So, it is 2013. I find it’s tragedy that inspires me to come here and put up the first entry.
Hadiya Pendleton was murdered in the last week of the first month of the new year by a man with a gun in the city of Chicago. She died in a park that Google Maps tells me is less than 35 minutes from the town where my sister and her family live. Hadiya was three years older than my niece.
Hadiya’s death made national headlines because earlier in January, the high school drum majorette had been on top of the world, appearing in front of the most powerful man on earth as part of the inaugural parade. And now, she’s gone just like that, for good. Forever.
A lot of questions get asked in when we hear about a tragedy like this. We ask “Who is to blame?”
And the answers come: criminals with guns, people who facilitate criminals’ getting those guns, parents of those kids who use guns, the insane, the misguided, the evil, the individual, society, gun makers, gun lobbyists, guns….There’s no shortage of answers to the question of “Who is to blame?”
And then the question comes: “When will this carnage stop? When will we say enough?” And then, the related question follows: “How do we stop this?”. And then, we get the well-worn answers: more guns, less guns, different guns, different bullets, interventions, regulations. There is no shortage of answers to the question “How do we stop this?”
I think, though, as the death count rises in this brand new year, as the gun debate rages, as laws are drafted as stories like this infuriating tragedy of Hayida Pendleton get told and re-told and told again with different names and ages and places, the question must change.
It’s not “Who is to blame?” ….It’s not “When will this carnage stop?” ….It’s a recombination of these questions.
WHO is going to stop this carnage?
And the answer comes, I think, when every person —every person from ever strata of society, who says she or he wants to stop the senseless violence and the murders and the mourning— every one of us looks in the mirror and answers “Who is going to stop this carnage?” with “I am.”
Not everyone knows how to be part of a national solution to violence, but anyone with a mouth or an email account can ask a question of someone who DOES know. Anyone can get informed and let herself be put to work. It’s time to get informed. It’s time to get involved. It’s time to get to work.
Because this has to stop. This just plain has to stop.
I am dedicating the focus of my blogging exploration in 2013 to this endeavor: to asking questions, to getting involved, to learning, to working, to straying from my comfort zone, and to answering “Who is going to stop this?’ with “I am.”
Because I am horrified. I am ashamed. I am angry. And I want that to start counting for something.
And because that girl didn’t deserve to die with her whole life in front of her.
Feel free this year to be a guide, a companion, or a little of each. “I am” is always better when it leads to “We are.”"
Thanks for reading,
I always sleep on planes. Or, if I don’t sleep, I fake-sleep because I don’t feel like talking to my seatmates. Why is that? I don’t know. But today was a little something different. I was happy to get an aisle seat and passed a quick smile with the lady sitting in the middle. She said “Hi.” Uh-oh, I thought, woman looking for travel chat. I noticed out of the corner of my eye she had a kid with her, but I didn’t see the child’s face or pay either of them much mind.
As I closed my eyes to try to drift off, I heard the mom talking to the child. She was saying the kid had to keep something on until they got to the car when we landed. I was wondering what the heck sweater does this kid need to keep for a two hour flight, and why?
They start talking about other things: if the kid had fun (I couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl yet) in Chicago, and if they liked this or that hospital better. Two weeks away, now it was going to be “back to business.” I thought, hm, vacation is over, and then, hm, mom must be a nurse and they are planning to maybe relocate. I don’t know where I get these ideas about people.
Then I looked over, barely opening my eyes and got my first glimpse of the child at the window. And I saw what the kid was being told to keep on previously: a surgical mask. Protection from all our germs. The child was thin, too. The child was sick. But, I could see he or she had short dark hair, so it couldn’t be any kind of cancer, right? What then? I heard them keep talking. About how the kid hadn’t been to school for two years and was always with the mom. It had to be something. But it wasn’t cancer, I thought. And for some reason, I felt relieved. Because what do I say to a mom, let alone a kid, with cancer?
So I fake-sleep a little more, then I decide, all right this woman has been making enough statements out loud that I think maybe she is looking to converse. As soon as I get my notebook out, sure enough, she asks what I’m writing. I tell her I’m revising a play. We talk about our mutual love of writing. I mention she sounded so much like someone I know from the area, same regional accent. I asked whereabout she lived. Surely local. But as it turned out, she said she wasn’t actually from around here. She then proceeded to tell me the story of the journey she and her daughter had been on. (I’m leaving out names for privacy.) I had been wrong about another thing, too, in my hypothesizing. Her child, a girl, 7, did in fact have cancer.
The whole story was quite something. Diagnosis,chemo, remission and then relapse, surgeries, organ removal, blood transfusions, missed school, separation from family, financial struggle, and all manner of emotional ups and downs. Very harrowing. The kind of thing you hear that leaves you wanting to hug every kid you know and never complain about anything ever again. And she told me with a solidness that said this was the story she and her child lived through. They owned it. They earned it. And she wasn’t going to be afraid of it. She was massively impressive and at the same time completely down to earth.
And all the while as the mom, a woman five or six years younger than I am, is telling the tale, her daughter is sitting like any kid, fidgeting, flopping around, drinking her coke, taking things out of her bag and only paying us sporadic attention but at the same time, staying totally tuned in. And every now and again, Id see she’d be looking over to me with eyes that indicated both curiosity and impishness. What a cute kid. Tiny, shy, but, wow, what she’d gotten through. I imagine she’s made of steel.
We interacted some. The girl reached over and tapped my hand as a handshake. She showed me with her fingers how old she was. She laughed when I asked if she was in seventh grade or sixteen. How could I have possible been afraid of talking to this kid?
I didn’t just see the version of this child from today. There were photos. Her mom had taken thousands on her cellphone over the course of the last years. She wanted her daughter to have a record of what she’d survived. So, I saw before and after shots of the girl. In some she had long dark hair, then no hair, and now, hair about the length of a boy’s, but growing back and fast. Beautiful kid in each picture. She also apparently had two wigs. Today she was sporting a ribbon headband so no one would mistake her for a boy. I hesitated to admit I’d done just that earlier.
The mom said her daughter is a poster child for a cancer charity back where they’re from. She showed me some pictures of events where the girl had been an honored guest. The mom said putting her daughter’s picture out there might elicit emotional responses from people who will then donate to families of sick kids who need help. She mentioned the charity they’re connected with, the Jessica June Cancer Foundation.
Looking to give the girl something out of my purse (the auntly instinct), I gave her my business card. She seemed a bit interested (even though it was a lame thing) and thanked me in the prefunctory sing-song way kids do. Her mom put the card in the kid-purse that kind of looked like a camera case and had some plastic toys in it, the kind kids always have. And I realized I’d wanted the mom to know who I was, maybe in case there was any random thing I could do, maybe because I’d be carrying their story around with me, so they should know my name, a person they had affected for the good.
Truly, they made me braver just by talking to me. Would I have passed by that aisle seat if I’d seen the girl there to begin with? Have I been I afraid to talk to sick kids? Probably a little. I remember passing Children’s Hospital on the way to do the stem cell donation back last year and all but physically shuddering. “There but for the grace of God” go the kids I love. It’s frightening. And there is that unimaginable thought of “I am talking to a beautiful little kid here who may not make it.” (Her mom showed me pictures of kids who’d been in the hospital with them for whom that was true…). Yes, I stay away from that kind of thing. Yeah, this little girl and her mom left me braver today, more sensitive and better prepared–o at least wanting to be more of all those things, realizing my weaknesses. I wonder if they know they did all that.
That’s the power of stories and human connection. Strength and insight. Inspiration and hope. These are the gifts we get from listening, for allowing ourselves to be vulnerable instead of trying to protect ourselves from the bad things and sad stories of other people. Strength and insight. Inspiration and hope. These are the gifts we get for staying awake.
The Jessica June Cancer Foundation. Help individual families facing financial hardship due to childhood-cancer related medical expenses. Quite amazing.
The Jimmy Fund. You know them.
Thanks for reading as always, and hug those kids, people,
So, we’ve all watched a lot of horrible storm footage lately on the news. Pictures and video put the destruction of the mid-Atlantic right in our living rooms, wherever we lived. In the midst of this coverage and the aid efforts, the story of what Sandy did before it hit the U.S sort of got lost.
Today, I got the following letter from Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd, the religious order which runs Sheepfold of The Good Shepherd School & Orphanage. It explains this part of the story:
“Within three months, two storms have caused severe damage in Haiti, Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy. Brother Luc say that whatever was left following Isaac has been destroyed by Sandy and the farm in Leogane *) looks like a desert. Crops everywhere have been destroyed and everyone in Haiti is now forced to purchase food at the market which is very difficult to come by and extremely expensive. The hurricanes have left even more people homeless and as a result more neighborhood people are being fed daily at the orphanage. Thankfully, everyone at the orphanage survived the storms, although many are sick with cholera.”
You can read more about the situation in Haiti here.
This has been a season of great destruction. When there’s need close to home, sometimes among people you personally know, it’s tough to go further afield with your generosity.
But this is also a season of extra gratitude and extra giving. And if you have it in your means to give a little to Sheepfold School, you can do so with a click of the mouse through their website and paypal. Make a notation “Haiti mission” on the paypal donor form under “purpose” to assure your funding will go to the school/orphanage and all the people being served there.
You really will be helping people get a meal and giving Fr Luc and his school a chance to keep pace with the needs there in a very difficult time.
There are many good causes out there. This is only one, I realize. [To help domestically: American Red Cross ]
So, as always, drop your drop in the bucket as you see fit.
Thanks for reading, and again, Happy Thanksgiving,
So, in two days I make a trip to Chicago, or more specifically, South Holland, where I will partake of the best kind of Thanksgiving dinner: the one someone else cooks! In tribute to the season, here is an alphabetical list of 26 things for which I am thankful:
Becca’s Facebook friends. Whenever this blog spikes in readers, it’s because my sister Becca has shared a post on Facebook and her friends, many of whom don’t even know me, take time to read it. Thanks to her and to them.
Captain America. Obviously.
Donors. Thanks to all my friends who are on the National Bone Marrow Donor registry!
Enough of everything I need to have a good life, and then some.
Fr. Luc Joliecoer who runs Sheepfold School in Haiti
Guidance from friends and family who share their insights into social issues and life issues.
Health Insurance. So glad I have it. Let’s everyone have that.
Ivanek, Zeljko. Actor Zeljko Ivanek, for stopping for a photo and autograph at Lincoln Center. Made my month!
Jimmy’s Pizzeria, East Walpole. Best pizza, best price.
Kids who behave.
Loyal readers. The core of friends and family who read this blog every entry and often comment. Thank you so much for making me feel heard and appreciated!
Mom & Dad
Options, so lucky to have so many
People who work for little money, without fame, in dangerous places, to help others
Quiet. We all need it and can’t always find it, so I appreciate it when I have it.
Real Hope For Haiti Rescue Center and Clinic. They’re amazing!
Social workers who help other people’s kids and are awesome parents to their own
Teachers who help other people’s kids and are awesome parents to their own
Uncensored press and speech
X-Ray Vision. I have it. It’s awesome!
Yard. Good pumpkins this year, people.
Zoloft (see previous post lol)
Happy Thanksgiving everyone and thanks so much for reading!
(Beth’s note, February, 2013: Hi friends. It just occurred to me I should probably let anyone who reads this below post from November know: I am doing great! I feel very much myself and continue to be grateful everyday for the many, many people who helped me in a rough patch and continue to support me as I do what I need to do to stay healthy. I feel awesome and life is good. And please, anyone reading this who thinks you might have some mental health problem or other– reach out, get help. Everyone has their thing. Don’t suffer for no reason! Thanks…Beth)
So, where to begin with this one?
The purpose of this blog has been, since the start, to do two things, really: give me a place to process what I learn about things that interest me and pass the information on to any readers who stop by for a read.
Well, the last six months or so, the thing that I’ve been most seeking to learn about and most trying to process has been my own brain.
The deal is this, friends – like millions of people all over the world I have a chronic mental illness stemming from a chemical imbalance. Since the spring, this illness and I have been locked in a bit of a knock-down, drag out. And up until a few months ago, I was not winning.
In fact, I was getting my ass kicked.
I won’t get into the specifics here, because they’re personal (and boring, actually….) Long and short of it, I have an anxiety disorder which a shrink and a therapist have diagnosed as OCD.
Now, for me, it’s not OCD like we’ve come to know with hand washing or counting rituals or spending hours making sure everything in your cabinet is straightened. My version is manifest all in my head and it latches on to a variety of targets.
It’s not a new thing, really, for me, either. It just hit me with a vengeance this time around. There have been some days where the whole “getting out of bed in the morning” thing wasn’t so easy. There have been days where irrational and obsessive fears have colored every minute and left me constantly freaked out. There’s been confusion and desperation. And the illness has effected my work, my relationships, my physical health.
It has, in a nutshell, sucked.
But, thanks to the support of loved ones and the essential help of professionals and medication (“Mm, zoloft! Tastes like chicken!” ), I feel on the mend.
I know there will be a more mental skirmishes ahead, more than I’d like (because I’d like zero more) but I feel armed now, able to defend myself, and assisted in this defense.
And, also, I feel like I can start blogging about other issues in the world again and not just my own stuff. And I wanted to start by offering a few things this whole deal taught me so far, things which may be applied to the big picture:
1. We need to assure no one who needs mental health care is denied it because of money.
I don’t want to get into the politics of health care reform and who should rightfully pay for what, and taxes and all that. I just want to say, human beings shouldn’t suffer when help is available because they can’t afford to pay for that help. Mental illness can be treated and managed and in some cases cured. In my case, professional help and medication have made an enormous difference.
But left alone, mental illness can take a frigging wrecking ball to a person’s life. It can cause pain and suffering and be debilitating.. That there are people no different from me or you who are suffering because they are unable to access mental health care because of money strikes me as colossally unacceptable.
There are the practical rationales for society making sure its people get mental health care: work productivity, the expense of mentally ill people in the justice system or the expense of the fallout from people who are unable to take care of their kids. But there is a moral imperative here, too. I think Nick Kristof put it well when he said, to paraphrase, civilized societies don’t let people who are sick just suffer (and even die).
We gotta figure this out. There are probably fifty different ways to do it. But we need to figure it out. It’s uncivilized to deny people access to care they need because of inability to pay.
2. Get Help If You Need It
I’ve had issues with anxiety most of my adult life. But I never seriously considered therapy. I did this time around because I knew I couldn’t manage it anymore and I also couldn’t stand it anymore. Maybe I was older and wiser, too, less concerned about stigma.
Or maybe I’d just hit rock bottom and wanted to grab any ladder I could find to get me out. I don’t know. Probably a combination of all the above.
I just know I’m glad I went.
And so my pass-along here is: if you’re feeling like something’s not right, whether it’s anxiety, depression, whatever it is - talk to your doctor, talk to a counselor - talk to several counselors til you find one that fits. FIND HELP.
If you don’t have insurance, check into it anyhow and see if you can find someone who will help you. If you’re okay but a loved one is suffering, talk to a professional who can help you manage the situation. If you feel like you can’t get help for yourself, find someone to advocate for you. Talk to someone who you trust and get help.
Getting mental health care doesn’t mean you’re weird or crazy! It means you’re sane and taking control of your life. Seek help if you need it.
3. If you have a mental health issue, you’re SO not alone…
I haven’t talked to a ton of people about my situation. But every person I’ve talked to has told me very quickly in the conversation that they also know people who are doing the therapy thing, taking medication, or dealing with some kind of mental health issue.
In other words, YOU ARE NOT ALONE if you’re in this boat. You will see me, for instance, playing shuffleboard there on the Lido Deck (Love Boat shoutout for my sister lol).
Millions of people have mental health issues. I’m not special in my anxiety/OCD. In fact, I think my pro help finds me pretty mundane. I have yet to impress them at all with my brand of the disease. I’m totally dull.
And you will be dull, too! Whatever you may be dealing with – the professionals have seen it before. And there are regular everyday people out there who know what you’re dealing with ’cause they’re dealing with it, too. You may think no one’s going to get your “stuff”. But you’re not weird or abnormal or part of some tiny odd club. It’s a very prevalent thing. You’re not alone.
A few info links:
So that’s about it, I guess….
….And I want to dedicate this entry to my family: my mom, dad, sister, brother, and in-laws who have 100% had my back through this rough patch. I don’t know what else to say but I love you guys.
As always, thanks for reading,