The Intriguing Invisible Audience

The questions were sharp, incisive. The comments were poignant, sometimes wrenching, sometimes funny. But the really funny thing was that I couldn’t see a soul in the audience.

This was a recent talk and group discussion with the Senior Center Without Walls. I was on the phone in my living room, the moderator was somewhere else, and some 20 to 30 seniors – most of them old, if unseen, friends by now – were sitting comfortably in their San Francisco Bay Area living rooms. Who knew?

This particular discussion dealt with end-of-life issues, although I got in (with advance permission) an introductory plug for Perilous Times: An inside look at abortion before – and after – Roe v Wade, and my current soapbox about preserving reproductive justice. I talked briefly about my longtime involvement with Compassion and Choices, about the work of that excellent organization, and the multiple benefits of considering one’s own mortality before one’s own death is knocking at the door. From the various phones came personal tales – “My husband died exactly as he wished…” “one member of the family wanted to contradict what (the dying person) explicitly wanted…” And questions about what C&C can do (counsel, advocate, support) and even – every nonprofit representative’s favorite: “Where can I send money?”

Audience members come and go at will, during Senior Center Without Walls discussions, and the pretty constant beeping that heralded the comings and goings made the entire event feel like a free-wheeling open house. Which is, in fact, not far from the truth.

Senior Center Without Walls participants play bingo, read plays, join support groups for everything from low vision to LGBT issues, bird-watch (guided help with identifying the birds seen from your window) and share in adventures that range from armchair travel to sing-alongs.

I hope they learned a little from this discussion leader; I learned a LOT from the scattered seniors of Seniors Without Walls.

 

 

 

Malala, and messages of compassion

Malala Yousafzai at the Global Education First...
Malala Yousafzai at the Global Education First Initiative anniversary event (Photo credit: United Nations Information Centres)

 

 

It’s probably enough to leave a lot of us — not just Jon Stewart — speechless: lovely little Malala Yousafzai reporting with a smile on her thoughts about the Talib pointing a gun at her:

 

I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’  But then I said, ‘If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.’ Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well.’ And I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'”

There are skeptics, of course, and people back home in the once-peaceful Swat Valley who worry that all the publicity will bring more terror to their area. But I say, Go for it, Malala.

 

Imagine what might happen through dialogue. Maybe the government could even come un-shut. That is, if you use the word’s definition as a verb: “take part in a conversation in order to understand different sides and reach a solution to a problem.” What seems to happen more often in Washington is not dialogue, but monologue v monologue.

 

To come down to the issue which currently consumes about 90% of my time these days (thanks to new book): What if there could be education so girls like Malala would know about how to prevent unwanted pregnancy? And about ALL of their options should such a thing happen? Education along the whole spectrum, for girls and boys alike?

 

And then, what if there were real dialogue, as in “understand different sides and reach a solution to a problem.” One side would need to back off of the abortion-on-demand-and-without-apology stance, and the other would need to back off the ban-abortion-and-then-everything-will-be-solved stance.

 

Now back to Malala. I’m glad she didn’t get the Nobel, she’s got plenty of time left — assuming the Taliban don’t get her.  In a world of obstinate monologue and increasing brutality, her gospel of dialogue and education are a breath of fresh air.