breast cancer, Documented Dreams, fame, HAWMC Day 19, Health Writing Activist Monthly Challenge, Hispanic Institute of Social Issues, immigration, Janis Joplin, Princess Diana, Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, Susan G. Komen, WEGO Health Activist Writer's Month
5 Dinner Guests. Who are 5 people you’d love to have dinner with (living or deceased) and why?
If wishes came true, I wrote in Communing with the Dead, I would ask for just one more conversation with someone who is no longer with us, with a handful of women who would have something to say – my grandmother, Princess Diana, Susan G. Komen, Rachel Carson, and Janis Joplin. I am intrigued by the thought of this eclectic group of women around my table weighing in on the news of the day. What would my grandmother make of Arizona’s immigration policies, I wonder. I would plan for her to arrive early to dinner, so we could chat about it before everyone else arrives. I would share with her, in black and white, the hopes and dreams of my former students, their Documented Dreams still deferred, but forever documented in our book. As the other guests arrive, I imagine instant connections being made between Diana and Janis, the former marveling at a culture that encourages and regularly celebrates those who run fanatically towards visibility rather than anonymity. In a side conversation, Janis might remind her, however, that some folks are born with a rare talent that naturally, inevitably catapults them into the public eye. Not all celebrities are celebrated merely because of their penchant for self-promotion. And the spaces in the dialogue would fill up with dramatic irony as the song playing in the background turns out to be Tony Bennett and Amy Winehouse singing “Body and Soul”.
Everyone at the dinner table, except my grandmother and me, has known fame. Perhaps they would agree with Rilke:
Fame is the sum total of all the misunderstandings that can gather around one name.
As the hostess of this one-time-only dinner, I know not how to break the news to Rachel Carson that yes, many of our household, cleaning, and personal hygiene products still contain harmful chemicals, and that people still doubt the links between the environment and our health. How would I break to her the news that I have breast cancer in America in the 21st century? That in 2011, the American Cancer Society reported that approximately 39,970 women and 450 men in this country will die from the disease. We don’t know why. And then Susan. What do I tell Susan?
One more time, here are the women I would gather together for one more conversation. (Day 3 WEGO Health Activist Writer’s Monthly Challenge)
- My grandmother who died when I was just six years old. It was my first experience with death, and it crushed my little heart. When she was young and full of hope, she emigrated to America with my grandfather, and they settled in Connecticut. As my mother tells it, letters from home played a part in persuading the young couple to to pack up their family and return to Northern Ireland. So here they are in 1932, with their four little boys and their only daughter at the time, posing for the picture that would be placed in the family passport, stamped as they boarded the boat to go back, to forever abandon the possibilities and the promise of America. I don’t think my grandmother ever quite recovered from it. So I would like to tell her that although I didn’t have too much time with her, I still remember her and the details around her. The flowers on her apron and her good brown coat, the embroidered “As I lay me down to sleep” sampler that hung on the bedroom wall, ice cream sliders from McGurk’s shop, and Merry Maid caramels. Most of all, I woud like to introduce her to her American great grand-daughter.
- Princess Diana whose every turn was noticed and noted by a nation that often seemed absolutely besotted with her. How could we be so smitten by a stranger? Not much older than my teenage friends and me, Lady Diana Spencer set the standard for fashion and a fairy tale wedding in 1981. Transformed by title and massive media attention, she could not possibly have imagined the extent of her influence nor that she would have so little time on earth to truly leverage it. I think she’d enjoy a casual conversation in a bustling London restaurant. The kind of conversation that ordinary people have all the time, completely unguarded and of no interest whatsoever to the paparazzi.
- Susan G. Komen Her name will forever conjure up images of pink ribbons and hundreds of thousands of people literally racing “for the cure.” It is disquieting to acknowledge that she died in 1982, not knowing what caused her breast cancer, and that over thirty years later, we still don’t know. I’d like to talk to her about that and ask her what she would like to see done differently by the powerful and clearly political organization that bears her name.
- Rachel Carson In Silent Spring, she warned us about pesticides and their link to cancer. This was some fifty years ago, when I was just an infant. Like Komen, she also died from breast cancer. I’d like to be able to reassure Rachel Carson that in 2012 America, our policies reflect what she told us – that the health of our world is deeply connected to the health of our bodies. But that wouldn’t be quite true; in fact, just days ago the FDA decided that Bisphenol A (BPA) will still be used to make containers for the food and beverages we consume in this country.
- Janis Joplin Before my time, yet of my time, she will forever be the quintessential rock legend. Dead of a heroin overdose at just 27, she is remembered as much for the way her life ended as for her powerful rendition of George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” which seriously makes the little hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up. Against today’s backdrop of reality TV and the seemingly endless succession of people who, in spite of lacking any talent, have mastered the art of self-promotion. I’d like to ask Janis, who would be 70 this year, to share her thoughts on what happens when fame and insecurity collide in front of a global audience.