My name is Jean Collins. This summer I’ll be conducting a series of interviews with everyday U.S. patriots—the people who are given so little of our attention, but have so much to say.
Every week, I dial the most American phone number I can think of. Today’s was 044-046-1776. Sue Sweeney, from Appleton, Wisconsin. I found her enjoying a warm spring afternoon curled up in her beloved chair, a chair which, I think you’ll find, is far more than just a chair.
This interview has twists and turns, moments of joyful clarity and profound sorrow. I hope you learn as much from Sue—and her chair—as I did.
JC: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today, Sue.
SS: Who’s there?
JC: It’s Jean Collins with the PIC Newspaper.
SS: Wrong number.
JC: I think a lot of Americans feel like that these days, Sue. Like we have the wrong number. Like we’re not the best at just about anything anymore. But Sue, I’m here to say that we’re still number one in heart.
JC: So why don’t we get started with the interview. Sue, what would we find you doing on a normal Saturday afternoon?
SS: The usual.
JC: Which is?
JC: Mmm. Interesting when you consider that the opposite of sitting is standing. Standing up. Standing for something. What is something you stand for?
SS: Well I just stood up to get the phone, which was clearly a mistake.
JC: A mistake! No Sue, this isn’t a mistake, it’s an opportunity! To learn, to laugh, to get to know each other! Sue, where might we find you sitting?
SS: In my chair.
JC: There’s a real life—a vibrancy—to the way you talk about sitting. I almost feel like I can see you in the chair—a rocking chair, right? Passed down through your family for a few generations? A real American story of resiliency, hard work, responsibility. A chair that might have weathered this storm we call life in many of the same ways you have–
SS: No, it’s just a chair. It’s brown.
JC: Maybe just a chair to you, but so much more to your family, your friends, your neighbors. Do you keep your chair in the yard?
SS: I move it to wherever I want to sit. It’s a chair.
JC: A chair, yes. It’s funny, Sue, because when you think about it, we’re all a little bit more like a chair than we realize. Moved around the house by forces we don’t quite understand. Never appreciated as much as we want to be. But sturdier than we know.
JC: Sue, tell me. What are you thinking about? What wild fancies dance through your American mind?
SS: Nothing. I’m sitting.
JC: What about the feeling of the breeze on your neck? And the chatter of the boys and girls running through the neighborhood. I imagine your family sometimes passes through the room.
SS: I live alone. They’ve all moved out.
JC: Moved out, and moved up? They’re living the epitome of the American dream, you could say, while you’ve been left behind. But don’t think we’re not still here for you, Sue. Don’t think your country isn’t here for you. Why don’t you tell me about the rest of your day. Before and after your sitting time. What gets Sue into the chair, and what gets her out?
SS: What gets me out of the chair? Some chatterbox from a fake newspaper.
JC: With all due respect, the PIC Newspaper is not fake, Sue.
JC: Back to the topic at hand, it seems the town community is a large part of your life. Like you’re a real stabilizing force for all of them. Almost like… a chair. If you will.
SS: I’m not a chair.
JC: Yes, yes, you’re right. You aren’t the chair. We are the chair. We all are the chair. Jean, do you think the Americans reading this understand what types of chairs they are—what their version of sitting down all afternoon is?
JC: So Sue, this chair. What sorts of ups and downs, triumphs and pitfalls, has this chair witnessed? For how long has she been in your family?
SS: Nine years.
JC: Nine years! Is that significant? Nine years for nine lives, perhaps, as each time you sit down, you sit down as a new person, older and wiser than before? Nine years for the first nine American states: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, and New Hampshire! Nine years for–
SS: No. That’s just when I had to get a new chair.
JC: A new chair?
SS: The other one burned up.
JC: What? Now we’re talking!
SS: It burned up.
JC: It burned up… metaphorically?
SS: No. It burned up in a fire.
JC: A fire? There was a fire!
SS: Yes. I had to buy a new chair. Don’t call this number again.
JC: I’d love to hear more about the circumstances of the fire—both physical and emotional. What was the damage? The causes? Was it in your home? What did the fire department tell you, and what do you know, deep down, about this fire and what it meant? Could it be that the real fire is the love that warms our hearts each and every day? Love you’re secretly searching for?
Sue? Sue, are you still there?
Sue do you need a moment? Are you getting emotional?
And with that, America, we say goodbye to the first of many unique, vibrant voices we’ll be welcoming into our life this summer. Sue’s story tells us what it means to sit. To witness. To observe. To love. I began this call worried that the person I’d randomly dialed would be grouchy, uninterested, empty. But I’ve never found someone who’s had as much profound depth as Sue. She’s always supporting others (like a chair!), yet feeling neglected, ignored, and regarded as unimportant. How can it be that someone like Sue has been so left behind? And who is to blame?
You’ll be hearing from me—and from our next new friend—in a few weeks.