Monday, September 25, 2006


Vacationing With Cancer

My friend Dawn battles stage four kidney cancer. She fights it every day that she gets up and goes to work. She fights it when she comes home and cooks for her son. She fights it when she insists the doctors give her a second opinion.

She fights her cancer with dignity and determination.

(In the photo at left, we see Dawn with a hat made from a cloth napkin.)

Some time ago, Jane and I laid plans to travel up to Canada in July. A nice vacation to get away from the heat of what we thought might be an unusually hot summer. Our children wanted to visit Chicago on the way; I have never seen Niagra Falls. But when we learned of Dawn's diagnosis, we reconsidered.

Dawn had never been to the Carribean; never been in waters so clear you can see fifty feet; never had a vacation that didn't require at least a few chores each day; never been snorkling; and never had done many things we thought she would enjoy. So Jane and I invited her and her son to accompany us to a beach resort in Mexico, south of Cancun. At the resort, literally everything would be done for her and provided for her; all meals were included, full maid service, room service, entertainment, beach activities, etc., etc.

She could hardly contain her excitement.

Though I worried about whether her health would hold, it gave Jane and me a lot of satisfaction. As Jane said, this trip gave Dawn something else to live for.

We cancelled our Canadian reservations and made arrangements to travel to Playa del Carmen.

When our closest friends learned of our plans, they wanted to come, too. One of our friends stepped up and paid a share of the cost of taking Dawn and her son.

Nine of us flew to Cancun at the end of July. Our flights went well. Dawn, in a wheelchair, moved our party to the head of various lines. We received extra help from the airlines and at the airports. We got a chuckle out of the helpers in the Cancun airport who assumed that Dawn and our single gay friend were married.

Funny how things work out. Dawn gets comfort and relief from an herbal tea she brews at home. Since the rooms at the resort lacked any kind of cooking facility but did have mini-fridges, she brewed up some in advance. The tea, packed in a cloth cooler and surrounded by frozen water bottles, survived as a carry-on quite well. Of course, only a week after our return home all carry-on liquids were banished.

We went to the beach or the swimming pool or both every day. The weather remained perfect for us all week long, never raining and never getting as hot as it was back home. The ocean waves helped with Dawn's arthritis, and she was getting around better when we left than when we arrived.

We went to the ruins and the world-class beach at Tulum; we toured the fabulous eco-park at Xcaret; in short, we had a wonderful vacation.

What does it mean, to vacation with cancer? What is it like, to think the time left might be only months and not years? Of course, what cancer brings with it is immediate awareness of mortality. But are we not all mortal? Do we not all choose how to ration our days? Dawn's example teaches us to make these choices carefully; to spend time with friends and loved ones; to do that which matters and forsake that which doesn't.

Her example teaches us to rely on God for sustaining strength.

Dawn gets around with a walker now, and continues to fight for her life. She works every day, and does what she can for charity and to help others. She also continues to plan for the future; she knows who she wants to conduct her funeral services.

In her quiet, determined way, Dawn shows us how to be worthy.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Republican Angst

Many of my very best friends are Republicans. For some reason, they don't talk politics much these days.

My friends, sensible, reliable, people you would be glad to have in your home, grew up on a Republican party that stood for high moral values. The party they supported stood for fiscal conservatism, personal responsibility, small government, and maximum personal freedom. They were from the proud tradition of Abraham Lincoln.

Theirs was not the pro-torture, pro-secret prisons party the Republicans have become. Their party would never have openly advocated the general suspension of civil liberties. Their party, somewhat isolationist, would never have supported a "pre-emptive" war.

I remember being told by a staunch Republican friend in the 1980's that the Democrats always got us into wars. After all, a Democrat held the presidency at the outbreak of both World Wars, the Korean War and Vietnam. Well, no longer.

The new, 21st Century Republicans started two wars, Afghanistan and Iraq. The 21st Century Republican party presided over the largest increases in federal spending in history. The 21st Century Republican party vastly expanded the reach and scope of federal government intrusion into the private lives of all of us.

My Republican friends don't talk politics much anymore. But they still vote.

Friday, September 15, 2006


Osama & George Bush - BFF

The president speaks the name of his best friend forever (BFF) quite often these days. He talks about how dangerous Osma bin Laden is, what a great threat Osama is, how Osama wants to murder our families.

If Osama is so dangerous, Mr. President, why is he still at large? Where are the resources, the money and manpower, needed to capture him?

Well, we knew he was in Afghanistan, so we invaded and now we own the responsibility for the world's prime source of opium. But we let Osama get away. Why and how is that?

And, instead of chasing him, we invaded Iraq. Why, Mr. President, why?

Why did you dismantle the CIA unit charged with finding him?

Now, five years later, Osama the bogeyman is trotted out as evidence we need to continue the policies of wars and invasions.

In a rational universe, his continued freedom would instead be taken as evidence of incompetence. He is the world's most wanted man; he has been for five years. Yet he is still free. In what warped perception can that be taken as proof of efficiency and effectiveness? How can that be used to claim we should continue with more of the same?

When I was in ROTC, they pounded a few very simple messages into my head. "Don't exploit failure," they repeated. It means do not continue to squander men and wealth in futile operations that have been shown not to work. This particular piece of military logic applies to all aspect of life, but especially to war.

Osama used modern technology, which gives great power to individuals; a mere 19 men struck on September 11. Yet they caused the kind of damage that formerly took a whole army of enemies.

What would be the proper reaction to a blow dealt by an "army" of 19 men? (We used to call them "gangs," but now that seems hardly appropriate.) The president decided the proper reaction was to marshall our own armies of and invade foreign nations. We now have over one hundred thousand troops in Iraq.

In what reality is it smart to react to sporadic attacks by a few dozen individuals with bombs dropped on the families of ten thousand innocents? What do we gain, other than whole hosts of new enemies?

In what cruel world did the United States, the "last, best hope of mankind" become the sponsor of secret prisons, indefinite confinement without trial, and torture?

The nation I grew up in was a nation of high moral standards and the best conduct in foreign affairs. It was a nation that followed the golden rule in international politics.

My father, a career Army officer, a former golden gloves boxer, taught me to never strike the first blow in a fight. But this is exactly what the president's doctrine of "preventative war" is all about. The president's notion that we should hit them first was condemned by every major religious group, every Christian denomination in the world except one. (The Southern Baptist.)

Osma is the president's best friend because he can be trotted out as justification for all the mistakes and all the atrocities committed in the name of the American people. Osama is the president's best friend because only Osama can save the Republican party.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Kansas AG to Stump from the Pulpit

According to an internal campaign memo written by Phill Kline, published in Monday's Lawrence Journal-World, the Kansas Attorney General plans to campaign for re-election from the pulpits of various "conservative"churches. He tells his staff to "Get me in their pulpits."

In his memo, the AG also discussed plans to "Get the pastor to invite 5 money people, whom he knows can help."

Of course lawyer Kline knows a church cannot maintain tax-exempt status if it allows fundraising on the premises or actual campaigning from the pulpit. What I do not understand why the churches aren't worried about their tax-exempt status; the law so very plainly prohibits a church from endorsing a candidate.

That's why Kline will likely avoid direct electioneering during his "sermon" and will probably meet prospective contributors offsite.

One has to wonder - will the meetings discuss Jesus's concerns about the poor and needy; or the wants of those who, in Kline's words, "... can drop $1,000 to $2,000."

The thought of a candidate campaigning for office from a Christian pulpit, or any pulpit, makes my skin crawl.

You can call it a "dirt removal implementation device" but it's still a spade. And a stump speech is still a stump speech, even when given from a pulpit.

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