Archive for the ‘Compassion, empathy, love’ Category

in order to bring the wealth of communal knowledge to people in need.

Meet Bunker Roy whose lifelong committment to human dignity and self-sufficiency has proven that a single individual can make all the difference. 

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I’m sure you know of the man who was named “Dr. Death” because of his bold battle to bring the choice of physician assisted suicide to the terminally ill. 

As a person living with Multiple Sclerosis, and hence living with a very uncertain future, I have a deep interest in the topic of  ‘dying with dignity’.  I consider the act of ending my life at a time of my own choosing as a basic human right which no religion, state or government should be allowed to take away from me.

Of course, people commit suicide every day in the US and around the world.  And I have always thought that it is usually a desperate act, prompted by helplessness and suffering that simply is too much to endure.  But ending one’s life as an alternative to suffering the unending ravages and unbearable pain of a devastating illness, is in no way an act of  desperation. 

In fact, it is an act of courage and should be supported by society the same way we have long accepted euthanasia as a merciful alternative to the unnecessary suffering of a beloved pet.  Only here, with physician assisted suicide, it is the human being him/herself who determines IF and WHEN to die.  This is the complete opposite of a decision that many fear may be made by a second party on behalf of someone who cannot express their wishes.

In a previous post about how “To live and die with dignity” I shared Craig Ewert’s courageous story of how he travelled to Switzerland in order to find the assistance he needed to die his way and at a time of his own choosing.  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/suicidetourist/

It seems clear to me that anyone who is brave enough to watch the documentary of Greg’s struggle with ALS and his final decision to die, will also witness the strength and the dignity of his final choice.

However, it is not the premeditated dying that is important here, but rather, it is the legal CHOICE people ought to have, that matters.   Even if the right to die were well established and acknowledged by the power of  law, not everyone would choose this path. 

My favorite example of such an individual is Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist, who has clearly chosen to live in spite of having lost his body to the devastating effects of ALS.   

In his case, no  financial or scientific means are spared to enable him to continue his work.

He also is an inspiration to me and I admire him for his straight forward and unsentimental way of looking at life.  In his recent book “Grand Design,” he says: “There is no heaven or after-life …, that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”   He also states that he is not afraid of death, but adds: “I’m in no hurry to die.  I have so much I want to do first.”

So there you have it: more food for thought. 

I’d like to close by thanking Dr. Kevorkian for his committment to human dignity and by posing the following question: 

What gives a society the right to deny any person a choice in determining how much suffering is enough?  And WHEN and HOW to die?

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My own journey toward feminism began at a very young age when I watched my father lay hands on my mother many times.  It was at a time in Europe when husbands still had the right to beat their wives and fathers were lauded for punishing their children for any perceived infringement of the rules.  In our home the punishment came in the form of physical and mental beatings.  

I vividly remember coming home from school one day to my father’s silent figure greeting me in the hallway with his hand swinging out and hitting me on the side of my head.  The force of the assault drove my face into the doorpost where I collapsed.  For months thereafter I could feel the indentation in my skull where my forehead had met the unyielding corner of the door frame. 

I watched my mother struggle to raise her children in a marriage filled with indignity and fear and it did not take long for me to understand that the only way for a woman to be free was to determine her own destiny.   Hence, a feminist was born.

Upon arriving in the US in the early 1970’s I found that women of all backgrounds were fighting for equal rights and the Equal Rights Amendment was well on its way toward ratification.  Of course I joined the effort and made my own contributions to the cause, especially after my daughter was born.  I remember that all forms refered to any child as he and as silly as it may seem, I also remember exhausting many red pens by adding an s in front of the he to correctly refer to my child as she

Since then we have come a long way and history shows that many changes toward equality took hold even though the ERA was narrowly defeated by the likes of Phyllis Schlafly and her Eagle Forum.  The changes are manifold and show themself in many different ways, some of which are filled with humor.    

Take for example the story told by Veronika Oleksyn ( Associated Press) of 15-year-old Regina Mayer who lives on her parent’s farm in Laufen Germany. 

It seems that this inventive girl did not take no for an answer when her parents denied her the horse she craved to pursue her love of riding.  She rebelled in her own special way by training her pet cow Luna to accept a saddle and finally also herself as rider, thus giving the word cow-girl a much improved meaning.  

Bravo Regina and a toast to your parents who did not prevent you from accomplishing your goal.  And many thanks to my own daughter who sent me the link to this heartwarming tale:  http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110405/ap_on_re_eu/eu_germany_jumping_cow 

But on a more serious note, I’d like to share with you exciting information that shows feminism is alive and well among our own youth.  Meet Courtney Martin, a blogger and internet entrepreneur whose website  is a goldmine for people interested in the cause.

It is clear that the issues to be dealt with have expanded in number and become more complex since the women of my generation took to the streets.  Now our daughters and son have to deal with problems more diverse and threatening than we had to content with at the beginning of the fight.  You can find Courtney’s blog at http://www.feministing.com.  It will take you to the center of issues that are percolating today.

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Last year we lost our cat Stanley to the ravages of old age.  Stan had been ‘quite the cat’ who, as a kitten, was adopted from a Chicago shelter and first lived with us near Chicago’s downtown.  Stan had a long and exciting life, as my daughter can attest, because he came to live with her in Minnesota.  Life in a college town suited Stanley very well; there he was able to pursue the indoor-outdoor life he craved.  A life which had been impossible in the City of Chicago. 

Fast forward eighteen years and Stan came back to us to enjoy ‘his retirement’ at Sontheim.  He was dropped off with the comment that “there was a warrant out for Stanley’s lynching” because the neighbours were no longer able to endure his nightly yowling concerts.  There was also a longstanding lack of song birds in the neighbourhood which rightly or wrongly had been attributed to Stanley’s hunting skills.

So Stan came to Sontheim where he yodeled to his heart’s content.  Initially the dogs, Sophia and Lilly, were terrified by his sounds.  Neither one of the girls had encountered a cat before and especially not a feisty one like Stan.

Within a year Stanley’s health declined and he left for the happy hunting grounds in the big sky.  Once he was gone, we made the decision not to bring another cat into our home.  The family was complete, especially after the arrival of our big boy Sam.  A house without the litter box, without the necessity to prevent a prowling cat from escaping out-of-doors, without the constant vigilance to keep birds safe from cat attacks, that was the goal.  

But alas, it was not to be!

Within a few days of Stanley’s passing, his mirror image appeared on the porch of our apartment in Chicago.  George called to let me know that a shy Stanley was hanging around.  For months I occasionally heard about the budding friendship between the big guy and the little alley cat.  Then one evening I got the news that the stray had overcome his fear and followed George inside; and I was told that he would be taken to the Chicago Humane Society in the morning.   A few years ago George did precisely that, he rescued a pretty little alley cat, took her to the Humane Society, and she was promptly adopted out.  But alas, this is the year of over-crowded shelters and George was told that Stanley’s double would have to be transferred to the City Pound were he would likely die alongside so many other unwanted cats.

In a panick George called and we decided that certain death was not an option.  The cat would have to travel to Wisconsin, get checked over by our vet and get a name. 

So let me introduce our new cat to you.  Meet Felix, who we suspect was sent or way by Stan who just could not imagine the family without the company of a cat.

A happy Felix with his dad and Sammy who pretends not to notice.

A curious Felix watches his dad prepare the fire.

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I want to follow my last post with three TED presentations in order to share with you a multitude of women who (unlike Sarah Palin) are neither ignorant, nor self-righteous.  The videos show three extraordinary women who, each in her on chosen sphere of influence, are making a real difference.

Meet Majora Carter, who starting in the South Bronx, has redefined the field of environmental equality.  In her presentation she brings us the stories of three individuals who are saving their own communities while also doing their part to save our planet.


Next meet Lesley Hazelton, a journalist and accidental theologist, who one day sat down to read the entire Koran.  Her presentation shares with us what she found in the Islamic holy book which was not at all what she had expected.

Please click on the link below to see the video:



And finally, meet Jody Williams who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her work in eradicating landmines.  TED describes her as bringing “tough love to the dream of world peace, with her racer-sharp take on what ‘peace’ really means, and a set of profound stories that zero in on the creative struggle — and sacrifice — of those who work for it.”

Listening to women like Majora Carter, Lesley Hazelton, and Jody Williams makes me proud to be a woman and hopeful for the future of our world.

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2010 was an enlightening year which brought me clarification on many fronts. Most importantly it brought the joy of reconnecting and strengthening a family bond which had unraveled and become fragile over many agonizing years.   My loved one, in her wisdom, pursued a path of healing which in the end brought us together again in a connection that will strengthen and endure.

But 2010 also brought sadness at the early death of two dear friends.  You already know about Patti, whom I met through our mutual love for the Bernese Mountain Dog.  I wrote about her passing ‘A few days after Thanksgiving’.   I think of her often and wonder how our young friendship would have deepened over time. 

And there was Bob, my friend Cindy’s beloved husband, who died of a brain aneurism within a few days of Patti’s death.  While Patti’s passing came after many months of unrelenting suffering and can be looked upon as a blessing, Bob’s sudden death struck like a lightening bolt and was a shock to all.   Bob is remembered as a generous man who raised his children well, a man who loved his wife, a man who will be missed.

Here at Sontheim 2010 was an important year.  The dogs have settled in and become a closely knit pack.  Our newcomer Sam has become the undisputed, but gentle leader whose presence has brought out the best in Sophia.  Because of Sam, our neurotically shy Berner girl has learned to boldly go where she never went before.  Now, Sophia comes running to collect her share of hugs and kisses throughout the day.  And what a change that is from not so long ago, when I would have to corner her, in order to bestow some petting.

And now that 2011 has begun and last year’s snow has largely melted we are settling into Winter.  The air crackles with frost and the wood burning stove warms the house.  I think of the long line of  lovely people I have been privileged to know and wish a very happy New Year to you All!

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I received a gift today which will make my life more enjoyable as I continue to live with the unrelenting progression of Multiple Sclerosis.  A fellow blogger who calls himself the ‘Wheelchair Kamikaze’ very aptly describes  MS as creeping paralysis.   According to his research, Creeping Paralysis was the original name of this daunting illness, before it was given the less disturbing and very sanitized name of Multiple Sclerosis.  For who the heck knows what ‘multiple’ ‘sclerosis’ really is?  I usually explain it to people by suggesting that they think of the brain being turned into a swiss cheese.  This explanation is descriptive in the extreme and also not very kind.  But after reading Marc’s post about the frustrations our shared illness brings, I shall use ‘creeping paralysis’ instead.  The name accurately presents the condition without exaggeration or hyperbole.


Well, I know Multiple Sclerosis very well, in fact so well that after 18 years of acquaintance I know that the original name holds true.  And yes,  Creeping paralysis it is!  And there is absolutely no doubt about that.  Eighteen years ago I was strong and I participated fully in the richness of life.  I had built a challenging career, I was doing my share to make the world a better place through my philanthropic efforts, I had travelled around the world, and after my child had gone off to college, I opened my home to creatures in need of a nurturing home. 

And what a difference Creeping Paralysis makes:  today I am a recluse who hardly leaves her home.  It is difficult to appear dignified when stumbling about  and dropping things for no apparent reason.  At home it is easier to deal with failing limbs.

But  today I received the lovely gift from my sister. 

She cleverly devised a way to insure that my daily enjoyment of two cups of coffee continues. 

A lovely cup with two handles, angled in a perfect way to ensure a firm one or two-handed grip.  How cool is that???

And what could be better than a sister’s thoughtful love.  Thank you my dear Elke, your gift has brought me joy.

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