My Name is Carmen: I Murdered Two Children

The following story is a work of fiction based on a true-life trial and murder.  This story follows a somewhat different history from the real-life story but will certainly be recognized by many as related to the story of Yoselyn Ortega and the Krim’s family.  The story occupied a major place in most newspapers for many months.  For any parent, it is a horror story.  No one can imagine the despair and misery that the Krim’s have gone through.

As I followed the trial, I was struck by the fact that so many of the newspaper articles about the murders were looking for a motive or reason for Ortega’s actions.  Ms. Ortega never testified at the trial and I suspect that many people thought it was simply a matter of allowing or encouraging her to “tell the truth.”  If only we could ask Ortega “why” she did it, we could find her motive and reason.   I have followed many related stories of murders and I have been struck by the lack of “truth” that is ever found.  Not just because suicide seems to be a way out for many murderers but even when the murderer is alive to tell their story.

two children

My name is Maria Carmen Fernanda Lopez.  I am a Columbian citizen.  I want to tell my story so that everyone will understand.  I am now in jail for the murder of two children that I was responsible for taking care of.  I was their nanny.  They say that both children loved me and in truth, I often loved them back.  The entire world wants to know why I murdered these children.

The prosecutors told a lie.  What they said about me was not true.  They wanted me to look very evil so that I could be convicted.  My defense attorneys also did not tell the truth.  They did not know me.  They only wanted to save me from receiving a death sentence.  It did not matter if the truth was told or not.  The psychiatrists who found many reasons for what I did do not know the reason why I murdered the young girl and young boy.  Each of the psychiatrists had a different theory.  I do not like to argue with anyone, so I simply agreed with each of them.  Nine different psychiatrists and nine different theories.

I never had the opportunity to testify.  My attorneys said it would be better if I did not.  I was convicted anyway of first degree murder.  I would like for you to hear my story.  Maybe, you can understand.  I do not deny killing my two young charges.  It was like killing my own children.  The children were very kind to me although sometimes they could be spoiled brats.  But what would you expect with a rich mother and a rich father both of whom could lavish much time and money on their children.  Most of the time they were fun to be around.

I was born in Cali Columbia in 1961.  I was one of twelve children.  My family was very poor.  My father sewed and fixed shoes for a living.  My mother tried to find enough food each day to feed us all.  I was the fifth oldest child and my job was to take care of all my siblings who were younger than I was.   I guess you could say I received nanny training when I was growing up.  I only went to school through the eighth grade.  No one in our family went any further.

I had a cousin Luisa who in 2001 emigrated to the United States.  She had a father who had received a degree in engineering from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana.   He wanted to move up in the world and he was able to get a visa and a position with an electronics firm in New York City.  Luisa, her mom and her dad all moved to the USA.

My cousin Luisa and I were very close when we were growing up.  Luisa always had nicer clothes and was much prettier than I was.  Even though her family had much more money than mine, we were like sisters.  She had lots of boyfriends and we would sometimes sneak out at night to share time together.  She would introduce me to many young men, but I was very shy and not very good looking.  My first child was with one of these young men.  We did not marry, and I named my young boy Mateo.  Mateo’s father disappeared a few years after Mateo was born and I never saw him again.  My father was not very happy with me, but unwed pregnancies are the norm in Columbia.  My mother was actually very happy to have a new addition to the family.

A few years after Luisa moved to the USA, she wrote me a letter and asked if I would like to live with her in NYC.  I wrote back and replied that I would love to if I could bring Mateo along as well.  She wrote back that “Of course, you can bring Mateo.  Furthermore, I think I might be able to arrange a job that you would be very good at.”  She did not say anymore, and I was very curious.

I discussed going to the USA with my Mom.  She thought it would be a good opportunity for me but where would we get the money.  We did not have enough money for a bus trip to Bogota, never mind NYC.  My dad was also agreeable since it would be two less mouths to feed.  However, he did not have an extra peso to spare.  Sadly, I wrote back to my cousin to explain that it might be years before I could save enough money to come to the USA.

In a very short time, I received a letter from Luisa.  In the letter was a voucher for a one-way ticket to NYC.  Luisa said I should let her know when we would arrive, and she would meet us at the airport.  I immediately told my mom and dad.  My mother seemed sad to see me go but my father did not seem to care.  I packed my bags and purchased a ticket on Avianca S.A. for two weeks later.  I wrote Luisa and gave her our flight number and arrival time.

We arrived in NYC without any problems.  Luisa met us at the airport and we took a taxi to her apartment in Queens.  She was now living in her own apartment and had a very good job with Verizon company as a translator.  Her Spanish skills and good people skills had allowed her to work up from a customer service representative to a position as manager in one of their bi-lingual call centers.   Luisa had an extra bedroom which I was placed in.  My young son Mateo had a couch to sleep on.  We all hoped that I might find good employment and be able to rent my own apartment someday.

After catching up on family, friends and Luisa’s life in NYC, I was anxious to ask Luisa about this job she thought I might be good at.  Luisa explained that in NYC there were many wealthy families who wanted dependable mature women to work as caretakers or nannies for their children.  Such families were not hard to find, and she knew several families who were currently looking for a good reliable nanny.  With her recommendation, she was sure I would have no trouble finding a job.  My one concern was how I would take care of Mateo who was now eight and take care of someone else’s children.  Luisa said that I should not worry as she could help me with Mateo and most nanny jobs had some degree of flexibility.

Two weeks later after several interviews I was placed with Eric and Sarah Clarke as a nanny for their children.  They were a young couple with two children.  One child, Noah was six and in kindergarten.  The other child Emma was eight and going into the third grade.

Eric was an executive with an aerospace firm and travelled a great deal.  Sarah worked as a Public Relations specialist with the Magrino Company in Manhattan.  The Clarke’s lived in an area known as Tribeca in Manhattan.  It was a very wealthy neighborhood but very convenient in terms of Sarah’s job and Eric’s need to travel frequently.  From Tribeca to the Magrino company was less than twenty minutes by the metro or by car.  Both Sarah and Eric had a great deal of job flexibility and could often work at home.   This last point was what made me accept the position since I felt that I would not be needed twenty-four seven and I would be able to find more time to spend with my own son.  I was going to be a “live-out nanny.”

My starting pay rate would be $18. 00 per hour and I would work ten-hour days except for Wednesday and Thursdays when I would only work five-hour days.  I would work five days a week unless special occasions arose.  In the event of weekend work, my hourly wage would be $26.00 dollars per hour.  My gross salary would be $720 dollars per week.  I would take home about $600 dollars per week.

My expected job duties were as follows:

  • Meeting the children’s physical, social, emotional and intellectual needs.
  • Undertaking all tasks related to childcare, including doing the children’s laundry and preparing the children’s meals and cleaning up afterwards.
  • Caring for the family pet.
  • Meals for the children when parents were not home.

griefI worked for the Clarke’s for about two years.  During that time, I got along quite well with the children.  They were mostly well-behaved and pleasant to be around.  We would go on outings after school and take many walks.  I would buy them ice cream cones and take them to see the animals in the zoo and on library trips and museum trips.

I also got along very well with Eric Clarke.  He was not around as much but he was always polite and treated me as one of the family.  Sarah was a little more difficult and controlled the purse strings.  I had thought that after two years, I should get a raise, but she refused to increase my hourly rate.  She would sometimes ask me to do other jobs which I did not think were in my job description.  I generally acquiesced to her requests.

Now it has been said at my trail by the prosecution that I was angry at Sarah for pushing more work on me and for not paying me enough.  It is true that I thought she could be unfair at times, but I also appreciated the many times she helped me out when I needed help.  She was often very generous and was by no means a skinflint or cheapskate.  I harbored no ill will to either Eric or Sarah.  Then you might ask: “Why?”  Why murder two innocent children?

I have heard all the explanations.  I suffered from mental illness.  I was crazy.  I was overworked.  I was stressed.  I was angry.  I was feeling humiliated.  I was insulted by Sarah.  I was told to by voices in my head.  I did not have enough time with my own son.  I was jealous of the money and status the Clarkes had.  I was going to lose my job.  I was just plain evil.  EVIL, EVIL, EVIL.

Evil or Good

I am glad that I was not asked to testify.  I would not have known what to say.  I would have been asked “Why?” and no one would believe my answer.  You will not believe it.

We seem to think that whenever there is a killing, murder, suicide or mass atrocity that if only the victim lived we could find out “why?”  Humans have an insatiable desire to know the answer to the question: “Why, did they do it?”  The truth is that there is often no reason.

Theodore Bundy, Charles Whitman, James Huberty, George Hennard, Devin, Patrick Kelley, Adam Lanza, Seung-Hu Cho, Omar, Saddiqui Mateen, Stephen Paddock and the list goes on and on.  Why?  Why?  Why?  The public wants a logical reasonable answer.  The police want a motive.  The prosecution wants a reason to convict.  The defense wants a reason to acquit.  Our mental institutions want another reason to try out different therapies.

insanity

Why? Why? Why?

Don’t you think I owe the public an answer?  Don’t you think I owe the Clarkes an answer?  Don’t you think I owe my family an answer?

parental grief

What explanation or reason could possibly make any sense for such a vicious, depraved and wanton act of destruction?  Would any explanation make sense to Noah and Emma?  Would any explanation expiate my guilt and remorse?  What explanation would you believe?

I am certain that I have no explanation you would be satisfied with.  Maybe that is the real definition of craziness.  To do something with no reason, logic or explanation that can possibly make any sense.  I wish I could live my life over again, but I am not sure it would make any difference.  I have explored alternative realities and they all lead right back to this cell that I sit in today.  The ultimate tragedy of my life is inexplicably bound up with murder and chaos.

mother and dead child

They say I expressed no remorse or regrets during the trial.  I appeared to be a selfish and narcissistic person who was only concerned with herself.  I shed no tears.  But what good would regret do?  It would not bring back Noah or Emma.  What good would regret do for the Clarkes?  It would not bring their children back.  It would never help Sarah to forget the horror she saw.

In truth, I have no regrets.  I am a victim just as much as anyone else in this tragedy.  There is no escaping our destiny.

Time for Questions:

Is it possible that people do not know “WHY?”  Why do you think that people do evil things?  Are all of us evil at some point in our lives?  How do we overcome evil?  Is there really a devil who “makes us do it.”

Life is just beginning.

“One might expect that the families of murder victims would be showered with sympathy and support, embraced by their communities. But in reality they are far more likely to feel isolated, fearful, and ashamed, overwhelmed by grief and guilt, angry at the criminal-justice system, and shunned by their old friends.” — Eric Schlosser

 

 

 

 

Is the War on Drugs Real? — Drugs, Medicine and Pharmaceuticals

pills

Introduction:

Perhaps few subjects are more complex than the relationship between drugs and medicine.  While the word drug often denotes something “illegal”, medicine comes across with very benign connotations.  Drugs are bad for you.  Medicine is good for you.  However, what is the difference between a drug and a medicine?  Do you have to be sick before it is medicine?  Does everyone occasionally need medicine but no one ever needs drugs?  Why are some drugs legal and others illegal?  Why is it that some legal drugs are illegal unless we have a prescription?  In this blog, I will try to provide you some “divergent” views on drugs and medicines and the Pharmaceutical industry.

Pharmaceuticals:

First, we need to define the term pharmaceutical.  We can find the following definition online:

Adjective:  1.  relating to medicinal drugs, or their preparation, use, or sale.

Noun:  1. a compound manufactured for use as a medicinal drug.

It is important to understand the distinction between the medicinal use and the non-medicinal use of drugs.  Obviously, any drug can be used for either purpose.  However, the “moral” authorities which include the government, your neighbors, various religions and others who believe they have a right to dictate human behavior have used this distinction to decide when it is a crime to use drugs and when it is perfectly okay.  Thus, in many states I may now use marijuana but only if it is for a bona fide medicinal purpose.  If I want to simply use it like I use alcohol or caffeine or nicotine for recreational purposes, it is illegal and I will find myself in jail if I get caught.

three colors of pills

This distinction between drugs and medicine is further complicated by the fact that some drugs are simply considered “bad” drugs whether they have a medicinal use or not.  This category of “bad” drugs once included alcohol when (as many of you are aware) the 18th amendment to the US Constitution was passed to ban its legal use.  Prohibition was perhaps one of the most misguided episodes in American history.  However, it does have the unique distinction of being perhaps the only time in our history when a substance was banned strictly on moral terms.  The prohibition against alcohol was primarily based on the idea that drunkenness was a threat to the moral fiber of the nation.   Since then, our “War on Drugs” has been based on several reasons but morality is no longer a major reason.

Let’s get one thing clear from the start.  There is no “War on Drugs” in the USA.  If there were a war on drugs, then bars, cigarette shops, coffee shops, liquor stores, drug stores and doctors’ offices would be raided and closed.  Doctors, baristas, druggists and Pharmaceutical CEO’s would be arrested along with the rest of the drug pushers on the street.  We would need to build an entire prison system to house all the pharmaceutical executives, managers and workers who routinely make and sell drugs.

The “War on Drugs” is a sham, a myth and a hypocrisy of epic proportions.  There are two reasons for this so-called war.  The first is prejudice and the second is monetary.  These two reasons are curiously intertwined.

Docs and Big Pharma

Prejudice as a Factor in the Drug Wars:

Our prisons today are overflowing with people who have used or sold illegal street drugs.  Drugs like heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines make up the bulk of illegal drugs sold on the street.  The majority of people selling these drugs are poor.  Minorities make up a disproportionate number of the poor in America.   Consider the following facts:

war on blacks

Poverty rates for blacks and Hispanics greatly exceed the national average. In 2014, 26.2 percent of blacks and 23.6 percent of Hispanics were poor, compared to 10.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 12 percent of Asians.National Poverty Center

Of course, if minorities are a large percentage of the poor and if the drug war is really an attack on the poor, then it should follow that minorities will make up a larger percentage of those convicted of drug crimes and sent to prison.  The facts support this:

  • African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population
  • African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 25% of the US population
  • About 14 million Whites and 2.6 million African Americans report using an illicit drug
  • 5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites

The facts support that the so-called “War on Drugs” is really a war on the poor.  Why war on the poor?  Because they are regarded as a threat to the lifestyle of the wealthy.  The wealthy in America are of course predominately White.

2_war-on-drugs

“96.1 percent of the 1.2 million households in the top one percent by income were White, a total of about 1,150,000 households. In addition, these families were found to have a median net asset worth of $8.3 million dollars.”  — America’s Financial Divide: The Racial Breakdown of U.S. Wealth in Black and White, Huffington Post, 2015

It is seldom mentioned but wealthy people are fully aware of the fact that healthy non-drug addicted citizens make better workers.  Furthermore, non-drug addicted people who are addicted to hard work are less likely to break into your house in the middle of the night and steal your Gucci purse and your Rolex watch.

On the other hand, if you are poor and uneducated, drugs might seem like a decent way to spend a day rather than knocking on closed doors for a job.  I spent four years in the military from 1964 to 1968.   Any war is an ideal breeding ground for drug use.  Consider the daily effects of stress, confusion, attacks, wounds, death and uncertainty.  The military was rife with drugs when I was in.  Would anyone like to guess how much illegal drug use there was during the Vietnam War?

colors arrested more

“In 1971, a report by the House Select Committee on Crime revealed that from 1966 to 1969, the armed forces had used 225 million tablets of stimulants, mostly Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine), an amphetamine derivative that is nearly twice as strong as the Benzedrine used in the Second World War. The annual consumption of Dexedrine per person was 21.1 pills in the navy, 17.5 in the air force, and 13.8 in the army.”  — The Drugs That Built a Super Soldier, The Atlantic, 2016

 The above article concerns speed only and does not deal with marijuanaMy own personal experience was spending many weekends high on pot mixed with copious amount of whatever liquor we could get our hands on.  Beer would do if liquor was not available.  There were also many who simply sniffed glue and destroyed their brains.  To the best of my knowledge, I knew of no one who was ever busted for drug use on any base I was stationed at.  The moral is that it is okay to use drugs if they help you kill people but not simply to feel good about yourself.

The sanctimonious politicians who make drug laws in this country should be shot.  Am I being too “divergent” in my condemnation of these hypocrites?  Believe me, I could not be too hard on them.  Consider the damage that their greedy misguided policies have done to our nation and our citizens.  Millions of people have languished in jail only to serve their sentence and find that when they come out, they are even worse off than when they went in.

lead_large

Consider the effects of a felony record for drugs in America:  A convicted felon in Connecticut faces the following array of restrictions and constraints:

  1. Loses the right to become an elector and cannot vote, hold public office, or run for office, although he can have these rights restored
  2. Is disqualified from jury service for seven years, or while he is a defendant in a pending felony case (CGS § 51-217)
  3. Loses the ability to have firearms
  4. Could lose a professional license or permit,
  5. Employers can ask job applicants whether they have been convicted of a crime although federal anti-discrimination laws place some restrictions on the use of criminal histories.
  6. The State Board of Education (SBE) cannot issue or renew, and must revoke, a certificate, authorization, or permit to someone convicted of certain crimes. The SBE can also take one of these actions if the person is convicted of a crime of moral turpitude or of such a nature that the board feels that allowing the holder to have the credential would impair the credential’s standing.
  7. The Department of Children and Families must deny a license or approval for a foster family or prospective adoptive family if any member of the family’s household was convicted of a crime that falls within certain categories, which can include felonies.
  8. Landlords can evict a tenant who was convicted of a violation of federal, state, or local law that is detrimental to the health, safety, and welfare of other residents. Federal and state law for public housing allows eviction based on conviction of certain felonies. Different rules apply to elderly people.
  9. Someone convicted under federal or state law of a crime involving possession or sale of a controlled substance is not eligible for federal assistance for higher education expenses for certain periods.
  10. State law bars anyone convicted of a drug possession or use felony under federal or state law from receiving benefits under the temporary assistance for needy families or food stamp programs unless the person (1) has completed his court imposed sentence, (2) is satisfactorily serving probation, or (3) completed or will complete a court imposed mandatory substance abuse treatment or testing program (CGS § 17b-112d).

You have served your sentence for possession of a marijuana joint.  You might have served between one and five years.  You are now ready to return to society and be a hard-working honest citizen.  Regard the above list!  No one will hire you. You cannot get a student loan.  You cannot get certain licenses and even some landlords will be legally able to not rent you a place to live.  What would you do?  What would Jesus do?  Well, unfortunately, many of these people are not you and they are not Jesus.  Thus, a life of crime on the street seems to offer more preferences for some than begging for money with a cup.  Besides, every business endeavor has certain risks and the gains from drug dealing may seem to far outweigh the risks, particularly when you consider the alternatives.

drug-war-cartoon

What Role Does Greed Play in the So-Called War on Drugs?

Pharmaceutical companies are huge and make huge profits.  They are consistently listed among the top most profitable companies in America.  Here are the top ten most profitable drug companies by market value:

  • Johnson & Johnson: $276 billion (market value)
  • Novartis: $273 billion
  • Roche: $248 billion
  • Pfizer: $212 billion
  • Merck: $164 billion
  • Sanofi: $134 billion
  • Bayer: $123 billion
  • Novo-Nordisk: $118 billion
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb: $115 billion
  • AbbVie: $110 billion

In 2016, the Pharmaceutical Industry was at the top of the list for most profitable industries.  Forbes, citing data from Factset, recently released its list of the 10 most profitable industries of 2016. “Pharma: Generic” led the way as the most profitable industry with a 30 percent net profit margin”

  1. Pharma: Generic: 30%
  2. Investment managers: 29.1 percent
  3. Tobacco: 27.2 percent
  4. Pharma: major: 25.5 percent
  5. Internet Software and Services: 25 percent
  6. Biotechnology: 24.6 percent
  7. Savings Banks: 24 percent
  8. IT Services: 23 percent
  9. Regional Banks: 23 percent
  10. Major Banks: 22.9 percent

https://www.surepayroll.com/resources/blog/the-10-most-profitable-industries#sthash.rVW6a7fs.dpuf

big-pharma-mafia

Please note where the tobacco industry is on this list.  Now ask yourself this question.  Do you think either big Pharma or Big Tobacco wants competition in the form of legalized drugs?  I hope you answered NO! to this question because there is ample evidence that both industries spend a great deal of money lobbying against drugs that would pose competition to their industries.

“Both pharmaceutical companies and alcohol brands are spending money to keep prohibition around, too.  As we reported last year, certain anti-cannabis academics are funded by big pharma.  Alcohol companies are also lobbying against legalization.  In one example, the California Beer & Beverage Distributors made campaign contributions to a committee dedicated to preventing marijuana legalization and taxation. 

 To summarize, police unions, prison guard unions, for-profit prisons, and drug and alcohol companies spend huge sums of money each year to keep cannabis illegal, and why?  Because it ensures job security and profits.”  — The Top 5 Industries Lobbying Against Cannabis Legalization Will Infuriate You by Sara Lilley in Leafly

Perhaps you are inclined to think that the prejudice and greed fueling the drug industry is not that bad.  Perhaps you do not mind that America has one of the highest rates of incarceration of any developed country.  Perhaps you do not mind that millions of your citizens are in jail for smoking or selling a joint.  Perhaps you are happy smoking and drinking and do not want any other drugs.  Maybe you feel that “Big Pharma” is on your side and helps you with all the new medicines they have coming down the pipeline.  If so, you are living in a fools’ paradise.  Big Pharma is more likely to steal from you and or kill you than the drug pusher on your street corner.  In fact, they do so every single day.

ethical-criteria-for-medicinal-drug-promotion-schedule-g-17-638

They steal from you with exorbitant profits.  Who do you think pays for all their advertising and research?  They actually spend more money on advertising than they do on research.

“Prescription drug companies aren’t putting a lot of resources toward new, groundbreaking medication, according to a recent report in BMJ, a medical journal based in London. Instead, it’s more profitable for them to simply to create a bunch of products that are only slightly different from drugs already on the market, the reports authors said.  The authors go on to say that for every dollar pharmaceutical companies spend on “basic research,” $19 goes toward promotion and marketing.” — Pharmaceutical Companies Spent 19 Times More On Self-Promotion Than Basic Research: by Alexander Eichler

Big Pharma also leads all industries in spending your money on lobbying.  From 1998 to 2016, they spent over 3.5 billion dollars on lobbying.  This was more than a billion dollars higher than for the next highest industry which was insurance.  — Top Industries.

ee545df3eb331cc722ed7088791e9a5eAre you still wondering why drug costs are so high? Did you really think it was all research and development costs?  The three major factors are:  Profits, lobbying and Marketing.  How much do you think these all add to the costs of your prescription drugs?

Well, perhaps you still do not care.  After all, if the drugs do their job, what do you care if they cost a lot.  Perhaps your insurance pays it all anyway.  Well friend, what if you knew some of these drugs were going to kill you?  Do you think I am exaggerating?

Here are some examples of potentially lethal side effects:

“Baycol, which lowers cholesterol, was strongly linked to a potentially fatal breakdown of muscle tissue.  Approved in 1997, it was voluntarily withdrawn four years later.  The anti-inflammatory drug Duract spent just one year on the market. Approved as a strictly short-term use product, the FDA found serious liver problems with people taking the drug for longer than what was recommended.

In 1985, employees of two drug companies were fined and/or sentenced to community service for not reporting adverse events involving the blood pressure drug Selacryn and arthritis drug Oraflex.” — Drug Side Effects Explained

Of course, drug companies do not want to kill you because that could result in costly litigation and even worse, bad publicity.  Thus, most drugs come with a lengthy disclaimer and long list of potential side effects.  These are more designed to protect the drug company than you or your health.  You will probably not be able to read the small print on the label and even if you are able, you will probably not have a clue what they are talking about.  On the odd chance that you do know what it all means, it would not matter anyway, since what is your recourse?  If you are in pain and have gone through the process of obtaining your prescription how likely are you to decide that you will not take the risks associated with the drug?  But, and here is the important “but”, all drugs, even over the counter drugs have potential side effects.

viagra

And this brings us to another major factor affecting the cost of drugs.  This is the cost for Big Pharma to cover its butt when caught doing something wrong.  A report by Pubic Citizen noted the following information:

In December 2010, Public Citizen published a report that, for the first time, documented all major financial settlements and court judgments between pharmaceutical manufacturers and the federal and state governments since 1991.  At the time of the report’s publication, almost $20 billion had been paid out by the pharmaceutical industry to settle allegations of numerous violations, including illegal, off-label marketing and the deliberate overcharging of taxpayer-funded health programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid.  Three-fourths of the settlements and accompanying financial penalties had occurred in just the five-year period prior to 2010.  At the time of the report’s publication, there was no indication that this upward trend was subsiding.

adhdThere are many other egregious practices that go on in Big Pharma and which are beyond the scope of this blog.  My point in writing this was first to help alert you to the hypocrisy of the so-called drug wars and second to bring to your attention the inordinate amount of effort and money that Big Pharma spends in trying to get you to buy their drugs.  If you watch TV or read any mainstream magazines, you cannot help but become inundated with ads for drugs to cure any problem you can think of.

larrythecableguyprilosecThe drug companies are the biggest pushers of drugs in the world today and all for a profit.  The fact that these drugs may help your condition is very secondary to Big Pharma’s primary goal which is profits.  The fact that many drugs should not be taken long-term and may have life threatening side effects is also not particularly important to the drug industry.  Between the ignorance of many medical doctors anxious to provide a fast treatment and the greed of the drug industry, you had best become a very informed and cautious consumer of any drugs you are going to take.  You should also be skeptical of any information provided by the drug industry.

Time for Questions:

What medications do you take?  Why?  What has been your history with drugs?  How informative has the drug information you have received been?  What do you think about all the drug advertising on TV and in magazines?  Do you think we live in an addicted society? Do you think the Drug War is real?

Life is just beginning.

 “People use drugs, legal and illegal, because their lives are intolerably painful or dull. They hate their work and find no rest in their leisure. They are estranged from their families and their neighbors. It should tell us something that in healthy societies drug use is celebrative, convivial, and occasional, whereas among us it is lonely, shameful, and addictive. We need drugs, apparently, because we have lost each other.”  ― Wendell BerryThe Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays

 

 

 

 

 

Forgiveness: The Second in My Series of Most Important Virtues

This is the second in my series on what I called the Seven Most Important Virtues for Living.   I will speak from my personal experiences on Forgiveness and try to share as much of my own life as possible.  I do not want to speak as an “Expert.”  I am far from being an expert on this subject.

Every Tuesday morning, I start my day with the following prayer:

  • Please give me the strength and courage to forgive those who insult, disrespect or harm me in any way. May I be strong enough to offer forgiveness to others and to ask for forgiveness for myself.

Forgiveness is a subject that is both easy and difficult for me to write about.  It is easy because I have had a great deal of experience with the subject.  It is difficult because much of my experience has not been positive.  It seems to be a virtue that I am not very good at.  I can’t say that I ever gave it much thought until several years ago.  Here is what changed my life.

When my oldest and only daughter started college, about two years after my first wife and I separated, we had a slight argument over money.  I did not think it was that big of a deal but Chris (my daughter) became very angry.  She said she never wanted to see me or talk to me again.  She told me that I had made her life miserable when she was growing up and she wanted me out of her life for good.  Almost ten years went by and despite my best efforts, she would not reply or respond to any overtures I made.  I felt very sad but I did not know what to do.  I was torn between trying to see her and also trying to respect her wishes.

I ended up talking to a sizable number of people who one for reason or another had been cast aside by friends and loved ones.  I thought this would make an interesting story and I wrote some of my thoughts on this and sent it to the Oprah Winfrey show.  I never expected to hear from them.  Several months went by and one day I received a phone call.  The person on the other end wanted to know if I would like to be on the show and talk about my problems with my daughter.  The other person described this particular Oprah show as one that dealt with forgiveness.  I was somewhat intrigued but I had several misgivings and turned them down.

Perhaps a year or so went by and one day the Oprah show called me again.  For the second time they asked me if I would like to be on the show.  They explained that they would contact my daughter and if she accepted, we could both come on the show and tell our stories.  It would be a show about forgiveness and I could offer my apologies for anything I had done and see if Chris and I could work things out on the show with Oprah acting as a facilitator.  I decided to give it a chance and after discussing some logistics, I accepted the invitation.

A couple of weeks later, I was flown with Karen and my step-daughter Megan to Chicago where they had booked rooms for us at the Omni Hotel in downtown Chicago.  We were told that a limousine would pick us up in the morning and then take us back to the hotel or to the airport after the show was filmed.  We were given food vouchers and enjoyed some fine dining in our hotel rooms before going to bed.  There was a definite feeling of both excitement and dread on my part.  I had no idea what to expect.  At this time, I did not even know if my daughter was going to be there.

Next morning, I went for a run around the streets of Chicago.  A funny thing happened on my run.  A film crew from a local TV news network stopped me and asked me if I was a tourist.  I said more or less I guess I was and they then conducted a brief interview with me concerning what I thought of Chicago.  Two TV shows in one day!  After I returned to the hotel, Karen, Megan and I showered, dressed and waited for the limousine to take us to Oprah’s studio.

We were picked up and driven to the studio where Karen and Megan were taken to the audience area, while I was escorted to what they call the “Green” Room.  There were actually two such “Green” rooms where guests could be separated.  I talked to several other guests who were on the show to deal with the subject of forgiveness.  One was a man whose family had owned slaves and he wanted to ask forgiveness for the history of his family.  The other was a Methodist Bishop who wanted to ask forgiveness for her church because of the slaughter of innocent Native Americans led by a Methodist minister named John M. Chivington at Sand Creek in 1864.

A short time passed and while I was getting my nose and head powdered, Oprah Winfrey herself and her little dog came in to chat with me.  We talked for a short time and she told me that she wished me the best but to keep in mind that I might not get what I hoped for.  She said often the people that felt that they had been wronged did not want to forgive the other party.

Well, I went out on the stage with Oprah and I was truly surprised that my daughter Chris had also accepted the invitation to be on the show.  I was immediately hopeful that we could resolve our differences and begin a new relationship.  Oprah explained that there were three components required for forgiveness.  True forgiveness requires one to accept all three components if that is what the other party needs.  The three components of forgiveness are:

  1. An apology or request for forgiveness
  2. A willingness to listen to how you hurt the other party
  3. A willingness to make amends or to try to correct the wrong in some way

Oprah started off the conversation by asking my daughter Chris why she did not want to speak to me.   Chris had a lot of reasons.  I had already realized that I was often angry when she was young and I would explode at the drop of a hat.  I had gone through a Domestic Abuse Program a few years earlier in which through counseling and a support group, I had begun to get my anger under control.  Chris had felt that while growing up she was often terrified to be living with me and feared for her and her mom’s life.  She had never been physically hurt by me and I can only remember one time that I had hit her mom and that was after she hit me.  Nevertheless, there was a constant feeling of fear in the house punctuated by my violent outbursts which included throwing things, punching walls and yelling at Chris and Julie, my spouse at the time.

When, Oprah finally turned to me and asked me what I wanted to say.  I had no doubt in my mind that I was sorry for my actions and that I wished I could turn the clock back.  I apologized to Chris and asked if she could forgive me.  I was ready to make any amends possible.  At this point, I had covered two of the three conditions for forgiveness.  I had said I was sorry and I had listened to her pain and grief.  I was ready to make amends.  However, Chris did not buy into the scenario.  She refused to accept my apology and informed me that she did not need a father in her life.  However, she said that she had two children and that perhaps they could use a grandfather.  She would have to think about it.  That was the end of our conversation.

Before leaving the show, Oprah told me that she was sorry it had not worked out better but that forgiveness is a very delicate process and that it does not always go the way we hope it will.   I was not discouraged though and I felt that the outcome was positive.  I thought that I could be a good grandfather and I welcomed the opportunity.

A few years later, I was again contacted by the Oprah show for a “follow-up.”  I again agreed to go on the show.   I do not know if Chris accepted or even had an invitation as she was not on the show.  My segment was very brief.  I explained that Chris still did not want me in her life but that I had been given a few opportunities to share some time with her two children, Frankie and Jesse.  These times were very brief and it was clear that it was only when Chris was present that I was allowed to see them.  I did not know it at this time, but even this opportunity to spend time with my grandchildren would soon derail.

While asking for forgiveness is never easy, particularly when you realize how you have hurt someone; I do not think it is the hardest part of forgiveness.  I had no trouble asking for forgiveness, for I am truly sorry about how Chris had to grow up.  I wish I could redo her life and give her a new childhood.  It is now fifteen years or so since Chris and I last spoke.  She has been remarried and divorced but I have not been invited to any of her life events and any efforts to send letters or cards have not been acknowledged.

The hardest part for me has been to “let go” and to forgive myself.  I tried going to confession at one of my annual Jesuit retreats.  The Father and I talked about my “sins” and the issues I had as not being a very good father.  I was granted forgiveness by my confessor.  I had hoped that this would help me come to turns with the grief and pain that I often feel when I think of Chris.  It has not.

I have been told, that I really have not forgiven myself.  These are just so many empty words to me.  I do not know how to do this.  Particularly, when I know that out there someplace is someone that I spent twenty years with and to whom I am now totally irrelevant.  I never stopped loving my daughter.  I always wanted to be a good father and in my own way, I did try to be a good father.  I remember many good times we had together as father and daughter.  It is hard to realize that the feeling and memories must not be mutual.  If hell is of our own making, then I have made the hell that I feel when I think about Chris and wonder how she is.  I wonder if she will ever change her mind and give me another try.  Until then, I hope someday to know what it will feel like if I could forgive myself, but how can I?

Time for Questions:

I really cannot think of any.

Life is just beginning. 

Sometimes, it seems like it just keeps repeating itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gratefulness

If you enjoy reading my blog today, please see another blog I wrote dealing with this issue from the opposite perspective:  Ingratitude:  How it destroys our minds and hearts and souls

gratefulnessI want to talk about Gratefulness today.  It is the first in my list of the Key Seven Virtues that I think are worth developing.  Gratefulness is the opposite of ingratitude.  It is easy to fall into the trap of being ungrateful.  The world besieges us with evidence of our incompetence and faults.  Hollywood glamorizes the mundane and makes the rest of us feel inferior in comparison.  American Idol becomes the graven image that we now worship.  It is not an image of a gold calf or a prophet or a saint.  It is the image of success and fame and fortune that we all desire.  Even as I write this, millions of people are buying a lottery ticket in the hope of achieving instant wealth.  How many of these people are grateful for what they have?  I suspect many of them are very grateful in their daily lives, but it makes you wonder how grateful most people are when they will spend their money against all odds to become an overnight millionaire.  What don’t they have that they will buy if they do win?

Every Monday morning I start my day and my week with the following prayer:

  • I am Grateful for this new day and a new start. I give thanks for everything I have – especially my health, my friends, my family and my wife Karen.

I also say a prayer that my wife Karen will be healthy and happy.  She once mentioned to me that she appreciated my praying for her, so I have made it a part of my Monday morning start to the week.  My goal is to try to keep the thought of being grateful in my mind throughout most of the day.  I confess, I am usually able to keep it in my mind for about ten minutes at the most and then my day commences with the usual busyness and trivia that soon makes me forget my admirable goal.

If I were to rate myself on a scale of 1-10 of gratefulness, with 10 being the highest amount of gratefulness possible, I would probably give myself about a 2.  Nevertheless, I refuse to succumb to the Siren of Desire that drives one to buy a lottery ticket.  I do not want to win any money in a lottery.  I do not want to get any free money through a class action lawsuit.  I do not want to inherit any money from a dead relative or friend.  I admit I occasionally go to a casino and will play the penny slots for about fifteen minutes.  Karen has more patience and will play for as long as an hour.  We both allocate about ten dollars when we go for our “chance to win a fortune.”  We are usually at a casino for the entertainment or food.

My father was a gambler when I was young who lost a good portion of his earnings each week betting on the horses.  I learned from him that most gamblers were liars since they will only tell you when they win and never when they lose.  I still begrudge the fact that when I was growing up, my cousins (whose fathers were no richer) always had a nicer house, better clothes and more expensive toys.  My mother would regularly buy a lottery ticket and promise me that when she won, we would all be rich and never have to work again.  I always replied to my mother that if she put her dollar in the bank, she would have $1.01 at the end of the year.  It was kind of a joke.  When my mother died, my sisters and I had to cover the additional costs for her funeral.

I was reading a news article about two days ago about the continued recovery of former Arizona Representative Gabby Giffords.  I was struck by a comment that was attributed to her in the article.  She said:

“I wake up every day grateful that I have a second chance at life and a second chance at service.”

When, I read this, I thought there could not be much more I could add to the subject.  Here is a woman who could be bitter and angry.  She could rightfully complain about her physical and mental handicaps.  She could endorse stronger sentences for criminals.  She could lobby for more guns in society.  She could preach for more prisons.  Instead, she continues to pursue a life dedicated to service and to doing the best she can every day of her life to help other human beings.  We all need role models like this to really understand what gratefulness means.

One of my favorite blog readers is my sister Jeanine.  I think she is perhaps my most faithful reader, usually reading and commenting on my blogs each week.  Last week she posted a comment which included the following quote.

“I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” — Etienne de Grellet

She mentioned that one of her friends wrote this in her high school yearbook and she has never forgotten it.  She noted that she has tried to live by this quote in her daily life.  Judging by her friends and what they think of her and the efforts she puts out to help others, I believe my sister is also a person who does what she can to help others and who is also grateful for her life.

Let us pose the question:  What does it take to be grateful?

I would say that the virtue of gratefulness is composed of the following three abilities:

  1. Appreciating what we have. Savoring your life, your food, and your friends.  Like you would savor a tasty dish or appreciate a good song.  Appreciating the good and the bad.  Realizing that the bad makes the good better.

Without pain, there would be no suffering, without suffering we would never learn from our mistakes.  To make it right, pain and suffering is the key to all windows, without it, there is no way of life.” — Angelina Jolie

  1. Living in the present. If we worry too much about the past or think too much about the future, we are never able to just accept what is.  Violence is caused by too much dwelling on what happened yesterday.  Greed is caused by dreaming about what life would be like “if only.”  When we refuse to live our lives one day at a time, we inevitably get lost in a wilderness of whys, what ifs, and maybes.

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”  — Buddha

  1. Service to others. I am not sure that I can ever overcome the lure of fame and fortune and success.  They are constantly in my mind.  Except when I am serving others, particularly those who are less fortunate than I am.  Perhaps the only path to developing the virtue of gratefulness is by seeing the down trodden, oppressed, sick, dying, wounded and poor of the earth.  There is no doubt that seeing the misfortunes of others up close has a salubrious effect on our mental attitudes.  It is hard to feel sorry for yourself when you witness people like Gabby Giffords, Steven Hawking, and Malala Yousafzai and see what they have managed to achieve despite handicaps much more severe than any we might have.

“Too much self-centered attitude, you see, brings, you see, isolation. Result: loneliness, fear, anger. The extreme self-centered attitude is the source of suffering.” — Dalai Lama

I have a little device that I learned in my studies, a long time ago.  It is an algorithm for change. You can use it for changing an organization or for changing your own life.  It goes like this:

  • Awareness precedes choice
  • Choice precedes decision
  • Decision precedes action
  • Action precedes change

If we want to develop the virtue of gratefulness, we must first be aware of what it means to be grateful.  We must be aware of what we should be grateful for.  We must also be aware of our ungratefulness and ask ourselves why we feel this way and where it comes from.  Once we are aware of our feelings in this area, we must continue to maintain this awareness.

Next, we must use our awareness to make a choice.  The choice is simple.  Am I going to be a grateful or ungrateful person?  Am I going to see life as full of opportunities and a place of unlimited possibilities or am I going to see life as a living hell on earth?  The choice is always ours.  The choice to be grateful means that we must make a decision.   To live gratefully or ungratefully.

If we accept the decision to live gratefully, then we must take action on this decision.  We must express gratitude whenever possible.  But more than just words, we also need to help others who are not as fortunate as we are.  Regardless of how unfortunate you feel you are there are always people who are less fortunate.  Start looking for these people and ask yourself “How can I help them.”

The final step in the process will occur if you follow the above heuristic. You will find that there are more and more things in your life to be grateful for.  You will start enjoying life more than you ever thought possible. You will become grateful for the little things in your life and stop waiting for the big things.  You will become a person who appreciates every day that is given to you on earth.  Each day will become the best day of your life.  Don’t trust me!  Try it and see.  Age, death, diseases will still be difficult but you will find that gratitude can replace the sorrows of life with an outlook that can find joy in even the most difficult of times.

Time for Questions:

What are you grateful for?  What are you ungrateful for in your life?  How do you cope with the inevitable blitz of commercials telling you how inferior you are?  What do you do to help other people who are less fortunate than you are?

Life is just beginning.

“We are told that people stay in love because of chemistry, or because they remain intrigued with each other, because of many kindnesses, because of luck.  But part of it has got to be forgiveness and gratefulness. ”  — Ellen Goodman

 

 

Pain and Suffering:   Can We Still Be Happy?  

(The Suffering Song by the Willard Grant Conspiracy)  A great song to listen to while you read my blog today.

pain-logoI want to talk about pain and suffering.  These are subjects that are not addressed in most Western schools or colleges.  In fact, they are hardly even addressed in Western theology.  No one gives you the real scoop on pain and suffering.  They seem to be taboo subjects in Western Culture.  In “On Death and Dying,” Elizabeth Kubler Ross talked about the stages of grief that we confront when faced with the loss of a loved one.  This was a revolutionary book.  The subject of death seems to go along with pain and suffering.  However, while we now have grief counselors and bereavement counselors who are sectarian as well as secular in orientation, the medical profession seems to leave pain and suffering to the religious realm.  Most pronouncements about suffering from the theological domain seem to reflect such thoughts as follows:

“Suffering is no longer viewed as God’s divine lightning bolt intended to punish or curse the afflicted, but is understood as a divine context that is intended to radiate the glory of His love and mercy. As this reality crystallizes in the heart, people’s view of God changes. Where their Gospel-void interpretation once influenced their conclusion of God as the arbiter of pain as a means to justice, they now understand their pain as a means to understand His infinite grace resulting in the freedom to genuinely conclude He is truly a God that is good. They realize His mercy flourishing through suffering in that they were desperate in their weakness for the imputed righteousness of Christ, and that God was eager to offer it as a means to magnify His infinite love for them as they endure life in a fallen world.”  — How the Mercy of God Flourishes in Suffering

Perhaps such sentiments help the true believers, but they do little or nothing to slake my pain.  Maybe that is why Oxycodone and Percocet are more widely reached for these days than the Bible.  Pious sentiments notwithstanding, when I am in pain, I want relief.

Let’s back up a minute or a mile though.  If you are under thirty, you are probably asking “What is he talking about.”   I understand the sentiment.  Before I started to deal with pain more frequently in my life, I ignored these subjects just as I ignored the subject of aging or getting old.  When you are young and healthy, why think about pain and suffering?

Here is my answer.

There are several good reasons to address these issues but the primary one concerns your ability to keep joy and happiness in your life along with the inevitable pain and suffering you are going to experience.  The only question about the issue of pain is whether it will be over in a microsecond (as in a sudden heart attack or a car accident) or whether you will experience pain and suffering for many years of your life.

When I talk about pain and suffering there are three types or categories that you can experience.  You can experience any of these at any time in your life but you will most likely experience them as you get older.  The three areas in which we all experience pain and suffering are:

  • Cognitive or mental suffering
  • Emotional suffering
  • Physical suffering

Mental suffering concerns the thoughts, expectations and ideas that you have about life.  Pessimists suffer more in this area than optimists.  People with great faith may find their faith misplaced and suffer real anguish over their doubts.   The suffering and pain in this area is caused by our belief systems and how we define the world and reality.  You can change your belief system but you will always have some system that is subject to challenge and disconfirmation.

[As an aside here, I hate those snake oil sales people that ask you to “Defy your age.”  Check into their pitches and they will tell you that you can defy the aging process but of course it will cost you about $3000 dollars for their initial evaluation and about $1500 dollars per month thereafter in supplements.   My experience is that you can accomplish the same thing with a $30 dollar per month gym membership, an annual physical and depending on your needs maybe $100 dollars a month in supplements.]

Nevertheless, hormones, weight training, body building, aerobics and boot camps are not going to prevent pain and suffering.  They are not going to prevent physical or mental or emotional suffering.  This is THE simple fact that needs to be repeated and understood.

The second type of pain and suffering is emotional.  The death of a loved one.  Unrequited love.  Failure to accomplish our goals.  Disappointment with your favorite football team.  There are hundreds of sources out there that instill emotional pain in our lives. This was one reason that Buddhism is absolutely on the mark and addresses a subject that is seldom taught in Western culture.  This is the centrality of suffering and pain in our lives from the time we are born until the time we die.

Alone among the world’s religions, Buddhism locates suffering at the heart of the world. Indeed according to Buddhism, existence is suffering (dukkha). The main question that Guatama (c.566 BC – c.480 BC), the traditional founder of Buddhism, sought to answer was: “Why do pain and suffering exist?” Buddhism

figure skating fallThe third type of pain and suffering is physical.  We know as we get older that we get more aches and pains.  Athletes start at an early age experiencing the pain of broken bones, sprained muscles, torn ligaments and sometimes worse.  Many people work in dangerous professions where the risk of physical injury is a daily part of their lives.  Several diseases which cause great pain do not differentiate between old age and youth.  Nevertheless, the specter of pain and suffering is much more evident for those of us who have passed sixty.  Whether it is a relative who has died or a friend who has died in a car accident, it hardly seems that a week goes by without someone either Karen or I knows who is now in the hospital or morgue.

While I don’t want to belabor the point.  I had surgery to have my prostate removed over a year ago now and then subsequently (perhaps because of the weakened tissue), I had to go in for hernia surgery.  Both of these were very painful but nowhere near as painful as the infection I had from a tooth implant which for some reason my body rejected. Thus, for the past two years, I have had an uncomfortable level of pain and suffering on a daily basis.  I have also watched my lover and best friend get more aches and pains as each day goes by.

There are those who describe “old age” in glowing terms: “Sageing not Aging”, “Growing old like a fine vintage wine” or “Positive Aging.”   There are dozens of books out there touting us to grow older and wiser or older and more graceful or older and more fulfilled.  There are a growing number of books promoting the new theory of “anti-aging.”  If these pundits are trying to put a shine or marketing spin on growing old, they are doing us a grave disservice.

Jan-88-The-Old-Age-of-an-Eagle-is-Better-than-the-Youth-of-a-Sparrow-copyAging is not a positive experience nor is it fun or painless.  Aging is a process of gradually losing both mental and physical capabilities.   At young womansome point in the aging process, you will experience increasing levels of pain and suffering.  You will not become a fine wine but more likely will be like an overripe orange or an overripe banana.  You will become shrunken and shriveled.  Your body will ache more in the mornings and after moderate exercise and just before you go to bed.  Physical infirmities that once took only a day to recover from will now takes weeks, assuming you will ever recover from them.   You will suffer increasing cognitive decline as you become more forgetful and you will eventually experience some degree of dementia or worse Alzheimer’s disease.  You will suffer emotional pain as your friends and loved ones depart the earth before you do.  Karen and I have now set up a funeral budget to cover donations and costs associated with deaths that are becoming a routine part of our lives.

Please accept what I have said as the truth.  The truth will liberate you.  Only the truth here will set you free.  By accepting the truth about aging, you will be free to find the joy and happiness that perhaps you have never found in your life.   By accepting death, you can liberate yourself from fear and worry.   My Aunt Mary Leone will be 101 this coming year.  She had a wonderful 100th birthday party last year.  She was recently asked “How old do you feel?”  She replied:  “I only feel about 85 or so.”

I want to tell you the following story about her. 

One Christmas Eve eight or nine years ago, My Aunt Mary was 92 years old and was having dinner with my sister, myself and some other family members.  After dinner, I was sitting with my aunt, who is also my godmother, and I asked her what she was going to do on Christmas Day.  She replied “I am going to help serve dinner to the elderly people at the Senior Center.”  I thought this was really funny and I replied:  “Aren’t you elderly Aunt Mary?”  She thought about this question for a few seconds and replied “Gee, I never think of myself as elderly.”

My Aunt has lost all of her siblings, her husband, most of her friends from childhood and two children.  Yet, she has more friends now than I do.  When I queried her about how she does this, she simply stated “Well, I like people and just continue to need them in my life.”  Her friends are now “elderly” who are younger than she is but old by many definitions.

One of my favorite magazines is the International Travel News.  This is simply the best news magazine for serious travelers in the world.  I was first told about this magazine by my good friend Dr. Hana Tomasek over 20 years ago.  It has helped me to plan trips to over thirty different countries and each trip was better than the last one.   I still get this magazine and peruse it monthly for ideas on new trips and exciting places and events to visit.  This month’s edition had an article that caught my eye called:  Learning Mandarin at 76.  I quote from the article:

“After attempting to learn Spanish and Portuguese in many countries in Central and South America and taking a crack at Russian in Ukraine; I decided it was time to try Chinese, specifically Mandarin.  I knew that, at age of 76, it would be a challenge, but what the heck?  You are only young once.”  —- Ralph McCuen

Mr. Ralph McCuen went to China where he studied for a month at a Chinese language school.  Costs of transportation, food, lodging, flights and all incidentals were less than $5,000 dollars.  Judging from the article, he had a fantastic vacation, learned to speak some Chinese and acquired a great deal of understanding about Chinese culture.  He sums the article up by stating:

“They (The Chinese) want the same things Americans want:  Peace, plus an opportunity for them and their children to create a better word.” 

Ralph is (in my mind) an older man who is living and not dying.  We die when we stop living.  We stop living when we are too afraid to try new ideas or adventures.  We are already dead when all we want to do is sit on the porch until we expire or become too senile to move.

My original conjecture was “Can we grow older and still have joy and happiness along with our inevitable pain and suffering?”  I have offered two examples of individuals who are enjoying life along with their pain and suffering as evidence that this is possible.  I am sure that both my Aunt Mary and Mr. McCuen have had their share of pain.  However, it has not stopped them from enjoying life and continuing to face its challenges.

examine-quotes-5I ask you to think of others who exemplify the principles I am promoting here and post them in the comments section.  I know that there must be thousands of people out there like my Aunt Mary and Ralph who are not letting the pain of aging take away their joy of living.  I think such stories are very inspirational and in the long run they will go further than hormone therapy to help us stay happy.  I can only hope that I will be able to emulate such role models as I get older.  I already think it is very funny that I get a senior discount at the movies and some other venues when I am only 68.  How many more perks await as I get older?

I will conclude this blog with some advice from Osho on the nature of pain in our lives and how to deal with it.

“It is very simple — pain is there because pleasure is there.  Pleasure cannot exist without pain.  If you want a life that is absolutely painless, then you will have to live a life that is absolutely pleasureless; they come together in one package…..Pain makes you very alert and pain makes you compassionate, sensitive to others’ pains too.  Pain makes you immense, huge, big.  The heart grows because of pain.  It is beautiful, it has its own beauty.  I am not saying seek pain; I am only saying that whenever it is there, enjoy that too.” —-Fear by Osho

One final story to end on.  Two years ago while with Karen at Kentucky Music week, I stopped by a local Wal-Mart to pick up some snacks from their deli department.  I particularly like the Southern Wal-Marts because some of them will carry fried chicken livers and gizzards in their deli departments.  I know these are not heathy but I have no desire to live forever and will occasionally indulge in such delicacies.  Longevity be damned.

main-qimg-772143a82f19373444e6cbb23a98a544Anyway, there was a young man who came to the deli counter and asked me what I wanted.  I told him a ½ lb. of the fried gizzards and a ½ lb. of the fried chicken livers.  I asked him how he was doing and he said “great.”   I replied “Yep, it’s always a great day if you can put two feet on the side of the bed when you get up and not have any pain.”   His response surprised me.  He replied “It’s a good day anyway.”  I went away thinking what a positive attitude to life this young man had.  Much more wisdom then I had at his age.  He was absolutely right.  Life is good anyway, regardless of all the pain and suffering. 

Time for Questions:

How do you cope with the pain and suffering in your life?  How have you prepared your children to deal with the pain and suffering that they will experience?  Do you agree that we can still experience joy and happiness regardless of our pain and suffering?  Do we have to deny reality to accomplish this?

Life is just beginning.

“Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms you would never see the true beauty of their carvings.” ― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

 

 

 

 

The Death of a Loved One.

I have been asked to write a blog dealing with the death of a loved one. As I have grown older, I have suffered the loss of many a friend and relative. That is a price that we pay for living too long. There are other prices but perhaps none as steep as this one. A friend of mine has joked about my rather cavalier attitude towards death. She has summed up my comments as “Well, we are all going to die sometime.” I realize that my comment and attitude is not very consoling. However, for me it has been a convenient shortcut to simply acknowledging death and moving on. I have also noted that it seems hardly a week has gone by in my last twenty years that I have not witnessed the death of someone who has been a friend or relative. I doubt whether my life is much different than others unless I am a more astute observer of death or unless I am simply less caring.

I read the book “On Death and Dying” many years ago. The stages of grief that were identified as something we all go through upon the loss of a loved one are perhaps interesting and even useful but in some ways are very similar to my comment in that knowing the stages may not be very consoling. It is one thing to have an intellectual knowledge of death but an altogether different thing to have a personal emotional experience of death. For instance, despite all the deaths I have witnessed including my parents many friends and most of my relatives, I have never experienced the death of a life partner. I have gone through a divorce after 16 years but a divorce is not the same as death. True, it encompasses a degree of pain and loss and suffering but I cannot quite equate that with dealing with the loss of a close personal partner that one has lived with for most of their life. I think this would be a very different experience. Whether or not it was expected or unexpected would have some influence on how one dealt with it but maybe less than one would think. The aspect of “expectedness” is another intellectual concept which does not deal with the emotional relevance of death.

One day I was coming in to see Karen, my spouse who loves to sleep late. She is normally a very late sleeper and I am not usually too concerned when she sleeps in. However, it grew quite a bit later than usual and I decided to “peek” in to see how she was doing. When I looked at her prone body, she did not appear to be breathing. I immediately put my head to hers to see if I could detect any breath. I could not. My immediate reaction was to panic and shake her. I started crying. Suddenly she turned over and asked “What was wrong.” I was beyond relief. In that single moment of thinking she had passed away, I had experienced a degree of pain, sorrow, suffering and loss that I have never emotionally experienced before. Karen and I have been living together since 1989 and going together since 1983. I know that someday we will part and on an intellectual basis, I have accepted the inevitability of it. However, I suddenly found that I have not accepted the inevitability on a personal emotional basis and I wonder now if I ever will be able to.

I have to say I do not cry very much but I did that morning. I seldom cry at funerals but I cried at my Dad’s funeral, Sister Giovanni’s funeral and a few friends whose services touched me quite a bit. I have cried every time I have read or seen a production of the “Little Match Girl.” I have cried over the song “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.” There is something that evokes sorrow in me that has more to do with loneliness than death. I have never seen any scales of loneliness related to the death of a loved one but I might assume that some correlation did exist. I have a 98 year old Aunt and God-Mother who is one of the most positive older people I know. She has lost two of her three sons and her husband of over 60 years. She continues to love life and other people. I asked her three years ago how she keeps such an attitude when she has seen almost all of her friends and loved ones pass away. Her reply was that she simply makes new friends. I am sure she loved her sons and husband as much as the next wife and mother but she simply chooses to move on. I contrast this with a comment that I heard about Thomas Jefferson who felt that at the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence he was no longer a part of this life. The following is a quote by Jefferson on aging:

1815 February 5. (to John Vaughn). “…nothing is more incumbent on the old, than to know when they should get out of the way, and relinquish to younger successors the honors they can no longer earn, and the duties they can no longer perform.”

I see a vast difference between Jefferson’s attitude on aging and my Aunt’s attitude (at least as reflected in this quote.) My Aunt has not gotten out of the way. She still performs duties and tasks to help others. Indeed, that Christmas when I was talking to her, she was leaving after dinner to serve meals to the elderly at an “Old Folks Home.” I jokingly asked her if she was not “Old” and she pensively replied “Why I guess I am, I just never think about it.” She lives in the present and maybe that is the elusive secret of happiness or satisfaction. Osho says that for too many of us the only thing that exists is the Past or Future. We are either so busy trying to recapture memories of “better” times or else we create possible futures that we hope will bring us “better memories” than we had. I have noticed that all of the great religious leaders have stressed the importance of living in the present. Jesus said:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:25-34

Buddha noted: “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” I could give writings upon writings that speak of the need to live in the present but would this help you deal with the loss of a close personal partner? Good advice seldom deals with emotions. What then to say to anyone who suffers a loss of someone they have lived with, loved with and known for most of their lives? Perhaps nothing! Maybe this is just the time to be with this person. I would suspect that the feelings of loneliness would be almost overpowering. Is it any wonder so many people seem to die shortly after the death of a long term partner? What can you really say in the face of what this person is going through? Almost anything will sound cold or trite. Just feel for a second what this person must now be feeling.

Most of what we desire in life can summed up as: Fame, fortune or power. We strive to accomplish as much wealth, attention or power as we can. We think these three goals will bring us the happiness and security that we all seek. Deep down inside we are all insecure insignificant beings who feel that somehow money, fame or power will bring us the significance that assuages our sense of loneliness and inadequacy. But it never does. The nearest anything ever comes to doing this for us, short of an emotional and spiritual awakening is the love of a close personal partner.

I would not trade all the fans, all the Facebook friends, all the media glory, all the TV fame, all the money in the world or the highest office in the world for the love of my partner Karen who intimately knows me and cares about me. Karen brings me coffee, bandages my cuts, asks me how I am doing and what is wrong, cuddles with me for no reason, walks with me, consoles me when I am feeling inadequate, supports my stupidity, tolerates my quirks and even my sometimes meanness and poor dispositions. How many of the Rich and Famous have anyone in their lives like I do? Those of you who have or had had a long time personal partner or loved one know what I am talking about. How to lose such a partner and go on with life? I am sorry if I do not know the answer or the secret. Give up or trudge on? Can you make a difference for others? Can you help share the pain and help others deal with the pain you are now feeling? What can you leave the world after your partner leaves you?

If you have had a partner like I have, you have experienced the greatest gift in the world. That this gift will someday be taken away from you is inevitable. That it will cause you great pain and sorrow is perhaps also inevitable. In the end, we come back to the beginning. Life goes on. You were loved and you were needed. There are others who are not loved and who could benefit from your love. There are others who are not needed and who could benefit from being needed by you. The biggest gift we can ever give others is the gift of ourselves. When a gift has been taken away from us perhaps it is time for us to find a way to give a gift of ourselves.

Time for Questions:

What is your experience with death and dying? How have you handled the death of a loved one? How have you helped others who are going through this pain? What will you need when you lose your partner or a close loved one? Can you share any experiences with others who might benefit from your experience?

Life is just beginning.

%d bloggers like this: