Michelle Martin

Barbie girl

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

The night before we went to see the “Barbie” movie, my mother came to our house for dinner and we got to talking about her sister, my aunt, who died just over two years ago.

We talked about her career in advertising, how so many people knew her, how generous she was to her nieces and nephews and their children.

Then my brother said, “Didn’t I hear she burned down the Black Panthers office in New York?”

According to my mother, the only person at the table who knew my aunt in those days, the story has a grain of truth, but is greatly exaggerated. She was living in an apartment on a very ungentrified Avenue A in the 1960s that happened to be above the Black Panthers office. She left her curling iron plugged in when she went out, and it started a fire that damaged the building, but did not actually burn it down.

For the rest of her life, she unplugged almost everything whenever she went out.

We also talk frequently about my late mother-in-law, who came to Chicago by herself as a very young woman and built a life and created a family here, including sponsoring my father-in-law to immigrate to the United States.

By now, it’s probably not a spoiler to say the event that kicks off the main plot in the “Barbie” movie is when Barbie, the one who is the main character, starts having “irrepressible thoughts of death,” something that has never happened and is not supposed to happen in perfect, plastic and predominantly pink Barbieland.

It’s not supposed to happen because plastic dolls don’t die. Barbie, our heroine, has never known a day that was not happy and perfect. She has also never known real food, water or feet that aren’t molded into the shape of high heels.

But the first thing that bothers her is death. It makes sense, because for us humans, death is an ever-present reality. We are born, and one day, we die and leave this earthly life behind. There’s no getting around it.

We can do everything we can to be healthy — eat the right food, get the proper amount of exercise, avoid toxic chemicals like those contained in cigarette smoke — and we’ll all still die eventually. What’s more, we don’t even know when that will happen. All the healthy habits in the world make it more likely that we’ll live longer, of course, but in life there are no guarantees.

But that, after all, is a spur to actually live life, rather than float through it from day to day, pool party to pool party. If your days are numbered, best to consider how you want to use them, especially if you don’t know when, exactly, your number will come up.

Live in a way that makes those who love you tell stories at the dinner table, and look forward to meeting you again in the hereafter.



  • movies
  • family life