Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Ultimate Friend

Long before the Terri Schiavo's prolonged death of 15 years, death and how to die has been a topic of discussion. When I use to go into nursing homes and see acres of old folks or not so old who didn't know they were in this world, you better believe I thought about it. And, also, one of my best Army buddies developed early alzsheimers and it got me to thinking. Under what circumstances would I want to live or die if I had a debilitaing physical ailment. Basically two things would guide me: (1) if my mental capacity were so diminished that it was clear I was, "losing it." But, while losing it, I knew that I could still have some logical thoughts to make a decision. (2) That I had reached a stage where I was a burden to my family. Consequently, I was ready to go. I honestly believe that as a person of faith, "this world is not my home. I've lived a good life and so have no fear of death.

That being said, I would want a friend to do me in. I have such a friend. We are still working out the details: the commitment is there, it is just in figuring out the logistics and making sure it is not questioned and maybe even the "how."

I asked my man, Michael, does he want me to do him in if the conditions exist? No. What! The icon does not want to be done in. I am blown away; it almost equals my Marine buddy not believing in the draft.

In Lonesome Dove when Gus was hanging Jake, one of his former partners, Jake said, "Well, boys, I'd rather be hanged by my friends than my enemies." And when they hanged him, Gus declared, "Jake sure died well." Can't get much better than this.

I am putting this great statement on the Airborne Press website as it relates, "Every soul is divine though during the state of ignorance, it remains oblivious of its spiritual nature. In every heart the divine light shines with undiminished lustre. Hence all men are entitled to respect. The divinity of the soul is the unshakable basis of democracy, self determination, freedom, and the aspirations of modern minds. Shankara

Monday, March 21, 2005

God, Man, and the Universe

We hit so many subjects today that it's amazing. I had to institute the "raising your hand" rule as everybody wanted to talk. We had a non regular this morning. A great guy--the first time in a long time. Actually, we use to see him over at our old place (Shoreline Cafe--don't know why we quit. This place is a combination restaurant and health food store. NG (new guy) is a Muni (municipal buses in San Fran) mechanic. A gentle guy. He's a bachelor and we decided over an objection that he needs a girlfriend or at least start looking. He has pretty good criterion but not impossible: late thirties to early fifties, likes Asian but not necessary. Cooking would be an asset. Needs her to be financially solvent.

Ok, don't want to use real names here, especially of main parties involved but a heavy duty issue of jeolousy involved. Here is basic situation. One of the guys goes out with a girl on one day and almost immediately, she through a routine appointment has cancer. She goes through all the treatment and recently died. Very sad. But, through all the treatment, my friend sticks with her and even takes her to several appointments, nothing romantic, he is truly being just a friend: a standup guy. In the meantime, he gets a girlfriend who knows all about the friend with cancer. It doesn't seem to be a problem. The dying friend bequets her car to her "stand up" friend who has been there for her. The present girlfriend is having trouble with this and actually refuses to ride in the car. The "girlfriends are giving advice on this delicate subject.

Andy has some new insight. If it is a problem to the girl friend, he should sell the car and take the money and buy another. Michael thinks that the present girlfriend should be dumped. Dave thinks that it is a bigtime red flag. Afterall, the girl is dead.

Then we moved right into the Terri Schiavo case. All were in agreement that Congress had no business getting involved in this very private thing. And, even the courts but since they were, Congress should leave it alone. Andy thought it was because Bush was trying to please the right wing fundamentalists. Gary said he had already called his parents and made sure that all knew exactly what they wanted. He also related to us the big discussion he got into with his brother who goes to this fundamentalist church and does not see a feeding tube as extraordinary means. I kept trying to bring up Iraq but couldn't get it in. And, then Michael laid into Andy because he had a plaque put up with his name on it where he had donated 80 acres of land to a wilderness preserve. We decided that if our friend ever gets the vehicle, we will go to the place that Andy donated the land and have a ceremony over the it. I allowed as how I would try to get a rabbi, a priest and maybe even an Iman. Nobody was laughing.

Andy saw some guy in the next booth that he recognized from 45 years earlier when they use to sell cars together. The guy is a big time contractor and Gary gave him some of his architect cards. Michael gave Gary and I a bottle of Vitamin B and said we should start taking. Michael also gave me an article about the danger of vioxx which I no longer take.

OK, it has been about two hours and we are out of there. Gary and I go for a short run up this trail so Rascal, his great dog, a yellow lab, can romp. We run into a dogwalker with six dogs. They all go for a swim in this pond along with Rascal. Gary and I continue our talk. He tells me about another friend, child psychologist, that nobody likes, meaning girlfriend's friends. They want to have a party but don't want to invite him. The psychologist is dating one of the girlfriends. It was the girlfriend that introduced Gary to his present girlfriend. They don't like the psychologist because they think he is arrogant and thinks he knows everything. Plus, they think that his girlfriend is getting the short end of the stick. He doesn't want to get married, make any permanent commitment. I like the psychologist but simply ignore. The last conversation we had, thought it was really good inasmuch as he said something about war that really resonated with me. We were talking about gays in the military and I was getting beat up on pretty much by Gary's cousins; I think it is OK for gays to be in the military but in wartime, they need to stay in the closet. War is not a picnic and the soldiers who are really good soldiers are incredibly macho and just shy of being Montana militia men. The child psychologist says that war has to probably be looked at entirely separate from other things. In war, the normal rules just don't apply. I thought that was really good. This guy, the psychologist is one of the few people that I've ever seen when you can literally tell when he is not paying attention to you. His eyes shade over. Really.

Sunday, March 20, 2005


The buds and I have been on a tangent of discussing death and dying. It came about for a couple of reasons. One of our regulars had a friend to die and has been pretty traumatic. He had only dated her once when she discovered she had a terminal illness. She put up a courageous fight for two years and all during the process, we discussed it. Our bud has been a "stand up" guy and has stayed her friend. Recently a couple of us attended her Memorial Service where he spoke and did a great job, to say the least.

Another reason is because several of us have seen Million Dollar Baby--a good movie; and, in many ways, very inspiring. In Million Dollar Baby, Hillary Swank, one of the best actresses around, plays Maggie. Morgan Freeman, Eddie; and Clint, Frankie--basically, Clint and Morgan play themselves. Clint protrays his"kind persona" towards Hillary as he does the prostitutes in Unforgiven.

Million Dollar Baby is a movie that ought to be reckoned with because it ultimately focuses on a central problem in our society and one where denial is rampant; mercy killing/euthanasia. With health care costs soaring and twenty million people without health care coverage, we are keeping people alive in artificial ways and long after their bodies would have naturally shut down. We are in a crisis and have allowed the right wing zealots, who purport to know what God thinks, and who wouldn't know an original thought if it ran over them, control the debate. We need to get off that dime.

I've been doing lots of thinking about the Terri Schiavo situation. I can hardly believe the President and Congress have decided to get involved. For all practical purposes, she has been brain dead for fifteen years. It has been a sad case anyway you look at it. A mother and father who are overwhelmed with grief and have become hard-core activists, I think, because of their grief. A husband who says his wife didn't want to live like this but nobody else knows if she said it or not. And, apparently, he is not so sterling a character. It has become a mess inasmuch as it shows again that most people have enormous difficulties in dealing with death.

As a young pastor, I can remember once saying to the wife of a really elderly husband who had just died, "he's better off." She immediately corrected me and said, "No, I don't agree, I would want him back under any circumstances." I don't understand thinking like that but I know that many feel that way--Terri Schiavo's parents!

Why really would the Terri Schiavo's parents persist so vehemently in keeping the daughter alive. I don't get it personally. I use to go into these old age warehouses called Nursing Homes where acres of old people would reside. They didn't know they were in the world. Many had not known who they were for years. Yet, the parents, religious zeolots, the governor of Florida, his brother, the President and Congress are poised to do whatever is necessary to keep someone alive who has not known she is in the world for fifteen years. Why?

Let the poor woman die! It's amazing that a movie like Million Dollar Baby defines the debate better in moral terms than the Church or certainly any of the zeolots. When Hillary aka as Maggie is lying in the rehab center, knowing she is in the world but not wanting to live in her present state, she makes the decision about her life--I want to die.

Does a person's life belong to them? Albert Ellis, long time psychologist and therapist, not to mention, one of my heroes, has argued over and over, “Yes, a person’s life belongs to him/her. He says, “If a person says they are going to do themselves in,” I will say, “I understand, your life is your own but you must understand that if you are successful, there is no turning back.”

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


I've been gone for a week to North Carolina visiting my brothers. How have these guys gotten along without me. Naturally, I'm the first to arrive--we have a system, don't be waiting around. I have my usual: double shot of wheat grass, large carrot juice, and oatmeal with blueberries, bananoes and cinnamon. We are talking healthy here! Michael drags in and then Gary and finally Andy. So, here we go with the relevant topic.

We start off talking about the war and then quickly transition to religion. I don't remember why. Andy is an atheist and thinks religion is the bane of society. "What we all need to do more is love each other and accept everybody and be happy." I told him he had been hanging out in Berkeley too long.

Not that he is wrong. Gary is a Methodist type. His girlfriend, is a former Catholic who at best, according to Gary, is an agnostic. Michael is a Jew but says he's a Buddhist, has done all sorts of things, Zen, etc.; we all agree that religion has been the cause of beaucoup problems as it is practiced in the world. As a Christian, I allow as how often it is a matter of how it is misinterpreted and one has to realize that religion and Christianity the way I practice it is based on faith. I mean, nothing to be proved, whatever.

What our talks do for me is allow me to really think about it, as these guys challenge everything. You could say that the sun is up. They would want to know how you know. My basic belief is that if one follows Christianity, then always deal with the first four books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, these are the books that record what Jesus did and said. Can't go wrong if you are interested in the "basic." He was always the champion of the poor, the downtrodden, the disenfranchised. Whether it was the women of his day, the hated gentiles, whoever, always took the side of those who had no champions. It is only when what he did and said is interpreted is it a problem. Mostly the interpretation is by Paul, who is credited with beginning the concept of the Church. I see Michael's eyes glazing over?

Andy wants to talk about when he was a youngster in Greece. He was a twelve year old when all the adult men in his village were rounded up by the Nazis and killed. Where was God when all this was going on? I allow as that I don't think that God is very involved with us down here and we could say, "where was God when people are starving or the Germans zapping seven million Jews or some drunk father is abusing his daughter or the innocent die."

Michael thinks it is the Catholics. They brain wash from the get go and then spend all this time proselytizing. And, there seems to be something common with all Catholics, he sees it in how they see things. They can't quite get away from what they were taught and be open. And, what is it with the Pope trying to stay alive anyway?

I explain that the Pope in Catholic theology is viewed as Jesus on earth and in a sense, when he suffers it is Jesus suffering and now with this present thing, he is really replicating Christ suffering on the cross. They all look kind of skeptical. Definitely to be continued.

Monday, March 07, 2005

All this Commo

This is really a weird thing about what is going on in war. A friend told me that her daugher got a dozen roses yesterday--is this the weirdest thing?? You're at war, in a battle zone, and just dial up the internet and send flowers. Don't know what to say?

Well, I don't either. The jury is out as far as I am concerned. What happens to soldiers often when they are at war is the importance of the family is magnified. And, there is a certain solace in not knowing what is going on. In modern war, where soldiers have computers and email and can telephone home in an instance. Not sure this is good. I would view it as a distraction. Here they are, fighting. War is no day at the beach. It is life and death. They have a job to do and they need to be concentrating on it. And, to be distracted by a phone call, having to do email, etc. I'm thinking the jury is out on whether all this commo is good.

On Iraqnam

I think yo are exactly right. Urban guerilla warfare is not all that bad if they are not out fighting it. I think it is one of the mistakes we've made in Iraqnam. We have tried to keep the soldiers isolated and not secured the country. I mean, we are at war and the Iraqis can't defend themselves. They are not ready. If we have made the decision to be in Iraq, let's do the job. And, we're not doing it.

With drugs, with life, with whatever, being passive won't hack it. We have to get out there and chase it. The insurgents can kill at will without retribution and that is one of the reasons that Iraq is such a f...... mess. And, we have smart people over there, in our Army, and why they are being so muzzled amaze me but it also doesn't amaze me.. I tell you what I think it is: a kind of mentality that happens in the military, especially with the types of personality that end up at the top. They are a "can do" and yes sir, yes sir, three bags full command structure and this is not good. Our goal at this stage is to "get out." Or, it should be and how best to do that: they have had elections, have a semblance of a chance and we need to make sure that we give them a chance by securing the country and once we basically do that, out of there baby. But, it seems that I am the only one in America thinking this.