A Photograph of me without me in it

A Photograph of me without me in it
A photograph of me without me in it

Monday, September 30, 2013


Ann and I attended church yesterday with my friends and previous colleagues Dawn, Dave, and Erik. We'd never been to this church before, and I didn't know what to expect, but it wasn't what I expected.

I had thought that these friends attended an evangelical, ultra-conservative church. I had never attended such a church before, and they said that they thought that Ann and I would be welcome, so I wanted to be part of a service and to see where I saw God in this place. At first, the scene was so different than what we experience at our little progressive Methodist church, that I continued with my preconceptions about what defined this church. 

The church is relatively new, just eight years old, and convenes in an elementary school gym. Ann and I followed the signs to "Jesus Christ Salt & Light Company" (I forgot to ask why it's called that.) That name sounded like it could be an evangelical church. A friendly man greeted us at the gym door and invited us in. Several people noticed us entering and noticed that we were new and came to greet us. It seemed like the people in an evangelical church would be friendly.

So far, I'm sorry to say, this friendliness probably wasn't what newcomers experience coming to our church for the first time. Though we do have greeters at the door, you enter the sanctuary from the back, so as  you enter,  you see the backs of people who are already seated. If Ann and I are already there, we're up front (so that we pay attention), and we probably don't turn around to see you. Because it's been difficult for me to turn my head since neurosurgery, I'm sure I don't turn around, and I also don't grab my cane and hobble up to see that you feel welcome. In fact, I might not even notice that you're there for a few years and am likely to introduce myself several times over the years.

As we entered among this friendly group, we approached maybe 75 folding chairs, this church's pews. In front, musicians plugged in their instruments: two electric guitars, one acoustic guitar (or it looked like one, but it had a plug), one electric keyboard, a drum set and a few mics. Someone else was setting up the computer to display lyrics, images and Bible verses throughout the service. Though we do have a few mics at our church, we're otherwise without technology: another difference. 

My friend Dawn, who was checking the mic for her solo, waved and ran over to say hi. When she had been serious and checking the mic, I didn't recognize her because she has cut off her dreadlocks and now has a short cut with a swoop of purple. When she ran over, however, (and yes Dawn runs in church--she wears blue jeans, too--excellent), I recognized her kind enthusiasm in yet another welcome. 

As the chairs filled, the band sang "Hosannah," and I noticed for the first time that the lead singer and acoustic guitarist was Dawn's husband Erik, a science teacher at the same school. He had his same short haircut from a few years ago but now sported a new beard along his chin line that was spookily reminiscent of my seventh grade science teacher's beard. Sometimes he raised his hand in the air--and sometimes Dawn did--I'll have to ask them why they do this. I've seen it before, but I don't know what it means.

As the music played, Dawn and her kids ran to the back to dance with flags, something I had never experienced before. Dawn said the flags and the dancing had something to do with the Biblical Ninevites, but she didn't know what: she just thought it was fun. At my church, we mostly stay seated if we're over the age of twelve.

As the music played and some people danced, a woman from behind came to give me a giant hug. "Sue!" I said. Sue also works in this district, and though she works with the little ones and their teachers and I worked with high school students and their teachers, we shared a skepticism about what we perceived to be pretension. Plus, we share a birthday: March 13. (Please note it.)

After the music, two folks (bravely, I thought) stood to demonstrate that they had memorized the month's memory verses, and then everyone but Ann and me knelt to pray (Ann doesn't have the knees for it, and I don't have the mobility: Dawn had told us ahead of time that we didn't have to kneel.) 

Much like at our church, there was an offering and then Dawn of the blue jeans and the purple swoop stood to sing her solo while Erik played the guitar and images that Dave's wife, Judy, (his best half, I hear)  had put together. As she introduced the song, Dawn said, "I like this song because it reminds me that I can be faithful to all that God  has called me to do in the face of all that is terrible in the world. This is a song of hope."

I understands Dawn's search for meaningful living and working in the context of what sometimes seems an overwhelming need in the world, a need that I know I can't fill. (Senior Romero said that's part of the difference between being a worker and being God, so I should chill out.)

Dawn sang and Erik played the guitar as images rolled by, and for the first time I thought, "These people are new hippies, like us. I like their church, and I think they would like ours." The day's music and message rang true for me: Let me be an instrument of God's love in this world. Let me love deeply. Let me especially love those who live in difficult conditions of poverty and disease. 

A woman stood to read the day's scripture, as happens in our church. She read 1 Corinthians 12: 7-11: 
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

I thought, "Yes, this church and I are of the same Spirit. The setting and the trappings are so different in so many ways, but the spirit is the same. How perfect that this was today's verse."

Only it turned out that this was not today's verse. My friend Dave, who was preaching on this day, had emailed the wrong verse. Still, it was the right verse for me.

Dave intended to talk about the beginning of John 16, with the message that in weakness there is strength and ended with the disheartening verse, "They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God."

Dave pointed out that he prefers strength over weakness, something that many of us may share with him. He said that as a culture, we like the strong, the winners. As evidence, he said, attendance at the Seattle Mariners' baseball games has dropped 66% in the last decade. "Why?" he asked, and answered his own question: "Because they're terrible."

Dave's sermon was in many ways like his high school American history lectures, with his mix of self-deprecating humor and serious reflection. 

Dave told a story about a guy who'd had his truck towed after the Husky football game on Saturday night. I've forgotten the point of the story--something about how things don't always go right just because you're faithful-- but I remember that Dave said, "All of us have had our trucks towed." Yep. I've had my truck towed: brain tumors, car wreck, swine flu...My truck's been towed. 

Dave noted that the American prosperity gospel, claiming that you will prosper if  you are loved by God, has it wrong. "We're supposed to be like Jesus," he said. "And look at what happened to Him." He concluded, "The kingdom of God is about Jesus Christ taking broken people and making them whole....You know what we should pray?" Not make me strong and wealthy. Nope. "My life, God, is yours today. Do what you will." 

This message of love and humility was not what I had expected. After the service, I asked the lead pastor, Pastor Jerry, what sort of church this was. "Some people identify as Methodists or Baptists and such. Some think of themselves as conservatives, or evangelicals or liberals. How does your church identify?"

"Strange," Pastor Jerry said. "We're strange. We're not really about religion. We're about relationships."

Yep. I liked this place.  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gasping for Air

Last night I gasped like I had been thrown by a rough ocean, swirling underwater until I could find my way to air until finally, my lungs aching, emerging, taking an audible gulp. 

As young Reubin in Leif Enger's Peace Like a River says, "A sob rippled up my throat and I couldn't do a thing about it." 

At the end of our first class called, Caring for Persons with Lifelong Health Conditions, I had approached the professor because we had scheduled this time to talk about my disabilities and her class, something I do with every professor.

When I opened my mouth to speak, however, I gasped with a dry sob. "This is going to be an intense experience for me," I said--or tried to say through my gasping. 

For the last hour of class, we had watched the Frontline film Facing Death: A Day in the ICU. As I watched this film of sick people pushed down white hallways and into elevators in their rolling beds, I recalled my own experiences for that month in my hospital bed after neurosurgery to remove a brain tumor that was the size of a plum and as old as I was.

As I watched the film and remember, looking back, I also looked forward. I thought about the possibility of a recurrence, something that's happened once already, and as I watched these dying and grey, flat-templed and slack-jawed men, I wondered if that might be my experience. 

Death and dying isn't something that I generally dwell on, but I'll have a regularly scheduled MRI for the doctors to see if there's been another growth next week, and I'm always more labile before those appointments, appointments that occur twice a year (is that biannually or semi-annually? I can never remember.)

When I talked with my professor after class, she was kind and present and shared some of her story with me. "We are all wounded healers," she said. I nodded as I tried to steady my breath.

It's true. We all have our stories. Today, I interviewed my Silver Sneakers exercise teacher Chad, who has been legally blind since he was four years old, about what it's like to be blind. I have now completed about 35 interviews with people with life-changing health conditions and another 15 with people in our lives for a book I'm calling Sharing Our Stories of Life-Changing Health Conditions

The premise of the book is that in sharing our stories with others, perhaps those with life-changing health conditions or those in our lives, or perhaps people in the healing fields, we experience our own connections to those who may be like us: wise and vulnerable, funny and profound, human.

As Chad said at the end of our interview, "I believe we all have a gift and sometimes our uniqueness is a gift. As far as I know, we only get one chance at this life. I gotta embrace it. We really can lift other people up. We get by with a little help from our friends."

I agree with Chad that we each bring a gift to this world, and for those of us with life-changing health conditions and disabilities, we bring grace to the world when we share our perspectives.

I feel sad when I think about my own death--after all, I love living-- but I do not feel afraid of death. I have only ever been afraid of living a lackluster life. (Well, of that and spiders).

In college, I read another soul-searcher's story when I read Thoreau's Walden for the first time and read on the opening page this well-known explanation of his year by a dirty little pond: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." 

At the time, I ached with a loneliness that was not obvious to most others, and I feared that I would lead a dull life. 

Perhaps it has been through my struggles that I have found the intense joy which marks my adult life. When I divorced my doctor husband and joined life with my life partner Ann, a teacher and twenty years my senior, I came out reluctantly to my friend Sonya. She listened to my story and said, "I never took you for such an interesting story."

I was a little insulted. Sonya and I had spent a lot of time together, including a week to Glacier National Park in Montana. I knew she didn't like how loudly I yelled for the bears as we hiked during the day and how deeply I slept in our flimsy tent at night, but I hadn't realized that I had seemed to dull to my friend before coming out. 

"Ah," I thought. "Perhaps I will live an interesting life after all." My life has continued to be interesting: I've taught teenagers whose spirits I loved; I've survived two brain tumors, pneumonia, the swine flu, and so forth; I've survived a car crash that pushed my car thirty yards away from its intended direction and folded the car in on me, requiring the emergency responders to cut my little Honda's top off in order to extract me; I've left my 26 year career in education and am seeking a masters at the school of social work in order to become a therapist for others with life-changing health conditions; I'm finding new passions and new gifts; I live with a daily joy, grateful for the presence of grace.

Perhaps I am interesting after all.

I have been working with my niece Isabella for the last week on her essays for a prestigious scholarship, a scholarship that her mother was awarded and that my high school counselors--I've just remembered--wanted to nominate me for, but I declined. (No, I wasn't too good for the scholarship at all, and probably would not have survived the intense weeding-out process: it was just a bad match.)

When I told Isabella that I had declined the nomination, she said, "You get The Most Interesting Person Award." And this from a teenager (even if it is Isabella who is so remarkably kind.) High praise, indeed. 

Yes, I live an interesting life, a life of joy and grace and sometimes intense sadness. 

As I say so often, I am lucky. 

Monday, September 23, 2013


Yesterday, I went to my second Al-Anon meeting at the School of Social Work. I started with a group of a hundred or so and then broke off with a smaller group of 25. I won't tell you much because the meetings are confidential, but I will share some of my experience. 

Last week, at my first meeting, I talked with three people from other parts of my life. Two of them go to three meetings a week. This week, two people who shared go to both AA and Al-Anon meetings. My very insightful conclusion: this is a really hard disease for those who have it and for those in their lives. 

Because last week was my first visit and new experiences can be intimidating, Ann went with me, and we went to the meeting in the building at the UW where I take classes: the meeting space was familiar because it was the lecture room where I'd taken Biology for Social Workers

I figured we'd be able to park right at the curb and go in. When we got to the building, however, all the curb spots were taken, as were all other nearby spots, so we had to find a place to park a couple of blocks away. "Who are all these people?" I wondered aloud. Ann supposed they were all people at the Al-Anon meeting. "At 8:30 on a Sunday morning? I don't think so."

As so often happens when I doubt Ann, she was right. We took a crowded elevator to the third floor and joined about a hundred people for this meeting. I felt like I was at a top secret rebel meeting, with all of these people showing up on a Sunday morning even though no one was taking roll, but it was all Al-Anon. These people looked like me: they were around my age, professional types.  I felt that perhaps I belonged here. 

Outside the meeting room, a book table was set up. (Books! An indication that I was in the right place.) We walked past the table and asked the man sitting there if this were the Al-Anon meeting. Recognizing us as new, a woman gave us a free copy of How Al-Ananon Works for Families & Friends of Alcoholics. We said, "Thanks. Just give us one. We can share." What I was really thinking was, "I'll take one to be polite, but it's probably promotional stuff disguised as a book, and I'll never read it."  

We sat down in an empty row, and as more people filed in an acquaintance from church years ago sat a couple of seats from us. It was nice to see a familiar face.

At the beginning of the meeting, the secretary read a pre-written statement, something like, "We come because we and people in our lives have been hurt by alcohol." My chest tightened like it does when I'm going to cry (which I don't do often), and that was enough to tell me that this was a good place for me.

I have visited AA meetings, so the readings from a notebook and the "Hi So and So" responses to anyone introducing themselves didn't surprise me. Another woman we know came in a little late and sat a few seats down from us. Another familiar face. We gave a little wave.  

Some people shared stories of why they came here and then a small break-off group went to another room while those of us in the giant room listened to a reading from the AA Principles and then had ten minutes to write our own reflections (Writing! Another indication that this was the right place), followed by time to share if we wanted to. Ann and I stayed quiet and listened as others shared. 

At the session's end, Ann and I talked with the women we knew and another woman I knew came up, greeting me with a giant hug. I felt welcomed and said so. These people were my peeps. There's no such thing as too many peeps. A whole room of my peeps, and I never knew they were there meeting in secret. 

I've started reading the book I never thought I'd read. I'm a newbie to any understanding of alcoholism, so the things that struck me might seem elementary to you, but I'll share them in case you're a newbie, too, or in case you're wondering what struck me. 

1) My experience in Al-Alanon is for me to understand my own experience and to understand more about alcoholism, not to provide any advice or opinions for anyone else. (That sounds good to me. I'm not much of one for accepting or dispensing unasked for advice.)

2) Many people who come to these meetings have or had a close relationship with someone who is an alcoholic, but some never even knew a drinker and have been affected by people who have been affected by alcoholism. A person whose parent was not a drinker but whose grandparent or great grandparent was a drinker might still be affected by the alcoholism, for example.

3) Sometimes someone close to the drinker wants them to get sober in order to stop drinking and making a mess of things, but that person can feel left out when the drinker stops drinking and changes in ways that they hadn't anticipated. Also, that person can feel left out by the new community that a newly sober person can connect with.

4) Alcoholism, like cancer, is a serious and complicated disease. Drinking is only one aspect of being an alcoholic, and becoming abstinent does not address all issues of the disease. The non-drinking alcoholic still has lots to learn about living without alcohol. 

I'm excited about this new opportunity to learn and to connect with people as we share our stories. I'll go again.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Calendaring Confusion

Today, when I arrived at yoga, I expected my teacher Victoria to greet me because today is Friday, and Victoria teaches on Fridays. Instead, Dawn, who teaches on Mondays, was there. When Dawn greeted me at the door, she noticed my confusion and said, "Today's Monday." I hesitated. I could have sworn today was Friday. Then Dawn laughed and said, "Just kidding. I'm subbing for Victoria today. I had you going there for a minute."

It's true. She did. Since radiation for my second brain tumor, I've had trouble with calendars. Earlier this week, when my Silver Sneakers teacher Chad and I were scheduling an interview, I opened my calendar. "Let's see. Today is Tuesday, October 1st. Right?" 

Chad laughed, and said, "It's September."

Glad to be corrected, I said, "Oh, it must be September 24th." 

Chad laughed again and looked a little concerned. "Noooo...."

"Earlier?" I asked, mystified, and Chad nodded. 

"The 17th? I could have sworn it was October." (Looking back, I realize now that my October MRI--a regularly scheduled look into my brain--is on my mind, so I had moved myself into October already.)

Six years ago, when I was in the hospital recovering from surgery for my first brain tumor, my surgeon talked with me every morning. Each day he'd ask, "What's your name? What's the date? Where are you?"

I always got the first two right. I remembered my whole name, Mary Adele Edwards, and the nurses wrote the date on the white board in front of me each morning, so I looked there to see the date. Because each day in the hospital was much like the day before, there's no way I would have known without the nurses' help.

(I usually got "Where are you?" right, but one day, I said, "I know exactly where I am. I'm on the 17th floor of Virginia Mason Hospital." When the doctor began to nod with approval, I continued, "in the crematorium." The good doctor reduced my steroids.)

People who see me notice pretty quickly that my eyes are crossed, my vision poor, and my balance unreliable. Friends and family also know that I struggle with fatigue,  so I nap a lot. They also know that I've lost significant hearing in my right ear and use a hearing aid (which I love.) I have other disabilities, too, that are harder to notice. 

I struggle with following a calendar, even when I'm looking at it. There must be some special spot in the brain for calendars that got fried a little during radiation.

What else? I have a slight tremor in my left hand and an even slighter one in my right hand. My left foot often takes on a purplish hue because of nerve damage. The middle muscles in my left nostril don't work like they used to, so it's hard to blow out boogers. (This is more troublesome than you might guess. Dad said he didn't think I needed to put that part about the boogers in my blog, but you know that I am honest with you, even when the truth isn't pretty.) When I've been moving quickly--say in an airplane or a car or even on foot--my body thinks the world is still going quickly by, so I have to be especially careful as I come to curb: the world is not as it seems.

The list goes on. 

The truth is, there's a lot we can't see about anyone's struggles. I try to remember that when some teen on a skateboard rattles past, threatening my sense of safety on the sidewalk. Or when a politician or religious leader says something that seems foolish and offensive to me. Or when someone insults me, intentionally or not (like the woman in the bathroom at the Storm game who apologized too profusely to me when she said something about "the blind leading the blind.")

I try to remember: that person is doing the best that person can right now. I try to remember that I can't see or sometimes even guess at someone else's struggles. 

I'll try to remember that about you. I hope you'll remember that about me, too. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

This I Believe

Dad says I'm becoming the family sage. Funny. I think of sages as people who sit in sacred silence, their legs twisted into impossibly pretzel-like postures as the sage dispenses wisdom. It is true that I would like to be wise, but I am not so flexible as the sages, and I'm not much of a talker, more one to listen and ask questions: I am more soothseeker than soothsayer. 

I might have learned a few things in my first half a century, however. I have been through some rough times, and I think that tradition has it that going through something difficult makes a person more wise. Dante went to hell before heading to Purgatory and Paradise, for example, and Luke Skywalker had to swing that neon light saber at some evildoers. 

Like these heroes, I have been through my own rough times: in my divorce and coming out, I experienced depression's deep pain, and in facing brain tumors and ensuing disabilities, I have seen "the eternal footman hold my coat", like T.S. Eliot's Prufrock (though my eternal footman did not snicker. He was silent and sad about the eyes, like the kid no one sits with at lunch.)

I do believe that I've learned a few things in my teaching (where I've learned from both colleagues and students), in coming out as a lesbian before such love was honored, in traveling through depression's deep darkness, and in surviving brain tumors with new ways of living. Just in case this is the height of my sagacity, I think I'll share what I believe.

So what do I believe?

I believe that people always do the best they can at the time, even when it seems that they are really screwing up. I heard this from my mentor Peter in my first year of teaching: he responded in this way when I asked if he thought our students were really doing their best.

I know that I, too, always do my best, and sometimes I make a mess of things. Our presidents do their best; so do our parents and our teachers. This belief allows so much room for forgiveness, not for sanctioning wrong behavior, but for understanding the humanity of all that we do, all that is elegant and all that is ugly. I can forgive myself, and I can forgive you. After all, we are doing our best, even when our best is not so good at all. Even when we hurt someone we love. Or hate. Or do not know.

I believe other things, too. 

I go to church because I grew up in a church and the rituals are familiar and comforting to me. I believe there is a force of grace and love and forgiveness that is bigger than I am and bigger than my church is. I call that force God. And what of this word, God? Rumi said that words are but a finger pointing to the moon, and that we should not confuse the finger with the moon. I do not confuse the word God with God, and I believe that there are many other words pointing to this essence, words like Allah and Yahweh and Father and Son and Holy Ghost and so many more that I do not know.

I believe that great material wealth is dangerous to the poor and the rich alike, that a focus on wealth distracts us from our lives. I believe that I, like everyone else, bring gifts to share with those in my world, even those I do not know. I believe that I cannot multitask, but that I can only focus my mind on one thing at a time, and I believe this is also true for people who think they can multitask. I believe that as a nation, we are underfunding the dreams that are at the core of our identity and that we should be funding public schools at a MUCH higher rate than we currently do. I believe that every child should go to kindergarten. 

What is the point of life? I believe with the Budha at Breakfast that life is the point of life. 

This I believe.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

The American Dream

A decade ago, I was interviewing high school freshmen who were reading at the elementary school level for a remedial reading class. The students only entered the class if they agreed to it. I interviewed one young man named Tim whom I will not forget, though I only talked with him for that one hour or so. Tim, I suppose, held on to the mythical American Dream.

Tim, probably five foot seven and a bit gangly, came into my office with the weary look and the dirt so deep in his skin's creases that I guessed he was homeless. The reading assessment showed that he was reading comfortably at the kindergarten or first grade level, but uncomfortably and without comprehension on any texts more difficult than that. Tim's Language Arts teacher had already noticed his difficulty and had asked that I talk with him.

Tim knew that he struggled with reading. (Some students didn't: they said, "I can read. I just can't comprehend.") When I asked him if he'd like to enroll in the course, however, he declined. This was unusual, and I asked him what his vision for his life after high school was.

"I'm going to play in the NBA," he said.

I was new to this community, so I was surprised that someone of his physique would imagine such a future for  himself. "Do you play on the school team?" I asked. He did not. "Why do you want to play professional basketball?"

He told me that his dream was to be rich one day, and--again being new to this community--I told him that being rich didn't necessarily make a person happy. I told him that I knew people who were wealthy who didn't seem happy to me, and that maybe it was more healthy to have a middle income and a meaningful life.

This dirty child looked at me as if I had three heads. Whereas there had been a softness about his brown eyes when he told me about his dream, he now looked at me hard, as if his eyes were made of glass. He did not believe me, and I think my statement made him angry.

I believe I first started hearing about this dream of excess, "The American Dream," when I read The Great Gatsby in college. At first I thought of "The American Dream" as some literary device, a fiction that explained Gatsby and his opulent lifestyle. I remember Gatsby (It's been thirty years since I've read it, so I may not have the details right) as a dark, shadowy figure, his excessive wealth linked to some unknown, international badness. I remember him as lonely amidst the crowds that gathered at his mansion to eat and drink and dance. 

It wasn't until a discussion my senior year in college that I noticed that people spoke of this dream as "The American Dream" outside of the Gatsby context. They spoke about this dream as if every American knew and had this dream. This perplexed me. This was not my dream, and I didn't know when these classmates of mine had come to agree on this American Dream as THE American Dream.

A child of the seventies, I thought of "The Dream" as Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream, and when Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream," I don't think he meant Gatsby's American dream. I think he meant a dream of economic prosperity but not excess, a dream of justice, of a fair police system, legal system, educational system, penal system and political system. A dream of a place where whites,  the descendants of former slave-holders, and blacks, the descendants of former slave-holders and slaves, would be as brothers and sisters to one another. (You can read the entire text of MLK's "I have a dream" speech at the Fox News--yes, Fox News--website http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/08/27/transcript-martin-luther-king-jr-have-dream-speech/#ixzz2ehbI3cj2 )

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s yearning still stirs my hopes, over fifty years later, as we are still in a land of economic haves and have-nots, where blacks and other people of color are systematically discriminated against in our penal, legal, educational and political systems. 

The economic divide continues to grow. A front page headline in yesterday's Seattle Times, announced, "Top 1% take a record share of U.S. income," and the lead reported, "The top 10 percent of earners took more than half of the country's total income in 2012, the highest level recorded since the government began collecting such data a century ago."

The disparity in income suggests to me that Gatsby's dream has taken hold in America more than Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream. There is much sadness in this, both because the dream of incredible wealth means that some do not have enough while others have too much (yes, too much for their own happiness), and because Gatsby's dream does not lead to happiness and fulfillment, but rather to the kind of loneliness that Gatsby himself experienced.

In my sadness, I return to Martin Luther King, Jr, who admonishes me, "Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred." And I go now to a different dreamer, John Lennon, and I seek with John to imagine:

Imagine no possessions.

I wonder if you can:

No need for greed or hunger,

A brotherhood of man.

Imagine all the people,

Sharing all the world.
You may say I'm a dreamer,

But I'm not the only one.

John and I aren't the only ones. Eleanor Roosevelt, another dreamer, said, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

The most beautiful dreams, it seems to me, are not the empty dreams of extravagance, but the dreams for all of us to pursue happiness.

Sound too sappy? Thomas Jefferson adapted the phrase, "life, liberty and the pursuit of property" from the 17th century philosopher John Locke, who wrote of government's role in protecting, "life, liberty, and estate." Jefferson envisioned something bigger, a government that protected a person's pursuit of happiness. The owner of an estate himself, perhaps he saw the folly of thinking that an estate is more important than pursuing happiness.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think that students like Tim are right to want a world where their needs and rights, including the right to pursue happiness, are met, and that includes having sufficient funds to lead a healthy life. But excessive funds for a few and inadequate funds for most others? This dream is unhealthy for wealthy and poor alike, for individuals and for our country. 

So I hope that like Martin Luther, John, Eleanor and me, you dream bigger than luxury...

I hope someday you will join us,

And the world will live as one.