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And Die in Despair April 14, 2008

Posted by voolavex in dying.
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No one wants to die.  Even mentioning it creates magical thinking for many and therefore could make it happen unintentionally.  Best not to even think of it.  In fact,  best to think it out of existence because no one really knows what happens when you die.  Who would volunteer for a trip with no brochures, no return ticket and no tourism minister?  It is either so damn great that there is a confidentiality clause as soon as you sign in or it’s such a hideous nightmare that no one wants to invite anyone else there.  You are on your own.

You’d think.

Being born is a huge deal – the operative words are:  “push, come on, push, it’s coming, push, here it comes” and slick as a Willy out comes the new person – greeted by family and friends and ready to take on the world.  Women love to talk about labor – how long they suffered or how fast it went or how bad it felt or how well they did.  It’s just a subject that never seems to get old. For mothers.   And to make it even better – when you are in labor – assuming you are due – the medical community eggs you on;  puts extra stuff in your IV  to speed up the process and if need be, cuts you open.  Or both.   Getting born is a time sensitive enterprise.  And it can’t happen fast enough.

But try to die.  Not suicide or murder – just regular, “time’s up, time to die”.  You cannot die when it’s time.  The process of passing away is so complicated, dragged out and hideous, that unless you go in your sleep without a sound – your own personal end of life is going to be harder than hell.  Imagine if you can, a person who is going to die from various causes thwarted every step of the way by everyone.  Doctors, nurses, relatives, friends, even strangers impede the process like a relay race. If you think back to having a child (if you are woman or a man who participated in the event)  here is the analogy:  every time you got ready to actually expel the baby, someone stepped in and made you stop.  And they could do this as often as they wanted. And you have to play along.

Someone I cherish deeply is in exactly this place right now;  stored in a constant care, old folk’s home.  She is dying but she cannot die.  She is lost inside herself and cannot communicate.  She cannot eat on her own nor can she eat solid food.  These are some of the things she will never do again: She will never taste a ham sandwich, clam chowder, pizza, chocolate ice cream or a Pink’s hot dog again.  She is not able to take care of her most basic needs. She will never flush another toilet.  She will never laugh again at the Golden Girls; she will never be a golden girl. She arrived at this place in her life from the ravages of diabetes and she is not going to get better.  She has reached the end stage of life.  When she does speak, she cries for help or says “no more” or simply “no”.   The people who care for her are extremely good to her. But the entire situation is a mine field of unspoken wishes, permission forms for medications that cannot restore her to health and a sad, circle of hope and hopelessness that  grow like a field of yellow weeds – beautiful yet useless.  This year she had flu shots and pneumonia shots.  Both these afflictions could kill her so we couldn’t risk that.  Last week a dentist came in to see about x-rays, crowns or dentures.  To raise her self-esteem?  No reason was actually offered because there was no good reason for any of it.  But we must seem to be hopeful and pro-active.  She is not on a respirator, but I know it will be suggested at some point – the inability to breathe without help is a part of dying.  We dare not even mention this.  There is a kindness and compassion that exudes from the staff where she stays.  Religiosity factors in, but more than that, it is a part and parcel of those who care for her and her family, who love her.  Even those of us who are   exempt for the idea of miracles. The others weigh the sadness of her death with the even greater sadness of her diminshed life now. As I see her and watch her leave us by small increments I ask myself – would I want this for myself and the answer is no. Major faiths decree that life is given by God and only he is allowed to take it.  Wars have been fought for dogma such as this.  People have died defending this faith against those who don’t.  None of it makes much sense. 

Dying is a lonely event.  We may not hasten it for reasons that have vexed mankind for eons.  We may not argue that the right to a dignified death is equal to the right of a dignified life.  We speak in euphemisms and ifs and maybes because any other terms are suspect.  Secretly some of us pray for the dying to die.  Openly we deny the very thought.  The criminal who is hastened to a pre-destined death may even have a reason for gratitude.  It may seem wrong, but it’s quick and final. The innocent merely get a life sentence without possibility of a decent death. And in all the time of mankind this question has existed and has never been resolved.    If we live in hope – must we die in despair?

So this is for the person I cherish and love.  Not an answer but an acknowledgement that when I think of her, this is what I think.  And it is a promise to her as well, that when she finally dies,  I will remember all the days we shared, the secrets we whispered and I will be as grateful for these memories,  as finally, I will be for her death.

The Content of Our Character April 5, 2008

Posted by voolavex in Uncategorized.
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When I was a teen-ager, the worst fight I ever had with my father was about the Freedom Rides. Incredibly, he had raised me without  bigotry in 50’s America (think about it – it’s a rare and fragile gift ).  I was 15 and had saved enough money to get on the bus and register voters and he told me simply “no”.  I accused him of being a bigot.  But his explanation was simple.  He was terrified I would be killed by white people.  Idealistic and wet – I  had no comeback and so I didn’t go. I have never forgotten the fight and the lesson it offered.   He clearly knew things that it would take me a lifetime to learn.  It has.

Martin Luther King, Jr. has been dead for 40 years but his elegant dream ended long, long ago.  Not in the hearts of daydream believers – but in the cold reality of the nightmare that is America’s endless, ugly hypocrisy toward stolen and sold humans who got here as slaves.  We created – in that awful business-  a unique American that is refused a real home here and one who cannot go back home again.  Yet who belongs more?  As I waged my own war for Civil Rights in the 60’s – I never gave a thought to the fact that there should never have been this war to begin with.  That after Emancipation, freed slaves – Americans through and through, should have simply been treated as emancipation decreed.  This was the dream that began on Juneteenth and started a process that saw colleges, schools, businesses and mobility among newly freed people in the United States until about 1876. Brave, ingenious people who invented their own forty acres and mules in as many ways as there are ways to imagine.  People, forbidden to read or write, whose first acts included those very skills that should have brought them into American history and society as a success story for the ages.  Instead 18 states created Jim Crow laws that mandated “separate but equal”; laws that continued a slavery that exists into this new century.  If separate but equal had been a statement of fact – not an invention of bigots – the freed community might have still flourished.  The status of equal in the equation might have allowed this community to create an infrastructure rivalling that of the other America – the same way that immigrants, after Ellis Island opened for immigration in 1892, created the Emerald Society, the B’nai B’rith and other ethnically centered welfare organizations that kept traditions alive, while allowing each group to mainstream on their own terms, into the common population.  Most immigrants at first, even practiced a version of their own Jim Crow,  in subtle ways, with churches, synagogues and fraternal groups that excluded some and welcomed others.  And it worked for them,  to a large degree.  But the real Jim Crow  was none of these things – and least of all was it equal.  These vicious laws ridiculed and subjugated freed slaves; cleverly engineered to ignore their rights as citizens. A State’s Rights free for all to keep them down and back and trodden upon for as long as they lived.  Jim Crow and his ugly twin De Facto Jim Crow would not allow them to rise, to learn, to create, to prosper.  The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was not a triumph for anyone – it merely restated what should have been in effect since the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment on December 18, 1865.  Ninety-nine years later, after opportunistic Americans of all backgrounds demonized fellow citizens descended from former slaves, this act was passed to honor  a promise dishonored and never kept. One year later The Voting Rights Act tried to do the same thing

So I believed in that movement – I lived that movement – I admired the activists who created that movement.  I revered Dr. King and I believed what he believed.  It took me over 40 years of close observation and anger to realize that he was trying to make a silk purse out of a 346 year Holocaust that was illegal and immoral.  He used his pulpit and his reason to shepherd people into a path of truth gone cold. But he tried.  And he died trying.

He is still a hero to me, nonethless, and deeply deserving the respect and admiration of every American.  Perhaps someday we may even see the dream come true.  And we are reminded, on this 40th anniversay of that dark day at the Lorraine Motel, that he dreamed and hoped for the lives and future of not only his people, but all people. And as so many of us outgrew or abandoned his truth and this fight, we  have still failed to realize that in fact, it was the content of our character that was in question.  It still is.





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