Is This a Medical Crisis?

Is This a Medical Crisis?

Trauma Center

It’s not opioids. It’s not marijuana. It’s not obesity and diabetes. It’s not a disease that over time with research and the commingling of hard scientific work and cooperation we have almost conquered–like AIDS and some cancers. No. This continues to be a MEDICAL CRISIS harming 30,618 people in 2016 and killing 15,085. So far this year it has already killed 13, 304 and harmed, 27,206. It’s guns.

Okay, some of you stopped reading right then. But as a nurse and a mother and the wife of a cancer patient, the daughter of a father who died when I was a small child–I know about loss, about struggle, about the importance of good medical care, and the difficulty of picking up your life again IF–you lost a limb, have a spinal cord injury, facial and body deformities or simply can no longer lie down and have a good night’s sleep. PTSD. You keep living it. But so far A GUN has not been part of my family history. I AM SO DAMN LUCKY. So far.

IF YOU WERE SHOT, WHAT’S YOUR FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE?

So if you skipped the above heading, please go back and read it again. What is our first line of defense. Many would answer: your own gun or a man, woman, policeman with a gun. In other words, if someone shoots you–that’s what you need right away. Yes, if you’re down and the guy is just shooting and shooting. Because then, you’re dead. But if you’re in a crowd and the shooter has moved on, your first line of defense for your life IS A DOCTOR!  Or nurse EMT–someone trained to stop your bleeding.

TALK ABOUT GUNS

Dr. Garen Wintemute, an emergency department physician at UC Davis in California called on primary care doctors “to make a commitment to ask your patients about firearms when, in your judgment, it is appropriate.” He has asked his fellow doctors to sign a public commitment: “When risk factors for harm to my patient or others are present, I will ask my patients about firearms ownership and safety.”

DOCTORS CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, since February 2017 when the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a 2011 Florida law that would have barred doctors from speaking to their patients about firearms. They concluded that the act violated the first Amendment rights of doctors. Remember, they take an oath TO DO NO HARM.

Here are some things doctors could talk to their patients about:

  • how do you store firearms and ammunition;
  • you need safety locks and separate locked cases;
  • review stats showing that 60% of U.S. gun deaths are due to suicide;
  • impulsive teens with access to firearms are at high risk;

RESEARCH CENTER FOR DOCS

Dr. Wintemute is also heading the nation’s first publicly funded firearm violence research center, established by the state of California at UC Davis. For the first time in 2 decades, there is a growing body of research to guide doctors when they discuss firearms with their patients. He urges doctors NOT TO STAY ON THE SIDELINES. But with this research, Dr. Wintemute says “you won’t be acting alone.”

Examples of when THE TALK should occur:

  • patients who are drinking heavily or abusing drugs should be asked about the presence of a gun in the home;
  • an acute injury, difficult medical diagnosis or a job loss;
  • or when a severe mental illness is not under control;
  • past history of violence, including a suicide attempt or an abusive partner

THE FIRST STEP

Wintemute acknowledges that asking these questions may not lead to immediate behavior change. But there is proof that a doctor’s counseling a patient, especially when that counseling is repeated, can be a powerful prod to change and a healthier behavior. He make this IMPORTANT POINT: “The fact that it doesn’t work all the time isn’t a reason to never do it.”

IMPORTANT COMMENTS FROM DR. WINTEMUTE: “I know as an ER doctor, most of the people who die from gunshot wounds die WHERE they were shot. So for us as clinicians to make the largest inroads we can into the number of people who die, we have to prevent them from being shot in the first place. So that’s why we don’t back down. The questions are fascinating. The opportunity to make a difference for the better is fascinating. There are very very few people working it. There’s active opposition. What’s not to like?”

“Firearms are consumer products. The industry needs to move product. To the extent that they see the work that any of us do as threatening those economic interests, they see as a threat.”

A FINAL THOUGHT 

To determine future blog content, I save articles from newspapers, magazines or printed items from the internet. When I checked today, I found two articles from the LA TIMES about Dr. Wintemute that I had saved. This was AFTER the Las Vegas shooting. Now as I write this piece, we have already had ANOTHER MASS SHOOTING. It has to stop. Go to: http://www.gunviolencearchive.org for statistics.

Photo: Health Tip   Gunshot Wounds Chest, Doctor answers

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What Not to Say to an Expectant Parent

What Not to Say to an Expectant Parent

Parents always look into the future.

My husband and I raised three amazing offspring who are now all adults. And we shared all of it, the raising, the teaching, the loving. But just four days ago while we were walking, my husband told me the most amazing story. One I had never heard.

It happened four years into our marriage. We had just discovered that I was pregnant for the first time and things were going well. We could share our news. And so my husband did–at his office, in a group of people who worked for him and with him. There were hugs and congrats. Until one woman came up at the end and spoke to him (almost like the Bad Fairy in Sleeping Beauty.) This woman might have had ten years on my husband, but she was not another mythic figure, not the aging fortune teller with a not so subtle warning.

But this is what she said to him: “How can you bring a child into this world?”

He was stunned. Maybe the question had some merit, but this woman was not a close friend, not an economic adviser or priest or psychologist–you know what I’m getting at–someone who knew us intimately and might have some specific concerns.

But no–this was just a statement from a woman working in the next department. Take it or leave it. John rejected her question. Absolutely. You do so when you are on Cloud Nine. This is your first child!! You are more than thrilled.

And as we walked, he said that maybe there had been a response at that time, but “my consciousness wasn’t raised enough to know what that response would be.” So honest.

Right this moment we live in times where deciding to bring a child into the world could be problematic. In my work in progress, my novel, I consider exactly that problem. My main character, Ella, a nurse and a mother, reflects on discussions with her mother, Cecile. This scene had its origins in conversations with my own mother–when she would lament the “state of the world” after reading the newspaper or watching a newscast and I had to REJECT her words. After all, I was raising children in that world, I had to embrace it.

She would always defend her practice of medicine, because she was a part of it—medicine was what she was. It was not unlike when she had defended certain aspects of current culture to her mother, something she had done often. Cecile ripped apart the changing mores of society. But Ella defended change, because the result was Ella’s society, Ella’s culture. She lived in it and dealt with it and so she had defended it. She couldn’t condemn what was a part of her, what she had embraced and brought Sarah into. If she had condemned culture and society, then she would be condemning herself.

As my husband and I finished our walk, we reflected on the ups and downs of our family life–mostly ups– and how the reality of our parenting, our family life helped bring all three of our adult children to where they are now–having good lives, good careers. That they are GOOD PEOPLE.

We concluded that is the key: you cannot run away from society and culture–but you can be instruments of change by upholding values and teaching your children those same values. I am not saying that we were perfect. We are STILL LEARNING how to be the best that we can be. And in our society today, everyone of us might think about devoting ten minutes a day to examine how we treat others, how we contribute to society, how we can do better in those regards–and then if we are lacking, to go and do something about it.

What NOT to say to an expectant father or mother?  Hey, wow, what a mistake.

Because life is full of promise and possibility. I love to think about Abraham Lincoln’s mother–a woman that Lincoln prized and honored with these words: All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother. 

And certainly, she didn’t bring him into a cushy world, but one of hard work and struggle. I have always been saddened that Barack Obama’s grandmother died the Saturday before he won the 2008 election. Certainly she must know that her love carried him far.

Wishing all mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers reading this a special blessing–especially if a child is on the way. After all, in any age, we cannot see the future, but we can pledge to make it better.

 Photo thanks to NPR  Frida Kahlo art.

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Those Voices in Our Heads

Those Voices in Our Heads

The title of this post is not about some pathology. No. The title is me working toward asking everyone a question: Who thinks about you each morning?

I hope it’s someone you love. I hope it’s a dear close friend–as opposed to a fellow worker who is just eager to talk to you so some duties can be passed along or a crabby neighbor who keeps bugging you to trim that tree.

So who thinks about you each morning fondly or with love?

The question can also be turned around: when you open your eyes, who do you think about?

FAMILY 

On opening my eyes, I think about our three children. I picture my older daughter already at work–she is three hours ahead of us and that’s a bunch of time. I think of my son in Chicago who is also at work. And finally, I know my other daughter is busy getting our three grandchildren ready for school.

Such mother-oriented thoughts might apply to you too–but on a different level. Maybe your first thought of a morning is: I forgot to sign that report card or make the lunches.

I get that.

CHILDREN DON’T COME WITH INSTRUCTIONS 

The above statement is kind of a joke, but it’s also true. Here is the crux or guts of my post today–and it does connect with who thinks about you each morning. 

In human interaction (which starts when we are born, proceeds through childhood etc) no one sits us down and says, SO, ABOUT LIFE and LIVING, this is how it’s done. (You might argue that yes, your parents sat you down about sex, or being safe or something. I get that.)

But what I’m referring to is the fast-paced challenge of daily living. You can look at this from different points of view: when you were or are raising your children OR when your parents were raising you.

A lot went by without a sign that read: hey, this is important, watch what I do–this is how to live. Or: listen up, this is important, watch what I say and how I say it.

No, what each of us learned was ON THE FLY, in the moment, hectic and busy, sometimes with a hint of anger or frustration. And the end result? We grew up and created our own persona either taking in and agreeing with THOSE VOICES IN OUR HEADS or making a point of disregarding them.

And I get that. I get that sometimes what we are exposed to as children needs heavy editing. That’s how we rearrange things and hopefully what our children now hear doesn’t need that kind of editing.

THE HUMAN VOICE

So back to those voices in your head–in my head.

First, regardless of how busy their lives are, I hope and I think I know that our children DO think about me, about my husband every day–or almost every day. Maybe that thought is not the first thing–but later, late afternoon when our son calls on his drive home or one daughter sends an email and the other calls or there is a text. HUMAN CONNECTION. THOSE VOICES IN OUR HEADS.

Even in our current culture, the world of cell phones, I can hear my children’s voices, see their smiles. Distance doesn’t have to be distance. It can be an opportunity to picture them, think about them, answer that initial question: Who thinks about you each morning?  I DO! I think about you. And if the lives of my children are any bit like my life–they hear my voice now and again. It’s in their heads. Hopefully, the message is loving and positive. Or I presented an argument or an answer to a problem that they are now considering. My husband is a great counselor. I’m sure they ponder his ideas.

SOME VOICES REMAIN

As a final thought, each night I remember my parents, especially my mother who raised me and my two brothers alone, because of my father’s too-early death. If there is any voice in my head that has guided me or whose movements, choices, facial expressions created that BOOK OF INSTRUCTIONS, it was my mother.

I still patten much of what she said about living, how she treated other people, her ideas on parenting and being a good friend, a loving spouse. She was awesome. Trailing behind her during those early years of my life helped form me. Of course I wasn’t aware at the time as to how lucky I was.

Thanks for reading.  Tomorrow when I wake up, I’lll think of my family–and my readers. And for sure, I hope there are a lot of you!

PS. There has been much research about parental voices affecting the raising of children, I’m Okay You’re Okay being a major one. But I just wanted to touch on the basics–keep it simple. If there is a book or an experience that provided a turning point in your life, I would be eager to hear about it.

Thanks to Charles Schultz, Peanuts and Pinterest.

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Magic Words Can Lead to Magic in Deeds

Magic Words Can Lead to Magic in Deeds

Uruguay Amethyst Geode

It’s happened to you. You are reading something and you come across one sentence, or a paragraph–WORDS that hold you to the page or your screen. Words that have revealed a thought you’ve had, but expressed in a way that  jumps off the page–like magic.

Consider:

It was a nice thing for her to say. In her way. With Greta, you have to look out for the nice things buried in the rest of her mean stuff. Greta’s talk is like a geode. Ugly as anything on the outside and for the most part the same on the inside, but every once in a while there’s something that shines through.

I love this passage, because it relays the thoughts of fourteen-year-old June Elbus who tells us the story of her relationship with her Uncle Finn, an artist who died of AIDS. But the “Greta” in the quote is her sister, a few years older, the one she now tangles with on a regular basis. Can they make it right by each other. (The novel is: TELL THE WOLVES I’M HOME by Carol Rifka Brunt.)

June’s words, her reflection is on page 52 of a complex story, but it leaped off the page for me, not only because it’s an insight that will come back to complete the story, help the troubled relationship between the two sisters. But also because it is TRUTH.

In our lives, the people that make us crazy, who we sometimes wish we had never met–they are the ones we must acknowledge as human and in the most surprising moments they can say things or do things that reveal their humanity: something that shines through.

Do you know a person who talks a line that starts to give you hope? And then they turn around and annihilate that hope in what they do. THINK: some politicians!! or a friend, even a family member. And think: what did our mothers or fathers tell us when this happened?

  • Oh, she didn’t mean it.
  • Give the guy a break.
  • Tolerance, could we just have a little tolerance in these situations.

Those are all good suggestions, and as June in the novel learns–and we all learn–some people you give space to, hoping they’ll come around and HAVE YOUR BACK–don’t fail you. They wake up. They arrive when you need them. They cement a bond that might have been broken.

But there are also those that never do come around. They are:

  • the salt in a wound instead of the salt of the earth.
  • Their first thought is of themselves and you can go blow in the wind.

Or actually I might be wrong about both those evaluations. Sometimes we just don’t know why the love we sail over to them, the phone calls, the emails, the attention–falls flat. They might arrive in your life years down the road and think nothing of it. But you do, because you wanted to keep that relationship alive. You wanted to be there for them and they wanted to disappear.

Ironically, great thinkers and leaders know that’s not the way to go. If another human being reaches out to someone, a response should occur. It cannot always be commensurate with need, but one dollar, one meal, one phone call, one smile–is better than none.

So if there’s a person in your life, right today, who you are trying to reach, trying to love or help–listen for the magic words. They might be there–and you’re so angry you can’t hear them. Or they might be disguised in bravado or sorrow. That happens ALL THE TIME. But if you keep on giving of yourself, the right words just might come shining through. They won’t be MEAN. They’ll be the KEYS to more communication.

At the end of the novel, Greta helps June to accomplish an enormous task. She’s her support, she provides encouragement–which is something we all need:

“It’s all going to work out fine…I’ll keep an eye on you.”

Here’s hoping that someone in your life RIGHT NOW will open up, keep an eye on you, give some magic sign that they know you need them and they NEED YOU TOO.

Photo credit: The Crystal Rock Store Uruguay Amethyst Geode

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The Latest Skinny on Soul Mates

The Latest Skinny on Soul Mates

I totally believe that my husband and I are soul mates. But what does that mean exactly? To expand on my own ideas, I’m sharing sections of a piece by Ada Calhoun that appeared in TIME. Her recent book is the memoir WEDDING TOASTS I’LL NEVER GIVE.

HISTORY OF THE SOUL MATE CONCEPT

The idea of soul mate goes back to Plato’s Symposium. Zeus, thinking to humble humans, split them in half, forcing us to wander in search of our other half. As Calhoun writes, this mythological concept is VERY ROMANTIC, but has kind of messed us up–as some people keep searching, denying that a happy, healthy relationship fits that bill–and casting about continuously for THE ONE.

Calhoun admits to thinking she had met the magical one–only to discover in the bright light of reality that no–if he was her soul mate, they are definitely over-rated.

ROMANTIC CHIVALRIC TRADITION

J.R.R. Tolkien loved his wife from his teens until her death at the age of 82. But he also had some interesting things to say about our obsession with soul mates and blamed it on the Romantic Tradition. He wrote: “Its weakness is, of course, that it began as an artificial courtly game, a way of enjoying love for its own sake…It takes, or in the past has taken the young man’s eye off women as they are–that is companions in shipwreck…not guiding stars.” 

Such a great statement and so realistic. Life can never be all positives. It’s when the loved person is there when things get tough, when there’s some kind of shipwreck, that real love comes through. Long-lasting love affairs, Calhoun writes, are about time, patience and commitment. Possibly years of dating can also develop these ties that bind. In the end, you are a kindred spirit or the soul mate, because of true knowledge of the other, forgiveness, and consistent love and understanding.

ARE WE CREATING A SOUL MATE? 

In her piece, Calhoun writes about a friend’s parents who appeared to be soul mates, but really didn’t have much to bind them together. “She was Jewish, and he had a good job. That was enough for the marriage to begin.” But they struggled while raising their family and talked about separating when that part of their lives was completed. But what had happened during that time? When the children were grown, they discovered that neither wanted to leave the marriage.

DIVIDE and CONQUER

I can only speak from the one marriage that has blessed my life. When we started out, we were both working, but SILLY ME insisted that I take over the household chores, because my husband came from a large family and had already had a large share of domestic life. He bought me a washer and dryer a month after our wedding. YAY. We had a small townhouse (thank you Park Forest, Illinois) with hardly any yard to mow. To save money, I made lunches for me to take to my teaching job and he to take to his insurance adjuster job in downtown Chicago.

The lunch thing ended abruptly for my husband when in front of co-workers, he opened a sandwich of liver sausage on raisin bread. I was fired! (That’s all I had in the fridge.) But you see, we were developing a marriage. I was forgiven and yet a fable was born.

I fired him from lawn mowing because “I’ll do it on the weekend” just didn’t work in a Chicago spring when it rained every weekend and the grass was a foot high. GIVE AND TAKE.

Like the saying that a cold with medication lasts two weeks and one without medication lasts 14 days, our marriage is solid. No one could have provided for me better, loved me more and fathered our children with constant care, understanding and humor than he. A photographer, trip planner, universal fixer, wine connoisseur, film partner and of course loving husband–he is mine. A total blessing. We decided a few years ago, that marriage should feel comfortable, like a worn and beloved pair of slippers. Anxiety is out. Our home is warm and companionship reigns and he always remembers to set the light timer and check the smoke detectors!! Good will abides within our home.

THUS COMFORT REIGNS 

Tolkien believed “The real soul mate is the one you are actually married to.” That makes sense to me. The years of discovering this person within a marriage–his and her depths, beliefs, weaknesses and strengths–is like water flowing against a rock or a tree growing against a wall. Throughout the years, the give and take forms and shapes us within the relationship. We learn when to push ahead and when to pull back. As Calhoun states in her piece, THE IDEAL PARTNER IS THE ONE YOU CREATE.

Photo: TIME MAGAZINE online

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Updates on My Life: Parenting, Writing

Updates on My Life: Parenting, Writing

On the way home from a writer’s retreat, I’m up in an airplane, praying. No, it’s not turbulence, it’s thankfulness. I have just attended a four day retreat with fellow writers, and I’m feeling grateful for: words, ideas, computers, paper and pen–and most of all READERS and fellow writers.

THREE BELOW

But as always, I think of my three children down below me–their lives spanning the continent: one in Boston, one in Chicago and one in Palos Verdes California. Ah, they are all so different, yet all working with the same DNA. They are my dear friends and sometimes my quiet critics–and they are all mine and my husband’s amazing fault! But the prayer is one of thanksgiving and of WONDER.

Because here I am still adventuring and they are living their own pathways and their own adventures.

STARTING OFF POINT: THE SAME

At some point, all three started the journey with the same gifts: ate the same foods, heard the same loving words and lullabies, enjoyed the same childhood books and music, were hugged and tickled, encouraged and guided by the same parents, grandparents and other family members.

But being their own individual people, along the journey, doors opened or closed to these common elements. They chose who they would love, where they would live, what they would like and dislike, what is most meaningful or as #2 says, what blows your hair back. 

It’s called becoming who we will be and has many labels. Here are a few: guitarist, classicist, vegan, green, poet, agnostic, spiritual counselor, politically involved, iconoclast, getting by, wealthy, MA, BA–singular in choices and proud of it.

And I am proud of each of them–their pursuits, the people and places they love, the devotion they give to music, children, work, the environment, their lover, their country and always the words on the page. They all know the value of reading, of poetry and prose, of research and knowledge. Damn, they are all so WONDERFUL.

BUT ENOUGH OF MINE  

These words, I hope, lead to thoughts of your own creations, whether living on the planet or existing in your head, the children of your mind. We bring to our culture so much besides our DNA–great thoughts power the globe.

FINAL OFFERING…

is a link to my book of stories which continues the journey of being a mother and having a mother (we all do.) It’s my A MOTHER’S TIME CAPSULE, now available on Amazon in ebook form at a lower price–3.99.

Here is the link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B075PH3D2D/

Thanks for reading. Thanks for all you do to help another human being, whether it’s your own flesh and blood or a total stranger. We are all in this together.

P.S. Sample story here: http://boomerhighway.org/windows-one-mothers-view-of-her-world/

Updates on My Life: Parenting, Writing

 

 

 

 

 

 

photo credits: independent.co. uk.  Foreverland Press.

Feelin’ Groovy–You Can Too!

http://www.designerspics.com/,

They are just for you.

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy
Ba da da da da da da, feelin’ groovy.

This is POETRY, MAN…(and woman)  So lift me up, make me feel good and groovy.

Today, during these times that we are living, more than ever, I need groovy. I need Paul Simon’s song and lyrics, or to be immersed in a Bach fuge or Bill Evans’ endless piano trills. Call it escape if you want to, but sometimes we just need to be SAVED from gathering darkness, fear, illness, lies, hurts, you name it.

HELP FROM SOME POETS 

  • Jill Bialosky has written the book POETRY WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE. So which poem saved her: Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken.
  • “I read my own story in (that poem). There are two roads one might travel: The road where families are whole and not broken, and fathers don’t die young, and mothers are happy…and the road I travel, which is crooked and not quite right, with bumps along the way. I know it is important I choose the right course.”
  • The poem helped Bialosky realize that what she was experiencing did not have to mark the rest of her life. For her, poetry made her see: “…I’m included. I belong. My imagination has given me a coping skill.”
  • Then today, I stumbled upon this line: “Don’t Fear Poetry”…an interview with poet Matthew Zapruder and his book Why PoetryHe wants you to read poetry and feel comfortable. 
  • He sees a poem as a kind of individual portal: “Poetry comes to be, each time, in the mind of each half-dreaming reader.” Poetry is not a puzzle, a code or riddle to solve. Rather when things are hard to talk about, poetry works. Poetry relates complex ideas in the “simplest way possible.”
  • Zapruder says that when he was reading poetry, he would get mysterious feelings about life, things hard to talk about, but things so precious to him. Thus he became a poet and a lover of poetry BECAUSE that’s what he wanted from his life!
  • Zapruder says: In a poem, language remains itself–yet is also made to feel different, even sacred, like a spell. I love that. You can fall under the spell of poetry. 

BUT POETRY TODAY, REALLY?

Yes. You are in the doctor’s office; you are on your lunch break; you are in a car waiting to pick up your child. What are you doing? Where before we had to search for print media–a newspaper, a magazine, a book (I still try to always have a book in my bag)–today, as Zapruder says, “I just pull out my phone.”

But then he questions himself.  What happened to all those moments? What happened to all that time? 

And he makes a very good point. “I think that poems remind me of what that time was like before everything was so harnessed to usefulness. …the old technology of the book. It starts giving you a little bit of your time back.

WHAT DOES HE MEAN? He means that we all can be poets, that with a notebook app or a pen and paper, we can recreate what life once was for us, the life we noticed.

  • jot down how the sky looks; the sun on the grass;
  • describe the smile and laughter of our child this past morning;
  • briefly defend with language a point of view;
  • capsule feelings about a friend, enemy, bit of news, the world you are seeing right now;

But the final point that Zapruder makes is the most important one.

  • Don’t SHARE what you write.
  • This is just for you.

I confess writing is an intricate part of my day–almost every day. I keep a notepad by my bed and I jot stuff over articles and on ads–where paper and pen are handy. Sometimes even my phone. And I look them over. Some I discard. Some I keep. WHY, because they’re good, I can use them in future blogs or in my novel. Because, basically, they’re GROOVY.

GOT A FAVORITE POEM???  Which one. This you can share. 

Photo: DesignersPics.com  free download

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Daddy’s Penny Box

Daddy's Penny Box

small cardboard box, plain white, probably once covered with the dark green Marshall Field cover.

It’s sometimes hard to hold on to a dream, or make a plan work out. The very definition of “life” includes disappointment. But humanity has dealt with this by educating people that can help us: doctors, counselors, lawyers etc. They study so that they can supply us with help and care when our dreams, our bodies are failing. Today, you can search the net for advice if you want to be a photographer, writer, artist—the list is endless. Our endeavors are endless. And complicated.

But notice, I have yet to mention the first person each of us encounters who begins the process: comforts us when we have pain; praises us when we do the right thing and scolds and should explain why, when do the wrong thing. Parents. Parent. Guardian. The one who is there when we need to be fed and our diapers changed. The beginning.

Growing up I had one parent. I lost my father when I was three. (Many of you already know this.) But my two brothers and I had this amazing woman for a mother. A loving, complicated, intelligent woman (Jinni) who probably never sought out a grief counselor when left with three children to raise—ages: 3 months, 3 and 6 years. How the hell did she do it?

Jinni had her own family behind her (mother, father, brother and two single sisters), people used to working for a purpose, people whose first reaction to a sad and complicated situation was kindness and how can I help.

But no person suddenly bereft of the one they counted on, bereft of the vision they had of their future finds this a happy fact. Jinni certainly had her moments of doubt and fear. But then she went on. There are so many examples of this in my personal story. Can you think of one in yours? If so, it’s good to be grateful.

Jinni’s three kids are older now, and though she lived into her late nineties, she shines bright and vigorous in our minds and always will.

But I’m going to take you back to our house in Chicago, to our dining room that had built-in cabinets with glass doors above and yet a cabinet below that was child accessible. In this cabinet was a small cardboard box, plain white, probably once covered with the dark green Marshall Field & Co. cover. But it was open and into it Jinni tossed pennies—change from her trips to the store. She called it Daddy’s Penny Box, because she started it after he died, and probably because when going through his top dresser drawer, she found a bunch of pennies.

In our Southside neighborhood, there was a deli that we could walk to in under five minutes. It had a counter with candy displayed in a glass case. We called it Mary’s Candy Store, and many times we would interrupt Jinni, who might be typing insurance policies in the corner of our dining room to pay the bills, to ask if we could go to Mary’s. In my memory, 99% of the time she said yes. And we knew what to do. Grab a few pennies from the box and go. Keary Moran, who lived on our street, once relayed to the neighborhood that we were rich! Of course we weren’t, but he was a kid. He’d seen all those pennies in the box.

But here’s the thing. We were rich. We had Jinni. When she sold our house years later, after my brothers had moved out of state, after I was married and teaching high school, there were still pennies in that box! Lots of them. Jinni believed in us and in our lives and our dreams. Daddy’s Penny Box was a symbol of that belief and promise. It could never become empty because her counsel, her care, her belief in our dreams and goals would never falter. Maybe we should have renamed it, Jinni’s Penny Box. But she would have said no.

My mother was given a major disappointment, one she had not expected. She accepted the help of family, friends, doctors (many who knew my father) and a lawyer friend. But that was early on. Once she got her stride, Jinni instinctively knew what to do. The Penny Box was part of that. She gave love and attention to her three kids. She fulfilled a dream–that she could succeed on her own, and in doing that, she helped fulfill ours.

My older brother is John C. Pfordresher, professor of English at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. His book THE SECRET HISTORY OF JANE EYRE has just been published by Norton. You can read more about it here. 

Daddy's Penny Box

No small accomplishment. Dad would be proud.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My younger brother is William F. Pfordresher (Bill) who went to LA in the early 70s to make it in the music business. HE DID. Read about him here.

And me, I have an amazing husband and family I hold dear. And though I’m  enjoying the process of writing a novel, I still have some dreams to fulfill.

Photo credit: Ebay, Amazon

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Do You Like To Vacuum ? Applauding Manual Labor

Do You Like To Vacuum ? Applauding Manual Labor

There seems a human instinct to want to do physical work.

Do you like to vacuum? Weed in a garden? Plant vegetables? Wash your car? Maybe you enjoy grilling out when the weather is good or taking on a small chore like painting the porch floor or sanding a piece of furniture out in the yard. I’ve done all of these things and more, because I enjoy some physical labor. There are benefits for sure. Physical labor can: burn calories; increase pride of accomplishment; satisfy the urge to be creative.

The Decline of Manual Labor Jobs

Victor David Hanson writes about our changing society in his article AS PHYSICAL JOBS DECLINE, SOMETHING IS LOST. He asks if the reader thinks that the decline of physical jobs in our new culture is to our advantage. “…life superficially appears to get better. Cheap cellphones, video games, the Internet, social media and labor-saving appliances all make things easier and suggest that even more and better benefits are on the horizon.”

But is this a good thing? Hanson talked to academics, lawyers and CEOs, to find that most of them made sure that they biked or ran or lifted weights. So if obesity rates are higher in the class of people doing manual labor, why is this. One possible answer I found: these men and women started out being active and their diet consisted of many calories to support that activity. But as they aged and their metabolism slowed, their eating habits did not change. And possibly they rose up in their jobs and were foremen, more than laborers. Thus age meant packing on the pounds and not burning the calories. Of course not all are overweight. Many are quite fit due to their active work and healthy eating.

But Hanson And I Have A Question For You

What did you do in your past life that you would love to brag about? Or what did you watch or experience that really got your juices going? Hanson claims that the greater percentage of answers would include physical work–the expending of exhausting energy. Like climbing a mountain, conquering a sport for the first time, building something–and to that effect watching someone else expend that physical power. Hanson writes: THERE SEEMS A HUMAN INSTINCT TO WANT TO DO PHYSICAL WORK.

Does TV Have the Answer?

Think about how content on television has changed. While we go to the pantry to get more chips or some caloric snack, we might watch reality TV where people do energy expending stuff. Hanson writes: “In a society that supposedly despises menial jobs, the television ratings..suggest that lots of Americans enjoy watching people of action who work with their hands.”

WHY IS THIS? Because despite our advances, physical labor is the platform, the basis for our success. Men and women have to build cars, pump oil. No app can do that. Hanson writes: “The high-tech, post-modern society still depends on low-tech, pre-modern labor.” That could be you working to prepare a meal for your family, or the mechanic trying to discover why the computer on your car is reading an error. Someone has to get down and dirty to make things happen.

Those I Depended On

When my husband worked in his white collar job, I tended the household. There were many physical things that I could do to keep our home running smoothly. Some of them I mentioned above. But when the basement began to seep water, when termites were found behind a wall, when the roof leaked–I needed the American worker. Without them, house and home would crumble around us. Though to be fair, right this moment my husband is repairing a drawer in our kitchen, one with an odd working angle, not a fun project. He’s found the necessary part and powered up the drill. I will allow a brag or more when he gets the job done.

More of Us Need to Do Physical Stuff

There are many upsides to taking up a chore. As Hanson writes doing what my husband is doing saves money and increases independence. It also helps we humans identity and find common ground with men and women who work.

Philosophical Benefits of Manual Labor

Hanson also mentions something we might forget when shut up in our air conditioned houses and cars, or eager to always dine at a restaurant where we don’t see the slime of meat or the detritus of vegetables. That kind of life hides reality. Some things that we encounter in day to day living must remind us of the struggles of human kind. Maybe they are not our immediate struggles, but someone’s. Hanson writes: “Working outdoors, often alone, with one’s hands, encourages a tragic acceptance of nature and its limitations.” He goes on to say that people who work 20 hours or more in minimum wage jobs know reality more than he did teaching in college.

Final Thought 

Hanson ends his piece by quoting Euripides, the ancient Athenian playwright: “The hopes of countless men are infinite in number. Some make men rich; some come to nothing. So I consider that man (or woman) blessed who lives a happy existence day by day.”

Thanks for reading. I’m going to do some chores now.

PS The Bureau of Labor Statistics States: Among workers age 25 and over, those with an advanced degree were more likely to work at home than were persons with lower levels of educational attainment—43 percent of those with an advanced degree performed some work at home on days worked, compared with 12 percent of those with a high school diploma. (But work at home means sitting at a computer, not building a highway or putting out fires.)

Photo Credit: The New York Times. Take a Labor Day Tour of Blue Color Art.

 

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Jobs Stop Bullets

Jobs Stop Bullets

“Gang violence is about a lethal absence of hope,” Father Boyle has said. “Nobody has ever met a hopeful kid who joined a gang.”

Last week in my post I said I would write more about that topic which was the importance of good education for everyone. A few of you wrote “bring it on.” So here goes–one solution that is working for some kids. It’s only one, but it’s tossing a stone into the pool–it’s making some ripples.

Have you ever heard of the Homeboy Program? I had. But I didn’t know very much about it, until a friend from Chicago who worked with a volunteer group helping others,The Ignatian Volunteer Core, sent me an article which talked out it.

THE PERSONAL CONNECTION

While reading the piece, I immediately found a personal connection–this caused me to read every word. IT STARTED: …One of Saint Margaret of Scotland’s graduates, where I am an IVC volunteer, was gunned down and killed last year. He was only a Sophomore. ”What is the answer?” I asked the priest I was working with.

St. Margaret’s! The church I walked by every day when I attended The Academy of Our Lady High School, better known as Longwood on the southside of Chicago. Knowing that the story was about a place that I could claim as mine, made me more invested.

Our lives go on, some places in our lives feel static–but they are moving and changing just as we are. (In fact that’s a primary concept in the novel I am writing. PLACE defines us, digs in our hearts, brings up memories, but nothing is static. For better or for worse, we humans change and everything around us does also.)

I cherish the old house I was raised in and drive by it when I am back in Chicago. I often drive the roadways that took me to familiar places. I reminisce. So here is more of the story.

The priest admitted right off that the question as to why young men and women are dying on Chicago streets is complex. He stated clearly that such a problem cannot be solved with only surveillance cameras or even gun laws. He said: “That does not get to the root problem.”

That’s when he mentioned Father Greg Boyle who started Homeboy Industries.

THE FOUNDER OF HOMEBOY

Rev. Gregory J. Boyle, S.J. founded Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world.

A Catholic prises and Jesuit, he has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and English from Gonzaga University, a master’s degree in English from Loyola Marymount University, a Master of Divinity degree from the Weston School of Theology, and a Master of Sacred Theology degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley.

He spent a year living and working with Christian base communities in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Then in 1986, he was appointed pastor of Dolores Mission Church in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East LA, the poorest Catholic parish in the city, located between two large public housing projects with the highest concentration of gang activity in Los Angeles.

He witnessed the devastating impact of gang violence on his community during what he has called “the decade of death” that began in the late 1980’s. He witnessed suppression and mass incarceration as the means to end gang violence. (Which is what the current administration wants to do again.)

So Father Boyle and parish and community members adopted what was a radical approach at the time: treating gang members as human beings. 

“Gang violence is about a lethal absence of hope,” Father Boyle has said.  “Nobody has ever met a hopeful kid who joined a gang.”

In the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Jobs for a Future, a community-organizing project begun at Dolores Mission, launched their first social enterprise business in an abandoned bakery that Hollywood producer Ray Stark helped them purchase. They called it Homeboy Bakery. If you ever fly into LAX, you just might find yourself purchasing something at one of their kiosks.

Today, Homeboy Industries employs and trains former gang members in a range of social enterprises, as well as provides critical services to 15,000 men and women who walk through its doors every year seeking a better life.

  • Father Boyle is the author of the New York Times-bestseller Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, which was named one of the Best Books of 2010 by Publishers Weekly and received the PEN Center USA 2011 Creative Nonfiction Award. 
  • The book received that title because: Father Greg was talking to one of his Homeboys and he said something very profound. He said that ‘jobs stop bullets’.  When the Homeboy heard that he responded ‘Damn G , I think I will tattoo that on my heart.’  Think about it. Jobs help attack poverty and idleness at the same time.”
  • Father Boyle is the subject of Academy Award winner Freida Lee Mock’s 2012 documentary, G-Dog.  He has received the California Peace Prize and been inducted into the California Hall of Fame.  In 2014, the White House named Father Boyle a Champion of Change.  He received the 2016 Humanitarian of the Year Award from the James Beard Foundation, the national culinary-arts organization.

The Things We Already Know Are Truly Right in Front of Our Eyes

My friend Tom, who sent me the article about Homeboy, recalled that his mother would say: ‘Idleness is the devil’s workshop.’  He decided that was why she always gave him lots of chores. My brothers and I can say the very same about our mother. Give kids a  job and they feel pride. THEY FEEL HUMAN.

Another member of the Ignatian Volunteer Core probably said it best. “I think the key to making it work is what Father Boyle calls “exquisite mutuality”. There is no “them” and “us”; there is only “us”.”

Think about the pride you felt when you brought home your first paycheck. You were entering the adult world, taking on the mantel of responsibility, growing up!! Helping your family.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every small town, city and village across our country could see it that way?

PRIDE in WORK.

SUMMER JOBS or JOBS THROUGH THE YEAR: cleaning vacant lots; repairing run-down properties. A wonderful suggestion: statewide and national programs to begin to rebuild our infrastructure. With the right program, we could millions of jobs for our kids. Give them a good start for their lives.

Someone has suggested that doing this would be like starting a revolution. JOBS STOP BULLETS. We as citizens going about our daily jobs of parenting, grand-parenting, having talks with friends and co-workers can spread this message of ONLY US and JOBS STOP BULLETS.

So I just wanted to share this idea with you. Who knows? In conversation with someone looking for summer help or someone looking to help a community, there are ideas to consider, to expand on. Maybe on a small scale the revolution can start with each one of us.

My husband works with the Conejo Valley Youth Employment Services, helping homeless people and high school students find jobs. He talks with them, discovers their interests, what their skill set might be or is tending to. One person at a time he is making a difference. And so is my friend Tom, who sent me this article and has given freely of his medical expertise to people who need it.

One day at a time. One person at a time. One kid at a time–you can tattoo something wonderful on some kid’s heart.

For more about HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES go to http://www.homeboyindustries.org.

Thanks to Tom Essig. And of course, John.