AMEND CORNER: Escaping politics for a look at real life


The state of our politics makes it pretty easy to write an opinion column these days.

Except for the ‘60s and ‘70s, when the Civil Rights and Vietnam marchers were in the streets, I don’t remember a time when there was so much political turmoil here in the land of the free. I’m not sure even the ‘60s were as tumultuous as it is now — although that might be because I had more pressing personal issues back then than I do now.

The plethora of political conflicts cluttering up the news reports now provides an almost unlimited supply of topics for a columnist to take on. In fact, I suspect I could write a column every month about the dumb things other columnists say in their columns.

But there is a problem. When I began this column while employed by another newspaper, I never intended it to be about politics every week. I wanted to draw my topics from all of life.

In 2000, my first full year as a columnist, only four of the 44 columns I wrote were about the election, even though that was the year the Bush/Gore contest went into overtime. One I wrote about a now forgotten Elian Gonzalez, whose mother tried to escape from Cuba to Florida with him, but drowned along the way. His father, who didn’t want to leave Cuba, wanted Elian returned, but a shirttail relative in Florida demanded custody of him, and it became a messy affair, politically.

Otherwise, my columns that year observed holidays, computers, my family’s trip to Africa, the death of our dog and how my habit of whistling or singing to myself while working irritated one of my co-workers, a habit I broke some years ago.

But that was a long time ago, and last year, more than half of my columns touched on politics in one way or another.

Well, I’m not entirely comfortable with that. Politics does touch many facets of American life because that’s how a democratic republic makes decisions, but if you look at the world as a whole — and especially when you look at the human experience — there are other things to write about.

Here’s one of them:

A few weeks ago, our grandson, Cormac, missed school due to a virus. When he felt better, he went back to school, but came home later that day when his fever returned. When asked what his problem was, he said that his kidneys hurt.

Well, this is the grandson who lives in Niger, a Third World nation in west Africa where, as you would probably guess, sophisticated medical care is in short supply. But they took him to the American medical unit in the nation’s capital that sent him out to an American military base where he could be X-rayed.

It turned out that Cormac’s self-diagnosis was right on the nose.  He had not only a kidney infection, but an abscess on his kidney.

Cormac’s second-grade class had learned about kidneys during their health lessons, so he was quite certain that the pain he was experiencing was exactly where his kidneys are located. That’s not something I remember learning in second grade, but then, I was in second grade in 1952. Even so, I am sure it was a few years later before I knew that much about my innards.

Well, the good news is that Cormac and his dad were flown to London for hospital care, and his mom and big sister came for a few days to help out. Once treatment started, Cormac was well enough to take in the zoo and some of the other attractions of one of the world’s great cities with them. On his last day there, Cormac, true to his inquisitive nature, decided to spend the morning watching something he had not seen before, and is quite unlikely to see in either Niger or the United States: He and his dad watched a cricket match.

Maybe this incident will lead Cormac into a medical career, but I don’t think so. He’s a lot like his father, in that he is interested in almost everything, so he should have a lot of choices in life. That means the odds are against his choosing medicine.

Maybe his choice will be writing for a newspaper. If so, he’ll have plenty of topics to write columns about.

I sort of envy him, because I’m pretty inquisitive myself, and I’ve always wanted to watch a cricket match and get a feel for how it is played.  That would give me one more non-political topic to write a column about.