Thursday, February 28, 2013

Are Our Lawmakers Capable of Passing Humane Laws?

(Birmingham News photo)
A brief article (“Latinos plead with Sen. Jeff Sessions asking him to help them andtheir families”) in the Sunday print edition of The Birmingham News reported a town hall meeting in which our senator, Jeff Sessions, was confronted by Latinos in the audience about the reality of their lives here in our state. Sessions’ initial response was that we should abide by the laws of our country.  Later Sessions admitted that our government for 20 or 30 years has failed to address the immigration issue.  So Jeff Sessions loves to fall back on making sure we treat the issue of immigration in accordance with our laws, but as a member of the law-making body he is just as unwilling as the rest to make changes that would allow for a sensible and humane immigration policy.

If it did not benefit our society to have undocumented immigrants working here, they would not be here. Increasingly over the past 2 or 3 decades, we have willingly paid these immigrant people to mow our lawns, do our housework, clean our hotels, dig our ditches, work on our construction crews, and do any number of dangerous jobs in the meat-packing industry and other types of unskilled labor. We have used them for our advantage (or I should say, our society has).  Now we are getting a little uneasy and anxious. It is as though we are shocked and outraged that all of these aliens whom we have employed at low wages (and without reporting said payments) are somehow in our midst. We resort to passing harsh immigration laws rather than making it a more reasonable process.

It is quite telling that on the front page of the same edition of the News there was a “50 Years of Progress” article about how this state relied upon unreasonable laws to prevent African Americans from exercising their rights as citizens back in 1963 (see "Threats. Bombs. Love. Hate. Descendants of local civil rights figures reflect on 1963")  On one page we pat ourselves on the back for how far we have come; on the other page we celebrate the fact that we are still relying upon unfair laws to suppress those who provide us with their hard labor.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wednesdays with Dorothy: Matters of Health

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Dorothy standing
in front of her apartment
As I was walking up to Dorothy’s doorstep one afternoon for our  appointed time to sit and talk about her life, her neighbor who lived in the adjoining apartment greeted me and asked how Dorothy’s story was coming along.  Dorothy’s neighbor seemed like a nice lady, though admittedly a bit eccentric.  She collected plants, storage crates, and cats, all of which could be seen lining her porch and spilling out into the yard.  When I had asked Dorothy about her neighbor, Dorothy indicated that she didn’t want to have anything to do with her. “That lady can’t keep her place clean, she has all them cats, and you hear her wandering around talking to herself. She’ll wander out at night, too, collecting cans and stuff.”

Dorothy had also told me about her upstairs neighbors with whom she had some occasional contact – and she was on friendly terms with them  but she kept some distance between herself and her next-door neighbor. So while Dorothy managed to maintain a circle of friends, like anyone else, she had some limits as to who she let into that circle.

In my conversations with Dorothy, matters of health would come up from time to time. I had been with Dorothy in the hospital a few years before when she underwent surgery for colon cancer.  Before that she has suffered a heart attack and had to have a stent placed in her coronary artery. There was another time that I visited her in the hospital when she was admitted for respiratory problems due to congestive heart failure. On that occasion she was just a just a couple of floors up from where I worked, so I was able to pop in on my lunch break and after work.  With her age and her history, it was only natural that we would talk about her health form time to time.

During one of our conversations, she talked about an emergency trip to the ER and then went from there to recollect another hospitalization when she had surgery:

When that fluid builds up in my lungs, that’s when I lose my breath. One night I went to bed, I couldn’t get to sleep. I couldn’t get my breath and I called 911. They come and I come out on the porch and flagged ‘em down and they come on in. I told ‘em I couldn’t hardly get my breath. They wound to taking me to the hospital at UAB. Well, Dr. Craig got that oxygen pump and put it on my mouth and they started with me down to the emergency room.  I was on the gurney. Somehow I could see Jesus – I couldn’t see him with my human eye, but I could see him with the eye of my heart, you know. He was standing there looking at me. I reached my hand out and he took me by the hand. I said Lord, I love you because you died for us all. And he looked at me and said, “I love you to, my child.” He was standing there with me. When I reached again he was standing there at the foot of my bed – they had already moved me to a bed and he was at my bedside. I looked up and smiled at him and he vanished.

It really made me feel good. They finally got me to breathing well. The first time I went to the hospital, it was a Sunday night. I had a room on the West side. I thought I could hear a revival going on – I mean it was a good Holy Ghost, Spirit-filled revival. The preacher preachin’ and people singin’ and shoutin’ and coming to the Lord to be saved, and everything. I thought they were singing so pretty, and the devil wasn’t nowhere around because Jesus wouldn’t let him in the picture. I could hear them preachin’ and singing’ and shoutin’ and I never did want it to end. I thought, God’s gonna do something. When I come to I was saying, “God’s gonna do something, God’s gonna turn something around, God’s gonna do something” I was saying it to myself, then I got pretty loud with it. I was really enjoying it – and I finally went to sleep.

When they gave me that shot of morphine when I had my colostomy surgery, I was laying in the room that night. I seen a lady out in the hall, I didn’t know who she was. I said, “Hey lady come here.” She came in and said “What is it Miss Burdette?” and I said I would like for you to get my oxygen straightened out because my urine is going in to my oxygen.”

She said, “No it’s not,” and I said “Yes it is. My feet’s all twisted up and how about you fixing it so I can move my feet?” She did the best she could and said, “Now is that all right?” and I said “Yeah, I think it is,” and I finally went on to sleep. The next day, it must have been in the morning report, because the nurse came in and said, Miss Burdette, I’ll never give you another dose of morphine.”

*   *   *

Talking about hospitals prompted Dorothy to reach back further in her memory when she was younger and had to go to the hospital:

I had one surgery when I was down in Thomasville. Dr. Green had to take a piece of skin off my cervix to see if it was cancerous, but it weren’t.  Then I had to go back and work at the motel. Well I got sick and the lady I was working with had a fellow take me home, well she didn’t know he was dog drunk. We had a good little ways to go, and it was pouring down rain. He kept asking me did I want to go to Westbrook, or somewhere and I said no, just get me home or I’ll get out and walk. He finally got me there. I got out and slammed that car door and went in the house and shut the door. My blood pressure went way up and I had to go to the emergency room!

One of the workers at the center took me to the emergency room. They took my blood pressure. I was so sick I threw up what little bit I did eat. They kept me over night, then I went back to my house the next day.

*   *   *

On another visit I asked her how she managed her medical appointments and kept track of her medications:

Now I have a medicine nurse, comes on Wednesday, or either Friday.  She comes every two weeks. She puts all my pills in my pill box so I don’t get mixed up about what medicine to take when – I take so much now. My friend Lana arranged to have my medicine sent in the mail.

If I have to go to the doctor, different ones will take me. Lana, when she can, takes me, and another friend of mine when I can get her to come by. I hate to call a cab. One time my case manager had a cab come pick me up for my doctor’s appointment, and he didn’t know where he was going.  He took me way down the hill below Family Practice. I had to go back up the hill, and when I got up there, I completely lost my breath. I thought I’d never get my breath back. I used to could walk, but now I never can get up a high place without my legs giving way.

Another time I had a cab to take me to Dr. Hayes’s office, and he didn’t know where to go. I kept trying to tell him and he just went way on, I guess a couple of miles past Dr. Hayes’s office. He asked me, “Is this it?” and I said, “No! You done gone too far!” He turned around and found a guy driving a truck and he asked him where it was. I thought “You idiot, I told you where to go.” Then when we got there and I got out, I thought, “Dear God! I don’t never want to ride with him no more!” It was the same way when I used to go to the Food Stamp Office.  

Next week we will hear Dorothy talk more about how her day-to-day needs were met, and also see how much she loved having her own place that she could call home.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Monday Music: Hurt (Johnny Cash)

I only recently discovered this video recorded by Johnny Cash the year he died and considered by many to be his epitaph.  It is certainly one powerful recording. This is what The Christian Left said about the video: 

Johnny Cash was a class act and a Christian. He was a flawed man, like all of us, and he knew it. This is a Nine Inch Nails cover. It was the last video Cash ever did. When Trent Reznor saw it, it brought him to tears. He was said to say, “That’s not my song anymore.” 

Born on February 26, 1932, the famed country singer died at the age of 71 on September 12 2003.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Faith and Experience

“God of our weary years, God of our silent tears…”

Our life experiences will shape how we understand our faith. Back in 2008 when the Rev. Joseph Lowery began the benediction at the first presidential inauguration of Barack Obama he opened with the words, “God of our weary years, God of our silent tears…” he was quoting from a hymn. The hymn was “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” by James Weldon Johnson. That hymn, first performed in 1900 during a ceremony commemorating Lincoln’s birthday, became known as “The Negro National Anthem.” It was moving to see the white-haired gentleman pray those words which seemed to reflect his experience and that of so many others. Here is the hymn in its entirety. The third verse is the one used in Rev. Lowery’s prayer.  

Lift Every Voice and Sing
By James Weldon Johnson

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou Who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou Who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wednesdays with Dorothy: With a Little Help from my Friends

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We often use the term “independent living” when referring to people with disabilities living in the community. When I was Program Director at the St. Andrew’s Foundation, we hosted a seminar about teaching independent living skills to adults with developmental disabilities. The seminar leader drove home the point that what we are really talking about is interdependence rather than independence. None of us so-called able-bodied individuals live truly independently. We are all interdependent upon one another for a variety of things. Everyone lives by getting help from others. For those with “normal” abilities, knowing how to find the help that is needed is part of how we make it in society. Or as The Beatles famously sang, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

Dorothy managed to keep a network of friends who helped her to get by in life. She was able to live her dream of having her own apartment and to come and go as she pleased by enlisting the help she needed from friends around her.  Sometimes help came in the form of social services, and sometimes it came from the friendships that Dorothy had in the community and at her church. At the time of our interviews, Dorothy was in her elder years and needed a bit more assistance in her home than she had in previous years. One day I asked Dorothy about how she managed to get the things she needed in order to live comfortably in her apartment.

I have to have help getting to my doctor’s appointments.  Some of my friends over there at the church will take me sometimes. Sometimes Ros (former secretary at St Andrew’s Foundation) helps out.

I used to go over to the office at St. Andrew’s to get help with bills and appointments. I did have a case manager, she left and I got a new case manager now. The folks at MRDD (Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities) don’t work with me no more.  I’m under a different system where they have a nurse to come in and help with my medicines and a cleaning lady helps me clean and another lady comes to help with my bath.

There were about three or four of them that came yesterday, including my new case manager. They asked if anything ever happened, an emergency or something, like a flood or a fire, did I have anybody to stay with. Lana told her that Ros lived up on the hill or I could go with her. They said something about a shelter, but I do not want to go to no shelter.

My MRDD case managers would always make sure my doctor’s appointments were taken care of and that somebody would take me shopping. Sometimes they would carry me shopping, but Fred Pinto made them stop because they didn’t have insurance on the car in case there was an accident.

Miss Lexis Buford was my case manager, but I’m not with the MRDD no more. Now they’ve got me on Medicaid Waiver. It happened that they moved me from MRDD to Southern Hospitality, then they got me on Medicaid waiver. A case manager came by my apartment.

So they help out where I need help. I’m not with the Southern Hospitality any more. It’s where people come in to give you a bath or launder your clothes or clean your house –other people come in now. I still get out and clean up the porch. I try to pull the weeds out from around the porch.

When I was at Partlow, there was a girl used to wash and iron my clothes till I started working in the laundry and learnt how to do it myself. I’d put my clothes in a pillow case. She would take them to wash ‘em and then she’d bring ‘em back. She was one of the residents there.  I thought about getting me a washer and dryer over here, but there’s no place to put one. Now I have to get somebody else to wash my clothes. The lady that comes over here washed them one time. I used to get e girl that goes to church to wash my clothes. She goes to school now and she can’t do it no more. I used to do it but I can’t walk up the hill to the Laundromat no more, I get plumb out of breath.  When somebody comes to wash my clothes, I have to give them some change for the machines. I used to have some from Southern Hospitality, but I don’t use them no more because I caught one of those ladies going in to my refrigerator. This girl that used to do it, she don’t come up here very often now, She won’t come at all if it’s raining. She don’t have no transportation – she has to get somebody to bring her over here or either she’ll ride the bus.

I’ve got one lady that comes in to help in the apartment every day, and one that comes every other day. Sometimes one of them will wash my clothes but they just put them in a bag and leave ‘em.  They’ll come every other week to wash ‘em.

I was down there 35 years [at Partlow], and then I got out. I was assisted how to use a coin operated laundry and how to match my clothes and everything, and how I used to walk downtown by myself. I’d go down to Five- points and over yonder to Western Supermarket. I’d still love to do it but my legs won’t allow me to do it no more.

Sometimes my cleaning lady will come and fix breakfast. I mostly fix it myself, but sometimes she’ll fix it. I usually fix them veggies strips when I got ‘em. Then I’ll fix toast and eggs sometime, maybe grits or oatmeal. I like jelly and butter, homemade jams, and things.

One time Harry took me over to Sylacauga to try to meet my cousin. She was so mean and nasty and she acted like she didn’t even know who I was. I thought sure she would be glad to see me. We hadn’t seen each other since we were children. She was about seven and I was about five. But she just made me feel unwelcome. I felt like I wasn’t welcome anywhere except at home and at church. 

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Monday Music: This Befell Us

Sometimes bad things happen, even when we "do everything right." I heard the song "This Befell Us" several years ago on John Michael Talbot's CD recording, Simple Heart. I found it to be a moving and honest cry that comes from all of us at some point in our life if we dare to be honest. Here the psalmist teaches us that it is alright to question God and to bring our case before him. I thought this would be a good meditation during the Lenten season. I don't know the visual artist, Debbie Heys, but I am glad she has made this Talbot recording available on You Tube. (Scroll down if you want to read the lyrics)

This Befell Us (Psalm 44)
By John Michael Talbot

This befell us though we had not forgotten
Though we never had been false to Your word
Though our hearts had not withdrawn their longing
Though our minds had not strayed from Your word

You have crushed us to the place of sorrow
Covered up with the shadow of death
You make us like the sheep for the slaughter
And scattered us among the nations of the earth

(Repeat Chorus)

You continue to reject and disgrace us
No longer seen to dwell with us
You make us now the taunt of our neighbors
The laughingstock of all who draw near

(Repeat Chorus)

All day long my disgrace is before me
My face is now covered with shame
This befell us though we had not forsaken
We had not been false to Your name

Awake O Lord, why do You sleep and slumber
Arise O Lord, do not reject us again
Awake O Lord, hide not Your face
Stand up O Lord and come to our aid

Friday, February 15, 2013

The State of our Union – a Mixed Bag of Hope

A Brief Look at President Barack Obama's Second Inaugural Address and the State of the Union Speech

Capitol Hill  (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Within the span of a few weeks I have twice heard what I consider to be inspiring words from President Barack Obama. I hope that anyone who feels differently about the president’s remarks will bear with me for this short space, because I am not entirely on board as far as political enthusiasm goes yet there are some reasons for me to have hope.

When poet Robert Frost visited Washington D.C. late in his life, he was making some comments at a public gathering. He said that some people wondered what his political affiliation was. He told the group that he had never stated it publicly, “but if you read what I write, you’ll know that I’m a Democrat.” After a brief pause, he added, “But I haven’t been happy since 1896!”  In my case,  I have never joined a political party, but readers of this blog will know where my sympathies usually lie.

I will never forget that night watching the Democratic convention in the summer of 2004 when an unknown Barack Obama delivered the key note address.  He declared that “there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too: We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States, and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.”

As he continued with his speech I said to my wife, “this guy could one day be our president!” I did not imagine that that day would come as soon as it did. Fast forward a bit and you see the harsh realities of governing in a land that is polarized by ideologies and political gamesmanship.  Even Obama’s greatest achievement in passing healthcare legislation was, in my opinion, not nearly what could or should have happened. But then, there is the reality of governing and moving things forward when there is intractable opposition.

The Second Inaugural Address

Now as we stand at the beginning of a second presidential term, I continue to have some hope, but I also have some reservations. We’ll do the hope part first: The president’s second inaugural address was one that was full of light and hope. Here are some statements that stood out for me:

“This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun. America's possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it - so long as we seize it together.

“For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other - through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security - these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

“We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.”

The State of the Union Address

Inaugural addresses are supposed to be a unifying vision statement of where we would like to be as a nation. The state of the union address which has become an annual affair in modern times is not without ceremonial value, but it is also part of the president’s constitutional duty to report to the congress as to the state of the union. It tends to be more of a platform to outline the political policies that the president would like to see enacted.

The president’s state of the union address last Tuesday was, once again, an inspirational speech that gave me cause for hope. I liked, for example, the president’s statement that we should decide to finally listen to what science is telling us about climate change, and that if congress did not act for the good of the environment, then he would take presidential action. [Side bar statement: I am old enough to remember watching with great concern as a sixth-grader the news reports about trees dying in the hills of Los Angeles due to smog, and Lake Erie periodically catching on fire due to the amount of pollution in its waters. I witnessed the country respond to those crises by enacting legislation to curb the pollution of our air and water until we saw trees thriving again in California and the waters of Lake Erie running clear again. I wonder why we cannot respond today with that same kind of national purpose to do what is needed for the environment.]

For me, the most moving moment was when the President began to talk about the victims of gun violence who deserved a vote. People were standing and applauding, and he continued to speak above the applause with a litany of individuals who deserved a vote on reducing gun violence in our country.  There was also the call to improve our voting system so that no one’s voice is suppressed by having to wait long hours just to cast a vote. These are both significant ideals because it is the vote, not the gun that will make us safe.

The president also talked about getting our troops out of Afghanistan, and I am always glad to hear about the de-escalation of war. As he talked about our national defense in light of terrorism, however, I detected what could end up being the president’s most dangerous policy, and even a continuing blight upon his presidency:

Today, the organization that attacked us on 9/11 is a shadow of its former self. Different al Qaeda affiliates and extremist groups have emerged – from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa. The threat these groups pose is evolving. But to meet this threat, we don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations. Instead, we will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali. And, where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.
As we do, we must enlist our values in the fight. That is why my Administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.
The president did not use the term “drone warfare” but he talked about “a range of capabilities” to “take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat.”  He also alluded to the questionable legality of the use of drones by promising to keep congress informed because “I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way.”

Predator Drone (U.S. Air Force photo)
If the question had not been raised about the country’s use of drones in the Middle East, the president may not have even addressed counterterrorism operations. It is unfortunate that as a nation, we still do not understand that it is the footprint of our empire that breeds terrorism. Our invasion of Iraq only furthered the cause of al Queda, and our dropping of bombs on civilians as we try to ferret out the terrorists only fans the flames of the terrorists. Bill Moyers recently delivered an excellent two-minute commentary, “When We Kill without Caring,” in which he posed the question, regarding drone warfare, “Does it give rise to second thoughts by those judges who prematurely handed our president the Nobel Prize for Peace? Better they had kept in on the shelf in hopeful waiting, untarnished.”

It may be that any man, no matter what his ideals are, becomes imprisoned by the imperial machine when he becomes president of the United States (we’ve yet to see how a woman would respond). One wonders, for example, how Lyndon Johnson would have fared without Viet Nam. He was the president who had the vision to implement Headstart, Medicare and Medicaid. He was the one with the courage to make civil rights legislation happen (at the expense of losing the South to the Republican Party) because it was the right thing to do. But when it came to war, he could not see beyond an empire’s myopic need to fight.  It just may be that our current president will have to succumb to the will of the war machine, even if the war ends up looking remote and clinical in the form of an unmanned remote control aircraft.

My Own Bias (In the Interest of Full Disclosure)

I should state my own bias that shapes my views on what is best for our country. First of all, in matters of war and national defense, I side with our Quaker friends who have steadfastly resisted violence and continue to declare that war is not the answer. In our modern world, diplomacy and engagement are better tools than armies and guns when it comes to stability. The world is now too small, the weapons too big, and the stakes too high for us to continue to rely upon warfare as a means of international negotiation. Someone needs to hold us to a higher ethic than mere  nationalistic hegemony, and the Quakers along with others are doing just that.

In matters of a healthy society, I am for the common good and I take my cue from the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in  Matthew 25 as to how we treat “the least of these.” For me, that parable of Jesus is not just a “final exam” to illustrate who gets into the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact, I do not consider it to be a story about heaven.  I see it as a guide to what constitutes a just and compassionate society that works for the good of all. The parable does not speak of individuals gathered before the Son of God on Judgment Day. The way Jesus frames it, he speaks of “all the nations gathered,” with each nation being judged on the basis of how its marginalized and weakest citizens are treated.  Thus, the test of a just nation and a compassionate society is based upon how the sick, the weak, the needy, the hungry, and those in prison are treated. This is where Catholic social teaching hits the mark, particularly in matters of social and economic justice. In the U.S., we have a good record in some respects of improvements that benefit the common good and which provide a safety net for the down-and-out. In other respects we have a long way to go before we can be called a just society.

On measure, I have hope on this day as we move ahead. On the other hand, I realize that we are still a polarized country, the process of governing is still cumbersome, and any progress will probably come in fits and starts. Nevertheless, we have a chance to make some real progress but we will not get there unless we all get there.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wednesdays with Dorothy: A Speech about Independent Living

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When I was working at St. Andrew’s Foundation as Program Director, one of my colleagues, Edsel Massey, was Outreach Director. Edsel had been working at St. Andrew’s Foundation almost from its beginning. You may remember from a previous post that Edsel went along with then Program Director Harry Hamilton to meet Dorothy when she was first accepted into the group homes.

I remember one day when Edsel got a call from someone at the regional office for the State Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. There was to be a conference at the Winfrey Hotel and the organizers of the conference wanted to let conference attendees hear from mental health clients who were successfully managing independent living. Right away Edsel told them that Dorothy would be the perfect candidate. He called Dorothy on the telephone to ask if she would be willing to go to the conference to tell the people there about her life in the community. Dorothy enthusiastically accepted the offer. Edsel picked her up and took her to the conference on the appointed day. When he returned he was very pleased and talked about what an excellent job Dorothy had done and how she really connected with the group.

It was some years later when Dorothy and I were having our weekly conversations that I asked her about that day.  This was her recollection:

There was this conference at the Winfrey Hotel and Edsel took me out there to give a speech.  I told them about one time when I went down to Five Points. Me and another lady were in Clyde Huston’s I asked for a glass of Wild Turkey, she asked for a glass of tequila. Well I drunk that Wild Turkey, and when I went out, I didn’t know if I was wild or the turkey was wild.  I thought, “Dear God! I don’t never want no more of that stuff!” I told them about that and I thought everybody would fall over laughing. I was supposed to have been making a speech about what we did to live independently. I got excited, and I wasn’t even using the microphone. I was just blaring out and everybody was laughing.

Then somebody else got up there, they were from another place. I don’t know if everybody could hear them. Some lady took us out there. It was at some mental health conference that we went to to talk about living on our own.

One of the conference rooms at the Winfrey

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Monday Music: Make You Feel My Love

Bob Dylan's mastery as a songwriter is seen most clearly when other artists sing his songs, as in Adele's rendition of "Make you Feel My Love" which Dylan recorded on his Time Out of Mind album.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Native American, or American Indian?

Medicine Crow (Apsaroke)
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I usually have tried to use the term, “Native American,” with the idea that “Indian” is a misnomer resulting from ignorance of the European explorers and continuing out of disregard for an appropriate name for America’s indigenous peoples.  Several years ago while attending a cultural celebration of “Native Americans” at Desoto Caverns in Sylacauga, I was interested to note that the “Native Americans” who were explaining their culture to us repeatedly used the term “Indian” when referring to their people.

The late Tony Hillerman said once that he considered himself a kind of “reverse missionary” in his desire to present the culture of the Navajo and other Indian tribes in his mystery novels. In his memoir, published in 2002, he has this fascinating explanation of why it is preferable to use the tribal name or else use the term Indian rather than Native American:  

I have occasionally used the Native American term. I was cured of that failing when the Smithsonian formally established its division for artifacts from tribal history and named an Indian as its director. He came to Santa Fe, a panel was assembled to discuss affairs of this new division, and I was invited to sit on it. There were nine of us, I believe, representing Hopi, Navajo, Mascalero Apache, Taos, Cherokee, Choctaw, and a couple from the Eastern tribes, which had somehow escaped the total extermination policy of our British ancestors. I sat as Mongrel-American. One of the first questions from the audience was what title did the panelists prefer.

The first respondent asked for a show of hands of those in the audience who hadn't been born in the United States. Two hands appeared. Then all the rest of us here are Native Americans, said the Indian. We are all the offspring of immigrants. He said his people preferred to be identified as Hopis, but if you don't know our tribe, call us Indians. So it went down the row, each respondent preferring his tribal name, saying that Indians call each other Indians if they don't know the tribe. The verdict was unanimous, with the Apache adding they were only thankful that Columbus was looking for India and not Turkey. The Cherokee noted that the real insult was to be called Indigenous People. Since the Western Hemisphere had no native primates from which humanity descended, that suggested we'd evolved from something else - perhaps coyotes - and were not really human. The Navajo concluded this discussion by proposing that all be happy Columbus hadn't thought he'd landed on the Virgin Islands - a sample of the sense of humor which makes the Dineh my favorite folks.  (From Seldom Disappointed: A Memoir, by Tony Hillerman, pp. 273-274)

Politically correct terminology often comes from academic circles where people are at pains to correct past offenses.  Sometimes, as in this case, those who come up with politically correct terminology don’t bother to consult the people whom they intend to label with more appropriate titles.  It is as if we have yet another situation of the elite explaining to the poor natives what they should be called.  For now, I’ll trust Tony Hillerman on this one.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wednesdays with Dorothy: Stilling the Anger

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One of the places where Dorothy found support, community, and a sense of family was at Glen Iris Baptist Church, which is just a couple of blocks from where she lived. She mentioned in an earlier conversation about how she had started going to church there after meeting someone in town who invited her to attend. She also mentioned that when she found her apartment and was able to graduate from the St. Andrew’s Foundation group homes, there were friends at Glen Iris Baptist Church who helped her with the move.  She never told me why, but apparently at one point she stopped attending church there, but returned later (as she mentions in today’s conversation) to find a supportive community.

I asked her about how she had dealt with her anger, since Dorothy had shared incidents in which her outbursts had caused her some problems. It was then that she began to share how she had found a spirituality in which the world and her place in the world made sense. It was obvious that Glen Iris Baptist Church was meeting many needs for her. The church offered family, friendship, and community – but it also provided her with a coherent spiritual understanding that allowed her to carry on in her daily life. Here is how Dorothy described it:

“I don’t get mad like I used to. I guess it got where one day I sat down and I were thinking’, it don’t help nothin’ to get mad, does it?  I was thinking that to myself, and I thought, Why do I always get mad? But when anybody mentions the name of Jesus, it takes all my angriness away. I thought, why is that? Then I thought the name of Jesus must have all power in it. Then I began to think, ‘Jesus is God. Jesus has got to be God.’ And that was just how I was thinking. I told a friend of mine, Jesus is God. I could be angry enough to run through a door, then when I heard somebody mention the name of Jesus, I forgot all about being angry.  I could be angry at times; I didn’t really know what I’d be angry about. I’d hear somebody mention Jesus and I’d stop being angry.”

“I’m learning how not to get mad about everything. I try not to get mad, and I thought about how easy I did fly off. Every morning, I get up to make my coffee. Before I make my coffee, I go into the kitchen or on the bathroom, and I talk to the Lord.  I’ve been a-doin’ it ever since 1994.  I said back then that I’ve been going on this way long enough, I better start getting off on the right foot instead of the wrong one. I’ve been talking to him ever since. It seems like the day goes just perfect. He makes the day like a beautiful flower garden.”

“I’ve heard people say that if you talk to the Lord, then everything will fall into place. There’s a lady at church that always prays for me. She told me that she was praying for me, that I’d get back to the will of God. So I did, I started going back to church, and ever since then everything seems to be really really well.  [That’s when I started going back to Glen Iris Baptist Church.] I even went when I was up at that [rehab] center after my surgery.”

“I’ve had people to say, ‘If everybody were like you, the world would be a better place.’  I started going back to Glen Iris Baptist Church after I had my first heart attack back in 2005 or 2006. I had congestion. A neighbor across the street was a nurse. She thought I was having a heart attack and she took me to the hospital. I had to stay there. Dr. Pappapietro put a stent in my heart.”

Glen Iris Baptist Church

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Monday, February 4, 2013

Monday Music: Puffin' Billy

Puffin' Billy is the name of the song by composer Edward White. It was inspired by an old steam locomotive called "Puffing Billy," and became the theme song for the children's TV program Captain Kangaroo, which is how I associate the tune. Here is the song with some photos to remember the TV show with the Captain, Mr, Green Jeans, Mr, Moose, Bunny Rabbit, Dancing Bear, Grandfather Clock, and all the others who entered the Treasure House.

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