Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Healing - Dream

My grandmother Jensen is my guardian angel. All of my life she has been the person who has always been there for me - and even since her death (she would have been 101 last Dec. 26), she has show herself to me - through memories and promptings. I have heard her voice, I have felt her hands, I have been comforted by her love. Several months ago I had a "vision" one day while meditating.

In this vision my grandma held me in her arms. This was a shriveled, crumpled, dehydrated, wrinkled, version of me. I was lame, weak, lifeless. She held me like a mother holds a newborn - gently, lovingly. Grandma and I were at the space between life and death, she was on the death side, and I must have crossed over, because she scooped me up and headed back toward life.

Grandma seamlessly crossed through this veil, walked into a room divided - with men sitting on one side, women sitting on the other, all dressed in white - sitting, reverently waiting.

There was an empty seat for me in the front row, with women on both sides and women behind. She gently moved my body from her arms to the chair, positioning me in the chair so I was sitting, barely. I could see me slumped in the chair, still weak, sitting very low, without any strength to re-position myself.

Grandma said, while moving both arms opened and acknowledging the women in the room, "These women will help you heal." Then she left. I woke feeling a sense of sisterhood that I haven't felt in years - 12 years.

Last night I read, "The greatest thing in the world is love. And if we keep that always in our hearts, and give it as a message to those about us, we will be blessed and will be instruments in blessing those with whom we associate." (Clarissa S. Williams, 6th Relief Society General President)

Today I spent time with my sisters, and we  nurtured, loved, and blessed each other. Today I spent time with two friends, and we nurtured, loved, and blessed each other. I was reminded of my grandmother's message to me - and I know that when I care for, I am cared for.

Grandpa and Grandma Jensen, Me and Tyler, Mom and Dad, 1981

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Dov Siporin - Rest in Peace

Dov Siporin, son of Steve and Ona, passed away this week. Dov's father, Steve, was one of my professors at Utah State. Steve taught me how to take an idea and put it into a program, a grass roots program, and successfully grow it. Steve taught me about Public Sector Folklore. Ona taught me about my heritage. Her work on Pioneer women is seen as some of the seminal research on the every day lives of every day women.

In November Steve and Ona shared with me the story of their son Dov, and the good he was doing - the goodness he found out of his cancer - and the lessons and laughs he was sharing with others. I've followed his journey since, and I am blessed to have know just a little about this man.

This post is from his Facebook account last April 30. He talks about dying, cancer, and living. Thank you Dov. May you rest in peace. May your family live in peace.

Dov Siporin
I’m dying.
Not at this moment...well, okay...at this moment, but not in the everyone freak out and get out your funeral clothes kinda way.
But I am dying. The biology of my cancer is moving inexorably towards my death. The tumors are continuing to grow, in secret, in the dark recesses of my abdomen, my liver, my shoulder, my heart, revealed periodically as bright blooms of light in a PET scan.
If you were to take a time-lapse video over the last 6 years, you would see tumors flower here and there throughout my organs: lymph nodes, rectum, liver, aorta, pancreas, shoulder. You would see tumors retreat and reappear in the ebb and flow of one chemotherapy after another. You would see scars travel across my abdomen, from one side to the other, from groin to ribcage. You would see organs disappear: my rectum, 7%, then 10%, then 50% of my liver, my gall bladder. You would see my intestine pulled out of my side and then covered by a bag to let internal surgeries heal. You would see my legs when they first inflated like balloons as my kidneys failed post-op, and then again a few weeks ago, as they swelled tight against my jeans, against my socks and shoes, as the skin stretched, cracked and forced me once again to grapple with the reality of my steadily approaching death...
We who are actively dying find ways of ignoring this.
. We tell ourselves that we are different from the other patients.
That because of our attitude,
Because of how much we love our family, our friends,
Because of how much we have left to do in life,
Because of how good we’ve been,
Because this is just NOT what our life was meant to be.
That somehow death will miss us,
and that the miracle story we have all heard,
of the terminal patient that was miraculously cured,
is our story, in progress.
And so, somehow, when we realize how our bodies have betrayed us, again and again, when we find ourselves faced by the relentless biology of the disease, we are surprised, and we find ourselves in mourning, again, with our loved ones.
Over the last few weeks, since I found out that the tumors in my abdomen are starting to choke off blood vessels and lymph nodes, since I spoke with a doctor whose care and concern showed starkly on his face as he reached for some explanation less serious than the one we were facing, who explained with tears in his eyes that if things did not go well, my life might be measured in weeks.
Since then,
I have stayed awake nights on end, I have cried, I have screamed, I have beat my fists bloody against concrete.
I have watched my body swell and recede, indisputable, undeniable proof of the truth growing inside.
I have sat with my children, explaining misshapen legs, tumors and death.
I have cried with them as they held each other, a 9 year old comforting his 6 year old sister.
I have laid next to my son as he held me close before falling asleep, his tear stained eyes finally finding rest as his small hands gripped me tight.
I have been given fresh-picked dandelions from my daughter for when I “D...”
I have fought like mad with my wife over inconsequential things as fear, stress, depression and the realization of how little we control weighed us both down.
And I have seen her heart break as she promised, again, to support me when I choose to stop treatment...as she said, “...it feels so damn selfish to want you here more than anything…but I see your pain…I see your pain.”
But also,
I have seen friends and family, stubborn as I am, refuse to let me cocoon myself in depression - they have called, they have written, again and again and again. They have stopped by, they have taken me to dinner and they have come over with beer, pizza, and laughter.
I have been shocked by my younger brother tattooing the “fuck cancer” from my shirt on his chest, and my youngest brother, who came across half the world to surprise me in chemo.
I have read words of kindness and caring, sent to me from long-time friends, from acquaintances, from people I have known all my life to those I have never met in person.
I have heard the sound of a neighbor’s kindness, a lawn mowed in early spring.
I have been surprised and humbled by friends who have organized a run to raise money for my family, to help with bills.
I have been overwhelmed as my mother and mother-in-law have organized a fundraiser to send my family on a last trip together - to my old stomping grounds in Italy and Israel.
I have been the recipient of care beyond measure.
I have sat with a friend who has been cancers companion for 30 years, as we spoke about planning our funerals, and shared laughter as we each wished that the other could attend ours.
And I have seen courage, from others on the same path: from those whose bodies are giving up and giving out. I have seen steel in their eyes, in the eyes of their wives, their husbands, their parents.
In the face of this, what do I do? What can I do?
I remember that my luck is just that, luck, and that the debt of kindness is only paid forward.
I remember words that have never left me, spoken by another patient as her strong hands, and the hands of 20 others prepared our garden for the coming year:
“This is what we do for one-another, Dov, you will see.”
And so I will do my part, and it will be costumes and candy. And I will watch my face in the mirror as the chemo rash spreads, as the skin breaks and bleeds. And as I have done before, as I will do again and again, when the tears have dried up and I am finished screaming, I will press on, I will move forward, and every fucking chance I get, (even as my hooded companion with the scythe draws close)...I will laugh.
(Sorry about the long post, it's the only way I knew how to talk about the last few weeks...and again, thank you to all of you. You mean more than you know.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Moral Judgement - Distinguishing Between Mercy and Justice

I teach, and I love teaching. I particularly love teaching students who take their studies somewhat seriously. As a "non-traditional" student, I understand there are many aspects of life pulling at many students - work, family, education, support, finances, etc. And so, I do not require my students to do busy work, to work outside of the scope of the class description, and I strive to make my grading criteria more than fair. I'm also a believer in granting mercy - so I've cushioned my syllabus with points for attendance, points for participation, and I extend deadlines as I see fit.

So here's my rub - in the past 12 years of teaching, I have given perhaps 10 "I's" or incompletes, to students. This then sets into place the process, because of extenuating circumstances, to finish off course work for a grade, particularly one better than the grade they would have received or a "UW," an unofficial withdrawal. I contract with the student to complete work and consult with me, during this process, with a deadline placed for course completion. In all this time, only 2 students have taken this "I" seriously and finished their work.

One "I" was for a student from last semester, Steve. His uncle completed suicide, he suffers from depression and ADD, and he just could not focus to finish the course work. I had faith in this student, he was diligent and stayed in contact with me. A retake, to me, sounded like justice, so I extended mercy, and Steve met with me on a monthly basis, finished his research paper, his final paper, and his "I" went to an "A-," with my total support. He left with a smile and a sense of accomplishment, and I walked away with the same.

Late last week, Thursday, I received an email from a student wanting me to change her grade from a B (it was a low B, generously given), to "something better," because she wanted to join the student council. Her deadline was noon today. She gave me no sense of her specific needs, nor any suggestions for how she should earn this grade change. Wanting to grant this student some mercy, I changed her grade to a B+. No work involved for her.

Yesterday I received an email from her telling me that I was the only professor willing to work with her, that her father wouldn't pay her tuition this fall if she didn't get into the student council, and that she needed a solid "A." I asked her to meet with me on campus, to bring her research paper and a recently written paper. Well, she met me, without the work I had requested. She got teary a couple of times, talked about her other professors being mean, when I asked her about her GPA and her other classes, she talked about how hard they were and how she thought the teachers were tough.

I so wanted to offer mercy, but I couldn't help but feel like my extended olive branch of a "B+" was not the answer to her woes.

So today, I called my English Dept. liaison, shared the story, and then I offered her Justice. I didn't change her grade to an "A" by noon today. Instead, I'm offering her the "opportunity" to grow, learn, stand on her own, be responsible for her actions and inactions, and - work through whatever issues she has with her father. She's an adult - and maybe the gift I'm giving her will be just that - justice doesn't have to be a life sentence, but a lesson in moving forward.

Lesson learned for me - I cannot always be merciful, even when I try.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Life By the Numbers -

This article, written by spelling one letter at a time onto her mother's palm, is the exact message I was wanting to share today. We are all unique, but we are all so much the same. Can't we just give up the fake battle so many of us are fighting and be ourselves - find our authentic selves and then live there, without fear? 
Life by the Numbers
By: JulieLynn Reardon (12 years old)
The world would be a better place if children saw children as they ought to be instead of what they think they should be. Some children spend all their time showing the world a face of everything society tells them they need to strive for - and it will never be enough. Too thin, too fat - not who they really are, which is unique.
Each one of us has a special gift given to them at birth and everyone forgets why we are really here. Through this crazy thing called growing up they grasp at all the shiny things they think will make them happy. But they are exactly the things that distract us from what is really important.
What is important is seeing what we all have in common. We all want to be loved and be useful. To make our lives connect with others and have everything make sense. Just being in the same room does not connect us. Just saying a word or looking into another's eyes does.
By connecting we can touch other people's hearts and everything can be better. I see their discomfort and their pity even though they try their best to hide it. I don't like those looks but I can understand why they do it. It is fear.
They have fear inside that I could in some way make them be more like me in their eyes. They see what they might end being - something that society says is a waste because our function cannot be measured by a bottom line or a dress size.
I am enough. I am not restricted by their numbers. I measure my life by beautiful sunsets. I see the hugs that connect me to the disconnected and the joy I feel when I am seen, actually truly seen, by another human being.
I love my life with all its imperfections, and even though I hate my disability, I love the freedom it allows me. I am a human being like everyone else. I have thoughts and feelings and I feel for every other human being who mistakes me for my disability.
I want to make them see the special needs person inside every one of us. Our special need to embrace what connects us beyond dress or color and everything on the surface that sets us apart. By seeing only what makes us different we buy into an easy excuse not to try to see the uniqueness that connects us.
I think that if we stopped making this mistake we would be more forgiving with each other. We all are part of the same family that lives on the same planet. No two people will completely agree on everything and that should be a good thing.
We grow through the challenges that make us who we are and we should never stop growing. That is why those numbers and bottom lines should not define us.
I can be anything I choose to be and I choose to be more than a number. I choose to be more than a blank stare. I choose to be everything that is possible for me even if I do it at a snail's pace. I will be me and if everyone chooses to be who they truly are then the numbers can't hurt us or make us less than the amazing and unique people we were meant to be.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Shel Silverstein's Masks

What does your mask conceal? What does your mask say about you? If your mask was to reveal rather than conceal, what would it say about you? What color would your skin be? 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Sunday, Monday, Swearing -

Talk about a weekend hangover this morning! Oh Mondays can be hard - eating a little differently than we typically do during the weekend, sleeping in, staying up later, then buzzzzzzz, the alarm goes off at 6am, we fly to the gym. Ouch, Scott and I moan and groan through that hour-long workout, always being so exhausted and happy when it's finished, and being very pleased with ourselves that we made it up, out, and moving. The hangover is worked through, and a heavy workout all accomplished before 7:30am on Monday morning!

Oh yeah, bring it on!

As for the week -

Yesterday at the Sunday service, we were having a great conversation about conversation. For some reason swearing came up. One of the men said in 28 years, he'd never heard his wife swear. Well, those of you who know me know that I'm known to drop a few "farmer" swear words upon occasion, and an occasional "F" bomb - damn it.

So my goal for this week - no swearing. Anyone want to take this challenge with me?

Friday, March 6, 2015

Serenity Prayers -

My research skills (ha!) helped me to uncover a few things about the ever-popular, ever-powerful Serenity Prayer. These included - the original poem, variants of, and the Prayer as shared today. 

If you really want to feel the power of the Prayer, try planking while reciting the original. Seriously - a deeper understanding comes when you're pushing through some productive pain - 

The most well-known form of the Serenity Prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr is this approximately 1941 version:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

A variant attributed to Niebuhr in a 1937 Christian student publication:

Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.

8th-century Indian Buddhist scholar Shantideva of the ancient Nalanda University expressed a similar sentiment:

If there’s a remedy when trouble strikes,
What reason is there for dejection?
And if there is no help for it,
What use is there in being glum?

The 11th century Jewish philosopher Solomon ibn Gabirol wrote:

And they said: At the head of all understanding – is realizing what is and what cannot be, and the consoling of what is not in our power to change.

The philosopher W.W. Bartley juxtaposes without comment Niebuhr's prayer with a Mother Goose rhyme (1695) expressing a similar sentiment:

For every ailment under the sun
There is a remedy, or there is none;
If there be one, try to find it;
If there be none, never mind it.

An original text for the Serenity Prayer was:

Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.

A slightly different version of the prayer has been adopted by 12 Step Groups:

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.