Brulog

Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

Archive for September, 2011

Curse the silence

Posted by boakley59 on September 15, 2011

It’s been happening again lately: Showmanship trumps discussion as our nation faces crippling difficulties. I cannot hold my temper as a barrage of shallow phrases casually dismiss my existence or suggest that people like me are the cause of the problems rather than victims of it. I cannot hold my temper as I am told that “my side” makes stuff up, too.

I saw a Facebook note not long ago to the effect that everything would be all right if only we would get prayer back in our schools — and send the Muslims back where they came from.

Such suggestions put me in turmoil. Would it do any good to point out the stunning lack of self-awareness in the suggestion? Muslims pray, too, and we could just as readily make a case for facing Mecca daily in schools and sending Baptists or Methodists or any other religious minority back where they came from, if dogma is to be our filter. Would it do any good to point out the lack of historical understanding in the suggestion? This nation encoded separation of church and state precisely because many of its early settlers left their homelands to avoid forced practice of a state-endorsed religion — in some cases from nations whose sovereigns formed a state religion so as not to yield to the pope! We are twice removed from mandated religion! Would it do any good to point out that individuals can pray at will in our schools (barring classroom disruption), and that it is a freedom held in communion with Catholics and Mormons and Wiccans so that no faith is crushed by powers and principalities.

Why must we have this discussion at this late day in our nation’s history? These questions have been settled. If I remain silent to preserve friendships or social standing, do I have friends or standing worth having? If I speak out, do I have the time or strength to continue as I am rejected (or at least scolded) as the intolerant, angry one?

Should we not all be angry at this? Isn’t it obvious that forcing (yes, “forcing” — not “allowing”) prayer in our schools is getting citizenship wrong, parenting wrong and even Christianity wrong? If you need forced prayer to save the schools (or society), what have you taught your children about responsibility, behavior and manners? If forced prayer is the way to demonstrate Christianity, how is Christianity distinguishable from wearing gang colors, your favorite team’s jersey or designer jeans?

People aren’t good enough, or people don’t do enough good — that I get. Muslims are so bad they are a threat just by existing and they could never become good enough — that I reject. The reality is that the Muslims in America are a tiny minority: If I understand correctly, about 1 percent of our population. (For reference, inflammatory bowel disease patients like me are about half that, 0.5 percent of the population.) Most of these people are your quiet, unassuming neighbors who love their children and their pets, go to school or work, watch TV and donate to flood or earthquake victims when the need arises. They do not disrupt or threaten your life in any way, unless you lose face because in polls, Muslims hold more strongly to Americanism than to their religion than do other belief groups. That is to say that Muslims are less likely as a group to push for religious dominion in the United States than are Christians. Sharia law here? It’s a dog whistle for Christians who want to impose Mosaic law and banish strangers to hell.

Shame!

I heard a prominent Republican not long ago call Social Security a Ponzi scheme. I heard a Republican audience cheer a record level of state-sponsored murder, which was then defended as justice against outsiders. I heard another Republican argue against vaccination as a health risk. These are the frontrunners shaping the debate and the platform. I am told these notions just represent differences about the way things should be done and the proper role of government.

Here’s the thing: I am an outsider on Social Security disability with an autoimmune disease whose treatment puts me at higher risk of infections. These policy positions threaten my well-being. Someone who gets the science of vaccination backwards is a threat to my life if in a position of power, not to mention it hurts my head just to contemplate the sheer stupidity. Someone who would dissemble about Social Security as a wedge to dismantle it paints me as a criminal while preparing to pick my pocket. Someone without reservations about killing “the other” is not someone I can afford to trust.

When I hear serial adulterers use family values as a club to bludgeon those they would deny familial rights, I cannot trust them to make principled decisions. I cannot trust them to resist temptations. I cannot trust them to respect me or my rights. I have talked about this before: I am the adopted son of parents who had no biological children; I am divorced from my son’s mother; I am remarried to a woman with no biological children. What can the phrase “traditional marriage” mean to me but a confusion of failed promises and a wrenching struggle to love through great stress? If this is something that really can be protected by preventing the wrong kind of people doing it, we need a much better focus on just who the wrong kind of people are.

So, I’m sorry, but the people or the party espousing ideas that threaten me, even if they’re “merely” staking out extreme negotiating positions for later compromise or making a show for their own followers, are not people I can afford to dismiss simply as having different views. These are people threatening or attacking me, and I can’t sit quietly by waiting to find out what their good ideas are for fixing the problems they identify. Their bad ideas trumpeted in public put me and mine at risk.

Even if those on “my side” aren’t telling the whole truth, I’ll take the liars whose lies don’t put me at more risk.

And yes, every once in a while I will raise my voice and not just sit still, cursing the silence.

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52 pickup

Posted by boakley59 on September 15, 2011

Time for the ritual stock-taking after another tour ’round the sun. A year ago, I was wrapping up a grand stretch of good health, happy reunions and magic moments on Memory Lane. Still, I worried that I was only clearing a low bar and was not particularly robust, though better than I had been for a long time. I did not wish to celebrate overmuch such a small victory.

A year later I’m here to say: Raise the roof! This has been a fantastic year.

I have had no hospital time except as chauffeur for others having tests or low-risk procedures. I have been able to return to jogging, though I had some early minor bleeding around scar tissue. Through jogging, I have connected with a number of less experienced runners and have gotten a big boost from coaching them and sharing in their enthusiasm and triumphs. I get to use what I know to help others. I can keep them from painful mistakes; I can soften any blows just by letting them know someone else has been there, done that and gotten through; I can encourage so that they have light in darkness.

I’m considerably slower and less durable than I used to be, but coaching gives me a connection and a purpose that is every bit as good as racing. Suzy and I have gotten closer, too, as she has taken to running in the past several months. Jogging in good company has helped her relieve stress, lose weight and have fun. She was self-conscious and didn’t want to slow me down in my racing days, but now that she has seen me working with other learners, she appreciates my coaching and encouragement. We have found something to do together, and it helps me to have her along as I return gently to what I had lost for a time.

And I have so enjoyed bragging on my trainees: Everyone has been faster, fitter and seemingly happier; one has lost 25 pounds; one is breaking state records; another is starting a running club at college. Seems like we’re at the heart of a little running boom in the area, and I’m expanding a circle of friends as I volunteer at races, blog about running and post on group forums.

We’ve also put walking and fighting disease together as we continue to serve the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America through its Take Steps walks in Arkansas. Suzy and I have worked with the Arkansas CCFA office since shortly after its formation in late 2009. Two walks in Little Rock and a third in Bentonville have raised $200,000 to fight my disease and help patients. My computer and editing skills have helped a few of us do some heavy lifting to make these events a success (the next one is Oct. 29 in Bentonville). I also played guitar and sang (more or less) at two local fundraisers, and I even wrote a potty-humor song about my condition. Friends have rallied around us, donating to the cause and providing venues, support and music for these fundraiser concerts. Heartwarming to have support, uplifting to be able to offer it to new patients.

Through my volunteer work, coaching and limited, low-stress part-time work, I have also been able to test the depth of my disability. I still wear down too easily; I still spend a day in recovery if I push too hard. I try to keep myself to no more than four hours of strain in a day and even that only a few times a week. If I do four hours of hard work, I try to scatter the load with easy chores over six or eight hours of clock. I am enjoying being useful and productive, but I still recognize that I absolutely cannot be the constant mover I was.

The part-time work has eased the financial burden as our North Little Rock house remains unsold, but we remain one short step from ruin. We are holding on, we are giving back, we are far more fortunate than most — but we live at the edge of a cliff.

This year, though, the sun is out and I am dancing on the rocks, not shivering in the wind worrying I’ll be blown over the edge.

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