Secretary of State, Mother, and My Professor

She would come into our classroom with her glasses on her head, hair a bit tousled, and would proceed to tell us that she didn’t do too well on her diet over the weekend. Being a poor graduate student, I could commiserate. Her comments about her weight showed how down to earth she was. When we visited her country home in West Virginia, and swam in her pool, she made me feel at home. Towel around her waist, we ate some good food, and I had fun getting to know my classmates. It was a nice break from D.C., and a true testament to my professor’s hospitality.

As the semesters went on, I took her foreign policy tools course. We learned about the various tools diplomats use to engage with friend and foe. It was in those classes that I learned how to conduct a foreign policy briefing within a tight timeframe. There was no time for the superfluous at these moments, and I remember my stomach turning as I stood next to her doing my best to brief her on the Polisario Front in Western Sahara, or some other foreign policy matter in which the U.S. had an interest.

She paid special attention to my female classmates, affording them opportunities to engage with one another on both substantive and lighter matters. It became clear to me that she deeply supported womens’ perspectives, encouraging my female classmates to go for it in a world where womens’ perspectives weren’t always valued. As the son of a single mom, I understood what she was doing, and admired her for it.

As my program ended, she asked me to serve as a volunteer coordinator for newly inaugurated Czech President Vaclav Havel’s first visit to the U.S. who had been imprisoned in his own country for so many years. I even got to meet U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia Shirley Temple Black who rode in the limo with us on the way to Arlington Cemetery. Meeting Havel, one of my heroes, was a thrill, as was assisting my professor with her fellow countryman’s first official visit. My professor shared with Havel a deep reverence for human rights, the rule of law, and the important role that democracy plays in protecting the rights of all people. Little did I know then the many roles she would eventually take on as a global leader of human rights.

She graded the capstone paper I wrote on the topic of HIV and AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa. I came to this topic having had a State Department internship in Somalia, while my dear older brother lived with HIV. When I told her that I was starting a commercial and residential cleaning company after graduation, she wasn’t surprised. Like her, I did things my own way. As her global fame and impact grew, I followed her travels, and occasionally saw her, including here in Buffalo, when she spoke at UB. We hugged, and we reminisced about our shared experiences.

She passed just this year from cancer. I am on my own cancer journey now, so I feel yet another, albeit unwelcome, connection with her. Her passing made me reflect on how much the world has changed since 1989, how important the fight against illiberalism remains, and how much that weight she always wanted to shed did not ultimately matter. She was, after all, a mother, crusader, and honored diplomat. She was Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, my professor and mentor.

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I wrote my acoustic “Wind Against My Back” with my cancer journey in mind. But then Russia’s violent attack on Ukraine happened, and then the massacre of my brothers and sisters in my hometown of Buffalo. When that shit went down, I decided to do a remix of “Wind,” but with an emphasis on our collective pain and desire for something better. Hence the “our” instead of “my” in the title. I’m doing my best Billy Idol here. I hope you enjoy it.

Mourning in Buffalo

I just returned from the Tops grocery store massacre site. It was cordoned off with yellow caution tape, and the police presence was strong. Media trucks were interspersed between the police, while passersby walked around the site, heads lowered in respect.

Tom and I bought groceries at our downtown Buffalo Braymiller’s market, and took them to the Resource Council on East Ferry where folks of all races were helping out. Dry goods on one table, fruit and veggies on another, then canned goods. It was organized, but hectic, as folks picked up what they needed. Their Tops store is closed, and people need to eat. Food deserts aren’t conducive to healthy eating. We placed our goods on the tables, then left with the hope that we helped in our own small way.

Along the perimeter of the massacre site, and located at the foots of light poles, were flowers and writings left by mourners to remember the dead, individuals who were simply going about their business, but whose lives were cut short by an ignorant hate-filled thug. This grocery store, this oasis of normalcy, became a site of mass murder, where dreams died amidst the fumes of gunshot and rabid hatred. They didn’t expect this on a bright sunny Saturday, going about their business in their community.

So until we start to hold right wing nationalist politicians to account. Until we say no to the Tucker Carlsons, Donald Trumps, and Viktor Orbans of the world. Unless and until we stop othering those whose views don’t accord with our own. Unless we get a handle on this victimization mentality that seems to make whites feel threatened by dark skin and foreign accents. And yes, unless and until we rein in one’s ability to get a gun, we will continue to suffer from senseless brutality caused by individuals whose fragile egos just can’t accept others. Replacement theory? Please. The only thing these sick individuals are replacing themselves with is the dark web of lies and deceit that feeds their faulty sense of the facts. You don’t really know the truth? Can’t seem to parse out the facts of what happened in Buffalo from the media? Oh, that must be so hard for you. And yes, I’ve heard that line from a medical doctor no less. Bullshit! The fact is that some runt came to Buffalo to kill Black people simply because they were Black. He was a racist pig.

So I spent time today in my hurting community. I saw my brothers and sisters of all colors and creeds come together in our city of good neighbors, our city on the lake. Our city of hope. There’s much work to be done as our President said today during his visit to Buffalo. And the work has to continue throughout our country to inoculate our fellow citizens against hate, bigotry, and prejudice. This young outsider came to our city to destroy lives. What he didn’t know was how our community would respond to his hate with love. He never thought about how hatred would be disarmed through the combination of action and righteous anger. The sweet lives of those we lost will be remembered and cherished. The hatred of the shooter will be banished to the trash heap of history. God bless our city and the families of those who lost loved ones.

Gay, but still a guy

I may be gay, but I’m still a guy. I feel sometimes that my straight female friends have different expectations of me than they do of their husbands or straight male friends. I experience this particularly around communication issues. For example, I’m a member of an ongoing group text. None of the husbands are members, even though I’m friends with them too. It’s as if they’ve been excluded, while I’ve been included because I’m more responsive? Because I’m not their husbands? This treating me differently has drawbacks because if I do pull back, I notice how my female friends get disappointed and pull back too. Am I acting more like their husbands? Heaven forbid! Sure, my sensitivities and interests may be more similar to theirs than to their husbands’. But, just because I’m gay doesn’t naturally translate into a greater willingness to chat or share for example. So don’t count me out if I share some of your husbands’ or straight male friends’ habits and tendencies that you find distasteful. Sure, it may be that we bond on a unique level. But that doesn’t make me “one of the girls.” Your expectations shouldn’t be aligned with who you think I should be, or with who you want me to be. That’s unfair to both of us. I believe that reality minus expectations equals happiness. I know that I will be happier if their expectations of me are kept in check. I’m a proud gay man, but I’m a man first. If I disappoint you because I evince behaviors that remind you of your straight husbands and straight male friends, then too bad!

Scared as hell – cancer chats

I overheard a guy today while at the optometrist talking about his cancer diagnosis. He was very open about it with the assistant, so I approached him to chat. And that we did! I discussed my diagnosis with him, but mostly listened to his fears. His case was diagnosed in early stages, but he expressed how nervous he is, how he thinks about it day in and day out. I shared with him the name of an integrative specialist I see, as well as an integrative facility I visit for immune support. We didn’t exchange contact information, but I hope I helped him.

My friend Jerry was recently diagnosed, and he too is as scared as hell, as is his wife. We were at an 80th birthday together when he opened up about his fears. While I still have my own fears (radiation on Tuesday!), he’s in the early stages, wondering how he got it. I reassured him that he is getting good care. I shared my journey a bit, my approaches to managing things. My hope is that he felt better after our chat. I know his wife did. I’ll see him tomorrow at his birthday party at a vineyard. We’ll have fun, especially if there’s some good music to dance to.

He Ain’t Me

It can’t be true that he’s like me. It can’t be true that he’s for real. I know that you can’t be with him. Cuz he can’t feel what I feel.

It can’t be true that you forgot the bed we used to share. Now my eyes are just a shade of gray because I need you right here.

Cuz he ain’t me, and he don’t know how to love you like I do. He doesn’t know just where to touch, or where his lips should go.

My arms have memorized your waist, my mouth knows where to kiss. My hands remember holding yours. It’s the love I’m gonna miss.

It can’t be true that we’re done. It can’t be true I won’t feel your kiss. “Love forever” that’s what you said. It’s your lips I’m gonna miss.

It can’t be true it was a lie, cuz I saw right into your heart. But it turned out to be so true, that we’d spend our lives apart.

Cuz he ain’t me, and he don’t know how to love you like I do. He doesn’t know just where to touch, or where his lips should go.

My arms have memorized your waist, my mouth knows where to kiss. My hands remember holding yours. It’s the love I’m gonna miss.

My hands remember holding yours. It’s the love I’m gonna miss.

Fun in The Netherlands

I was a high school foreign exchange student in The Netherlands. I learned Dutch, and have remained in close touch with my friends there since then. Here we are, my husband Tom on the left with Leonie, a dear friend of mine for 42 years, in Hilversum where she lives with her family. She is an editor for Dutch TV. That’s me on the right. I love her like a sister. We share our lives, see each other when we can, and laugh a lot.

Adding to the mix is Leonie’s older sister Margreet and her husband Xander to Margreet’s right. That’s Frederik, Leonie’s husband to my right. We were at an Amsterdam bar near the Rembrandtplein where we had some beers and sang and danced to old Dutch songs.

We came home just yesterday, so we’re beat. More to come, but here’s one to enjoy. A night shot of Amsterdam. Tot schrijfs!