A lasting image

[Yet another brief post to accommodate the craziness in my life this week: getting a book released and hosting the annual trivia fundraiser.]

I recently read a very good book by a very good writer, “Vanishing Grace” by Philip Yancey. Everything Yancey writes, I want to read; he’s that good. I won’t go into it in detail beyond highly recommending it.

What I want to mention is a passage from the book that asks a profound question. I reproduce it here for your reflection.

If you learned you were going blind, what final image would you want imprinted on your mind?

Something to think about.

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Why I hang out with people with MS

It’s way cool to hang out with people with MS. There’s no others like them.

You might think there are cooler people to hang out with. Wrong. Athletes? Nope. Movie stars, musicians, writers? Uh-uh. Politicians? You’re kidding, right?

You won’t meet a more courageous group. Few humans have to endure the crap they do, but they’re still out there getting it done. They still love and serve their families. They work out, go to countless doctor’s appointments, attend group meetings, research convoluted insurance regulations, organize and administer an arsenal of medications, and face hurdles only the disabled understand. News flash: The world isn’t designed to accommodate the needs of the disabled, no matter how much legislation is passed. It’s still a daily battle just to navigate a normal day.

Some steadfastly hold on to their trust in a loving, personal God in spite of experiencing pain, loss, and grief that would cause others to jettison their faith faster than you can turn the page of your Bible.

And you can learn a lot about others by spending time with folks who rely on scooters, wheelchairs, and walkers. You’ll see the breadth of humanity, from its worst to its best as you observe how they react to all that paraphernalia and other unusual behavior of the MS crowd. Some lend a hand while other avert their eyes. I’ve heard some even mock the disabled. (No, that couldn’t be, could it?)

They know this disease inside and out, better than most doctors and researchers. Those over-educated professionals may have their finger on the scientific pulse, but my friends know the impact of MS from first-hand experience. I invariably learn something in their company. They’re willing to share what they’ve been forced to learn the hard way. They dispense better advice than your average MD but ask for no deductible and require no insurance.

They’re empathetic listeners, available companions, and faithful friends. To paraphrase the mayor of Nelson in the movie “Roxanne“, “I would rather be with the people with MS than with the finest people in the world!”

Maybe that could be said better, but you get my point.

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Sweet Charity

In the spirit of making the most of my limited time and energy during this, the most harried stretch of months on my calendar in any given year, I present sweet, simple advice on international aid.

When people learn of my love for and involvement with Haiti, they invariably ask, “What can I do to help?” The most common (and expected) answer is, give. Give to those who are doing the best work there. My usual suspects are Partners in Health, Servants for Haiti, and the Apparent Project. Having first-hand experience with each of those organizations, I have no reluctance recommending them. Others, not so much.

If you’re looking for a simpler, faster, and sweeter way to help, here’s my suggestion:

Eat chocolate.

Huh? Yes, you read right. I’m suggesting you purchase and consume chocolate to help out Haitian friends. But not just any chocolate. This one:img_20170225_123427971

This bar of chocolate, manufactured right here in my beloved home state of Massachusetts but sold only in Whole Foods stores, is sourced directly from family owned farms in Haiti. Contrary to the title of this post, this isn’t really charity at all. This is a business transaction that helps everyone.

  1. It helps Haiti develop and grow independent business from their own natural resources.
  2. It helps our own economy by supporting a local business.
  3. You get lots of awesome antioxidants.
  4. 84% dark?! It doesn’t get much better than that.

There you have it. Eat a bar of chocolate once a week and you’re helping our neighbors in the sweetest way possible, giving them opportunity and a fair shake, not handouts.


 

For all my friends with MS—and even more for my friends without MS—Happy MS Awareness Month! Celebrate by talking to a friend with MS. See? Another easy way to help.

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Thoughts while a book simmers

Coming down to the end game of my next book, the blog drops in priority. Thus a list of disconnected thoughts that have kept me up nights. (I apologize in advance if any of these has appeared in another post either here or in my Scribbling blog. Blame it on the MS.)


I recently had a chance to try out one of those “3-D viewer” attachments for cell phones. Yup, everything was in 3-D. Last I checked, the world is still in 3-D. I’ll take that.

You know what credit card companies call those of us who are prudent enough to pay off our balances every month to avoid incurring interest? Deadbeats. Yup, they really do.

flatcyclistAs some of you are aware, I regularly promote the value of bicycling as great exercise to lose weight, improve balance, fight depression, and generally combat the effects of MS. In the interest of full disclosure, it must be noted that the activity does have its downsides. Look what happened to this poor guy.→ Probably run over by an errant steamroller. And he was even in the bike lane. Sad.

photo← Here’s a picture that pretty much sums up the attitude of a lot of people—employers, drivers, presidents—toward the disabled. Sadder.

Did you ever notice that, when you buy something from Amazon, they suggest you buy more of the same kind of item? That’s all well and good for books and DVD’s, but they do the same thing with every purchase. We bought a coffee maker not too long ago. They suggested: “Since you bought this coffee maker, wouldn’t you like to buy this one, too?” Why on earth would I want to buy a second coffee maker? Why not buy two refrigerators or ovens? You might also want a new shed in which to store all that superfluous stuff.

For those folks who deny the existence of absolutes: explain death.

I only learn about my car and my body when something goes wrong with them. In that sense, GM and MS are boons to our pool of knowledge.

Can you explain to me why it’s acceptable to advertise a product as addictive? Isn’t that a bad thing?

This is all you need to know about Donald Trump: His Trump “compensation” Tower  is 58 stories high. The number of the top floor is 68.


Be on the lookout for my new book, due in the next couple of months. Don’t worry, I’ll remind you again later. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. Meanwhile, if your jonesing for something to read, there’s always “A Slippery Land“.

Also be on the lookout for two opportunities to help others:

  1. The 8th Annual Trivia Night and Silent Auction for Servants for Haiti.
  2. The 2017 MS Bike ride on Martha’s Vineyard. You can donate or contact me if you want to join the team, “Vineyard Square Wheelers”.

More info on those events coming to a blog near you!

[Why do these supposedly quick posts I write to give me more time to do other stuff always take at least as long as my normal posts? Sheesh!]

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Killing ourselves softly

People with MS, especially the newly diagnosed, often ask, “Is MS fatal?” The good news is, in general, it isn’t. People with cases advanced enough can die from side effects such as infections and pneumonia, but that’s invariably late in life. The conventional wisdom is that the average life span for someone with MS is about the same as someone without the disease.

The one nasty character in this picture, however, is the ugly cousin no one talks about: Suicide. People with MS take their own lives about twice as often as others. That’s sad.

What might be worse is the rate at which people are subtly ending their own lives, without even knowing it. According to this New York Times article from last month, there is an affliction threatening the well-being of everyone in our society, not just those with MS and other chronic illnesses.

Yes, the article tells us, our isolation is killing us, whether we know it (or believe it) or not. Note this paragraph of particular significance to people with MS:

A wave of new research suggests social separation is bad for us. Individuals with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones. [Emphasis added]

Altered immune systems? Inflammation? Those of us with MS are intimately familiar with those. (And don’t even get me started on stress.) Now here’s a simple way to positively impact those problems and we have complete control over it.

The answer? “Get together”, as Jesse Colin Young and his Youngbloods told us back in the 60’s. (Ah! Those were the days of peace, love, and rock’n’roll.) Spend time with other people, whether it’s a support group, church, or just hanging out with friends.

This isn’t news. Wise old Solomon said much the same thing a few thousand years ago:

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

I’ve also seen anecdotal evidence of this effect. It’s sad to see people drift away on a sinking ship of loneliness when help is as near as their neighbors. Or as near as me.

Why is it that people leap for the chance to take the latest and greatest expensive drugs, all of which have potentially devastating side effects, when this time-tested “social treatment” is available for free and has no side effects? We doubt the easier approach, although it’s backed up by the same scientific research used to test drugs.

The cynic in me says this has something to do with profits and bottom lines, but we all know pharmaceutical companies are philanthropic organizations, right? q.v.

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Seven years since the big truck went by…

Certain dates of infamy should never be forgotten. Here are just a few that come quickly to mind for most of us:

December 7, 1941

September 11, 2001

April 4, 1968

April 15, 1865

The sad list goes on and on. In our myopic American view of history, these dates—and I would add November 8, 2016 to the list—are the ones that we recall as most tragic because they affected us so directly. While indeed infamous in their own ways, the world has seen so many more and worse.

August 6, 1945 – How often are 50,000 (or more) lives exterminated in a single day? Another 100,000 or so died in the following months. And that doesn’t even include what happened three days later.

December 2, 1984 – Bhopal. Who even remembers this? Again, thousands die needlessly because of human negligence.

Seven years ago today, my heart was broken when an earthquake struck a land that is near and dear to me. Haiti. Many thousands died and millions more lost their homes in an instant. Some might say that this date is different than the aforementioned ones because an earthquake, unlike an atomic bomb, an assassin’s bullet, or an ignorant electorate, is an “act of God” rather than a human activity.

Well, yes and no.

An earthquake is a natural phenomenon, it’s true. But the poverty that was the root cause of most of the destruction and death is not. It is man-made. Often, as in the case of Haiti and other developing nations, it’s the poverty inflicted by malicious outside forces. Earthquakes strike all over the world on a semi-regular basis. Granted, few are as strong as the 7.0 tremblor that rocked Haiti on January 12, 2010, but worse quakes have caused significantly less mayhem. The poor always bear the brunt of the suffering.

And it will be the same next time. Unless.

It’s been rightly said, though not nearly often enough based on recent events, that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. We are living proof. This kind of thing will happen again and again and the poor and oppressed will always be the prime victims. Are we comfortable watching all this suffering from our opulent homes and waiting for the next catastrophic event? I’m not.

Remember with me, not just in our minds or even our hearts but through our actions, Haiti and all who suffer needlessly.

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[If you’re looking for a way to help, look no further than Partners in Health. They do tremendous work in Haiti and other countries where quality medical care is either scarce or nonexistent.]

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Lessons learned from a mother and daughter lost

reynolds-fisherAs everyone doubtless knows by now, actor Carrie Fisher died on 12/27 followed the next day by her mother, the immensely talented Debbie Reynolds. Both performed in arguably the most iconic films of their respective generations, “Star Wars” and “Singin’ in the Rain”.

By all accounts (possibly none of which are reliable) the two had a healthy mother-daughter relationship.

There’s nothing happy about this story. Ms. Fisher died an untimely death at age 60, far too young in this era of medical advances. Her mother survived to what would generally be considered the more reasonable age of 84. Still, Ms. Reynold’s passing is just as tragic. I have to believe the stress of planning her own daughter’s funeral took its toll on her and induced the stroke that took her life. Barring that, she would almost certainly be with us for several more years.

There are lessons to be learned here. The first is the extraordinary toll stress takes on the human body. I’ve experienced it in my own battle with MS. Specific identifiable instances of stress have been the triggers that have caused any setbacks I’ve experienced. Your mileage may vary, but avoiding stress or at least dealing with it in some healthy  manner can make a huge difference in your length and—more importantly—quality of life. (I’ve discussed my approach in previous posts, such as this one.)

Second, at the risk of sounding as if I’m casting stones, which I’m not, there’s a fair chance Ms. Fisher’s acknowledged abuse of drugs earlier in her life weakened her heart and might have led to the episode that ended her life. The principle is accepted by medical science; I’ve seen it happen with at least one person in my life. So much for the “victimless crime” of drug abuse. When will we treat addiction as the dangerous sickness it is?

Finally, of course, is the lesson of the brevity and preciousness of life. To squander it on selfishness and vain pursuits is a grave waste and a disservice to humanity and your Creator. Instead, consider the ultimate meaning of your life in light of eternity. As the current Pope’s namesake prayed:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

You and I are unlikely to leave behind a legacy of classic films and (spoiler alert!) CGI images. But we can do even better.

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