Friday, June 6, 2008

Cousin Jimmy

Last night, I stood up in front of five hundred media and democracy reform leaders. On the stage next to me were Joe Bleifuss, Amy Goodman, and John Nichols. Rob Richie from FairVote and Solange from Public Campaign were two of the three welcome speakers. I was the third. My job was to welcome the crowd to Minneapolis and share a little bit about the Liberty Tree analysis. I stood up, with no preparation, with two glasses of cheap chardonnay in me, and I caught the spirit. I don't know where it came from but for two minutes the words rolled off my tongue. And the audience was insane. People were cheering and clapping throughout the entire speech. As I left the stage, Amy Goodman gave me a broad smile. John Nichols stood up and enthusiastically shook my hand. And Solange leaned over and whispered that she never wanted to speak after me. Two old ladies stopped me and asked me for my contact information, and a freelance writer said that she would like to write an article about me. I was embarrassed by the praise of dozens of people.

And I can't remember a damn word I said.

It was an amazing climax to a day that I had been co-planning for seven months. And then my Mom called.

I have a cousin named James Wakefield. Jimmy is not just my favorite cousin, he is my white, straight radical twin. He has a twin brother, actually. But in the way that he and I see the world, in the work that we do, in the way that we believe in change, he and I are alike. As we have gotten older our family has begun to swear that we look alike. I don't see it. But our Mothers swear to it. And Mom's know best.

My cousin Jimmy also has leukemia. Last December he was diagnosed with leukemia. In February he had an experimental bone marrow stem cell transplant. The doctors were calling him the miracle kid. His immune system was rebounding. His blood type was going to be different (it would be his older he was the one that provided the stem cells). And last night, my Mom called to tell me that Jimmy's cancer had come back.

I was standing in the lobby of the Hilton and the world seemed to tip sideways. When I found out that he had cancer the first time, I didn't cry. I knew that he would kick cancer right in the face. My family for all its faults does a few things well: throw a hell of a party, when faced with crisis we come together like a Roman phalanx and we survive. Last night, I stood in the hallway of the Hilton and held David Cobb's hand and cried. Jimmy is brilliant. He has a huge heart. He just got engaged to an amazing, sassy, lovely French woman named Marie. He has a beautiful two year old nephew that loves his Uncle Jimmy. He taught English in Korea. He lived in Senegal. He understands racism and his role as a white man in fighting it. He is hilarious. He is my family.

I stood there with David, and I cried because there isn't shit I can do about any of this. I pride myself on being a crisis manager. When my friends have problems, I am a person they call to help them figure it out. My fucking strength finder says strategy is one of my greatest strengths. And there isn't anything I can do about my cousin's cancer.

But I can pray. Even though I am really pissed at God right now. I'm not going to let him get off easy. I am going to be so far in his damn ear that he is going to either listen to me or smite me. And if he smites me, at least I'll be able to let him know what I think about all this in person.


  1. I love you, Brandon.

    You are beautiful adn fearless and brilliant and I am honored to count you as a friend.

  2. I'm so sorry, sweety. It just plain sucks. Please know that I'm thinking of you. I'll light a little candelita on my brother's altar for your and Cousin Jimmy. You can cry, rant and rave all you need to. You get no browny points for shoving it, just an ulcer.

  3. Thanks you too...I wish I were crazy ass is afraid all the time.

    And Vinnie my love...I will take any candelitas that you would like to light up...if going to the Basilica and lighting the altar on fire would help, you might see me on the news ;-)


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