Words, Still Mattering

My stomach turns to read about the shooting at a Congressional baseball practice outside of DC this morning.

WaPo reports that the shooter had a problem with the current GOP administration. Certainly this story is still developing, but I don’t think this was a random thing.

Let’s be clear. I have a problem with the current GOP administration too. That doesn’t mean I want them dead or injured, it means I disagree with them and want them all voted out of office.

To make our voices stand out we get overwrought, couching our language in grandiose terms like “traitors” and “dangerous.” Some people will hear those words and believe that there is a drastic response needed. You might try to wash your hands of responsibility there, but I won’t let you. You choose your words to make an impact, you can’t control what that impact will be.

From 2008-2016, we saw Tea Party protesters carrying signs about the tree of liberty being being watered by the blood of patriots. I’ve heard more than one demagogue say that liberalism is a mental disorder and liberals are defective. I really feared that Obama would be assassinated.

Now that the GOP is in charge, the same dangerous rhetoric has fired back up. Liberals don’t have the same existing network of mouthpieces via cable news and talk radio, but it seems like the democratizing force of the internet is well-functioning here. It’s easy to share memes or say outrageous things on social media. You can’t control how they impact others.

We have got to take it down a notch.

Like 50 notches, really.

Stop lumping people together as “repugnicans” and “libs.”

For the love of all things holy, stop believing that a person who disagrees with you is your enemy.

What’s ruining this country is not Trump or Obama or Pelosi or even that big jerk Paul Ryan. It’s us – you and me – who blur boundaries. We think that if we find out one little fact about a person, like their voting record, that we can attribute all kinds of other convenient and neatly predetermined traits to them as well.

Guess what? We really aren’t that smart. We certainly aren’t immune from flawed patterns of thinking.

So let’s stop taking the easy way out. This isn’t a western. There aren’t white hats and black hats. We need to behave responsibly.

Just take a freaking breath, stop screaming about tyranny, and focus all that energy on looking out for each other instead.

Beyond Words

My kids went to a Catholic grade school. For those of you not familiar with the system, let me introduce you. The population waxes and wanes at my kids’ school, 50-100 kids per grade matriculate in the same building from first through eighth grade (kindergarten and preschool now too, by the way, but not when my kids were that age). It’s a big one by today’s Catholic school standards, but still a relatively small school option. Like most Catholic schools, it tries to stay affordable by relying heavily on volunteers. Sports, classroom aides, chaperones, scouting, theater, other extracurriculars, all staffed by parent volunteers. Most families see each other at Mass on Sundays too.

In other words, we interact. After 8th grade kids scatter – there are several excellent public and Catholic high school options on our city. My son’s class graduated 8th grade last year; his class of approximately 80 moved on to about seven different high schools. Life changes.

My last post was about the reporting of a suicide in the local news. The boy was a senior at a Catholic high school, one well-attended by graduates of my kids’ school.

Sadly, beyond sadly, sadly beyond words, the topic moved closer to home within hours of that post. A boy from my son’s grade school class died by suicide.

I could write volumes here about what it’s been like to be a parent and member of the parish through this so far. Maybe someday. Not today. It’s still an unnavigable whirlpool in my brain.

One lesson I learned from having cancer is that the search for an answer to why is a pointless and destructive waste of time. I’ve tried to impart my hard-earned wisdom over the last couple of weeks – the pursuit of the unknowable distracts from what matters. Even if you could know what he was thinking the moment he decided, it wouldn’t satisfy you. The best we can do, I’ve advised again and again, is accept and figure out how to move forward.

All the while, my hypocritical self has been trying to figure it out why.

I get the urge. It’s the same as wanting to understand why people get cancer. In part, in large part perhaps, we want to know how we can be sure it won’t happen to us. We want to point to something and say AHA! See!  That’s what caused it and that does not apply to me. That beast will never get any closer. Guaranteed.

Into the abyss of non-understanding, we toss answers that fit our narrative.

People suspicious of social media blame it. People who had lonely teenage years wonder if there was a lack of close relationships. People who’ve struggled with mental illness ask whether there was something undiagnosed. People who see the world as a dark and chaotic place see this as something that could happen to anyone.

Me, I’ve been wondering if high achieving kids are more at risk. In this theory, kids don’t learn how to struggle in the early years because things come easy. Once they do hit the inevitable wall, they don’t know how to cope or ask for help.

You don’t have to look very far outside my four walls to figure out why I’m wondering that.

As the expression goes, we don’t see things as they are, we see things as WE are.

Apart from a gazillion other things that I’ve learned in the last couple of weeks, I’ve learned that I need to stay aware and let go, not just of the need to know why but of my belief in the existence of why.

Recognize it and let it go. Over and over and over.

Shine

Yesterday as I was driving my son to his high school, traffic reports advised that a close-by road was closed because of an accident. I avoided it on my way in but had to drive past on my way to work. News crews were everywhere. Hm, I thought. Must be a big accident.

I googled once I got to work and read this:

Earlier this morning, the driver’s mother called 911, according to a recording of the call.

She said he left their home in White Oak in the middle of the night. He has expressed suicidal thoughts and has been depressed, she told a dispatcher.

A tracking device inside her son’s green, 1998 Toyota Avalon showed the vehicle was stopped where the highway ends just before Montgomery Road, she said.

It also indicated the vehicle was going 112 mph, she told the dispatcher.

The mother said she feared her son’s vehicle had crashed, and he was not picking up his phone.

Out of the ordinary. As both my children are in high school, I felt queasy.

Sure enough, later in day I read that the driver was a senior at a local high school and had died. Local outlets report that the crash is under investigation – no references to the early morning report about the mother’s 911 call.

If you find yourself thinking, “Out of respect for the family” or “Now’s not the time” I ask you two questions:

  • Is suicide the only cause of death that is withheld out of respect for the family?
  • If not now, when?

I’ve argued here before that sticking mental illness into dark, shameful corner respects no one. We have to shine a light on the issue of mental illness and depression before we can begin to understand it.

Here is a list of resources I’ve posted before.

Most important:

Crazymaker

A few years ago, I read a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Her words helped me frame out some of my own nebulous ideas, none more so than her concept of Crazymakers. The name pretty much says it all – people who bring chaos into your life. As much as I have found crazymakers and crazymaking appealing in the past, I’ve leaned that life alone can leave you wondering which way is up. I need people I can count on. Why spend time with people who can turn a calm lake into a wave pool; choppy waters into a tsunami?

As the saying goes, the personal is the political.

There is something very wrong with our country.

I noticed an uptick in collective madness when Obama was elected. People still claim he is a gay Kenyan Muslim who hates the United States. In 2008, I called it the Death Rattle, firmly believing that ugly ideas like racism, classism, and this insipid American idea that we are products of our own bootstraps were expressing their final gasp.

I think I might have been premature. Now I think this is a two men out in the bottom of the 9th situation. When you’re down and nearly out, you take risks you might not otherwise take. As in, Go Big or Go Home.

Hence, Donald Trump.

I’m not going to try to make sense of yesterday’s crazy crazymaking because that’s how crazymakers suck you in. But here is some work others have done.

Smart people believe that Trump’s slim margin of victory in three swing states can be attributed to Comey’s actions during the election season. Now, for these same actions that Campaigning Trump and Senator Sessions used to praise, President Trump has fired Comey, in a terribly unprofessional way. Could it be that he’s trying to shut down the FBI investigation into Russian election tampering? If not, why fire him now for actions taken almost a year ago, when Comey is knee-deep in this work?

And then, in perfect crazymaking form, Trump tries to twist it around this morning, saying that HRC supporters should be happy since they didn’t like how he handled the Clinton email situation anyway.

Mr. President, it is absolutely possible for a person to believe that Comey should have been fired AND question your timing and method. Lots of people reject the “ends justify the means” philosophy of ethics.

Adding to the crazy tornado is the way the alternate universe spins this – as a punishment for NOT prosecuting HRC, even though the memo says something entirely different. In fact, this firing, we are supposed to believe, is about the mistreatment of HRC.

Crazymaking might work temporarily to keep North Korea on it’s best behavior but it also directly contradicts the notion that in the United States, laws matter more than any single person.

I think we’re in the wave pool, heading straight into the tsunami. I told my son today that I feel we’re at some sort of turning point. In the muck of it all it’s impossible to know which way this is heading but I have a pit in my stomach.

Will our elected leaders have the guts to put the long-term health of the country before the possibility of short-term gains by the party?

I’m afraid they don’t do anything unless their jobs are at stake. That sort of pressure is up to me and you.

Pre-Existing

Where you live should not decide
Whether you live or whether you die
~ U2

Following up on a comment Cancer Curmudgeon made on my post last week, I want to be clear: I am in no way suggesting civility = roll over and die. I do believe some methods are more effective than others but that’s purely a matter for the individual to decide.

One fight that’s near and dear to me and to lots of my fellow bloggers is access to health care.

I get my health insurance through my husband’s employer, for which I am quite grateful. My cancer diagnosis coincided with the Great Recession and along with all the other reasons I had to be scared, the possibility that he might lose his job definitely qualified for the “stare at the bedroom ceiling at 3 AM” list.

I knew I was virtually uninsurable and that cancer treatments would financially ruin us. My chemotherapy treatments cost around $17,000 each, radiation was $500 per zap, I don’t even remember what my two operations cost.

Heck, even with insurance it’s expensive. Our annual out of pocket maximum is almost $10,000. Here’s the thing – I’m incredibly grateful for what I have. Not only has my family been able to access top-notch care, but I have never had to choose between health care and life’s other necessities like food.

Still, I breathed a sigh of relief in 2010 when the ACA passed and I knew my worst-case scenario of ruinous uninsurability was eliminated.

A short sigh.

Now we’ve got talk of repealing the ACA and reintroducing high risk pools. If you think that sounds like a good idea, please read this article from the Kaiser Family Foundation about pre-ACA high risk pools.

For starters, my state didn’t even have one. The offerings of those that did often came with premiums as high as 200% of the market rate, capped lifetime coverage at $1 million, and excluded pre-existing condition coverage for as long as 12 months.

Better than nothing?

Maybe.

I suspect that in the deep, dusty recesses of our collective mind, there lies a thought that maybe I should pay more because I didn’t always behave responsibly. Sure, I may have engaged in some behaviors that increased my risk for developing cancer during my misspent youth.

Here’s the thing though – you probably did too. Why one person develops cancer and another doesn’t is, as of today, unknown. So the next time you hear someone has lung cancer rather than asking if she smoked, get down on your hands and knees and thank whomever you thank that it wasn’t you.

Not convinced? Look at my kids. They both have Celiac Disease, as we discovered earlier this year. It’s a serious and not well understood auto immune disorder that has no cure. There’s a genetic component to it but some people carry the mutation without developing the disease for reasons also unknown. When a person with Celiac eats gluten (a structural protein found in wheat, rye, and barley), part of the immune system kicks into overdrive and attacks the small intestine. The small intestine stops functioning normally, interfering with the absorption of nutrients like iron. It’s a permanent, life-long disorder and the only treatment is to never ingest gluten.

In other words, a pre-existing condition.

Still don’t care? Take 15 minutes to watch this incredibly moving monologue from Jimmy Kimmel. Stick with it through the end. Bravo to Kimmel for putting this out there.

Remember — when we speak in esoteric terms of freedom and the supremacy of the individual, real people on the ground are suffering. You’ll never make this country great by reserving health care only for those who can afford it.

The Limits of Civility

As a native Midwesterner, I believe in the importance of civility. It’s one reason our current federal government poopshow drives me so crazy. I think people who allow themselves to be pulled into incivility are both coming from and heading toward a dark place. It’s a symptom of deeper problems – the slippery slope of dehumanization that occurs when we assign people to broad categories defined by one-dimensional traits and the dangerous belief that a person who disagrees with you is your enemy. It’s born of the habit of thinking the very worst of people and grows by finding ways to reinforce those twisted beliefs, discarding all evidence to the contrary.

It’s not just them, of course. In fact it’s not them at all. It’s us – the conversations we engage in, the ways we interact online, how we choose to spend our time.

I live in a small city just outside of Cincinnati that sprang up as a river and train stop town, became a resort area city dwellers to escape hot polluted summers, remained a sleepy rural outpost for a long time, and recently transformed into an in-demand place to raise a family. A lot of the historic charm is still here and the former rail lines have been converted into a fairly well-known bike trail. Even here, yes, in a town called Loveland, unseemly behavior at city hall meetings have hit the news. A finance committee member is embarrassed to live in our city and I think lots of us agree with him.

I cringe and wonder why these people can’t behave themselves. Not only is it uncomfortable, it’s counterproductive. Invariably, the focus becomes the bad behavior not what’s going on behind the curtain. Style over substance. Reality TV star over policy wonk. And, yes, I do realize that this might be the strategy. That’s another topic entirely.

Lately I’ve wondered if my preference for politeness is really all it’s cracked up to be or if I’m looking for another empty suit. Am I craving a thick enough veneer to keep me comfortable or something more meaningful?

If my Midwestern sensibilities are too quaint for you, I’ll up the gravitas ante with one of my favorite lines from Audre Lorde.

 

We won’t change the system by using the same bullying tactics that got us here in the first place. True, meaningful change comes not just from the what we produce, but in the how we got there. It’s no good to live in a town that looks like Mayberry if everything changes when the doors close and everyone has had a couple of cocktails.

I do believe that the golden rule matters. It sets the tone and signals a healthy environment. But it can only take you so far. It only really matters if it’s backed up by a commitment to respect – a basic belief in the dignity of everyone. Because if you don’t believe that we are all worthy, politeness is just as fake as Mayberry’s Hollywood set.

You can’t hide character either.

The good news is that you can build it. The first step is the hardest and loneliest work of all – an honest assessment of what’s behind your veneer.

Do You Offer Multiple Child Discounts?

Last week’s post discussed the high price of health, using my 16-year-old daughter’s recent diagnosis with Celiac Disease as an example.

No longer allowed in my house.

Her doctors recommended all first degree relatives have a simple screening blood test to measure the level of antibodies that do the small intestine damage. Since my last post, screening showed my 15-year-old son has it too. In fact, his number is high enough that there is really no doubt that he has it.

However, the “gold standard” of Celiac Diagnoses in the USA is the endoscopy and biopsy. Elsewhere in the world, his numbers would exempt him from that step. I don’t really know enough of the science to understand why, but I can see the benefit of scoping for the extent of damage.

Apart from the expense of this procedure, the worst part as a mother is that the accuracy of this test depends on his continued digestion of gluten. Since we are not Children’s Hospital’s only patients, we are put into the scheduling system and have to await our turn. While we wait, I have to feed him food that’s harming him.

Yes, comparing it to that bad mother in The Sixth Sense would be overly-dramatic, but I don’t like it anyway.

The bread has about 14 slices per loaf. You can buy a case of 8 loaves at Amazon for $48.22. I used to buy bread for about $1.99 per loaf ~ One loaf per week for two kids. The same meals will cost about 5X more now.

Speaking of expense, have you ever priced gluten-free food? Thanks to the trendiness of the gluten-free diet, there are a lot of good options but holy cow. I bought a large loaf of bread (family sized) for $9 last week.

So if you’re looking for me, I’ll be over here learning how to make my own gluten free bread, scrubbing all visible and invisible poison crumbs from my kitchen, and monitoring my bank accounts.

Again, and I can’t say this enough, I know we’re the lucky ones. We can afford the insurance necessary to get this done, we have access to one of the best pediatric gastrointestinal teams in the country, we had the confidence to pursue this for our kids. And while it won’t be easy, we can afford the coinsurance and the $9 loaves of bread.