Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving


There's been a lot of new hoo-haw about Thanksgiving, this year, including word of some school district in the NorthWest calling it a day of mourning for Native Americans (I'm not wasting my time looking it up, it's on the internet, it must be true). What narrow-mindedness has gripped our collective idiocy, these days? The reality is that many cultures have always celebrated the harvest. I'd like to remind you why it's a day off in the United States.
The Battle of Gettysburg, fought July 1-3, 1863, nearly 87 years to the day of the nation's birthday, took between 46,000 and 51,000 lives. Three days. More than are killed on our highways in a year. It is a staggering number by any human standard. A nation at war, a war that would eventually claim 618,000 . President Lincoln is struggling to keep the Union together. I invite you to read his Proclamation. It acknowledges the war only as an impediment to the inevitable success of the U.S. as a people. It is a prayer - and it is not filled with the trappings of any one religion - it is a prayer for a nation to express its' gratitude, even in the midst of cataclysm.
We need to be grateful, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. There was a great line, last night, on the TV show "House." "When you have all of the answers, you no longer have Hope!"
Thanksgiving, as manifested in our culture, is all about Hope. The traditional story of the Pilgrims indicated a new era of cooperation and understanding in the New World - regardless of the outcome. Lincoln's proclamation is all about the future. It is a day to pause and reflect upon those things that we tend to take for granted, ultimately to spur us to pursue those ideals that motivate us personally and collectively.
I am thankful that:
  • I have the freedoms afforded to me, earned both by the lives of others committed to those freedoms, moreso than by my own participation in the process.
  • I have Love. This greatest gift continues to be bestowed upon me by my family, friends, and a merciful and gracious God (to borrow a bit from A. Lincoln).
  • I have health.
  • I have a secure and comfortable place to live, and plenty of food to eat.
  • I have employment that ultimately serves others, thereby giving it greater purpose, for me.
  • I have places and communities that value my contributions, this means more to me, the older I get.
  • I have Hope.

I wish you all a safe and happy Thanksgiving. Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

An Unwitting Accomplice. I am, are you?

I didn't ask for this. You know that. But it's become part of my life. It is true that, in a democracy, you are a participant whether you vote or not.

When I was in school, we recoiled in horror at the revelations of Dr. Mengele. We laughed, with our 20-year perspectives, at B.F. Skinner. We shudder and poo-poo Dr. Watson's emetic statements. Science can and does have a voice in our experience, but will always struggle with what we call "humanity."

I know I keep bringing this up, but it keeps coming back to me. I can't ignore it.
Today, I'm captivated by the prose as much as I am the subject matter.
From Patricia E. Bauer's blog, By Timothy P. Shriver, writing in Commonweal (subscription required for full article):

  • Although our policies over the past thirty years have become more supportive of people with Down syndrome, these children are increasingly seen as liabilities. We’ve become more generous with services, but more judgmental too. In this strange mix, what’s clear is that we still don’t believe that people with intellectual disabilities are valuable. When parents knowingly choose to have such a child, the message they frequently receive from the larger society is that they have chosen wrongly. Imagine knowing that others believe your child should not exist.
    … Those who live with and care for people with Down syndrome are able to do this because they know something that the technicians of genetic testing may need to learn: in giving to one another, we get back far more than we give. And in accepting unconditionally the full dignity of every human being, we often discover our own. In this way, the parents of children with Down syndrome embrace the always-unfulfilled aspiration of our nation’s founding — that we are all equal, capable, worthy of a chance, no matter what. But does our nation still believe that?
    At this moment, the stakes are high. For make no mistake: we are in the midst of a silent resurgence of eugenics. The idea that each of us has equal human value regardless of background, wealth, religion, or disability — a cornerstone value of both our religious traditions and our political heritage — is at risk today.

Those are powerful words, to me. I know that all of you that I know who read this are aware of this. It has always been expedient to discount "the full dignity of every human being" to make one's own life easier. It's the selfish, evil undercurrent of every societal system I've ever studied. In our society, however, opportunity exists. Opportunity to give, individually, institutionally, governmentally.

There is much that we do to each other to devalue ourselves - "Reality TV" is enough to prove that point. I cannot fully explain the value that Emma has brought to my life, my family, my community. She has re-defined concepts like 'value', 'dignity', 'courage', 'equality', to me and to others, merely by her presence. Many of her contributions still lie ahead; for now, she has at least the entitlements to make some of them. It is so strange to walk with her in public places and realize that some of those looking askance at her deliberately chose not to share the life that we know. Neither they nor I are criminals in this world - but we both endure the consequences of each other's actions. I don't like that last sentence, but it is the truth.

This morning, I read a post on Downsyn.com from a Mom who had just learned that a friend had recently aborted a child with Trisomy 21. She was not sure how to feel, how to judge, how to act. I wasn't sure how to finish this piece. I will, with my response to her (others had been more direct and eloquent than I could have been) :

Amy has said it, so very well.
One of my favorite things in this world is "A Christmas Carol", by Charles Dickens. There are many haunting messages (and I'm not talking about the ghosts) in this story. One scene that is often left out of dramatizations is the one where Scrooge's fiancee' breaks off their engagement. "May you be happy in the life that you have chosen," she says to him, when everyone, including the reader, knows that this is a huge error on Scrooge's part. He does not see, until reminded, what sort of impact his decisons have made upon him.There are many things that most of us don't talk about, but live with. We didn't know until after a miscarriage that several of our closest friends had had them. I think one of the unrealized undercurrents in our society is the emotional impact of aborted babies. I can't prove it. Every life has meaning - I am now convinced of that. That includes those that are never given a voice. Some of us try and speak for them. Some of us live with the choices that we have made, and prove the point. That does not make us better than they are, but we as a society are made better, [i][b]not by what we do, but by who our children are[/b][/i]. We are simply being stewards of what we've been given.It's not for me to judge. It [i]is[/i] for me to "be happy in the life that I have chosen."
That statement echoes in my head, nearly every day.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Are You Decent?

I realize that I am 48 years old. How I became 48 years old is no mystery. I was here, the whole time, or at least for most of it. I have slept some. I consider myself to be a decent person, certainly raised to be so. Lately, though, I’ve been feeling quite out of the mainstream in this regard. We are becoming an indecent society. It hasn’t happened overnight. We’ve seen it coming. Do I feel this way because I am only six months away from my AARP membership?

I read the obituary for Paul Tibbetts (pilot of the Enola Gay), this Friday. In it, his granddaughter said, “He didn't want a funeral because he didn't want to take the chance of protesters or anyone defacing a headstone.” It resonated with the article I'd read on Thursday, about a successful lawsuit against the completely misguided church (a gross understatement) that protests at soldiers' funerals. Whatever your politics, funerals are not the time and place for polemics. One indecency does not justify another.

We were out, trick-or-treating, on Wednesday. We saw two girls, no more than 15 years of age, in costumes that did not belong on them, at all. Halloween has been co-opted into an adult event, and the result (I actually typed out 'reslut' - which is not a word, but captures the concept) is that costumers provide adult-themed costumes in all sizes - dress up your 9 year-old daughter like a french maid - isn't that cute?

Television is a wasteland. The ability to tell a joke without naming body parts is now a lost art. I love comedy, but not what I see so much on TV, lately. I don't want to censor it, but at least keep it off the air until after 9 p.m., maybe? Social responsibility is part of what it means to be decent.

Worst of all, we now expect to be treated indecently. We rationalize our own selfish, rude behaviors because it's the way things are. Assert yourself, be first, make sure all of your needs are met regardless of the condition anyone else around you is in. When we are wronged, we don't want to be compensated, we need to be over-compensated. It's resulted in a wierd social tapestry of fake manners and idiotic, insincere responses to simple mistakes. Sincerity is a function of decency.

I may not be presenting this very well - call it a draft, from some impressions I've had this week. I want to pique your conscience, as mine has been, about what it means to be a decent person, this week.
I open doors for everyone. I take my turn. Am I a decent person? More to the point, for me, how do I communicate what it means to be a decent person to my children? Aaahhh, quite a different kettle of fish - or is it?