Mack in Monsaraz

Craggy cobblestone paths amble through the haunting medieval village of Monsaraz, passing under Moorish arches on their way to an ancient past. On the banks of the Guadiana River in southeastern Portugal, Monsaraz is home to the spirits of human history. Neolithic people were the first to find comfort in this country of rolling hills and cork oaks. Romans, Visogoths, Arabs, and the Christian crusaders of the Reconquista staked their own claims under the region’s bold, blue skies. Romantic tales of the Knight’s Templar and Portuguese bullfighters whisper on the breezes atop a castle keep that has stood watch over the valley for a thousand years. Mack is there, too, mingling with all of the spirits of the dead, all touched by the magic and the memories of Monsaraz.Back Camera

As the seventeenth-century outer walls of this quiet village of historical spirits hold tight their ancient memories, so, too, the fortified places in my mind hold tight my memories of Mack. It is within the most vibrant landscapes of our shared experiences, like those viewed from the parapets below the castle tower of Monsaraz, where my lost girl still lives. In Monsaraz, Mack walks in basketball shorts and suede, New Balance shoes. In Monsaraz, Mack stands with irreverent and commanding posture among the many ghosts of villagers past, holding her own in an uncharacteristic pink t-shirt. In Monsaraz, Mack breathes air among colorful Bougainvillea that bloom against white walls. Mack is in Monsaraz.

Mack’s spirit fills several specific places, fixed in time and in space within my memories, where closed eyes are all I need to transport myself to her. It makes sense that in my memories, Mack comes to life in places like the gymnasium at Springfield High School, the penguin exhibit at the St. Louis Zoo, or the outfield bleachers at Busch Stadium, because these were favorite and frequented sites of our lives together. But for some reason I cannot quite comprehend, the idea of Mack in Monsaraz is one of my most vivid and comforting memories. Mack’s time on this extraordinary planet was short, but her dad and I were able to show her at least a little of the world beyond her Springfield, Illinois, home. Perhaps castle-7Monsaraz represents my gratitude to have spent cherished hours with Mack in a few exotic locales. Perhaps the Portuguese sun on whitewashed medieval walls offers the enchanting environment in which I wish her beautiful spirit to roam. Perhaps I want my Mack to be a part of the haunting history of that spectacular, historical place. Perhaps I want her to gaze forever through those ancient windows, watching the past, existing in the present, and waiting for the future.

Grief is a cruel thief, and my best defense against its relentless assault upon my heart resides in vivid places like those within the medieval walls of Monsaraz. Places where Mack continues to be. Where color and beauty, life and love, and the irresistible pull of the past help me find what I have lost. It is, perhaps, a strange truth that I can feel Mack’s presence in a quaint, medieval village nearly halfway around the globe, where we spent just one happy day together. Strange or not, however, Mack in Monsaraz is a sweet and haunting solace. I think it is such that the memories we make with the people we love bind us in beautiful and unexpected ways to the beautiful and unexpected places we explore together. And no time and no distance can break our emotional connections to the places where we live and remember the most magical moments of our lives.

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Better Angels

Three things. Each of them from my heart and through the raw edge of my emotion. But each of them also from my conviction that America got this election horribly wrong and that the mistake may cost us more than we can right now even begin to comprehend.

First, in his inaugural address on March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln appealed to the “better angels of our nature,” choosing to believe that Americans, north and south, were not enemies but rather friends, bound by a shared history and unbreakable bonds of affection. In the early days of the American Civil War, Lincoln continued to doubt the intensity of racism and hatred in the hearts of so many of his fellow Americans. Even the swift rebuke from many voices and regions across the country in angry response to his Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863 did not dampen his hopeful resolve. While I can today still see Lincoln’s good and true heart, unlike him, I am loath at this moment in American history to believe in the better angels of our nature. Bloody Civil War, Segregation and Jim Crow, the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese Internment in WWII, and the turbulent Civil Rights Movement have, apparently, provided no lessons. Instead, we now find ourselves here, one hundred and fifty-five years after Lincoln appealed to those better angels, witness to the election of Donald Trump, a man who played to the devils in our nature, to the worst in America—to our bigotry, our sexism, our ethnocentrism, and our hatred and fear of the “other.” Yesterday, we betrayed Lincoln’s belief in and hope for America, and in this devastating realization I am bereft.

Second, today Mack, like me and half of my fellow Americans, would be devastated, as the shocking result of this hateful election flies in the face of everything she believed in her heart. But she would, no doubt, do what she always did: offer a crooked smile, tell a stupid joke, and deliver Big-Mack hugs all around. And, most importantly, she would never let the bitterness I am feeling on this terrible day to pass a shadow over her generous heart.

Finally,  I’m not sure I will be capable of Mack’s grace in regard to this election; and if I am ultimately capable, it is going to take a good while and considerable effort on my part to get there. While I take some comfort in the fact that the qualified and correct choice in this election won the popular vote, it will be a very long time before I am strong enough to forgive the part of the country who supported Trump. As I wholeheartedly believe in our country’s democratic ideals, I must accept the outcome of this election. But I will never accept Donald Trump’s vision of America; I choose Abraham Lincoln’s vision instead. I choose an America that is diverse, tolerant, open-minded, true, and kind. I chose an America that stands up against lies, that protects the rights of minorities and the LGBT community, that welcomes immigrants, that lifts up people with disabilities, that treats women with decency and respect, and that believes the American dream is big enough for all of us. While my soul is buoyed by the 59,731,599 souls who voted with me and with my Mack yesterday, the election cost me my faith in the better angels of our American nature. Yesterday was, truly, the third worst day in my life, only losing Mackenzie and my dad eclipsing my heartbreak for this country as the returns came in late into the night. Today I am grieving, and my faith in humanity is in question.

Since losing Mack, I have sought to channel the better angels of her nature. Mostly, I have been successful in drawing strength from her wit and her grace and her unbounding optimism. But at this moment, as we face potentially disturbing and historic consequences of what this election may have wrought, I am failing and, I dare say, might fail for a long time to come. Because in truth, the depth of my disappointment lies not only with the result of the Electoral College and with the dysfunction of the Republican Party, but also in the failure of the Democratic Party, my party, to understand the disaffection of its own base and to include the very people it always claimed to protect. As it was in Lincoln’s time, so it is also in our own, that we each bear some responsibility for our failure to get history right and to understand the depths of the differences between us. I can only hope that somewhere in the chasm that divides our country, reside the angels we will need to bridge the dangerous gap that threatens to swallow us all.