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Human Faces Behind the Health Debate

(Photo by Robin Holland)

This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with acclaimed actress-playwright Anna Deavere Smith about her latest production, LET ME DOWN EASY, in which she recreates the voices of 20 real people grappling with illness and mortality.

Smith explained what her production is about:

“LET ME DOWN EASY is about grace and kindness in a world that lacks that often, [but] not always. And a winner-takes-all world, where we don't think about the people who are losing. We don't think about the people who are abandoned by jobs or governments or lovers or mothers or fathers. [It’s] a call for that kind of grace and kindness and consideration and the metaphor, I think, of death as the ultimate form of loss, possibly our greatest fear – the ultimate form of abandonment. And that in this country we have a hard time looking at death and we have a hard time looking at loss and we have a hard time looking at losing. And I think that doesn't help us be the most caring environment.”

What do you think?

  • Do you agree with Smith’s view that Americans have trouble thinking about death and loss? Why or why not?

  • What are your personal stories about dealing with illness and mortality?


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    Comments

    Fortunately I'm not American, I have no fear of becoming ill and have some insurance company deny treatment or charge me a percentage if they agree, no I'm British, we were lucky to have had a socialist government in the 40s who put in place the NHS. As a retired person all medication is free and so are many other things like TV reception and heating.

    Government do many things better than private enterprise, your USPS is one example in fact your wars are government run but the Republicans try to sell private enterprise as the best and only answer when nothing could be further from the truth.

    Wake up America, you're being had.

    CLShea wrote, in part, "Americans won’t give a rat’s patoot which party they belong to,"

    Did we ever...? :-)

    It takes a while, but the only way "normal" people can comprehend the situation clearly enough is to ACCEPT the fact that psychopaths and sociopaths are EVIL, commit perfidy with sadistic deliberation, and identify completely with the POWER of their ACTS...

    in other words, they are NUTZ...

    POWER

    Are we really "electing" our representatives? Of course not...then the "media", SADISTICALLY, starts talking about how "corrupt" the "elections" were in some other country and we're all looking at each other saying, "...well they learned that trick from USA in 2000, 2004, AND the "perfection" of it in 2008...."

    We MUST print our own kind of "money".

    We MUST not even let psychos and sociopaths focus on our bodies because the only thing a SADISTIC PSYCHOPATH wants to do is cause you pain - they probably beat off while reading these "human face" stories that EVERY WEBSITE ran at the same social engineering time...

    This country is currently manned by Enronistas in one form or another - they've stuck their fat finger back into the "energy" sector, the amount of $$$ flowing around in NORMAL life-maintenance needs called "health care" makes them insane with possibilities for UNEARNED WEALTH - look how OBVIOUS it is what they are doing...? Should we have made it this easy for them? They DENY you health care from "private businesses" BUILT to do exactly THAT - DENY YOU HEALTH SERVICES! How SICK is that...?

    And how can ANYONE believe that the banksters are going to help YOU build up some personal wealth through careful management and investment in REALITY?

    Too many words we are forced to use...a comedian VISUALIZED it for all the "stupid Americans" - he put a couple bills of cash in his jacket pocket and out of the "news topic picture" next to him, a vacumn hose reached out and sucked it out...

    Staying warm in the winter sure is "preventative" medicine - enter Obambi sticking his finger into the 10% of the $$$ left in circulation among 90% of USA citizens trying to LEAD where it should "flow" - cash for caukers...

    That's just PATHETIC, isn't it? How quickly people become UNABLE to fuction when all they read was a "bible" type book for the past 8 years and took opiates...quite the double whammy of opium...?

    Psychos with sadistic wiring in the reptilian brain stem that lifts their lizard to life...

    "leadership"....?

    EVERYONE in politics knows NOTHING, NOTHING, about running a civilzation - they are ALL (lobbyists, "czars", senator, etc) LIVE by this simple math formula:

    More misery for others = More $$$ for ME ME ME.

    Having "congress" et al FOCUS on how to vacumn out the PENNY they believe you still might have in your pocket "saved" for a doctor's visit

    through the IRS, instead, who then gives it to the business that exists to NOT provide health care

    well, SOMEONE has to pay for the "war"...and it isn't going to be the multi-national corporations sitting on the mountains of cash that they got FROM THE USA taxpayer...

    the sadistic psychos KNOW you still have a penny and they WILL get it...

    Look, my friend, LOOK at THEIR psycho logical profile...when you really SEE how sick twisted STUPID and evil they TRULY ARE

    You will stop being afraid of them and start doing what needs to be done with "power"...

    No, this country is "not the most caring environment", as exemplified by Senate leaders once again attempting to drop the public option in the Health Care Reform bill.
    The Senate Leaders’ “broad agreement” on dropping the government run Public Option reflects a television ad that keeps popping up; it says Health Care Reform is “a bill we cannot pay.” Well, that ad got it WRONG, fellas.
    This is the one bill Congress has to pay. We sent our kids to die in not one but two wars on their say-so. We bailed out their rich friends on Wall Street who messed up the economy. We have paid their bills in blood, sweat, tears and our tax dollars. So Congress darn well ought to pick up the check on this one!
    Or the middle class Congress keeps ignoring will vote them ALL out of office, and Americans won’t give a rat’s patoot which party they belong to, because they’ve ALL let us down!
    Congress ought to pass the Health Care Reform Bill with the Public Option. Without it, that bill isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. (Not unlike the U.S. currency after their Wall Street chums got through with it.) Congress needs to get on with it: show Americans you care.
    The American people have sacrificed enough. It’s about time Congress gave them something back.

    Not sure what truncated and censored this sentence:

    They're going through the "peer review" steps in the statistical math community - first - to "approve" the contorted "formula" that turns less than 25% TRUTH into more money for the insurance executives...

    No wonder why the, mostly european origin "countries" are PITYING the "american people"...

    In case anyone is interested, I could send them to a website where the PLANS for which people to put into the elimination "list" were being hatched...SELECTIVE ELIMINATION of the best human stock....the "stalin" competition purge...

    Might be time to challenge the self-proclaimed mental health experts in charge of "taleo" databases...

    The REALLY crazy final DETAIL in all this...?

    Not going into effect until 2014...

    Which means that whatever is being "writ" into "law" TODAY gives the insurance companies 4 years to add to everyone's misery...

    Think about that one, folks.

    Crazy creepy.

    And since the reason that so many children in USA public school systems are left behind the rest of the world in math is because the only math formula in actual use in the "economy" is:

    More misery for others = more money for ME ME ME

    The only SCIENCE that could possibly be behind a "new" NOT FOR PROFIT HEALTH SERVICE recommendation for women would be the DISCOVERY of the CAUSE of breast cancer.

    All you hear is

    - cricket cricket -

    when it comes to any SCIENCE about causes.

    Hmmmm, why is that?

    Oh sure, trickles of cherry-picked and massaged "data" about "genetics" is already waiting in the wings, but if you think it's controversial now...try using "data" that can't even cough up a 25% correlation between family genes and disease!

    They're going through the "peer review" steps in the statistical math community - first - to "approve" the contorted "formula" that turns

    I don't think any of us want to see 4 more years of all the people who are going to suffer between now and when the "law" goes into effect...even when it is sold as high art...maybe I should say those of us who are neither masocists or sadists...

    At one time, people paid for the pleasure of seeing a political rival being fed to lions - "law" gets tricky in "empires", doesn't it?

    Marc has the freedom to put on his own show, but it could be pretty embarrasing when he gets up and mocks teabaggers, minutemen and union busters. The subjects of such a performance are so ill-informed they'd probably lynch him. Call you show "Strange Fruit" Marc. I'll pay up to $7.50 for a ticket. Maybe this old peg legged socialist could save your sorry life from your supposed allies.

    Marc,
    I think the big problem is that the people who claim to be conservatives are not conservatives; they are Greedy money grubbers. They support a wasteful war, trillions of dollars in debt and made sure the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.
    It is another case of twisting words to do what is evil and make it sound good.

    Anna may be a good listener, and is a terrific performer, but if the excerpts are an indication, she’s only listening to half the conversation – probably the side she agrees with. The cowboy wants universal healthcare, the doctor discovers that poor people are consistently abandoned by the government. All the views I heard are typically those of progressives. Did no one talk about losing jobs to illegal immigrants or the unions killing public schools? My guess is that she, like many people, is a great listener to those conversations she agrees with.

    However, if her show does include conservative voices and they are treated in the same was as the progressive ones, inotherwords they’re not ridiculed, I take back my criticism.

    None of this means she can’t provide her own views. But I think her show is attempting to represent the different voices of America, not just be an advocate for one side. By just representing one side, she’s not listening to about half the country. A truly great listener would hear things she disagrees with. Note, none of this means the show isn’t great. After hearing the pieces, I’d like to see it. She’s a terrific performer, but a selective listener.

    Cold war humor (translating from original language :-)):

    At a businessman's bar in Geneva sit a Russian, German, and Persian, with a Polack bartender.

    The Russian buys a bottle of vodka for his bar comrades. After polishing off the bottle, the Russian brags that the most beautiful women in the world are in Russia.

    The German and Persian politely agree.

    The German purchases the next bottle of vodka. After polishing off that botle, the German brags that the best machines in the world are built in Germany.

    The Russian and Persian agree.

    The Persian calls over the Polack bartender and politely requests a third bottle of vodka.

    After that bottle is emptied, the Persian admits, "It's true about the glories of your countries. In my country we still make the most beautiful rugs ini the world."

    The German and Russian agree.

    All three men are now all happy trading friends.

    The Polack bartender lubricates the wheels of business by providing a fourth bottle of vodka. Merriment insues.

    After noticing that it's cut-off time, the Polack calls over the bouncers to stand in polite and non-threatening readiness behind each man.

    The Polack says, "True about all your great countries. But in Poland, we have men who steal the Russian women, throw them on th ePersian rugs, and make love to them with German precision."

    Each man promptly tips over into the waiting arms of th ebouncer and is carried to their rooms and put to bed.

    Ain't sending you the 1000 bucks, Klark Kent.

    Anna, I'd love to see you do your Cheney.

    Why a bar? A German, a Jew and a Polack walk into a brothel. "Why not try the redhead in the featherboa," suggests the German. "God forbid, that's my sister!" protests the Jew. "Your sister is my Mother?" exclaims the Pole. "But she's still my wife!" asserts the German.

    Epilogue:
    Kevin Bacon was extraordinarily rendered last night.
    The CIA determined less than six degrees of separation between him and bin Laden.

    Put me on Schindler's list.
    Please!

    My ailments and age exclude me as an Aztec sacrifice. Football oligarchs don't want my diseases.

    Posted by: Klark Mouvinon

    20-somethings are wisely taking up toxic habits in hopes of being rejected from being force fed as "sacrifice" to the legacy keepers of toxic assets...especially since the silicone valley giants have started to need livers adn are in competition with the greatest generation (too rich in $$$ to want to die) for organ transplants...yikes...you can see WHY they're trying to eat crap and smoke and drink up to the boundary of suicide...

    Me? The juxtaposition of a perfect "godfather" voice and copied ruthless mannerisms coming out of an "angelic" skin body visual seems to be universally funny as performance ahhrrt...now back to finding the PG rated and clippy wit "funny" in a joke that begins, "....a German, a Jew, and a Polack walk into a bar..."

    We all know it's going to be the Polack who IS the "joke", but there might be some "irony" in the delivery of "wisdom" coming from a stupid one...

    Who's got "chicken breasts"?
    Let's ration 'em.
    Save 'em in tupperware,
    for transplants later.

    The Charlotte Panthers football oligarch Jerry Richardson got a new heart instantly, though he's about 80. It didn't turn out like the Tinman.

    My mother likes to do voices (mock people) like Anna Deavere Smith, and her doctors call it pre-dementia. She's got Meredith Vieira about perfect, except the check's no good. Hostility can be the root of good art. Now if only an oligarch would put Mama on an off-broadway stage, $50 tickets. She's practicing her Moyers.

    Who can you do, Anna? Lois Lane?

    My ailments and age exclude me as an Aztec sacrifice. Football oligarchs don't want my diseases.

    I believe that the collective gaze upon the "human faces" of last week has traveled down a bit to the "bosom" area...maybe Anna D Smith can add the DATA of both the insurance "industry" funded study and the RECENT data from the National Free Clinic database...

    Why does no one see how the "art" of medical practice can only be advanced through REAL data?

    I made this point ages ago in this health care "debate" - the DATA collected and processed by FOR PROFIT health insurance companies and the rest of the medical industrial complex is NEVER going to contribute to the advancement of REAL knowledge. NEVER.

    I know what of I speak, first hand.

    The euphemism called "personal medicine" means that 30,000 people will be forced to contribute their "stem cells" to keep one oligarth alive.

    Cheney has more in common with the fictional Darth Vadar than the easily-inspired teenagers searching for a "moon race" realize - and even if they do, if the question is asked on your driver's license, I think "cannibalism" is already a done deal in reagrds to what is politically correct...

    Insert in your own heads the Wizard of Oz diggin' in his black bag of tricks for a "heart"...rewrites happen - THAT might be a good time for "dorothy" to tell the wizard he's got nothing that can place "heart" in a "cheney"...

    Anna, do you really think colored girls from Baltimore get in Skull and Bones?

    Posted by: Klark Mouvinon

    Don't be silly, Klark.

    Skull and Bones is ALL-MALE, correct?

    No "artist", whether purple with green polka dots or tranparent white, gets advanced unless "funded" by cabals like "Yale University"...

    Why not just say your piece about death and diets without trying to trap me into a glimmer of some kind of "thinking" or "ignorance" of "facts" that could give you a shot at being a "handler" of people like me....I am NOT alone.

    Let's see what changes Anna D Smith makes to her own "final party" plans as time goes on...

    David Eddy: Tell us about your diet. You are a gifted autobiographer who has had a well presented and interesting life. Your food may be causing heart disease.
    Klark Mouvinon

    I have spent much energy trying to get my diet right. My digestive system has been a problem since day one. I have a very low metabolism and a very high energy level. I was hyper before they had a name for it. My Dad is from Cornwall. The Cornish diet is meat pasties and clouted cream. Despite their fat laden diet, the Cornish people usually live a long life. My mother who was also English cooked to please my dad. My mother also made Yorkshire pudding and steak and kidney pie. My dad was short and heavy duty and my mother was tall and thin. I came out somewhere in between.
    My doctor prescribed statins for my high numbers and they caused me no end of problems and I had to quit taking them.
    The doctor said, "You are between the rock add the hard place." I am trying to control my numbers through a non-fat diet but I keep getting conflicting information as to what is good for me and what is bad for me.
    My life has been very interesting and worthwhile despite its many complications. I learned early to be observant and and knowledgeable. By the time I was ten; I had read all of the Encyclopedia Britannica, the works of Hemmingway and the Bible.
    I was brought up in the Salvation Army Church
    which gave me both a good religious foundation and a concern for people's welfare.
    My philosophy is; life for life's sake. It is to be enjoyed, respected and protected.



    Bill's suspenders are under his shirt, just like Ed Sullivan's, ME Rant.You're right though, Naomi Klein is overdue for a visit considering her new article on Ecological reparations in Rolling Stone. It shows how she has faded back from "shock Doctrine" to examine issues from a different perspective. The "fortress continent conducting resource wars" concept (from CIA and US Navy) is like some stupid Renaissance Fair, not viable but only feudal wishes. I can't wait to see Barack and Petraeus joust. Avoir du pois!

    Anna, do you really think colored girls from Baltimore get in Skull and Bones?

    WOW!! I found the beauty of Anna Deavere Smith to be the manner she communicates an ‘unspoken’ knowledge. We are coerced to conform to a material reality, but in actuality life is an art. The people who make a difference are those who become free; who instead follow some sort of individual beacon.
    “Let Me Down Easy” penetrates the variable physical personalities, which are reflections of their respective environments, to reveal our common ground. Our individuality exists not in the mind formed by either physiology or environment, but deep within personal consciousness. It is not the audible word or the physical appearance, but their personal effect that determines truth and our happiness. In addition to physical reflections, we sense the character of another person. At the end of the day this is what matters most, because we hold common conscious needs. Of which a desire for well-being,--for everlasting life is primal.
    This play reaches what I firmly believe to be an inherent social conscience. What is the human journey, but the tedious process of eliminating conditions in human reality that are incompatible? Unfortunately the best we’ve accomplished is to avoid, disguise or try to justify their existence. We don’t say that dead cow was delicious,--but the filet mignon; an individual isn’t dead,--but has passed away. The ‘poor’ make us uncomfortable, because deep down inside exists the knowledge we are equal. Instead of changing the hierarchy power control structure of the civilized world, which has caused this condition; we devised the concept of charity.
    I personally do not believe in mortality. I believe the ‘beginning and end’ range of thought is an entirely human predicament; an entirely human created reality; which traces to our isolated primitive ancestors; whose thought was formed by environmental reflections,--or by the appearance of objects. That where we identify environmental truths, and so abandon pieces of their reality; we fail to escape the basic foundation, which is inaccurate;--and thus continue to limit our thought;--or encapsulate everything within a physical perspective---
    In your interview, and on stage Anna Deavere Smith adds another face to the HERO---we call IDEAL;--to the knowledge that has thrived in the heart of humanity throughout all the eras.

    How could one understand so well and not take action?

    Posted by: Klark Mouvinon

    Hand-selected by skull 'n bones - the PERFECT blend of "empathy and apathy"...

    "I wish Nigel (from New Zealand) would return and educate my fellow comrade citizens on "Finnegan's Wake."

    Anna is correct about our fetish crutches. Incisive analysis of real events should be the starting point and the imagination a means of broadcasting resulting insights. The "permanent record" (in process) and the level of surveillance means cryptic comments are gratuitous.

    Remember: All replies to posts become part of your "permanent record."

    Posted by: Klark Mouvinon"

    YOUR "permanent record" is also being collected - surely you KNOW that - there are ALWAYS dueling "lists"....spy v. spy - c'mon, DECADES of "cold war" was FUN stuff!

    Did you catch CNN's "GPS" episode this past Sunday...? The cell phone conversations between the chicken-s-it "handler" and the IQ-challenged, fresh from goat farming hooligans on the handler's "mission" at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai...?

    Yes, Klark Kent, I am PROUD to be on the list of "animals" that do not respond to "handlers"...guess some of us ARE more "alien" than "pig"...

    Off to read that new Tokyo Vice book - UCLA has quite the FOR-PROFIT racket going on with liver transplants...

    BTW - Don't know which "Nigel" you are talking about in New Zealand...? The "spook" psycho-boy loner sitting in a de-sensitizing "box" looking for some cosmic ultimaton to explain why he is nuts that I know as "Nigel" is in Australia - or at least that's where the mainframe he channels "iniquity" from is located...

    So many "Anna"s, so much con-fusion...Dian Parker is referring to Anna D. Smith - the topic du jour - not me.

    I am also not the "Anna" from the Disney channel ABC-TV series called "V" that is wearing a human skin to hide her REAL alien reptile body....(Hollowood has lost all "imagination" when it comes to what "aliens" may look like).

    Glad you found a way to continue to rip a chunk off the 10% of the carcass they threw your way...watch out for the ones who will include your carcass...and so the "jungle laws" beat on...

    David Eddy: Tell us about your diet. You are a gifted autobiographer who has had a well presented and interesting life. Your food may be causing heart disease.
    (See also "Michael Winship: Chilly London, November, War and Remembrance")

    How cool that Anna's friend found her on here. Serendipity or fate?

    Anna Deavere Smith's technique is wonderful but it must be exhausting. It's unfortunately much more powerful in person than digital. (I wouldn't buy a DVD.) Her claims of being apolitical do seem incredible. How could one understand so well and not take action?

    I wish Nigel (from New Zealand) would return and educate my fellow comrade citizens on "Finnegan's Wake."

    Anna is correct about our fetish crutches. Incisive analysis of real events should be the starting point and the imagination a means of broadcasting resulting insights. The "permanent record" (in process) and the level of surveillance means cryptic comments are gratuitous.

    Remember: All replies to posts become part of your "permanent record."

    Anna, Anna, Anna
    Bravo and again! Yes, grace and kindness. The alarming rate of the elderly disappearing into their foggy minds while doing activites like trivia and bowling! It's about awareness and you have done a great service WAKING us up to death, to life, to care, to hope.
    I'm so glad I found you again...remember us in NYC and at the O'Neill in '82? ANNA!
    Dian

    I just slapped my forehead in one of those "...coulda had a V-8 moments..."

    Yale University...yale university...

    Of course! Skull and bones society...scheesh, sorry for the memory lapse...

    "If'n Bill's gonna keep this up, he's gotta get hisself some big ol' fancy suspenders.

    Posted by: RE Mant"

    D.C Eddy shared, "Every time my grandfather drove by a grave yard he used to say, "that is where they keep the deaf and dumb people"."

    Yup, the "censored ones".

    Ths song I picked will crack everyone up because they'll "get it" - it's the CONTRAST between the "evil" background noise silencing the truth and the truth as I actually ENJOYED living it.

    It's NOT a song that bottom lines my life - that would not be funny. That would be "astro turfing" the truth.

    Perhaps this is what the funeral crashers ask of us.

    Posted by: David Durham

    Thanks, Mr. Durham, for the response.

    I just added another "detail" to my "last wishes" list:

    # 66 - Get a bouncer at the door to keep out the un-invited.

    It's revolting to think Yale University gets to be a critic about the song you choose to go out SHARING a laugh even though you aren't there in the "flesh". What hubris!

    And to the "funeral crashers", it seems the point was missed so let me bottom line it fer ya...

    Don't worry, you'll get your own very own death - don't go turning mine into a political "red herring"...

    :-)

    As for the use of the word "americans", it still sounds to me like the person using that word doesn't consider him/herself "american" - if they did, they'd use "neighbor" or "friend" or "fellow citizen" or the totalitarian abused word "comrade"....

    We can either afford hands-on health care or we can afford health "insurance" companies. We can't afford both. That's STILL the "reality" for the living and PREACHINIG about the need for "health care" at this point in USA "civilization" is a symptom of a much greater "wasting" disease infecting the body politic, isn't it?

    Anna D.
    The sad thing about a wake is that the person it is given for is not awake...
    They cannot comment on the "Parting Party". It is possible that the person is there in spirit, but they are not saying much. Every time my grandfather drove by a grave yard he used to say, "that is where they keep the deaf and dumb people".
    I had a death experience where I was looking down at myself from above as a person was trying to revive me. I had stopped breathing.
    As far as the relationship between "Health Care" and "Funeral Crashing" is concerned...
    If people get the health care they need; they can live longer and avoid the funeral longer.
    Despite our many complaints; life is sill a worthwhile experience.
    Usually, death is best avoided and it is the people left behind that need the "blessed assurance".
    If we pay more attention to the value of life; we would live longer and prosper better.

    Anna D,
    A very thoughtful post. Perhaps the question is not, do we fear to think about death? The question is, do we fear to live life? Mr. Moyers' is asking about Americans in general and their feelings regarding mortality. We are so distracted by the living of life and all that is required just to make ends meet in today's world that it often seems we have little time to ponder the 'big' questions. Death suddenly intrudes into our lives and only then do we seek answers. And you are right, we try to put it all together in one song. A song that represents how a person lived.
    In this so distracted existence the nuts and bolts of living get in the way of life itself. How can one think about meaning when we're too busy paying gas bills and adhering to timetables? How can I live my dream? I just don't have the time. We are juggling so many things and fear that to reach for dreams would bring everything crashing down. To think about death is really a contemplation of life as it is lived. Perhaps this is what the funeral crashers ask of us.

    It's almost impossible to know what to "share" or "say" when guided along - god-knows-why? - through the "abstract" consideration of intellect

    dangerously teetering on that thin line between speculation and delusion...

    when a Moyer question for consideration is:

    "Do you agree with Smith’s view that Americans have trouble thinking about death and loss?"

    and that question is posed after a conversation about a performance artist doing a "funeral crashers" schtick, (referencing the comedy "Wedding Crashers"),

    and turning her "study" into a play about HOW "Americans" deal with "death and losss"

    and then somehow this is all tied into "human faces behind the health debate"

    well, all I got is this

    silence for a LONG time...

    and then the first thought I have in trying to understand such a mish mash

    goes back to the Moyer question - not sure what "Americans" he's talking about - who are the mythical "americans" that don't "think"...?

    Death is not a "depressing" subject.

    "Plan your own party" is the "culture" I grew up with and carrying out those party wishes for the dead person is considered an honor and a sacred trust.

    I know that when everyone hears the first, immediately recognizable, musical notes of the song I have picked to wrap things up with, whoever of my loved ones made it to the party will crack up laughing and say, "perfect"...

    But the real meaning of that choice of song can only be known (on the many levels about which it is a "statement") by those who shared "life" with me.

    Let's hope "americans" go, as always, for an "original" one-final-party the dead one throws for the loved ones.

    In the final analysis, in this virtual reality, propaganda saturated "media" world

    full of mimetic rivalry and identity theft and usurping of "art"

    a birth and a death is still OWNED by the one doing the "being born" and the "becoming dead"...

    You can't trust a for-profit health insurance company or the POLITICIANS or at least half of the self-proclaimed "healors" to give a flying fig about your "last wishes" for the party! THAT's an unnatural delegation of an egotistical I'm-too-good-for-this "task"...

    Anyone else, besides me, feeling one bit more "dehumanized" by "funeral crashers" entering into the health care "debate" on the assumption that "americans" never thought about "death" and "loss" until this TV episode gave us "permission" to do so but only in such a way

    that strangers (Yale University is strange to a whole lot of "humans")

    to you in life can critique the choice of your fare-thee-well "song" in a health care "debate" context?

    When are people going to accept the fact that we are ALL connected? That by turning our backs on those who need us most makes us weaker. We become so much stronger by Stepping up to the plate. Why do we turn away from our chance to be a Hero!? A Warrior? We reveal our our Cowardess by projecting it onto others. Not just the sick but, our children and those who clearly depend on us to make them strong.

    Thank-you to Bill and Anna for raising thoughtful questions. I appreciated Anna using the word, "died" in reference to her parents. Both of my parents are deceased,each relatively young for their generation,and I do not refer to them as having"passed away" or "lost" them like a cat toy under the sofa. It doesn't seem cruel to me to acknowledge, in plain speech, what happened to them. Naming someone, something, or an event goes a long way towards accepting the reality of one's life. My mother said, "Death is life's greatest journey and we don't know what lies ahead."

    Ms. Devere you have such a fine speaking voice. I remember you from NYC - Riverside Shakespeare Theater - 1983.Do you recall playing Mistress Quickly in The Merry Wives of Windsor? (I was a techie for the show - and am not in theater any more).
    Continued best wishes to you.

    This was incredible, so much so thatI watched it twice; once at four a.m. in the morning when I could not sleep.(and these days there are plenty of issues to)render one sleepless!

    Thank you to both Bill Moyers and Ann Deavere Smith for this wonderful thought producing production.

    Rather stark picture that has always stuck in my head after a graveside service. Late enough in fall that trees no longer have leaves. Great-grandmother in a wheelchair sitting beside the coffin and grave site of a grandchild, sobbing hard.

    On the flip side, I would not have responded well to the "pastor" who insists people watch someone they love be lowered into the ground.

    Frankly Bill we are always amazed at and grateful for the incredibly knowledgeable and talented people you find each week to talk to your viewers.

    Pardon me for saying this as an outsider, but sitting here in Canada, I find it increasingly hard to watch and listen to the "substance" of the "health care debate" as it rages in your country. How is possible for so many to ignore the facts of a system that is so expensive, creates such enormous profits, yet leaves increasing numbers of citizens unserved?

    However, watching and listening Anna Deveare Smith last night was an absolute joy.
    Thank you for having such a long, inspiring conversation with this wise and extraordinarily talented woman.

    I loved the comments of the bull rider who was given a "flat-fee" service in the hospital when his injuries were treated! Hmmm. That "almost" sounds like socialized medicine. Not quite, but a step in the right direction!

    Cheers.

    I never generally watch PBS on Friday nights. I am so focused on politics and other issues during the week that I just want to get away from it all on Friday evenings, when most of the programming on PBS on Friday evening is politics talk.

    This program, however was different. When I flipped to my local PBS station, it was Ms. Deveare Smith performing on Stage. I thought "Ohhh," when it switched back the interview, but I didn't change the channel.

    I watched, and was thoroughly entranced with the interview. I think I may become a regular viewer of The Journal.

    Note: Somehow this comment got posted on a war journal blog entry. Reposting here.

    I was mesmorized by Anna Deavere Smith's performance last night (11/13) and felt like I was in he theatre watching her rendiion of "Let Me Down Easy." Thanx Bill for your wonderful conversaions each week on the Journal.

    very weak guest, not anywhere near up to the importance of the subject matter being discussed. she talks about her "art" being beyond politics but yet i read that her main job is with a liberal think tank and her show was definitely dumbed down propaganda for one side of a complicated debate. and there were shades of the minstrel in her insulting performance in the cowboy suit etc.. could a redstate cowboy dress like her and imitate her speech to make his own political point? of course not, that would be racist. but since she's a liberal black woman, anything she says and does is moral and sophisticated, right? better luck next week.

    What a delight. I studied acting and then performed on the stage throughout my twenties and early thirties as an actor and I understand what Ms. Smith means regarding 'truth'. I studied what is known in theatre as 'The Hogan Method', developed by the great Uta Hogan. Her approach is to adapt real life to the stage by mixing the technical realities of stage performance with everyday life experiences. Eventually the technical aspects of acting become second nature and the 'truths' associated with real life come through clearly and unaffected. You really can feel this 'truth' move through you and it's electric. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it takes a ton of work, but when you connect with that 'truth' you know it. It's glorious and humbling at the same time.

    What a great show.

    Makes me feel more alive and attached.

    Thank you.

    Hospital Just In Time Delivery

    Your program with Anna Deavere Smith reminded me of when my Wife was making frequent trips to the Hospital for Cancer treatments.

    There were signs in the Hospital that read “JIT is COMING” or something to that effect. Since this was the Cancer treatment floor, I concluded that that the sign meant just in time delivery of supplies and not babies. At the time it seemed to me that a Hospital would be the last place that would use JIT. How would it be prepared for emergencies such as a major earthquake if it was depending on JIT to maintain its operations.

    It happened that my Wife was in for a treatment when the World Trade Organization (WTO) was in Seattle. We were told that because of protesters in Downtown Seattle they were unable to retrieve my Wife’s records from storage so she needed to provide more information than usual. They had forms in the Hospital that people could fill in to leave their concerns or compliments. I filled one in as follows: “How can you depend on Just In Time delivery of supplies when you can not even retrieve records from downtown Seattle during a protest march?” My Wife’s room did have a good view of the protesters as they moved up Spring Street.

    The stories I had heard of people just getting to sleep and then being woke up to take their vitals is true. On one occasion, after her operation, she was having a difficult time getting to sleep, so she was given some medicine to aid is sleeping. No sooner had she gotten to sleep, a Nurse came by to take her vitals. I told the Nurse that she had a bad night, etc. and should not be woke up just to take her vital. I do not recall what the Nurse said, but she really shook my wife around and could not wake her up. She then said something about taking the vital later.

    I can relate to the bull rider...
    I was a national Judo competitor and was seriously injured at least three times. I weighed in at 220 lbs and over 212 lbs is the unlimited weight division. I fought some really large people. Riding a two thousand pound bull does not appeal to me at all.
    Usually, I try to maintain a civil tongue.
    I have always been interested in telling stories, using quotes, using metaphors and repeating sayings.
    There is a lot to say about the way people communicate. We all have our idioms to deal with.
    On the subject of death, I was complaining to one of my children about my injuries and her comment was "you live until you die dad". She was only four years old at the time. My dad's favorite saying was, “Any dead fish can swim down stream, but it takes a live fish to swim upstream".
    My family name is Eddy. "It figures". I have been swimming up stream all of my life. I had a heart attack and my blood pressure went through the ceiling. At the time my thought was, "I hope I get to sing with the angelic choir".

    Good points, Brad and Beverly. SOH, it seems Anna Deavere Smith admitted she was taken in a way, but her depiction as art says something different than her takenness.

    My personal story? Though I'm a guy, I was more or less the Aunt Lorraine (less during the service and more througout the time that has followed). Maybe, like Smith says, this isn't so bad.

    I know, though, this is for sure that Smith said: ISMW providing those who are nearing the end with a bunch of aloneness is a sign of demise, dysfunctionality, and/or inhumaness. This was IMO Smith's most important message last night. My mother was far from alone, but I'll never stop regretting I didn't help her to weave in a whole lot more folks into her final year and years. Bringing friends into her life was her own doing, and she was effective in terms of bringing in ones of quality. At any rate, I see in his one tome at the book store that John Rawls touched on this "community" thing (a guy quoted in a college lecture PBS World aired that no search engine seems to be able to find for me).

    As far as "create the notion that we know what we're talking about" (Gomes)...no doubt the job can be tough, and no doubt the role affords a window on our lamentable escapism. All our non-preparation ends up falling on the Reverend or pastor who must endeavor to "let down easy." If there is not already belief, then something like Bassui's letter might be appropriate. I'd have no doubts about it even if I sounded like I didn't know what I was talking about ("Letter to a Dying Man" in "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones" compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki):

    "The essence of your mind is not born, so it will never die. It is not an existence, which is perishable. It is not an emptiness, which is a mere void. It has neither color nor form. It enjoys no pleasures and suffers no pains." There's another paragraph.

    I cannot think of one reality in this land dealt-with with as many hypocritical angles as death. The closer our sports heros come to death the better we like it, but then the evidence indicates the closer they get...the more aloneness they inherit at the end of their days. Turns out "Look out kid, they keep it all hid" is apropos at the beginning and at the end too. Surely we can do better. Prolonging life for the very aged on life support is a great gift and is worth all ones savings...both assumptions so far gone into the land of doublethink it is as if the entire country has been swallowed by some cult [however if this is what any American stipulates she wants ahead of time...I certainly vote to grant that wish]. I say "as if," since a great many Americans evidently have stronger and stronger doubts about the party line these days. Smith is popular and strikes a chord, thus many must be dissenting. She got close to the medical field in order to play that N.O. MD so well, and I believe there are all kinds of Americans who have gotten close but who will not speak out. I almost cannot believe I was there myself and learned that much but...it isn't that much! People in all kinds of cultures have learned it. Yet, for example, isn't there something going on in ours that also disables us a bit in our attempts to give comfort (after the fact) to those who mourn? If we can catch poverty like a disease I guess we can catch death if we call up the tainted one on the phone. Absurd. Contrary to everything for instance in the New Testament.

    Of course, for all that I did know about it...I also fell into this same pattern of ignoring somewhat. I could have encouraged a more bland diet...could have gone on one along with mom. I could have become informed about the deceptive nature of the word "mini" in regard to
    mini-strokes. We're all in on it. Society is an addict...but, wait a minute, do all our small addictions in reality rest on top a conveyor belt of sacrifices...folks let down hard? The biggest addiction our hardness of heart?

    Letting humans down hard seems to me an unconscionable trap that Mara and the lowerarchy must relish greatly. Personally, I had a book by William Stringfellow to warn me but I could have continued contemplating it more for sure. Unfortunately, a brush with first hand experience must be the most frequent awakener to this reality/trap going down in our land. Anna Deavere Smith has found a way to make us see the error [not specifically Stringfellow's take], so I will hope it's indicative of a wave many will get on (enlightenment).

    Time now to train to become something other than a "miserable comforter" myself.

    Thank you for this-- an outstanding conversation with one of the wisest and most talented woman of our times.

    I love the Journal. Long-form conversations like this are something too rare and something to treasure

    Here is a genuine leader, not to mention her "knock your socks off" performance. Ms. Smith has raised the curtain on issues that need light rather than concealment. I am a Hospice volunteer. Helping to dispel the fear and loathing society placed on our dying is an enligtenment sorely needed.
    Thank you Anna Deveare Smith

    Ms. Smith is a national treasure. We do have a hard time looking at death. We just don't do it. It's the ultimate force that takes us, but to be abandoned like at Charity Hospital, for example, it's even worse. It's dying before you are dead, while people look on and don't see you, because you have become null and void. And why do people do that? We are all waiting for "them" to move on it.

    What a wonderful program. I teach theater appreication and Ms. Deveare-Smith's work making art out of conversation is discussed.

    She speaks truth and she does it in a way that crosses all gender,ethnic and socio-economic boundaries. It is a truth may of us have been grappling with for decades, but it goes unrecognized within the power structure of ths country. Unrecognized because if they actual saw what is, they'd be forced to do something.

    I'm from that generation that thought we'd change the world for a better. Like Ms. Deveare-Smith I am sadded at what we've become and what a devasting effect it's had on our nation.

    I was truly moved and overwelmed by the Ms. Smith's depiction of humanity, her responses and work that exposes social injustice. How would I contact Ms. D. Smith? I have a story about abandonment.

    A new fan has been born.

    Michal Smith

    Anna is right. The greatest gift we can give to others, besides life, is comforting their departure from this realm. It is a cultural flaw in our society that we do not get past our own fear and discomfort and foster more discussion about helping people transition out of this world and address the value in some cases of assisted suicide for the irreversibly ill.

    I am always interested in hearing other people's stories, and the stories related by Ms. Smith touched me. We need to do what we can for others, starting with simple courtesy and understanding.

    It seems that few people talk about death. It is too scary, too final. We're all about life here in the U.S.; how to get richer and happier. We don't lose! My family didn't really talk about illness either, and it was a nightmare as my parents became older and infirm. We siblings who still live are facing our own physical illnesses which we do discuss, but not in terms of our mortality.

    As for my personal story, I have had a long and difficult struggle with depression. Mental illness is discussed even less than physical illness because of the stigma in our society. Mental illness is one that I discuss with my siblings; we have some of the same issues. For some reason, mental health is considered less important than physical health in the U.S., and around the world. In the U.S., treatment is not well covered by insurance companies; usually only 50% of charges for a few visits to a doctor or therapist are covered, but not for any long-term assistance. If one's mental health isn't taken care of, one's physical health will suffer. I guarantee it. So the message I get is that I am not important; I am not worth fixing. I have been abandoned.

    Yes! A life's journey consists of a beginning to end. We are fixated with eternal biological life (as we perceive it.) Life is continual; scientifically (regenerating atomic configurations) and spiritually (unmeasured faith.) If we could be realistic, accepting, and celebratory of our human condition, then death would be a mere departure to a new existence.


    I had just returned from seeing a lecture and slide presentation on some artwork that, unlike my own seemed more personally oriented and expository. This made me wonder about my own approach and production.

    Some of the questions Bill asked, and the answers Anna made resonated with my own queries and answers I was already beginning to find.

    Thank you.

    we are traveling from Montana to NYC and very disappointed to find Ms. Smiths show in Manhattan ends on Dec. 6. Any chance for an extension?

    Sometimes Bill Moyer's show makes me cry. This was one of those times.

    I believe our society has an extremely difficult time looking at death and loss and illness. We'll do anything to keep us alive, but we don't look at the care or the kindness parts. That man who said "We're just living too long", shows how sad it is. Where is the kindness and care? A lot of it got lost when we put the medicine in a bottle and handed it to the person after getting money for it. All the words you offer a child - "You can do it", "You have so much potential", "What are you going to be when you grow up?" - what do you say to someone who is 80 years old on a life support machine? You can't say to them what you'd say to a former teen gymnast who is on a machine from an accident. It makes me wonder if there is more to life than just the future and staying alive. And I wish that instead of fear all around me I had people who weren't so afraid. People who are willing to talk about these difficult, but very important things. I don't like being afraid, but I get used to it.

    Bill - As always, your show highlights the best people doing the best work. My husband Jerry Dunfey and I have loved every Anna Deavere Smith piece we've seen and we can't wait to see Let Me Down Easy this week so it was wonderful to get a taste of it through your discussion with her on The Journal. I twittered away giving hyperlinks to your PBS website and a great print interview of Anna. Hope many people will get to see this latest in her extraordinary body of work. - Nadine B. Hack, President, beCause Global Consulting

    Wow, terrific program! Thank you, Anna Deveare Smith and Bill Moyers. This is what the Humanities can do for society. Best wishes.

    Re. A.Deveare Smith
    Please forward..Ive seen your work further back & appreciate your theater..I find current themes timely alsoetc. There are however many of us who find "Bucking Broncos & their "afficionadoes" just more of the same abuse & injustice to animals..especially when used for entertainment & worse!..so the real concern here is "Ahimsa" or compassion for all living beings not
    species specific" its really not about "staying on top of the bucking bull" its about getting off & staying off..
    sherry

    Any chance she will perform on the road...outside of New York?

    If'n Bill's gonna keep this up, he's gotta get hisself some big ol' fancy suspenders.

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