Friday, November 25, 2011

Being Thankful is a Choice

Happy Thanksgiving to all. My pumpkin pies are made and the turkey is in the oven. My kids are here from Florida. I picked them up at the Indianapolis airport yesterday. That's all good and makes me happy. On the other hand, Mom, who is 92 years old, fell in the bathroom and hit her head on the door sill. As a result, she looks pitiful with a big black shiner. That's not so good.

And that's pretty much the way life is, isn't it? Whether you're in the mood for giving Thanks depends on which end of the spectrum you decide to concentrate on. Most of us have many things we can be grateful for but almost all of us have other things that worry, sadden or annoy us. The only decision we have to make is how thankful, or not, we decide to be.

My husband's grandmother always used to tell us - "oh, I've had a wonderful life!"

"You have?" I always thought, "it doesn't seem so wonderful to me."

Carrie was married in a time when husbands were the rulers of the households and so it was with her. My own husband told me that his Grandpa was a grouch and a hardass. He made all the decisions in the family and nobody, not his wife or children, dared question those decisions.

Carrie, of course, stayed home and took care of her three children. She never learned to drive. The family was relatively poor or at least they seemed poor from my vantage point now. When her husband died, he left the house to one of the daughters with the proviso that she always provide a home for her mother because he didn't believe Carrie was capable of handling her own affairs. So for her entire life, Carrie was under someone's thumb - a father, a husband, a daughter.

I asked her once if she'd ever had the urge to assert her independence and she looked at me like I was crazy. "Independence?" she said, "what would I have done with it if I'd had it?"

So what did she see that was so wonderful in her life?

Well, she told me how much she loved hanging clothes out on the clothesline. She said sometimes she just buried her nose in a damp shirt to drink in that satisfying fresh-washed smell. She loved hearing the sheets snapping in the breeze and the feel of the sun on her back. The little pants and dresses made her smile thinking of the children who wore them and Ed's work uniforms meant appreciating a man who worked hard every day to provide for his family.

Her idea of high excitement was taking the children to the (long gone) amusement park several miles out of town in the old Model A. The children would grow progressively more excited as the traffic got busier, the music from the midway grew louder and the Ferris Wheel came into view.  She said she'd always remember the shouts of barkers and the smell of cotton candy drifting in the air.

She lived in the same house almost her entire adult life (paid for because Ed didn't believe in credit) and so did her neighbors. The women who stayed home during the day were a community - coffee-klatching with one another in between cooking and cleaning and doing laundry.

Carrie didn't have a television until late in life and I don't think she ever read. I doubt if there was much time for reading anyway. Sometimes she listened to the radio while she sewed.

She loved watching the trains, drawn by huge steam engines, pull into the station and the aroma of the homemade bread she pulled out of the oven of the little old stove she was still using when I knew her. She took great pleasure from the trumpet vine erupting in flame across the back porch roof and the fragrance of the huge bouquets of  lilacs she brought to put in a vase on the kitchen table.  She looked forward to mass at St Bernard's Catholic Church every Sunday and to family reunions at the park in the summer.

Compared to today's women, Carrie seems to have lived a narrow, stunted life, un-realized and unfulfilled. That's my view but it wasn't hers. When I think of her now, I think of a woman who had decided to be thankful for what she had instead of bitter for what she didn't have. It is a lesson we all need to learn from time to time.





Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Paying Homage to Power

It's always about power, isn't it?Power and the intrinsic value we place on it. We must retain some prehistoric strand of DNA that dictates our willingness to suspend judgment of those high above us in the pecking order, to willingly bow to their superiority in return for their protection. And, of course, since females and children are most often the weakest members in the human food chain, it is they who are most often offered up as sacrifices.

The word protector can have a multitude of connotations. In nature, it is elementary. The stallion is the literal protector of his band; the alpha wolf is the protector of his pack. In return for this protection, the stallion and the wolf demand, and receive, submission from their inferiors.

It appears people are not really very different. To us, protector can mean the protector of our souls, as in the case of a high religious figure - the protectors of our nation as in Kings and Queens - the economic protector of our family as in an abusive father or even the protector of an institution we hold in esteem that is near devout.

We know that too much power corrupts. The holders of the power come to believe they have a right to make immoral choices for what they convince themselves are moral ends.

And so, in a twisted perversion of the act of confession, a pontiff protects the Holy Church by giving up its most helpless members rather than rooting out the rot inside. And those who have invested their spiritual  faith in the man's infallibility refuse to condemn him , unable to bear the spiritual damage that undermining him and the church along with him, would cause them.

And a beloved coach, along with others, colludes to protect the Holy Football program (and by extension, the Holy University) by refusing to act in the face of a heinous crime against a child. The anal rape of a 10-year-old boy by a grown man, who, incidentally, also founded a program for disadvantaged youth in order to have easy access to his victims - all facts known by insiders. And yet, the majority of us reserve our protests for the firing of the coach! (In the ultimate irony, the man who failed to protect children is named Paterno and called, affectionately JoePa).

The various Royal families are not, so far as we know, engaged in such horrific behavior. The perversity lies more in the homage bestowed upon them as if they were inherently more worthy to be approached with bows and curtseys than their subjects. In the face of their own economic difficulties, their supporters willingly tithe to uphold the Holy Family and allow the royals to retain  their lavish, unearned lifestyles.

We cannot seem to get beyond our anachronistic legacy of siding with power. If you look at the judicial make up of counties, you will find that they all have one or more courts devoted to financial claims (because merchants, doctors, lawyers and landlords must have access to recompense, don't you know?) while many fewer of them have courts expressly designated for crimes against children. That's not to say there shouldn't be small claims courts, only that we place a heavier weight on one side of scale of justice based on the status of  those affected.

It has ever been so, this freely offered reverence to those on the pedestal above us, and it doesn't appear that it's going to change any time soon.















Monday, November 7, 2011

How Important Are You?

If you saw a fertilized egg in a petri dish, would you truly believe it has exactly the same importance as you do? If a fire broke out in the lab and only you or the test tube could be saved, would you honestly think the firefighters should draw straws to decide who to rescue, both you and the zygote being of equal value and all?

Or let's put this another way - the choice is between saving your 3-year-old or a fertilized egg. If you tell me that you had to think about it for even one millisecond, I'd say you are mentally unbalanced.

Put into the most basic terms, that's the debate that will be settled in Mississippi on Tuesday when the "Personhood" amendment comes up for a vote. It appears now as though this legislation will pass. The Mississippi Constitution will then define persons as "every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof."

What this does is essentially relegate women to the diminished status of baby-bearing factories. Not only will the fertilized egg be as important as it's mother, it will be more important. It's rights will supercede hers.

Abortion will be illegal under any circumstances whatsoever -  whether the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, no matter how young the mother may be, even if her own life is endangered. It will outlaw most forms of birth control. It will put severe limits on in vitro fertilization by banning the practice of harvesting many eggs to ensure pregnancy takes place. It will make criminals of women and doctors for performing or undergoing commonplace health-saving procedures.

In other words, if Mississippians pass the Personhood Amendment, they have made a hard-eyed comparison and determined that tiny blobs of tissue outweigh living, breathing human beings on the scale of life.

Except I don't think many of the voters who will vote "yes" on Amendment 26 did make a hard-eyed comparison. They are voting off the tops of their heads without considering the tragic ramifications their vote will cause in the lives of real people.

The sad 13-year-old pregnant due to incest. The terrified woman carrying the by-product of a vicious rape. The ill mother whose fetus threatens her own health....and by extension, the well-being of her other children.

And you have to wonder about some of the other unintended consequences of this amendment.

Will pregnant women and test-tube zygotes now have to be considered in the Mississippi census? Will freeze-dried eggs count as exemptions on their parents' taxes? Can a woman who miscarries be called before a tribunal to determine whether her actions contributed to her miscarriage? And who is going to police all of this? Is Mississippi going to form a Pregnancy Patrol to pry into the personal lives of families?

If these laws pass (six other states have considered, or are considering similar legislation), we will become as repressive as China, only in the opposite direction. The Chinese government plays Big Brother to its families to force them to have fewer children; the U.S. will be Big Brother to force them to have more.



Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Seven Billion and Counting

According to the U.N., our poor old tired Earth just hit the 7 billion human mark. They don't know for sure, of course, but that's the estimate. Seven billion of us! Our species seems to have been programmed with an unstoppable urge to procreate. Our DNA tells us to send our progeny out there to represent our bloodline into the far future. That was all fine and dandy when there were millions of us instead of billions but we might want to reconsider that "go forth and multiply" dictum about now.

Our intelligence has increased over the centuries but our common sense hasn't grown along with it. It used to be that Mother Nature and natural selection played their parts in the population equation. A famine here, an epidemic there and our numbers were kept to a manageable balance. In the modern world, the tens of thousands wiped out by a tsunami have been replaced, somewhere on Earth, even before the water recedes.

Self-regeneration trumps self-preservation in the over-population sweepstakes. We will bring new life into the world regardless of its prospects. Born into a filthy, teeming refugee camp? Born into a country where its likely you'll be slaughtered by a genocidal dictator? Born into poverty and homelessness. No matter. The birth is the thing. What happens after, not so much.

Religion plays a role, for sure. The Catholic Church orders its members to refrain from birth control. To the clueless old gray men ensconced in the serene luxury of the Vatican, a baby born every nine months sounds about right and the less likely you can provide for another child, the more your God demands that sacrifice, at least according to His infallible stand-in.

Fundamentalists have much the same mind-set. They place a fertilized egg higher on the scale of human sanctity than the egg's mother or father or siblings. "Every human life is precious," they intone, although all you have to do is look around to see that if there is a personal God, he hasn't exactly bought in to the the preciousness of individual humanity. In fact, the fundamentalists themselves haven't either, as they are generally opposed to the kinds of social programs designed to help those underprivileged used-to-be fetuses.

In case you hadn't noticed, it is mostly males who are in the forefront of dictating our attitudes about child birth. Male Catholic priests. Male fundamentalist ministers.  Mormon men who see their women as child-bearing vessels. Arabic men who consider their women subservient property. South American men. African men.

But it isn't fair to pile all the blame on men. Women too have a compulsion toward nurturing a child,although to give them credit, except for those like Octo Mom, they are usually content with one, or maybe two. I think there are few woman who truly desire 5 or 8 or 10 children.

For most, it has to be their very own infant so they will undergo endless stress and expense to become impregnated - tightly scripted intercourse via calendar, fertility drugs, in vitro fertilization. We are like people who go out and spend hundreds of dollars to buy a purebred dog, ignoring the millions of adorable puppies that are euthanized every year in shelters. Not that one, this one. So much for the sanctity of life.

So, it is onward and upward to eight billion and where she stops nobody knows.