How my 100-year-old teacher helped me understand Joe Biden
Emil Amok!

How my 100-year-old teacher helped me understand Joe Biden

The Democrats are all singing praises publicly, but they may harbor different thoughts knowing Biden is fading faster than the poll data
/ 03:48 PM July 10, 2024

As the nation and Joe Biden ponder whether he is too old for a second term as president, I contemplate the birthday of one of the most influential persons in my life.

Flossie Lewis is 100 this week.

Flossie is older than Joe Biden, but not too old to still be my teacher, my friend and the Jewish mother I never had.

I have known Flossie for over 50 years. We met when I was a student at San Francisco’s Lowell High School, the city’s public school coveted by most Asian American parents in the Bay Area. Many of those parents now realize that Flossie has done more than anyone to liberate Asian American kids from their parents’ Doctor/Science/Engineering  stereotype to pursue an expressive life with words, literary or otherwise.

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That’s what Flossie did for me.

Flossie and Emil

As the nation and Joe Biden ponder whether he is too old for a second term as president, Emil Guillermo contemplates his former teacher Flossie’s 100th birthday. In photo: Flossie (left) and Emil / CONTRIBUTED

She’s the anti-Tiger mom who showed me my inner Beowulf.

In a PBS News Hour piece from ten years ago, I said this about Flossie: “She changed the direction of my life. Because of Flossie I became a writer. All throughout my life Flossie has been there for me. Everyone said no to me. And she said yes.”


Not that she wasn’t critical. She had a red pencil that wouldn’t quit. But she did teach me how to write. Not novels? No patience. Not short stories. Too short. Poetry? Too iambic. I was writing my columns and personal journalism even in high school. Flossie taught me the virtues of the declarative sentence. And whenever I failed, she encouraged me. She never said no, though one time in some paper on Hamlet, she did say I was corny.

To which I could only say, “Oh, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune!” From that, to this and everything I’ve written, including all my columns, IT’S REALLY ALL FLOSSIE’S FAULT.

Aging with Flossie

Last weekend, when I saw Flossie again for the first time since COVID, she continued to teach me, especially about the key political question of the moment in this country about aging.


Last week, a PBS News Hour updated its piece from 2016 on Flossie, where she said, “Getting old is a state of mind,” and then showed her today.

Her personality is still intact, she says in the update. But the body is not.

“The body has grown old,” she said. “Really old.”

She says she hasn’t lost the energy, but she can’t walk and that confines her. Her eyes are also bad. The joy of reading is gone. She can’t make notes on the margin.

And she can’t write verse any longer. “Because even as I write it, I can’t read it back,” she said, “I can’t perfect it.”

As I’ve learned, writing is, alas, rewriting.

“And then there are moments when I’m very sure. And then there are moments when I fall apart,” she said. “And that happens because the memory does go, and suddenly I find myself in the middle of a sentence waiting for a word that I’ve known all my life and it doesn’t come out and that can wipe you out.”

Flossie doesn’t want to be president, but she’s being honest about her age and her capabilities. And how we all must come to terms with the process.

It’s the discussion we inevitably get to have with all the people we love. And it’s maybe the reason I haven’t seen her since COVID.

I want to see her as I knew her. As the feisty, rebellious teacher. As my friend who got a PhD in English from Berkeley when she was retired and in her ’70s. As my “mother,” who came to the house for vegan holidays, played with my kids in our pond, and walked through the almond orchards.

I don’t want to see her fade.

But Flossie makes it easy on us. She teaches that we need to find out on our own when it’s time to gracefully accept the inevitable.

Sure, it’s OK to rage against the dying of the light. But you can also be mellow, philosophical, lyrical. Even mischievous like Flossie.

In other words, you can go out realistically, gracefully, with a sense of self intact, as a winner.

That national debate

As I watch the debate over the debate and the question of whether the president is too old, Flossie helped me understand our national dilemma.

Whatever decision is made must be based on a “country first” idea. Not based on party. Or ideology. Or winning. Not even on Joe’s sense of ego.

Just on the ability to overcome the aging process and do the job.

At his Madison, Wisconsin speech last week, , Biden was feisty.

Biden insisted he’s not too old. Not too old to restore Roe v. Wade, to ban assault weapons again, to protect Social Security and Medicare. Not too old to beat a lying convicted felon.

Biden was on a roll. But then again, he is 19 years younger than Flossie.

I just hope he doesn’t get railroaded by Democrats who seem impatient and want him out because they want to win an election.

They’ll say Biden was on prompter, giving a short speech to a biased crowd in Madison on Friday. What’s wrong with a prompter? Would you deny a person who needs it, crutches or a wheelchair?

They are all watching him now 24-7, waiting for the gaffe. A gaffe will come and people will pounce. Like an over-corrective AP English teacher?

His detractors just want to win. But they must be patient to let Biden make his own decision.

And if he feels he can do it, they should believe him and back him. Or tell him why he shouldn’t run – with love and respect for all he has done to date.

Is Biden being delusional? If the polls come in and his moments aren’t like his Friday speech, he may have to re-evaluate. And then he’ll have more data to decide for himself.

When I watched that ABC/George Stephanopoulos interview, and I’m not so sure about Biden. He was stubborn and defiant, but wasn’t convincing.

A couple of answers bothered me.

When asked if his running was worth the risk of losing the election to Trump, Biden was fairly blunt.

“I don’t think anybody’s more qualified to be president or win this race than me,” Biden said.

From a man with a 36 percent approval rating, it sounded like his ego talking.

Stephanopoulos followed up, “You know the heart of your case against Donald Trump is that he’s really only out for himself, putting personal interest ahead of the national interest. How do you respond to critics who say that by staying in the race, you’re doing the same thing?”

Biden said he wasn’t sure who those critics were and that they were just wrong. “Look, Trump’s a pathological liar,” Biden said.

Stephanopoulos again pressed. “Have you convinced yourself that only you can defeat him?”

“I convinced myself of two things,” Biden answered. “I’m the most qualified person to beat him and I know how to get things done.”

Again, ego speaking?

Overall, the fight was there, but the president’s voice was still slight and raspy. It’s not the voice that got things done in 2020. It may not be enough to get things done in 2024, ’25, ’26.

Only loyal Biden supporters could feel good about that ABC interview.

I fear the “bad night” narrative of last week didn’t work this week.

Clearly, Biden’s not where Flossie is yet.

But maybe he too could learn from her as I have.

As Nancy Pelosi said just today, it’s still Biden’s choice. And only he can make it.

But she said it this week, on  Wednesday morning, a day after Democrats seemed to be all in line, from the Congressional Black Caucus to the Democratic Caucus.

They’re all singing praises publicly,  but they may harbor different thoughts knowing Biden is fading faster than the poll data.

The question is whether Biden is as self-aware as Flossie to know what he is capable of doing in his present state.

So far, Biden’s not budging. He’s the president and has earned the 2024 nomination. That still means something.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes a column for the US Channel of Contact him at

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