A More Perfect Union Called Marriage

Last week was a big week. To open it, we celebrated Passover by reading our Haggadah and eating our matzoh at a Seder hosted by my family.  To close it, we celebrated Easter at the lovely United Church in our neighborhood, a welcoming congregation that espouses kindness and tolerance (and had a great horn section).  And right in the middle were two Supreme Court hearings regarding gay marriage rights.  It was an interesting and stirring juxtaposition, that drove home the urgency of the issue and reminded me of just how lucky I am.

I remember how, as we planned our interfaith wedding three years ago, we ran into some religious dogma from institutions on both sides that gave us pause.  But for most practical purposes, few people now bat an eyelash at the thought of a Jew marrying a Christian. In fact, we had a lovely time sorting through hundreds of “humanist” and “interfaith” options online before finding a lovely celtic-inspired ketubah (the traditional Jewish wedding contract).


But of course the real questions arise once the ceremony is over – how to give equal time to each others’ holidays and traditions, how to engage with new family members on subjects of religion or spirituality, what place those things may have in the household routine – if any – and how to impart spiritual guidance, learning and traditions to your children.  This is especially fraught if you question the nature of your own spirituality as I have touched on in this very blog.

But these issues are what being married, being in a partnership, is all about.  Successfully navigating the pitfalls as well as the triumphs of life together is what takes a marriage from the wedding day through countless anniversaries. As I listened last week to the arguments against gay marriage (some of which should never again see the light of day, such as the procreation stance), I heard two main themes, one regarding the honor of the institution and one regarding the definition.


On our ketubah read the words, “We promise to work together…in this Convenant of Marriage… to create a harmonious relationship of equality,” and that seems like a fitting definition to me.  These words are followed by, “we will comfort and support each other through life’s sorrows and joys…we shall create a home filled with learning, laughter and compassion…” and if we can do that year after year, we will have done great honor to the institution.  That, I believe, is all we need to know. Any couple, gay or straight, who willingly pledges themselves to a lasting union based on love, respect and an understanding of the complexities and work involved, and who endeavor day after day to see it through, deserves to have that union acknowledged and honored.

And though the legalities are of the utmost importance, they are not really at the heart of this issue. It is the love that matters. You see, I was never a girl who dreamed of getting married, picking out every detail of the wedding day and spending my youth searching for the right man.  And yet, I found him and now cannot conceive of my life without him, nor of a life not married to him.  And now, three years in, we still get giddy when think about our marriage to each other.  I see the same youthful excitement in my parents after 51 years of their own bumpy but beautiful ride. And I imagine Edith Windsor, one of the plaintiffs in the DOMA case – would have been the same way with her partner, Thea.

In the future, I do not know how we will manage bat mitzvahs and communions, but I do know that I have a partner who will work with me on these questions and support me, as will for him.  As I watch my gay friends who have also found their life’s partner – some legally wed and some waiting for the day – building their lives together, raising children and facing hardship, how can I not take their cause personally?  Many detractors say that gay marriage will besmirch the institution, but they are simply wrong. It is, in fact, this prejudice – this inability to see that the love and commitment expressed is the same – that truly taints the institution and makes it so much less than it could be for all of us.

To those detractors I offer Depeche Mode – “people ARE people“,  to the LGBTQ community and allies, I offer Erasure…”don’t give up, together we’ll break these chains of love,” and to my daughter I offer Cyndi Lauper…may she always live her true colors and see them in others. I fervently long for real equality to arrive and for this issue to simply dissolve into the framework of a more just society.  Now is the time.


Guest Bloggers… My parents!

Ok, I know it’s a little early to be slacking off the blog and handing the reins over to someone else, but my awesome parents went to Charlotte, N.C. to participate in our democracy and wrote a bit about their adventures in politics.  Their words below touch on some of the highlights of their experience.

Their hard work and dedication, combined with that of tens of thousands of others brought about the results we have seen this week.  Many glass ceilings broken through, some hope restored and our fine President able to get back to work.

The happy couple on the convention floor.


Notes from the 2012 Democratic convention

By Susan & Martin Heyman (delegate & alternate)

It was, without a doubt, one of the most hectic and exhausting weeks of our lives. John Walsh did a terrific job organizing, to the minute, both the program and the coordination of our delegation. We awoke every morning at 7am for our Massachusetts Delegation breakfast meetings with a terrific group of speakers such as Governor Michael Dukakis, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Senator John Kerry, who gave us a real inside scoop on his role as chairman of the Senate budget committee during negotiations on the debt ceiling impasse.  After breakfast we would head immediately to the convention center about 3 blocks away to attend our choice of 3 to 5 caucus meetings from 10am to noon. We then had a second and third round of caucuses from noon to 2 and 2 to 4, all while trying to squeeze in some lunch. Here is a sample of the caucus meetings: African Americans; Hispanics; Ethnic Council, Native American Council; Women’s Caucus; Youth Council; Disability; Veterans & military families; LGBT caucus; Senior council; Small Business; Rural Council, just to name a few.

From 4pm to closing around 11pm we were on the floor for the official program, the events you might have seen on TV. And it was a wonderful show…we especially loved President Clinton’s brilliant speech and the performance by the Foo Fighters, much to our daughter’s delight.

Then the receptions and partying began around midnight, carried on until the wee hours, were followed by a few hours sleep and we were on to the next day.

Charlotte was very receptive and the people very kind and helpful, they seemed to enjoy having this tumult in their city, where 40% of the downtown streets were blocked off and police and firefighters from all over the state patrolled all day and night. Traffic was rerouted and often at a standstill but they seemed to take all in stride.


We discovered the whole country loves Massachusetts. They admire our politics and our politicians, past and present (including our current governor), and they loved Elizabeth Warren and committed donations to her campaign. . During the screening of a film about Ted Kennedy eyes were wet all over the arena. They also admire our health care program, and our education system. Everyone seemed to be saying that the seat formerly held by Kennedy should continue to be a high profile progressive seat and not be held by a follower like Scott Brown.

We celebrated the role of women all week and they were fabulous: Debbie Wasserman-Scultz, Elizabeth Warren, Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden, Jennifer Granholm, Sandra Fluke, the women of the U.S. Senate, the women of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nuns on the Bus, Gabby Giffords, Donna Brazill, and the list goes on and on.

It was a great opportunity for us to be able to sit and converse informally with important political figures, to whom we(one)could(can) not usually get (gain) toaccess. and that certainly gave us a sense of some importance, but our real take away from the whole week was one of great inclusion, participation and warmth; everyone seemed to be hugging each other. We asked an MSNBC columnist to compare the two conventions. He said we could not quote him, but the Democrats were having much more fun and so was he.


Time to Get in the Game

Once again I stayed up late in my quiet house, way past my bedtime. I blame my parents, despite the fact that they are almost a thousand miles away and Bill Clinton, despite the fact that I have never met him.

You see, my Mom and Dad have done a great many amazing things in their lives and now, when they have every right to just hang out on their deck drinking iced-teas, they have chosen and, in fact, worked quite hard to become delegates for Massachusetts to the Democratic National Convention. Though I might have tuned in anyway, their presence there ensured that we got through bedtime and clean-up and hustled down to the TV room to catch a bit of the action. And boy, was there action and just like the slogan goes, I got “fired up”.

Sue & Marty Heyman
Lookin’ sharp at the 2012 DNC

I was just in time to see Elizabeth Warren and her speech was straightforward and no-nonsense, and she closed with passion and heart.

And then came Bill. Oh Bill. I’ve spent a long time with bittersweet feelings about our erstwhile President. He was the first President I ever voted for.  His knowledge, charisma and dedication made me feel empowered and inspired to believe that government and public service was an honorable calling, but his fall from grace has nagged at me since.

Watching President Clinton’s speech the other night, I felt that inspiration return. With wit, intelligence, and respect for the audience, he expounded on Barack Obama’s achievements, his character, his plan for the future and the difference between the parties (and yes, there is a huge difference). It felt like I was sitting in on the country’s coolest Political Science course, with…like…the best Professor ever! But seriously, he made me, the viewer, feel smart and excited and informed.  He made me believe that, just maybe, government could reclaim its position of honor.

Many often ask, “why bother with a national convention for the incumbent when you know exactly who the nominee will be,” obviously no one was going to challenge President Obama for the Democratic ticket. The point, the pundits say, is to mobilize the base, inspire everyday people into democratic action; registering new voters, spreading the word, getting involved in local races, etc. Well, it worked, at least for this new mom.

I have a million little chores that eat up my days; no doubt this is how the first year of a baby’s life disappears in the blink of an eye. They are mundane, though not necessarily unimportant, one must feed one’s child after all. But I will not allow another week to pass without logging into the Obama and Warren phone banks and making some calls to do my small part to help their campaigns achieve victory in November. And if you read this, you should too. It is not enough to exist inside this democracy, you must work to maintain it, otherwise you will get exactly the government you deserve. Around the world there are people who would die for the chance to cast a vote. My late grandmother Fay told me stories of the time in our own country when women were not allowed to vote and it did not seem like so long ago.

My parents taught me to respect and engage in this profound responsibility. As I watched Day three of the Convention unfolding in Charlotte, I felt exhilaration and pride that they were in the thick of the event; meeting people, sharing ideas, bearing witness to great oratory, and of course, rocking out to the Foo Fighters. Indeed, even the musical lineup reflects the wonderful diversity and inclusiveness of my chosen political party, including James Taylor, Mary J. Blige and a captivating rendition of our National Anthem from Marc Anthony.

Now, while I stave off the sleep that is stubbornly advancing over me, I think of Amelia as I listen to President Obama’s bold and brave words. I will strive to emulate her grandparents in their passion and conviction in participating in our great country’s democracy. I will do my part and teach Amelia how to be a citizen, of the United States, of Canada, and of the world.

Get Comfy…It’s The Pete Post

As we drive west with the morning sun off our port quarter, Betsy is sleeping in the back and Amelia is playing with her wooden toys, occasionally giggling or making some little sound to let us know she’s cool. We have a very long drive ahead of us, so I busted out the computer to edit and finish another post. But in a classic MTV Generation move, my short attention span got the best of me and a song spun on the CBC radio program we are listening to kicked my cursor down to a fresh page to start the long-simmering “Pete Post”.

In a string of excellent artists including personal favorites Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen, came the brilliant folk-rock band, the Byrds. I have heard “Turn Turn Turn” countless times and have at least 3 different versions of it in my collection. And despite this exposure it still manages to tug at my soul every time I hear it. Those first three rich notes on the 12-string guitar followed by two solid percussion hits in the Byrds’ popular version seem to breathe happiness and hope into me like bellows into new fire. The waves of complex, yet soothing music carry the words – from the Book of Ecclesiastes – flowing from the radio with thoughtfulness and grace and power. It is a composition that exemplifies all the wonderful things about it’s creator, a man who I am privileged to call a friend and without whom I would not enjoy the life I’ve had.

Pete Seeger is thoughtful, on both a small scale to each individual he encounters, and on a large scale – when considering or discussing the larger issues facing society today. He is graceful, whether it’s picking on his famous banjo or chopping wood…even at 93. And he is indeed powerful and that power emanates from a prism of personal traits and life experiences with integrity at its core.

photo credit: Annie Lebowitz

I cannot begin to speak meaningfully on those experiences in this one little blog post; like his kick-starting of the American folk music revival, flying in World War II, his defiance of HUAC and subsequent blacklisting, his inductions into both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Kennedy Center Honors, and his wonderful marriage to his wife Toshi, now approaching 70 years. Indeed, as I meander around the web to find links for this post, I find new tidbits – quotes, recordings, honors – that amaze and inspire me, like this video that happens to include a few verses of my favorite of Pete’s songs.  All this merely scratches the surface and certainly can’t quantify the unfathomable impact he has had on humanity.

His impact on my life however, is very real and very measurable. His vision of a sailing ship that would raise awareness of the polluted plight of the Hudson River in the mid-60’s came to fruition through hard work and faith and lots of music and has grown into a landmark organization for environmental education in the Hudson Valley and the world. I started on the Sloop Clearwater as an apprentice in the early-90’s, had the opportunity to work with an exemplary group of people and decided that a career in sailing – working outside, traveling, using a boat as a platform to teach students (of all ages) – was my calling. That was almost 20 years ago. I worked my way up the hawsepipe to become Captain and like to think I made a worthwhile contribution.

Clearwater Amy with Amelia, 5 months old

I met some of my closest friends, learned the true meaning of work ethic, teamwork and leadership and realized a life in which I found meaning and joy in my job. Never mind the fact that I would not have met my husband had I not chosen this unique life.  Clearwater is family to Amelia and I know that good times and friends await her there.

Clearwater Maija with Amelia, 5 months old

I have sailed and spent time with “Uncle Pete” periodically throughout these 20 years and like a potent spice, one needs just a taste of his spirit to fuel years of creativity and hope. His remarkable optimism is truly infectious. Add to that his vast knowledge of history, his respect for people of all backgrounds, his joy in engaging his audience in the music he creates, his courageous vision and his unwavering honesty and you have a recipe that has seen him through tough times and immense triumph. A recipe we can all strive to incorporate into our own lives.  Pete Seeger is a gift, and if I can pass on to my daughter an iota of the magic within him, I will consider myself a good mama.  I am eternally grateful for his profound impact on my life and the lives of my family and friends.

Amelia, 5 months old, with Pete & Toshi

From a Democracy Now! Interview:

AMY GOODMAN: And for someone who isn’t so hopeful, who is listening to this right now, trying to find their way, what would you say?

PETE SEEGER: Realize that little things lead to bigger things… And this wonderful parable in the New Testament: the sower scatters seeds. Some seeds fall in the pathway and get stamped on, and they don’t grow. Some fall on the rocks, and they don’t grow. But some seeds fall on fallow ground, and they grow and multiply a thousand fold. Who knows where some good little thing that you’ve done may bring results years later that you never dreamed of?

extras: I just love Dolly Parton’s version of the song and here’s my husband’s favorite Pete tune.