Thursday, October 31, 2013
We saw the doctor today, basically to have prescriptions refilled. We always book our appointments together, and the clinic we attend is specifically for people who have complex medical issues, which we both have. So instead of the standard 10 minute run through the office we each get a full 30 minutes with the doctor.
As usual our BPs were in the excellent category, both within two or three points of 120/80, she ran through some lab work Tony had done a month ago, which was fine, and we worked out what needed filling.
I remarked that we are in great shape for the shape we're in, while both of us have genetic muscle disorders which cause a slow and progressive loss of strength and stamina, we live with constant fatigue and pain, and my joints are very unstable, we have none of the diseases many people in our age group (late 60s-mid 70s) have. No heart problems, no emphysema, no rheumatoid arthritis or history of cancer. We are, aside from the dratted muscle problems, healthy. Knock wood.
She remarked on how even healthy people, can go from health to profound disability in a moment's time from a heart attack or stroke, and that we are generally deluded about how "strong" our bodies are.
But the main topic of conversation was how unprepared boomers, and even 80 and 90 year-olds are for death. We have as a culture a delusion that we are going to live forever, and even 95-year-olds whose quality of life is absolutely terrible fight for painful and debilitating treatments out of the fear of death.
I think there are two issues, no one wants to die. It's a difficult process for most, painful and exhausting. The body does not give up its grip on life easily.
But death itself is different. Whether you believe you return to that deep and dreamless sleep that you existed in before birth or that you wake up in a heavenly paradise Christians and Muslims teach, you'd think believers would not fear moving to this better, higher plain of existence once their earthly bodies have become fraught with so pain and extreme frailty as to be a constant burden.
But our doctor said emphatically that this is not so, saying the most fearful of dying are the Chinese. Ah, this one I understand. Most Asian religions believe in reincarnation, so if you have lived a life of selfishness or spitefulness you may very well fear your next life will be spent as a goat or a dung beetle.
Tony and I continued this conversation at home. We have medical directives on file with our doctor. Should we suffer an accident, heart attack or stroke severe enough to reduce our mental or physical capacities to the point where we would be totally dependent once recovered, we have directed that no extraordinary measures be used to preserve our lives.
This is not to say that the life of a disabled person is without value, but to admit that technology should be used to restore people to health, not condemn them to an endless cycle of pain and complete dependence when they are incapable of communicating their needs to their loved ones.
And we are very strongly on the side of allowing people with terminal illness to have access to medical assistance to end their lives in peace and dignity. Those who say only God should choose the time of death can join the ranks of the clergymen who said easing the agony of women (some of them dying) in childbirth with anesthesia "robbed God of their screams". Back to the 1800s wi' the lot of you.
Common sense has to win sometime. Now would be a good time.
Monday, October 28, 2013
|Photo by Leesa Brown|
The Halloween Fair was a PTA fund raiser. Being nine years old Tommy and I could have cared less about fund raising The 20 nickels our fathers had given us were burning a hole in our pockets and we were eager to begin having the fun those nickels would afford us.
The kids and the adults had different ideas of what fun was. We had no interest in winning a crocheted bedspread, or a casserole dish and we agreed that the cake walk our fathers headed for immediately was boring, except we'd like to have a cake. The table where you bought your nickel ticket was full of cakes, from elaborate to plates of cupcakes. Each had a number by it. The cake walk itself consisted of a series of numbered squares marked out on the grass in powdered chalk to create a large square.
Music was played and as long as the music continued the players moved forward by one square in time with the music. When the music stopped the a number was called and the person standing on that number won the cake on the table corresponding to the number.
We were more interested in the pony rides, as we both held fantasies that we were cowboys. The ponies were hitched to a central mechanism by long poles which led them in an unending circle. When the riders were all mounted the motor was turned on and the ponies began their never-ending trudge around an endless track. Today the idea is horrifying, but then all we felt was excitement, to be in the creaking saddle, with the reins in hand, the sharp smells of leather and horse sweat in our nostrils.
Though I knew very well that the "eighth wonder of the world", the "Amazing Toothless Wonder" in the booth run by my mother was one of our Rhode Island Red hens in a tiny apron and bonnet pecking at a pan of cracked corn, I talked it up to my friends, urging them to spend their nickel in my mother's booth.
Prizes for winning a game were mostly penny candies, whistles, yo-yos or cheap celluoloid Cupie dolls. We threw baseballs at bowling pins, shot bb guns at silhouettes of birds in flight and leaping squirrels and bobbed for apples, nearly drowning ourselves and each other, since it was obligatory to push your friend's head as far under the water in the #3 galvanized wash tub as possible, as was the punch-up afterwards.
We fished for goldfish in a barrel, which consisted of trying to bring a thin metal fish to the surface of the water with a magnetic "hook" attached to a string on a fishing pole. If you managed to do this you won a real live half-inch-long goldfish in a lightbulb-sized fishbowl. By accident or miracle I actually won a goldfish one year. It was dead by morning. School fair goldfish had limited lifespans.
There was an authentic Romany gypsy in a tent made of old quilts, who read our palms and told our fortunes. Tommy argued that the gypsy was Donny Bradford's mother, but I didn't think so because Donny had fallen off the monkey bars and broken his arm the week before, and if his mother was a gypsy who could see into the future, wouldn't she have told him to stay off the monkey bars that day? Tommy agreed that was a point in my favour in the argument.
We crawled through a long and winding "Tunnel of Horror" made of connected cardboard boxes. The pathway was blocked at points until we put a hand in the "bowl of eyeballs" (peeled grapes), or "dead man's guts" (wet rope), pushed open the "bloody" door (bloodied with tomato ketchup), crawled through spider's web (frayed fabric) and were terrified by a ghostly white-painted face which thrust through a opening and then pulled back again.
After the adrenaline of the "Tunnel of Horror" we needed to wind down. We spent our last nickels on bottles of carbonated chocolate milk and threw our dirty selves on the damp grass to drink our sodas and watch the strings of lightbulbs lighting the fair swing back and forth.
We were in that happy, dazed state only exhausted nine-year-olds fall into when Dad arrived to take us home. The "Amazing Toothless Wonder" went into a cardboard box in the trunk of the car, Mother held the large cake Dad had won in the cake walk.
The bag of goodies from Trick or Treating would wait until the morning. I must have been asleep before we dropped Tommy and his family off at their house, because I don't remember reaching home.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
I had to go to the Wicked Emporium of the West yesterday, aka, my Mt. McKinley WalMart, which has been in a state of perpetual renovation for the past year. Every month they promise a grand re-opening the next month, and every month they postpone it by a month. I fully expect to be negotiating one cart wide aisles flanked by tarped-off areas for the rest of my shopping career.
Nonetheless I had to go since Smokey the fuzzy-fuss will only eat one brand and flavour of canned cat food which is sold only at WalMart and he was down to one day's supply. And while I'm there their supplements are less expensive than at the pharmacy, plus they have some items I can't buy at Sobey's, and yada yadas which add up to a half a cart load.
When I made the decision to go I called my neighbour "C", who has no car, and asked if she wanted to go. It means she doesn't have to take the bus, cross a very busy six-lane street and walk across a huge parking lot, and if I have enough energy to deal with someone else I enjoy her company.
She said yes, but said she was having trouble downloading some pictures from her camera that she needed to e-mail to someone. Her sister and another neighbour ("B") had already been over trying to help, but had no success. So, once I was ready to go I went to her place to see if I could figure it out.
I'm not sure why it hadn't worked before, because it was pretty straightforward. I downloaded the two photos, wrote the e-mail for her, attached the pictures and sent the mail. Then, off we went to shop.
On the way home "C" said, "If "B" asks me if I got those pictures downloaded and sent, I'm going to lie and tell her no."
"Why would you do that?"
"Because, I want to make her feel bad."
"Why would you want to make her feel bad when she tried to help you?"
"I just feel like being mean to her."
"That's not very nice. Would you like it if people treated you that way?"
"Do you know what Karma is? The idea that what goes around comes around? If you're mean to other people Karma's gonna come around and bite you in the butt someday."
Now I have this on my mind. Working on becoming more compassionate means that I have to go out of *my* comfort zone. It's not just a theory and saying Awwww about puppies and kittens in an animal shelter. Compassion is dealing with reality. For me at the moment it means spending time with a neighbour who is sometimes hard to cope with. She doesn't understand boundaries and she's obsessive, the ranting about "B" is a constant undercurrent in every conversation.
What is bothering me is, is it compassionate to comment on her ranting? Maybe I'm just tired of hearing about the same spat for the 100th time? There is more to compassion than meets the eye, sometimes you don't even know what to call it, sort of the elephant overhead you're afraid to look up and see.
Friday, October 18, 2013
|Ourgatou , Fatouma , Yaseguéré, Tandou , Tandou, Domio, Fatouma, Aminata,|
The women are working with the microfinance institution Soro Yiriwaso, which is part of the international group "Save the Children". They are on their second loan with the institution. The first loan was paid back in full and on time.
The women are farmers, and are eager to begin planting their market gardens as the rainy seasons ends. The crop they grow is primarily onions, as is the case with Ms. Ourgatou, who is first from the left in the photo. With her loan, she intends to purchase seeds and fertilizer. After the harvest, the produce is sold to a customers in their home village and in the larger centres of Bandiagara and Mopti.
At the end of the planting season, Ourgatou hopes to make a profit equivalent to about $90 USF. Some of this profit will help cover family expenses. The rest will be reinvested in the business.
We are happy to be able to lend our bit, which will be combined with the loans of other KIVA lenders, to help give Ourgatou access to a small loan which will allow her to work more efficiently and improve her family's life. If you'd like to try out a KIVA loan for free, follow this link.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
There was an teacher of Zen who when asked where enlightenment could be found would point with his finger into the air. A student saw his teacher's behaviour and began to imitate him. This went on for many months. Each time the student was asked where enlightenment could be found he would point his finger into the air in imitation of his teacher.
The teacher came into town one day and saw this. He went up to his student and asked him where enlightenment could be found. The student pointed his finger into the air. The teacher responded by pulling out his sword and chopping the student's finger off in one clean cut.
It was immediately apparent the student had a great attachment to his finger. But the goal of Zen is to loosen yourself from attachments, to possessions, to fixed ideas, even to your own body. If it is a choice between enlightenment and the loss of a finger or any body part for that matter, then enlightenment is more important than attachment.
Most of us want to hear only feel good messages which encourage self-importance and allow us to ignore the imperative to abandon selfishness and share with others, even when it means personal sacrifice. This is not where I have a problem, since selfishness has roots in the attachment to possessions.
Where I get in trouble is when I can't understand why others don't care (we're talking politics here, not individuals) about sick children or hungry elders, how they can despise people who have to sleep in cardboard boxes or on park benches and eat at soup kitchens. There are many who believe in the political philosophy that only the privileged deserve a full stomach and a life of dignity.
This attitude terrifies me, because I identify with (and can't disengage from) the vulnerability poor people live in. And also because though we've worked to our full capacities and beyond, the life-threatening health issues we were born with have meant that at times not only the table but the cupboards were bare, there was no money for desperately needed medication, and the four of us lived in a 12 x 16 shack without plumbing, electricity or running water. I have walked that mile, and my compassion is hard-won but all the more sharp for the experience.
This is compassion, the ability not just to recognize but to actually feel the suffering of others. When you feel others' suffering it drives you to do something to relieve it. Where I fail, and I think where everyone fails, even those without compassion, is that we become attached to outcome. Compassion is easily neutralized by attachment, fear, resentment or shame.
What if I give that teenager begging at the door of the grocery store $5.00 and he spends it on drugs? What if the food stamps are traded for an i-tunes card or spent on candy bars? What if feeding old people makes my taxes go up? What if that person who doesn't work as hard as I do gets a health care subsidy? What if the person I buy the box of food for yells "Fuc* off! I don't need your charity!" and slams the door in my face?
Certainly compassion can be taken advantage of, you can be made to look a fool. It shakes your trust. It's what happens when you become attached to outcome. But even when a gesture of compassion fails to produce the results we'd hoped for, just feeling compassion is good for you. Studies have shown that feeling compassion activates the immune system, stabilizes the connections between the neurons in our brains, and compassionate people are more emotionally resilient and stable.
So we come around to the pointing finger once again. Stuck up there, pointing at nothing in particular, it reminds us that we are all attached - to each other. We will all eventually lose everything we have, so there's little point in fighting over it, and practicing true compassion is not for the faint of heart, especially when you are on Facebook.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Are you as sick of this spectacle of sedition south of the border as I am? The interesting thing is, though I am loathe to admit it, Ted Cruz is a Canadian. He was born in Canada of a Cuban father and a mother who was born in Delaware. Cruz has thus far released only his Canadian birth certificate, which confirms that he was born in Calgary, Alberta, in 1970, and additionally states that his mother was born in Wilmington, Delaware. The second part is crucial – Cruz’s only claim to U.S. citizenship is through his mother – but it is also hearsay. The birth certificate is primary evidence of Cruz’s own birth, but the entry about his mother merely records her assertion to the Alberta Division of Vital Statistics. Even though I don’t personally dispute what he says, “My mother said so,” is not what is usually meant by “proof.”
How, then, can Ted Cruz prove his U.S. citizenship? The only sure-fire evidence, would be his mother’s birth certificate, presumably issued when she was born in Delaware. But even that presents a problem. Only one of Ted’s parents was a US citizen when he was born (his father is a Cuban émigré who did not become a U.S. citizen until 2005), and he therefore falls under a special section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that applies to “Birth Abroad to One Citizen and One Alien Parent.” Under that provision, Cruz only qualifies for American citizenship if his mother was “physically present” in the United States for 10 years prior to his birth, five of which had to be after she reached the age of 14. The only definitive way to prove Eleanor Cruz’s 10 years of physical presence would be with documents such as leases, school registration, utility bills or tax records.
So here you go America, your least likely enemy is leading the charge to take you down. Canucks are not a warlike people, but arm us with a hockey stick and an unlimited supply of latte and donuts from Tim Horton's and Washington DC could easily be in our sights. But you can relax. Cruz and his Foamers-at-the-Mouth party wouldn't last five minutes here. If they tried to enter Canadian politics we'd run the lot of them out of town. Of course there's not much danger of them trying to get into Canadian politics. First thing they'd have to do is turn in their handguns, get a background check, take a safety course and get a license for their long guns, but just look what they'd get in return!
Several of the world's top rated cities to live in are in Canada; Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto. They'd have Universal Health Care, face 95% less violence in the streets, be able to marry their gay partner (if that's their thing), be underpinned by a reasonably robust social system and there's always Lake Louise! They'd learn Canadians say "I'm sorry" when we don't actually need to, but it's a phrase that serves as social lubricant and it's far less dangerous than exchanging gunfire. They'd also learn we live in peace and harmony with our neighbours, despite the fact that they may be from almost anywhere in the world and may be a different colour, religion, and speak a different language.
A Hindu family lives in two of the units on our floor. The grandparents live with a granddaughter just around the corner, their daughter, her husband and their teenaged daughter live just down the hall. Last week another neighbour came to my door, and I had e-mail from several others, all upset that the doorway of the Hindu couple had been defaced with Nazi graffiti overnight. One sent a photo. Some were so upset they wanted me to call the police and report it as a hate crime.
On the top doorjamb was a small statue of the Hindu God Ganesh flanked by a pair of good fortune swastiks and a Hindu blessing, written in red ink. Knowing that grandmother and grandfather had just celebrated their 60th anniversary days before I suspected it was a part of the celebration. So I went down and talked to them, and as expected, that was precisely what it was. I explained how their neighbours had misinterpreted the swastiks and they said they would remove them immediately. It was good, people were upset that anyone would do such a thing. And even though there had been a misunderstanding of the sign, they felt good that their neighbours felt protective of them.
I'm not naive enough to believe that all Canadians are free of prejudice, but as a nation we certainly wouldn't tolerate a politician, or a political campaign, built on racism, hatred and fear. Ted better find his proof of American citizenship because he wouldn't last five minutes in Canadian politics.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Local Teen Dies After Accidental Shooting
To understand we go back over 50 years to a classroom of 11th grade history students and a small, intense teacher with a moustache and an outrageous sense of humour. During class one day while passing my desk he bent down and whispered, "Stay after class, I need to talk to you about something."
The "something" turned out to be a weekend job, babysitting he and his wife's four children, 12 y-o Margaret, 10 y-o Jeff, 8, y-o Kate and 6 y-o Jo. I was 17 and the five of us slid into a relationship as as easily as if I belonged there. Before long I was spending more time with them than I was at home with my own dour and disapproving-of-each-breath parents.
We camped and hiked and climbed together, took road trips, painted, swam. When I finally graduated and left home to go away to school it was much more my "second" family that I missed than my own. We kept in touch through letters, no internet back then.
Margaret married, and was widowed when her husband was killed in a road accident. Jeff finished college and moved to Alaska, where he married. He and his young wife called out of the blue one evening, having driven well out of their way on the way from Alaska to Arizona. They were a few blocks away, I rushed to meet them, and they spent the evening with us, along with their beautiful baby boy, who was just at the crawling stage.
The letters came and went, and in the early 90s the "second mother" I loved so dearly wrote to tell me of some disturbing symptoms she was having, and of diagnostic tests. The news, when it came, was devastating. She had ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, and it was rapidly progressing. They refitted the house to accommodate her wheelchair, hospital bed, roll-in shower, Jo moved in to care for her, Kate and Margaret serving as backup. She lived 13 months after her diagnosis. I still have her final letter, asking me not to grieve, as she'd had a wonderful life and was not afraid of death. She thanked me for my love and friendship, and for being such a good "big sister" to her children.
Margaret wrote a few times after her mother's death. While struggling with her own family problems she had let her mother take over the role of correspondent. It was a difficult period in our lives too, with Tony so ill, and the loss of both my father and Tony's mother. Contact dwindled away.
A few nights ago I decided to see if I could locate Margaret or Jeff as I feel a longing to know how they are. I found a reference to Jeff pretty quickly, in a 20 year old newspaper but from headline to end of story it was like being kicked in the heart by a mule.
The lovely baby boy Jeff brought to meet us was killed at age 17, shortly after his grandmother's death, shot by accident when a friend dropped a pistol belonging to his father that he was showing another boy.
While they have had 20 years to process their grief, and perhaps come to terms with it, it's yesterday for me. It's not something I'm good at, letting go. Death is one thing when a person is 90 and has had a full life, it's quite another when it takes a 17 year old boy poised on the brink of every possibility. And in my pain I'm wondering if it's not better to let the past be?
Wednesday, October 09, 2013
|de Haviland DHC-2 Beaver Float Plane|
The only plane we had of any size was a Grumman Goose, an "amphibian" plane which landed on its belly in the water. It had 12 seats, but we often packed it to the gills with 16-18 passengers. We'd had a second Goose, until the bosses' son had misjudged his elevation in a white-out and hit the mountainside behind the office the year before. Killed everyone on board, and though we could clearly see the wreckage from the office, it took three days for a crew to reach the site. That's rugged country.
Our office sat right on the cove, open water to your right, which served as the runway, and sweeping in a wide circle to the left a low jumble of fish sheds, boats pulled out of the water and turned belly-up to have the barnacles scraped off, and at the far edge of the circle, and directly across from us, the Coast Guard Station and docks. Big heavy coast guard cutters, even battleships, came and went daily in and out of those docks.
Our pilots ranged from old-timers who'd flown in WWII to flash young guys who didn't have the sense God gave a goose. Any fool who does acrobatics in a 30-year-old airplane is asking for trouble, and Bill found it. In the middle of a barrel roll he tore a wing off one of our Beavers and died aged 23.
But a few months earlier than that I climbed into the cockpit with him one day for a run to Massett when there were no passengers, just a package to deliver. We skimmed the crystal Pacific so closely I could have laid on the float and run my hands through it. You could see schooling fish in the transparent water. We flew over and around a rocky outcropping so covered with sea lions you could hear them barking their displeasure over the roar of the engine, and the stench! Pig farms smell pleasant in comparison! When I started gagging Bill laughed and pulled away.
Skimming along at a couple of hundred feet, Bill saw a Native fishing boat, and sat the Beaver down beside it. He hopped out onto the float, bought a couple of salmon wrapped in brown paper, and we roared off toward Massett again.
There's a lovely beach at Massett. Bill said he'd flown over it the summer before, when dozens of swimmers were playing in the water, totally unaware that a huge great white shark 15-16 feet long was idling in a small creek outflow just beyond the wading zone. He flew over the beach, waving out the window, shouting "Shark! Shark!" The swimmers waved back happily. When he landed and ran to the post office to alert the Haida elder he knew would be there the old man shrugged, "He won't bother anyone," he said, "they come to our cold water to get rid of the parasites in their gills. They don't even eat this far north."
Our biggest worry was the weather. Storms can sweep in from the Hecate Strait with winds of over 100 mph, and play havoc with planes lashed to a floating dock. But we could see storms coming. What we couldn't always predict was fog.
One autumn Friday Bill flew out in the Goose to one of the Native villages to pick up the basketball team for a tournament that was to be held over the weekend. It was clear and crisp when he took off. It was a 20 minute flight up the coast, maybe 30 minutes to load kids, coaches and baggage and 20 minutes back.
About 45 minutes after he took off, the fog rolled in. This was no wispy, romantic fog, it was a solid brick wall. It broke only enough for us to see that the big ship which had been docked at the Coast Guard all day had powered up and was sliding into the cove. Bill was due in 10 minutes, so we warned him he'd have to circle while the ship cleared the cove.
He swore, and then asked where the ship was now. We couldn't tell. The fog had closed in again. The Goose was equipped with landing instrumentation, which should have allowed Bill to locate the ship. His voice was a little tense as he revealed that the instrumentation wasn't working, and he was flying blind above the fog. He decided to circle overhead as long as possible to give the ship time to clear the cove.
The other dispatcher went out with a two-way radio and stood on the end of the dock, listening for the thrum of the ship's engines, trying to gauge where it was. He could hear the Goose overhead. But fog muffles sound and makes it impossible to gauge distance. Finally there was no more possibility of delay. Though we could still hear the ship's engine and knew it was somewhere in the cove the Goose was running out of fuel.
"I'm coming in," Bill radioed, "God help us if we hit that ship. I've got 18 kids and their coaches jammed in here."
By now the entire staff was standing at the big windows that looked out onto the cove, where the view disappeared at the end of our dock. We held our collective breath as we heard the Goose descend. We tensed as its belly hit the water and cried out with relief as it emerged from the fog riding a bow wave. The dockers pulled it up and made it fast. Bill crawled out of the cockpit, walked up the dock, into the office, stalked silently past all of us, went into the bathroom and threw up.
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
And as any writer knows, the minute you start trying to put thought to word processor your door becomes a people magnet. I'm on the condo board and people regularly come to the door, two or three a day sometimes, but never a dozen or more in a day before. However the minute I set to work the place became a madhouse of lost keys, leaking pipes which required inspection, requests for bike room security forms and visitor parking passes. People moving in and out did things they are not supposed to do, like jamming elevator doors and backing their truck up the sidewalk, completely blocking pedestrian access to the front door. The phone started ringing off the wall, the cats become absolutely desperate for lap-time, I was suddenly the most popular (or at least needed) person in the building.
I'm to the stage of script prepared, power point presentation built. Now I must polish and make sure what I have fits into the time allotted me. Tomorrow evening I do a run-through with a conference organizer to familiarize myself with the software, and Saturday I present, via webinar. The conference is in Orlando and I am not a traveler. I could say, "not a traveler on such short notice", but that would be prevaricating as I am not a traveler - period. While my mind would love to gallop about the globe, my body dictates a radius of a few miles.
Where I do travel is to the grocer's, as we are looking at barren shelves, and I do so want to eat dinner tonight. Breakfast was a frozen bean burrito, to give you an idea of the state of my stores. (I thawed it in the microwave first, I didn't eat it frozen, but you know what I mean.)
So, off to Mount Shasta or Hood, or McKinley (no, that's wrong, McKinley's the WalMart and today I'm only going so far as Sobey's.)
Anyway, off to climb the mountain whereupon the fruit and veg aisle is, aka my motivator, for woman cannot live on frozen bean burrito alone.