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Monday, January 23, 2012

America's Comeback Kids

The New York Times headline read, "For Giffords, House Comeback is One Too Many."

It's funny to me how a mere headline can hit you, instantly, and make you feel something you didn't know you were going to feel. I mean, if I understood my college journalism class (which I took over the summer so I could have an occasional awkward coupling with my Catholic girlfriend who was doing summer theatre, thank you very much) that's part of what a headline's supposed to do. It's supposed to be quick, sharp, and it's supposed to hook you, to con you into reading the rest of the story.

Well, this headline kind of worked. It was quick and sharp, and it hooked me-- but I didn't read the story. Blame it on the Amazing Shitting Twins, who prevent me from doing, well, anything these days. Except blogging. YOU'LL NEVER TAKE IT AWAY FROM ME, YOU LITTLE SPIT-UP PARASITES!

*Ahem.* Sorry.

Maybe I should read the article before writing this post. That's generally how it's done. The best lesson I was ever taught as an undergraduate theatre major was "never audition for a play you haven't read". I mean, no shit, right? But I don't have the time to both read AND write these days. So, I'm going to be one of those people I can't stand, who comment on something they haven't read. Actually, sort of, but sort of not. See, I'm only commenting on the headline, which I have read.

The headline in The New York Times, to me anyway, reeked of a sort of intrinsic disappointment. It was as if to say that Giffords recovery has been remarkable, inspiring, (warning, the word I hate) amazing, but it's just.... short of perfect. Just shy of the American ideal of the person who beats all the odds, who defies all the expectations, who does the un-doable.

To me, the fact that Gabrielle Giffords is still alive today, that she is a living, breathing human being after taking a bullet to the brain is comeback enough. Why should she be expected to return to Congress? Now, she may have had that expectation for herself, and that's fine, one cannot poo-poo a person's expectations for him or herself, but what about what we expect. Had she returned to Congress, this country would have gone apeshit, falling all over itself to post laudatory Facebook status updates featuring pictures of her in her smart business suit, sitting in her tufted leather chair in the House. But why would that be something to celebrate? Why is Gabrielle Giffords going to her physical therapy appointments not something to cheer about? How about her eating a bowl of cereal? Why do we encumber the sick or the injured or the unfortunate with these inflated and conflated ideas and ideals about what "comeback" and "success" and "recovery" mean?

After my wife had her brain surgery, I had to bathe her, and make her meals, and drive her places. I had to endure conversations with her where she spoke at such a high pitch and such a fast rate of speed that I could not understand her. She learned to drive again, to use her left hand again. She went back to work. She regained her place in society. But she can't play the bassoon anymore.

Is my wife just short of the ideal American recovery?

We're the country that invented the phrase "the comeback kid". We love that shit. We eat it up. Runners with one leg beating the balls off their able-bodied competitors with the use of a prosthesis. The homeless girl getting the scholarship. The black kid from the ghetto going to Harvard.

What's... wrong with us? Unfortunately, our warped notions of what it means to be successful in this country inspire people to do things that might be better for us and our egos and our insecurities than things that are necessarily better... for them.


It's not bad enough she had to get shot in the head on camera, now the cameras, and the expectations, will just never go away.

On September 11th, 2001, I remember how the late Peter Jennings and other dapper news anchors like him lauded the first responders who went back to Ground Zero again and again and again and again. Shift after shift after shift, police officers, medics, firefighters working seventy-two, eighty-four, ninety-six hours straight with no break. No masks. No fear. Well, I'm sure there was fear. And we ate it up-- the footage of those men and women in the prime of their life sifting through the rubble looking for their fallen brothers and sisters, looking for the fallen brothers and sisters of New York, tirelessly, frantically, endlessly, and we all cheered them on. But there was nobody there when those formerly healthy police officers and paramedics and firefighters were diagnosed with a plethora of cancers, and the great American public was not at their too-soon funerals, as the bagpipes bleated out their mournful dirge for these former heroes who, well, couldn't quite overcome adversity.

But, damn, they tried-- didn't they?

Well. Almost.

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