It is eight years ago today Dad died. He fell and died later of a brain bleed. The doctor offered to fly him to Billings for more extensive medical care, but I said if he can't be the way he was yesterday, which was laughing and visiting and as healthy as he could be for 89, then I know he doesn't want to be here. He and Mom gave my brother and me such a gift. They let us know what they wanted so there were no decisions concerning heroic measures. When the time came, whatever it was, Mom dying of leukemia after 15 years, and Dad dying suddenly, they were ready and consequently, so were we. Death came as part of the natural order of life. Alive, alert, interested to the end. My mother made this statement near the end of her life, "God is in charge and with God in charge, nothing will be bad."
Recently I read a book titled Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, a surgeon on the East Coast. It came to me in a roundabout way. My cousin, who lives in Chicago, had the book recommended to her by her pastor. When I heard about it I asked my brother, who reads constantly, if he knew it and he did. He gave it a high recommendation so that was enough for me. And now I, in turn, will recommend it to you.
Atul's book was a #1 New York Times bestseller. Because his parents, as well as himself, have been successful surgeons, he is deeply immersed in the practice of medicine. But rather than dealing just with facts about a patient, he wanted to know about that person and what their needs were as they were aging and ill or just ill. He learned, through hospice workers and on site visits and talking with people about the far more important question than just 'how long do you want to live'. The better question was phrased 'how do you want to live the last days of your life? What do you want to be able to do?’ Into the former question was all the medical procedures that can keep our heart beating, but provide no quality of life. The rephrased question was about living.
I was intrigued by the many men and women the author visited with in learning about practicing medicine in a more humane way. Running through the book was the diagnosis of the author's father with inoperable cancer and how the family wrestled with the disease to give him the best life he could have up to the last.
Depending on where you are in your life, the recital was deeply moving, thought-provoking and really a book about loving life right until the time we say, "Good-bye." It provides a view of death that is peaceful and a loving look at what it means to be mortal.
I read three good quotations in one day last week. I find I like to let the ideas tumble around in my head for awhile and it is amazing what my brain cells come up with. Mythology says that Athena, the goddess of wisdom, was created full blown from the mind of Zeus. I wonder if that means that ideas, when allowed to rest in our minds for a time, will spring into being fully formed?
Anyway, the first two ideas were from Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, philosopher, and contemplative.
Unless our hearts are transformed, our fears will continue to manipulate our politics, reinforcing a polarized and divided society.
Our job — tear down walls and build bridges.
Now both of these quotations create an umbrella over our current political situation. I listened to hearings from the House of Representatives the other day. The individual subjected to nine hours of questioning, for all practical purposes could have been somewhere else. There were no substantive questions, only accusations, and the view of the House of Representatives’ committee tearing each other to pieces with personal innuendos was an embarrassing view of what was supposed to be democracy in action. It was partisan politics at its worst, regardless of your political persuasion.
What are we going to do to turn this farce around? Both sides cry out for “freedom and democracy” and all we are doing is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy centered on the quotations above. We are a polarized and divided society and we are building walls and digging chasms between each other that will take a generation or more to repair. As I get older I sometimes see a vision of a bombed out city, maybe I watched Planet of the Apes or too many sci-fit movies. Culture and an organized society are gone and like medieval Europe the land is ruled by a few lords who control vast swaths of the country. All sense of organized rule or government is gone. The crux of the story is always, we did it to ourselves.
Building bridges is such a basic exercise in creating peace and justice for all. We begin by forgetting about ourselves and our ideas and focusing instead on people, those near to us, but also around the world. And we do it by putting a face on the billions who live and work with us on this planet. When speaking about the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin said it so well, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
My third quotation is one from Bill Moyers, contemporary historian and journalist, on a subject of much concern to all Americans. The antidote, the only antidote, to the power of organized money in Washington is the power of organized people.
The political action committees have taken over our elections and we are pawns to the amount of money they will spend to elect one-issue candidates to office. The amount of money being poured into Montana, for example, in this Senatorial race is frightening. It goes back to our early history when Senators bought their seats in Congress. It is why we had to pass the 17th Amendment (1913) for direct election of Senators to be sure they represented the will of the people. The prime example was Montana’s Senator William A. Clark who spent huge sums to get elected to Congress. He tried once and failed. (The following is from a website sponsored by the U.S. Senate historical society)
“Nine years after his initial disappointment in 1890, William Clark won the Senate seat he so avidly desired, presenting his credentials on December 4, 1899. The Senate admitted him immediately, although on the same day his opponents filed a petition charging that Clark had secured his election through bribery. The memorial asserted that Clark had spent far more on his election than the $2,000 permitted by an 1895 Montana law aimed at controlling political corruption. The Senate referred the matter to the Committee on Privileges and Elections, which quickly asked for and received authorization to conduct a full investigation into Clark's election.
On April 23, 1900, after hearing extensive testimony from ninety-six witnesses, the committee returned a report unanimously concluding that William Clark was not entitled to his seat. The testimony detailed a dazzling list of bribes ranging from $240 to $100,000. In a high-pressure, well-organized scheme coordinated by Clark's son, Clark's agents had paid mortgages, purchased ranches, paid debts, financed banks, and blatantly presented envelopes of cash to legislators. In addition, the winning margin in Clark's election had been secured by the votes of eleven Republican legislators under suspicious circumstances. Clark did not enhance his position when he admitted that he had destroyed all his personal checks that dealt with campaign transactions.”
How we say “no” and then support our candidates with our money will be a huge move in freeing this country from outside control (Russian and others) of what should be free and open elections. It will place in office men and women who owe no allegiance other than to the people and the Constitution of the United States.
It is good to read other ideas and let them roll around in your head. May the Goddess of Wisdom guide us in freeing ourselves from old stereotypes and allow us to see people and issues in new and liberating ways.
As the calendar settles over the 4th of July holiday, I am always drawn to thinking about the history of our country. Whether you are interested in history or not, it seems that every generation is called to participate in and shape the events which occur in the time in which they live. And the question we must ask ourselves is, “did we measure up to what we were called by history to achieve.” Did we move forward in human rights?
In the movie The Fellowship of the Ring, the little Hobbit Frodo is overwhelmed by the events that have removed him from his cozy little life in the shire of Hobbiton. Deep in the gloomy Mines of Moira, Frodo speaks to the wizard Gandalf, “I wish I had never been born into these times.” Gandalf responds that no one chooses the time into which they are born. “What is important is what you do with those times into which you are born.” A similar story comes from the ancient Old Testament, the story of Esther, Queen of Persia, called to save her people from destruction. The king and his court do not know the beautiful queen is a Jewess, but in the time of trouble, her cousin, Mordecai, comes to ask her to help save her people by intervening with the King. When she hesitates Mordecai tells her, “Who knows but what you have been called to the kingdom for a such a time as this.” She is called to a personal bravery which saves her people.
When Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings series he was writing out of his experiences in the trenches of World War I. Millions of young men died in the mud and the poisonous gasses and the horror and Tolkien felt compelled to write about war and its consequences and how each one of us participates in our own time and place.
Some introspection at this moment in time is justified. Each generation has had to deal with monumental moments. Hindsight tells us that sometimes that generation acted well, but not always.
The early 1900s was a time of industrial change. There was the rise of labor unions and the battle to help the working class to fairer wages and better working conditions. There was a huge influx of immigration and the west was opened to free land through the Homestead Act and the promotions of the railroads. World War I sent the best of that generation to France to fight and die and to support Europe against the Axis powers. The worst appeared in this country in anti-German mistrust and persecution. The twenties were an age of irresponsibility, of financial corruption and the rise of organized crime with prohibition. African Americans were killed without mercy and the Ku Klux Klan rose to new power. Economic depression, dust storms and drought in the 1930s called on a dogged stubbornness just to survive. When World War II came there was a real “can-do” attitude that was a call to arms and patriotism for men and women alike. The allies won because of the industrial power of the United States. The persecution of the Japanese Americans was one serious flaw in that shining moment. When the 1950s rolled around we had to deal with “Jim Crow” laws which for too long had kept African Americas from the equal rights that belonged to them. Nuclear war was a reality we lived with and the Cold War with Russia was never far away. Vietnam and Civil Rights and women’s rights came to the front in the 60s. The War on Poverty was a movement to right the economic wrongs of many decades and a new “green” revolution called us back to the Earth. In the years that followed we have continued the battle for peace in the world, fighting a new enemy in terrorism, watching the rich get richer at the cost of the middle class and seeing equal opportunity fade into the background. Medical costs have created a fearful gap for the poor and the increasing numbers of the jobless and homeless have been part of the cost of our new society. Climate change is creating a new world-wide rootlessness as supplies of food and water become precious commodities.
Now a new generation of Americans is having to face a future that is promising but also fraught with concern. Not only the issue of unchecked immigration, but also a widening gulf of mistrust and hatred are dividing the county as nothing since the Civil War. This divide has to be bridged.
The work to create a world in which we can all live together peacefully, where no one forces their own ideas on another is never completed. One generation flows into another and we are each called to step forward and take a stand on the issues of our own time and place.
The call of America is always the need to reclaim the freedoms given to us by natural right. We do not abridge or take away what was originally given. Our fore fathers and mothers created a new country and laid out a system of government that still works. They have our eternal gratitude. It is a great responsibility to be an American. “We do not choose the time into which we are born. What is important is what we do with the time we are given.”