Have you ever felt like you were going to faint? Or throw up? Or maybe even have a seizure? Did you stop to think to yourself before you got sick, I’d like to do this in the most public way possible because I believe that being transparent here is the right thing. Or instead did you worry that others would judge you, or perhaps even fear you. So you hid and went somewhere private.
It sucks to be sick. It sucks even more to be sick in public.
What is it that makes us so scared of sickness in America? Everyone everywhere is whispering about Hillary Clinton’s health and there are hushed tones from people on the news and doctors and campaign surrogates and people in my Facebook feed and all of us are so worried and I literally don’t understand. Is it because we think sick people can’t lead? Is it because we think sick people aren’t strong?
As I watch the news, I’m genuinely stunned by this obsession over Hillary Clinton’s health. I would expect her opponent and some well-seasoned conspiracy theorists to have a gander at this one, but even the mainstream folks are running 24 hour news coverage of basically just hand wringing and speculation about whether or not she is sick.
She might be sick. Really sick.
Is it more than pneumonia? What if it’s Parkinson’s? Are those anti-seizure glasses?
And I’m just floored because honestly, what if she does? What if they are?
So the fuck what.
I do not understand how in 2016 we still associate this concept that people who take medication, who struggle with different physical illnesses are somehow any less fit to lead. It’s honestly a really fucked up conceptualization of leadership.
Hey mainstream media, Doctor Oz, Doctor Drew, Doctor Phil and every other TV doctor out there: sick is not the same as being weak.
Here is what the Republican nominee for president had to say about Hillary Clinton at a speech in Ohio last night. He described her at home, lying in bed, and said this: "It is hot and it's always hot when I perform because the crowds are so big. These rooms were not designed for this kind of a crowd. I don't know, folks. You think Hillary would be able to stand up here for an hour and do this? I don't. I don't think so."
You see what he’s doing there right? He’s taking a dig at her. He’s implying that she is weak and therefore somehow unfit. Perhaps she can’t even stand.
And this is where voters need to be just slightly savvier than say, a four year old, and say, so what?
What if she can’t? What if she can’t stand up? I think she actually can but that’s irrelevant to this discussion. Do you need to physically stand to be able to lead? Would someone mind exhuming FDR so we can discuss this further?
Here is what most people who live with any kind of illness know with certainty. They have to know way more about their body and be far more in tune with what it needs than the average person. They are hyper sensitive to changes anywhere and in anything. They are skinless. This is not bad. This is good. They are trained to notice everyone and everything: they have to be to keep themselves and others safe. They notice strobe lights and sudden changes in humidity or temperature. They are hyper aware of when they need less sugar or more sleep. They are AWARE.
Here is another thing sick people know. They know that to be successful in any real sense of the word, they need to have a community of folks to rely on. They rely on these folks to do night feedings, to drive, to make meals, to hold conference calls bedside. Sick people learn when and how to ask for help. In fact they learn to plan for it. They understand that smart people, sick or not, don’t become heroes or get any special award for doing it all on their own. They line up a team to help take them onto the battlefield of life. They know how critical it is to pick the very best people to back them up. And they know exactly when and how to press them into service.
Finally, sick people are strong. They show up to work when they are feeling 70%. They take their medicine, they swallow their side effects and other people’s judgements about them and they take it all just for the opportunity to drive and work and fight and love alongside everyone else. They have a deep seeded appreciation for how amazing it is just to be able to show up, regardless of what that looks like on any given day. They campaign for president even when it feels like their very knees might buckle beneath them because they know that this is temporary and purely physical. It doesn’t change or tarnish the permanent drumbeat that exists within to just persist.
I don’t know if Hillary Clinton is sicker than she claims. I honestly don’t. I suspect she isn’t, but all I’m trying to tell you here is that it’s actually not the point.
The point – and listen up CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, and everyone else: being sick doesn’t disqualify you from being able to lead.
Leading is about good judgement, decision making, the right team of people to support you, and a laser focus on a big goal. This I’m sure of. And you and I can debate who in this race is better at that. But there is no debate that leadership has nothing to do with physical strength. It sure as hell isn’t about whether or not you can stand.
As we sit here and worry about whether or not Hillary Clinton’s health precludes her being able to assume the role of President, I implore you to consider this quote from another first lady many years ago. These words can be found at the memorial dedicated to her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: "Franklin's illness...gave him strength and courage he had not had before. He had to think out the fundamentals of living and learn the greatest of all lessons - infinite patience and never ending persistence."
The fundamentals of living.
Never ending persistence.
What does it take to persist in the face of constant attacks from outside and maybe even within your own body? To keep a laser focus on the goal of fighting for others of improving outcomes for women and children and underserved communities. What does that take? What does it look like?
Well, perhaps we could start by asking the 40 year public servant who showed up to honor the fallen 9/11 heroes despite a pretty good bout with pneumonia.