During the winter months, I keep my radio dial set to the local station. I like to stay on top of the snow, if you get my drift.
The morning radio show is a potpourri of news, weather, traffic and calls from listeners. Recently, an upcoming "snow event" was obscured by a virtual blizzard of callers discussing "The Annual March For Life." I must admit I was ignorant about the topic but there was definitely something appealing about a march for life. It was certainly preferable to a "march for death."
During the days of the Vietnam War, I had been possessed of a touch of "march madness" and had joined many a protest in my small effort to stand up and be counted. And, when the war ended, I felt that we had had an impact on ending an abomination.
Last year, as the drums of war began beating once more, I attended a huge march in New York City. It was part of a worldwide demonstration against the pending invasion of Iraq. And yet, despite the vast sea of faces in many cities across the world, Bush and Company began another abomination.
Cynicism encountered helplessness and I questioned "what's the point? And so, even though more demonstrations followed, I stayed home, the words of an old Phil Ochs song "I Ain't Marching Anymore," spinning on my mental turntable. I put away my fife and drum and hung up my marching shoes.
However, on this frigid winter day in January of 2005, the "March for Life" had aroused my curiosity. I tuned my attention to the flurry of radio callers.
The Annual March For Life is an event in which people protest the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe V Wade decision.....a decision which recognized abortion as a constitutional right. And when that decision was made, a raging controversy was born. On one side of the issue was the Pro Life faction who felt that abortion was murder and that it was their duty to stop the slaughter. In opposition, was the Pro Choice crowd who argued that the ultimate decision about childbirth should rest with the mother who housed the baby for nine months. And, if Mom decided to keep the child, the attachment would not be severed with the cutting of the umbilical cord.
Which position was correct? Is abortion murder? When does life begin?
Unfortunately, there is no consensus of when human personhood starts. Even if there were, there is no agreement on the conditions under which an abortion should be allowed.
Science can tell us, with increasing detail, the processes that start with a sperm and ovum and end up with a newborn baby. However, science cannot tell us if the fetus has a soul. Science cannot tell us when the products of conception becomes a person. Science cannot inform us as to whether a zygote should be given a full set of human rights. These are questions with philosophical, religious and political aspects. Science cannot contribute much towards resolving them.
The callers on the radio show had expressed anger at Planned Parenthood for their role in terminating pregnancies. I was surprised, however, to learn that Margaret Sanger, founder of the American Birth Control League (now Planned Parenthood), opposed abortion. She lamented the resort of poor people to "the most barbaric method" of family planning, "the killing of babies -- infanticide â€“ abortion." (My Fight for Birth Control, 1931) Sanger told clients in her first clinic that "abortion was the wrong way -- no matter how early it was performed it was taking a life." (An Autobiography)
Another issue that further muddied the waters of clarity was the effect of abortion on the mother. What was the psychological impact of such an experience?
Simone de Beauvoir, the French Existentialist writer and social essayist supported the legalization of abortion, although she vividly described its emotional damage and injustice to women: "Men tend to take abortion lightly; they...fail to realize the values involved. The woman who has recourse to abortion is disowning feminine values, her values...Women learn to believe no longer in what men say...the one thing they are sure of is this rifled and bleeding womb, these shreds of crimson life, this child that is not there." (The Second Sex, 1952)
Although the heated and sometimes violent debate rages on, one thing is obviously clear. What starts as a friendly encounter between a sperm and an egg, over a nine month period wondrously develops into a person. And usually, sometime during the ninth month, nature evicts a living, breathing baby from Hotel Mom. Will there be a loving, happy family to welcome the new arrival or will it find itself sliding into the abyss of the unwanted and unloved?
The issue grew more perplexing. My position as a "fence sitter" had been uncomfortably assumed. And as I sat perched on the spokes of indecision, I listened to the arguments coming from both sides. People recalled the days of illegal abortions which fell disproportionately on the rich and the poor. Those with money would leave the country, if need be, to terminate a pregnancy. The poor, on the other hand, were often subjected to back alley butchers.
Speaking by telephone, as the protesters gathered in the biting cold for their 2005 anti- abortion rally, President Bush said that although outlawing abortion remains a distant goal, it is one that seems to be moving slowly into view. "The America of our dreams, where every child is welcomed . . . in life and protected in law, may still be some ways away," Bush said. "But even from the far side of the river . . . we can see its glimmerings." "In our time, respect for the right to life calls us to defend the sick and the dying, persons with disabilities and birth defects, and all who are weak and vulnerable. And this self-evident truth calls us to value and to protect the lives of innocent children waiting to be born."
I read his words with shock and awe. Respect for life? What about the trail of corpses we are leaving in the Middle East? Didn't they have a right to life? What about the adults and the children savagely and needlessly murdered? Didn't they have a right to life? What about the babies who are being born with birth defects and no quality of life for however long they do survive? Didn't they have a right to life? For those who have ears to hear, reports are available of Iraqi babies being born with hideous deformities; deformities caused by the depleted uranium that was once called air. Babies are being born with one eye.....babies are being born with half a brain. Didn't they have a right to life?
Perhaps it is our duty to protect the unborn....but shouldn't we have some allegiance to the already born? How can people, who profess a reverence for life, justify killing innocent people in other countries? Aren't they also entitled to the right to life? Perhaps you can shine the flashlight of understanding on my confusion. Perhaps you can explain to me why, at the March for Life in 2005, a telephone call from the bomber of Afghanistan and Iraq pleaded for the sanctity of life.
If we are going to talk about protecting life, we cannot limit that protection to the fetus in utero. We must extend that protection across the boundaries of race, religion and geography as well. If we are going to talk about the sacredness of life..........it must be for ALL life.
A Capital Offense (January 20, 2005)
With great ambivalence, I decided to watch the inauguration of George W. Bush.
"Why?" you ask.
I wish I had an answer. I've never fancied myself a masochist.
The luxury of time permitted me to read a few emails before the "festivities" began. Among the letters was an article called "The Poorest of the Poor" written by Judy Jones. The article described Ms. Jones' experiences at Mother Teresa's house for homeless men and women dying of AIDS, in Washington, DC http://tcrnews2.com/JudyJones1.html
" A young woman in her early twenties was sitting on the side of her bed. She was dying of AIDS.. "Would you please put some cream on my legs, they hurt so badly." Reaching for the cream on the dresser beside her bed, I gently rubbed some on her legs. "Oh thank you, God bless you," she said."
I finished the article and turned on the television in an attempt to focus on the other event in the nation's Capital.....the swearing in of the recipient of Mr. Diebold's gift. Words like "integrity" "character" and "treatment of others" came out of the moving mouth on the screen. The lofty words rang hollow. The empty, scripted smirk was drawing applause from an adoring flock, while, inside my head, visions of deformed and mutilated babies in Iraq were now being joined by the sick and the dying at Mother Teresa's Home.
Judy Jones had written:
"As Sister took me downstairs to the basement where the women's beds were, I heard screaming. Walking up to the woman, I said, "What's wrong, may I help you?"
The woman appeared to be in her nineties, all shriveled and tiny. The Sister told Ms. Jones that they had found her lying and dying in the snow. It was not unusual for the home to receive phone calls about people who were left to die on the streets of Washington D.C.
Meanwhile....at the Capital, part one of the extravaganza was finishing. The inauguration was over, or more precisely, it was en route to the inaugural lunch where scalloped crabs and lobster headed the menu. Somewhere between the 17th use of the word "liberty" and the 27th use of the word "freedom", I had lost my appetite.
The promises for the remaining reign had been made. They were penciled on the calendar of uncertainty.......along with "liberty" and "freedom." The speech had contained some obvious omissions. There was no mention of the war in Iraq. Perhaps the President did not want to sully the joyous occasion.
What would be first on the Administration's Agenda? Would it be the plundering of the Social Security System....a successful program that is being targeted for privatization; a successful program that, regardless of the propaganda, is not in crisis. Plans to revamp the program could devastate the elderly who depend on the small stipend to survive. The revamping could birth a need for more facilities like Mother Teresa's home.
I reread the article by Judy Jones. Each paragraph was filled with the anguish of the dying destitute. Each paragraph was a display of loving kindness shown to people cast aside by an indifferent society. Each paragraph was a reminder of the intolerable reality that in a nation of incredible wealth, we allow people to die....abandoned ...suffering......alone.
I contemplated the distance from the Capital of the United States to Mother Teresa's Home......................................................................Eternity.
Let No Man Write My Epitaph ... I Will Write It Myself (January 11, 2005)
The year 2005 was a turning point for me. By taking an early retirement from my job at Social Services, I freed myself from the constraints of a cluttered schedule and wandered happily into the abyss of unstructured time. Sure, I still held my part-time job teaching piano students, but that was not overly consuming. And so, not only had I emptied out my "Daily Reminder Calendar", but I now found myself with a curious "perk" ......I had more time to think. But....think about "what?"
For the past few years, my days have routinely begun with a trip through the Internet to get the news. Usually, it's a "bad trip."
First there's the world news. The weather changes continue to wreak havoc on the planet. Deaths are climbing numbers......like the national debt ticking away in Times Square. I can't help but wonder how many people are aware that each number represents a once living feeling human being; each number was once flesh and blood...someone's loved one. Each number leaves behind a legacy of sorrow to those whose lives were touched. And yet, too many people are so removed from the pain and suffering that the numbers become lifeless......more lifeless than the bodies they symbolize.
Lately, there are those who are questioning whether certain natural disasters were, indeed, "natural" or had, somehow, man's murderous hand been implicated? I realize that I have digressed and perhaps will subject myself to being labeled a "political paranoid" and placed on 5 or 6 SSRIs. I do, however, find it difficult not to question everything, especially when there has been such a disturbing amount of tampering with the atmosphere. After all, "Pick a flower...disturb a star."
To add to the drama, lest you not forget that there are at least two wars going on. These wars are leaving a legacy of devastation and disease for generations to come. How many more casualties will there be in Iraq? And let's not assume Afghanistan has gone away because it's not making headlines. In addition, while I am traveling through the Middle East, has anyone seen the way the Palestinians have been forced to live? How many more injustices will be perpetrated in that region because somebody's "God" gave one group of people land that another group was living on? Is there any end to the greed inspired land grab?
And then, of course, there's the local news. On the home front, our culture is growing fatter and sicker. Our food contains everything but nutrition. Our demineralized soil is hardly an incubator for life sustaining food. Drugs are ingested more routinely than drinking water......despite the news that much of the medicine does more harm than good. Ever hear of the rebound effect? To add insult to injury (and a well placed cliche) the economy is in shambles and service oriented programs are being cut, poisoned and burned. Ladies and Gentlemen "your tax dollars at work"
Yes, the news contains a paucity of peace agreements, a dearth of columns of compassion and a scarcity of selfless acts of service. There is very little nourishment to go with the whine.
When I was but a bonnie wee thing, I, like most bonnie wee things, had my own lovely pair of rose colored glasses. However, as I grew older, the glasses were ripped off and crushed under the foot of life. Please do not despair ....... it was not as tragic as it sounds. It is my belief that disillusionment is an important passage. Nobody should grow too comfortable suckling at the breast of the Mother Kali.
Remember how the Buddha's father attempted to shelter him from the cruelties of life? One day, however, the Buddha left the womb of the palace and saw the aged, the infirmed and the poor. It was at this point, that he took the "hip hop" off the stereo and set out to find answers to life's deeper questions.
I was not born in a castle, but my parents were middle class creatures of comfort. I never knew "want" in a physical sense. I did, however, understand emotional "want." I set out on my own at 21, and moved from a comfortable existence in "dull as dishwaterville" to the world of the hippies and the disenfranchised. Greenwich Village became my home. At the time, I had recently begun teaching in Harlem, so I had one foot rooted in reality. I taught young minds by day, and at night I opened my own doors of perception. I'd traded a fashionable brownstone for a tenement dwelling.......yet I had, at the same time, traded mundane concerns for real life issues.
There are many people who turn a blind eye to the suffering of the poor and the infirmed. "They brought it on themselves" is not an uncommon comment. Did they? I hardly think it matters. "What are we going to do about it?" is a much more relevant question.
I joined the staff at a public school in Harlem in October of that year. I was placed in a class while awaiting a more permanent assignment. The teacher asked me if I would focus on a young boy named Gregory. She disliked the child and her actions made it obvious. While she struggled with her feelings about Gregory, I struggled with similar feelings about her. Gregory was a sweet child who responded well to the attention I gave him. When Christmas came, he brought me a gift. It was a handkerchief and though, obviously not new, it had been laundered, folded and wrapped. What a beautiful present that was.
Those were the years before Harlem had gone through its renaissance. Some of the apartments I visited made my village "crib" look palatial in comparison. There were many poignant stories during those years of teaching and even more dramatic ones in my years at Social Services. When I look back on those days, I feel a sense of gratitude that is palpable.
Please don't misunderstand me. There is nothing saintly about me, and, to use an overly used phrase, some of my sins have been quite original. And yet, as this planet becomes more and more strikingly the domain of the "haves" and the "have nots", I am acutely aware of the countless opportunities for generosity, kindness and charity.
After my second divorce, I took my three children to Montego Bay in Jamaica. I did not want them to thunk that life on the Island was a Holiday Inn so I hired a driver to take us through the mountains. The children were amazed at the way the people lived. It was a sobering experience and one that I hope contributed to their recognizing the importance of sharing.
And so, in the year 2005, I find that I am spending more time in contemplation. Every day I am confronted by the finitude of my existence and yet every day I am also given opportunities to make my life more meaningful. Isn't that our purpose on Planet Earth? Aren't we all Buddhas in the making? I like to think we are. You see, when I took off the rose colored glasses, I put on the lens of greater clarity. Each one of us must find our own answer to the question of meaning. Perhaps we will never change this planet into a 1950's sitcom, but, personally, I don't believe that is our raison d'être. Perhaps, at the end of the day, Earth is merely a workshop........a stop along the journey.
Before You Pop That Pill (January 5, 2005)
Remember the commercial in which an elderly couple were dancing to the strains of "Celebrex....Celebrex" ? Without being unnecessarily grave...............I wonder....where is that couple now?
This has been a tough year for painkillers. One by one, they are being accused of crimes more heinous than the pain they promised to alleviate. One by one they are being dishonorably discharged from their proud positions on pharmacy shelves. What a disgrace for pills that once so proudly claimed to cure our ills. Vioxx, applauded in the past, has been kicked out of the medicine cabinet. Soon afterwards, Celebrex followed.
Anyone who has watched a pill commercial has had to have been scared painless. The commercial usually opens with a person or persons having a peak experience. Sometimes they are dancing ecstatically. Other times they are playing ball with their children, their previously incapacitating arthritis no longer interfering with their joie de vivre. After witnessing the miracle of the miracle drug at work .......the voice on the television, as a sort of afterthought, mentions some side effects. "Do not use if you are pregnant or suffering from diabetes. Tell your doctor if you are experiencing cramping, shortness of breath, palpitations or sudden death."
Recently I read about small intestine damage in more than 70% of patients who took non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug painkillers for more than three months. I am not certain what small intestine damage translates into but it doesn't sound pretty.
I grew up having a doctor for a father. Now don't go thinking that I am some wealthy doctor's daughter and start looking up JUDE10901 in the phonebook. My father never made much money. He did, however, warn me about the evils of certain common drugs. Dad put the image of a bleeding stomach on the aspirin bottle. I was never a candidate for aspirin since I was one of the people who, upon ingesting it, merely "traded a headache for an upset stomach." .......a trade agreement as undesirable as NAFTA.
Recently I read that Ralph Nader's Public Citizen organization is calling for 181 drugs to be removed from the marketplace because of lack of safety or ineffectiveness. The article went on to say that "an estimated 30,000 - 40,000 lives were lost before the FDA begrudgingly took action to recall Vioxx. These are astounding numbers. We all shake our heads in sadness and grief over losing 3,000 Americans in the World Trade Center tragedy, but far too few people talk about how pharmaceuticals are killing huge numbers of people.
In 1997, Britain recalled Rezulin, an anti-diabetic drug, when it was shown to be toxic to the liver. Why did it take another three years before it was removed from the marketplace in the "colonies?" Aren't our livers equally as vital?
When I started working for Social Services, I was placed in The Employment Unit. It was my job to help clients find work. I recall one man who came to me shortly out of prison. He told me that before he was released, he had tested positive for HIV. They put him on AZT. Prior to receiving the drug he had felt fine, but afterwards he had chronic diarrhea and lost 40 pounds. He took himself off the medication, started gaining weight and was feeling great when he came to my office. I don't know what ultimately became of him.....but I do know that AZT was not the answer to the question his life was asking. Remember that AZT was first tested at The National Cancer Institute, where it proved too toxic for further trials. AZT was said to "cause' or "exacerbate" immune deficiencies in humans.
"So...why give it to a person with a compromised immune system?" you ask. I ask too.
My mother, on her deathbed, told me that the cure for her cancer was worse than the disease. How often is this the case? After being cut, burned and poisoned for three years, my mother passed away. I can only wonder how much needless suffering she experienced. I also wonder how many more effective and less toxic treatments were available.
We are in the clutches of the medical / pharmaceutical establishment as we crawl into the doctor's office begging for relief from our maladies. We put our faith and trust in the man or woman with the white coat. Most often, I believe, the physician is doing his best to help. He wants to see an end to the suffering as much as the patient does. Too often, however, he has taken Brainwashing 1.1 in Medical School and is unaware that the treatment being prescribed is deadly. Too often, he has been conditioned to laugh at alternative medicine and call it quackery. ( I will resist a nonsensical duck pun, and not make any comments about the "bill")
As more information becomes available.....more doctors are becoming aware of how they have been misled.
Doctors were told by NIH researchers that high-dose vitamin C (beyond 200 milligrams per day) is excreted and produces “expensive urine.” A newly published report reveals earlier studies were flawed if not intentionally designed to fail, and oral-dose vitamin C can achieve blood concentrations three times greater than previously thought possible. [Annals Internal Medicine 140:533-7, 2004]
Two years ago, Bill Sardi authored an e-book called The Collapse of Conventional Medicine after reports that estrogen replacement therapy, arthroscopic knee surgery, prostate cancer surgery, bone marrow transplantation and radical mastectomy for breast cancer were "worthless and possibly problematic" treatments.
More and more Americans are considering alternative treatments for their medical problems.
An article in the Washington Post called "Alternative Remedies Gaining Popularity" by Rob Stein (Friday, May 28, 2204) stated that:
"A new government survey of more than 31,000 U.S. adults nationwide, the most comprehensive assessment of the use of alternative medicine in the United States, found that 36 percent are using some kind of "complementary and alternative" therapy."
Obviously, there are extremes on both sides. I have seen my share of snake oil salesmen claiming that their potions cured everything from erectile dysfunction to cancer. I am not suggesting gullibility as a substitute for good medical treatment. Obviously, there are extremes on both sides. I have seen my share of snake oil salesmen claiming that their potions cured everything from erectile dysfunction to cancer. I am not suggesting gullibility as a substitute for good medical treatment but perhaps it is time for the alternative practitioners and the conventional doctors to draw up a peace plan. The most efficacious treatments, may, indeed, lie somewhere between the two.
Turning The Page (January 2, 2005)
On Friday December 31st, I bid Social Services a fond adieu and embarked upon a new career....or, more accurately, no career. Both natural and unnatural disasters have reinforced my awareness of the fragility of this planet. The Tsunami was a wake up call.......but everyday there are many, many more. Too often they are drowned out by the noise of our daily lives. And though, I am not positioned at my piano singing "The Eve of Destruction" I am, I believe, a voice of reality, crashing against the wave of my own mortality. Whatever time I have left is precious.
My incarnation as a Caseworker was not without reward. The lives I touched and the people whose lives touched me will go with me in memory.....forever. The knowledge that I was able help an occasional person.....to make an occasional life a bit better for my having been in it.....was the pearl of great price. It helped to balance the ever present stress.
The job of the Caseworker is challenging. I worked with families but I did not live with them. There was only so much that I could accomplish within the constraints of time. Anyone who has read a newspaper is well aware that when things go wrong, it is the Caseworker who is blamed. In the past, headlines have screamed about Caseworkers being "guilty" of missing signs and symptoms of family dysfunction leading to such dire consequences as abuse and, in the worst case scenario, death. Remember Lisa Steinberg?
Several years ago, a baby died in a family with whom I was working. The cause of death was ruled SIDS....and it occurred in the middle of the night. No Caseworker could have prevented it.. .....no finger of blame was pointed. However, the image of that beautiful angel in her casket is etched into the mosaic of my memory. It goes with me as I leave my job.
Helping others is an unwritten mission statement on planet Earth. The planet is in serious need and one does not have to be a Caseworker to respond. It only takes open eyes and an open heart. And yet, too often, we are self absorbed.... consumed by our own story lines. Too often we are seduced by our private dramas and distracted by the voices in our heads. Too often we are so busy saving for our personal "rainy days" that we have nothing to give to others.
The last day at work was, for the most part, like any other day. And then, at the close of that day, I passed my cases to my coworkers and had one last celebration with them. We hugged and I set out on the ride home one final time. The landscape was changing......but I was not.
"We make a living by what we get and we make a life by what we give"
Copyright Judy Andreas 2005