Cherish your unexpected memories of loved ones

With Mother’s Day approaching and Father’s Day a month away, I am repeating a post from two years ago. Memories of loved ones have a way of popping up when you least expect them. Tissues may be needed.

I watched a poignant video where a young woman was presented with a birthday gift of a talking teddy bear. The bear had a prerecorded voice and she soon realized the voice was her father’s speaking to her using her name. It brought tears as her dad had passed away a year before.

This beautiful story made me think of two poignant movie scenes and a real story. The first movie scene is from “Peggy Sue got married.” Kathleen Turner played Peggy Sue, who went back in time to avoid marrying her boyfriend who eventually left her. The poignant scene occurs when she answers the phone at her mom and dad’s house and hears her grandmother’s voice, who had died years before her time travel occurred. It gives me chills to write this as she spoke to a departed loved one once again.

The other movie scene is from “Field of Dreams,” with Kevin Costner. After building a baseball field in his corn crop, the now deceased players of the Chicago White Sox, who had been banned for gambling, appear to play. But, the real reason he is inspired to build the field is his father comes to play as a young man and former ballplayer. When he asks his dad for a game of catch, it is a very emotional for me as I used to play catch with my father.

While these movies are dramatically poignant, we came across an old cassette tape of my father-in-law singing. Before he passed in 1997, he used to play guitar and sing in clubs, bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, church, senior living centers, etc. So, we just sat and listened to his crooning, as he performed old standards from the 1940 – 60s. It was a treat for my wife and me. One of my favorite memories is returning from New York at night, with him and my mother-in-law singing old songs like these while riding in the back seat.

Cherish your memories, especially when they unexpectedly pop up. Sometimes, all it takes is a prompt – a song, a movie clip, an old friend, or an old piece of clothing – to flush out the memories. Or, it could be prompted by a simple question about “do you remember….?” I grieved my favorite aunt’s death in a restaurant about two years after she died when my wife asked me one of those simple questions. Remember them well.

The Harmony Project – Sing, Serve, Share – an encore

The following brief post was written five years ago, but deserves an encore performance given its theme. It is a quick read, so please indulge a few minutes of your time.

What do you get when you have a choir which does not require auditions? You get a tremendous amount of harmony, but not just the musical kind. From a recent CBS Sunday Morning report, David Brown has formed a choral group whose primary purpose is to bring different kinds of people together to sing, serve and share.

Based in Columbus, Ohio, its members must serve the community in various community projects, as well as practicing and performing. During the interview, Jane Pauley talked with what sounds like the set-up to a joke – a CEO, a warden and a Rabbi. These diverse people epitomize what the group is all about – getting to know people who are different from you, then realizing how similar we are.

Brown has even taken this concept into the warden’s prison where female inmates have their own chorus. Recently, the incarcerated chorus joined the larger one for a performance, which brought down the house.

Brown’s history has been one of being diverse. It started in high school when he moved into a new school district and was the lone white student at an African-American school. In college, he came out as a gay man. So, getting along as the non-main stream person has formed his bent toward diversity.

The Harmony Project is such a positive effort to bring out the best in us. While these examples happen on a daily basis, we need to celebrate them and our humanity by sharing our common threads. This is what America is all about. It is not finger pointing and hate speak. Let’s bring America together by celebrating our diversity, as well as these common threads that bind us.

American Winter – what poverty looks like (a reprise from 2013)

The following post was written eight years ago, but unfortunately still applies today. Our situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, where too many small employers had to close their doors. Some of the observations come from my volunteer work to help homeless working families. If you only have a minute, read the next to last two paragraphs, which speak volumes of why we should help.

There is an excellent documentary on HBO called “American Winter” by Joe Gantz which tracks eight Portland families who are struggling in this economy. Please check it out at www.hbo.com/documentaries/american-winter. This documentary puts a face on poverty and shows what these families are dealing with during the economic crisis. Since I volunteer with an agency that helps homeless families, I can assure you the problems portrayed in Portland are in evidence in North Carolina and elsewhere in the United States. For example, the median family income of the homeless families we help at the agency is $9 per hour. With a living wage in NC of $17.68 for a one adult/ one child family, you can see how people are having a hard time.

These people are living paycheck to paycheck and it takes only one thing to cause them to lose their house. It could be the loss of one job or the cutback on hours worked. Or, it could be a healthcare crisis.  We have people in America who are struggling and even dying because of lack of healthcare. According to The American Journal of Medicine in 2009: 62% of bankruptcies in the US are due to medical costs and 75% of the people whose illnesses caused bankruptcy were not insured or were under insured. This is the key reason we need the Affordable Care Act and for states to permit the expansion of Medicaid to cover them.

Yet, rather than make this about healthcare, I want to focus on why we have people in such crisis. I addressed many of these issues in two companion posts last fall based on Tavis Smiley and Cornel West’s book “The Rich and the Rest of Us.” The first post was written on October 20, 2012 and the second on October 29, 2012. We are not talking enough about our poverty problem in the US. The middle class problem is referenced often, but where did they go? Only a few moved up in ranks, where as the significant majority fell into poverty or near poverty.

As organizations have taken efforts to improve their profit margins dating back to the 1980s, we have seen a continuous downsizing and outsourcing of jobs. Since the early 1980s, the disparity between haves and have-nots became even more pronounced with the trickle down economics which has been proven to be unsuccessful, unless you were viewing it from the higher vantage point. As a result, there were multiple pressures on the middle class, which has led to its decline.  It only got worse when the economy went south. While there has been some repatriation of outsourced manufacturing jobs to the US, they have remained overseas for the most part.

So, if the worker did not stay up to speed with new technologies and, even if he did, there are fewer jobs for those without a college education. And, with the economic crisis, we have seen even having a college education is not enough these days. These unemployed did what they must, so where they could, started getting service jobs in retail, restaurant and hospitality industries. These jobs are near or at minimum wage and make you beholden to the number of hours you are permitted to work. Unfortunately, these jobs perpetuate poverty. You cannot afford healthcare and better food options and can barely afford rent. So, if something happens to your hours or job, you may lose your home.

The homeless families I have worked with work their fannies off. There are some I speak with in churches , who believe these families are homeless because they are less moral or virtuous and that is not it at all. Per Smiley and West’s book, poverty is the absence of money. Nothing more, nothing less. A few national stats to chew on:

– 40% of all homeless families in the US are mothers with children, the fastest growing segment;

– 75% of homeless children never graduate which perpetuates an ongoing cycle of homelessness; and

– 90% of homeless children suffer extreme stress; some worse than PTSD that former military face.

I mention these last two items, as even with all I say to the contrary, some people do not want to help the adults, who these obstinate people feel are totally responsible for their plight or are lazy. They see a chronic homeless panhandler on the street and paint all homeless people with that brush. That is a small, small subset of our homeless problem and, while we should help the chronic homeless people, there is a significant majority of homeless people who work hard, but cannot make it. Yet, I try to sell the concept of helping the kids. They did not sign up for being homeless and if we can help them, we can break the cycle of homelessness, the cost of caretaking is less, we gain a taxpaying citizen and we may be untapping a huge potential. The second place Intel Science Award winner in 2012 was a homeless girl, e.g.

We need to help these folks climb a ladder out of the hole they are in. It will be more beneficial to them and our society. And, we must provide educational paths forward, whether it be getting a GED, community or tech college schooling to learn new or improved skills. There have been some amazing things going in community colleges which can provide some paths forward. And, we need to pay people more. We have to improve the minimum wage to get at least to a living wage for an individual. It needs to be more, but if we can make that statement (making the minimum wage = a living wage) it speaks volumes and will help.

One of our dilemmas as a society is we must have a vibrant middle class to flourish. Unfortunately, the American Dream is a myth for many. We have one of the least upwardly mobile countries in the world. So, unless we make changes to our societal investments, we are destined to have only two economic classes of people. If you do not believe me, please check out my blogging friend Amaya’s website at www.thebrabblerabble.wordpress.com and check out the short video on economic disparity in our country. It is atrocious and unforgivable that this can happen in the US.

This is our collective crisis. Please watch “American Winter” or check out the above posts or Amaya’s. While “American Winter” highlights eight families, let me add a couple of more for you. One of our new Board members who works for a large bank was touring the homeless shelter and she came upon a colleague who was employed by the bank who was homeless. This stunned her that someone who worked at reasonable pay could end up homeless. Many live paycheck to paycheck in our country and it only takes a nudge for some to lose their home.

The other person I want to mention was living in a tent with her parents and younger siblings. Her dad was a construction worker and got some handy man jobs, but neither he nor his wife made enough to prevent losing their home. I highlight this teenager, as she would volunteer at a food bank to help others in need. Let me repeat this for emphasis. This homeless girl would volunteer to help people in poverty working at a food bank. We have helped this family get housed and they are climbing the ladder out of poverty. And, this young lady is now in college.

Let me shout this from the rooftops. Please help me become more vocal. We have a poverty problem in the US. We have a homeless problem in the US. We must help our neighbors and by helping them, we will help ourselves and country. Let’s help them climb these ladders. Let’s give them opportunities to succeed. If we don’t then we all will suffer.

A Tuesday tale

I met with an old friend last week for lunch. He was visiting his daughter and we decided to get together, masked appropriately. He shared a wonderful story that I hope will warm your heart, as it did mine and my wife’s when I told her.

He said his daughter is a specialized nurse. He and his wife had adopted both of their children in their first week. For medical history reasons, his daughter wanted to find out about her birth parents. He gave a nice piece of advice to be prepared for the consequences which may not turn out like you want.

He went on to say she was adopted when they lived in Ohio, who changed their laws to allow for open records, provided the birth parents did not specifically say no during the transition form sealed records.

After much legwork given a common name, they found the birth mother and father. It turns out the birth mother was also a nurse and her father was the doctor her mother worked for. It was the mother who turned down the doctor’s proposal to be married, so they put the child up for adoption.

So, if that does not give you enough tingles that people she never met were also in the medical field, the next item might. We live in North Carolina, not Ohio. And, the daughter does not live in her home town having moved within the state. It turns out the birth mother lives nine miles away from the daughter.

The rest of the story remains to be told. I will add the mother who raised her is in medical research, so her daughter’s interest is most likely due to her influence and example, but DNA to help others might have also been a factor.

The story is not intended to judge anyone’s motives or reasons for placing a child in adoption. We do not know the circumstances or history of those involved. I would only surmise decisions like this must be difficult.

Franklin was on the side of the Angels and got chastised

I have written before when Franklin Graham has used his pulpit to denigrate groups of people who do not worship, love or gender present like he does. I have added it detracts from the many good things his Samaritan’s Purse organization does, when he demonizes groups. Yet, this time he is getting flak from his own followers for suggesting that people get the COVID vaccine.

Here are excerpts from an article called “Franklin Graham believes Jesus would take COVID vaccine. He’s still catching grief”.by Joe Marusak of The Charlotte Observer. A link to the article is below.

“Evangelist Franklin Graham is still catching grief from some of his Facebook followers weeks after saying Jesus would have supported getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

Based on the parable of the Good Samaritan, Graham said he concluded that Jesus would have supported getting all types of vaccines.

He said nobody should have to endure what some of his staff and their family did after contracting the coronavirus…

‘My wife and I have both had the vaccine; and at 68 years old, I want to get as many more miles out of these old bones as possible!’

Some of his followers, however, are still fuming about his COVID vaccine recommendation.

‘You my friend Franklin Graham are leading your sheep to slaughter,’ a woman posted Friday.

‘Satanic sell out,’ another woman posted.

‘STOP,’ said another last week. ‘It is NOT your job as a pastor to try and talk people into taking a vaccine that is considered experimental.’

Other comments were along these same lines. Just in the selection of these three, only one-half of one them raised an actual issue that gave him or her pause referencing “experimental.” The vaccines were rushed, but we have had the benefit of seeing the results of such along with the stops and starts. The J&J vaccine has some issues they are looking into, but for the vast most part the vaccines have been safe.

What amuses and concerns me is the vitriol used to share their opinions with the reverend, who is just trying to offer encouragement. He did exactly what I did after getting my vaccine and that is to share a positive experience. “Satanic” is a little harsh as a retort and offers no counter argument.

That is a bigger problem where people are replacing arguments with bullying and name calling. The latter does not improve anyone’s argument, even when they are a current or former politician. Being smug does not make one right, it just makes one smug.

Franklin Graham says Jesus would get COVID shot | Charlotte Observer

What do these folks have in common? (a reprise)

The following post was written almost eight years ago. While more states and cities have increased their minimum wages and the Affordable Car Act helps greatly, this post remains relevant.

The following people have something in common. Please scroll down the series of descriptions and let me know what is common for all of them. The names of have been changed to protect their confidentiality, but the stories are very real.

Anna is working as an office manager working full-time making $8.00 per hour. She has is separated due to a domestic violence situation and has two children.

Hope is working two jobs – one full-time as an Administrative Assistant making $11.75 and the other part-time as an intake specialist at a Human Services agency making $11.00 an hour. She is also separated due to a domestic violence situation and has four children.

Julie is working full-time as a CSR (Customer Service Representative) for a bank making just over $14 an hour. She is unmarried with three children.

Nina is working full-time as a CSR for a utility company making $12.25 an hour. She is unmarried with one child.

Sarina is an assistant manager at a fast food restaurant making $12 an hour. She is unmarried with three kids.

Paul is working full-time on a cleaning crew making $11.00 an hour. He is unmarried with one child.

Carrie and Michael are married with four kids. Michael was laid off and Carrie is working in hospitality at a local hotel making $9.00 an hour.

Felicia is a Certified Nursing Assistant making $9.60 an hour at a hospital. She is unmarried and has one child.

Dedrick is a full-time security guard making $9.25 an hour. He is unmarried with three children.

Cassandra is working two part-time jobs, one as an afterschool teacher assistant making $11.25 per hour and the other as a retail clerk for a discount company making $7.95 per hour. She is unmarried with two children.

Terry is working as a public school teacher assistant making $11.00 an hour. She is unmarried with one child.

I could go on, but let me ask the question. What do these folks have in common? They are all homeless. When I tell people that the homeless people the agency I volunteer with have jobs, these people do not believe me at first. How can they be working and be homeless? It takes some people time for that to sink in. In fact, 84% of the families we help are working. The median wage for those 84% is $9.00 an hour. I purposefully used higher figures to illustrate a point – you can make above the living wage for an individual, but still be homeless if you are a parent. The living wage in my area for an individual is around $10.00 an hour and for a one-parent, one-child family is around $19.00 per hour.

There are five additional things I want to mention that are important to understanding, preventing and climbing out of poverty:

  • Family size is highly correlated with poverty. We must do a better job on family planning and providing birth control means and education. For my evangelical readers, your kids are going to be tempted to have sex. Please do not preach a message of abstinence alone. Teach girls how to say no. Teach boys to treat girls as more than sex objects and that no means no. But, let them know that if they must have a sexual relationship, to use protection.
  • Education is key. While the economic downturn altered this statement with layoffs and downsizings, for the most part, the higher your education, the less likely you are to be homeless. For kids that fall off the track, getting them back in school or on a path to a GED is essential. Fortunately, the community college systems in cities and regions do a pretty good job at getting people educated and developed with new career skills.
  • Healthcare is very important. The absence of healthcare is the key reason for personal bankruptcy in the US and an important reason for homelessness. People cannot afford their employer plan and one of the kids get sick or has an issue. Or, the parent stopped taking his or her medications due to cost and the resulting physical or mental issue causes a problem for the family or on the job. Fully implementing Obamacare will help, but the states who did not expand Medicaid need to do so.
  • Minimum wage needs to at least be the living wage for an individual. The homeless we help work hard, sometimes at more than one job. People like to say that increasing the minimum wage impacts the number of jobs. To be honest, most studies do not support that contention. We need to increase the minimum wage to the living wage for an individual. These jobs perpetuate poverty (please read “Nickeled and Dimed in America” by Barbara Ehrenreich). Short of that, we need to increase it more than it is now and graduate it to a higher level. Yet, the same people who decry people on welfare, also don’t want to pay people for an honest day’s work. If we pay people better and not like an economic slave, then the economy will actually flourish more.
  • Domestic violence is real. About 30% of the people in our program have come out of an abusive relationship. So, the spouse is making due without one of the incomes (for the most part) as well as dealing with a court-ordered spouse to stay away from her and the kids. I have said this before. If you are in an abusive relationship – leave. He will not change – leave. He will move beyond verbal abuse and it will become physical – leave. For the sake of your kids – leave. You can live a more normal life. Domestic violence is about power and control. It is difficult, but please leave.

Our agency is built with a model of helping people climb a ladder out of homelessness. The past fiscal year, 91% of our families were back to self-sufficiency in 21 months.  We provide rental subsidies based on their ability to pay, but they must work with a social worker and meet certain milestones. We also offer Hope Teams to mentor the family and kids. We do not do for them what they can do for themselves, so they must have a savings plan, take classes on Bridges Out of Poverty, and achieve certain milestones.

We all need to better understand our poverty problem in America. We must do better, but it must begin with realizing how it happens and helping people climb ladders out of poverty. We cannot solve this problem by kicking them when they are down and placing ill-founded labels on them as reasons to dismiss them as undeserving. Not only is that cold-hearted, but it is harmful to our economic growth. As Gandhi said it so well, “a society’s greatness is measured in how it takes care of its less fortunate.”

Les Miserables and Social Injustice (a reprise)

The following post was written about eight years ago, but still resonates today. It remains my third most frequented post by readers, but I felt with the concerns of today, it deserved a reprise.

My wife and I have long been fans of the musical Les Miserables, so yesterday we took two of our children to see the recently released movie with Hugh Jackman as the lead character of Jean Valjean. We were not disappointed and enjoyed the movie immensely. Of course, a few people have noted some of its imperfections, yet on the whole, it is a very moving experience and fills in a few details that the play could not.

As an aside, I also enjoyed the dramatic movie made a few years ago with Liam Neeson in the role of Valjean. As for the recent musical version, I would encourage you to see it , whether you have seen the play, early dramatic movie or not. If you have seen the play, you will be even more moved by Anne Hathaway’s Fantine singing how life has killed her dreams. The music is so wonderful, sometimes the everyday tragedy  of social injustice shown in the play is overshadowed. If you have not seen the play, you will also find it enjoyable as did my teenage children.

I wanted my kids to see it for its storytelling and musical beauty, but it was also very good for them to see what poverty and injustice looks like. They have accompanied me on occasion to help with homeless families, but to see it from an omnipotent perspective like this fills in the back story and context for those in need. I mention this as Les Miserables, when translated to English means “The Miserables.” It also is reflective of a world we still live in, even in the United States with over 50,000,000 people in poverty.

There are many stories to be told in Les Miz, but to me there are three main themes of social injustice that resonate today. First, Fantine personifies the lot of many in the movie and in real life here in the US, that many live paycheck to paycheck, especially those in impoverished settings. It won’t give away too much of the story to say Fantine loses her factory job and has to turn to a life of prostitution to provide for her daughter. In the US, 47% of American workers are living paycheck to paycheck. That includes many who are beyond poverty levels, meaning even the lower middle class have just enough money to make ends meet. Those in poverty are living on a wing and a prayer trying to make ends meet, with a significant majority paying more than the needed 30% of their income for housing and utilities to maintain a reasonable standard of living. It should be noted that 40% of all homeless people in the US are mothers with children, the fastest growing segment in the US. To further illustrate this tragedy, of the homeless families the non-profit agency I volunteer with help, 89% are single parent women as head of household.

Second, another social injustice theme is the one between Valjean, an ex-convict who paid dearly for stealing a loaf of a bread and the policeman Javert (Russell Crowe in the movie) who relentlessly chases him for breaking parole. A quick sidebar, Valjean could not get a job with his “scarlet letter” of papers he had to carry with him. However, Valjean repays the kindness and decency afforded him by a priest (played by Colm Wilkinson in the movie who was the original Valjean on the London stage) by doing the right thing and treating others like he wants to be treated. The injustice is the fervent belief by Javert that a thief is always a thief and could not change. What Valjean demonstrates and later tells Javert “you are wrong and always have been wrong.” Valjean, like many, is conflicted with trying to do the right thing and taking advantage of the circumstances to hide from the law. By doing the right thing at great personal sacrifice and cost, he shows Javert you can change. He also learns the priest’s lesson of treating one another with decency and dignity. “There but by the grace of God, go I,” was not said in the movie but lived by Valjean.

Third, and most powerful, is the overwhelming discontentment by those in poverty. There are many more than just Fantine who are exposed to the extreme poverty of the streets. The movie does far more than the play ever could to show the filth and sickness brought about by living in such conditions. If you had a job, it was more about economic slavery, working a tireless, repetitive factory position. You dared not complain or you could be let go or “sacked” per the movie and replaced by another. If you did not have a job, without significant welfare help, people had to beg, borrow and steal. Or, in Fantine’s case, she first sold her possessions, her hair, her teeth and then her body as a prostitute.

Scrolling forward to today’s time, I have written two posts about Tavis Smiley and Cornel West’s book “The Rich and the Rest of Us.” This could have been the title to “Les Miserables.” One of the misconceptions noted in the Smiley/ West book about poverty, is poverty is not due to a lack of moral virtue. It is not defined by people who do not work hard. Poverty is the lack of money, period. The homeless families we help have jobs, sometimes more than one. They work hard trying to make ends meet and do the best they can. In these earlier posts, I have encouraged people to also read “Nickeled and Dimed in America” by Barbara Ehrenreich. She lived the life of minimum wage jobs in America on purpose to see if she could get by. Her major conclusion – minimum wage jobs perpetuate poverty.

If you are earning at that level, you are beholden to a life of eating cheaper poor food, the inability to afford healthcare, jobs where you are on your feet all day which affects your health and a general lack of sleep as you try to be a worker of multiple 15 – 20 hours jobs and being a parent. And, you dare not complain, as someone else can be brought in right behind you. In Les Miserables, this is why the people rebel. They “have-nots” are tired of being taken advantage by the “haves.” This is also a major lament I have with LIbertarians and many Republicans. We need some regulations to keep things fair. Otherwise, employers who tend to chase cheap labor, will always find someone cheaper to use and let you go. We need some laws to keep things fair for the worker. If you want to advocate a true Libertarian life, go read Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” The Robber Barons treated people just like the “haves” do in Les Miserables.

This is all about social injustice. Unlike people who perpetuate stories about welfare queens, etc. painting many with a broad brush of a few, we need to help people in need. I am all for empowering people to succeed. I am all for giving people opportunity to succeed. Yet, they have to climb the ladder of success. There are many who are not given this opportunity and are shunned as undesirables. They are treated with disdain and without any decency. Let’s lift others up and give them a chance to succeed. Like Valjean, let’s be enablers of success for others. I believe in the words “a community’s greatness is measured by how it takes care of its less fortunate.” The less fortunate could also be termed “The Miserables” or in French, “Les Miserables.”

Friday foibles

We are an imperfect lot, replete with various flaws and foibles. So, on this Friday, let me speak of a few foibles.

If patience is a virtue, does that make impatience a vice? Due diligence is predicated on taking the time to review candidates, agreements, deals, plans, research, etc. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. A reporter just got his hat handed to him by the White House press secretary for the second time in two weeks for failing to be prepared when he asked what he thought were zingers.

Ignoring the truth does not make it less true. It just means you are ignoring the truth. The Arkansas state legislature just passed a law allowing creationism to be taught as science in public schools, by a vote of 72 to 21. Really? Is next up teaching kids that dragons are dinosaurs that walked the earth the same time as humans?

Gun deaths in America annually exceed the number of gun deaths in the next twenty-three wealthiest nations combined. Since Congress is failing to act, as we hear yet again now is not the time to do anything to improve gun governance, President Biden is making some executive actions to do something. There are certain measures that the significant majority of Americans and gun owners think are reasonable. Congress, please get up off your hind end and do them. You are in my thoughts and prayers to act like parents and grandparents and not like a well-funded politicians.

Finally, we have yet one more male politician who has decided to think with a lower organ than his brain. And, what is funny is he thought he would not be discovered. Quite simply, men and women both do dumb things in the name of sexual satisfaction. Yet, male politicians seem to think they are immune to discovery like they have anti-Kryptonite suits. It should be noted that both mainstream political parties are not immune from the lower organ thinkers in their party. The question must always be – has the person’s actions damaged the integrity of the office he holds?

To sum up avoiding these foibles this Friday – be patient, be diligent, be truthful, act prudently and use that organ three feet above the other one to think with.

,

Don’t Laugh at Me (a reprise)

The following was written about eight years ago, but sadly it seems to be in even more needed today. The words go straight to the heart, especially if you are a parent. We should remind ourselves that every child or even adult who is tormented, is someone’s child. Thinking of the Golden Rule, is this how you want your child treated?

Peter Yarrow, Noel (Paul) Stookey and Mary Travers made famous a song written by Steve Seskin and Allan Shamblin called “Don’t Laugh at Me.” Mark Wills, another artist has also recorded a variation along with Seskin, but it is the context and words that are embodied in Peter, Paul and Mary that makes the song resonate. When you live your lives speaking out for the disenfranchised, this song takes on far greater meaning than with any other artist, even the writers. Here is the entire song, courtesy of Peter, Paul and Mary with due thanks to Steve Seskin and Allan Shamblin. You can give it a listen after the lyrics.

I’m a little boy with glasses, the one they call the geek. A  little girl who never smiles ‘Cause I have got braces on my teeth. And I  know how it feels to cry myself to sleep.

I’m that kid on every playground who’s always chosen last. A single teenage mother tryin’ to overcome my past. You don’t have to be my friend but is it too much to ask?

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain. In God’s eyes we’re all the same. Someday we’ll all  have perfect wings, don’t laugh at me.

I’m the beggar on the corner you’ve passed me on the street. And I wouldn’t be out here beggin’ if I had enough to eat. And don’t think I  don’t notice that our eyes never meet.

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain. In God’s eyes we’re all the same. Someday we’ll all  have perfect wings, don’t laugh at me.

I’m fat, I’m thin I’m short, I’m tall I’m deaf, I’m  blind Hey, aren’t we all?

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain. In God’s eyes we’re all the same. Someday we’ll all  have perfect wings, don’t laugh at me.

Well I’m fat, I’m thin I’m short, I’m tall I’m deaf, I’m blind. In a way we’re all.

I’m black, I’m white. And I am brown. I’m Jewish. I’m  Christian. And I’m a Muslim.

I’m gay. I’m lesbian. I’m American Indian. I’m very, very young. I’m quite aged.

I’m quite well fed. I’m very, very poor.

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain. In God’s eyes we’re all the same Someday we’ll all  have perfect wings, don’t laugh at me.

My country ’tis of thee. oh, sweet land of liberty. It is of thee I that I sing.

We need to stop the bullying of others whether it be physical or mental torment. Whether it is in person or online as cyberbullying. Whether it is in the legislature or in the pulpit. But, especially the latter. One of my greatest pet peeves is bigotry from the pulpit and when bigotry is espoused by a spiritual advisor it is just like bullying. And, per Dan Savage who advises teenagers who are bullied because they are gay or lesbian, it does get better. Yet, it could be better still, as we have too many adults and hate groups (which is the extreme version) who try to divide, exclude and torment. Please heed these words and advocate by voice and example to treat all as we want to be treated.

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain. In God’s eyes we’re all the same Someday we’ll all  have perfect wings, don’t laugh at me.

Peter, Paul & Mary – Don’t Laugh at Me – YouTube

Internal Bleeding – Be your own Health Care Advocate

The following post was written about nine years ago. Since that time, some of the changes noted below have taken shape, but the message remains important. Be your own health care advocate.

A few years ago, two doctors looking to improve the quality of health care in the US, wrote a book called “Internal Bleeding: The Truth Behind America’s Terrifying Epidemic of Medical Mistakes.” Since Drs. Robert Wachter and Kaveh Shojania wrote their book, improvements have and continue to be made, but with the concern over the US’ 38th position in health care quality, while being the most expensive system in the world (according to the World Health Organization), I think it is appropriate to belabor a few of their key points, in particular, being your own health care advocate.

In today’s world, we must be the navigators of any customer service we receive whether it is at a bank, the driver’s license office or in a retail store. We must be diplomatically relentless in trying to gain the service we expect and need to resolve an issue. Service providers, in particular those in a Call Center, need to stay on script as much as possible. When your problems get them off script, then your navigation diplomacy skills are needed the most.  I mention this as context for what we also must do in gleaning good health care service.

A few years back there was a study conducted by a combined group called the “Leapfrog Group” to improve the quality of health care in hospitals. Leapfrog came up with three major ideas – (1) Electronic orders were a must (poorly written prescription orders were killing people), (2) Intensive Care units need to always have a doctor on site and (3) Medical procedures of import need to be done in centers of excellence, not where a hospital may have done only a handful of surgeries in this area. “Internal Bleeding” echoes many of these same issues, especially the one on electronic order taking. Yet, they also go beyond these Leapfrog issues.

They noted that often times in hospitals, fewer critical questions are asked closer to the time of the procedure. Sometimes, the critical mistake may have occurred very early in the process. They used the analogy of all of the holes in Swiss cheese aligning to allow a mistake to pass all the way through. They used the example at Duke University where a famous heart transplant for a minor child occurred. The doctors at this very fine medical center, one of the best, were so excited when a heart of a young deceased donor became available, that they assumed others had checked that the type of blood of the donor matched the patient. It did not and the patient died. Similar examples occurred when doctors operated on the wrong leg, arm, kidney, lung, etc. The doctors failed to ask the very basic of questions and assumed these issues had been resolved.

In addition to the above and related to the Rx orders, the authors advocate the patient understand fully what is being done to them in the hospital or before they get there. They recommend you introduce yourself to every care giver who comes into the room, ask questions of them relative to medications you are being given and make them fully aware of other medications you are taking. They recommend if you cannot speak for yourself or are uncomfortable in so-doing, to delegate this important role to someone you trust. In other words, they are recommending being your own health care advocate. This will help minimize mistakes.

Health care is both a science and an art. It also is a trial and error business, so the doctors may not know for certain what is wrong with you and have to figure it out. They will do their best, but they do not know you very well or at all. So, you have to play the role of information provider and advocate.  Using the authors’ recommendation supplemented by other sources of information and experience, you must be your own health care advocate and do the following to get the care you expect and need.

– Write as good a summary of your and your family medical history as possible. Make it available to others you trust who may need to speak on your behalf.

– Before you see the doctor, write down your symptoms and questions as you may get stage fright when you see the doctor’s white coat.

– Do not be scared to ask questions, especially if you do not understand the diagnosis or remedy – he or she is there to serve you. I tell my kids you show your intelligence by asking questions, not by failing to ask.

– Get a second opinion on major diagnoses. For example, it takes a lot of practice to read a mammogram correctly and a non-inconsequential percentage of misdiagnoses occur. Using this example, computers cannot take the place of human fingers in doing a self-test. If you feel a lump and the first mammogram shows negative, get a second opinion.

– Make sure you inform your doctors and pharmacists what drugs you are taking. There are a number of drugs that contraempt the drug you need (make its use less effective) and some which are toxic when taken together. I ask my pharmacist questions all the time about some over counter drugs that may be harmful when taken with the prescriptions my family is taking, including me.

– Take your medications as prescribed and through the dosage. Many people stop taking their meds when they start feeling better.

– Be truthful with the doctor about your drinking and extra-curricular drug use. Doctors tend to believe patients understate their drinking, so help them out and tell them the truth. You drink more than you say you do.

– Make sure you get treatment for a major problem at a place that does a lot of what you need – a center of excellence. This is especially true with back or spinal surgeries and surgeries on any major organs. If you are having heart surgery, do you want it done where they have done 25 in the past year or 250, e.g? I have two friends who are having major back complications after spinal surgeries were done poorly.

– Get all the information you can around procedures to make informed decisions. In some cases, living with a mild discomfort with medication may be better than invasive surgery. Ask the doctor what are the options, what are the chances for success and what are the risks. If he/ she doesn’t know, ask him/ her with whom you can speak.

– Be diplomatically relentless with Call Center personnel at insurance companies. Mistakes do occur and sometimes you may be allergic to a substituted generic prescription. So, you can appeal a claim if you feel under-served.

– This one comes courtesy of Dr. Sandra Steingraber, an ecologist, biologist and cancer survivor. Family history needs to recognize your environment as well. She was adopted, but her bladder cancer at the age of 21, also occurred in other family members who lived nearby (as well as other cancers). Bladder cancer is a bell-weather cancer. It is largely caused by environmental toxins. If your family, neighbors or community has some longevity in an area and more than one or two bladder cancers have occurred, start doing some fact-finding. It may be more than a coincidence. Since people move around, showing environmental causes is difficult as the exposure may have occurred years before.

– Finally, take care of yourself in a sustainable way. Walk more. Reduce portions. Eat more slowly and ingest more calories earlier in the day. These measures can be sustained whereas diets cannot.

These are just a few ideas, but the key message is be your own health care advocate as you are the only constant in any equation about your health. If you feel you cannot serve this role well, please take a trusted friend or family member with you. Doctors and nurses are marvelous care givers, but they are not perfect. You have to improve their service by being present in the conversations. It is only your or your children’s lives.