Saturday, January 5, 2019

Adventures in Learning to Hunt

On December 18th, I skinned my first squirrel.  
Also on December 18th, I did not fire my rifle.
Also, I've never shot a squirrel.

How can all this be possible? It was an odd day.

So, to start out, I headed off to the woods after dropping my daughter at school. The day started off well, as I walked the border of the woods and the cornfield, I flushed a grouse that flew off over a small rise. I noted where it set down and excitedly clicked the selector on the hammer of my Savage 24D over to the shotgun and snuck over the rise. But as I did, questions began firing in my head. 

I have a small game license, and grouse is small game. But I need a special tag for pheasant and waterfowl, and when I bought the license, I figured I wouldn't have a shot at any flying things, and now here was a grouse... not a waterfowl and not a pheasant... did my small game license cover those?

As I pondered that question, the grouse flushed from the tall weeds and started flying by at about twenty feet. I pulled back the hammer and drew a bead on the bird.

But as it flew by, that question nagged at me and froze my finger fast. I lowered the barrel and watched the bird fly off across the field.

As I'm teaching my kiddos to shoot, I'm making sure they fully understand the rules before they even get to handle a loaded gun.

Safety. Safety. Safety. One of those rules is this:

If you're unsure, don't take the shot.

Aim off? Don't shoot. Not a clear shot? Don't shoot. Uncomfortable with the distance? Don't shoot.

So when I was unsure of the legality of the shot, it only seemed natural to not shoot.

This particular WMA (Wilderness Management Area) is quite hilly, so the hiking was a little strenuous. I started seeing lots of signs of squirrels, but they seemed a little old. Maybe from the day before. Maybe a few days?

Tracks and digging. Sure signs of a squirrel!

Heck, I'm still learning to track. I've spent plenty of time outdoors, but never really cared to figure out which tracks are what and where they're coming and going. Now, in learning to hunt, I'm discovering that knowing how to track, even as a newbie, is a very important skill to learn and hone. You can sit in an area for a looooong time waiting for squirrels and rabbits to appear. But knowing when you're IN their area can save many frustrating hours!

I wandered deeper into the steep terrain and saw more and more signs of squirrel. This was either a place littered with them, or the home of a very busy little critter. I picked a spot to sit and wait, but after almost an hour, had seen no sign of anything. 
Except birds.
Especially woodpeckers.

Every time I've been out, there have always been plenty of woodpeckers. One of the benefits of spending time in the woods is seeing things that are kinda rare in town. Multiple species of woodpeckers has been one of the delightful finds.

I started walking again, and came across some familiar tracks...

There were adult tracks and kid tracks and they seemed pretty fresh. Maybe from the day before. The kid tracks were going up and down the steep hill as the adult tracks marched straight across. Like a puppy following an older dog, taking three times the steps and covering the same distance.

But then, the adult tracks started going back and forth at right angles to the kid, like they were making some huge checkerboard on the hill. It was quite confusing. So much so that as I was walking through one of their board spaces, I nearly stepped on the very thing they must have been searching for.

A little Gray Squirrel almost perfectly centered between the criss crossing human tracks. Judging from the eye cloudiness, it looked pretty fresh. They must have shot it near dark last night and had not been able to find it.I considered briefly just leaving it where it fell, but it seemed like a gift to someone learning to hunt. After all, without having to shoot anything, I now had a squirrel to put in to practice all of the things I've been reading about, or watching instructional videos about. How to skin. How to gut. How to quarter. I left a little offering of tobacco as I had seen my Lakota friends do, and said some prayers of thanks to the squirrel and the universe for my good fortune and found a nice fallen log a few hundred yards farther to rest on while I planned what to do with my "practice squirrel".

I thought about trying to skin it there, but it was a little frozen. In the end, I decided to just take it home. I'd let it warm up in the car on the way back, and try my hand at skinning and quartering when I got back.

I sat for a bit considering the adventure thus far. I think I'd need to be a bit more specific in what I put out into the universe as to what I want to achieve.

When I first started, I didn't expect hunting to be too easy. I figured I wouldn't be able to just walk through any woods and get the daily limit in an hour. But after a few outings of seeing nothing, I asked that I'd like to see SOMETHING.

And there were birds... all kinds of birds.

OK. Be more specific. I'd like to see a MAMMAL.
The next trip, there was the little dead mouse. 

SO - How about not just any mammal, but an actual squirrel.
And here we are, sitting with a dead squirrel in hand.


Even before I got the thought fully formed and decided upon, I caught sight of a bounding dark blur off to my right down the hill.
I looked closer, and there - in all its tiny, fuzzy glory - was a living, breathing, bounding Gray Squirrel. Hopping through the snow. Maybe twenty yards away.

My jaw dropped and I froze long enough for the animal to hop onto a tree directly in front of me. I raised my rifle and tried to sight it in.

It turns out that with a crossbow scope on a rifle, it is tough to get a quick sight picture. This has to do with many factors, not the least of which is how far your eye is from the first optic.  Turns out, though the scope worked pretty well for target shooting, it took a bit more time to get a good lock on the target than the squirrel was willing to give me. By the time I started lining him up in the cross hairs, he flicked his tail and bolted around the tree 180 degrees. I peeked over the scope to see him giving me an even better shot on the other side of the tree. Again, I fiddled too long trying to get my eye lined up with the scope lined up with the squirrel, and as I started to squeeze the trigger, he flicked his tail again and shot up the tree and out of sight.

I waited and watched for twenty minutes.


I circled the tree - not an easy thing to do on the steep hill. 


I tossed things to the opposite side and scanned every inch of the tree. But the squirrel had vanished. After an hour, my phone alarm rang letting me know it was time to head back to pick my daughter up from school.

Well. Another prayer answered. I had seen a LIVING squirrel while I was hunting.

I'd have to get even more specific for my next outing. But as long as I'm having fun out in the woods, I'll still consider every outing a good learning adventure.

When I got home, the Boyo was still at school and it was getting dark, but my daughter volunteered to join me in seeing what we could learn from the little dead squirrel I brought home.

I got my first solo skinning experience, and have to say, it wasn't hard either physically or mentally. As a former medic, I'm not too squeamish with blood and guts on people. But I am such an animal lover, I had wondered if I'd be able to take apart a critter. After all, my only experience up to now was handling meat from the store. Already pretty clinical and removed from the actual animal.

Turns out I was fine with starting "from scratch". As I was skinning it out, I wondered if my girl would get grossed out. But much to my delight, she was ok with it, too. As I cut into the bowels and started removing organs, I was telling her which parts were which and how remarkable that it was that humans had the same parts. She grew more and more curious until she asked to put on some gloves and handle the pieces herself.

We took apart the squirrel and found the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, diaphragm, intestines... we even opened up the stomach and found it full of chewed nuts. It was extremely educational and interesting for both of us!

We quartered it, although it had been shot through the front shoulder, so that meat was pretty much gone. I considered cooking up the hind quarters, as it seemed to smell alright. I kept the skin and brought the back legs in for further learning.

I cut meat off the bones, and while it didn't smell rotten, it also didn't smell like any other meat I usually handled. Beef, pork, chicken and turkey... I can tell by the smell if it's good or not. This smelled kinda like chicken... but also kinda not. Since I had no frame of reference for what squirrel should smell like, and had no idea how long it had been dead, I decided not to risk cooking it and having a bad experience. So everything but the skin was left outside for our local carnivores. Red Fox, coyotes, crows, all come to visit us. In the next couple days, we even saw one of our local deer munching on the skull. Yes, they are omnivorous.

Karen was thankful that I didn't choose to cook it up. She's still a little hesitant about squirrel and rabbit as it is. Best to have it be as fresh as possible!

As I reflected on the adventures of the day, I started to feel like God, or Wakan Tanka, or the Universe, or whatever karmic higher entity there is, is slowly working me up to my first kill. Letting me learn things slowly. Step by step. Tracking, stalking, patience... especially patience. Sitting still and quiet in the woods and letting things happen. It occurs to me that hunting is a mix of skill, luck, and continuous learning. You can be the best hunter in the world, and yet it still takes some luck to be in a the right place at the right time to intersect with an animal. That skill part comes in handy when you can increase your odds, but still. 

I think I need a scope designed for a .22. Other than that, I'm anxious to see what comes next in this adventure.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Fears For Tomorrow

"Matthew 6:34

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Tomorrow is voting day. Americans are going to the polls in record numbers. The current thing sitting in the Oval Office has declared it to be a referendum about him. On this, he is mostly right. I said before the elections in 2016 that with him as POTUS, this country would be in trouble. Maybe not economically, since Obama put us on a path that would be hard to screw up. (Though he's doing his best to blow that up, too.)

But in the past two years, we've watched as the far right has become normalized. Hatred against non-white, non-"christian", non-straight, and even non-male people has spiked. We have an administration that has been encouraging this. Giving "thoughts and prayers" after horrific attacks, yet stirring up fear at their rallies and making sure their supporters know who the "enemy" is.

We've all seen the things that have been happening. Many of us can see the dangers this administration presents, especially at the words and actions of their leader. Some are fine with it because hey, the economy is fine, so they can overlook the hate and fear mongering and chalk his threats up to "hyperbole" or "just kidding around".

The rhetoric has been amped up in the weeks leading up to tomorrow. We've heard more about such ridiculous things as the "dangerous invasion" caravan of people coming from South America, painting them as the Next Big Threat to our Country. Regardless of the fact that they have as yet done nothing illegal in accordance with our laws. Coming here to seek asylum is completely legal, yet our faux-president is sending troops in a "show of strength" to stir up the fear and hatred in his supporters. And it's working. Even people that I once considered rational and the LEAST likely to be a trumper because of their heritage are posting things to social media about the "invasion" and how we should be "taking care of Vets instead of illegals" (Again - they are not illegal). It is mind boggling how anyone claiming to be a Christian or not fitting into the category of white, male, straight, and sane can support the things this administration is doing and saying. 
Digression time...
I need a better way to refer to the "in-group" that Trump fights for. Those who are white, male, "christian", straight, Republican and the people that support him even though they have few - if any - of those traits. I will hereafter refer to  them as... RedHats.

I also need a term for the rest of humanity that the RedHats stand against. All of the people and cultures that trump and his RedHats rail against at their rallies and their news feeds. Immigrants, non-whites, non-"christian", non-straight, non...well... them. And more and more, the enemy they seem to be promoting the hardest are "Democrats". So let's call everyone else...Blues.
End of digression...

At the Trump Rally I went to, I was shocked at the level of animosity and hatred directed specifically at Democrats and "those on the Left". Even our local candidates were spouting the party line about how all Democrats want open borders, want to take away all the guns, want to punish "christians", are happy to have criminals in our communities, and make anyone not agreeing with Trump an "enemy of the people".

Which brings me to the reason I'm writing tonight. I have some fears for tomorrow. I know the bible says we shouldn't. But I'm not perfect, and I have a tendency to run different scenarios in my head. So here are some of my fears...

1)Worst case, we have a "red wave" and Republicans not only solidify their hold on the government, but elect fanatics at the State and Local levels so loyal to Trump that the slide into the "Fourth Reich" they've been pushing for speeds up. Without any checks and balances in any branch, the corruption of the SCOTUS, and with his new "yes-men" in place, Trump ramps up his hate speech, and violence against "Blues" increases. New laws will be enacted to disenfranchise Blue voters. Protections now in place for Blues are "legally" rolled back. "The Handmaid's Tale" seems less a work of fiction than our new everyday lives. Blues that will not tolerate this protest in large numbers. So the "Government" outlaws protest and dissent. Violence increases as trump riles up his base against these "enemies". The military is called up to "help" keep the peace, but since half of the military leans blue, there are internal command conflicts that increase until the military divides along partisan lines as well. (Much like what happened in our Civil War) Then, instead of being a unifier, the RedHats declare martial law, the right wing militias line up to "fight" with the "Government", the Blues show that they too are armed and trained (much to the disbelief of the RedHats), and we head into the Second Civil War. But since there are no real dividing lines like the North and South had in the first one, RedHat and Blue forces are scattered all across the country fighting for control of cities and regions. Eventually, regions become red or blue and form their own countries. All assuming we aren't first invaded by a foreign force while we're killing each other. No more US of A.

2)A slightly better case... There is no wave, but Republicans keep control of the government. We've got two more years of insanity before we are able to vote again. Violence still increases against the Blues. Laws are passed to justify it, and to make it easier for RedHats to stay in power and we are back to scenario one... OK. Hopefully scenario one doesn't play out, and we are able to elect sane, rational people into positions of power once more, regardless of party affiliation. This would require the Republicans to save their party, but it could happen...maybe... It still takes decades to undo the damage done in the last four years. The Republic is still here, but unstable, because the RedHats haven't crawled back into the shadows they emerged from in 2016. Still feeling emboldened by the words and actions of their Dear Leader, they continue to act out against the Blues... too much violence against the Blues would lead to reprisals and continued division. Yeah... Still not too great.

3)A bit better still... No wave, but Democrats take the House and leadership positions at the State and Local levels, and are able to slow the dumpster fire known as the "Trump Train" a bit. The RedHats aren't able to pass their laws ensuring their continued power. The Republic is still here, still unstable, and we look ahead to 2020. Unfortunately, with the government now (thankfully) gridlocked, the RedHats are angered by the lack of their Leader being able to continue to "protect" them, and since he continues to stir up fear and hatred in lieu of having any actual power, they increase their violence toward Blues at the seemingly indirect encouragement of their leadership. While said leadership denies responsibility, they will continue to demonize the Blues, leading to the violence. More division, more conflict. More bloodshed.

4)Even Better... There IS a Blue Tsunami and the Democrats take not only the House, but maybe the Senate, AND Democrats also regain state and local leadership positions. Now the RedHat Trump Train is slowed even further, and the insane dictates coming from their Dear Leader are more easily turned aside by Federal, State and Local entities that actually understand the Constitution and rule of law. Trump spends the next two years as a true lame duck. Unfortunately, this angers his RedHat Base who, pissed at the metaphorical castration of their Idol and encouraged by his continued labelling of Blues as the "Enemy of the People" increase attacks against Blues. More division, more blood spilled.

Basically, any outcome tomorrow could easily lead to violence from the right, retaliation from the far left, and descent into Very Bad Times.

As a "civilized" society, we naturally assume that calmer heads will prevail. Sanity will win the day. We are in denial that our fellow Americans would do anything like what I describe the RedHats doing above. And honestly, I hope to God that I'm completely wrong about any and all of these scenarios. I hope that we can regain some civility and basic respect for each other as human beings.

But here's why I worry. I went to the Trump Rally here in town. I saw fellow citizens, Mayo and IBM employees, regular, "ordinary" type people go from light hearted laughing and chatting about the weather or the Vikings to Angry At The Blues in just about no time at all. I heard the cheering as trump called Democrats "the party of criminals". Saw the smiles at the mention of building walls to keep brown people out, or shutting down the "fake news media". Heard not just the boo's, but the truly vile comments at the mention of the name of anyone in the Democratic party. I saw the fanaticism in the eyes of his loyalists. The love they had for him, even as he spewed lies and half truths and slander and petty name calling. I saw how quickly they turned on a group of young people that they identified as "liberals" and chased them out of the line. I was out of place and outnumbered, and for the first time in my country I felt unsafe, threatened by the people surrounding me. It really felt like what I'd imagine a Nazi Rally would have felt like in the 30's. Not calling for outright killing of their "enemies", but certainly planting the ideas of who the "real enemies" are, and how dangerous they are, and how all hope will be lost if they get any power, and how we must all stand together and fight them if we cherish our way of life. I remember thinking to myself "What the hell is wrong with these people that they would eat this slop up and cheer for it?" Stunningly scary stuff.

So if mild mannered Rochester, Minnesota can rally a crowd of thousands so fanatically devoted to this dictator wanna be that they can so easily stir themselves into a hate filled frenzy, then the idea of him whipping his 25% of our citizens into violence at the outcome of tomorrows elections isn't too much of a stretch. I fear that one way or the other, violence against "Blues" will spike after tomorrow, either because the RedHats won, or because they lost. And without a leader that wants unity, that thrives on division, I fear that it will escalate.

Like I said. I hope to God I'm wrong. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

I May Be A Hunter

This past summer I went on a buffalo hunt on the Oglala Reservation in South Dakota. I've never been on a hunt before, though I did learn how to hunt humans in the USMC. A lot of the same rules apply. Stealth. Target Identification. One Shot, One Kill principle.

While I didn't do the shooting, My son and I did assist a little with the post kill activities... skinning, quartering, butchering... and it sparked something in me.

Now, to be honest, I've never been drawn to hunting because most of my role models for this have been people that hang heads on their walls or take pictures of themselves with dead giraffes, lions, wild hogs, even buffalo. 

What bothers me are the trophy hunters. I have never felt that the act of killing should be celebrated or enshrined with pictures of people smiling happily with their kill. Posing in front of the rows of ducks they shot, or holding the head of some dead animal up while they grin for the camera. I get that they are proud of their "accomplishment", but most trophy hunters I've spoken with have zero respect for the animal they have killed. It's a sport for them. A chance to prove whatever they need to prove to whomever they think they need to impress. It doesn't impress me. Hunting something that can shoot back at you takes far more skill, nerve, and dedication than shooting an unaware animal that is having lunch and just trying to go about their day.

I understand that people hunt to eat, and that never bothered me much. One of my earliest babysitters was a family that ate all manner of wild game, and though I can't remember the taste of the various things we tried, I do remember the basement with skins and processing equipment and such. I understand that hunting certain species is important in keeping their numbers in check. We are a part of  the food web, after all. The whole Circle of Life. I get all of that. But I've never felt the need to hunt for food outside of my local grocery store.

Then I went on the Buffalo Hunt. 

Now. It wasn't particularly difficult. We drove around until we found the herd, adjusted position (in vehicles) a few times to get a close, clear, clean shot. The guy who took the shot did so wearing flip flops. The herd didn't even react to the shot. Just kinda looked at us and went back to their grazing. A few of them gathered around their fallen brother to check him out. My Lakota Ciye (older brother) Will said that after the animal dies his family will gather around and bw their heads as if in prayer and saying goodbye. Unfortunately our non-traditional guides raced in with their vehicles to move the living buffalo off, an act that bugged both Will, me and my son. The anti-trophy hunter in me would have been disgusted if that had been what we were there for. 

But it wasn't.

This hunt was to use the buffalo as food. The traditional hunters prayed to Tunkasila - Grandfather - before the hunt that one of their brother buffalo's would give himself as a sacrifice so that the people could eat. After the shot, we gathered around the fallen buffalo and prayers were said and sung, and offerings made to the spirit of the animal and to Tunkasila. Prayers of thanksgiving for the sacrifice of this bull. We thanked the animal personally. 

I placed my hand on his massive forehead and said my own words of thanks. As did my son. And the lesson he learned that day was vitally important. I was with people who truly respected the animal, and more importantly respected the gravity of killing. There were no smiles or laughter from the traditional Lakotas there. Or from their two white visitors. Just respect.

In accordance with Lakota tradition, we all ate a piece of the liver to honor the spirit of the buffalo, make him a part of us. We were told that by taking part in ceremony, that we were also brothers of the buffalo. That the spirit of this individual buffalo would be with us for all of our lives. It was a powerful morning that will stay with me for life.

As I reflected on my experience in the weeks that followed, I gave thought to what should be in the hearts of all hunters.

The act of taking a life should never be internally easy, or done with pleasure. It should be done with as much skill as possible so the animal suffers as little as possible. It should not be celebrated with pictures of the dead or trophy heads to hang on a wall. The first thing a hunter should do after a kill is show some respect for the animal that they killed. The animal should be humbly thanked for their sacrifice so that the hunter and his family can live. If you're not going to eat it, you shouldn't be killing it. Maybe most importantly, if you hunt for an animal, you should also take care of its relatives as you would your own as a thank you for their sacrifice as well.

Set out some food for them during winters and hard times. Not as bait. As a thank you. Take care of their living space as if it were your own. If they don't have a good place to live, you won't have a place to hunt. That means standing up to those that would spoil those living spaces. Companies that dump toxins into the ground, water, and/or air. Governments that won't protect these Natural Resources. Individuals that hunt for the sole purpose of taking home a trophy or a picture to show off to their friends. These must be stopped.

I may become a hunter in the future. Probably not regularly, but to expand my knowledge and to provide food for my family. Certainly not for any picture or trophy for my wall. Because even this far along in my life, I was able to learn what it means to be a true hunter.

Respect. Honor. Humility. Purpose. These make the difference between a hunter and a killer.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Trump Rally

     Tonight I had the opportunity to go see a Trump rally in person. I wasn't excited to go, and certainly had my preconceived notions of what it would be like. I'm no fan of 45 or his more ardent supporters. But my friend Shelly, who had the tickets had said a few things that made me genuinely curious. Also, I wanted to see with my own eyes what it was like. After all, what we see on the news are sound bites of him saying something stupid. And what we see on the comedy shows are the people too simple minded to know they are falling into the interviewers traps.

     So I went, not intending to protest, not intending to support, but to simply bear witness to it and try to keep an open mind.

As we drove the route 45 would be taking to the Civic Center, there were rows and rows of protesters lining the streets. We found pretty decent parking a couple blocks away, and after making our way through the protesters on the corners, we found the line to go into the venue. It snaked its way from the venue about a block away then went down an ally and around a bend. Probably a few thousand people in all. We made the decision to not wait in line and instead walked up to the giant tv screen near the venue that people outside could watch on. There were protesters there, too, and as the line filed by, the protesters were jeered and mocked. Chants of "USA. USA" kept rising up. The Protesters had their chants, too. But none jeered or mocked the MAGA hats heading in. We were standing by the police tape that separated the crowd from the line, next to a couple police officers and a Secret Service agent. We soon noticed that people were just walking under the police tape and joining the line, so we thought, well, why not give that a try? So I held up the tape to let my friend in, said hi to the nice security people, and we literally walked right into line.

We spoke quietly to ourselves about feeling a little guilty for just cutting in front of hundreds of others, but that feeling quickly dissipated as people around us talked about how they didn't even have tickets, but were just going to try to get in anyway. Of the section of people I was in, very few had tickets, and they all got a good laugh out of that. As we rambled along, we noticed quite a few people just shoving their way in front of others. There was no security along the line, so people could - and did - easily step out of line, move up a bit, and rejoin the line. So much for Minnesota Nice. The lack of humanity continued further as chants of "Build That Wall" and "Lock Her Up" moved up and down the line. All greeted with laughter and cheering. A group of young people were mocked and harassed until driven from the line by the crowd after they were outed as liberals. Shelly turned to me and quietly whispered "That could have been us."

We reached the doors to the inside and filed through, only to be in a larger hall that led to the "Exhibition Center" where the overflow crowd was being directed. This was several times wider than the outside line, and people packed in - again pushing and shoving - to get to the single open door into the EC. There was plenty of grousing and complaining about the "line cutters" by people that had themselves walked ahead of others as far as they could before joining the mass.

As we approached the security checkpoint, Shelly and I got separated by budging MAGAers, and decided to just meet once inside. She went to the outside of the line, and unbeknownst to me was shuffled right in thanks in part to her need for crutches.

I, meanwhile, found myself in a group of men, women and children in various states of MAGA hats and shirts. One woman just behind me to the right was trying to get people to let her husband through, since they had been separated and he was now fifteen feet back through the crowd. She was wearing a Mayo jacket, and feeling some loyalty to Mayo employees, I helped her make a hole for her hubby to join her. After he had joined our little section, someone further back yelled "A thank you would have been nice". To which she flipped the bird without looking back.

"So much for Minnesota Nice" said someone else from the back. She turned to me and said "I'm from Michigan. Besides, 'Minnesota Nice' is just another way of saying 'Fuck You', isn't it?"

"Ahh... No." I replied. "We actually do try to be nice. Polite, respectful. That sort of thing. I guess that sort of goes out the window at things like this, huh?" I quipped.

"Sure does." She said. "I always thought it was like Southerners saying 'Bless Your Heart'."

"Nah." I said. "People here are generally pretty nice."

At this point we were around 30 feet from the entrance, and people were cramming into the funnel from both sides. Someone with a backpack was sent away, as no backpacks were allowed. A woman in front of me that had previously pushed her way past Shelly along with her family scoffed and started pointing at women and asking them kind of harshly if they brought purses. I thought she was just kidding around at first, until one woman said yes, and she said "Well get behind me then! I don't want your dumb ass holding me up!"

Now, if you know me, you know I don't tolerate rudeness very well. So I said "Chill out lady. We're all in the same boat here." Which got me a withering stare. It was then that a gentleman to my left squeezed past me and shouldered his way in. I said "Really?" and shouldered my way in front of him. Words were about to be exchanged when my phone rang. It was Shelly, so I held my index finger up to him in the well known 'just a moment' gesture and talked to Shel. She was inside, she said, and would wait for me by the door. Was I close?

"Yeah. Making progress. Except for the people still trying to budge their way in front of me. But I'll keep moving forward." I said this looking at the pushy guy, and he backed down. He worked his way to the left and last I saw him he was pushing in front of other people.

I was about twenty feet from the door when the woman in the Mayo coat went off.

"Those fucking chinks cut ahead of us! They shouldn't be allowed to go in!"

Ahead of us by three or four people was an Asian looking couple. I could not believe what my ears had just heard. I became... agitated.

"Hey. That sort of language isn't necessary." I said.

"But they cut! And HE has a backpack, so they shouldn't be going in anyway!"

I was seething, but realized that I was in the midst of a crowd of MAGA hats, twenty feet of packed crowd between me and authorities, and if I started telling her and those around her that were agreeing with her how I really felt, I'm quite certain things would turn ugly rather quickly. She had the support of the mob, and I understood that I was surrounded by truly deplorable people. It was so hard to bite my tongue further.

But here's where it got even more surreal. She went on to say that they were probably Democrats just here to make a scene. How would you tell if they were Democrats? I asked.

"I can always tell." She said proudly. "They all have a look about them. Like they've been unemployed for years and living in their parents basement."

"Really?" I asked.

"Yeah" her husband joined in. "They all have hate in their eyes, or are too drugged out to see straight. Fucking losers that you can pick out of a crowd."

Then their adultish son joined in. Let me describe him first. It makes his comment that much more ridiculous. He had on a brand new MAGA hat (Just bought it outside!) a tattered camo jacket and ratty jeans. His smile revealed orange, unbrushed teeth. His hair flowing out from underneath the hat was unwashed. His comment? "They all look like homeless people. Probably because they are!"

Mom chimed back in, "I can always tell. They all hate America, and us, and Trump. They should all just get the hell out of the country if they hate it so much."

I smiled at her. "You can ALWAYS tell? For real? Or like, these are just Democrats in general?"

"Nope. I can ALWAYS tell."

So I asked her in a conspiratorial tone if she saw any in the surrounding crowd. She pointed out a large black guy, but wasn't entirely sure of her pick after I pointed out that he was Secret Service. But she was certain that the brown skinned women wearing hijabs were Dems. "Fucking towelhead Dems, right there." were her words. And MAD PROPS to that small group of women that looked cool as cucumbers as they filed in with so many people scowling at them. I at least had the camouflage of my USMC hat and white skin to disguise myself for safety. Those gals were exactly the enemy most of that crowd was looking for, and they held their heads high. THAT is true bravery!

Two college looking kids in sweatshirts were Democrats too. I looked at the others listening in on this conversation to see if anyone else was as disgusted as I was by what she was saying, but there were only smiles and nodding heads agreeing with her. I really felt like I was in the presence of evil.

At this point the Asian couple had reached security and were given the option of tossing the backpack into the trash or leaving. They left, to a smattering of cheers and a "Good Riddance" from the lady who always knew a Democrat when she saw one, even though she was standing right next to one. I was sweating from trying to keep my cool. I felt... well... dirty. Like their vitriol was rubbing off on my soul. I can't remember being in such a disgusting group of people.

Finally, mercifully, I made it to the security table, where I was separated from the proud deplorables. I thought to myself "This whole building is going to need a good scrub down and a lot of smudging or something." It was very bad energy in the crowd.

I was pushed toward a Secret Service screener by another Secret Service agent. He looked at me, patted the tops of my front pockets half heartedly, then touched the hem of my shorts on my left leg with one hand, then waved me through. Three touches in total.

"Is that it?" I asked.

"Yeah. Go."

"Really?" I asked again, kinda slow walking past him. He just moved on the the next person, and in I walked.

Now. Shelly had the tickets, and she was already inside. I wasn't asked if I had a ticket. I wasn't checked with a wand, or asked to empty my pockets, or my cargo pockets (because I'm a Dad, and we ALL wear cargo shorts). My waistband wasn't checked, and it would have been very easy to have a concealed handgun tucked in the small of my back, or my pocket, or my cargo pocket. As shocking as the conversations that had surrounded me on the way in had been, I was extremely shocked by the lax security to get in to see a US President.

Now, maybe they figured that they didn't really need security checks for the overflow area, although it connected directly to the main stage and the rear areas where 45 would be. But considering what happened next, perhaps they should have thought things through.

Because not five minutes later, 45 himself came out and onto a raised stage area not twenty or thirty feet from where I stood. Shelly had asked a tall guy in front of her to move a little for some room for her to film, leaving a nice gap and line of site to the stage and there was nobody behind me. To my right was a wall, and to my left was Shelly. It was an ideal spot to shoot from - as my cell phone camera shows, and literally ANYONE could have brought a weapon in and taken shots at him.

I don't know if he saw my one fingered salute or not...

All of my disgust for this administration faded away for a bit as I stood in wonder at how easy it had been to jump the line, enter the venue, and get this close to the sitting president of the United States. I filmed his mini speech to the overflow crowd and took some pictures without really hearing any of it.

Seriously. Complete disbelief.

After he left, we took a spot along the back wall where we could sit and listen to the "Greatest Speech" that he had promised the overflow room when he appeared. Apparently many of his loyalists weren't terribly interested in the speech part, as the outflow of people easily matched the influx. Shelly was very hopeful that his actual presentation would have substance and not just be a collection of nonsense. I was less hopeful, but in all honesty had never been able to sit through an entire speech of his. And his highlight reels were really nothing to brag about. Besides, many people have asked me if I'd ever been to a rally as anything other than a protester. So I wanted to keep an open mind. I decided to give him a clean slate for the evening, even after the deplorable beginning.

He didn't start well.

He opened with "They say that this is a Democrat state" which was greeted by the loudest booing of the evening. He went on to vilify Democrats throughout the speech as "for crime" and "for raising taxes" and "for open borders", the same easily disprovable rhetoric that's in almost all of his greatest hits clips. He expressed wonder that anyone would ever want to be a democrat since they are pro crime, they "embrace socialism", they want open borders to bring in drugs and violent gangs. And I quote from his speech,

"I've said it. And I'll say it as many times as you want to hear it. That it's because of their policy. The Democrats are truly the party of crime. (Applause) And the Dems are willing to do anything, to hurt anyone, to get the power they so desperately crave."

He pointed out the media to a chorus of boos and labeled them "fake news". He stated that "if we could only get them on our side, we'd win for a thousand years". Which seemed like a creepy shout out to Hitler claiming the Third Reich would last for a thousand years. He followed that up with saying that we had to keep focusing on "America First". All met with cheers, of course.

He praised himself for reworking NAFTA and teased the crowd with even more "deals" to come, and again claimed that his administration was the best two years of presidenting in the history of our country. I laughed out loud and got some glares from people around me, but it was as funny a statement tonight as when he said it at the UN.

He said that even China wants to make a deal, but he's not having it. "They're not ready yet. I told them, they're not ready. Nope. Not ready." And claimed again that he makes the best deals. Better than any other president in history.

He praised Kavenaugh effusively, and condemned the evil democrats whose only objective was to obstruct and deter an "incredible judge" from getting his rightful seat on the SCOTUS.

Before he started to introduce the people he came to stump for, he went of on some weird tangent listing off states that loved him like Missouri, West Virginia, Tennessee and others and never did find the point. This wasn't an isolated instance. He started many, many sentences that rambled away from any point throughout the evening, garnering cheers and whoops from his supporters, sometimes even at appropriate times.

It was a disjointed and disturbing speech on the whole. He demeaned, vilified, and insulted his political opponents and praised himself without any supporting evidence for either. His supporters loved it, of course, as it spoke directly to their world views of the evil Democrats trying to destroy the America that they love. It painted clearly defined "bad guys" - Democrats primarily, who are now to blame for the woes of immigrants and crime - and told them exactly who the "good guys" are... Only Republicans. If anyone came hoping to hear any kind of unifying speech or inclusive ideas, they were sadly disappointed.

Many years ago I had the chance to see Pope John Paul II in person, along with several thousand others. I'm not Catholic, and don't much care for some of their practises. But when he entered the immense hall, he had a presence about him. I was probably half a football field away from him at least, but I could sense it. His words were hopeful and loving. His demeanor was humble. Even a non - Catholic skeptic like me still found him to be incredibly moving, and I enjoyed being in his presence.

I was around twenty or thirty feet from 45. While his sycophants were almost in tears with their adoration of him, I didn't feel any presence. He seemed like a stereotypical used car salesman. He carried himself with the attitude of entitlement, and I think he genuinely believed that everyone there loved him. But in all, I didn't feel like I was in the presence of any sort of "great" man. It just felt...sad. Like he was desperate for the cheering and applause.

I was disturbed by his fawning supporters though. Literally willing to cheer any mess of words that tumbled from his mouth. They didn't really listen for comprehension, just for buzzwords to cheer or boo. Case in point was when he mentioned ICE, saying "The Democrats want to get rid of ICE." but before they could boo he added quickly "How about ICE, huh?" So the booing started after his impromptu line and it sounded like they were booing ICE. It only faded uncomfortably several sentences in to him saying how tough and wonderful ICE is.

I was hoping that there might be something different about attending a Trump rally in person than the usual stuff we see in the media. But from start to finish, those hopes were dashed. All of the "fake news" we see about his fans, his speeches, his incoherent ramblings... were all present tonight. He made a point of the "thousands and thousands of people in the auditorium" as well as the thousands and thousands more in the overflow room he'd just left, and the thousands upon thousands waiting outside.

Maybe we were in an "Alternative Overflow Room"?

Even as we left, the crowds outside around the giant monitor had dwindled, so it's really going to be hard to believe any word from the White House claiming tens of thousands turning out in Rochester.

I mentioned to Shelly as we left that I really wanted a shower, and maybe some bleach for my eyes, as I witnessed some truly disgusting and deplorable behavior. As we stepped outside, we found that it had been raining. I turned to Shel and said,

"See. Even God thinks Rochester needs a shower after this thing."

Shelly mentioned last week that she was going because "How often do you get to see a President?"

Honestly, I'm still looking forward to seeing an American President for the first time. Because I didn't see anything presidential tonight.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

2018 - Second Attempt

Wow. So I tried to get this done once, but it came out as quite the venting session! So - not going to share that one! Let's try again...

Another New Year is a upon us, friends. This past year was filled with goals and ideas for me, but life took a decidedly different route. So, this year I'm going to stick with the Semper Gumby motto. We Marines have the saying "Semper Fidelis", Latin for "Always Faithful". In my unit, we said "Semper Gumby" - "Always Flexible" because we all knew that no plan survives contact with the enemy.

So - Semper Gumby, Baby. We'll take it day by day and roll with whatever comes.

Along those lines I have set a single goal for 2018.

As you may or may not know, over the years I've built and acquired a decent stable of radio controlled flying machines. I have also found that flying these little machines has a very therapeutic effect on me most of the time. My time spent keeping something aloft is a great, peaceful distraction from the troubles and worries of the day.

So - my goal this year is to fly something every day and record a bit of those flights. I've got the hangar for it, with things I can fly indoors and outdoors. I've got the tools to record the flights, too. and it is something that, I think, will bring me a little nugget of joy every day.

I'd like to compile the flight videos each week and post them here, and at the end of the year, create a video with a second or two of each days flight from the year. 

When I write this down it seems so simple and so overwhelming at once, so I make no guarantees that I'll accomplish this. But, I'm still going to give it a go.

So. There's my singular goal for this coming year. Fly something every day.

What are your plans for the coming year? 


On Friday August 18th, Karen went to the doctor to check out some pain she'd been having in her side for awhile. No big deal, didn't even see our normal doctor. At first, she thought that maybe it was a gall bladder problem. So the physician seeing her ordered an ultrasound of said organ to check things out.

I was at home, starting to cook some chicken and bell peppers for supper, when our primary doctor Liz Westby called our house and asked for Karen. Karen had stopped by the store on her wawy back from the doctor, and Liz asked her to call her on her cell phone as soon as possible, as it was Friday and close enough to five o'clock that Liz would be heading home soon.

I knew that Liz couldn't tell me what was going on thanks to patient privacy rules. But I also know enough about how the medical field works to know that for a doctor to give us her personal cell number and tell us to call ASAP is not going to be good news. I wondered if her gall bladder was in serious trouble. 

Instead of waiting for Karen to get home, I called her and gave her Liz's number. Then I waited. I kept cooking but my mind was racing through all of the terrible things it could be.

Finally Karen called back. She was near home and asked if I could meet her in the driveway. When I did, as we stood by the open driver door, she told me that the ultrasound had extended to her belly, and they had a strong suspicion that they had found ovarian cancer.

The words hit me like a brick, and honestly the first word that came into my head was "fuck". Then things just kinda went numb. 

Now, as a Mayo nurse - an oncology nurse - Karen knows more than the average citizen about cancer. As the husband of a Mayo cancer nurse, I know the stories of what she does. Sometimes she comes home from work and tells me about the patients she has taken care of. Not in a way that compromises their privacy mind you, but in generalities. For example she'll tell of a farmer with cancer and the wonderful family members supporting him. Or the lady who probably won't live much longer but is such a delight to care for and talk to.

She also has told of too many younger people with kids and lives and futures that have been upended by a cancer diagnosis.

"There but for the grace of God..." we'd say. 

As a medic, I saw my share of just how fragile life is. Same with Karen. We know better than most just how precarious getting through the day can be. Most people assume that their days will be predictable. Work, vacation, meals... those things we humans can wrap our heads around. But sudden events like a car accident or a cancer diagnosis can through everything out of whack.

It turns out that even when you are acutely aware of that possibility, when it actually happens to you, it will still knock you so far off of center that "normalcy" looks like even more of a mirage than it did.

Our primary, Liz, being the wonderfully amazing doc that she is spent Friday evening and Saturday morning helping us make arrangements for what would be coming in the next week. Some of Karen's nursing friends also went out of their way to make calls and help coordinate. Labs, tests, procedures, even a surgeon was contacted and given a heads upp about the cases. As such, by Friday night things were pretty much in place to get Karen in first thing Monday morning for a CT scan. That would give the doctors a clearer picture of what they were dealing with.  

We spent the weekend in a haze. I spent some time online learning what I could about ovarian cancer. But I had to stop. It turns out that there are many kinds of ovarian cancer, and prognosis and survival rates were dependent on the type and what stage it was at. Naturally none of it was simple. There are four types of stage 3 epithelial cancer for example. So until we knew what stage at least, everything I was learning was not particularly helpful. I mean, if it was a stage 1, then 5 year survival for some types was over 85%. But if it was a stage 4, then the odds were not in her favor. So I just stopped looking. 

But it was hard for both of us not to go to the worst case scenario. After all, everyone we had talked to said that surgery was pretty much inevitable. The biggest surgery Karen has ever done was to have her wisdom teeth out. So we spent the weekend talking over fears of not waking up, or even worse, a quick "open/close" surgery where they find that there's nothing they can do once they get in there. 

We told the kids that there was something wrong, and that there would be more tests and probably a surgery, but we didn't mention cancer speccifically. After all, in the past couple years they've seen both their Nana (Karen's mom) and Grampa (my dad) go through cancer. Grampa even stayed with us during his treatments, and they saw how rough it was on him first hand.

Monday finally came and we went in for the CT.

Here's where things get foggy for me personally, so I'll just write what I remember.

The CT confirmed that things were not right in her belly. It was most likely cancer, though they kept deferring absolutely calling it cancer until surgery. And there would definately be surgery on Friday. They told us that by the way the CT looked they would catagorize it as a stage 3 cancer, probably epithilial, but not sure which stage 3 exactly. Karen was relieved by this, as she had been preparing to hear that it was stage 4. I was less relieved by this, as stage 3 still sucks. But as is the way of my wife, we focused on the positives that were happening.

Wednesday we met with the surgeon, Dr Bakkum. She and her team were wonderful. We got to see the CT. From a medical standpoint, it was fascinating. There was the heart and lungs and aorta. Then came the ovaries, usually measuring in at 2 cm or so and invisible to CT, these measured 12-14 across and even I could see that they didn't look right. There were lymph nodes that had probably cancer on them, and the appendix may have a spot or two. Peritoneum, spleen and diaphragm would also need some work. The omentum had some thickening called an omentum cake, and we all agreed that it sounded like the worst possible dessert ever. But the liver looked pristine, and other vital organs also appeared to be as yet untouched by the disease. So Dr. Bakkum said she felt comfortable going ahead with surgery. She told us that she'd start with a small incision to get her hand in and feel around on the intestines. If she felt those were clean enough, she'd continue with the full procedure. But if she felt any oddities, she'd stop and have Karen do some chemo first before going after the tumors. This gave us some peace of mind about an open/close procedure, but we oddly found ourselves hoping for the longer, more involved surgery.

As I said, from a medical standpoint it was very interesting to see and learn about. But then it was also all happening to the woman that I love, and that made me sick to my stomach and made me want to absolutely freak out.

Thursday came and we met with the medical oncology team who gave us some options about what would happen after surgery. They told us more about the various kinds of chemo treatments Karen could go through, pros and cons and studies that show, and all sorts of information that Karen mostly already knew and I took in to try and process.

There was the possibility that during surgery a post would be put in her belly that allowed for interperitoneal - or IP - chemo. This would be the most aggressive type, but came with higher toxicity and more negative side effects. Otherwise she could go with IV chemo that wasn't quite as harsh but was pretty much as effective. We had talked over these options with the surgeon as well, and kind of settled on putting the port in. If she needed it, it would be better to have it in place and if she didn't it could be easily removed.

That brought us to Thursday night. Neither of us were hungry. Karen's mom had flown in earlier that week and would be staying with us. My dad and sister came up Thursday for support. Everything was coming together for Friday. The plan was for my sister to come with me to the hospital to make sure I ate and was ok. Karen's mom would keep track of the kids. Dad would be where he was needed. Sleep didn't come easy for me, and I spent a lot of the dark hours watching Karen try to sleep. I finally stopped checking the clock at 2 am.

At 5 am Friday morning, I woke up before my alarm and walked into the living room to find Karen all dressed and ready to go. After a quick shower I was also ready to go. Saying goodby to the kids took awhile though, as they were also a bit freaked out by everything. We had told them shortly after the CT results about the cancer diagnosis, and there were many teary nights of talking about everything that was happening. All we could do was tell them what the doctors had told us. It would be a six hour or so surgery and they would take out all of the cancer they could. Then Mom would do chemotherapy and kill off the rest of it. We tried to stay as positive as we could. Still there were tears, because no matter how you slice it, cancer is scary.

We were finally able to get in the car and go, and spent a quiet and teary drive to the hospital. Steph (my sister) followed behind us and had come fully stocked with snacks and a pillow and other things to make sure I had what I needed throughout the day.

We were met at the hospital by Julie and Pastor Anjanette. One a co-worker turned close friend, the other our pastor turned close friend. So Karen checked in at the front desk, and then she and her entourage headed for the surgical floor. 

I remember that there was conversation as we waited, but I can't recall the topics. I remember that Anj led us all in a prayer and Karen got called back just as the prayer finished. 

K and I went back to her pre-op room and she got into a pretty purple gown. After what seemed an eternity, they came to get her.

Just like that, She was off and I was waiting in a small room with Steph and Julie. Julie went to work at some point. Steph was at the ready with food and things. I was anxiously awaiting word on whether surgery would proceed or not. They came to get her at 7:30. In the waiting room, they had a monitor set up that relayed the status of the patient. Karen was identified only by the number 88900, and until 9:27 was listed as "in the OR". At 9:27 her status changed to "procedure started".

I sent out updates to everyone on my list. Yes, Karen had made me a list of contacts so I wouldn't forget who I was supposed to be contacting, because she knows me.

Once again, time had slowed to an unbearable pace. After what seemed like hours, we were told that Dr. Bakkum was comfortable moving on with the rest of the surgery. This was welcome news, if a little frightening, and I finally felt like I could go get something to eat. It was only 10:30. Steph and I walked over to Pannekoeken and I had a bacon pannekoeken.

Then, instead of going back to that miserable, windowless, time sucking waiting room, we decided to go donate blood. After all, Steph and I are both O- universal donors, and Karen would probably use a couple units from the blood bank, so it seemed fair to go make a deposit. Thanks to modern technology, I could be reached by the nurse communicator anywhere I went, and I didn't want to go back to that room.

We made our way to the blood donor center, which is in walking distance of where Karen was, and got started. I went through just fine, but Steph had low hemoglobin- a story you should ask her about. I forgot that when donating blood, one of the go to questions they ask you to pass a little time is "So, any big plans for today or the weekend?"

So the unfortunate people taking my blood got to hear all about quite possibly the shittiest week in my history and that as I sat giving blood, my wife was having her insides scraped out of a deadly disease. They weren't quite sure how to answer when I asked them the same question. 

By the time that was done, it was approaching the past lunch time. All of us non-surgical candidates had decided to meet at Pannekoeken for lunch, since it was across the street from the hospital, and Steph went to pick up Nana and the kids while I went back up to see how things were going.

Patient 88900 was still listed as "procedure started" but I did get a call from the nurse coordinator that everything was going well. Ovaries, tubes and uterus were out, and they were moving on to the omentum.

I walked back to Pannekoeken and got a table for our group. Dad, Nana, Steph and the kids all arrived soon after and we looked through the menu as I updated them on what I knew.

I ordered a bacon pannekoeken, because that looked good. I ate about half of it.

Afterwards, Dad headed for the waiting room while I drove Steph back to her car so she could take Nana and the kids home. When I finally got back to the waiting room, Dad had been joined by Julie, and the little miserable room was closing down for the day. 88900 was still listed as "procedure started", and we had been given the room number that Karen would be moved to after recovery. 5-422. So we headed up to the fifth floor, found room 422 and went in to sit down. It was a teeny tiny room, and within a few minutes, Julie had gone to see if Karen could be moved to a bigger room. Another call came in from the nurse communicator saying things were going well. 

Soon it was around 3 pm and we were moving to 5-401, a GIANT room that would do quite nicely. I was hoping to get a call soon that she was moving to the recovery room, but the next call that came didn't follow that script. They said it would be a couple more hours.

A couple hours later I got the word that things were taking a little longer than anticipated, and it would be another hour or so. 

A couple hours later, word came down that they were needing to do a bowel resection and it would be another hour to hour and a half.

A couple hours later and I heard they were putting her bowels back together and it wouldn't be long now.

Then a little after 9 pm, the nurse came in and told us that we'd be moving again, this time up to the ICU. Apparently when a patient is under anesthesia for more than twelve hours, they get a free pass to the Intensive Care Unit to make sure that recovery goes ok.

So we gathered our things and headed up to the ICU. Dad headed back to the hotel to try and sleep at my request. Steph had taken the kids over to the hotel for a slumber party and movie fest. Nana joined Julie, Anj and I in the ICU room as we waited for word.

Finally at 10:30 pm Dr. Bakkum called to tell me that the fellow was putting in the final stitches and she'd be up soon to talk to us.

13 hours. 13 hours of surgery. Each and every one of those hours seemed like five or six to me. When Dr. Bakkum came up, I hugged her. What endurance it must have taken to stand over someone for that long and pull out disease. We asked her how and when she ate or took breaks. It seemed like it would have been a herculean task, and yet she and the other surgeons looked fresh and perky and chipper and like they hadn't just spent more than half a rotation of the planet operating on my wife.

She went into the details of why it had taken longer than expected. There had been some cancerous lymph nodes against parts of the aorta that were rather delicate to remove. There had been more diseased tissue than anticipated. There had been some penetration of the diaphragm by the cancer that technically classified it as a stage 4 cancer.

Wait. What? My mind raced a bit. The stats for stage 4 suck. Stage 4 is fatal in four out of five people. This can't be stage 4. This is not in the script!

BUT - Dr. Bakkum continued - it is still pretty much a stage 3C. And she was very confident that she and her team got the vast majority of cancerous tissue out of Karen's body. She said that everything that remained was microscopic and could probably fit into an eighth of a teaspoon if gathered together. Chemo has every chance of killing the rest of it off, and we needed to focus on that positive.

The spleen was gone. Appendix was basically just a big tumor, so it was gone. Giant ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, a couple chunks of the bowels, lots of lymph nodes. The list seemed to go on and on. But the overall message from Dr. Bakkum was that everything had gone better than normal, and she was very pleased with the surgery. Karen would be coming up to the ICU soon, still intubated and with a couple of drains in her abdomen to take off fluid that would build up, which is normal.

When Karen finally arrived at her room, all assembled were able to say goodnights and head for other beds. I wanted to stay, and Ann the nurse let me pull a chair up next to Karen and sit with her. I didn't realize just how exhausted I was, but every time I closed my eyes thinking I would fall right to sleep, a bell would softly ding, or the infernal ventilator hooked to her breathing tube would ping, and I just couldn't keep my eyes closed.

I had expected her to stay asleep through the night. But around 1 am, she gave a slight nod to some of the questions that Ann would ask. At one point she even gave my hand a little squeeze and rubbed my thumb with her finger, which made me burst with joy.

But the real surprise came just after 3 am. I was holding her hand when she slowly removed hers from my grasp and started making funny signs with it. Was she stretching her fingers? In my tired state I didn't initially understand. Then it finally hit me like an electric shock. She was using sign language!

H - O - T

Hot? Are you hot? I asked her.

She signed yes.

I uncovered her a bit. 

H - U - R - T


S - P - L - E - E - N

I went to get the nurse. Ann was in another room, so I grabbed the nearest one and brought them in to see my amazing wife. I told him that she had told me that she was hot and was having left sided pain. He looked at me a little skeptically, as he knew that she had a tube in her throat and could not have told me anything verbally.

When we went into the room, I showed him how she 'told' me, and they started having a conversation with me translating.

Unfortunately, Karen was signing faster than my tired brain could keep up with, but I did my best as they talked about urine output, lab values, surgery details, and pain management. 

We told her everything except the change in stage status, as she needed to focus on waking up enough to get the tube out of her throat. 


It's the end of December now.I'm a little sad that I didn't continue this story, as so many things have happened since August that I can't remember them all. 

Chemo is ongoing and has had more twists and turns than I can count. Karen has been amazing through it all, but her health has taken a major hit and all of this has been brutal on her. We've still got a long road to travel and I've fallen behind on everything. So blogging is low on my list. But I'll try to figure out some way to get my head above water enough to get back to some sort of balance.

More Later

Friday, January 27, 2017

How to Lose Allies and the War

I fell asleep hard the other day. Total exhaustion type of sleep. My body and my brain needed the break. I woke up tired, but not near dead tired like I had been. Then I checked Facebook to see what new Orwellian measures were enacted during my brief slumber.

I think it's safe to say that this new administration is completely different than any in the history of the country. That being said, I've also noticed an extreme uptick in the numbers and demographics of citizens putting their collective feet down and saying "enough is enough". This has been particularly encouraging for the likes of me, as I've felt like the collective slumber of the American people has been going on for so long, I didn't think anything other than a Pearl Harbor or 9/11 could shake us out of our day to day stupor.

Turns out that the threat of the demise of the US Government and life as we've known it was also enough to get people to wake up and start taking action. Actions like Standing Rock and BLM marches have brought together POC and their allies like never before. Suddenly, with the election of a wanna be dictator, white people in greater numbers are waking up and wanting to take action, too. This should be a great thing! A cause for celebration and joy! For too long, marginalized people have struggled to get their message through to the "dominant society" (comprised overwhelmingly of white people) and get them to stand up with them. Here, finally, is a time when those huge numbers of white people are waking up and saying, "Hey... this isn't right. This isn't fair. What kind of messed up version of America are we living in here?" 

I'm one of those white people, and until about five years ago, I believed everything was pretty ok. 

See, from an average white guy's perspective, everybody has a shot in the US to become something greater. Oh, we white people know that people of color, non-Christians and non-straight people have it tougher than us. We see the news. We read the magazine articles. Heck, most of us grew up in schools that had extracurricular groups for those things, assemblies for Black History Month, etc. etc. Some people even copied the old school hippies, wore the tye dye, wrote "Make Love, Not War" on their notebooks, that sort of thing. But as we all grew up, we merged into "Mainstream Society" where we got married, had kids, bought houses, had jobs to pay for all of that. Yada, yada, yada. For us white folks, we blended in to the "American Dream" as usual, griping about our taxes being too high, joining the PTA, and expecting Government on every level to continue as it always has. 

Everybody else was homogenized into this society as best as the Society could make them. Some conformed more than others because the reality is, if you're not white, Christian, straight, and male, Society isn't always too fair to you.

So - back to the present. The day after the small crowds watched a narcissistic man-baby become President of the United States, a much, MUCH larger crowd showed up in Washington DC. The "Women's March on Washington" ended up spreading across the country and across the globe as people from all walks of life gathered to express their displeasure with things. It seemed like the main message was "Enough is Enough". There were BLM people there. Mni Wiconi people there. Women's rights groups of course, LGBTQ groups, just about every group that has problems with government overreach had somebody marching there. Even the Anarchists showed up to burn some cars and create their form of chaos. But mostly it was peaceful gatherings and marches for Women's Rights. On the whole, it was a glorious sight to see.

Then came the inevitable instruction manuals from the non-white, non-Christian, non straight folks. For the sake of this article and my fingers while typing, let's call this group the Onions. Now, the Onions don't encompass ALL non-white, non-straight, non-Christian, non male types, because I've met plenty of non-'whatever I am' people who don't care what my color, religion, sexual preference or politics are, they're just glad to have another body in the fight. So this message is going out to all of those who feel the need to berate all of us non-Onions for our mistakes.

"Where were you when Flint needed help?" "I'll see all you white women at the next BLM march, right?" "Why are you showing up now?"

I've read articles and comments about how disgusted and offended these "long term protesters" are at all of these new "wanna be" protesters. How they were slighted in one way or another by the "ignorant white people that don't know what they're doing".  

Here's the thing, Onions. Everybody starts from the beginning. Every last one of us. You started at a beginning at some point in your life as well. You didn't spring from the womb knowing all there is about cis-gender differences, or cultural appropriation, or racial inequality. You may have learned these things from a very young age. You may have experienced them over the course of a lifetime. But the majority of us - the "Dominant Society" - didn't share those experiences. We didn't learn the same things you learned at the same time. One thing you are correct about is that most of us are coming LATE to this party. But what you seem to be overlooking is the fact that we are at the party now.

Your struggle is real. We are seeing that. We are pissed about that. We want to help rectify that. To continue the party analogy, there are very few of us who come in expecting it to be all about us. Sure, we probably make a scene when we arrive, but perhaps you are taking our entrance out of context. We're not asking questions and telling our stories because we don't care about yours. We're asking questions and telling our stories because we want to connect with you.

Yes, you've heard the same story a thousand times. "My great-great-grandma was a Cherokee Princess" or "One of my best friends is black". Yes, that gets pretty damn tiresome hearing it over and over.

I'd imagine it's like being an IT person. People call with a computer problem and you tell every one of them the same thing. "Did you try unplugging it and pluggin it back in again?" The caller really believes that their problem with that computer is mind-boggling because they've never experienced it before. The IT guy knows it's common and knows all the basics on how to fix it. 

Or a car mechanic talking to yet another car owner that hasn't got a clue how cars really work. The driver just doesn't have the basic knowledge of cars that would let them talk to the mechanic on his level.

See, Onions. When someone comes to you with questions about your experiences, with a desire to learn more so they can help more, the very last thing they need from you is mocking or lessons in "What Every White Ally Needs To Know", if what we "need to know" is that we can't understand your experience. We KNOW that we can't understand your experience, THAT'S WHY WE'RE ASKING!

So when you tell me that since I am white, my experiences don't matter, I am disinclined to put much stock in your experiences as well.

When you tell me that my White Privilege is keeping me blind to the problems, then tell me that you shouldn't have to teach me about those problems, then I have less incentive to seek out those problems and learn about them.

When you tell me that my money is fine for your group, but my opinions and ideas aren't because I'm white, or straight, or whatever, then I really have no desire to help out financially.

Also, when you tell me that you shouldn't have to stroke my ego every time I do something you approve of, you are absolutely correct! I don't need my ego stroked. But a simple "Thank You" goes a LONG way towards encouraging me to keep helping.

In short, anyone asking for help with anything should be ready to give those things in return. When I ask someone to listen to my stories, I ask them to tell me their stories in return. If you are asking for my respect, I'll be expecting respect in return. If you ask me to follow, you must also be prepared for me to lead when it is appropriate. I am more than willing to listen, observe, and learn. But there may come a time when I know more about a topic than you do. When I offer advice, don't tell me to shut up unless you are willing to hear that from me when you offer advice. If you don't want to take that advice, it is better to say "Thank you for your input, but I think we'll be going a different way." If you tell me that, I'll shrug my shoulders and most likely keep helping. If you tell me to sit down and shut up because I'm white and new to your struggle, I'll do that too. But I won't be interested in helping with your struggle anymore.

We have seen a great awakening in the "Dominant Society" in regards to the struggles of others. There are a LOT of newbies out there that have never marched before, never protested before, never called their government officials to complain, never stirred the pot. To awaken that feeling in people is awe inspiring. To benefit from it, however, is a different challenge. We are just now learning how to do the things you've been doing for generations. We are just now ready to stand up for the things we've collectively been blind to or have turned a blind eye to out of convenience. History has shown us that large numbers of people can change the course of the world. 

Onions... You've spent enough time telling us what NOT to do. What you DON'T like about the newbies. There will always be potential allies asking to touch your hair, or telling you that they're part Apache, or that they have gay friends. I fully acknowledge the frustration you feel about this. But we need the numbers. We need the crazy cat ladies that experienced their first sweat and now want to be called 'Moon Blossom'. Because if Moon Blossom is motivated, she WILL make the calls to her representatives to push for equal rights. You don't need to be her best friend. You don't need to be her spiritual advisor. Hell, you don't even need to like her much. But you do need to treat her with the respect that you expect from her. Remember that she's new to this. Remember that us newbies will ask dumb questions that you've answered a thousand times. Use that time for education and gentle correction. You are the experts at this! If you want help fixing a car, teach me how to help you, don't yell at me for doing the wrong things. I know I'm not going to be good at this when I'm getting started. 

Our words are like a hammer. We can build with them or we can tear down with them. If we are serious about building a large coalition of like minded people to fight against oppression and injustice, wouldn't it make more sense to build bridges and alliances, rather than alienate potential help and tear people down because of their inexperience?

We have a huge influx of baby activists available to us. If we crap all over them, they won't grow into the army of activists that we need. If we get past our frustration that they are not as adept at this as we are and teach them, guide them, HELP them, then we build a stronger force for the good of everyone.

Now, I know there will be those of you that will dismiss me with words like "Here's ANOTHER white guy telling us what to do." You know what? I'm not telling you what to do. I don't have any command over you. What I am doing is making a suggestion about how to make things better. Our new government wants us divided. Smaller groups are easier to control than larger movements. They won't fear any of us individually. But they do fear us collectively. But just as I have not lived your experience, you have not lived mine. Let's chill with the measuring match and get to know about each other. Let's find that common ground, figure out what we can do to stand together. 

Please stop telling us what NOT to do. Tell us what we CAN do. If you lose allies, you'll lose the war, and this is not a war we can afford to lose.

Or, to follow my own advice - 

Thank you for your input on us newbie activists. We'll certainly take your advice under consideration. Now what can we do to help?