In his State of the Union address President Obama focused on the people, those abandoned by Republican politics. The president's prescriptions for the struggling middle class reminded me of our conversation with author and journalist Gay Talese. Mr. Talese attributed his professional inspiration to a line from Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman: "Attention must be paid!" My version: "Don't forget me!"
Whom to remember? The people who make our lives possible. The people who open the way to success. Like everyone else, I've been a beneficiary.
Example 1: I had tired of being a big fish at a television station that barely registered on the media scales and -- with neither connections nor job offers -- was off to make my way in the nation's second largest television market. Of all those who wished me well, our timid young receptionist's farewell made the strongest impression (no doubt because she was far more certain of my impending success that I was). "Don't forget the 'little people'....don't forget me!"
Fifteen years later I'd taken a rare few days off from the business we built to indulge an aged friend (101 years aged) who lived three states away. She wanted one last visit to an isolated, old-fashioned spa she'd once loved. It turned out to be a long drive, the hotel was overbooked, and our room was at the far end of a dauntingly long and creaky old wooden-floored hall. Finally unpacking, she discovered she'd left her medications at home!
I left the decision to her. Should we drive back, foregoing the one and only weekend that this was ever going to happen? Her emphatic "No!" meant negotiating for the drugs she needed at the local village pharmacy. Completely spent, she handed me a handful of cash, her platinum credit card and keys to her Mercedes, curled up in her bed and sent me off with an amusingly ambiguous directive: "Don't forget me!"
Last week I was on the phone with a new, but close friend. Predictable this friendship was not. While my husband and I were college students protesting the war in Vietnam, this big hulk of a tough guy was a Green Beret learning to be cynical on its killing fields. Returning home, his marriage fell apart, he took a series of exceedingly rough jobs and moved around a lot. Finally, he'd settled in northern Wisconsin where, as a child, loving grandparents had made him feel welcome. Now he made his home amidst some good people and too many gun-mad drugstore cowboys and right wing extremists of the Far North Woods.
Yet here we are. True friends. Still, he somehow felt the need to end our chat with "Don't forget me!"
So what is the "State" of our Union? We're in a state, all right. Attention must be paid: to our young, who have good cause to fear their future; to our old, afraid that Republicans will take their Social Security; to all of those worried about access to health care; to dark-skinned people fearing any encounter with police; to women who want the right to control their own lives ... and bodies; to the rich (some of them) who want to be constructive parts of our communities. Make no mistake. What burdens them burdens all of us.
It's deeply reassuring when our president shows how he is paying attention. Remembering. And his numbers don't lie. Barack Obama continues to lead us away from the Great Republican Recession. It's far past time to attend to the (growing) multitude of people and challenges reactionaries have willfully ignored, or abandoned.
So thanks be to our Founding Fathers for giving veto power to the person elected by the entire nation. Let us be a nation of good people with constructive actions, striving to live up to our ideals, caring for each other and the earth, refusing to abdicate to the cynical, giving instead of taking, knowing when enough is enough, standing up for and with all those people who have been forgotten. And continue the struggle for justice, for all.
Thank you, Mr. President. We needed that. Now we too must remember and pay attention. We're all in this together.