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My left thumb has been aching a lot recently, in what medical professionals would know as my first metacarpophalangeal joint. I have a lot of little aches in this and that joint, no doubt arthritis mostly due to the wear and tear of years, but this one is worse; it throbs. That is probably because arthritis is accelerated by injury. I remember the injury that is now making itself felt.

My then-husband, Matt, and I were driving around the rural roads around Syracuse, New York, in 1992, looking at apartments to rent. We didn’t have a lot of time; we were just in Syracuse for a few days, trying to get things set up before we moved there for graduate school. Matt had a lot of anxieties and phobias, and one of them, apparently, was doing anything on the road that might attract the negative attention of other drivers, such as halting too long at a stop sign. He was always terrified of someone regarding him badly, even a stranger.

Matt was driving. We stopped at an intersection and I, looking at the map, was confused. Right or left? I was just saying that I wasn’t sure what he needed to do, when his anxiety boiled up into fury. He grabbed my thumb and pulled it back toward my wrist. I screamed in fright and pain, and he let go.

In the weeks after that, no one would have been able to tell that I was hurt. I can’t remember whether there was any bruising or swelling, just a lot of pain in that joint. It lingered for a long time, and then after it was mostly healed, it made itself felt again whenever I needed a strong left thumb. For example, it took months before I could grip a can opener strongly enough with my left hand to keep the opener locked on a can as I turned the wheel with my right.

We have now been divorced for 15 years, and Matt has been deceased for 12, but I still have this reminder of him. It’s not a way he would have liked to be memorialized, but my thumb remembers in its own way.

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I kept a list of everything I read during my sabbatical two years ago. It’s been on this blog as a separate page, and as part of some blog housekeeping, I’m converting it to a post.

 

Books read during study leave & sabbatical, 2016

Anil’s Ghost, Michael Ondaatje fiction (f)

Promoting Diversity and Social Justice: Educating People from Privileged Groups, Joan Goodman nonfiction (nf)

Christ for Unitarian Universalists, Scotty McLennan nf

Armada, Ernest Cline f

El Cuaderno de Maya, Isabel Allende f

Through the Children’s Gate: A Home in New York, Adam Gopnik nf

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot nf

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates nf

Dawn, Adulthood Rites, Imago (the Xenogenesis Trilogy), Octavia Butler f

The Thief Lord, Cornelia Funke f

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Jack Thorne f (play)

Walk Two Moons, Sharon Creech f

Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell nf

John Henry Days, Colson Whitehead f

My Grandfather’s Blessings, Rachel Naomi Remen nf

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr f

The Amateur Marriage, Anne Tyler f

The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton f

The Great Train Robbery, Michael Crichton f

An Artist of the Floating World, Kazuo Ishiguro f

The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd f

 My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante f

Inkspell, Cornelia Funke f

Unfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell nf

Take the Cannoli, Sarah Vowell nf

Persuasion, Jane Austen f

Malafrena, Ursula K. Le Guin f

The Wanderer, Sharon Creech f

Lock In, John Scalzi f

Orsinian Tales, Ursula K. Le Guin f

Unlocking the Air, Ursula K. Le Guin f

Family Sabbatical, Carol Ryrie Brink f

The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, Alexander McCall Smith f

Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie f

 

 

plus numerous mysteries just for fun

and Emily Dickinson poems when I remembered.

The kvelling over Senator John McCain shows how low the bar has fallen recently. We know why, but if we’re going to grade politicians on a curve, let’s not just look at the past two years. “Greatest American hero of the past 50 years,” a man of “honor and integrity,” “a maverick” . . . Are we talking about the same person? I believe in speaking respectfully of the dead when one possibly can, and remaining silent when one can’t, with rare exceptions (for example, when someone finally puts a stake through Kissinger’s heart, I’ll spit on his grave). So I am fine with respectful words for a complex, flawed person. These showers of praise go beyond that. They make bold claims about the meaning of honor, integrity, and independence that drag those fine qualities through the mud, and insult far greater heroes of our time.

Surely there are public servants of more integrity and honor than the Keating Five; I know, that’s barely a scandal by today’s measure, or maybe we just can’t recall any history more than five years back, but his “poor judgment” ruined many lives. Surely decency requires choosing better than Sarah Palin to be a heartbeat from the presidency. While people of integrity can differ about public policy, my heroes don’t get a 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee or a 17% from the NAACP. The people who inspire me care more about leaving a livable environment for the next generation than guaranteeing profits for today’s businesses. I admire mavericks, but it takes more than one or two issues and one prominent vote to earn the title. (Okay, three issues. The best thing I know about McCain gets little attention: he shifted from being an implacable foe of gun control to a moderate supporter.) Yes, his vote last year rescued the Affordable Care Act; but if we resist the availability heuristic in which the most recent event gets undue prominence, we see a long career of making health care less accessible to most of us.

Even the most exalted politician leaves a trail of bad decisions, and even the best people do a lot of harmful things. I hope I will be remembered as a decent person, even though I am often unkind, selfish, apathetic . . . But for a public servant to receive such glowing praise as I’ve seen since yesterday, the preponderance of his deeds should glow, and McCain’s just don’t. Not for African-Americans, LGBTQ people, immigrants, poor people, or those who care about any of the above.

I like the way Obama put it, that at his best McCain showed us what it means to put the greater good above one’s own. That is true, and the best I can say.

P.S. If you aren’t familiar with the strictly non-partisan resource Vote Smart, check it out. For a citizen of the United States who wants to make informed choices, it’s an indispensable tools.

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