Monday, August 22, 2016

One More Hero Gone

I don’t usually read the sports section but the New York Times’ final coverage of the Olympics drew me in. There, after all the gold medal stories, was Dr. Donald A. Henderson’s obituary. 

I knew him. I read his book, “Smallpox: The Death of a Disease.” I sat at the table with him in Rotary International’s board room in Evanston, IL and at the Pan American Health Organization’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. 

 It’s entirely possible that most people have never heard of him – have no idea that he led the successful global effort to eradicate smallpox. 

Two years ago another hero died, Dr. Ciro de Quadros, who led the successful effort to eradicate polio from the Americas. Dr. de Quadros was part of the smallpox eradication team – one of the hundreds of heroes whom Dr. Henderson honored with the “Order of the Bifurcated Needle.” [The smallpox vaccine was administered with a two-pronged needle.] 

When Rotary International committed that association to the eradication of polio, Dr. D.A. Henderson was one of the experts consulted. Sometimes he supported the effort (believing it possible), sometimes not (believing it more ‘evangelical than attainable’. And sometimes he changed his mind. 

Always bringing great intellect, common sense, and compassion to his dedication to human health, he was a hero among heroes. 

However tangentially, his life touched mine and I was enriched. And he saved the lives – and the quality of life – for hundreds of thousands of us. 

Thank you, Dr. D.A. Henderson.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Herbie -- The Velvet Glove

My cat Herbie has the softest coat I’ve ever felt on any cat – softer than rabbit fur. And he loves everyone – people he has known forever and total strangers. The doorbell (whether actual or on television) spurs him into action. He greets all visitors with great enthusiasm. If they sit, he sits on their laps and revels in their attention.

And he pays intense attention to me. For years, he has supervised my writing . . . and almost every other activity. (When he is not sleeping)
Herbie will be 16 years old in October and he has kidney disease.
Although the special food I buy from the vet seems to be helping, I know it will only slow the inevitable. Knowing that, I tend to pamper him – making sure he has enough food, enough water, enough love – and a clean litter box.
I’ve long held the theory that cats (or at least my cats) are remarkably similar to two-year-old humans. You know what happens when you pamper a two-year-old? They want more.
Now when I go to bed, Herbie joins me. He walks up to the head of the bed and with gentle pushes of his front paws, rearranges me. He wants the softest pillow. He often gets the softest pillow – there are others for me.

When I’m not there, the pillow becomes his throne.
Herbie – my gentle, loving cat – has become he who must be obeyed – an iron hand in a velvet glove.

Monday, August 1, 2016

New Bed

About a year or so after my mom died, I received a small bequest. At the time I needed two things: a new bed and a new car. Mom’s money made possible both a brand new 1998 Toyota Celica in ‘Renaissance Red’ and a queen-size brass sleigh bed. Both were amazingly sexy. Mom would have been delighted.

A couple of years ago I traded my bright red car, which I had named Esmeralda, for a Subaru Crosstrek in a decorous burgundy. I call it Sam. Snow does not deter its rugged energy. It’s a good looking, practical car. 

Now the skeleton of my great brass bed leans against the west wall of my garage, awaiting a buyer from Craigslist. In its stead, I have a white wooden platform bed. Significantly smaller than its predecessor, the new bed’s headboard is now against the north wall --- where I believe the feng shui is better – and where my brass headboard could not fit because of the slant of my bungalow’s ceiling.

My whole bedroom is open and airy. I like it. Herbie my cat likes it. And the new bed is lower, making ascent/descent easier. It’s a little more boring, more practical. But it’s still a double bed. The likelihood of nocturnal non-feline company for a septuagenarian with overabundant anatomy is not high, but you never know. 

Mom would have been pleased.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Shift Happens

The left shift key on my computer sticks.

It’s a minor annoyance when I’m working on something, easily remedied by tapping it then typing over whatever I have written. But it turns out that a stuck shift key is the equivalent of the nail for the want of which the shoe was lost.

Friday I was supposed to rendezvous with other members of my writers group at 8:30 a.m. then travel with them to another member’s new home. Herbie (my cat who is not doing well at all) threw up. Tending to him, I was delayed, arriving at the rendezvous point eight minutes late. No one was there. Although the directions to the new home had been shared, I did not have them with me. And because I left in a hurry, I didn’t have my cell phone. I could think of nothing else to do except drive the 20 minute trip home and find phone numbers and directions on my magic machine (computer).

When I logged in, I was rejected. No matter what I did, I could not access either my word program (which had the document with directions and phone numbers) or my email. Oddly, I could access Facebook. I still don’t understand that. I left messages for each member of the group but the odds of their reading/responding were astronomical.

I rebooted the computer. Still nothing. Then someone suggested restarting. [I had thought rebooting and restarting were the same. They’re not.] So I restarted and tried logging in … making sure the left shift key was not depressed. Voila! I found the document and called our hostess and got directions and got to the meeting, a mere 90 minutes late.

After the meeting, I lingered to admire the member’s new home. She suggested we go out to lunch. It seemed like something she’d really like to do so we did. We found a nice, cool restaurant and ordered a refreshing repast which we were enjoying when I asked the waitress what time it was – 1:47.

I was supposed to be at another meeting, in another place by 2 p.m. Indeed I was supposed to chair the meeting. And we needed to pay, to get my friend home and I needed to drive 15 miles south to the meeting in another town.

I was late again. This time ‘only’ about an hour. It was just one of those days. Beware shift keys.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Colorado Sweat

After I moved to Colorado from Chicago in the fall of 2002, I would often take great delight in telling those still embedded in the great metropolis, how much nicer the weather was here. 

Not to mention that we had more mountains.

Things are changing.

Last winter, checking the nation’s weather in our local paper, I began to notice that things were not necessarily warmer and drier snuggled up against the Rocky Mountains.

I didn’t brag as much.

Now it is, without question, summer.

Again checking in the local paper, I have noted that the temperatures in Chicago are more reasonable (70s and 80s) than here (90s and an occasional 100+).

Recently there was a small item in our paper that confirmed my worst fears. It seems that summer temperatures and humidity are rising faster in my part of the country than most others (including Chicago). 

It’s that non-existent global warming thing again … only it’s not global, it’s local.

This summer, more than its nearly 14 predecessors, I find that I more frequently have to protect myself with antiperspirant and strategically placed talcum powder.

I now defend myself, as it were, from Colorado sweat.

At least we still have the mountains.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Where Do We Go From Here?

[I read this Sunday, July 3, following a spoken reflection on the value of sports (Go Broncos!) as an alternative to violence. Since then, headlines have reflected an apparently unending cycle of violence.]


Until today, I was not a sports fan. My primary physical chemical is estrogen, not testosterone. And I fear that even the Broncos cannot stem the increasingly vitriolic rhetoric and the escalating violence in this country.

How do we hold on to our nascent ideal of universal rights and values? How can we stem the torrents of partisan, seemingly irrational, contention that pervades government chambers and invades our homes through robo-calls and junk emails? What do I do with the surges of anger I feel toward demagogues and the National Rifle Association? How do we move away from verbal and physical violence and return to inching toward peace and justice? Like most UUs, I look for clues in the words of great souls and thinkers.

One of those has to be Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The title of his last book was “Where Do We Go From Here, Chaos or Community?” Never mind that it was published 48 years ago. There is probably no better question to ask right now. He had one answer – one that I think we need to read and listen to and learn from. He wrote: "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater; but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

 ‘Only love can do that’. … How wimpy. How profound. How do we get there?

There’s another book that has clues. It’s our grey hymnal. If you open it to the beginning pages, before the first hymn, you will find a list of UU principles and an acknowledgement of the sources from which we draw those principles. It’s okay with me if you stop listening to me and read them right now. For those of you still paying attention, check out the first principle: “We affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” [Even demagogues I suppose.] If you scan down to the sources section, there’s this phrase: “Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion and the transforming power of love.”

Love again. Wimpy and profound. How do we live this?

There’s a smaller book … one of the world’s most valuable – a United States passport. I renewed mine recently. Looking through its yet un-stamped pages, I discovered quotations inconspicuously printed throughout. Of the ten individuals quoted, only one was female. The estrogen representative was Anna Julia Cooper. We used her quote when we lighted the chalice: “The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class – it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.” I had never heard of Anna Julia Cooper. I looked her up. She was born in 1858, the daughter of a slave woman and her white slaveholder. After the Civil War, Anna enrolled in a school for freed slaves. She did well, teaching math part-time at age 10. Married at age 19 and widowed at 21, she enrolled in Oberlin College where she earned degrees in mathematics. She joined the faculty of a high school for African Americans in Washington, D.C. There she taught math, science and Latin (and eventually served as its principal). She was a popular public speaker, encouraging higher education for African American women … all the time working toward a doctoral degree. In 1925, at age 67, she received a doctorate from the Sorbonne having written her dissertation on “Slavery and the French Revolutionists”. . . in French. She raised two foster children and five adoptive children. From 1930 to 1941 she served as president of the Frelinghuysen University for working adults in Washington, D.C. She died in her sleep at age 105.

 I never knew any of that, but knowing all of that, I am even more moved by the quotation printed in my passport: “The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class – it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.”

 And it is. And it reflects “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” And the faith that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

 Hold on to those thoughts. Hold on to these truths. They are as close as we humans get to getting it right. And it is only by holding on to these truths that we can inch toward a social order based on universal rights and values.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Calendars and Contributions

They accumulate like unwanted inches around my waistline – the avalanche of requests for my contributions . . . in return for a splendid calendar … or a warm glow. 

It’s July 2016 and I am already prepared to plan the entire coming calendar year. Or would be if I filled in the 365 blank slots on my nascent collections. So much for living in the moment. 

Today was hot. My only air-conditioned room is my upstairs study. 

There, in various piles and files and folders nestled an astounding collection of missives from worthy organizations awaiting my generous donations. 

I recycled about two thirds of them. The remaining third will be pleased, I hope. It’s the best I could do. 

And the fire department can rest a little easier. There’s at least a bushel less paper awaiting spontaneous combustion. 

 But I cannot hide from the heat forever. Having cleared so many nooks and crannies I can descend my staircase assured that my checkbook and I have moved the world a little closer to paradise – or at least something a little closer to the way we/I would like it to be. 

And my cat, having almost given up hope, will finally get his dinner.