Today marks 8 years of blogging: 2,500 blog posts; thousands of photos; many friendships. Thank you for being so supportive and encouraging along the way. Merci bien. Heel hartelijk bedankt. Muchas gracias.
The storms we're experiencing are figurative, not literal. In the span of 12 1/2 months, my previously-healthy husband has endured 4 unrelated illnesses; 3 surgeries at 3 hospitals and 2 sirens-blaring ambulance rides. Yet just as in a memorable childhood book The Little Engine that Could, the train's still steaming down the track.
How does one absorb each body blow, the latest diagnosis the most threatening of all? Soon there will be more surgery in Amsterdam, to remove a tumor-riddled kidney and try to halt the advance of an aggressive, fast-growing cancer. Just three months ago, there was no sign of an invader. Now this brutal occupying force demands our attention.
Steam train on a rainy day, Watercress Line, Aylesford, England. Click photo to view detail.
As if that weren't enough with which to cope, my dad in the US has been very ill and still is recovering after major surgery. (Update Jan. 30th: Once again, he is in the hospital and having more surgery). Earlier this month, David and I were discussing me getting on a plane to visit, when the doctor phoned to say a routine blood test suggested kidney damage. A brief hospital stay for more tests followed. Then late Friday, the unwelcome news - just when we'd almost managed to convince ourselves that David's health woes had vanished with the horrid 2013.
"Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength."- Leo Buscaglia
Throughout these long days and nights, there have many whispered prayers; occasional tears and far too many fears. I've been grateful for the love and support of family and friends. And through it all, hope has remained by my side. It is a constant presence, like a slow-burning flame illuminating the way through darkness. Yes, sometimes the flame flickers and seems in danger of going out...but then it seems to catch itself and once again burns brightly.
Things I've noticed in this chaotic year of sands shifting beneath our feet:
Optimism is a gift. And language is never a barrier to kindness.
When health is an issue, everything else simply falls by the wayside. Our world becomes smaller and more focused, with clear priorities. We have so little control over what happens. But we can control how we react to unexpected challenges. And we're always stronger than we think.
The wonders of modern medicine and techological advances are astonishing. We are fortunate to have brilliant doctors and excellent health insurance (despite the bureaucratic challenges in dealing with Dutch medical care and French insurance).
We have some amazing true friends that I am proud to know. It seems we also have quite a few fair- weather friends: friends who have been guests in our home in both France and the Netherlands; friends we helped when in dire straits or facing serious illness; friends whose business ventures we supported wholeheartedly; the same "friends" who haven't bothered to send so much as an email or Twitter message. (Suddenly my address book feels a lot lighter)!
We are lucky to have possibly the world's best neighbours, who collect the English patient upon his release from hospitals and shovel snow from our front doorstep and sidewalk.
Time is finite; don't take a single moment for granted. This is not a dress rehearsal; live now. Travel. Try something new. Dance. Sing. Ride a bicycle. Read good books. Tend a garden. Do the things that make you happiest. Don't worry about the small stuff, which really doesn't matter.
The beautiful things that grace our homes or the stylish clothes we wear are of little consequence. Icing on the cake, yes, but not the cake. Cynical marketing and advertising-based ploys such as "likes" on Facebook or gaining more followers on Twitter are artificial measures that sap our time and energy. Truly. (Tell me what you think, after seeing the film Her).
Embrace what's real, here and now. Hold your loved ones close. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and bring out the best in you. And take care of yourself; nothing trumps good health! (And that's enough platitudes for one day).
The international charity Oxfam has released a shocking report indicating that just 85 people across the globe control a combined wealth of £1tn - as much as the poorest 3.5 billion of the world's population combined! This letter from Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, addresses the widening economic disparity in the United States:
As I sit in my office looking out at the church where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached during the civil rights movement, I’m reminded of something he said that addressed longstanding attitudes about the plight of America’s poor:
“It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps,” Dr. King said, “but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”
His words are particularly relevant today – 50 years after President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty. Johnson’s initiatives have helped millions of Americans, including our senior citizens, stay afloat by providing a floor of support for nutrition, health care, and other basic necessities.
But today, during a period of income and wealth disparity not seen in nearly a century, what we’re seeing is not a war on poverty, but rather a war on the poor.
We’re being told by many politicians and pundits on the right – as they seek to shred our country’s safety net – that the poor, in effect, deserve their fate, that the jobless are lazy and don’t want to work, that immigrants come to our shores for handouts, and that the sick and the elderly should fend for themselves.
Meanwhile – as economic gains increasingly flow to the rich – poor and middle-class Americans are falling further behind. In 2012, for instance, the wealthiest 10 percent earned more than half of all income.
Something is terribly wrong – and getting worse. As the Associated Press recently put it, “The gulf between the richest 1 percent and the rest of America is the widest it’s been since the Roaring ‘20s.”
At the SPLC, we’ve always been concerned about poverty. Indeed, it’s in our name – the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In the earlier days, we fought in the courts to help poor, minority communities get their fair share of public resources and services. More recently, we’ve represented some the country’s most marginalized people – the exploited migrant workers and immigrants who labor in our fields to put food on our tables.
Our mission is to be there for those who have no other champion.
At the time of his assassination, Dr. King was in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers and was organizing a “Poor People’s Campaign” to call attention to poverty and economic injustice.
Today, we need to rededicate ourselves to Dr. King’s dream of economic justice and to helping those who are “bootless” in our country. America, he said, has “the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.”
My favourite swan in "our" canal. Click photos to view detail.
Serenely gliding along the surface, while furiously pedaling beneath... Perhaps a metaphor for the moment, with my dad in the hospital in the US and my husband in hospital in the Netherlands.
The two swans and their (now) teenage cygnets arrived in "our" canal on New Year's Day, their first appearance since last summer, when the cygnets were just a day old. I'm choosing to view their auspicious return as a good omen for 2014, with good health and happiness topping the agenda!