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Archive for the ‘Surviving’ Category

What does this image look like to you? An Unidentified Flying Object (UFO)? A mysterious light that appears in the sky and then disappear? An edge-on view of the Milky Way? None of the above?

I choose None of the Above. Let me explain.

It’s a Starburst. Not a real Starbust of the kind we might see in the sky. Nor is it a Starburst that has been created for effect by photographic lenses made for that purpose.

It’s a Starburst that I and many other individuals see after cataract surgery. It appears to emanate from automobile headlights and street lamps at night and from reflections from metal surfaces and headlights in the day.

However, although Starbursts appear to come from light sources, they are probably caused by one or more conditions in the implanted lens. For example, lenses are pre-measured and manufactured for your and my eyes. An error in the calculation could cause Starbursts.

Most Starbursts and other visual abnormalities, such as Halos, disappear with time as conditions such as post-operative swelling of the cornea subside. Generally, most visual disturbances will subside within six months. Some may remain as long as a year. Right now, I’m at the three-month mark.

The image above, which is my crude alteration of one of Word7’s Standard Shapes, is my personal Starburst. Others people may see different shapes. And some Starbursts are accompanied by haloes. I don’t see haloes but I sometimes see a faint shadow image of a stoplight similar to my simple diagram of a green light shown below.

And, oddly, when I look toward a ceiling light in the dining area of my home, I see a wider spike that resembles a sunbeam cutting through dust in the air.

As far as shapes and colors go, my Starburst is always the same, day or night. The light forms the center and two spikes of light shoot out, one to the left and one to the right at about 60 degree angles. The left spike always extends down and the right up.

My Starbursts haven’t interfered with my eyesight or my mobility. Of course, I see them and the shadow around the left bottom of stoplights.  But for the most part, I don’t notice them unless I look directly at a light. Maybe, I often think, the Starbursts will always be there, just unnoticed.

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Another child murdered. Another family in turmoil. Another mother in pain so excruciating that she collapsed on television. This mother now joins other mothers forever deprived of the pleasure and joy of loving a child and watching it achieve in life and in school, attending proms, graduating, heading for college, and eventually having its own family.

What monster could perpetrate such a crime? What kind of twisted personality could snatch a child walking from the school bus to home in virtual plain sight of the child’s friends? Who in God’s name could murder an innocent young human being and toss it’s body on a garbage dump as if it were a piece of trash?

This is what happened to Somer Thompson and her family in Florida. One day, they were happy and loving, the next day, they were thrown into absolute chaos, forever touched by a vicious murder, lives forever dark and brooding. This family and this mother will never “move on” They will live their lives forever in the grip of depression and a Post Murder Syndrome (PMS), which seems to be a peculiarly American disease.

As much as it tends to trivialize and remove the human element from despicable acts, the statistics of child abuse and murder stagger the imagination. Every year in America, about 3,000,000 incidents of child abuse are reported to various government agencies. Sure, not all of these turn out to be legitimate cases of child abuse, but if even ten percent are valid, 300,000 children are the objects of some sort of abuse. That is staggering and it suggests a society that hasn’t come to grips with its acceptance of cruelty against children.

The numbers on homicides are also mind boggling. From the time that statistics on murder began to be reported to the federal government in the early 1900’s until the present time, more Americans have been murdered in this country than have been killed in all of the wars America has engaged in since the birth of the nation. If you doubt this statistic, do as I did. Visit your local library and take a look at a publication called The Statistical Abstract of the United States. Tabulate the number of murders per year, beginning with the first year on record, 1900. My own tabulation covered the years 1900 through 2000, and the total number of murders was just short of 2,000,000. That’s almost two million dead people in a span of 100 years, an average of about 20,000 murders a year. Of course, the number per year will vary. In some years the figure may be less than 20,000 and more in others. But the total number of almost 2,000,000 is still there.

The number of Americans who died in America’s wars, roughly 1,000,000 (I’m working from memory here), pales in comparison to the number of murders. But at least we can understand and accept death as a result of military conflicts. We cannot understand and we ought not to accept senseless murder and child abuse.

What in God’s name can we do to prevent the violence against innocent beings in our society? At the moment, solutions seem elusive. When a murder is sensationalized in the media, we get on a roll and the air and cable waves are loaded with talking heads and experts of all sorts who raise our righteousness to a new level the way a balloon with a (rumored) six year old boy in it rises and soars across the Colorado prairie. Then, as soon as the current murder or sensational event loses its immediate emotional impact and hence its revenue potential, those same media twerps file the story in the bin of yesterday’s news. Remember Elian Gonzales?

Concurrent with the loss of media interest, our righteousness subsides and the victim loses its identity, relegated to the obscure and forgotten pages of The Statistical Abstract of the United States. Unfortunately, there are no solutions in this obscure government publication.

As individuals, we may be powerless to effect change, but as a society, we ought to be ashamed.  Shame, however, is un-American. Murder is the price we pay for freedom.

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This may sound heartless, but I can’t seem to dredge up any pity for Roman Polanski. He was arrested recently in Switzerland and placed in jail pending a deportation hearing on a 32-year old warrant because he  failed to appear in court for sentencing on a charge of unlawful sex with a minor, a charge he pled guilty to. Instead, he fled the United States and has been living in Europe since.

Almost immediately after his arrest, the elites of France went berserk, accusing the United States of picking on this poor old seventy-some year old man. Then several of Hollywood’s biggest names jumped in on Polanski’s side.

Meanwhile, it turns out that a lot of ordinary French people and Americans as well have no sympathy for Polanski, either. He should come back and face the music, many argue. He committed a crime, he ought to do the time. After all, isn’t that what the bigwigs have told us for years and years?

So, suddenly, these same believers in the sanctity of the law want this guy who had sex with a 13-year old girl to escape justice because he spent his life after evading it making fine movies that are applauded by the elites of Europe and Hollywood. I wonder how these individuals would feel if Polanski’s 13-year old victim happened to be a daughter of one of them.

What about Polanski’s victim? For all of the years Polanski roamed as free as a bird, she’s been psychologically imprisoned by the vile acts committed by him on her body, damaged by thoughts of this man working over her, performing oral sex and sodomizing her mind and body.

Those who support Polanski argue that the judge was biased against him. If I were the judge I would have been biased against him, too. After all, he pled guilty to those acts.  He deserved prison time then and he deserves it now.

His supporters also contend that the judge violated a plea agreement that would have placed Polanski on probation without jail time. As a matter of law, judges do not negotiate pleas with defendants. The prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney work out an agreement and present it to the judge. The judge can accept or reject it.

Judges reject plea agreements every day somewhere in America. They also accept them. In the Polanski case, we actually don’t know how the judge would have decided since Polanski cut out before decision time. Now, the judge is dead and we will never know.

Every year there are over 3,000,000 (that’s three million) reported instances of child abuse in America. Not every case involves sexual abuse and not all reports are verified. But if only 10 percent of the reports were valid, that would still amount to a horrendous 300,000 incidents annually. That is one hell of a statistic for a country that purports to be a nation of laws, not of men.

For the sake of our children, men like Polanmski need to feel the heat of prison. If only one incipient predator gets the message and decides to drive on by instead of abducting a child on the way to school, then Polanski’s incarceration will at least have served a socially redeeming purpose.

If Roman Polanski were an ordinary citizen, his victim would be just another statistic, lost in a bureaucratic spreadsheet. But the publicity surrounding Polanski ultimately resulted in the self-revelation of her identity. Samantha Gailey Geimer, now 45 years old, has decided that she will no longer permit the incident that happened so many years ago to imprison her mind. A revelation like that takes courage.

If Polanski had her courage, if he were any kind of man, he’d voluntarily return to the United States and take his medicine. Then, his supporters might have something to commend him for.

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The day before yesterday marked 30 days, one month, since her spirit soared to the heavens where she watches over us as she watched so many years on Earth. She is pain free now, and for that, we are grateful. Her last months were difficult for her.

When she became bedridden, I was her sole caregiver. My morning routine began around 5 a.m. with a shower, followed by a trip to the kitchen to brew her morning coffee.

While the coffee was heating, I put a couple of pieces of cinnamon toast in the toaster and opened a packet of instant oatmeal, the kind you empty in a bowl and add hot water.

By the time everything was ready, she would be awake. I’d ask her if she wanted her breakfast in bed or in her favorite chair. Although she preferred to remain in bed most of the time, she occasionally had the strength to sit upright and watch television while she ate. I always monitored her closely, however, for signs of pain in her face. I knew her every nuance and at the first hint of pain, I quickly moved her to the bed before the pain took over.

If the pain won, she would moan, and as quickly as I could, I would give her a prescribed dose of Vicodin, a pain medication that didn’t always dull the pain. Even if the medication worked, about 40 minutes would pass before it took hold.

In those 40 minutes, I was helpless. I stroked her brow and forehead and whispered to her, hoping she took some solace from my touch and voice.

And then, if and when the medication worked, she would become quiet and still and sleep for about an hour, waking with the smile that always melted my heart.

Occasionally, after she woke, she would be in high spirits and talk about walking around our favorite shopping mall. When her euphoria first occurred and she talked about walking, I didn’t understand what was happening. I reminded her, rather bluntly, “But you can’t walk.”

At my words, her face lost its glow. She sank back in her bed and just stared at the ceiling. Only later did I understand that she had forgotten that she couldn’t walk. After that, I always said something like, “Okay, let’s go,” or “When would you like to go?” She soon forgot and usually fell asleep.

At home, she always received immediate attention from me. In the hospital, it wasn’t unusual for a nurse to take thirty minutes to an hour to respond.  When I complained to the staff doctor, he listened sympathetically and said, “I understand your frustrations. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be in the hospital, either.” I decided then that she would remain with me at home no matter how hard that might make it for me.

When I wasn’t attending to her needs, I worked around the house, washing dishes and clothes, cleaning, and doing the things she had done for us for so many years. I learned the truth of the old adage, “A woman’s work is never done.”

And, yes, I grew physically tired, so tired that on occasion I would lay beside her in the bed with a crossword puzzle in hand. More often than not, my eyes would droop and my pen would fall on my shirt, leaving ink stains on it. I always worked crossword puzzles with a pen because it forced me to get it right the first time.

When she seemed to be especially down, I would lay beside her with her hands in mine and talk to her, trying to reassure her, whispering how much I loved her and how I would gladly give her my strength. She would often grasp my hands and squeeze them as hard as she could, as if by easing her grip I might leave her.

But I knew in my heart that I would never leave her. She had given her heart and soul to her family. Without her, our lives would have been empty and desolate. She demonstrated her love in so many ways small and large, from the placement of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the counter for our daughters when they returned from school to telling them later in life that the gifts on special occasions were my idea when in truth, they were hers.

Ever shy and self-effacing, she rarely showed her emotions in public. When a daughter graduated or married or when one left home to begin her own family, she would remain composed through the ceremonies only to cry alone in the shower later. We all knew her habits and they endeared her to us. We knew her composure in public was a signal to us that we must remain strong.

For the most part, we followed her guidance. But when she left us, we cried uncontrollably. We weren’t strong. But I think she understood.

I often wondered and still do if she knew her overpowering effect on us and how much we loved her in life and always will.

We talk now about monthly anniversaries, but before we realize it, months will become years. Even so, her memory will be fresh within us. We will always love her with all of our heart and soul.

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As a youngster, I thought nothing of moving from one place to another. In fact, I used to describe my itchiness as an overpowering desire “to be where I ain’t.” Any excuse was sufficient as a reason to head for new pastures, or to return to old ones, as the itch struck.

My wanderlust didn’t stop when we married. Not immediately anyway. Let me count the times I uprooted children from playmates and wife from a settled existence and her circle of friends: Oakland CA to San Rafael; San Rafael to Petaluma; Petaluma to Riverside; Riverside to Honolulu; Honolulu to Tracy CA; Tracy to Honolulu.

If my math is correct and my memory intact, that’s six times in about four years, not a large number, but those long-distance moves weren’t the whole story. Once we had settled in a new town, it wasn’t unusual for me to move from house to house on a whim.

But that still isn’t the whole story. I had a traveling job. It wasn’t unusual for me to spend 60 days at a whack in a single foreign country and then fly directly to another country for 30 days before returning home.

My life would have been wonderful for a single guy or gal, but when you’re married with children, complications can arise. Like the day I called home from the Philippines hoping for a nice chat with my wife only to be met by a breathless daughter who said without preamble, “Dad, I quit college.” She later finished, but that short sentence almost gave me a heart attack and forced me to reexamine my lifestyle.

I gave up traveling and moving around, but I failed miserably when it came to dreaming and talking. If I casually mentioned another location, my family would become agitated. They’d mill around, and one of the girls would say something like, “Mom, Dad wants to move!”

The fear in them was there for anyone to see, but I didn’t. I think the turning point came when, after one of my rambling monologue about “new pastures,” a daughter asked plaintively, “What about me,” obviously anxious about the possibility we would leave her behind.

Throughout this period, my wife tolerated my behavior, but she didn’t offer overt criticism. That wasn’t her way. Rather, she continued to work, smiling and pleasant as usual but with an unmistakable coolness until I shut up. She was always very effective when it came to guiding me in the “right” direction.

Over time, the girls left home to establish their own careers and families. My wife and I often talked about finding a nice retirement spot but that’s as far as it went. We were comfortable here and my desire “to be where I ain’t” had faded away.

Then, the unexpected unexpectedly happened. She passed away so suddenly that it absolutely stunned me. At first, I panicked. With the help of two of our daughters and a son in law, we packed up some stuff and headed for the airport, leaving the house under the watchful eye of a police officer friend who lived next door.

In these moments of panic, I had visions of moving permanently but that goal shifted and I decided to spend some time in Tejas, Annapolis, and the Bay Area, with side trips to garden spots like Reno, Lovelock (where my mother lived in another age), and Winnemucca.

But even that plan changed as I found myself wanting with all of my heart to return to the home where all of my memories of her resided. I’ll return, of course, but will I stay or will I once again want “to be where I ain’t?”

I have a hunch that her spirit in the family home is the power that will hold me there until I join her. When that happens, I’ll never again want to be where I ain’t. She planned it that way.

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I’ve never been in a foxhole, so I can’t offer direct testimony for or against the theory. About all I can say is that the statement sounds logical. When our life is in imminent danger of coming to an abrupt halt, we may reflexively pray regardless of our professed disbelief in a god or gods. Approaching death makes believers out of a lot of people, in or out of foxholes.

I’ve always been skeptical of the Biblical version of a god. Call me a heretic if you wish, but I just can’t seen to get a handle on an invisible being in the sky who created all that is around us in seven days and then rested.

And, yet, there is so much about the universe and human nature that is unexplainable. Are humans merely a product of random chance? Was my beloved no more than a fortuitous arrangement of protoplasm? The thought seems outrageous, so preposterous, in fact, that I am forced to reject it out of hand. A human of such inner and outer beauty could not possibly be just an accidental creation.

For many years, I rejected both the theory of creationism and the theory of evolutionism. For awhile, I thought about and accepted in part a belief in the universal nature of all things. We are all a part of the Earth and the Sun that give us conscious life. There is no distinction between the animate and inanimate. When we die, we become once more a part of the elements. We soar with the wind and float atop waves. Our spirit rides on sunbeams, ever touching those we love and ever giving them the gift of the warmth that is our love.

When did I abandon this belief? As my beloved lay dying and when I heard my daughter cry our, “Dad, she’s going,” I began to cry and kiss my loved one’s cheek and caress her hair, begging her to stay with us.

And then, I began to pray. I implored God to give us just one more moment, just one more smile, just one more exhilarating glance into her sparkling eyes. I prayed silently as I had never prayed before.

But God’s response didn’t touch my personal foxhole. He permitted her to silently slip away, and suddenly she became still and quiet. I continued to cry and kiss her, but I knew there would be no reanimation of dead tissue.

Life is short, brutal, and nasty for many. But she made my life tolerable. Someday, if I am fortunate, we will join again. Until then, I’ll wait patiently and dream about our life together.

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Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne envisions a world without print journalism in his on-line column today. It isn’t pretty for the legions of working journalists and would-be-journalists.

Under the rules of a capitalist economic system, print journalism will be replaced by some form of electronically-transmitted news.  Dionne uses a nice analogy, however, to hold out hope for inveterate news readers.

General Motors may disappear under the capitalistic onslaught, but cars will continue to be manufactured by other companies.

In like manner, hard-copy newspapers may fade away, but the news will always with us, albeit in a different form and transmitted by different means.

To legions of old-line newspaper readers, that could be a life-altering experience. Scrolling through a news source with a mouse in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other just doesn’t seem like the proper way to start a day.

Needless to say, the newspaper industry is striving mightily to remain relevant and competitive with internet news sources, but it has been a losing battle. Major papers from coast to coast have disappeared and more may follow.

If there is a bright spot, it may lie in small town papers. Many have also bitten the dust, but there are still a few thousand daily papers rolling off the presses every day.

Another saving approach could lie in specialization. Most newspapers, large and small, attempt to satisfy everyone. Thus, papers are crammed with embellishments like crossword puzzles, Sudoko challenges, recipes, comic strips, and society gossip, to name a few. Economics has already forced many papers out of the generalist business by eliminating some of these special features.

Further specialization in the kind of news a paper chooses to include may also reduce content, as papers strive to appeal to a special audience, such as those interested solely in politics, business, or cultural matters.

Business publications have enjoyed a modicum of economic stability for a long time. Other specialized models may follow as the survival shakeout continues.

I am reminded of a small, foreign language newspaper in Hawaii once edited by a friend of mine. Honolulu has had two major dailies for centuries, yet the state of Hawaii also has several smaller papers aimed at specific ethnic groups.

The paper I am thinking about is the Hawaii Hochi. It’s small as papers go, but it prints its front page in English and its inner content in Japanese, and to meet its needs, the paper employs both an English-page editor and a Japanese news editor.

The remarkable aspect about the Hochi is its continued existence despite a shrinking population of Japanese readers. Even so, it has seen its own hard times in the face of a declining readership. It has managed to stay around by branching into other fields, such as job printing. At one time, it published special editions funded by businesses, governments, or educational institutions that wish to commemorate special occasions.

In short, the Hochi has adapted to the capitalist business mode and has stuck it out through thick and thin.

Could such a model work elsewhere? Yes, but it would require a reevaluation of just what is print journalism. For one thing, journalists would need to perform multi-functions. One day, a journalist might cover city hall. The next day, he or she may be assigned to collect information about a company’s history and write the copy for a centennial edition.

Whichever model comes out a winner in the long run, I am sure of one thing. Hard-copy newspapers are not going to disappear entirely. It’s just too satisfying to lean back and prop your feet up during your morning coffee break and doze behind the safety of a large newspaper.

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