Last Year In “Some Bullshit”: Something I Will Never Comprehend

{This post was originally written on April 22nd, 2016, for the Broad-cast blog. Now that the Broad-cast is defunct, I thought I’d bring it over here to repost it on the anniversary. Not the anniversary of his death, though; the anniversary of the day so many of us spent remembering him via songs and videos and think pieces and GIFs, my god, the GIFs! So instead of the more staid approach I took with the photo illustrations to this piece on the Broad-cast, here I will be inserting GIFs. They may or may not be appropriate to the topic addressed in any given paragraph. I don’t care. Prince gave good GIF.}

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When Prince Rogers Nelson died yesterday at the age of 57, the world lost a musician of unparalleled talent. He played 27 instruments. His vocal range spanned an effortless four-and-a-half octaves. He released 39 studio albums and apparently had thousands of unreleased songs locked in a vault at his Paisley Park mansion. There are literally no other musicians alive today who can even approach Prince’s musicianship across so many metrics.

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But beyond Prince’s contributions to modern music, Prince also spend much of his career existing outside the strict boundaries of gender enforced by our culture. In his song “Controversy,” he addresses the curiosity of the public about his identity, posing questions that I know I was also asking as a young child when I saw him on my television: “Am I black or white/am I straight or gay?” As Alyssa Rosenberg said in the Washington Post yesterday, the deaths, in rapid succession, of both Prince and David Bowie have robbed us of two artists who “showed there’s no right way to be a man”:

“But if conventional notions of gender were only one of the things that didn’t constrain Bowie and Prince, their transcendence of this particular category is still a particularly significant part of their legacies. In the clothes they wore, the lean bodies they lived in, the way they positioned themselves in their music and art, their relationships to LGBT communities and in so many other ways, Prince and Bowie were living arguments that there is no one way, and no correct way for a man to dress, to move, to decide what he values, to choose who he loves or where he stands in relation to that person.”

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Prince’s former bandmate, Wendy Melvoin, said once that her first impression of Prince was that “He looked at me like a gay woman would look at another woman…We looked at each other for the first time and I thought, ‘Oh, I could so fall in love with that girl easy.’” Melvoin was among the many female musicians that Prince promoted relentlessly throughout his career, whether they were instrumentalists like Melvoin, Lisa Coleman, and Sheila E., to whom he gave prominent roles in his bands; or vocalists like Vanity, Apollonia, Carmen Electra, and even Sinead O’Connor, whose career-making breakthrough record, “Nothing Compares 2 U”, was written by Prince.

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In addition, Prince’s lyrics always promoted female sexual agency. In one of his earliest hit songs, “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, Prince’s desire for the woman in the song is built entirely around wanting to give her pleasure, and says, “I don’t want to pressure you,” as simple and clear a refutation of rape culture as we’re ever likely to get in a Top 40 song. Throughout the first two decades of his career, he gave voice to the idea that women could make their own choices about sex. For third-generation sex-positive feminists, listening to Prince approvingly sing about things like female masturbation was often a revelation. Writing for ESPN yesterday, Allison Glock pointed out that:

“He made slut-shaming irrelevant. By inviting women to be sexual on their own terms, to play with camp, to wear lingerie and throw down insane guitar licks, the women in Prince’s crew presented power in myriad forms, and showed they were in on the joke, beating sexist reductions to the punch and turning them on their ear musically and otherwise.”

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Prince also expressed a deep feeling of comradeship with women in songs like “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” where he laments that he will never be able to feel a certain level of closeness with his lover simply due to the expected male/female dynamics of a romantic relationship. His ability to flow between signifiers of masculinity (impeccably manicured facial hair and an often bare hairy chest) and femininity (heels, ruffled blouses, eyeliner, purple everything) was finally encapsulated by the glyph he created to replace his name during his contract battle with Warner Brothers — half male, half female, all Prince. This gender play made him not just an icon for the gay community, but very specifically the black gay community. In a piece for the Los Angeles Times, Tre’Velle Anderson writes:

“For black men, gender is a straight jacket, and day by day we find ways to live with our hands bound. Prince, however, found a way to break free. He shrugged off the confines of gender giving way to a persona that was masculine and feminine, and the world had to deal. Looking at how he moved through the world, seemingly without a care, I saw a way that I too could somehow balance these seemingly opposite identities.”

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But Prince’s comfort with androgyny during the first half of his career derailed after he became a Jehovah’s Witness in 2002, following the death of his only child and end of his first marriage. Although he was apparently furious about the way he was portrayed in a 2008 New Yorker profile, he did not deny saying the quote that deeply confused a gay community that had seen him as an icon for decades:

“You’ve got the Republicans, and basically they want to live according to [the bible]. But there’s the problem of interpretation, and you’ve got some churches, some people, basically doing things and saying it comes from here, but it doesn’t. And then…you’ve got the Democrats, and they’re, like, ‘You can do whatever you want.’ Gay marriage, whatever. But neither of them is right…God came to earth and saw people sticking it wherever and doing it with whatever, and he just cleared it all out. He was, like, ‘Enough.’”

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Prince had always been a believer. He had always woven religious language and imagery into his songs; indeed, “Let’s Go Crazy” is straightforwardly about enjoying the short time we are given on this earth to the fullest, while anticipating “the afterworld: a world of never-ending happiness; you can always see the sun, day or night.” Ann Powers mused on NPR that:

“Prince fans…first had to work through his dirty-minded outrageousness…only to find themselves confronted with the deeper provocation he posed. That was to move through the sensual into a spiritual, even religious space…which he brought to the level of profound spectacle. A promised land, on earth, made of intertwining grooves and limbs. Prince devotees committed themselves to starting there, in a kind of naked state. Beyond the explicitly political thread that delicately runs throughout his work, this was the way Prince fought for civil rights — he created musical environments in which propriety, the viral carrier of prejudice, fell under the curlicued sword of wise good humor and elegant lust.”

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The transition from a Christianity that reveled in the joyous embrace of “living in the now before the grim reaper comes knocking at your door” to one that made him forswear buttless jumpsuits and cease all live performances of songs like “Head” and “Darling Nikki” was jarring. Even for the fans who didn’t feel a kinship with Prince for his gender fluidity and overt carnality, fans who simply idolized his willingness to be deeply weird on every level without apology, a Prince who no longer wanted to gyrate into twenty-three positions in a one night stand seemed…wrong.

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But the people who raised their voices yesterday in an outpouring of grief were the ones who grew up on the Prince of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, who will always remember how his example pushed the boundaries of American ideas of gender. His recent music had become less relevant to pop culture, although he remained a singular figure who was revered throughout his industry. He also turned much of his energy to philanthropy, as his friend Van Jones revealed yesterday on CNN. Slowly but surely, stories have been trickling out over the last 24 hours of donations made in secret so as to conform to his new strict religious beliefs. Helping inner city kids learn to program computers. Donations to small local organizations like libraries. Fundraisers to help prop up local community organizations in Chicago, Baltimore, Los Angeles. While many of us may have seen an idol slip away from us on issues of gender and sexuality, Prince continued to support progressive ideas through undercover largesse.

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Prince was a figure of unfathomable impact in American pop culture. His loss seems unreal. Maybe tomorrow it will make more sense. For today, we can reflect on the things he did, the words he sang, and how they changed us.

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They say you were something in those formative years/hold on to nothing as fast as you can

How are you supposed to feel when someone dies who was very important to you for a very short time very long ago? It seems like I shouldn’t be allowed to be as sad as I am. Like I’m grabbing the coat tails of someone else’s tragedy. But all I know is that there are a small smattering of people who played a role in my life during pivotal periods who I’ve never been able to reconnect with through social media as an adult, and I can now stop my periodic Google searches for this one guy. I never found him. And there’s a tiny hole in my heart because of it.

The end of my eighth grade year was a time of shifting loyalties. In my overly dramatic brain, I was beset on all sides by friends who had never been friends, by enemies who had always been enemies, by people who did actually like me but sensed which way the wind was blowing and desperately jumped ship when being my ally became a liability. I had always been something of a joke, but as middle school marched towards its close, my value as a target for ridicule seemed to reach a terrifying crescendo.

But then something strange happened. An odd assortment of people began to tentatively stand by my side. People who had written me off as a hopeless nerd got to spend some time with me and realized I was actually funny and interesting. People who had always blended into the woodwork emerged and reached out to me.

I have no recollection of how my running joke with this guy started. We were in art class together; that was it. To be quite honest, there may have been some casual inhalation of rubber cement that made us think the whole thing was funny in the first place. But suddenly every time we passed in the halls, he would hip check me and we would trade our silly lines, act out our tiny play. There was no romantic aspect to it (that was already developing elsewhere with someone else I had barely noticed before). This was just a simple affectionate gesture between two people who were practically strangers until that spring, that spring that had been so bleak for me until that point. Did we recognize our mutual dysfunction? A similar darkness inside, a sensation of being lost and directionless?

1994 was a long time ago, and due to a variety of factors my once formidable memory has begun to crumble, so all I have left of him are snippets, small vivid moving pictures of the two of us from that summer and fall. I remember us at a birthday party, both having escaped from the main celebration, hanging off a bed and watching The State upside down. (It was the episode with the Sleep With the State Concept and Barry Lutz Monkey Torture, for the record.) I remember both of us leaving tryouts for soccer teams that we had very little interest in actually joining, strolling with another friend across a baseball diamond, a parking lot, a grassy quad. I don’t remember what we talked about, just a feeling of contentment.

I remember the new school year starting and alliances shifting yet again, making a new set of friends through the fall play, never really seeing him beyond the occasional nudge in the lunch room. And then I remember him being gone. And I remember myself losing my mind, and being too distracted by my own crumbling sanity to have any consideration for his disappearance. I knew he had disciplinary issues. I knew he had dismal grades. I assumed our school had “asked him to leave” because unless someone was actually caught doing drugs in the gym the administration was reluctant to do anything so déclassé as expelling anybody. I heard he had transferred to another local prep school. I decided he was fine. We were never the kind of friends who would chat on the phone, so we disappeared from each other’s lives.

One day he appeared at school, alongside another former middle school classmate (who had, presciently, left after 8th grade rather than bother with another four years of snobby nonsense). He shambled up to me with a huge smile on his face, I yelped with surprised delight and gave him an enormous hug. We fell immediately into our little script from years ago, a script that we had tossed out in favor of actual tentative friendship before he had vanished but still, always, the core of our bond. It was a stupid little bond. I was nothing more than a blip in his life, I’m sure of it. I called him Vinny. He called me Gina. And then he was gone. I never saw him again.

I saw his brother once, when I was living in New York City. I asked how he was doing. The answer was generally noncommittal but clearly not good. I could commiserate. That same night I caught a cab home from Grand Central, rode with the window down, watching the city fly by, letting the air hit my face, feeling that old emptiness, that old darkness. I woke up the next day and found I had plunged into my worst depression in years. It took me another two years to pull myself out. From the sound of it, whatever my old friend was going through, he was in too deep.

I searched for him every time a new social network popped up. Friendster. MySpace. I was actually briefly Facebook friends with some other rando from Buffalo who happened to have the same name until I read his profile and discovered this kid was about seven years younger than us and a drummer in a Christian rock band. Definitely not the same guy. I was apparently not the only one who had left town but occasionally poked around the internet trying to track him down; he had left absolutely no digital footprints. But he had never gone anywhere. As I now understand it, he was in Buffalo the whole time. And tomorrow, I am going to his funeral.

When you’re an adolescent, you break your identity down into pieces and then put yourself back together at least once, if not multiple times. Sometimes in that interval when you’ve fallen apart, you have a moment where you are briefly no one in particular, where you can look around with some peace and clarity and relate to other people with no baggage. The end of 8th grade was that moment for me. I was tired of everyone’s bullshit, sick of their expectations, over their preconceived notions of who I was and who I was supposed to be. And in that moment, I made a friend. Just for a moment. Not enough of a moment to merit the feeling I had in the pit of my stomach when I was told he had died, logically, but no one has ever accused the emotional portions of my brain of having much connection to logic. In that moment when I needed him, he was Vinny and I was Gina. Some days that was what made the difference.

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“It’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away / Your love will be / Safe with me”

He recognizes my footfall. He can be awake in his crib for an hour, resting peacefully through absolute cacophony upstairs, but the moment he hears me walk across the floorboards in the living room above his head, he cries out.

I once remarked that he hugs me like he’s Princess Leia and I’m Han Solo and I’m about to be frozen in carbonite and he doesn’t know if he’ll ever see me alive again. On more than one occasion I have joked, when he grabs me by the legs or snuggles into my lap, that he needs to learn he can’t climb back inside me.

About a month and a half ago, he broke my glasses. He’d gotten into the annoying habit of slapping them off my face as I loaded him into his car seat. He really wanted those glasses off of me. He would then look at me fondly and caress my cheek, as though he hadn’t seen my face, my real face, in ages. I think it was a weaning thing. When he nursed, even when he was a very small baby, he wanted to make constant eye contact. Gazing at me in wonder.

I don’t think anyone in the world has ever loved me as much as he does.

I am constantly afraid that something horrible is going to happen to him. A freak accident, when he’s just out of my sight. Awful scenarios, running through my head, all the time. I read the Phillippa Gregory book “The White Queen” last week, and the closer I got to the ending I knew was inevitable, that the queen’s sons would be taken to the Tower of London and never come back out, the more white-knuckled my grasp of the library binding became. My New Year’s resolution this year (and I never make resolutions, so this was big for me) was to stop reading things on the internet that would upset me. True crime, houses burning down with children inside them, longreads about child pornography sting operations. And yet somehow last night I found myself reading the Ted Bundy wikipedia page, half-convinced that there was a serial killer downstairs silently strangling my children and on his way to kill me too. I don’t know if this is normal. I kinda assume that it is and it isn’t. All I know is that I love my children far more than I love myself and I live in constant terror of something horrible happening to them.

So I just don’t understand.

I understand why people, in the comments of some articles I have been unable to pull myself away from of late, want to offer up some small bit of empathy or sympathy to a mother who feels pushed to the breaking point, who feels alone, without support, without hope. I get why people want desperately to create some sort of context, to help prevent, to try to understand.

But I will never understand.

I will never understand how someone could try to kill their child.

I can empathize with Dorothy Spourdalakis right up until she gave her son sleeping pills and then stabbed him in the heart.

I can empathize with Kelli Stapleton right up until she lights the grills in the back of her van.

And then my empathy is gone. And then my compassion disappears.

My son is not autistic, but my daughter is. The emotional abundance I receive from E is not as readily accessible from D a lot of the time. But I have no doubt she loves me. She is able to show me that, through words and deeds. She always has. I don’t know enough about Alex Spourdalakis or Issy Stapleton to speak to their capacity to express connection with their parents. All I know is what the media narratives tell me. They were large, and violent. They were locked in, in their own worlds, a burden. Nevermind reports, firsthand reports I’ve read, from people who have met these kids, seen them talk, seen them play. I do not doubt that these children were more difficult to deal with, on many levels, than my own. But they are your children. They trust you, completely, inherently, from birth. Your job as a parent, more than anything else, is to love and protect your children. Their lives are not yours to dictate. You have no right to decide when and how they will die. When the language we, as a society, use to describe autistic people is language that is othering, dehumanizing, we set up a stage for this to keep happening. When you see your children as a burden, as a curse, as people trapped inside a shell of an illness, as props in your play…that’s the only way I can understand such acts. And with that I cannot, will not, empathize.

When D was a baby, I was shellshocked. I felt an immediate connection with her when she was first placed on my chest, but in the weeks that followed I felt that connection crumble. She was a voracious nurser, wanted to eat constantly, wouldn’t sleep anywhere that wasn’t a lap or a shoulder or a busom. But she wouldn’t tolerate a wrap or a carrier. When I tried to strap her to me so I could accomplish something, anything, she wrestled against me and screamed. Once we got her on some reflux medicine, things got better. But there was still a constant struggle within her that I could perpetually see — her desire to be close to me, so I could nourish her, but simultaneously shuddering and clawing away from confinement. The fervent and almost obsequious love that my son showers me with…it’s not the same as what D and I have. The summer before he was born was a nonstop struggle to come to some sort of detente with her. We screamed. We cried. We hurt each other. I didn’t know what was wrong between us, but despite our epic rows I clung to her. A few days before E’s birth I crawled into bed next to her and we held each other close. I knew it was the last time it would be just me and her together, alone together, as we had been so often for so long. She is my first child. She frustrates me endlessly. She makes me proud every day. A phrase I have seen very often on autism self-advocacy blogs is “Behavior Is Communication”. When D does things that are violent or aggravating or disruptive, I need to stop myself from simply responding to the behavior and instead try to deduce what has led her to that behavior.

Why was Alex Spourdalakis violent? Was it because his mother was subjecting him to biomedical “cure” treatments recommended by her friends Andrew Wakefield and Polly Tommey? Was his gastrointestinal pain a result of bleach enemas? Chelation? I expect we will find out at the trial. But he was trying to tell his mother something.

I will never understand.

Why was Issy Stapleton violent? Was it her reaction against endless behavioral therapies aimed at stopping problematic behaviors rather than understanding what she was trying to communicate? Was it a reaction against a mother that clearly had some need for drama, a mother who posted videos on YouTube of herself weeping and screaming as her daughter comes at her? Trying to tell her mother something.

I will never understand.

Your child is not a bit player in your own personal psychodrama. Your child is not a puzzle waiting to be solved. Your child is a gift, a miracle in every cell of his or her body, even if that body is in some way different from what you expected, what you always thought you wanted in a child. Your child is new and unfinished and essentially defenseless against you. Yes, even a 14-year-old autistic child who outweighs you. You are the parent. You always have options — not always good options, but options. Options better than killing your child who trusts you, who needs you, who is struggling and needs your love and your guidance, not your disappointment and disdain and despair.

I think it is an insult to my friends who are parents to autistic children who fall on the more “severe” end of the spectrum to express sympathy for these women. Thousands of parents are raising children who are very similar to Issy Stapleton and Alex Spourdalakis and would never dream of murdering their kids. We can and should have a discussion as a society about lack of services, lack of supports — but can we please do it independently of the conversation about murdering children? Kelli Stapleton had total strangers on the internet donate money, enough money to send Issy to a residential therapy program for six months. Dorothy Spourdalakis had people from Age of Autism filming in her kid’s hospital room; Andrew fucking Wakefield at his bedside. These were NOT women who were toiling away anonymously, penniless, without any resources or supports.

As a parent, it has been relatively easy for me to find blogs of other parents where we can offer each other support, to find accounts in the media that promote sympathy and understanding towards parents of children with autism. I agree that in our day to day, non-internet life, it can be hard to find the support we need. But the overall narrative in the media is one that gives parents a voice. Conversely, I have found it is extremely rare to find blogs or articles that are written from the point of view of autistic adults. Really. It wasn’t until I found Shannon Des Roches Rosa’s blog (through a search about iPad apps, of all things) that I was introduced to the voices of autistic adults from all points along the spectrum, from Ari Ne’eman at the “high-functioning” end to Amy Sequenzia at the so-called “low-functioning” end. So many parents of autistic children believe that organizations like the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network are made up solely of Aspies who don’t represent their non-verbal or aggressive child. They are WRONG, and the reason they are wrong is because they simply haven’t seen it, seen what their children are possibly capable of as adults. People like Kelli Stapleton and Dorothy Spourdalakis see their children’s autism as a life sentence, not only for their children but for themselves. Of course that makes them depressed and anxious, and in some cases, in people who already have their own issues to deal with, personality disorders, whatever it may be…they snap. And what ASAN and other adult autistic advocates and even many parents like myself are trying to express is that we cannot offer our sympathies to those people who snap, because their actions do nothing but perpetuate the currently rampant idea that autism is an unbearable curse for parents and children. That devalues and dehumanizes autistic people. The most common response to these tragedies, it seems, is to focus on the experience of the parent, try to find what possibly triggers their murderous behaviors. I think it’s more important to change the focus from the parents to the children, emphasizing how our society’s general perspective on autistic children is a dehumanizing gaze that is so pervasive that it warps how many parents view their own children. As a parent, I struggle, every day. But I have to always keep in mind that my daughter is struggling more than I am, and do everything I can to help her through. And part of that is refusing to support a media narrative that says I deserve a voice but my child doesn’t.

My son just turned two, and he doesn’t talk much. It’s frustrating, and ironic, to have had a daughter who is autistic and couldn’t stop talking for a million dollars, and a son who, from all available evidence, is not autistic but is just a big ol’ mushmouth. But one of the things he can say is, “I love you”. It doesn’t sound like “I love you.” It sounds kinda like, “N’doo.” But he says it to me every morning when I get him out of his crib. I speak his language. I hear his voice.

“And at times the fact of his absence will hit you like a blow to the chest, and you will weep.”

Aside

When I was in middle school, my mom received a delightful invitation one day from a family friend.  Richard Lee was going to be consulting on a case for the Buffalo Zoo; there was a newborn giraffe who had something wrong with one of its four stomachs (fun fact: giraffes have four stomachs!), and he thought maybe I would like to tag along.  I’m not sure what made him think of me.  Maybe he knew I needed a small infusion of whimsy in my life.  But I do know that, because of Dick Lee, I ended up in a cage with the most amazing animal I’ve ever had the opportunity to touch, getting licked by its enormous sticky purple tongue.

I remember thinking, at the time, “Why is Dr. Lee working at the zoo?” I was under the impression that he was an OB-GYN. I’d been to his office at Children’s Hospital.  But it turned out that Dick Lee had a resume longer than my arm.  According to this exhaustive interview, he was Director of Medical Clinics and the Primary Care Center at Yale, as well as chief of General Medicine.  Then he was vice-chairman of the Department of Medicine at SUNY Buffalo, while also chief of medical services at the VA.  Then he became head of the Department of Medicine at Children’s Hospital, Chief of Maternal and Adolescent Medicine and the Division of Geographic Medicine at UB, professor of anthropology, professor of social and preventative medicine, professor of pediatrics, chief medical officer at the WHO Center for Wealth in Housing, medical director of something called Ecology and Environment, Inc., and, yes, consultant in Internal Medicine at the Buffalo Zoological Society.  He was also one of the smartest, funniest, kindest and most captivating human beings I have ever had the immeasurable pleasure to know.

And yesterday, he died of a heart attack.

I was talking to a friend recently about how ages that seemed old when we were children don’t seem old now.  Obviously this is mainly due to a change in perspective as you yourself age, but I think it’s also due to men like Dick Lee.  When I told my husband that my parents’ friend had died, out of the blue, he asked how old Dick had been.  I told him 75 or 76, something like that.  “Well, then it wasn’t REALLY out of the blue.  I mean, he was 75.” But Dick somehow seemed ageless. I hadn’t seen him a couple years, I suppose, but the last time I did see him he was as vibrant and vital as he had ever been in all the time I knew him.

I met Dick when I was 7.  I had already known of his son, Ben, who was a year ahead of my sister in school and had given indelible performances in their productions of M*A*S*H, The Music Man, and The Man Who Came to Dinner. Ben was always much nicer than he really had to be to the kid who showed up backstage at her sister’s plays and gazed at him in awe.  But then I met Ben’s parents and realize that he simply came from very very good stock.

My dad got to know Dick when he helped facilitate an exchange program between Nichols and a boarding school called Loretto, in Scotland, which Dick had attended briefly as a teenager.  The teacher who came to Buffalo from Loretto, Peter Wood, became a great friend and colleague to my father, and he began coming to dinners at our house.  Soon, Dick and Susan Lee began coming along.  And that summer, we were invited to our first of many gatherings at the Lees’ house.

The Lees lived out in the country, on an expansive property called Many Barn Farm.  The name was apt.  As a kid, my favorite barn was, understandably, the stable, where they rented out stalls, and where I took one of the two horseback rides I’ve ever gone on in my life.  (Both were before the age of 10. It’s been a slow 20 years, horse-wise.)  Another barn was converted in the ‘90s into a guest house and library.  I remember Dick and Susan being very eager to show off the renovations to my parents and me once they were complete.  They envisioned holding salons there, gatherings on cold winter nights in the large library loft with a selection of the most interesting people Buffalo had to offer, where they could trade ideas and drink wine.

But every party at the Lees’ house was essentially a salon.  A salon with swimming, and volleyball, and kebobs.  Dick had, over the years, curated a collection of friends who were smart and funny and very occasionally skirted the line of pretentiousness, but regardless a fabulous array of individuals for me to be exposed to at a young age.  I didn’t really appreciate that exposure until I was quite a bit older.  When I was young, I used to spend much of the time at their parties exploring the house, which was crammed to the rafters with books and papers and maps and globes and relics and an enormous tiger skin rug that I would lie on and read the old magazines (mainly Harvard Lampoons, if I recall correctly) that I had scavenged out of his older son’s bedroom, because the actual books in the house were all too intimidating for me to touch.  Dick Lee seemed to ingest information whole, absorb it through his skin.  He knew everything and somehow wanted to learn more.  He was among the most well-read people I have ever met.

He was also one of the kindest, and almost certainly the most benevolent.  He spent his summers for years and years taking students as young as 14 on medical treks to Ladakh, a remote mountainous area in Kashmir, where they would help treat infections, administer vaccines, and care for pregnant women and their children.  He apparently took similar trips to Brazil and Kenya.  He spent much of his residency in rural Montana, doing housecalls for families in the middle of nowhere and then working on a reservation.  He managed to combine his drive for adventure and thirst for knowledge with a relentless do-goodery that touched thousands of patients over 50 years of practice.

And he somehow managed to take the time out three months ago to respond almost immediately when I sent him an email about my health concerns.  He provided some clarification about auto-antibody tests and reassured me that it was certainly possible to have positive results on those tests and never develop full-blown symptoms of lupus or Sjogren’s. (He also followed up with my mother a few weeks ago to see if I’d gotten any answers from my rheumatologist visit, and just to express general concern.)  I look at our email correspondence and feel, as my mom put it yesterday, bereft.  It doesn’t make sense.  How could he have just been here, and then, in a moment, gone?  I listened to a radio interview last night that he and Ben did a couple years back, discussing his discovery of their hidden Chinese heritage, and I just smiled hearing his voice.  His voice that was alternately calm, clear and wise, or else boisterous, rollicking, Shakespearean.  I can’t imagine never hearing it again.  The world is richer for him having been here, and poorer now that he is gone.