Tired of Cancer

My friend Carol Hunter died this past Sunday morning at the age of 68, of cancer.

I wrote to her recently about how much her teaching and life have meant to me:

I think the third term of Humanities during my first year at Earlham was the most time we ever spent together, gathering in the Meetinghouse Library four days a week to talk about the works of Willa Cather, Anzia Yezierska, Amílcar Cabral, Basil Davidson, Ayi Kwei Armah and others. I remember the gentle but persistent way you encouraged us to think, to organize our thoughts, and to share them in mature and helpful ways. I remember your way of talking of really hard things about the nature of the world - historical and modern alike - with a tone that was serious but encouraging. And I remember your overall kindness as a professor...I want to thank you for the life that you have lived, the challenges to heart and mind that you laid down for your students, and the ways you have shaped the rest of us through your time in this community and the way you have been as a family. I am grateful to you and for you.

My friend Roland Kreager died on May 28 of this year at the age of 65, of cancer. His obituary only begins to paint a picture of what a kind, active, generous, loving soul he was. He worked hard to create a world that was more just and equitable. Roland surprised me often with his ability to find good and hope within complex situations, even horrible ones. Even within his experience of cancer.

I can only hope to have a small piece of both Carol's and Roland's tremendous perspective on life as I grieve their deaths and feel anger and sadness at how quickly and profoundly a world can be turned upside down by illness.

Unfortunately this particular kind of anger and sadness is not new to me, or to many other people.

And it feels like cancer is everywhere.

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Remembering Bob Rosa

I heard the sad news this morning that Bob Rosa, retired local businessman and community builder, has died in a car wreck, and that his wife is hurt and at the hospital.

I didn't know Bob very well personally, but had the honor to serve with him on a local board, and had the chance to see his passion for making this community a better place at work. My understanding is that Bob gave openly of his time, money and spirit to the causes he believed in, impressively modeling an engagement with Richmond's core needs.

I hope that our community can honor his legacy well, and support his wife Jane in her grieving and healing.

Study Hall with Craig

Cut ApartLately I've been recalling one particular day early in high school. My "study hall friend" Craig and I were giddy with excitement because he had just bought a copy of the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual, a book that was basically the detailed explanation of how all of the tools and technologies in the Star Trek universe actually work. He kept it at his side in the plastic bag from the bookstore, only bringing it out for glances here and there as we tried to avoid the watchful eye of the study hall monitor.

But really, he didn't want smudges on the cover and he didn't want to break the spine, and that was great with me because I would have demanded the same. I might not have even brought the book to school - who knows what could happen to it!? We whispered about holodecks and warp drives, and let our minds wonder. Though we didn't use the word at the time, we were totally geeked out, in awe of this seeming bridge between science fiction and real life. Craig and I only saw each other for this brief period a few times per week, and we'd only seen each other outside of school once or twice, but we had a connection that only comes with being a bit (or, okay, a lot) uncool together.

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August Milestones

It was 10 years ago this month that I co-founded Summersault website development with Mark. We're celebrating with some donations to help improve the community, and a look back at our milestones over the years.

It was 20 years ago this month that my father passed away from cancer. I celebrate his life, the family he left behind, the impact he had on me, and the cycles of life that give the world meaning and possibility.

It was 30 years ago this month that I was born into the world. I celebrate the landbase that sustains me, my health, my successes and failures, my friends and loved ones, my past and future, the hope that drives me, and so much more.

And so here I am, in August of 2007. As E.B. White said, "I get up every morning determined both to change the world and to have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning the day difficult."

Goodbye, Misty the Cat

011 7AOn Saturday, February 24th, my cat Misty died after the cancer she had been struggling with had become too much for her to handle. It was a loving and peaceful death, and she was buried near one of her favorite spots in the yard.

Misty had a long life - upwards of 16 years - and was a wonderful companion throughout. I never thought of myself as a "cat person," but I inherited her from other family members and she grew on me. She didn't always have the warmest disposition when you encountered her at first - in recent years I think she had forgotten what her "nice meow" sounded like, so every entreaty or remark, even the happy ones, were done in the tone of a kitty with better places to be. But she made friends with strangers quickly, wasn't afraid to look a little silly in the name of effective and comprehensive play-time, and always knew when it was time to cuddle up. And bless her heart for tolerating my experimentation with various gadgets that were meant to make her more comfortable - the automatic litterbox cleaner, the battery-powered timer-based feeding contraption, the elaborate windowsill lounging surface structures. I think she sensed my good intentions all along, even if she didn't share my enthusiasm. 🙂

If you want, you can make a donation to 1-800-Save-A-Pet.com in honor of Misty - they help homeless pets all over North America to get adopted into loving homes like the one she had.

Goodbye, Misty.

It makes me want to kill myself

IMG_1161.JPGEvery now and then (and several times recently), I'll hear someone use That Phrase, and it tends to be jolting. They have a troubling experience, and when they are recounting it, they say "it made me want to kill myself." Variations often include "it made me want to slit my throat" or "I wanted to blow my brains out" or, less violently, "Oh my gosh, I just wanted to die."

I know that the people who say these things usually intend them to mean "I was so embarrassed/disturbed/upset/whatever by that experience that it numbed my senses and temporarily made me unable to function." And I suppose that in an age where finding just the right expression to boldly and cleverly convey our complex emotions (perhaps without really revealing what they are) is all-important to being cool, using the very raw and attention-getting experiences of suicide, death and dismemberment as material is an appealing way to go. When someone says that something was merely "horrible" or "shocking," it's easy to tune them out since there are so many horrible and shocking things shown to us every day. But when they effectively say "it made me want to end my life," we're not yet so desensitized that we don't sit up and pay attention, at least for a little bit.
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When people driving cars kill people riding bikes

IMG_0031.JPGWhile I was in Chicago this past week for the professional technical conference some of us from Summersault were attending, we were walking to dinner one night and witnessed the driver of an SUV come within inches of hitting a cyclist. Despite the fact that the driver was rushing to turn through a yellow light, in typical big-city style, the driver of the SUV had the additional gall to yell at the cyclist to look out where she was going and then speed off. The biker was shaken up a bit but carried on fine, and we went on our way.

Not the most positive exchange, but at least the cyclist wasn't actually hit and hurt or killed. Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of the death of Earlham graduate Jessica Bullen after being struck by a driver in Madison, Wisconsin - her story and memorial fund are described here. Even more sadly, Jessica was a strong advocate (in a town that I consider quite biker-friendly already) for cyclists and worked to raise awareness for motorists that inattentive driving could result in a preventable injury or death. My life has been impacted in other ways by similar deaths - a good friend of my family started Fernside, a now internationally known center for grieving children, after her son was killed on his bike as a result of being struck by a car.
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Justifying war, values training for war makers

Hung out to dryIn my eighth grade English class, Mr. Sweeney asked us to write a persuasive essay and then deliver it to the rest of the class convincingly. The United States had just sent its military to the Middle East to expel the Iraqi forces that had invaded Kuwait, and that was a hot topic of discussion and controversy. As a part of these events, the head pastor at my church had recently delivered a sermon on what constitutes a "just war." It was a good sermon - contemplative, balanced, and challenging without being preachy (beyond the normal degree to which a white man adorned in robes standing in an ornate pulpit speaking down to a congregation with an amplified and booming voice is "preachy"). Because I admired this man and trusted my church and had not yet at that point in my life encountered any other theories of war, I found myself thoroughly convinced that the use of force by my government in that case was justified. I thought it was a perfect topic to use for my own persuasive speech.
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Weighing the Value of Life

I think that one of the hardest things a person can be asked to do is confront the value of their own life weighed against that of the world around them. But we see the tensions of this confrontation everywhere - balancing our self-interest against our service to others; balancing our concept of the good life against the survival of other species and the environment they live in; balancing our intense love for a small group of people against the thousands of neglected and unloved that die in some unknown place.

Last night, I saw one of the recent movies to come out about wars and the nature of the experience for those fighting in them. This one was about Vietnam, and it did an amazing job of contrasting the emotion and intensity of individual participants (American and Vietnamese) against vast scenes of death and destruction, hundreds of lives being ended violently and quickly and without prejudice. But the overall feeling I walk away with is awe at the magnitude of the loss of life. The movie tells us that loss of life on this scale can be worthwhile - that sacrificing spouses and parents, hundreds at a time, is sometimes necessary. And, perhaps unfortunately, this is the message that is absorbed from these films, more so than the sense that the loss of any particular man or woman is in itself a horrible tragedy. For who can bear the burden of reflecting on the pain and sadness of any and every widow and widower, son and daughter, mother and father that would hold their loved one no more?

When I wake up this morning, I go into the kitchen and see on the front page of the paper that a local high school student has died in a car accident. The picture on the front is of my housemate Charlie, a volunteer firefighter, wading around a half-sunk, overturned car in an icy creek. Charlie says that the shot was taken right before he went under to try to find the kid. We talk about the rescue effort, how cold it was, and how sad it is. "Poor kid." Thinking about the shock and the sadness and the sense of loss that his friends and family will experience breaks my heart as I sit and stare at the words on the page.

But how can I put it into context, how can I think about the loss in terms of all the loss that was experienced that day, even in that hour, around the world? How can that tragedy be weighed against images of boys the same age as the accident victim being shot, stabbed, blown up, and burned as they run through the forest fighting for a country that will notify their next of kin via telegram delivered by taxicab?

At either extreme, the value of life is sharply more understandable than in the relatively mundane existence that is common in the middle. There is the sense that I am doing an injustice to that boy and those soldiers by worrying about my plans for the summer, stressing over too many meetings, pondering my weight and my exercise regimen. I know that I may never have an opportunity to truly experience the appreciation of simply being alive because I may never understand how good life is, and how easily it slips away.

The resolution, it would seem, might come in the form of relativism - the sense that the value of our lives can only be completely known when taken in the context of those around us who we love, fight for, and miss when they are gone. It is too cold to say that because life HAS been lost on massive scales in the past, the value of an individual life is decreased. But neither does it feel right to say that we must all mourn deeply and at length over the loss of every stranger...again, who can bear that burden?

Even in relativism, I can find no peace. But it is perhaps the unanswered question - what is life worth - that can inspire us to seek ways of living our own lives that pay tribute to those who no longer have life, and to those who miss them.