Freedom of Expression

I was walking down the street the other day and I saw three White guys beating the heck out of a Black guy.  The Black guy was down on the ground and the three White guys were taking turns pummeling him.  I rushed up and yelled “Stop, what the heck do you guys think you are doing.”  One of the White guys answered “what does it look like, we are beating the shit out of a Black guy.”  “What did he do”, I asked.   “What do you mean what did he do?  “He was being Black” came back the reply.

“Are you guy’s crazy?  You can’t just beat someone up for being Black.”   I retorted.

i-dont-give-a-fuck

The three guys huddled for a minute and finally one of the three (A guy with bright red hair and lots of tattoos) came out of the huddle and took me by the shoulder.  “Look he said, you look like a fairly intelligent guy.”  Two of my friends over there never went to college.  I went for a few years so they nominated me to talk to you. “

“What is there to talk about?  You have no right no beat up on this poor man”, I answered.

“Aahh, that is where you are wrong” said Tattoo Guy.  “We have every right.  In fact, we have a constitutional right to beat him up.”

“Are you serious or trying to kid me, I ask.”

“No I am not kidding” said Tattoo Guy, “I am very serious. It is our constitutional right.”

“OK,” I say, “I will bite, what is the right you think you have?”

“Well” says Tattoo Guy, “have you ever heard of ‘Freedom of Expression.’  The constitution struthays every American citizen has Freedom of Expression.  Thus, we are just expressing our free rights as American citizens to beat up on people we don’t like.”

“I am not sure that is what the Founding Fathers meant by Freedom of Expression”, I answer.

“Well, frankly we don’t give a fuck what you think.  Furthermore, if you keep interfering we might just sue you for violating our constitutional rights.”

“Hold on now.  I thought we were having a friendly conversation here.  Now you are threatening to sue me.  On what grounds?” I ask.

I could see Tattoo Guy thinking about my question for a while and then he answered “Well, since you are being so polite about it, we won’t sue you, at least not for now.”

“Wow, thanks” said I.

trump-and-pc“Look, said Tattoo Guy, we voted for Donald Trump and he respects our Freedom of Expression rights.  We are sick and tired of the PC shit you pussies and commies have been spreading in this country for years.  We are tired of watching what we say and do because we might be called rednecks or bigots or even racists.  It’s a new day for America.  We are going to make our country great again.”

“With Donald Trump as president, I can call anyone I want a nigger, kike, frog, wop, dago, spook, wetback, cunt, fag, pussy, greaser, Jap, slope.  It’s my Freedom of Expression” says Tattoo Guy.

“So basically you were sick and tired of having your Freedom of Expression curtailed by anti-hate laws and people who are sick of being insulted because of their color or sex” I asked?

freedom-of-expression“You are more or less on the right track” says Tattoo Guy.  “Used to be you could tell some nigger jokes, put up pinups of nude girls, even grab a few pussies once in a while and no one bothered you.  Then, all this PC stuff started and before you knew it, you had to watch what you said and did.  A White person’s Freedom of Expression went down the drain.  Well, no more PC now.  So can we please get back to beating the shit out of this nigger?”

“What about this man’s Freedom of Expression” I ask.  “Don’t you think he also has some rights?”

“Sure” says Tattoo Guy, “He can say whatever he thinks.  We don’t care.  Just as long as he doesn’t call us rednecks or bigots or racists.”

“That sounds like a double standard” I answer.

“I don’t think so.  You intellectuals think too much.  You need to do more and think less” says Tattoo Guy.

einstein“Well, what if I told you that I had a Glock Model 40 10mm in my pocket and that if you hit this man one more time, I will take it and blow your fucking brains out.  What would you think of that” I replied indignantly.

“That changes the entire nature of our issue here” says Tattoo Guy.  “We respect your Second Amendment rights to own and bear arms and use them in defense of your country and family.  May I ask if this Black Guy is part of your family?”

“Haven’t you ever heard of John Donne” I asks?  “Donne says”:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe

is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as

well as any manner of thy friends or of thine

own were; any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

“So you are sort of saying that this Black guy here is part of your extended family?” asks Tattoo Guy.

“Exactly,” I reply.

freedom-of-thought

“Well, that’s a horse of a different color then.  If you are related to us because you are White and we are White and he is related to you, even if he is Black, then he is also related to us, which means he is part of our family too.  That’s great, now we have a new brother.  How about if we all go get a beer together?” says Tattoo Guy.

“Sounds like a better idea than beating each other up or my blowing your brains out.  Do you know any good brew pubs?  First round on me” I reply.

Time for Questions:

 Do you think all such stories as mine have a “happy” ending?  What rights do people have not to be insulted or harassed because of their color or sex?  Do you think some rights might supersede other rights?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

Freedom of speech does not include the right:

  • To incite actions that would harm others (e.g., “[Shouting] ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”).
    Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919).
  • To make or distribute obscene materials.
    Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957).
  • To burn draft cards as an anti-war protest.
    United States v. O’Brien, 391 U.S. 367 (1968).
  • To permit students to print articles in a school newspaper over the objections of the school administration. 
    Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988).
  • Of students to make an obscene speech at a school-sponsored event.
    Bethel School District #43 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986).
  • Of students to advocate illegal drug use at a school-sponsored event.
    Morse v. Frederick, __ U.S. __ (2007).

Freedom of speech does includes the right:

  • Not to speak (specifically, the right not to salute the flag).
    West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943).
  • Of students to wear black armbands to school to protest a war (“Students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate.”).
    Tinker v. Des Moines, 393 U.S. 503 (1969).
  • To use certain offensive words and phrases to convey political messages.
    Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971).
  • To contribute money (under certain circumstances) to political campaigns.
    Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976).
  • To advertise commercial products and professional services (with some restrictions).
    Virginia Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Consumer Council, 425 U.S. 748 (1976); Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977).
  • To engage in symbolic speech, (e.g., burning the flag in protest).
    Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989); United States v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310 (1990).

 

 

 

To Care or Not To Care? That is the Real Question.

In 1979, I was hired by Sister M. Giovanni SSND of the School Sisters of Notre Dame to teach at Guadalupe Area Project (GAP).  This was an alternative high school for kids who had been kicked out of the public school system.  I had gone back to school in 1971 after four years in the military and decided to get a teaching degree in Health Education.  I had just barely finished High School in 1964 and joined the Air Force in September of 64.  I had applied to a few colleges at the end of high school but due to my poor grades and even poorer conduct record, I did not even get rejection notices.  Thus, liking the Air Force uniform better than the Army or Navy uniforms, I joined the Air Force, hoping to see the world, kill some commies and “meet” a lot of interesting women.  I did not get much of the first two agendas but I did prove more successful at the third one.  Lots more successful than I had been in high school!  Was it the uniform or that I was coming from a “strange” land?

Upon leaving the military, much more disillusioned than when I had entered, I worked an assortment of odd jobs for three years until finally my first wife convinced me to go to college. She evidently believed in me more than I believed in myself or was tired of my complaining about all the stupid assholes I was working for.  Going to college might sound easy but with my abysmal high school record, getting in was easier said than done.  Fortunately, a kindly guidance counselor at my old high school said he would tell anyone requesting my records that they had been lost.  He opined that admissions people seeing my school records would not think I was anything less than “correctional” material.  In fact, I had been arrested a few times before turning 18 but most of this was not valid any longer since they were juvenile records.

Five years later, 1976, I emerged from Rhode Island College with a degree in Health Education.  After spending a year as a substitute teacher, I lost most of my desire to teach.  With the GI Bill being extended, I decided to enroll in a Master’s Degree program at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Counseling Psychology.  Talk about the old adage of psych majors being screwed up.  I needed more counseling than any potential clients.  I started sending out applications for a job in counseling and received a letter from Sister M. Giovanni SSND that she was interested in my application.

I called Sister G (as she was affectionately known to one and all) and set-up an interview with her.  I was shocked and surprised when I found out that she was looking for a “teacher.” I explained that I was not interested in teaching but was interested in counseling.  Sister G. replied “Don’t worry; you will get lots of practice counseling with the students we have at GAP.”  I then said “Look Sister G. I am not a Catholic, I am an Atheist.”  She looked very serious at me and said: “I don’t care what your political or spiritual beliefs are as long as you are a good teacher.”  I was hooked.  I agreed to teach at GAP and stayed there for one year.

It was one of the most memorable experiences I have had in my life.  GAP teachers, volunteers, parents and students were all unique and dedicated. Maybe not all dedicated to learning but all dedicated to getting more out of life.  One of the best teachers was the art teacher named Sister Anna Louise Wilson.  She was a good teacher, devoted to her profession and devoted to her students.  One day after I had decided to leave, I took a short walk with Sister Anna.  I never quite felt that I had the impact or influence on the student’s lives that I would have liked to have.  I knew that Sister Anna did and I admired her for it.  I asked her “What does it take to really make a difference in their lives?”  She replied “you have to care.”

I thought about her comment then and I realized that I did not care.  I cared about the subjects I was teaching.  I cared about being professional.  I cared about continuous learning and I cared about mastering the craft of an educator.   What I did not care about was what happened to my students after they left school.  As far as I was concerned, that was their problem.  My task was to give them the knowledge, skills and abilities to fit in with a changing complex workplace.  Many years went by and countless times I have reflected on Sister Anna’s comment about caring.  I finally understand its relevance and importance.

Who makes a difference in anyone’s life? Do you care about the Nobel Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners or 20 greatest geniuses the world has ever known?  How many of them can you name?  But the people that cared about you are the ones you remember.  They are the ones who made a true difference in your life.  Caring is perhaps the most underrated and undervalued trait in the world.  Whether in politics, education or the workplace, the people that care are the ones that truly make a difference.  The concept is so important, you would think we would have academies of caring or schools where caring could be taught.  What does it mean to care?  Why care? What is caring?

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” — Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991);

When you care about something, you are taking a risk.  A risk that any expectations you have will not be returned.  A risk that the subject of your caring may not reciprocate.  A risk that your caring will result in disappointment or worse.  The subject of your caring is independent of your caring.  A hard reality is that caring opens the care giver to pain.  We would rather minimize the potential pains in our lives and so we develop some strict rules about whom we are willing to care for and when we are willing to care.  For instance, how often have you heard the phrase used “I couldn’t care less?”  Many of us have been burned once too often by “caring” and so we shrink our envelopes of caring until we have little potential to care.  I never saw a reason to care about my students because I was not really willing to risk the effort.  Even if I had realized that I needed to be more caring to make a difference in their lives, my self-protection envelope would have prevented me from trying.

Now I am older, sadder and perhaps wiser, or at least wise enough to understand the need for caring.  Whether in a nursing home, school, hospital or at work, caring is one of the most desired attributes we would like to obtain for ourselves.  The question is “how can we get more caring in this world, if we are not willing to give it?”  Everyone wants caring in their lives but we are much less prone to offer it to others.  The parable of the Good Samaritan comes repeatedly to my mind.

Time for Questions:

Who is our neighbor?  Who do we care about?  Do we only care about people who are just like us or do we care about those who belong to a different social class or religion or ethnic group or even another country?  Do we only care about our relatives and friends or do we extend our caring to strangers or others in need?  How do we develop more caring in our neighborhood and in our world?

Life is just beginning

A Friend Is?

I think friendships have become somewhat ephemeral and fleeting these days.  You may have 2,000 Facebook friends, but how many are “real” friends.  Perhaps it is time we reconsider what a true friend really is. 

A Friend Is:

  • Someone whom you can trust
  • Someone who trusts you
  • Someone who respects you
  • Someone whom you respect
  • Someone whom you like
  • Someone who is there when you need them
  • Someone who is there even when there is no need
  • Someone who will lend you money
  • Someone who will lend you things
  • Someone who is loyal
  • Someone whom you like to be with
  • Someone who spends time with you
  • Someone whom you can share problems with
  • Someone who listens to your opinion
  • Someone whose opinion you listen to
  • Someone who cares about you
  • Someone whom you care about
  • Someone whom you can share intimacies with
  • Someone who shares intimacies with you
  • Someone who lifts you up rather than puts you down

In the comments section following, I would love to hear what a “Friend Is” to you.  Please post your ideas on friendship.  Feel free to share this blog with others. 

Time for Questions:

What does friendship mean to you?  Who are your best friends?  Why?  How do you develop and keep a good friend?

Life is Just Beginning.

“It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.”   — Helen Keller

“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”   ― Aristotle

Autobiographies from the Dead – Josh the Teenager

Another one of my blogs from a few years ago. This was a series I did based on dead people talking from the grave. Josh is a teenager who took his own life. I think we all know some kids who have tried or succeeded. Maybe my story will shed some light on their motivations or at least help us consider them more. There are many teenage suicides in this country every year.

Aging Capriciously

Each semester the Graphics Multi-Media Students select a global issue that is meaningful to them and then create a logo and infographic about their issue. Each semester the Graphics Multi-Media Students select a global issue that is meaningful to them and then create a logo and infographic about their issue.

For the next several weeks, my blogs are going to consist of “autobiographies” written by some very special people.  They have one thing in common.  They are all dead.  Some have a burial place and some were simply discarded like pieces of trash.  Their stories will be told by the deceased themselves.  They cry out from the fields, rivers and graveyards to speak.  I have heard their cries.  They want me to tell their stories to you.  They want you to know what their living and dying was for.  This week, Josh will tell you the story of his life and death.

Josh the Teenager

teen suicide by hangingThey are sorry now!  They are all weeping and crying.  They care more about me now that I am dead…

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Autobiographies from the Dead – Cindy the Wife

I am reposting a set of blogs that I did two years ago.

Aging Capriciously

For the next several weeks, my blogs are going to consist of “autobiographies” written by some very special people.  They have one thing in common.  They are all dead.  Some have a burial place and some were simply discarded like pieces of trash.  Their stories will be told by the deceased themselves.  They cry out from the fields, rivers and graveyards to speak.  I have heard their cries.  They want me to tell their stories to you.  They want you to know what their living and dying was for.  This week, Cindy will tell you the story of her life and death.

Cindy the Wife

beatenHe beat me.  He beat me.  He beat me.  I hurt so badly from the pain.  But the physical pain was nothing compared to the emotional pain.  I loved him.  Why did he hurt me?  He kept on beating me.  Finally, I yelled for him…

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The Bar Room Bum

man-in-bar

I’m sitting in a bar feeling shitty about my life.  I have an average job.  I have an average looking wife and average kids.  I’m feeling shitty about myself as well.  I have accomplished nothing beyond average in my entire life.  I had once thought I was destined for greatness.  I dreamed that one day I would have the best-looking wife on the block and make more money than I could count.  None of my dreams have come to pass and I am now sitting here in this average bar nursing a cheap drink and wondering where I took the wrong turn.

Suddenly, the bar room door opens and in walks this seedy looking bum.  You know the type.  Long stringy hair, dirty clothes, smelly and unkempt.  He has probably not bathed in a month.  I hope he will not come and sit down next to me.  I know he will try to bum a drink.  If he does, I will tell him to go to hell.  I am not in the mood to shell out good money for some alcoholic bum.

Sure enough, he sits down next to me.  I give him the evil eye and he moves on down to the two guys sitting at the other end of the bar.   I watch some give and take between the bum and the other two drinkers.  They are shaking their heads and I assume telling him to get lost.  He walks back over to where I am sitting and takes a seat.

bum in bar

“Hey mister, can you buy me a drink.”  “Get lost”, I say, “I’m not a charity for bar bums.”  “How about some compassion for someone’s who’s down on their luck.” “You want compassion” I reply, “go visit a priest.”

“What if I could tell you a story that would profoundly change your life” says the bum. “Would that change your mind?”  “Tell you what” I say, “you tell me the story and if it profoundly changes my life, I’ll buy you a drink.”   I expect this will get rid of the bum but instead he agrees to my terms.  “Deal” he intones in a low soft voice.

“My name is Mike.  Twenty years ago, I graduated from Harvard University with a degree in law.  I had the highest GPA average in my graduation class.  At least five major law firms in Boston attempted to recruit me.  I took the one that offered me the most money.  I received a high six-digit salary.

Happy man enjoying the rain of money

I bought five of the best suits I could find.  I purchased a Porsche Carrera GT and a penthouse with a view of the Boston harbor.

I was assigned easy cases at first.  We represented the big corporations in their lawsuits.  Most of these were by disgruntled employees, whistle blowers and private citizens.  I killed each of them.  I was assigned bigger and bigger cases.  The amounts contested often ran into the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Many of the cases involved issues of sexual harassment, environmental degradation and fraud.  I never lost a case.  My corporate clients were ecstatic.  I was the go to guy for any high profile big buck lawsuit in the nation.

My life was a dream.  I made more and more money.  My salary was now in the seven digits with my bonuses and gratuities from my clients.   I was invited to celebrity parties and the super exclusive country clubs of the rich.

I was tall dark and handsome.  I worked out six days a week in the gym and I had a body that was the envy of any guy in the firm.  The woman all drooled when I walked by.  I bought a bigger penthouse and added a Ferrari 458 Spider to my car collection.  The car was given to me by a grateful client.

One day at the office, the firm’s owner and founder introduced me to his daughter Ashley.  She was a knockout.  She was a former Miss College USA.  She was tall blonde and statuesque.  She had the face of any angel.  Sadly, she did not have the brains to match her looks.

I was polite to her but made no obvious overtures to show that I was interested.  She did not really care as just about every other male and even some female lawyers were thinking about how to get in bed with her.  I decided to pretend to ignore her.

We had a Christmas party at the firm later that year.  It was held at the Boston Harbor Hotel.  I saw Ashley and she was surrounded by a bunch of our lawyers each trying to impress her.  I decided this was a good time to throw my hat in the ring.  I joined the conversation and soon showed how stupid most of my competition was.  Each one in turn drifted away so that only Ashley and I were left talking.  I went to the bar and returned with another drink for Ashley and myself.  We talked for another half hour or so and I made my move.

couple

I invited Ashley up to my penthouse for a night cap.  In no time at all, she was in my bed.  I am not bragging when I say that not only did we go at it all night, but I called in to cancel appointments the next day and we spent the entire next day in bed going at it like deprived bunny rabbits.

As I said before, she was not the brightest light bulb in the pack but I figured where I was going, it would be good to have a looker like her as my wife.  A few months later in what was one of the Boston social events of the year we were married.  We moved into a new house in Back Bay.

I eventually left the law firm and started my own firm.  Some of the old firm’s clients went with me and I was now making more money than ever.  I worked seven days and week.  I was busy many evenings and did not bother coming home.  I bought a penthouse near my new office in Boston and brought my mistresses up there whenever I had an overnight.  I had hired several very good-looking paralegals to work for me and some of them were more than happy to help keep me warm at night.

Ashley started talking about having children and how she wished I could do more things with her.  I had no intention of doing either.  Why spoil a good thing?

woman on top sexuallyA few more months went by and one day I decided to come home from work early.  As I entered my house, I heard screams coming from upstairs.  I went to a desk and grabbed a loaded Colt Commander 45 ACP that I kept ready for emergencies.  I feared that Ashley was being attacked by some unknown intruder.  I ran up the stairs and into our bedroom.  There on the bed was Ashley and one of the young lawyers from my old law firm.  They were both nude and she was on top of him riding him like a bucking bronco.  What I thought were screams of pain were screams of ecstasy.  I had never heard anything like that from Ashley during our entire marriage.

She turned to look at me but did not break a beat in her rhythm.  The only thing she said was “Get out.  I want a divorce.”  I vacillated between shooting one or both of them but decided that my better course of action was to leave.  On the way out, I heard her say very loudly “Take off that dam condom, I want you to come inside of me.”

I packed some stuff and moved into my penthouse apartment.  I really did not give a dam if she left me.  At the time, I assumed I would be out some alimony but that would-be pennies compared to what I was making.  A week or so later, I received a letter from my father in law.  He informed me that not only would my old law firm be suing me for spousal neglect but I would be sued 150 million dollars for violating the terms of my contract when I had left his law firm.  Somewhere in the fine print of my contract, it had specified that I could not work with any of the firm’s clients for a period of five years upon terminating my employment.

The court convened for my trial a few weeks later.  Ashley showed up for the trial.  She sat with her lover on the plaintiff’s side of the court and glared at me the entire trial.  I lost on all counts.  I was told that I would have to pay 5 million dollars in restitution and was disbarred from practicing law for ten years following the date of the trial.  I lost everything.  My house, my cars, my penthouse apartment, my jewelry and my career.  Between my ex-father-in-law and my ex-wife, I was broke.  The only friend I had left in the world was Johnny Walker Blue Label and I could not even afford that anymore.

I took up drinking cheap whiskey.  It has been five years now since the trial.  I have five more years to go before I can practice law again.  I know that I am an alcoholic bum but can you blame me?  I told you that there would be a life changing moral in this story for you but before I give it to you, I want my drink.”

Mike had concluded his story.  I wondered what the life changing moral would be.  I had some ideas and curiosity got the better of me.  I decided to buy him his drink and let him finish his tale of woe.

“Bartender” I called, “bring my friend here a shot of Johnny Walker Scotch.”  The Scotch was quickly downed by Mike with a look of joy and ecstasy on his face that would be hard to describe.

“Okay”, Mike began “I have had many years to reflect on my life and where it went wrong.  I also know that not a man alive would at some point in their life not have been envious of mine.  The sad part and I think the moral is that we all want things that we think will make us happy when the real happiness is what we have inside and what we bring to life, not what life brings to us.”  With these last words of wisdom, Mike got off his bar stool and went out the same way he came in.  I never saw him again.

I sat for an hour or so after he left thinking about what he had said.  Just a few minutes before he had entered the bar, I was bemoaning my sorry life and denigrating my family.  I decided to go home and hug my wife and kids.

Happy family in front of house

Many years have past since I met Mike.  My life is pretty much the same as it was before I met him, except that I have never been happier.  My wife is beautiful and my kids are beautiful.  I would not trade my life for all the money in the world.

Time for Questions:

Do you appreciate what you have?  What does it take to make us happy?  Is money an essential element of happiness?  What if you had no money, could you still be happy?  What is the most important person or thing in your life?  Why?

 

Life is just beginning.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” — Melody Beattie

The Window

wndow in nursing home

I’m sitting here looking out the window.  It has taken me nearly sixty-five years but now I understand.

New-Nurses-Survival-GuideI was only twenty-five when I met Irene.  It was my first job out of college.  I had just finished my RN program at Regina Nursing School.  It took me three years going to school days and working part-time evenings to complete my degree.  After finishing school, I applied at several nursing homes since I wanted to work with the elderly.  In three weeks, I was hired by the River Birch nursing home in New Prague Minnesota.

nurse-tutoringMy first day on the job was the high point and perhaps also the low point of my life.  It was the day I met Irene.  My supervisor Michelle started my job orientation by introducing me to the staff I would be working with.  She then gave me a brief summary of my work duties.  She explained that I would be assigned a wing of the nursing home and within that wing, I would be in charge of a specific number of residents.  We were not to call them patients.  Each day, my job would be to take care of the residents that I was assigned and to ensure that they received food, care and compassion.

nurse with patient

Michele then took me around to the twenty or so residents that I would responsible for.  One by one, she gave me a brief bio and medical review for each person.  The last one of my charges was Irene.  Michele said she had saved Irene for last because she would be my most difficult resident.

Irene had been taken into the home about two months prior to my arrival.  She appeared to have an advanced case of Alzheimers disease (which sixty-five years ago was not identified as such.)  She had been living with her only daughter for the past five years but her daughter had died in a car accident and Irene had no other surviving relatives.  Her mother, father and two sisters had died many years before her and no other family members could be located.  Social Services selected the River Birch nursing home due to its proximity to her previous home.

Elderly-woman-in-wheelchair-looking-out-of-window-with-blinds

Michele cautioned me that I should not spend too much time with Irene.  She did not speak much except to demand being taken in her wheel chair to the same window each day.  She would sit and look out the window and was not interested in eating, talking or socializing in any form.  Several of the other nurses had tried to form some type of communication with Irene, but all she would ever say was “window, window.”  Most thought she was simply unfriendly and had stopped spending any time with her.

I was young and naïve.  I thought I could surely reach out to Irene and form some type of bridge which would unite us as human beings.  Irene would be my project.  We would become friends.

Each day, I made a special point of taking Irene to her window and stopping by a few times of the day to simply chat.  I would bring her a cookie in the morning during the coffee break time and one after lunch during mid-afternoon coffee break.  Irene would never take the cookie or even bother to look at me.  She simply stared out the window.

windows-AOver time, I began to wonder what she was looking at.  After looking out the window myself, all I could see was a large grassy field surrounded by numerous oak, maple and birch trees. On any given day, there might some grackles or robins out in the field but very little else to view.  It was a pleasant enough scene but nothing that I thought could keep anyone’s attention for more than a few minutes never mind several hours of staring out the window

On the other side of the large sitting room, there was another picture window.  I noticed that it had a pretty view of a large lake and periodically several sail boats with brightly covered jibs and mains blowing in the wind would be traversing the lake.  I thought that perhaps Irene might like this view better. I walked over to where her sit was sitting in her wheel chair and told her I was going to show her recalcitrant patienta very pretty view that she could look out at.  I thought she would enjoy the variety and the change of scenery.  As I started to push Irene’s wheel chair away from her chosen window, she became very agitated and started pointing and in a raised voice saying “window, window.”  I moved her back to the old window and left her for the day.

Weeks went by and there was never any change in Irene.  Then one day, I went over to see how Irene was doing and I brought her a cookie just in case she changed her mind.  I never gave up on somehow connecting with Irene and I thought surely the cookie would be my entre.  Much to my surprise, she took the cookie from my hand and replied, “Thank you, they’re coming, they’re coming.”  I looked out the window but did not see anyone.  I asked, “Irene dear, who is coming?”  Irene answered, “Why mom and dad and my sisters.”  Poor thing I thought, she is delusional.

empty chairNext morning, I came to work and started my rounds.  I did not see Irene and I wondered where she was.  I checked her room but the bed was made up and there was no sign of Irene.  I went into see my supervisor and ask about her.  “I am sorry” Michele said “She passed away last night and was taken to the funeral home. There will be no services for her as she had no surviving relatives.”  I went home and cried for her passing.  I had never understood her or made a connection with her that I thought was the least bit meaningful.

little girl looking out the windowIt is sixty-five years later and I finally understand Irene.  I am sitting here looking out a window from the nursing home where I am now a resident.  Each day I look out the same window and I see a different event from my life.  I have been amazed at the events that I have witnessed.  I have seen my mother giving birth to me.  I saw the birth of each of my sisters and brothers.  I witnessed my first communion and my first day in school.  I watched my wedding and the birth of each of my children.  I was at my husband’s funeral again.  During the past few months, I have seen all the major events of my life one after the other in perfect chronological order.  I am almost at the end of my journey.  There is only one final event.  The last event will be when they come for me.  They are getting close.  My mom and dad are coming for me.  They are coming to take me home.  I must keep looking out the window or I will miss them.

Time for Questions:

How do we deal with the loss of a loved one when they are still alive?  What connections can we possibly make to bridge the sometimes-unbridgeable gaps that age has a way of creating? What if our loved ones are still with us even when we may think they are not?  How do we have compassion for people who no longer seem to know or care about us?

Life is just beginning.

“What would I have wanted to say if I had had the opportunity to see him one more time? I would like to think that I would have kept it simple and said, “I love you,” then just held his hand in silence, letting that thought linger in the space of the time we had left together.”
― Lisa J. ShultzA Chance to Say Goodbye: Reflections on Losing a Parent

 

 

 

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