Friday, December 31, 2004

The Best and Worst of 2004

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. I could be describing almost any point in my life, but I am referring in retrospect to 2004, all but gone now, and notably the apocalyptic finale to a very long year, which makes my complaints seem awfully pitiful. Earthquakes and tsunamis are called acts of God, but amidst horrific devastation on a scale too massive to be fully comprehended are countless acts of kindness, love and support, much of which are inspired by God. Blessings are everywhere, although sometimes we have to move a mountain to find them.

I am grateful to be blogging again after a break prolonged by the consequences of overdoing. The bad news is that I reinjured my stupid back twice in a week, the first time clearly a warning before the second knocked me down and laid me low for six days [objection from Terrie's back: who's the stupid one?]. The good news is that, after I engaged in the most concentrated period of activity in over a year, a lousy back is my only health flareup. The bad news is that I was stricken as I removed a fully roasted turkey weighing over 28 lbs. from the oven before I made the gravy. The good news is that it happened on day three of our family foodfest, the stuffing and other fixins' were ready to eat (minus the giblet gravy), and we still had plenty of leftovers from day one (ham with hollandaise, yam souffle with pecan praline topping, green bean casserole), day two (standing rib roast, beef gravy, popovers, mashed potatoes, asparagus), and my mother-in-law's tasty sweet and savory tamales.

The bad news is that I missed all the movies Luis and I planned to see, especially Phantom of the Opera, and the holiday baking I promised Chris. The good news is that Chris was almost as happy with the dessert-like yam souffle and Luis could enjoy with few interruptions his favorite birthday and Christmas presents, the new basketball court and World of Warcraft. Had I seen more films, heard more new music or even watched a wider variety of television programs, I might be able to offer my "best of" selections. Before chemotherapy, I was a multitasking, hobby juggling, pop culture consuming fool. In 2004 the presidential election sapped my limited energies.

This year I saw exactly three movies: Return of the King, Team America and The Incredibles. I enjoyed them all, but I am hardly qualified to declare any the Best Film of 2004.

I relish humor and my three favorite comics this year were Sacha Baron Cohen ("Ali G"), Dave Chapelle and Ron "Tater Salad" White. However, I don't think I could rate them in any particular order.

Music is an abiding passion of mine, but I only acquired three new CDs: Smile by Brian Wilson, Everyone Is Here by the Finn Brothers and Absolution by Muse. Smile is probably the best unreleased album of 1967 and the most anachronistic novelty of 2004.

Forty years ago this month, Brian Wilson suffered his first nervous breakdown and stopped touring with the Beach Boys, a pivotal event that changed his band, recording studio craft, and the course of popular music history. The next three years found Brian at his creative zenith and personal nadir. During more than a decade of legendary instability and hard living, many expected him to follow Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin to an early induction into rock ‘n’ roll heaven.

That Brian Wilson is alive at age 62 seems nearly miraculous. That he is still writing, recording, singing and performing live in public when most of his peers are dead or dormant is a remarkable gift to American music from a man whose hearing has been impaired throughout his entire career.

While the Beatles were riding high on the American charts, the Beach Boys were more popular with critics in their native England. I was much too young to know any of this at the time but rediscovered Brian Wilson while I was in high school when Endless Summer was released. His epic odes to loneliness and alienation formed the perfect soundtrack to my teenage introspection.

I am one fan who cringed every time Brian was trotted out for display to boost ticket or album sales. In my estimation, nothing can equal his studio work of 1965-1967 and any attempt to reproduce his legendary tracks, including those from the original Smile on the reworking released this year, is an insufficient reminder of what might have been.

The Beach Boys received the 2001 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy, which announced on December 1st that Brian Wilson is the MusiCares 2005 Person of the Year for his achievements as a musician and as a humanitarian. I hereby proclaim Brian Wilson the Survivor of 2004.

Acknowledged by few and coveted by none, here are the only other awards I feel qualified to announce for 2004.

No Bell Prize: Target banned the Salvation Army kettles from their store sites while they still allow extremely annoying and aggressive petition carriers to solicit signatures immediately in front of their doors. Ding dong, our exclusive, long-term relationship is dead.

Pull It Surprise: Michael Moore was the honored guest of Jimmy Carter at the Democrat convention and USA Today at the Republican convention, where John McCain made him the laughingstock. Moore is the kind of embarrassing buffoon who dares his nieces and nephews to pull his finger but, as soon as he leaves the room, they ask, "What are we going to do about Uncle Mikey?" Fahrenheit 9/11 was a dangerous stink bomb that helped to decimate John Kerry's presidential aspirations.

Howitzer Prize, Mainstream Media: Fox News Channel is home to the two best old school journalists around, neither of whom is Bill O'Reilly, who even before his personal scandal reminded me of that old line from Ren and Stimpy: "You fat, bloated idiot!" Brit Hume remains the sharpest, fairest TV reporter, with John Gibson a distant second. Give them two hours each weekday and they will show you a world of which you would otherwise be unaware.

Howitzer Prize, New Media: The gentlemen of the Northern Alliance, plus a few satellite bloggers, restored the ideals of investigative journalism and held the arrogant, out-of-touch, cynically unappreciative MSM to account for their fallen standards.

Pundit of the Year: Charles Krauthammer combines the intellectual clarity of George Will and the moral clarity of Bill Bennett. His ascendancy could not have come at a more critical time. Better yet, he is licensed to psychoanalyze all the wackos who populate the political landscape.

Blogfather of the Year: Hugh Hewitt, of course. Need I say more?

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Sunday, December 19, 2004

My Own Personal Honey Bear

Happy birthday, Luis! Life is sweeter because of you.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Cancer Sucks

The fortnight since my last blog post has been filled to overflowing with shopping, cooking, wrapping, baking, and planning for more of the same as our busy work and college schedules converged. ‘Tis the season for parties that masquerade as meetings. As I raced to meet unavoidable project deadlines, I completely missed the latest "dump Rumsfeld" campaign (Rummy, please don't go). My son tried to condense four months of coursework into a weeklong review before finals. My husband ended the year as he began – expanding his workload to compensate for the shortcomings and goings of others, albeit with ample rewards for his dedication.

At this time one year ago, I was experiencing my last chemotherapy treatment (please God, forever) and all the other “lasts” that accompany it: the last search-and-poke for a decent vein, the last debilitating nausea, the last plunge into an instant flu-like cold, the last of a long struggle with powerlessness and weak-kneed dependence. So this Christmas I will continue to bake and cook and throw parties to celebrate the distance I have traveled, hopefully a one-way trip on a long, unobstructed road.

In my experience and from what others have shared with me, having cancer is like a heavy pendant you wear always around your neck. The shiny side you show the world is the clarity and compassion that a life-threatening illness can bestow. Much of the time, probably most of the time, life is busy and bright. Sometimes, however, the dark underside feels like coldness against your heart, the cold fear of death. Those are times when you have a medical checkup or someone you know has bad health news, for example, and the weight on your heart is too heavy to ignore.

This month, as I performed the mad dance of the modern do-it-all woman, a wonderful co-worker who has become quite dear to me learned that her vicious enemy has returned. Edie’s cancer odyssey precedes mine by five years. She has served as a generous mentor and role model. This year she completed her five-year Tamoxifen regimen, tantamount to graduation from treatment that also marks the all-important five-year milestone for cancer-free remission.

During her annual checkup, a lump was noted, which led to discovery of cancer in at least one lymph node. Her surgery is scheduled for Wednesday, December 29. Not so long ago, cancer recurrence was an automatic death sentence. We are blessed to live in an age of medical research and development in which women can enjoy long periods of remission even after breast cancer recurrence.

About one year before her original cancer diagnosis, Edie’s husband suffered a stroke that changed both their lives. As wife to a man with special needs and mother of young adults, she carries a unique burden that she feels keenly now more than ever. As a Christian, she accepts the wisdom of God that may seem beyond our grasp to understand and appreciates the power of prayer.

If you are a believer, too, I ask for your prayers for Edie, for her family and for her doctors. Thank you and bless you.

Friday, December 03, 2004

The Cost of Silence

First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.

The defining characteristic of modern American life is busyness. We seem to spend our daily lives ricocheting like a pinball up and down, back and forth, over the same terrain, so intent on our own motion that we fail to notice those blurry objects in the margins. Sometimes, when the details come into focus, the ugliness is more than we think we can bear and motion becomes a welcome distraction.

This busy week Hugh Hewitt informed his listeners about the Groningen Academic Hospital in the Netherlands, the first nation to legalize euthanasia for consenting adults, where a committee decides to kill patients who are unable to consent, such as children, the mentally retarded and the comatose. Kill is a jarring word. Should I have substituted put to sleep, laid to rest, or released from suffering?

Eric Van Yijlick, the project manager for SCEN (Support and Consultation on Euthanasia in the Netherlands), prefers to call the practice of euthanizing newborns life ending without request. According to CNN, Van Yijlick claims that, while he knows of no official statistics regarding such cases, he believes that only a few newborn lives are ended without request in the Netherlands each year.

Well, that makes me feel better. How about you? Lethal injection in a sterile, scientifically sanctioned environment sounds so much more humane than the old fashioned, back alley euthanasia.

Word games are a handy way to disguise the ugliness we choose to ignore. Those things destroyed by the millions in the womb aren’t babies, they’re fetuses. That procedure whereby a full term baby is butchered as it descends through the birth canal is partial birth abortion, not infanticide.

The jury that deemed Scott Peterson guilty of murdering his unborn son disagrees, essentially finding that Conner Peterson had a right to his own life. Surely you do not need to experience the pain of miscarriage as I have to understand that, when an unborn baby is aborted by an act of man or nature, the life that would have led to its birth has ended. If anything is in a state where it can be rendered unliving, first it must be living. To quibble otherwise is a dangerous subterfuge that demeans language and life and leads directly, I believe, to the Groningen Protocol for determining who should live and who should die.

In the space of a generation, we have reduced the meaning of life to an exercise in semantics while reducing the very size of that generation by a method far more efficient than all the wars in American history.

The absence of a collective horror reminds me of the quote posted above attributed to the Reverend Martin Niemoller in 1945 about Nazism, except with a new twist.

First they came for the fetuses, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a fetus.

Then they came for the full term babies, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a baby.

Then they came for the children, the mentally retarded and the comatose, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a busy adult dealing with my own problems.

Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.