Category Archives: Reflections

Help with conversations on health care reform

Last week I was at the National Communication Association Convention in Chicago. As I rode the shuttle from one location to another, I overheard a gentleman pontificating about the “fact” that the overwhelming majority of Americans oppose health care reform. He continued in this vein the whole trip back. I sat there, struggling with myself.  One side of me said “It’s been a long day…This guy isn’t going to listen anyway… If he’s going to blatantly make up statistics that are totally contrary to the findings of actual polls with actual people, there’s no room for discussion….They’re not talking to you anyway and it would be rude to interrupt.”  The other side of me was saying “Seriously, if you don’t challenging these uninformed blowhards at every opportunity, people will accept what they say with such confidence even if it IS blatantly inaccurate”….”You’ve got the stats, call him on this!…. “Seriously, speak up!!!!!”  The tired side won out.

However, that means that you, dear readers, who may have found yourself in similar circumstances and chose not to speak might benefit from the attached powerpoint.  Tammy Allen, Lynn Stephan and I developed this for The Group in Wichita and thought we might share it here. Let us know what you think. Agree…. disagree…. whatever you think.  For us the critical issue is that we engage….which I regret to say I did NOT on the bus ride in Chicago.  

Wichita Photo Walk July 18, 2009

First of all, as a “relative” newcomer to Wichita, I can affirm that a photo walk is a GREAT way to explore an adopted city, especially if you take one early on a glorious summer morning. This morning was not to hot, not too cold, sunny, in short wonderful for photographing areas of interest. I do not profess to be the best photographer in the world, but I like to take pictures. I’ve taken a lot of art classes, so I tend to see things in angles and texture. I don’t always get what I see the first time, hence a few repeat photos. My favorites are the brock building reflected in the pond and the clock. Let me know which version you like best. Clearly all three ask the question “Does anybody really know what time it is?” but I’m undecided which does it most successfully. I also like the photo of the cupola upward, and those through the disintegrating awning, and finally the tree grate and the overpass. No idea of their real names. That’s my next task.  Enjoy and let me know what you think. Thanks to @WichitaCindy for info about the walk on twitter and facebook. It was an excellent adventure. See my pics at:  http://picasaweb.google.com/DBallardReisch/WichitaPhotoWalk?feat=directlink No, I haven’t retouched anything yet, just threw them up for fun. Enjoy!

Reflections on Mother’s Day and other holidays

I know, Mother’s Day was over a month ago and I should be asleep, but I’ve been reading blogs and decided there are some things I want to say about Mother’s Day and holidays in general.

First, I love being a Mom. I’ve told two of my Mommy stories in other venues.  This post will not be (completely) about that. It will be about THIS Mother’s Day and about holidays in general. In context, I’ve given birth to three children. My first son died at birth in August, 1984. He was three months premature. I can’t describe the devastation and pain of that loss. We were so close. I KNEW him; I felt him; we moved together and suddenly he was gone and I was alone. Abandoned. All my dreams and hopes, my most intimate connection, gone. My husband was amazing, wonderful, my partner through all the joy, hope, pain, loss. I was NOT… really… alone.

My second son, Stefan was born in May, 1988.  My pregnancy with him was scary, stressful. I didn’t trust my body. I didn’t trust doctors. I was fearful, anxious, on drugs that made me feel transparent. I was teaching full time until late at night. I was monitoring contractions with a Tokos belt twice a day for an hour. If I had too many contractions, I had to drink a lot of water, lay on my left side, wait another hour, monitor again, and then go to the hospital if I was still having contractions. I can’t remember how many times I ended up in the hospital for observation late at night being poked and prodded when all I wanted was sleep.

There’s a line in the movie Hook where one of the lost boys recognizes a grown Peter Pan and says “ah, there you are, Peter”. It was like that for me with Stefan, I looked at him and KNEW him “ah, there you are…”.  That knowledge has been a consistent part of our relationship.  We KNOW one another. We feel one another when we are apart. We KNOW on a deep level that we are both in the world. Our connection is transcendent. I admire Stefan’s presence in the world. He is talented and fearless. He is giving and loving. He makes others feel good. He also has my tendency to wonder at times (usually the most ridiculous times) if he is good enough. Some times he doubts. There is no need.

Two days shy of five years later, I gave birth to my daughter. I wanted her with an ache in the center of my being. My pregnancy with Alyssa was so different from my prior two. She and I were together in such a calm, comfortable way.  Everything went smoothly.  I was confident. I trusted my body. I KNEW nothing would go wrong. (Well, that’s true if I don’t count the five days between having an amniocentesis and getting the results. I’m a talisman person. I purchased a silver heart necklace that I wore constantly from the afternoon of the test until I got the results back. I still have that necklace. When she turned 14 I gave Alyssa a lucite heart to commemorate her having mine. Someday I’ll give her the silver one.)  When she was born Alyssa  made the most amazing cooing sound and my heart was hers. Our connection is different. She doesn’t feel me when we are apart. She is not confident that I am in the world with her wherever she goes. Our relationship is often contentious. I adore her! Though she lacks Stefan’s groundedness in the world, Alyssa is totally grounded in herself. She has a fierce sense of fairness and justice. She is a ferocious protector of those she loves and the most honest person I know. She is talented, gifted and capable of doing anything she sets her mind to. I look forward to the choices she will make.

For Mother’s Day, Stefan was in Reno finishing up the semester. Alyssa and I were here in Andover.  She made me a breakfast of cinnamon rolls and milk, then took me to Tanganyika Wildlife Park. We fed lemurs, petted pregnant red kangaroos, snuggled rabbits, petted a sugar glider (my family’s favorite creature – next to otters – but that’s a story for another time). We walked arm in arm and enjoyed the marvels we saw. Then we went to Freddy’s for burgers, then home, then to the Star Trek movie. We had the most incredible, engaged day. We were both fully present.

Alyssa’s mantra of the day was “It’s Mother’s Day”!. When her friends called to invite her to play soccer and eat pizza, she said “It’s Mother’s Day”. She was single mindedly committed to being with me the whole day and we had a marvelous time. Many people disparage holidays. “We should treat our loved ones with care every day”, they say. While this is true, holidays are special. They are reminders to take the time to show those we love that they are precious to us.  That is what Mother’s Day meant to me this year – time for my daughter and I to hang out to be together, to take the time.

This weekend is the 4th of July, another time we can take the time to gather with those we love. Again my son is in Reno (we’ll go there to see him perform next week) and my daughter and I are home in Andover. We’ll have a cookout with friends, play yard games, shoot off fireworks (we’ve never lived anywhere we could do this before – we love fireworks!) and revel in being together, being citizens of this amazing country, making memories, marking important moments, together. Holidays are important. In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, they remind us to pause, to take the time, to be in the moment. Enjoy the holiday! Enjoy all the moments!

Darfur discussion

I wanted to add my thoughts to the ongoing conversation between Sierra Scott and Todd Ramsey regarding Sierra’s Darfur video.  First, I need to admit that I have not been to Darfur.  My thoughts come from my experiences in Russia, Central Asia, and regions of Africa.  I have taught judges throughout these regions and come to some conclusions about transparency, particularly with U.S. Americans.

From my perspective, I think it’s critical that any time we interact with other cultures, particularly in conflictual areas, we realize that our access is inherently limited. Those who invite us have agendas. We see what they wish us to see and even “open access” is suspect as we cannot know the threats those in authority have made to those with whom we are allowed contact. I saw this very strongly in my experiences in Zimbabwe. Two young female magistrates took me to a bazaar (an outdoor market) so that I could see how Zimbabweans really lived.  The whole afternoon I heard hissing wherever we went. The magistrates told me it was nothing. People were polite, solicitous, and friendly to me throughout the day. At the end of the day, the magistrates admitted that they were the target of the hissing, that because they were dressed in western clothes (jeans, t-shirts, baseball hats) the locals were letting them know of their displeasure. They told me that had I not been with them they would likely have been assaulted. I was shocked! My presence seemed a flimsy security. As I did further research when I returned home, I learned that women had been stripped, beaten, and chased through the streets in Harrare for wearing western dress.

So what is my point? Caution is critical in claiming “truth” in conflictual international situations. “This is my perspective”; “This was my experience” is simply a more prudent approach. I lived in Russia for a year and have visited many times. Never would I claim based on all the experiences I have had in that country or all the research that I have done to KNOW the truth of Russia.  There are too many complex reasons for people to tell me either what they think I want to hear, or what they want me to believe. A short fact-finding trip is simply not adequate to ascertain truth.

My final thought is that caution is necessary when one concludes that care about one region of the world negates concern for another region that is also experiencing atrocities. It is a straw-man argument to say “It’s worse over there, so why are you concerned about what is happening here”. Concern for one injustice does not negate or diminish another. To become a more humane world, we need voices speaking out about injustice and atrocities wherever they are found. I look forward to this continuing discussion.

I commend Sierra for her interest in returning to the areas of Darfur she was not able to visit the first time and for sharing her experiences.  I commend Todd and Hayley for their forthright questioning and willingness to indict truth claims with counterevidence.

I want my country back!

I feel I have lost my country and I am disheartened by this fact. If we do not live by our ideals we can no longer claim those ideals. When our country, founded on the belief that our government is supposed to be responsive to the citizenry, allows that government to make decisions that violate the constitution, that violate the rule of law, that violate the humane treatment of prisoners, I fear for the future of our nation.  When we violate the basic tenets of our legal system including the right to face accusers, the right to trial by a jury of our peers, the right to due process, we unravel the fabric of who we are as a nation. When we can say the behavior of our soldiers is too inflammatory to be seen by the general public, when we can’t try detained individuals in our legally constituted courts because our elected officials claim that our courts do not have the capacity to handle the charges, we unravel the fabric of who we are as a nation.  When we say our federal prisons which have housed terrorists for years suddenly are not safe to house convicted terrorists, we unravel the fabric of our nation.

These positions speak of patriarchy and fear. We, the people, do not know enough to make informed decisions, they say. Our elected officials need to protect us from uncomfortable truths and make decisions for us, they say. We should trust them and not ask questions, they say. It’s for our own good, they say. It’s for our standing in the world, they say. When these excuses are given, when these explanations for why we need to give up our constitutional rights are given, we, the people, need to reclaim our government. We need to vote in elected officials who remember what we stand for. I had hoped that we had done so by electing President Obama. Now I am not so hopeful.

We, the people, can deal with the errors in judgment made in our name by former administrations. We, the people, can deal with the fallout of those choices. What I fear that we, the people, cannot deal with is any more hiding, failing to take responsibility for our actions, and holding ourselves to a different standard than we expect from the rest of the world.

If we are the change we seek, we must seek change that elevates our nation, that elevates the rule of law, that elevates humanity. Yes, these are difficult times, but our ability to weather them will, in my humble opinion, be determined by the quality of our character and the example we set, areas in which we have been woefully lax in recent years.  I want my country back, a country based on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I want my country back, a country based on justice, the rule of law, and due process. I want my country back!

Reflections on the candlelight vigil for Dr. Tiller in Wichita May 31, 2009

I know many people have written about Dr. Tiller’s murder. I know that his death will galvanize and polarize those who supported as well as those who disagreed with his beliefs and actions. I did not personally know Dr. Tiller, but I was compelled to attend the candlelight vigil last night.  I was impressed with the civil, thoughtful, compassionate assembly.  Those in attendance were kind to one another; members of Dr. Tiller’s church passed out candles and walked through the crowd of around 400 people relighting candles that were blown out by the wind.  Strangers stood side by side and shared their sadness, their determination for the future of women’s health, their fears for the future, and lit and relit one another’s candles.  People met and embraced friends who shared their sadness at this tragedy. I left when the singing began with a greater appreciation for Wichita. I appreciate both diversity and conviction. I keep being surprised by both here. I appreciate the careful, thoughtful way those who spoke talked about Dr. Tiller’s life and contributions to the community and to women’s health choices in general. I appreciate the courage of conviction and ability to look at the bigger picture of those who spoke.  It’s always easier not to make waves, to choose the safe, nonthreatening path.  Dr. Tiller lived for years consciously, publicly taking the most difficult of paths, living the courage of his convictions. I am saddened that such a tragedy occurred in my adopted city. I am heartened by those who attended and spoke at Dr. Tiller’s vigil.   In the face of a tragedy, Wichitans in Old Town last night pulled together in thoughtful compassion and proved that the actions of one man did not reflect the views of many. On balance, Wichita earned positive marks from me yesterday.

Thoughts on the loss of Laura and Jami

Today is my wonderful daughter’s 16th birthday. I am so blessed! Today it is one year to the day since her friend Laura killed herself. This is a message I wrote some months ago, but decided to wait to post until today, to acknowledge this anniversary, an event my daughter will remember every year, on her birthday. This is no easier and the answers are no clearer today than they were the day I wrote this. That said, the questions, the answers, are important! Jami and Laura are important!

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I sit here, on my porch listening to the rain.  I wonder.  What is the gap that makes it possible for two beautiful, talented, young women, with family and friends who loved them dearly, to choose to take their own lives.  What in their despair and pain makes it impossible for them to see past the hard moments that faced them, to see all the potential ahead, and to choose in that moment to end their lives?

What resources are we not building in ourselves, in one another, that we don’t realize the rain will stop; the light will shine through the clouds; we will be loved, nurtured, supported through the pain, through the bad times?

Laura, victim of violence, could not cope, could not see beyond, and a 15 year old life with so much potential was ended.

Jami, victim of someone else’s mental illness, of someone else’s short sighted thinking, could not see beyond the hurt, the unearned guilt, the unfair accusation, to find a way to cope with someone else’s choices, and so she made her own.

In despair, so focused inward they couldn’t see the end of their pain, they couldn’t see the web of connections they shared with others, they couldn’t see the love of those around them – both Laura and Jami chose to end their lives.

This act, suicide, has such lasting impacts on those left behind.  Whether intentional or not, it is an act of great cruelty that causes pain and damages those left behind.  Jami, you knew this and still you could not stay your hand.

How do we teach ourselves that sorrow, that guilt, that hurt are a part of life, that as the flip sides of joy, love, compassion, they provide opportunities for growth, for transcendence.  The guilt, pain, hurt, will end; they are transient, to be replaced by joy, love, compassion, to be replaced by more mistakes, all opportunities for growth.  What feels so hopeless and insurmountable today will pass.  We will look back; we will learn and grow from the past; we will be stronger, more resilient for having persevered.  So little in life is worth choosing death. 

As I watch my daughter, my son, in the aftermath of the devastating loss of their friends to suicide.  I know a few things.  I know that we must teach trust in connection.  I know that we must teach communication.  I know that isolation in pain can lead to a killing spiral.  Reaching out when in pain is difficult, but critically necessary for healing, sometimes for simply surviving.

Laura and Jami, I cry for you, for the loss of your potential, for the depth of your despair, for the desperation in your choices. I cry for all who loved you and are searching for meaning.  I hope that the tragedy of your choices will provide strength for those who loved you, strength in their connections to one another, strength in their common loss.

Reflections on Mali.

Tonight I sit here so very grateful for all the positive support and love I’ve received this week from friends both technologically mediated and physically present. I’ve tweeted about my best friend’s daughter Mali and her journey following a pseudoaneurysm a week ago. Her coma, the progression of her condition, her family’s struggles, my request for prayers and energy have all resulted in care and compassion from so many people. I can’t thank you enough.

The final chapter of Mali’s journey is coming to a close. Today she was diagnosed with a virulent form of pneumonia caused by bacteria introduced through her breathing tube. The decision was made to discontinue life support and allow Mali to go. It was clear from the early prognosis and every test since that the damage from the pseudoaneurysm was severe, that Mali would never regain capacity, and that she would likely not survive.  She was clear in recent years that if anything like this ever happened to her, she would not want to be kept alive through heroic measures.

This last week has been one of the most difficult of my life. If I believe that there are lessons we are to learn in our lives, mine are that I do not control anything and that I must be patient.  Neither come easy for me. Nor do they to my friend Mary. That said, this week I have been clear that I have no control.  I have been patient.  I have remembered to breathe. I have waited in Mary’s silences. I have held Jess as she cried. I have reached out to friends and family. I have tried to live in the moment.I have tried to be with the pain of this coming loss.

What I know: Mali is a lovely young woman, a devoted mother of two beautiful children, a loving wife, daughter, sister, a good, kind, compassionate friend. I know that I have been blessed to be a part of her life. I know that the grace and compassion her family members have shown to one another this week as they negotiate the impossible task of letting go of a daughter, wife, sister, mother has humbled me. I know that strength is found in the moment, not in planning for the future, not in reliving the past, but in the moment-to-moment choices we make to be present, to be human, to claim our truths. I know that I will miss Mali, that her passing will leave a gap. I know also that her process this week has illuminated the best in her family and those she loves. I know that Mali continues to make a difference as she concludes this final chapter. I know that the support, love, compassion, prayers, positive energy of so many have helped all of us this week.

Addendum: Jessica had asked Mary to tell the story of meeting Mali at an orphanage in Thailand where Mary and Glenn were teaching after stints in the peace corps. Mary talked of seeing this beautiful baby girl and their knowing that Mali was destined to be their daughter.  Mali passed away peacefully early this morning as her mother, sister and husband sat with her, recounting the story of her beginning.

Reflections on a late March winter storm

Day 1

Small ice balls sting my face as I head to my car, home beckoning

Winter storms and early closings, gifts to be treasured, precious in their rarity

Safely inside my home, ice balls which can no longer sting my skin, fling themselves against the picture windows, obscuring the clarity of the view with their tears

Their cacophony sending the dogs pacing first to the front door, then to the back, curious to see who has come to visit, someone (something) is knocking after all

The symphony of sound accompanies us all evening and as we retire to sleep

Day 2

The morning dawns gray and overcast

The quiet, an obvious contrast to last night’s noise, is almost deafening

Ice balls firmly frozen to the ground make walking less treacherous than if it had been smooth

A light coating of snow – the ice must have given way at some point as we slept – gives further traction to our steps

We enter a winter wonderland, one that escaped us in winter, but which has come to us in spring

The quiet of the morning, sound muted by the snow, a sharp contrast to the noise of last evening’s ice

River birch, aspen, maple trees, shrouded in ice, bend down to kiss the earth

I hope that when they shed their icy coats, they will again reach for the sky – I fear that some will be lost, not flexible enough to withstand the encounter

On our walk, the dogs root out ice balls, fling them in the air, catch them in what can only be called pure pleasure, chomping away –  Who knew that dogs found such enjoyment in ice balls!

A three-wheeler driving father races up and down the street towing two flailing, giggling toddlers on a sled

Merlin and Jami want to take chase

I move them steadily toward the field where they can run freely

I laugh at their play, crazy eights around me, plowing into and through snow drifts, sometimes wrestling, rolling on their backs, sometimes racing one another away from, back to, me

Snow falling harder now, almost horizontally, small, almost invisible flakes

New dogs appear, mine approach, a low whistle from beyond the tree line calls the others off as unseen people choose a different route

“Come” I call. Jami and Merlin turn to me, look back once, decide to follow

Homeward we turn, into the wind

Snow covered muzzles, icy paws, wet fur

 I tend to the dogs, drying them, warming them

Then lying in front of the fireplace to warm, the little dog curled in the big dog’s tail, they sleep as the silent blanket of snow falls harder

Two small sparrows take shelter under the chairs on my deck, leaving small, sharp footprints in the snow

Near sunset, neighbor children build a miniature Stonehenge in their back yard, the setting sun gleaming, for the first time today, off their masterpiece

The icy world of yesterday has given way to the snowy wonderland of today

Day 3

The dogs wake, again to a different winter wonderland, more snow to roll in, to throw, but today, a crispy coating covers what yesterday was powder making our steps crackle as we walk

I wonder if it will hold our weight …  It does

Later, I shovel a third of a foot of drifted snow, heavy with water off the porch

I chip 6 inches of ice pack off the driveway, helped along by a friendly neighbor and the sheet of water below

The day is warming

A stream of fast moving water runs in the street

Today sound has returned to the world, loud crackeling sound, as ice cloaks are released from tree branches, as icicles fall from rooftops, and as snow slides off roofs

Again the dogs assume visitors and run to and from the doors

Cabin fever strikes and I head for lunch to a favorite coffee house for a chicken-salad salad and a chai latte, then to the bookstore for a bit of interaction with other humans

I return to the dogs and decide on another walk

This time I notice different sounds, bird sounds

The thrum of air around the wings of startled ducks who fly low inside a narrow water-filled channel tickles the soles of my feet

The whistle of air through the wings of geese as they glide into a pond, landing in the water whooshing to a stop

The song of birds who trust again that spring is here

We head for the field, past neighbors in shorts shoveling snow, unwilling to give winter another minute’s hold over them

Today too muddy for field frolicking, we walk fast, taking in the fresh air, dog heads held high, tails wagging

Near sunset again, the chill in the breeze more pronounced, we turn toward home

Trees again stand upright having shaken off their brief encounter with the earth

The everyday world of tasks and jobs beckons, the magical time-between-time almost over

I have cherished these three days; I will carry these sights and sounds with me, back to the time-bound world, tomorrow