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Posts from the ‘Ephemera’ Category

Last Scene of All, That Ends This Strange, Eventful History

April 24, 2018


Every year, I reserve a date close to Wm. Shakespeare’s birthday to do a devotional prior to our day’s work in the State House. This year, I was planning on tying the prescience of Shakespeare and the demise of net neutrality — a big stretch, for sure, but it seemed workable in February. Instead, current family events resonated more deeply with the famous words of Jaques in “As You Like It.”

I have spent a lot of time over the past year in places that have, believe it or not, a higher average age per resident than the Vermont State House.

Nursing Homes. Or, more precisely, long term care facilities, rehabilitation centers, councils on aging.

They have us beat. 

I was there with my mother. My mother is diminishing before my eyes, and the eyes of all five of her children. 

I have a photo of her from two years ago, when she was merely forgetful, or in the throes of chemo brain, after treatment for colon cancer, and she is pretty vibrant. She’s standing with my brother Paul, and they are smiling, two peas in a pod.

And that’s no surprise, because my mother, starting back in 1965, committed her life to taking care of Paul, who has Down Syndrome. She fought like hell in the late 1960’s to make sure he was not institutionalized, and in the 1970’s she fought like hell to make sure he, and other developmentally disabled friends, were allowed to be mainstreamed in our public schools, and in the 1980’s  and 1990’s she fought like hell to make sure Paul had the governmental services he needed to thrive in the community, and she fought like hell to make sure that the community had a spot for Paul.

I have another photo of my mother taken during her most recent hospital stay, when she was recovering from a fall, and from pneumonia, and from a UTI, and from the flu. She is not vibrant in this photo — she is clearly tired, ill, and somewhat empty, a preview of the weeks and months to come, as the Alzheimer’s takes her away from herself.  Read more

Constance is Love

April 21, 2017


Every year at this time, I do a “devotional” in the Vermont State House. The time is used for prayer, or poetry, or music, or what have you. I choose to write with a connection to Shakespeare. This year I focussed on the character of Constance, from “King John.”

As we rapidly approach the end of the session, I can feel us, as a body, begin to check out, to dissociate from the connections we’ve made since January, and to focus, like a laser, on whatever the endgame is going to be.

I do this devotional annually as a tribute to William Shakespeare on or around his birthday. Shakespeare, if you know him at all, is about words, rhythms, pauses, caesuras, rhymes that all add up and reveal truths that are as pure today as they were when he wrote them.

It takes some time and patience to read him — say “shakespeare” in a junior high as you reach for Julius Caeser or Romeo and Juliet, and you can be sure the groans will be followed by the sounds of teenagers sleeping in their desks. But if you can get them to get it, they’ll learn about the emptiness of political conspiracy and the way love can almost, almost conquer the nihilism inherent in a generational war between Hatfields and McCoys.

What Shakespeare brings to us, in this building, is his sharp perception about how humans in power negotiate that power — in his histories, that means that the climax leaves the stage riddled with corpses, and some vague glimmer of glory for those just murdered.

His King John ends this way. It is full of palace intrigue, and battles fought over the birthright of men, or the usurpers, or the bastard who ends the play alone, and weakly trying to infuse the glory of the crown. And within this play is a remarkable pair of women characters, mothers, who give the play its emotional core in a way unknown in other of Shakespeare’s plays.

The mother who has shaded me most this year, really since October of last year, is Constance. It is her son, Arthur, who by whatever math the royals use to determine who is next in line, is being held back from his right by his uncle, the feckless King John. John, whose mother is Eleanor of Aquitaine, is brother of Richard the Lion-Hearted and conspires to have Arthur murdered. Arthur’s assassin lets him live, uninjured, and lies to King John, telling him that he did indeed murder the boy. Arthur, in a wicked twist, falls to his death as he is trying to take advantage of his unexpected freedom. Everyone thinks that John, in fact, had him killed, even John.

When she hears that he has died, Constance is angry, angry that others would dismiss her emotion as weakness. The beauty, however quickly it dissipates, is the way her grief grows in front of you, blossoming as she speaks.

It is this grief, and this depiction of grief, and the acknowledgment of grief, that I have carried with me this session, ever since a number of parents from the Mad River Valley and Waterbury were awakened by the call no parent ever wants to receive. From our perch as legislators, the representatives from Moretown and Warren and Waterbury witnessed this grief in our communities. All of us, when we work in this building, and when we hear testimony from mothers who are trying to save their children from homelessness, or addiction, or from the horrors of war, witness this grief. It is the kind of grief that can happen to anyone, and is so raw that it stays with us for years.

Here is how Constance describes it. She says:

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,

Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,

Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,

Remembers me of all his gracious parts,

Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;

Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?

Fare you well: had you such a loss as I,

I could give better comfort than you do.

(And then Constance removes her headpiece and says…)

I will not keep this form upon my head,

When there is such disorder in my wit.

O Lord! my boy, my Arthur, my fair son!

My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!

So what do I do with this sadness? The first thing I do is to remain grateful to the communities around the state who became Harwood Strong, who reached out to our kids and told them that they were not alone. And to the first responders, who dealt with the horror they came upon. And to the teachers and principals and educational personnel and therapists and comfort dogs who tried to help the students through their pain while they were trying to keep theirs in check. And to everyone who reached out to those families and did what they could to acknowledge and do whatever that little thing was to deal with their own pain of sudden loss.

And here, in the State House, I try to remember that the work we do is for people. No matter the cost, the concept, or the outcome, everything we do affects people. There is great responsibility with that, and if I were to offer a prayer, I would ask that we, as legislators, honor that, in these closing days, we work for the people first, the people always. They are our joy, our food, our world.

First Thoughts on the Close of the Biennium

May 9, 2016


State House in the Gloaming

The 2016 Legislative Session ended late on Friday, May 6 — the earliest end during the time I’ve served. How do I know? My anniversary with Liz is May 8, and except for when it has fallen on a Sunday, like this year, I’ve spent my anniversary in the State House. Very romantic!

As ends of sessions go, this one was fairly benign in that the big bills — the budget and the revenue bills — were relatively close in conception and execution upon passage from each body, and so the conference committees were fairly amicable. A contentious issue that was rectified was the expansion of the lottery and, in another bill, fantasy sports. In each case, the Senate proposed a great expansion of gambling in Vermont and we fought to make sure it did not happen without a lot of public input. Think of all the public comment on marijuana, multiply it by zero, and you would have the sum of the time spent discussing gambling in the State House. To many of us, gambling is far more insidious than legalizing marijuana. If we need more revenue from that source, or from alcohol, we need to have a larger and louder conversation. It was amazing to me that two important bills, the budget and one on consumer protection, were put at risk because these detrimental bills were inserted during the rush at the end of the year.

Another reason for an amicable end to the session (which, by the way, will not be reflected in the upcoming campaigns) was the decision made by each body to train our vision and work on policies already in place, and to avoid taking on new and controversial policies. Many of the money and policy committees rejected the governor’s suggestions from January and concentrated on funding our government without “one-time” monies, and on making sure our funding sources were strengthened. This plain jane governing did not prevent us from passing some important bills — which we will explain in our end of session reports — but it did create a welcome caution to some issues.

One issue that got caught in that caution was the legalization of marijuana. To be straightforward, I support the legalization of cannabis for homegrown and commercial purposes, but I do not support “just passing something” and fixing it later. We have asked Vermonters to take a leap of faith on a number of key issues and while we have succeeded at times, we have also not finished fixing things like the software for Vermont Health Connect and we have taken on an important stance against opioid abuse. For marijuana, I will continue to advocate for a strong control and education system, followed by a legal and available banking system and vigorous enforcement. I don’t believe the Senate version of S.241 approached those standards. The House considered legalization and then decriminalization of a small amount of homegrown. These proposals did not pass.

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