“For it is not only indolence that causes human relationships to be repeated from case to case with such unspeakable monotony and boredom; it is timidity before any new, inconceivable experience, which we don’t think we can deal with. but only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another person as something alive and will himself sound the depths of his own being. for if we imagine this being of the individual as a larger or smaller room, it is obvious that most people come to know only one corner of their room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip on which they keep walking back and forth. In this way they have a certain security. And yet how much more human is the dangerous insecurity that drives those prisoners in Poe’s stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their cells. We, however, are not prisoners. No traps or snares have been set around us, and there is nothing that should frighten or upset us. We have been put into life as into the element we most accord with, and we have, moreover, through thousands of years of adaptation, come to resemble this life so greatly that when we hold still, through a fortunate mimicry we can hardly be differentiated from everything around us. We have no reason to harbor any mistrust against our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belong to us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience. How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

Dennis’s Eulogy for Granny D, Dublin, New Hampshire, March 14, 2010

Thousands of news services, from Peterborough to Bangkok, from personal diaries to the New York Times, have reported these last few days on the life and death of Doris Haddock. In her life, she did not cure a disease or end a war. She did not write ten symphonies or do whatever normally occasions such notice. So what did she do? It is worth thinking about in this moment.

If people no longer spoke aloud, or if they no longer looked at things with their own eyes or through their own thoughts, if they let others do those things for them, then they would take it as unusual if one among them suddenly spoke up and dared see the world independently, describing without filter or permission the vivid colors and true conditions of the world.

It is difficult to understand why a lady from New Hampshire who did little more than take morning walks–though she sometimes did so without coming back for several years–should be so lionized in death, unless we also consider what has become of the world around her that made her exceptional by comparison. She is seen as exceptional perhaps because the rest of us have become a little too reticent, a little too slow-moving, in response to these times of high challenge.

A thousand people have told me that, when they reach her age, they want to be like Granny D. I have always agreed with them, but we have had it a little wrong. We must not wait until we are 90 or 100; we have to be, even today, a little more like Granny D. Our challenges will not wait for us to age.

Walking down long highways, I remember that sometimes she would want to look at the small things killed beside the road that others could not bear to look at. She was a great artist in fibers and colors, even in how she dressed. No one had a better sense of hat. She would see rich beauty in places where some would never dare look. She seems to have turned off her hearing aids for the lecture when the rest of us were told we must not look here or there, and told how some things must be presumed beautiful or ugly, true or false. She simply and always wanted to see for herself.

Too often we are told what to think, even about ourselves. We are encouraged to trivialize our lives; to participate in our own reduction to mere consumers of products, passive witnesses to history. She wanted to see for herself what she might become, what she might be capable of doing that was helpful to the people she loved, whom were honestly everyone. She could see no defects in others without measuring them against her own shortcomings. Her anger was real and righteous, but it was about things and actions–it never lodged in her heart for long against people, even those whose actions she most opposed.

Because she could see our present democracy clearly, and because she could remember in properly punctuated detail the conditions of this self-governing country in her youth, this young lady of Lake Winnipesauke, this product of New England’s town halls, this elder resident of the lanes where Thornton Wilder wrote “Our Town,” this friend of ours who will be more durable to history than any Old Man of the Mountain, was the truer granite measure of where we have been going as a people and where we must go, one step at a time, into the American future.

The important thing Doris Haddock would have you remember was that she was no more special than you, and that you have the identical power and the responsibility to make a difference in the community and the world.

She received tens of thousands of messages from people who told her they had decided that, if a woman her age of bent back, of emphysema and arthritis, could step forth to be a player on life’s stage, to make a contribution, then so could they, and so would they. And so they did. Those people live all over the world. We can never know what good that legion of people has done and will continue to do.  Have they cured diseases, ended wars, written symphonies?  Remarkably yes, they do important work now all over the world, and they live their lives, by their own accounts, with more satisfaction and meaning because of what they learned by watching our Granny D. And politically, if you care to trace the origins of the present progressive movement, you will find at its root a bare handful of people, including Granny D.

Her youthful energy lives on through those she touched, just as the youthful energy of the people who raised her and taught her many years ago continued on through her. You could hear the voice of Jesse Eldridge Southwick of Emerson College of Oratory in Doris’s every word, and see in Doris’s constant energy the creative joy of her Laconia High School teacher, Grammy Swain. If Doris was partial to the poetry of Robert Frost, it was because she knew him. He was her husband’s freshman English teacher at Amherst. If you ever heard her recite “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” as I did on a desert road, you may as well have been in Frost’s presence. All of those people lived on past their own lifetimes through her.

She was an extension also of those much younger than her, who are with us today. She was an expression of Jim and Libby Haddock’s supportive love and many sacrifices, enabling her to become what she became. Her grandchildren and great grandchildren were her inspiration to keep working for a better world for them. She was an extension of the love and learning of her study group, led by Bonnie Riley and a remarkable circle of friends. Beyond their warm living rooms, Doris traveled on a river of their love and energy. If there were ever a list in marble of the names of the people in her personal world who supported and propelled her, who, in turn, were inspired and loved by her, it would extend three thousand and two hundred miles across America, and then across the seas.

Doris was always a little confounded by her late-life fame. She deeply believed that she was merely fortunate enough to find herself in a good play with a good cast. The old drama student never wanted to be more than a very supportive player, so that the leaders of our democracy might better move us toward the honest, just and kindly democracy ever just ahead, a vision that she kept as close to her thoughts as that old feather in her hat.

She would have us remember that our country is Our Town, that we each have the power and the responsibility to make a difference while we are alive, knowing that what we set in motion today will make a difference long after we are gone.  Far more important than the old bodies we find ourselves patching up and hitching along, we are each also an idea and a vision of the world. We give the rising gift or dark weight of that vision to each person we deeply know. And that idea, that vision, is like the manuscript that grows from an old typewriter that will soon rust away to earth, leaving but the living manuscript. The Idea of us is the real us. The Idea is the living thing that survives because it lives on in our friends, survives in their hearts to help them better interpret and shape the world. So, at the next turn of history and of opportunity, will we not wonder what Granny D would have said, would have thought?  It is a part of us now, a measuring tool, something new in us that thinks like her. That is Doris alive and still walking with us.

Finally, she would want us to remember to keep working at things and to take walks every day if possible. To send Thank You notes. To keep asking for and expecting honorable change. To stay strong. After the recent Supreme Court decision that did damage to the bill she walked for, she asked me if I thought she might walk across the country again. I told her that she might only be able to do five miles or less a day. She had last month been in Arizona working on a book and doing three miles a morning.  She calculated how long it would take her to get to Washington at 3 to 5 miles per, and decided she needed a quicker way to fix the Supreme Court decision. Well, now it is up to us, of course, and we won’t let her or our country down.

Thank you Doris. You didn’t fear death very much–you told me so. You needn’t have feared it at all.

Let me know, via an email to me at burkephoenix@gmail.com if you want me to send you a note when her new book comes out, which she finished just last week.

Doris, Goodbye.

Doris “Granny D” Haddock died peacefully today in her Dublin, New Hampshire family home at 7:18 p.m. Tuesday, March 9, 2010. She was 100 years old. Born in 1910 in Laconia, New Hampshire, she attended Emerson College and lived through two world wars and the Great Depression. She was an activist for her community and for her country, remaining active until the return of chronic respiratory problems four days ago.

She walked across the United States at the age of 90 in the year 2000, in a successful effort to promote the passage of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act.  In 2004, Granny D decided to challenge incumbent Senator Judd Gregg for his US Senate seat. She hoped to demonstrate that ordinary people can run for office and win with the support of small donations from individuals. Despite a shortened, grassroots campaign without the benefit of any advertising dollars, Granny D garnered an impressive 34% of the vote. During the past year five years, Granny D has traveled the country speaking about campaign finance reform and working on behalf of legislation for publicly-funded elections in New Hampshire.

In the 1960s, she and her husband, James Haddock, Sr., were instrumental in halting planned nuclear tests that would have destroyed a native fishing village and region in Alaska.

She raised two children, including the late Elizabeth Lawrenz of Washington D.C., and a son, Jim Haddock, who survives her and, with his wife, Libby, was at her side during many of her great adventures, including the final one today.  She is also survived by eight grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren.

A public memorial service will be held this summer.

If you would like to leave your memories of her, please use the reply feature below.

Ten years ago Doris finished her long walk and ascended the steps of the U.S. Capitol.  There were 2,300 people walking with her for those final steps, including a dozen Members of Congress or more.

John Anthony, who provided brilliant press relations for her walk and arrival, sent this note this morning: “Doris “Granny D” Haddock ascended the east steps of the U.S. Capitol after walking from her pacific shore in an effort to weaken the grip special interests have on our democracy. It was a day I’ll never forget.  The journey as well.”

Doris spoke to the throngs gathered on and below the steps. Her remarks were stirring:

“This morning we began our walk among the graves of Arlington –so that those spirits, some of whom may be old friends, might join us today and that we might ask of them now, Did you, brave spirits, give your lives for a government where we might stand together as free and equal citizens, or did you give your lives so that laws might be sold to the highest bidder, turning this temple of our Fair Republic into a bawdy house where anything and everything is done for a price? We hear your answers in the wind.”

From my log:

“Over 2,000 walkers came, and from as far as Alaska.  Press crews came from as far as Japan, Germany and England just for the story.  In that hardhearted, jaded old city, Go Granny Go signs dangled from office windows, horns honked, and folks came down elevators to join the walk.  When she climbed the Capitol steps, she was met by a dozen Members of Congress, swarms of Capitol staffers, and hundreds of people who couldn’t walk far with her but wanted to be there to welcome her.  The crowd was so large that the Capitol Police insisted in breaking it up into manageable groups. The speeches were many and all were profoundly worth hearing.  When Doris finally spoke, Members of Congress were rapt and amazed. They looked at each other and shook their heads.  Members of the Press put down their notebooks and clapped and cheered.”

“Sen. Chris Shays said yesterday morning (at a meeting in the Capitol Building with Doris, Sen. Levin and representatives of Americans major religious organizations) that he wished he had walked with her earlier in her trek, because he fully expects that people will someday talk about their participation in this walk in the way people now talk about having walked in Selma.  I think he was right.”


Doris “Granny D” Haddock was honored at a birthday party in the New Hampshire Governor’s office this afternoon.  An amazing turnout.  Here is what Doris had to say:

Thank you. That you would take time from your busy life to be here is a great gift to me, and I thank you for it.

People have been asking me how I feel about the recent decision by the Supreme Court to strike down some of the campaign finance reforms that I walked for and have been working on for a dozen or so years.

When I was a young woman, my husband and I were having dinner at the Dundee home of a friend, Max Foster, when a young couple rushed through the door breathless to say that they had accidentally burned down Max’s guest cabin, down by the river.

Max stood up from his meal. He set his napkin down. He smiled at the young couple and he said,

“Thank goodness. You have done me a great favor, and you don’t even know it. We have been wanting to completely redo that old place, and now it will be a clean start. It will be better than ever the next time you come to stay.”

Well, I guess the Supreme Court has burned down our little house, but, truth be told, it was pretty drafty anyway. We had not really solved the problem of too much money in politics. Not hardly. And now we have an opportunity to start clean and build a system of reforms that really will do the trick.

I think one of the wings of our new house will be the public financing of election campaigns. I think another wing will be a dramatic expansion of our conflict of interest and bribery laws. I think all of us, left, right and middle, will enjoy living there without the special interests stealing us blind any more. I intend to be around long enough to see this new place built.

Thank you again, very much indeed.

100th Birthday!

Doris takes a birthday walk with filmmaker Marlo Poras