Facebook, the healer… by Steve Safran

Shhh… Steve has a headache. He doesn’t need chicken soup. But a pithy status update complaint has us rushing to his virtual, darkened room.

Here’s what it’s like to be sick in 2013: you hear from dozens of friends who wish you well, hope you get better, pray for you (well, if that’s your thing), and send you advice. All thanks to Facebook.

Here’s what it was like to be sick in 2003: A few get-well cards, emails and phone calls you didn’t want to answer.

For all the crap Facebook takes, it’s fantastic when you need it. I had a series of migraines this past week, and turned to my Facebook friends for help. I wasn’t getting the treatment I needed. My friends stepped up. And that’s the really cool part. People don’t just wish you well, they can actually have a conversation with you and others about different ways you can get help and heal.

It’s real-time health advice. Not all of it is my style, but it is sincere and based on experience. And while I’m in with the doc, I can check it to see what questions friends remind me to ask. Thankfully, I have a doctor who knows I’m a social media freak and so he indulges friends who ask such questions as “What about injecting botulism into his face?” After several of these questions he gave up and recommended it to me, just not in the form of Botox.

Of course, my little headaches don’t compare to Britt’s Boobie Disease on the severity scale. But we have this much in common– we use social media to let our friends know we’re OK. And we use it to let them know we’re not OK too, and that we could use a little help. All the days when we post jokes and silly things, aspects of our lives trivial and trite– those are warm-ups. People see you as the real person you are. So that when you need real, serious help, they are there for you as well.

For Migraine Boy, the only drawback is the computer light. Facebook really ought to read to you. And in a soothing voice, too.

Gay Wedding, an update

Facebook is a happy, rainbow-splashed place right now. I cannot recall a national moment when we all cheered this gleefully together. I’m sure there are dissenters… but at least in my social media spaces, they are letting our gay friends (and us) have the moment. Just two years ago, Johnny and Deano explained to me how anything other legal Marriage–recognized as the same for all– would never be enough. My boys are young enough to never know a world that prohibited love, and old enough to attend so many fabulous, future weddings that are just… weddings. Love wins.

This weekend I attended my first Gay Wedding… an event I highly recommend if you’re lucky enough to have lovey dovey gay friends who are willing to tie the knot, even though our Federal Government won’t recognize the pairing. These state-sanctioned unions are a fabulous step forward (in neon-soled bucks), but don’t afford the same rights and privileges I have with Bernie. And if you, like me, were wondering what those rights and privileges might be, go ahead and Google… there are over a thousand of them. Johnny and Deano–who have been together since I owned scrunchies– explained this to me with great patience: what’s the point of this piece of paper, if it’s not going to be recognized by the institution that takes 35% of their income? I’m ready to swap my swirly skirts for a sandwich board and march all over town.

It was only 46 years ago (!) that the Supreme Court decision in Loving vs. Virginia declared any ban on interracial marriage unconstitutional, obliging all 50 states to recognize marriages regardless of skin tone. In 2013, we find these not-so-ancient anti-miscegenation laws ridiculous in their assertion that any human being is somehow less, and not included when we stand hand over heart and pledge Justice for All. And yet, here we are in 2013, with our fellow human beings still fighting for basic human rights. I look at my handsome husband and adorable little half breeds and cannot help but make the comparison, no matter how strongly smarter, lawyerly types contend that these are apple-and-orange arguments. To me, it’s the same. And there is no way for us to explain DOMA to our children without sounding like the hate-mongering weirdos who tried to keep people like me and Bernie from making little Brodies and Teddies only 46 years ago.

Now I’m going to swap my sandwich board for stilettoes and tell you all about my fun evening aboard the Moshulu in Philadelphia, where Brett and James stood before a teary audience of well-wishers and promised to love and cherish each other forever. Uncle Jim, a retired minister and longstanding friend of the family was the honored celebrant, and he chose his words thoughtfully. This union, he explained, was a coupling of best friends and lovers, recognized by the District of Columbia in April, but blessed by God today. There was no doubt amongst any of the hanky-blowing witnesses that Brett and James were entering the institution with anything other than grave respect, irrepressible love, and sheer delight. And our parents, all of them striding into their eighth decade, embraced the moment in their black tie best… disproving all sorts of assumptions about a boatful of Republicans. I was proud of them, too.

Brodie and Teddy met Brett and James two years ago, and having spent all of their days in a post Will and Grace world, didn’t bat an eyelash at two handsome men who were newly engaged. They just thought their car was wicked cool. The only query was how Uncle Jim closed the ceremony on Saturday:

“Did he say, you may kiss the groom… or did he pronounce them man and… man?”

Neither. Instead, Uncle Jim reminded us of the quaint tradition of sealing these before-God-and-everyone moments with a kiss. And they did. So we blew bubbles, then drank bubbles, and then tore up the dance floor in our stilettoes and neon-soled bucks.

In ten years time, I hope all of us have a Gay Wedding story. I also hope it will be far fewer than 46 years for youngsters to cringe at any archaic “gay” designation for a union between two people who want to share everything from china patterns to children to tax forms. Weddings will be just… weddings. Love is love is love. For everyone.


Saying, “I do” before God and everyone.

Prayers and Swears

On Friday, I was honored to join a particularly devout bunch of swaying, singing, lovely Jewish ladies to witness a mikveh. My friend Kathy, a newer member of the Shitty Sorority, had completed a brutal round of chemotherapy and wanted to mark the moment with this beautiful, traditional “cleansing” ceremony. There were songs (lots of dye-dye-dyes, a Hebrewish-y shoo-be-doo-be-doo), there were bagels (natch), and there was Sharing. We surrounded Kathy and offered her our wishes for health and healing and happiness. And when the prayer circle landed at me, I looked at my small friend, took a deep breath to reaffirm all of the other messages of hope and inspiration, and then just sort of dissolved into a blubbering mess of mascara.

“ENOUGH!” I wanted to shout. And not about the dye dye dyes, although those were plentiful. Kathy has been through enough. Although her neo-adjuvant course of chemotherapy has obliterated her tumor, she still has a bilateral mastectomy on the calendar, and another round of chemo after that. It’s not even close to over for my tiny, pretty friend. And looking at her in her adorable birdie scarf and lovely little shoes, I was mad at Cancer. Fuck you, Cancer. Awash with guilt for angry thoughts in a sacred space, I lamented showing up at the synagogue without even one Ativan coursing through my Christian veins. My anger/fear/PTSD was kindly interpreted as moved-to-tears, and these swaying, dye-dye-dye-ing women held me tighter. I left the mikveh thinking Kathy is going to be fine. These women invoked The Holy Spirit right there in a tangibly Fuck Cancer kind of way. It was pretty awesome. Dye dye dye dye dye dye dye!

The first Sunday in June is National Cancer Survivors Day. I didn’t know this, but suspect Hallmark and the makers of pink things will have this printed on calendars and beeping as Google alerts soon enough. We have a day. And celebrations. Very good people organize the whole scarred, damaged, wigged, but still living lot of us to assemble under tents to laugh and cry with each other, to share our stories, and to marvel at the mere fact our still-here-ness. These Celebrations of Life took place on thousands of campus lawns on Sunday. And on the Harvard Medical School quad, I joined a panel of veterans under a hot tent and spoke (out loud!) about Cancer for the first time.

You’d think after Friday’s Look At the Crying Shiksa debacle, I’d have brought an Ativan to the forum. You’d also think speaking about cancer would be easy peasy for a girl who cannot stop writing about it (and hardly shuts up in general). But it’s not. I get all boo hooey, and then blotchy, and then I’m worried about the mascara, and then I’m chastising myself for worrying about the mascara when last year I didn’t have eyelashes. I was ridiculously nervous, and when the first panelist was a no show, I was up first.

I had planned to read an excerpt from Cancerland, thinking this audience would laugh at those jokes, but at the last minute I added a preface about me, my diagnosis, and a bit of what it’s like to be Mrs. Dr. Bernie Lee. Stupid, stupid Britt. There was no chance of getting through this speech without crying. But when I said Bernie’s name, there was a scattered whoo hooing from different pockets under the tent, which made me so proud to be attached to him, that then I forgot to be nervous. I also forgot to be brief and went way over my allotted time. But this is a crowd that doesn’t care, that wants to hear your story, wants to know your odds and how you’re beating them, wants to celebrate survival, and will tolerate a few extra minutes listening to a short haired girl gush about her husband. The Holy Spirit was there under that hot tent, too… in a tangibly Fuck Cancer kind of way. And it was pretty awesome. Dye dye dye dye dye dye dye!

For those of you who think these sorts of things help (or even that they can’t hurt), please remember Kathy in your communion with The Big Guy. Although poisons are doing a bang up job killing her tumor cells, Cancer wrecks havoc on the soul. But prayer and kindness and love—from a tight circle of Jewish ladies, from hundreds of sweating strangers, from faceless blog readers—these things heal the soul in a beautiful, Fuck Cancer kind of way. If we cannot escape it, at least we can shout potty-mouthed insults at it, and kill its power with prayer and love. And the effect can be pretty awesome. Dye dye dye dye dye dye dye!

Isn't it lovely?

A lovely rendering of a mikveh…

Thou Shalt Buy (Crap) Gifts for Teacher

I don’t remember bringing Mr. McCormick anything on the last day of third grade (though he really could have used a new corduroy blazer). Mr. Thacker? Not even a World’s Best Teacher mug. Mrs. Pruitt? It never occurred to my mom to buy her another chain for her glasses. On the last day of school, we showed up with flaccid backpacks, goofed off until the bell rang, and then merrily lugged home a year’s worth of forgotten sweaters and art projects. As we got older, we were too distracted obtaining yearbook signatures to think about a small token to thank Mr. Newton for making Physics fun. Maybe moms back-in-the-day (as my boys refer to anything that happened before 2005) arranged group gifts or wrote little letters of thanks. But certainly none of them delivered obnoxious Bloomingdale’s gift cards inside fancy letterpress envelopes to recognize a year of facts remembered.

I have no childhood recollection of this parent/teacher covenant: Thou Shalt Buy (Crap) Gifts For Teacher. Sometimes, this custom requires a slew of annoying emails to organize all moms into donating some pittance as a group nod to the exhaustive effort to keep our children from falling off monkey bars or eating paste. At the conservative Jewish preschool, we contributed our magical $18 toward something that was never a multiple of 18. (Only the enthusiastic, stupid Shiksa mom volunteers to buy The Gift.) My first year at the fancy private school, I offered to do the 11th hour gift card run, but didn’t specify a donation amount. Flabbergasted by the windfall of cash mailed by moms all too happy to be relieved of the task, I bought Mrs. Bell an $800 gift card to Bloomingdale’s. $800. For Mrs. Bell with her Dansko clogs and makeup counter-less life. I realized an $800 gift card is more ridiculous than a t-shirt emblazoned with small, smeary handprints. This end of the year gift pact can be an odd dance.

Under less forced gift-giving circumstances, I am quite good at it. I also love spending money. And for the ladies who have spent the past nine months drilling factoids, feeling for fevers, encouraging excellence, drumming out gross habits, and knowing and loving my kids, I want to buy them something fabulous. In fact, I’m overjoyed to do so. To adequately thank them for a successful year, I want to give them a case of Veuve Clicquot. But a Facebook query running many comments long suggests a Starbucks gift card will suffice.

“Thanks for being patient with Brodie’s stutter, for reading his moods, for not believing the ouchies that didn’t matter, and for celebrating everything that did. Hey, go grab yourself a coffee!”

Jason (a teacher, currently deep into grading papers… and his own bottle) suggested a good Scotch with bawdy note enclosures, “Drink up, bitches!” I could have the children write these in cursive to great effect.

Ultimately, what’s bugging me is the inability of anything in a small gift bag to embody what I feel for these women, to convey how deeply these teeny milestone moments move me (still grateful to be here for them), to let them know they did well, and that I noticed. So I’ll probably write them long, overly effusive letters of thanks… which I’ll then slip next to a nice bottle of Pinot Noir.

Drink up, bitches.

Thank you to all of the (good) teachers... we'll let you know who you are.

Thank you to all of the (good) teachers… we’ll let you know who you are.