Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘society’

It’s No Big Deal

GoodGrief_180WFrom Good Grief: Love, Loss & Laughter.

“What are you so upset about? It was only your ex-husband.”

“Come on, get over it. You can always get another cat.”

“Hey, you hadn’t seen your friend in years anyway.”

“They were drunk half the time. Who cares?”

“It’s not the same as being married. You just lived together.”

“You only knew them for two months!”

“Weren’t they old? They lived a long life.”

“No, you can’t come to the funeral. You aren’t part of the family.”

These are just some of the comments that people hear, and a small sampling of how their grief is disregarded, after they’ve had a friend, acquaintance or family member die. The losses they have experienced don’t match the images of who and what is acceptable to grieve in our society. And it’s not just others that cause such pain. We are often our harshest critics. We internalize the conscious and unconscious messages we are fed daily and are often confused with the intensity of our emotions and reactions after a death, when our head is telling us we should not be feeling much at all.

Our response to any kind of loss, especially from death, is our bodies natural reaction to the human condition, even though we analyze it, distrust it and, at times, find it hard to believe.

“Why am I getting so upset over my ex-husband’s death? We never got along and I’ve been better off without him.”

No matter what the relationship was like, it was a relationship. There were attachments, habits and shared time that will always effect one’s life. For some, the never-ending hope of reconciliation will have died as well.

“It was only a cat. I know it’s not the same as a person.”

Your cat or pet was a living creature. We can grow just as accustomed and fond of an animal as we can with a human. The same kind of attachments and memories occur.

“We were best friends during high school, but that was ages ago.”

Some friends stay with us forever, whether we see them often or rarely at all. The time we spend together can leave us with lasting imprints, influences and memories, as well as regrets, bitterness or pain.

“This is crazy. His drinking ruined our family and our lives. He was mean and abusive. Why is his death so hard? I thought I’d be relieved.”

Even abusive, negative relationships can cause unexpected mixtures of emotion. Though we may have separated ourselves from the individual, and learned how to fend for ourselves or are still in contact, there is usually some deep feelings of loss over the years that they were not the parent or partner we had wished for. The realization that they have died can also awaken the fact that the opportunity for them to change or be different has died as well.

“We were only housemates. It wasn’t like we were married or anything.”

Whether as a friend, lover, roommate or relative, living in the same household is one of the most intense experiences in our lives. It’s where we learn how to interact with others and provides daily reminders of our differences and similarities. Whether two people living in the same household have their arrangement sanctioned or accepted by others does nothing to diminish the powerful lessons and connections that develop. We are intimately shaped, both good and bad, by those with whom we live.

“I just met them two months ago, but I can’t stop thinking about them.”

The length or duration of a relationship doesn’t necessarily mean that it is of greater or lesser importance or impact. Some people we’ve known for years, yet have little connection, do not effect us deeply upon their passing, whereas others we’ve just met leave lasting footprints. The grief and mourning that result from the loss of a recent or longtime acquaintance is VERY individual and unique to that person, as are our needs in grieving their loss.

“Grandma was eighty-five years old. I knew she wouldn’t last forever, but it feels so sudden. I loved her so much.”

The longer someone you know lives, the harder it can be to accept the reality of their death. Even though you may have had time to prepare and say, and do what you needed or wanted to, it can still seem like it came too soon. There are times when no matter the person’s age, you want them to stay forever and their death is devastating.

“They never accepted me. I should have known this would happen.”

You have a right and a human need to attend the funeral and/or memorial of your partner. Your relationship with the deceased was between you and them, not their family or friends. How your relationship was seen or accepted by others is important in your adjusting to the loss, but not dependent upon it.

There are times when those you expect to be of help are not always able or willing to do so. For some, it is too painful. Others find it impossible to stop judging long enough to listen. When you can’t attend the funeral or memorial, due to the deceased’s family, distance or other circumstances, create your own ritual or ceremony of leave-taking. Invite those who will be present with you and share your loss.

Relationships with people and other living creatures are what make us human. It is normal to question, criticize and judge our selves after someone in our life has died. It is also normal to feel pain, frustration, anger, sadness, relief and confusion.

If you don’t get the kind of support and acknowledgment you need from family, friends or colleagues, then find it elsewhere. Don’t minimize, trivialize or try to forget your loss. Find ways to acknowledge, respect, honor and validate your experience and the reactions that have resulted.

Further reading and support at: Good Grief: Love, Loss and Laughter.

Feel So Mortal

9780226105277Feel So Mortal: Essays on the Body
by Peggy Shinner
Reviewed by July Westhale
Lambda Literary

“The domestic made lethal – that’s the legend.”
-Peggy Shinner

We live in a society entrenched in matters of the body. Sexualization, fetishization, policing, ableism, movement, tangibility, and the body politic, our corporality is absolutely everywhere. Despite the fact that bodies are subject to intensive scrutiny, the historical origin of how bodies have been perceived throughout time (everything from feet to slouching to undergarments) remains mysteriously out of the realm of everyday knowledge. How is it, for example, that foot shape determined class and stature, traditionally? How has the body been commodified in times of martial economies (i.e., dowry economy)?

In her illuminating book of essays, Peggy Shinner tackles those exact discussions. Using the craft of braided narrative, Shinner weaves together historical fact, socio-political theory, and personal experience to create essays that grapple with our culture’s multitudinous interactions with the body. In her essay “The Knife”, for example, the reader is taken through Shinner’s personal experience as a martial arts teacher, the history of karate and fighting with weapons, the concept of arming oneself against a world that is marginalizing, and what it means to work with your hands in a world of abstract technological importance. Similarly, her essay on kleptomania offers insight into the history of the word (and how it was used to describe a sexual disorder, primarily occurring in women who found amorous rapture in stealing things from department stores), while laying the tracks for her own stories to shine through.

Truly, this is a collection of essays that takes the idea of making the personal global extremely seriously.

Read entire review and others at LAMBDA LITERARY.

Keep Girls Strong

Dear Gabriel,

A baby girl comes into this world brimming with potential – ready to grow, live, and dream.

But too often, society will get in her way, stacking up a mountain of challenges in front of her.

CARE-EOY-2012-COB-2

Sometimes it starts right away by robbing her of her health because of a lack of food or clean water. Sometimes it comes later – when her family cannot afford to send her to school or her local school refuses to allow girls to attend. Before she is twelve, she may even be forced to marry a man twice her age.

For over 60 years, CARE has been addressing the underlying causes of poverty and attacking the obstacles that stand between girls and their ability to realize their full potential.

With your help, we can meet a girl’s basic need for food, water, and a place to live. We can build schools and help communities realize that girls belong in the classroom, not at the altar.

Together, we can help women fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams and watch women lift up their families, and entire communities, out of poverty.

That’s what works… but only when people like you commit to pitching in. Every bit will help rush urgently-needed support to the girls and families who need it – and until December 31st, your gift will be matched. Make a gift now!

That’s right – when you donate before December 31st, your gift will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to $1 million. This amazing opportunity could not come at a better time.

In many parts of the world, educating and empowering girls is a deadly serious matter. A few months ago, just days before the first International Day of the Girl, 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head because of her outspoken advocacy for the rights of girls to go to school. Miraculously, she survived and from her recovery room refused to abandon the belief that girls deserve a fair chance in this world – the kind of chance they get when they go to school.

When girls are willing to show such amazing courage, we must step up to act as safeguards – we must stand strong in the fight to win girls’ right to dream, learn, and grow.

CARE has not only helped build schools for girls in the region Malala calls home – our field staff also partnered with local organizations to rebuild over 40 schools for girls in the country of Pakistan. CARE supports youth activities like sporting events and youth forums. Globally, our education work focuses on girls between the ages of 10 and 14, when they are making the critical transition from childhood to adulthood.

Around the world, we are fighting poverty in many different ways – through repairing community wells, creating village savings and loan associations to help poor communities start small businesses, managing crises, and so much more. When I think about the path to a brighter future, I firmly believe that working with girls is the key to our success.

Please help keep girls strong. Every gift matters – please give today and help us meet our goal of $1 million by December 31st. Every dollar will be matched.

Thank you for everything you do.

Sincerely,

Tolli Love
Vice President, CARE

Transfigurations Forward

Excerpt from Forward of Transfigurations by Jana Marcus.

Forward by Jamison Green

Most people experience their gender and their sex as the same thing: most people with female bodies feel like women, and most people with male bodies feel like men. However, not everyone experiences their sex and gender as “aligned.” And while it is common for both men and women to want to improve their appearance in conformity with stereotypes that are ascribed to their sex and gender, when people like me cross gender boundaries to change our bodies, it is often difficult for others to understand.

Some small percentage of people in every race, every class, and – as far as we know – every culture since the dawn of recorded history have felt the need to transform themselves in some way in order to live comfortably with their gender. Debates about meanings of the words “sex” and “gender,” about what is “real,” and what can and cannot be really changed have raged all around us, and accusations of “deceitful” and “delusional” have plagued people like me for countless generations; yet we persist. And we continue to fascinate artists and storytellers, theologians and mythologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians, social workers, ethicists, police, and perverts. While some would still make jokes about us, others are taking a new look. And when people allow themselves to experience us as human beings, they are often transformed themselves. Not that they suddenly want to change their own bodies, but that they come to appreciate the integrity of the human spirit in a new way.

Grateful Interdependence Day

Yes, in 1776 we declared independence from the English, but are we really independent? The prosperity the majority of Americans now enjoy, on this day of independence, has come about because of our dependence on millions of people throughout the world. Without the continuing supply of cheap labor from a stream of immigrants and the importation of sixty percent of the worlds’ resources, much of our perceived strength and image of self-reliance would collapse into a pile of deluded dust.

The food we stuff ourselves with daily; comes from a long line of inter-related, inter-dependent actions. Most Americans buy their food at a grocery store, but before it is placed on the counter, in the freezer or on the shelf, countless hands have touched, processed and grown the product we so easily consume. There are the truckers, the farmers, the packagers, landowners, farm workers, equipment, supplies and natural resources, to name but a few.

Our families depend on one another for safety, for health, for education, entertainment, recreation and personal enrichment. Our communities use the assistance of county, state and federal support for finances and security, which come from our neighbors’ taxes, time and contributions.

In spite of these realities, we cling to our separateness, our individuality, our belief that we must all “stand on our own two feet”, “pull up our bootstraps”; be different from “all the rest”.

Sickness, loss and death tend to shatter these illusions. When you’ve had a loved one die, taken care of an ill family member or needed care from others, it’s nearly impossible to remain independent, yet many, including myself, try to “go it alone” and find it difficult to accept help from others. We’ve been so ingrained with the idea of self-reliance that it feels like pulling teeth to ask for or accept help from another.

I often hear from clients that one of the most painful transitions and the most surprising, is how difficult it was for they or their loved one, to ask for or receive assistance and care. To accept someone’s help implied weakness, debt, dependency and shame. It’s OK to give to and care for others (and the sense of control that provides), but it’s not OK to receive or accept the same care from another?

I don’t wish to imply that independence, self-reliance and self-determination are not valuable or important qualities for personal and societal survival . . . they are . . . but at what cost? Must we wait until we’re so sick we can hardly move, so overwhelmed we don’t know what to do next, or in great emotional and/or physical pain, before we remember how close and inter-dependent we all are? Can we use the 4th of July as a reminder not only to celebrate our independence and sovereignty, but also our connection with and gratitude for the lands’, nations’ and peoples’ with whom’ we share this planet?

Norway’s “Cushy” Prison

Here is a very interesting article our son posted on Facebook today. I read it after returning from my weekly volunteering at a state penitentiary in Salinas, CA. A lot of it makes very good sense. Essentially, healthy respected people treat other people with respect and hurt people hurt people.

MailOnline
Norway’s controversial ‘cushy prison’ experiment – could it catch on in the UK? by Piers Hernu. 8th May 2011.

Can a prison possibly justify treating its inmates with saunas, sunbeds and deckchairs if that prison has the lowest reoffending rate in Europe? Live reports from Norway on the penal system that runs contrary to all our instincts – but achieves everything we could wish for

On a clear, bright morning in the tranquil, coastal town of Horten, just south of Oslo, a small ferry slides punctually into harbour. I am to take a short boat ride to the sunlit, green island of Bastoy shimmering on the horizon less than two miles away. It is a curious place. There are no secluded holiday homes or elegant hotels with moorings for passing yachts. The 120 people who live there never visit the mainland, but then why would they?

They spend their days happily winding around the network of paths that snake through the pine forests, or swimming and fishing along the five miles of pebble beaches, or playing on the tennis courts and football pitch; and recuperating later on sunbeds and in a sauna, a cinema room, a band rehearsal room and expansive library.

Their commune has handsomely furnished bungalows with cable TV. The residents eat together in an attractively spacious canteen thoughtfully decorated with Norwegian art. The centrepiece is a striking 10ft long model of a Norwegian merchant ship.

If it sounds like an oddball Scandinavian social experiment, you’d be right. Bastoy is home to Norway’s only island prison. I am here to scrutinize its hugely controversial approach to crime and punishment, and to do so with some knowledge; the last time I set foot in a prison was as a foolish 23-year-old man.

COMPLETE ARTICLE

Surviving in Time of Crisis

Here is the beginning of a very important article by Alison Rose Levy at the Huffington Post.

What You Need to Survive in an Age of Crisis

In this special blog, I’ll share with you what my 30-year survey of the most powerful, little known and guaranteed health interventions has revealed.

There is no pill you can swallow, food you can buy, nor gizmo that confers complete protection from pervasive toxicity, skewed societal consensus or invisible radiation. There’s no place you can go, nowhere you can hide and no authority — scientific, medical or spiritual — who can help you to escape what we’ve all created (or allowed to happen) here on planet Earth. Whether you are rich, poor, young, old, sick, healthy, right or left, no health manna, rural organic garden, island dwelling, nor spiritual belief can give you, me or us an out if we keep on screwing up.

Unless we turn around and heal the disconnect that allows us to misguidedly pursue personal goals, without sufficient care for the health of our society and the earth, than it’s likely our health problems will go from bad to worse.

If facing this sad reality seems disheartening, don’t worry — a lot of us are in the same boat. It’s called planet Earth. We’re worried about it, and we can use your help. Health-conscious people need to do more than take potassium iodide; we need to take action.

However, if this truth is too uncomfortable, or violates your subscription to the All Good News, All the Time network, then retreat to whatever offers you temporary relief. We’ll still be right here when you get back.

Lots of people send me their suggestions and questions, not to mention their latest e-books and requests to blog on The Huffington Post. In the current crisis, they either want, or give, answers: Isn’t it over yet? Are we sure? Take this — no, take that. Don’t take anything. We’ll tell you what to take, and when.

One email boosts a superfood, another social activism, while a third person despairs that industries disseminating toxins or radiation don’t seem to care about the gradual, ongoing, cumulative pollution of our bodies, our waterways and our world by their stuff.

People tell me they feel helpless, believing that they’ve no more influence than a mosquito buzzing round an impervious colossus.

I agree that it’s scary to go from the supposed certainty of taking a pill (or an attitude adjustment) to the uncertainty of stepping up to social activism. Unlike other corners of our market-driven society, restoring skewed societal priorities comes with no guarantees.

COMPLETE ARTICLE AT HUFFINGTON POST

Queer Gals for Straight Guys

Wake up my testosterone engorged brothers. Our estrogen dominant queer sisters have the inside scoop on pleasuring women. If you want to get off your tired stereotyped butt and really connect with a woman, listen up.

Melissa and Kayla (two lesbian friends) kindly shared with me (a heterosexual male) the real low down on gender, sex and relationships. Their advice is tempered from a lifetime of loving women. They blew the top off the usual paradigms and images males cling too and provided a choice, challenge and opportunity for men to approach women in a different light. Here are some of the juicy tips and wise suggestions they shared about how to truly love a woman and enrich your life.

DON’T BE CONFINED OR LIMITED BY SIGHT. Men get stuck in the visuals and only see tits and ass or some mountaintop to climb and reach its peak. Gender is more complex and fluid than that. It can be difficult for men to enjoy the whole picture and appreciate the in-between places, the different layers and textures of a woman. Women tend to be more process oriented and appreciate a man who sees more in them then a place to park their penis.

DON’T FOCUS ON “GETTING OFF”. The illusion that it’s hard for women to climax is bogus. She can come by herself anytime she chooses. When you’re together enjoy being together. LOVEMAKING IS AN EXCHANGE, not a pursuit.

STOP TREATING WOMEN’S NIPPLES LIKE A TARGET. They aren’t radio tuning knobs or buttons to be pushed. The nipple is one small part of the entire breast, which is connected to tissue across her chest and under her arm. Enjoy the whole thing. The same goes for the clitoris. It is contained and surrounded by an array of wonderful muscles, nerves and skin that extend outward and inward. Take it all in.

ENJOY THE SENSUALITY OF SEX. Enjoy moment to moment pleasure. Take time to love every inch of your partner. Let the tension build, then linger, play with it, experiment, bathe in the ebb and flow of energy. USE ALL YOUR SENSES of touch, smell, sight, sound and taste. Sex is a basic human need. It comes in a variety of flavors. Make it tasty. Make it fun.

TAKE YOUR GIRLFRIEND/WIFE/PARTNER/FRIEND TO AN EROTIC BOUTIQUE OR HAVE HER TAKE YOU. Get some toys, books, lingerie, videos, oils and/or vibrators. VIBRATORS AREN’T JUST FOR WOMEN. Men can receive just as much pleasure from a vibrator as a woman can.

BE WILLING TO HAVE ANYTHING YOU DO WITH HER DONE TO YOU. That’s right, anything. If you want to have her kiss, lick and suck you everywhere, then do likewise. If you love kissing her breasts then let her lick and suck yours. If you want to come inside of her or have anal sex, be willing to have anal sex and be penetrated by her. Be willing to take what you give (but only when it is something you mutually wish to experience and is safe).

LISTENING TO YOUR PARTNER WHEN SHE SPEAKS AND GIVING HER ATTENTION IS LOVE. Eye contact and the courage to honestly reveal yourself emotionally and physically is love. When you risk being open and intimate you allow her to do likewise. Sex isn’t just jumping into bed and diving in; it’s sharing your feelings, thoughts, desires, fears, hopes and dreams. It’s being open to change and transformation. COMMUNICATE in bed (or on the floor, table, couch, chair, car or beach). THE BEST LOVERS ARE THOSE THAT TALK about sex, feelings, thoughts, experiences and desires.

MOST WOMEN ARE PHYSICALLY AND EMOTIONALLY IN FLUX. Instead of complaining about these changes, CELEBRATE THE UPS AND DOWNS, the curve balls and the unexpected. It makes life more adventuresome and unpredictable. Every day is a new day. Every time you make love is different. What a wonderful gift to be sexually reborn and see each other for the first time again and again.

CAST A SPELL. Create a nurturing, loving, sacred environment for you and your lady. Use it as a retreat, an inner journey and a safe sanctuary to explore and discover your erotic selves. Sex doesn’t take place in a sterile vacuum. Put it in context. Give it time, attention and meaning. Make an altar to your sexual union.

IT TAKES COURAGE TO BE INTIMATE and not let the privileges that heterosexual men are accustomed to in our society confine your life and define who you are. Our greatest fears are to allow another human being to look inside and see who we really are. Don’t just touch a woman’s body; touch her soul. Open the door and let her inside your heart as much as you want to be inside of her. ACKNOWLEDGE THE BEAUTY, WISDOM, SEXUALITY, POWER AND FREEDOM IN THE WOMAN YOU LOVE.

Health Care’s Invisible Glue

I once had the opportunity of developing intimate relationships with people of all ages and from all walks of life. They and their loved ones often shared deep secrets and lifetime memories. Challenges arose daily, imploring me to make an individual more comfortable or free of pain or to help someone deal with an emotional crisis. As the years progressed, I found that a simple touch, deed or word could profoundly affect the people I cared for.

You may be thinking, “You must be a nurse, right?” No. “Oh, then you’re obviously a doctor or an intern?” No, but close.

I’m talking about life as a nursing assistant, better known by the pseudonym “aide,” “orderly” or “attendant.” Their work with elders in convalescent homes is legendary. Legendary because they continue to work in such facilities with little pay, dangerous under staffing and terrible supply shortages. Conditions are frequently better in acute-care hospitals, but even there they are often seen as appendages to doctors and nurses. Rare is the individual or organization that grasps the importance and necessity of their involvement in the health care system. They are the “meat and potatoes” of hands-on medical care in this country, the glue that holds it together.

Nursing assistants make a crucial difference in peoples’ lives. Frequently, they spend more time with patients than nurses and doctors combined. For some, their presence means the difference between fear and loneliness and even life and death. They are there when we hurt, sweat, laugh and cry.

Some individuals (health care professionals and the public) act superior or snobbish to aides, treating them as if they are lacking in brains or have no motivation to “move up” the social ladder of medicine. It’s not overt or cruel prejudice, it is a basic disregard for the job, the training required and the workers involved.

Let me take you inside the world of a nursing assistant for just one 8 ½ hour shift, when I used to work the swing shift on the cancer unit of a local hospital. This is the real stuff, the nuts and bolts of health care and healing. It’s what nurses used to do before they become inundated with paper work, passing medications and running madly to finish all necessary procedures and treatments and to fulfill all the other responsibilities demanded of them.

After receiving my list of assigned patients and finding out which nurse I’m working with, I begin obtaining patients’ vital signs and get an overall picture of how they’re doing.

The gentleman I encounter in the first room needs his oxygen adjusted and some fresh water and towels.

The next patient, Alice, needs an entire bed change. A 73-year old woman with breast cancer, she has become incontinent and soiled her gown and linens. She is embarrassed and painfully apologetic. As I cleaned her up she spoke of her fear that she was beginning to lose control of her life. When I left, Alice said she felt “clean, fresh and renewed.”

The third person I contacted that evening was Charles, a 60-year old man with leukemia. As we conversed, he asked if I was in training to be a nurse. When he found out I wasn’t, he said, “Oh well, this is a good job for you to start out with for your future.” Just then the charge nurse came in with a frantic look on her face and asked if I could get another patient on a gurney to go downstairs for x-rays.

After I located a gurney on another unit and got the patient ready, another nurse requested that I make a trip to the blood bank to pick up some packed cells (blood). When I returned from the lab, I found my team leader (nurse) at the medicine cart.

We sat down and looked over the “care” charts to decipher what protocol was desired for each patient. Some vital signs needed to be taken and some patients needed to walk, be turned, bathed or catheterized (a tube put in the urethra to empty the bladder). Others had doctors’ “orders” that entailed checking blood sugar levels or collecting sputum, urine or stool samples for lab tests. During report, the nurse suddenly stopped, turned excitedly toward me and said, “When are you going to nursing school? You would make a great nurse.” She looked downhearted when I explained that I had no desire to be a registered nurse or to go back to school. She said, “But you’re so intelligent!” I grimaced and said, “Thanks”. Was she implying that that nursing assistant’s are stupid?

When report was over, I finished the remaining vital signs, lifted one patient up in bed, helped another to use the bedpan and took Alice for a walk down the hall. While shuffling along we pretended we were dancing to, “Tea For Two.” Her eyes sparkled when she told me that she and her deceased husband had been prize-winning dancers in the 1940s.

I informed the nurse that a patient’s IV (intravenous bag) was almost dry and that a number of people had requested pain relief and various other medications. The dinner trays arrived and after checking to make sure they all matched each patient’s diet, we passed them out. One of my folks needed help eating (as a result of an old stroke), so I sat by her bed and slowly gave her a few mushy bits of her soft diet, so she wouldn’t choke. Meanwhile, a patient undergoing chemotherapy was throwing up just two doors down the hall. After emptying his emesis basin (vomit container), I went to supper. Believe it or not, I was famished. It had been only two and a half-hours since my shift had started, but it felt like two and a half days!

On the way to dinner, I picked up a magazine which had a feature story entitled, “What Do Nurses Want?” I got my hot, soggy food, set my tray on the table and turned on the television. The channel I selected dramatized the story of a big-city hospital. As usual, the only characters given any airtime were, you guessed it, doctors and an occasional nurse. Everyone else in the show (housekeepers, technicians, secretaries and nurses aides) were shown as auxiliary personnel who did nothing but get in the way of the featured players.

After devouring my food in the allotted half-hour supper break, I returned to the unit and picked up the patients’ dinner trays. As I walked by Room 264, I saw Sam (a patient with advanced renal failure) falling headlong towards the floor. I leaped through the door and grabbed him just in the nick of time. Sometimes I felt like I was in one of those old commercials were people dove to catch a spill before it hit the carpet. Sam was getting more confused and said he had to go get things ready for the rabbit cage. I maneuvered him back to bed and eventually convinced him to stay in his room for the rest of the night. It took another hour before he realized he was in the hospital, after frequent reminders of who, what and where we were.

Then Michael put on his call light and literally screamed for help! Michael was a young man with AIDS who was in the hospital for treatment of a lung infection. Upon entering his room I found him tense, angry and perspiring profusely. He asked various questions about medications, IVs and food. Everything was worrying him. Was this working right? Was that being done on time? Was he getting the proper nourishment? After sitting and listening a few minutes, it was apparent that he was concerned about something other than mere food. At first, I answered his questions, then I asked him if he could tell me what he was really afraid of? He began to cry. He said he was overcome with feelings of abandonment from a dear friend and the emotional loss of some of his family members as a result of his illness. Fifteen minutes later Michael and I were laughing about the absurdity of life and the beauty of loving and sincere friendships. He only rang for assistance one other time that evening, to have someone turn out his light and say goodnight.

I left Michael’s room, made a fresh pot of coffee for family members and staff, fixed someone’s bed and TV and then took Jackie her evening snack of fruit and juice. Jackie and I had known each other for a few years, as she’d had frequent admissions for chemotherapy, such as her present three-day stretch. She always called it her “dose of poison” for the month and described her hospital visits as, “A working, masochistic vacation!” We spoke of her family, hopes for a cure and her latest garden project. Then she asked about my children and work. After a pause, the familiar questions began. “When are you going to go study medicine?” “Isn’t this just a job you’re doing to get through medical school?” Patiently, I said, “No, I’m not going to school right now.” It seemed futile to explain once again that this was my profession.

The remainder of the evening involved collecting and measuring fluid totals from each patient and spending time with the family members of a man who died at 9:00 p.m. His death was not unexpected, but the grief his family experienced was far greater than they had anticipated (as is often the case). We called the doctor, minister and mortuary. I got his body ready by taking out the IVs, putting in his teeth and folding his hands on his chest with as much dignity as possible. I finished charting on all the patients around 11:30 p.m., said goodnight to my co-workers and friends and called it a night.

Another “routine” shift had passed. As I drove home in the darkness, I thought about the perceptions people have of nursing assistants. Our society says it cares about the young and old, yet it places little value on those who care for the sick and aged or teach our children. Such failure to match words with deeds is, at the least, hypocritical. Why don’t people respect and reward those providing the hands-on care of their father or mother as much as they value the doctor who diagnosis the illness or the nurse that starts the IV or hands out the pills? If appreciation for the work nursing assistants’ do is ever acknowledged by good pay, healthy and safe staff to patient ratios and mutual respect, I think I’ll pass out from the shock.

Doctors and nurses are prime assets in delivering good quality health care. Without them, many would flounder and perish. I’ve seen them work long hours with great heart and dedication. But they are not the sole providers of care, nor do they have an exclusive patent on providing expert and passionate service. They do not work in a vacuum devoid of others’ energy and skills. Without secretaries, housekeepers, laundry workers, department managers, volunteers and countless other technicians, assistants and personnel, the health care system would find it impossible to function, let alone provide adequate or quality care.

Life tends to go in circles. Who will be there when you are feeling sick and miserable or someone in your family is? A nurse, maybe. A doctor, perhaps. Most likely, it will be one of my colleagues, a nursing assistant.

Do I Have The Guts?

I know it works. Millions of people around the world have risked life and limb to make it happen. But I don’t know, when it comes down to it, if I have the courage or moral strength to do it myself. In country after country, against the world’s worst governments, tyrants, military invaders and dictators, people have put their lives on the line by confronting the violent use of repression, intimidation, torture and imprisonment with nonviolent weapons of non-cooperation, civil-disobedience, strikes, sit-ins, rallies, vigils, politics and boycotts.

The question is not whether nonviolence works, but why it hasn’t been acknowledged, advocated, taught and put into practice more often? No other form of conflict has created such long-lasting and peaceful results as that of nonviolence.

Nonviolence is far from a passive activity. It requires deep introspection, continual self-awareness, strategizing, commitment, patience and direct and in-direct action. People actually have less chance of getting killed by using nonviolent tactics than they do by using violence.

As seen throughout history, it is imperative that the means match the ends. If you want a peaceful society you can’t use violence to create it. If you desire less hatred, bigotry and vengeance in the world, you have to see it in yourself and practice removing it from your own life.

A Jewish man, known as Jesus of Nazareth, repeatedly and adamantly advocated love and nonviolence and was willing to suffer torture and death by the Romans for his beliefs. His actions and words have since influenced the lives of millions.

About five hundred years before Jesus, the Buddha of Gotama preached an end to the caste system in India and contrary to all rules, laws and expectations of his time, accepted students from all castes.

In 1905, an Eastern Orthodox priest led over 150,000 Russians to the capital to protest the government. That march led to the first popularly elected parliament in that nation’s history.

In the early 1930’s, Mahatmas Gandhi first called for mass civil disobedience against the British. His call for active Satyagraha (truth force) resulted in India’s democratic independence in 1947.

Danish citizens refused to aid the Nazi war effort and forced the Germans to end blockades and curfews during their occupation of Denmark.

Without picking up a single gun Salvadoran’s forced their longtime military dictator into exile in 1944.

Martin Luther King, Jr., using many of the non-violent tactics of Gandhi, helped mobilize Americans to end racial segregation in the South and fight for civil rights nation wide.

Cesar Chavez peacefully rallied farm-workers to demand better working conditions for the men and women that harvest our countries food.

Laborers went on strike, won the right to organize and with the help of the Catholic Church and Solidarity, nonviolently brought down a totalitarian form of communism in Poland.

A group of mothers marched in the capitol of Argentina demanding to know the whereabouts of their abducted sons and grandsons. After years of being intimidated, tortured and imprisoned themselves, their persistence helped oust the countries military junta.

In the Philippines, in 1986, a coalition of citizens outraged with the government supported assassination of a returning exiled politician, massed to support his widow Corazin Aquino. After defying continued brutality, censorship and threats by the Armed Forces under Ferdinand Marcos, the people, with the help of The Church, struck at the conscience of military officers who eventually refused to follow Marcos’s orders.

South Africans waged a decades long nonviolent campaign to end Apartheid. Their actions eventually led to the freeing of Nelson Mandela and a democratically elected government in which every person’s vote had equal value.

Over 100,000 students in the Czech republic sat down in the streets demanding freedom. Their example set off a wave of protest that washed away totalitarian regimes in Hungary, Bulgaria, Mongolia and East Germany.

At the turn of the century the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic was defeated and his security forces neutralized by a general strike and nonviolent uprising.

These examples are but a few of the many inspiring practical applications of nonviolence, but how does somebody become brave enough to do it? How does one get to the point where they are willing to risk losing their job, go to prison, be assaulted or killed? How do we stand up to evil without becoming like those we confront? How do we separate evil acts from the people perpetrating them and still stop their actions without demonizing them in the process?

I like to think that my life and what I am doing with it make a difference. I tell myself that working as a counselor, a writer and volunteering in prisons and overseas helps others. I believe raising healthy children, working with human rights organizations and using non-polluting energy for my car and home, all have an impact. Then again, they are all safe and convenient.

Sure, I’ve marched in protest rallies against different wars and been arrested for blocking nuclear weapons facilities, but I knew the worst thing that would happen would be a couple of hours in detention or an overnight stay in the slammer. If I faced the prospect of years in prison, large fines, torture, a criminal record or being exiled from my country and family would I have done the same thing? I doubt it. Am I willing to stop paying taxes, get fined and go to jail? No. Am I spending time organizing other citizens to insist on less military spending and greater humanitarian interventions around the world? Perhaps, a little. Am I fully putting my body and deeds where my heart and beliefs lead me? No.

The reality is that I pay others to protect me with violent means. By paying my taxes I pay for law enforcement and military personal to carry and use weapons to theoretically keep my family, community and nation out of harms way. The money I pay to our government helps research, design, produce and use weapons of mass destruction and military intimidation and violence.

If someone threatened my son, daughter or mate, I believe I have the guts to stand my ground and resolve the conflict nonviolently without striking back, but I’m not sure. And if someone threatened my neighbor or community, I doubt I would have the same brave resolve to “fight back”, as I would with my immediate family.

I like to see myself as an advocate for justice, peace and freedom, now I’m not so sure. The justice, peace and freedom I seek are made in the context of a comfortable way of life and don’t require me to go out of my way to achieve them or make any great sacrifices; yet, all of those who have preceded me have been willing to do just that. They all took a leap of faith. They saw that they were not separate from anyone else on this planet and what they and others do or don’t do, affects us all.

When it comes down to the nitty gritty and I have to practice what I preach, I hope I can make that leap. I hope my faith in non-violence and love carries me through any and all circumstances and situations. In reality, I won’t know until or if, it happens. It could be that everyone is scared, even petrified, when faced with harm, but they act anyway. Perhaps that is what courage is all
about.

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