My cousin, who is not my cousin

I’ve never gone to the Washington Post website and typed my own name in before, and I found it an odd experience. I was moved to do so when I noticed some letters to the editor in today’s Post about an earlier story that I had missed about a Lt Whiteside. Honestly, I’m almost sorry I did – there are some things you’re just happier not knowing.

Elizabeth Whiteside isn’t a relative of mine as far as I know. She’s a local, a graduate of James Madison High School in Vienna. My father did most of his growing up in Miami after coming from Indiana. So Ms Whiteside and I likely share a common ancestor somewhere – Whiteside isn’t the most common of names – but if you need any proof of our distance from each other you needn’t look any farther than the fact that she was a valedictorian in high school and I was, well, attendance challenged.

I’m a subscriber on a genealogy mailing list that’s run by a fellow named Whiteside, and he tends to call us all “cousin.” It’s a little affectation I’ve never minded but that doesn’t mean much to me. It’s a name, and while I feel close to the people who gave it to me, it’s a million other things between us that make us close: experiences we shared, things we did for each other, things we have in common that go beyond a collection of letters.

So when I read Lt Elizabeth Whiteside’s story and what she’s been through and what she faces, I didn’t feel any kinship with her because we share a last name, or maybe a common ancestor a dozen births back. I read her story and thought about the stretches in my life when I wrestled with depression, the long stretches where things felt pointless or I found myself unable to cope with adversity. I never fell as far as she did, but then again I never achieved the way she did either. I had trouble in a job that involved sitting in a chair for a dozen hours a day, writing software so that factory workers could clock in on a computer terminal instead of with paper cards. She faltered after years of being a part of saving lives, stateside and on a battlefield, getting stellar marks from her superiors along the way.

I think about what and who finally got me to seek some treatment: some poor performance in a college class I didn’t much need, and a kind and firm word from my professor, Dr Leslie Northrup, who changed my life through a ten minute visit during office hours. It was a hard meeting for me to have, and I shared things that challenged my pride. Lt Whiteside chose not to reach out for help… because she was afraid they’d send her home from Iraq. I’m almost ashamed to think of my reluctance to humble myself when I compare it with how this woman decided to hang on to her own pain because she didn’t want to lose her ability to go on helping others.

So I’m pulling for you, cousin, and I hope that having your story told ends up helping you in some way. Perhaps your pain will once again help others, whether it be as a warning or a call to action. I called Senator Webb’s office at 202-224-4024 and left a message expressing my concern – perhaps some of the rest of you would as well.

4 Comments so far

  1. crankella (unregistered) on December 4th, 2007 @ 11:22 pm

    Hey – i’ve posted plenty of negative comments in response to overly self indulgent, self pitying blog entries but want to say nice job on this one – actually showing some heartfelt compassion for a fellow human being. sort rare in the metblogosphere so didn’t want it to go unnoticed.


  2. crankella (unregistered) on December 4th, 2007 @ 11:22 pm

    Hey – i’ve posted plenty of negative comments in response to overly self indulgent, self pitying blog entries but want to say nice job on this one – actually showing some heartfelt compassion for a fellow human being. sort rare in the metblogosphere so didn’t want it to go unnoticed.


  3. poo poo (unregistered) on December 4th, 2007 @ 11:52 pm

    Hey – i’ve posted plenty of negative comments in response to overly self indulgent, self pitying blog entries but want to say nice job on this one – actually showing some heartfelt compassion for a fellow human being. sort rare in the metblogosphere so didn’t want it to go unnoticed.

    oops. sorry. i was just channeling crankella.

    seriously, don, i’m going to do some research for you on a historical database to which i have access. more later….


  4. Carl Weaver (unregistered) on December 4th, 2007 @ 11:57 pm

    Thanks for this, Don. This situation is fucked up.



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