Saturday, August 8, 2015

My Ripple of Hope

On June 9th, two significant events happened in my life. First, I was elected to one of two Readfield [Maine] Select Board seats in a contested four-way race with a 66% voter mandate. Second, I only learned about the first outcome after being wheeled back from an MRI to Maine General’s emergency room in Augusta.

That Tuesday, I hoped I would win my election and also be joined by a fellow winning candidate dedicated to good governance for our town. However, at around 5:00 PM while working at home I collapsed with a grand mal seizure of which I have no memory. I vaguely recall two valiant 911 emergency responders calmly assisting me in my first ever ambulance ride. I was very fortunate that my wife, Barbara, was home and took action to secure vital assistance in what could only have been frantic and frightening moments.

I had no history of seizures. What followed were ten days that included emergency room care, blood tests, a CT scan, MRIs, doctor calls, an EEG, neurology consults, a spinal tap, anti-seizure medication, eventual hospitalization, and most concerning to any of us – the unknown. All signs pointed to a tumor and there were disconcerting matter-of-fact discussions about such an outcome. My father passed away many years ago of an inoperable brain tumor at an age not much older than mine. Needless to say my emotions were a roller coaster of fear and fate.

Finally, I was called to a hastily scheduled meeting with neurosurgeon in Portland. His reading of my MRIs led him to believe that I did not have a tumor but instead, a "venus sinus thrombosis." He theorized I had a blood clot in my brain that caused the seizure. He immediately admitted me to Maine Medical Center to have a more specific MRI in order to prove the clot and begin needed therapy.

On Friday, June 19th, we had the answer that the neurosurgeon had it right. With great relief, he did not "have to go in" and a biopsy or brain surgery was not going to be my next challenge. The plan now is blood thinning to gradually dissolve the clot under the guidance of a specialty clinic in Augusta. I can see the pathway back to good health over the next several months. Most rewarding is the fact that all of this will not affect my ability to serve on Readfield’s Select Board.

I now appreciate with new eyes the concern and support of my friends, family, co-workers, the Readfield community, the emergency responders, the many medical professionals, and very especially my wife Barbara who kept my spirits strong and outlook positive during the past few weeks. Fortunately the journey was not without stress relieving lighter moments too. In one instance I received a letter from the office of the Maine Secretary of State which I assumed must contain some sort of congratulatory certification of my election. To the contrary, it contained a form letter advising me of the suspension of my driver’s license pending a seizure free period of recovery.

This entire event appears to be ending on a positive note. I know now what I face and what will need to be done to achieve good health in a relatively short period of time. But as I traveled this journey, I also discovered there are many other people with great courage facing steeper odds, far more serious outcomes, less support, and difficult financial stress. There are also many people who unselfishly offer encouragement, volunteer support, or undertake challenging careers to help others. Because of all these people, I’ll go on to serve on my town with greater aspiration to in some small way contribute to a challenge of Robert F. Kennedy’s that I have always cherished: "Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope... build(ing) a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

A shorter version of this column, "The good and bad of a red-letter day," was published in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel on August 3, 2015. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving; Now Get Back to Being Poor

They come in a line; we dish out the holiday meal. They are far away; we mail them nice care packages. They are alone; we warmly gather them together.

We are generous in our efforts to ensure the downtrodden have a happy holiday. Our senses of goodness and rightness prevail; our own bounty pricks our conscience and stirs our sentimentality. Thus we share.

However these acts are for today, the holiday. As sincere as we may be the core outcome is starkly direct, "Happy holiday today but tomorrow get back to being poor."

This is not a condemnation of our individual generosity. This is not meant to criticize the spiritual or ethical impulses that drive our holiday benevolence. It is to prompt asking the greater questions.

Why do we condone throughout the long year of many hundreds of days the exclusion of the gifts that we so willingly and with moral concern bestow on a single day? Why is our eradication of the most visible outward conditions of poverty by alleviating hunger, satisfying small needs and sharing joys, sharing warmth and fellowship, and the extension of care limited to a handful of hours?

We only give so much, individually.

Our cares are individual and expressed through our volunteer organizations in these holiday efforts. And these generous actions are inherently good. And these resource strapped organizations that express our individual benevolence toil throughout many of the other year’s days to address the needs of the poor are also good. But our greatest organization at our disposal, the organizing fabric of our society that is under our collective control, our political and economic system is not bent toward the eradication of poverty.

Eradicating poverty in this nation is not complicated but it is a real choice we make about how we command our national resources and wealth. We have chosen one path that is ineffectual at best or negligent at worse and now it remains to be seen if we will ever gather the courage to chose to control of our collective destiny so we can say, “Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, everyday.