ll ever understand the historical origins of why men came to consider women as “less” than men, but it is undeniable that that is/was the case. Bigger, more ferocious, men like to dominate.

Religions, too, historically, have played a tragic role in the marginalization of women. Although, interestingly enough, it was Martin Luther who, during the 16th century Reformation, jump-started the change in the status of women. He advocated that women be taught to read (imagine that!) and he married (radical idea: a married clergy). Educating women (reading) was the game-changer, however.

Go back and examine the status of Western women even during our more enlightened times. They were hardly enlightened for women. Plato’s Greece, The Renaissance, The Age of Reason were all unquestionably oppressive for women. In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft issued her now seminal A Vindication Of The Rights of Woman and the case for female equality was formally up for public discussion.

It took until the mid-19th century before British women could make any claim to personal property or even to her own wages. Reflect one second on this fact: the United States gave the right to vote to emancipated male slaves—SLAVES—decades before America’s daughters were afforded that right. That is how little women were considered.

There was a time in my grandmother’s adult life when she could not vote. Less than 100 years ago, American women could not vote. That is a nano-second ago, historically speaking.

The Republican Party is the party of female oppression. It revolves around who will control a woman’s sexuality and fertility. The Republican Party Platform (Mitt Romney & Paul Ryan) would have the government, for all intents and purposes, regulating and managing a woman’s uterus. Will our daughters someday—upon the onset of menses—be required to register their uteruses to ensure their compliance with state fertility laws?

Abortion, birth control, fertility, reproductive prerogatives are individual, fundamental female (human) rights. To interject the state into this dynamic is totalitarian and unacceptable.

Republicans would deny female autonomy, would continue to place the historical boot heel of oppression upon the necks of our daughters. Expect each American woman to think and act for herself.

I See Republicans . . . And They Don’t Respect Women.

Vote accordingly.

Putting the E in Human

Much has been made this election season over which candidate is telling the truth. Or, presenting “the” facts. I am not sure of the relevance of truth but I do believe uncertainty is critical in a democracy such as ours. Certainty cuts off dialog, limits conversation and is anathema to developing imaginative solutions to societal issues.

My favorite book of the past 20 years begins with, “About two hundred years ago, the idea that truth was made rather than found began to take hold of the imagination of Europe.” I highly recommend Richard Rorty’s “Contingency, irony, and solidarity.” His observation about truth being made rather than found crystallized for me a way of thinking about myself and my place in society at large.

I consider myself, philosophically, a pragmatist. Pragmatism was an early 20th century American philosophy that can, perhaps, be best summarized by “whatever works, is likely true.” As reality changes, so too, “whatever works.” Truth varies. Truth is changeable. No one possesses the ultimate truth. We should avoid seeking anything metaphysical, the truth of an idea is in its observable results.

Rorty was a pragmatist. He wrote, “Modern, literate, secular societies depend on the existence of reasonably concrete, optimistic and plausible scenarios, as opposed to scenarios about redemption beyond the grave.” Too much of our national conversation today is overly concerned with matters of faith and truth. Rather our conversation be a discussion of developing workable ideas to alleviate the suffering and humiliation of our fellow citizens.

Poverty, for example, confronts us all daily. Regardless of whether we are impoverished ourselves, it is hard to ignore the exit ramp veteran, hand out, dirty and demoralized. Or, the ubiquitous near toothless vagrant from public housing interviewed on TV about the recent mayhem besetting his neighborhood. Poverty is a factor of the human condition. Deuteronomy 15:11 says, “There will always be poor people in the lands.” That observation is as accurate today as it was when written thousands of years ago. But because poverty and despair are part and parcel of the human condition does not absolve our nation—you and I, America collectively—from pursuing solutions.

We once, too many decades ago, had a “War on Poverty.” Many argue it failed. It didn’t accomplish its goals. Poverty persisted. It was too expensive. The results were ambiguous. Besides, the Bible says, “There will always be poor people.” As if that is an argument for doing less.

So many clichés that do not really reflect the reality of being impoverished in America. “The poor need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Or, “Being broke is a temporary situation. Being poor is a state of mind.” Or, “Our life of poverty is as necessary as the work itself. Only in heaven will we see how much we owe to the poor for helping us to love God better because of them.” What a crock. All of it.

The measure of a culture is how well it takes care of its least capable citizens (its children in particular). Because we once waged war on poverty—yet the poor remain—does not mean we do not pursue pragmatic approaches to alleviating the suffering in America. There are no certain remedies. But we must be relentless in our attempts.

To be truly human is to be humane. Make that truth, you.

I Am A Liberal.

I am a liberal. Probably not your typical liberal as I genuinely do believe, “The cowards never started and the weak died along the way.” That’s an unattributed observation describing American pioneers who walked alongside their Conestoga wagons to Oregon in the 1840s.

I am a liberal who does not want to support other men’s children. I don’t. Do not have children you cannot afford or are unwilling to parent. That goes for the women associated with such men. Do not breed unless you have the wherewithal to support your progeny. Have the decency and self-respect to take care of you and yours.

That said I am a liberal who believes everyone who is here today is part of the Home Team. Everyone. Addled homeless war vets, too.

Children, however, do not ask to be born to mindless, irresponsible, impoverished (fiscally, emotionally, intellectually) parents. They arrive and as such it behooves us (America) as a culture to make sure that their parent’s “shortcomings” are not visited upon their progeny. To break the circle of poverty, we must invest in America’s mothers and in prenatal care. We must provide (encourage) safe, accessible and affordable birth control to limit the number born to impoverished Americans. Nutrition, housing, healthcare and education for all our children are societal obligations. Half measures, as are readily apparent, produce stunted children, ensuring that the cycle of poverty is perpetuated.

I am a liberal who does not believe “jobs” is the answer to “all” our problems. Our environment is crumbling (melting if you will) before our eyes. The coming havoc that is on our horizon—once thought to be a century away—may yet arrive fully realized in my lifetime. Half of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is dead or dying from acidification and rising oceanic temperatures. The Northwest Passage we all learned about in grade school will soon be a reality. Imagine the day—that will arrive—when the waters from the Himalayan glaciers no longer flow into India and China. Imagine when the Colorado watershed cannot sustain the populations of America’s West?

I am a liberal and I do not care one iota what religious beliefs you embrace in order to make sense of our world of sorrow. I laugh out loud at Christians who say Mormonism is nothing more than a bizarre sect. That getting your own planet upon death is just too far out, yet God sending Himself to be tortured, to die on a cross for our sins, only to be literally resurrected is somehow more believable.

I am a liberal who does care, however, if your religious beliefs impair the national conversation by limiting the discussion of how we rationally, reasonably address issues of climate change, environmental desecration, population control and women’s rights.

I am a liberal who feels too much humanity, too many hungry mouths at the trough is not some divine plan but a catastrophe building upon itself. Why, if America has so many impoverished—even in the best of economic times—why is another 200 million citizens acceptable population growth?

I am a liberal who believes “humans” are shortly out-of-the-trees (so to speak) and that we are quite nasty little monkeys still learning how to live harmoniously together as a species.
If we worship anything, it should be in our ability to rationally construct a better future. For all Americans.

I am a liberal and that just may not be in our cards (future).

The Newly Reminted Moderate Mitt

Lady Astor: My God sir! You’re drunk!
Winston Churchill: Why yes madam, I am. But when you wake up in the morning, you’ll still be ugly.

Relax. I want all my liberal Democratic friends to just breathe in and relax. It’s going to be just fine. Take a deep breath. It’s will be all right. Barack Obama is going to be re-elected President. He is.

Yes, Obama had an off night in the first debate and Romney, well, Romney was himself.
By that I mean, Mercurial Mitt was in full makeover mode. Taxcuts for the wealthy? What? Mitt ain’t for that. Shut The Front Door! No way. $5 trillion in tax cuts. Mitt never implied that (except, of course, he did). Cut education funding? What? And hurt our kids! Not ol’ moderate Mitt!

Yes, the Mittster did recently state, “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what . . . and my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” But guess what? Mitt didn’t mean it! Really. He now likes 100% of Americans. Even smelly unwashed impoverished Americans on commie food stamps. Mitt likes’us all. Really.

Don’t worry about the newly reminted moderate Mitt who was rolled-out last week during the Denver debate. You remember Moderate Mitt. Once upon a time he supported abortion rights. Yes, he did! Really! Not only that but wifey-Ann gave Planned Parenthood a $150 contribution at a fundraiser. She did! Honestly! So when Mitt found “Life” so, too, wifey-Ann. Imagine that! Mitt claimed in 1994 that, “I don’t line up with the NRA,” and then he actually enacted a measure of gun reform. See Massachusetts Mitt have a backbone. Really.

Oh, my! Mitt, in another life, said that humans cause climate change. Noooo, you say? Yes, really! And previous Mitt, not so many years ago, advocated an individual insurance mandate. Really. Yes, something Republicans supported before Obama advocated as much.

Two phrases come to mind when I think of the newly reminted Moderate Mitt. The first is “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” and the second is “hoisted on your petard.” Ol’ silk stocking Moderate Mitt slummed too long with the Tea Party/Sow’s Ear wing of the Republican Party for any miraculous “moderate” transformation to be even remotely believable. What Mitt says this week—this moment—is no guarantee what he’ll believe tomorrow or next year.

I’m surprised Republicans support Mitt’s dissembling. Most Americans consider it an unappealing quality in a man. Mitt Romney is essentially a coward when you get down to it. He does not have the courage of his own convictions. Because he has few. For any longer than a week or year. Ultimately he will be hoisted on his own petard. He tossed out the moderation “bomb” and public blowback will inevitably sink his candidacy. There is no “there” to Romney. He’s an apparition, a ghost, a man with neither compass nor backbone.

I’m reminded of that exchange between Astor and Churchill.

However Romney might characterize Obama, the President might respond, “Why yes Mitt, perhaps I am. But when you wake up in the morning, you’ll still be Mitt Romney.”

A thin shell of a man. A Republican without conviction or principle. A tawdry, shape-shifting business oligarch, a shameless opportunist and presidential loser.

The Message Versus The Messenger

A gentleman provided a letter to Monday’s (10/01) Orlando Sentinel that read in part, “If it’s God’s word . . . there needs to be no discussion – end of story.” He closes with, “God’s word is final and supreme in the United States of America.”

This is “red meat” rhetoric of a Bible literalist. I sometimes fanaticize about publically debating such an individual (Possible topic: “Is a belief in a personal god necessary for living an ethical life?), but then realize what would be the point? I’d stand-up and give what I believe in and why (something along the lines of the Crash Davis, “I Believe In. . .” speech from the movie Bull Durham). The opposition would stand and say, in essence, “Cuz the Bible says it’s so.” I’d offer some facts (science/logic/history). He’d respond with dogma/scripture/faith. And, as is said, “never the twain shall meet.”

He’d leave the debate thinking me a “damned” apostate and I considering him little better than the village simpleton.

One of the real joys in living in 21st century America (the West) is we can experience our individual lives (generally speaking) without fear of censorship or repression by the state. Believe what you will but mind your own business – that’s the ticket to a free society. Unfortunately, my conviction of “Believe what you will and MYOB” bumps into the prescriptive dogma of the religiously certain. You see this when it comes to such issues as stem cell research, abortion rights, birth control, Gay rights, Gay marriage, women’s rights, censorship, climate change, population control, stewardship of the Earth, etc. And, unbelievably, facts are irrelevant.

Facts are irrelevant? If I were to characterize one of the most troubling changes in America during my lifetime it would be the diminution of fact as the basis of discussion and public discourse. I believe as Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed, “You’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts.”

Here’s the crux of the challenge facing America. We’ve substantive problems needing to be addressed. We know what they are. Poverty. Opportunity. Racism. Education. Economic viability. Sustainability. Infrastructure. Environment. Imperialism. Healthcare. And on and on. The polarization we see in America has a number of explanations but one of the primary reasons is, again, as Senator Moynihan pointed out, “You’re not entitled to your own facts.”

Oh, I can hear the objections now, “Jepson, who died and made you Pope? Such that “YOU” get to determine what is fact?” I don’t. But I will rely on learned, scholarly minds, scientifically-based research and reason to make a decision or formulate public policy. And here’s the rub, whether you are conservative or liberal in perspective, who “gives” you the facts is often as important (sadly so) as the facts themselves.

In other words, the messenger is as important as the message. Imagine if Billy Graham’s last words to the faithful were, “God wants you to cherish Mother Earth as fervently as you love God Himself. The environmental desecration of the planet must stop today. It is sinful not to.”

Or, if Bill Clinton said, “We need to means-test Medicare.”

Opinions—even ones we don’t like—should stand on their own merits (Just the facts, Ma’am.). Sometimes, however, they are more palatable when they “stand” on the shoulders of those we already believe.

What A Woman!

In the spring of 1988, while working at Winter Park Memorial Hospital, I received a phone call from the Executive Director of Crealdè telling me that a new newspaper was forming in Winter Park and looking for columnists. From that one fortuitous call, 2013 will mark 25 years that I’ve written a weekly Observer column. Over 1200 columns, approximately 650,000 words. It, the writing, has been incredibly rewarding at a personal level.

I could not foresee in 1988 how serendipitous, how valuable for the quality of my life writing for the Observer would become. Out-of-the-blue, I would be contacted by individuals who read my “stuff” and wanted to meet. I became so close with one such reader, John Fisher, that we met every Thursday for lunch for 17 years (nearly 800 lunches). What an immeasurable gift. I so miss Fisher and his acerbic wit. In 25 years I’ve developed over half-a-dozen such relationships, readers who became friends, folks I have vacationed with, people who changed my life.

This column is about one such person, Nancy Chambers. About eight or so years ago I received a call from a stranger who wanted me to come to her residence for a chat. She liked my “perspective” and wanted to compare notes on the world.

For a number of years back in the late 1990s I occasionally received humorously threatening, quite creative, anonymous postcards, mailed to the Observer recommending for example that, “Jepson should be used as roadfill for interstate potholes.” That’s a classic. Needless to say, I have a reluctance to meet anyone for the first time in their home. But I did with Nancy and what a gift.

She must have been 79 or 80 at the time. She’d had a stroke a few years earlier but had recovered nicely. Nancy was a lovely woman, the type of gal you just knew was stunning (Gorgeous!) in her physical prime. Diminutive in stature yet anything but demure in personality. She was outgoing, quick, witty and extremely well read. A bit of a flirt. We’d lunch and she’d laughingly say, “Sit down and tell me some gossip.” Nancy divorced three times, thought the institution (of marriage) vastly overrated yet was a hopeless romantic. She’d moved to Winter Park in the 1950s, a doctor’s wife. She had three accomplished sons she forever bragged-on. I met them all and she was right to feel pride in their lives and achievements.

And so with some regularity we’d lunch or have dinners at her residence. I invited her to parties I hosted. Sometimes after a lunch she’d recommend we’d go to the Thrift Shop on Canton and I still have a great cotton robe she insisted I buy for a buck and a half. Nancy knew value.

I was then serving on the Planned Parenthood board of directors when Nancy and I first met. She was an ardent feminist, pro-choice, a woman who understood that history had proved particularly challenging to assertive, strong-willed women. We attended a few PP events together. Nancy had one pronounced regret in life, that she didn’t finish college. She was of the last generation of American women who came of age experiencing “the” rigid societal ceiling for females—that motherhood was the only appropriate expression for what it means to be an accomplished woman.

Nancy Chambers died September 8 and I will dearly miss her enchanting, impassioned femininity in all its delightful manifestations. What a woman. What a gift.

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