chaskemp's journal 2007.2


(A journey through life)

Home #1, Journals: 2008, 2007.22007, 2006, Personal Page, Asia Trips 2005, 2006,2007, Asia Photos, Budget Guides to Southeast AsiaHong Kong, A Cottage Garden, Refugees, Israel & the Middle East, Haiphong Red Flamboyant, East Dallas Restaurants, Backpack, Home #2

I began having trouble with the first 2007 Journal, so started this one as a continuation of the 2007 journal.

Here is David's site, and his current blog, Slow Movin' Dreams. I'm writing here for myself and anyone else who cares to read it. Wouldn't it be nice if someone would read these journals to me when I get old. 

~

There is a road, no simple highway,

Between the dawn and the dark of night,

And if you go, no one may follow,

That path is for your steps alone

~

1/3/2008 - Last 2007 post

This brings 2007 to a close. It's been a good year, despite edging toward being "a burnt out case." Actually, I think I pretty much am one. Anyway, looking back at this point, I'm happy and am in better shape physically than I've been in several years. Leslie is doing well, as is David. I spent New Year at Big Bend - a great trip. Here is 2008 journal.

 

12/28 - strange days, Big Bend, our family

Somewhere around 1990 I met a Vietnamese woman named Lan. The first time I walked into her apartment (off of Grigsby) she was sitting on a bed, facing the door. I knew immediately she was sick – she had that ghostly look that some people have when they’ve been through terrible times. I started taking her to Parkland for the last futile treatments in her last round of radiation, but clearly, she was going to die. She was always quiet, reserved, and it seemed to me that she probably had a past. She had an Amerasian daughter named Suzy, who lived somewhere else and worked in a nail salon.

 

One day I was taking Lan to Parkland and there was a communication issue coming up – something that it was very important for her to understand (DNR). So we swung by the Multicultural Center (MCC), which had an office on Bryan near Peak. I went in to see if their Vietnamese caseworker could help. The caseworker was sitting at a table with the agency director (whose name was “Sunny” – ain’t that cute) and someone else and they were folding origami paper cranes. I explained what was going on and what we needed – and that I would take the caseworker to Parkland and that they were waiting on us at the hospital so it would all take an hour or less.

 

Sunny looks up and says, “Oh, I’m sorry, we have a commitment to fold a 1000 of these peace cranes – and they have to be ready for the Peace Festival (or something like that), so we can’t help you today.” I was struck dumb, dizzy with rage. I mean what do you say to something like this? So I just left.

 

Lan ended up going back to Vietnam to die. We spent a lot of time convincing her oncologist to prescribe sufficient dilaudid for her to take back to Vietnam. It took some help from someone high up in oncology at the medical school, but we finally got quite a bit together. She had at least two months worth, which was about how long she had to live. Before she left, her daughter had a little party for Lan at a Chinese restaurant in one of the burbs. It was pretty sad.

~

I was telling Leslie about this today as we walked along Bryan Street. We talked about some of the weirdness we’ve seen in our day.

~

There were several thousand Southeast Asian refugees placed in in the Fitzhugh/Carroll/San Jacinto area from 1977-1986. I think in 1982 some Cambodian children found a dismembered woman in a dumpster on Prairie Street near Fitzhugh and Bryan. The director of one of the refugee agencies said, “Lucky it was Cambodians – they’re used to it.”

~

There was this man named Suer Kam, who had a terminal illness, something akin to leukemia. He and his family lived at 4400 San Jacinto. We were not their sponsor, but we got them blankets, clothes, food, etc., and took Suer Kam to his appointments at Parkland. I took him to the emergency room the day he died. I remember on the way there offering him a stick of gum and he was so weak he just shook his head. I had to leave and by the time I got back he was dead. Leslie took care of the funeral arrangements and when she called the sponsoring agency to see what they would pay for, the director said, “We can go, maybe a $100.” 

 

Sick stuff – I’m not making these things up, nor exaggerating, embellishing, or anything else. The only thing that is not 100% true is that I've changed the names, except for Sunny's - that one is too good to change.

~

Jeff and I are leaving tomorrow (Saturday) for Big Bend for a 4 or 5 day trek. In the meantime, David will be going back to Houston Sunday. Oh, how fine it’s been to have him home. It just feels so good and natural and comfortable for us all (David, Leslie, me) to be together. A good family and I'm deeply grateful.

 

12/26 - it’s better to receive than to give, something of deep beauty, re-gifting is better than re-eating, an interesting table

In some respects it was a David Sedaris Christmas, and some of that I don’t want to write about on-line, but I will mention a little, and then something of deep beauty (and then something not so beautiful).

 

It’s better to receive than to give: My aunt decided it’s better to receive than to give, and without telling anyone her plan, she showed up for Christmas with no gifts. For a number of years she has given mainly to our son and my brother’s daughter, which, of course, is fine. And we have given to her. But this year, nothing - except we gave her something nice from Cambodia. I think it was because she is irritated with me, and how better to act that out than to stick it to my son. It was a strange and perfectly defining moment. Withholding.

 

Something of deep beauty: We went to Leslie’s sister’s house on Christmas day. There, too, someone took a hit – hard & far more painful than my aunt’s shot at David to get to me. But something else happened.

 

One of Leslie’s nieces, Jenny and her husband Eric, have two sons, John and Henry. At some point, John was involved in Chris (nephew) and Allison’s daughter, Georgia being hurt a little while they were playing on the patio. Afterward, John was sitting in a chair on the patio, just completely miserable. Without berating him, Eric told him John to apologize to Georgia. Without a word, he got up to trudge into the house to apologize. Mike, John’s Granddad (married to Leslie’s sister Becky) said, in his quiet, undemonstrative way (softly), “Do you want me to go with you, John?” And in the house they went, holding hands. I don’t know how to capture the sweetness of these three generations – John, Eric, and Mike – working it out together and all three of them getting it so perfectly right.

 

Eric and I had talked a little while earlier, about his childhood and my plans for retirement. Mountain talk, family talk. While we were talking I had the sense that Eric truly got it – what it meant to me and to David when we went to Southeast Asia together in 2005. I mean, anyone would understand that it was a very good thing, but with this young man, I could see him doing something equally or even more defining with his sons. And later I was in the back yard, talking briefly with Jenny and saw her in a similar way – the youngest of Becky and Mike’s children – deep and strong - not acting that way, but being that way.

 

Re-gifting is better than re-eating: About 3:30am today Leslie was awakened by Buddy retching. She was too late to get him out of the house, so he threw up on the living room rug. What came up was mostly chunks of the bone he had eaten earlier (his Christmas bone), and by the time she got back to the living room with paper towels, etc., he was re-eating one of the chunks. So it's 3:30 in the morning and Leslie is wrestling with Buddy, trying to get the chunk of bone out of his great big, muscle-bunched pit bull mouth (thinking that if he ate it sooner or later she would see that little beauty yet again) all the while trying to not step in the barf. What a cute little doggie we have. Wait! Stop the Presses! The bone was Buddy's Christmas bone, so actually, he re-gifted and re-ate! 

 

Now here's an interesting table. It shows what was in the C-Rations we had in Vietnam. My favorites were beans & wieners, meatballs & beans, & boned chicken, though I ate a lot of eggs, water added with ham because I could tolerate it and people would just give it away, so I could use other stuff to trade for the coveted fruit cocktail, pears (mmmmmm, pears), and pecan roll. Sometimes you could get together some pears and pound cake for a true feast. Crackers with peanut butter were okay, but even I wouldn't eat the "candy disc, chocolate" - or the ham & lima beans ("ham & mfs" as everyone called them). Beef steak (it was a steak, alright), ham, turkey loaf, beef/potatoes/gravy were okay if you were really hungry. I don't remember meat loaf (lol - are you kidding me. How bad would that have been?) or spiced beef. The caraway cheese always irritated me - who eats caraway seeds? But I liked the pimento cheese. I loved the cocoa and jam & cookies. The bread was lame. I ate a lot of fruitcake because I was one of the only ones who would, so there was always plenty of it. I almost always had a bottle of Tabasco. (Writing this journal is sufficient unto itself, but if it turns out that someone reads this to me when I'm old, please read all the ingredients below - Thanks.) 

 

B-1 Units

Meat Choices (in small cans):
   Beef Steak
   Ham and Eggs, Chopped
   Ham Slices
   Turkey Loaf
Fruit:
    Applesauce
    Fruit Cocktail
    Peaches
    Pears
Crackers (7)
Peanut Butter
Candy Disc, Chocolate
    Solid Chocolate
    Cream
    Coconut
Accessory Pack*

B-2 Units

Meat Choices (in larger cans):
    Beans and Wieners
    Spaghetti and Meatballs
    Beefsteak, Potatoes and Gravy
    Ham and Lima Beans
    Meatballs and Beans
Crackers (4)
Cheese Spread, Processed
    Caraway
    Pimento
Fruit Cake
Pecan Roll
Pound Cake
Accessory Pack*

B-3 Units

Meat Choices (in small cans):
    Boned Chicken
   Chicken and Noodles
    Meat Loaf
    Spiced Beef
Bread, White
Cookies (4)
Cocoa Beverage Powder
Jam
    Apple
    Berry
    Grape
    Mixed Fruit
    Strawberry
Accessory Pack*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Accessory Pack had a plastic spoon, salt & pepper, instant coffee, sugar, creamer, 2 Chiclets,
cigarettes - 4 smokes/pack like Winston, Marlboro, Lucky Strike (my favorite three), Salem, Pall Mall, Camel, Chesterfield, Kent (nasty things), Kool (Winnie the Penguin says, "Smoke Cooool!"), matches, & Toilet Paper. We all carried a "P-38" can opener and usually had heat tabs or C-4 to heat things.

 

12/17 - beginning to think about traveling 

Thoughts on Asia: Hong Kong, of course, for 5-6 days. Pacific Coffee on the Peak, Leslie's noodle shop, Macau, CK hike one day. Fly to Bangkok, stay a few days. Bus to Phnom Penh & stay a week to see Samnang et al. Bus to Saigon, stay a few days eating, buy backpack, etc., train to Nha Trang (stay Hanno's), Danang, car to Hoi An (or maybe skip Hoi An), bus to Hue (week - nothing to do in an amazing city in Vietnam - we're in heaven), train to Hanoi, fly Chiang Mai ($360 - Thai) stay awhile, back to Bangkok, back to HK. And how about this: Bangkok to Jakarta and on to Bali is less than $200 RT - but these just notions - haven't talked with anyone yet

Thoughts on backpack/road trip: Next week, Jeff and I going to Big Bend. This spring, Dave and I are going to Big Bend State Park for a 4 day loop. (Summer) Dallas - Grand Canyon just to have a look, Bishop Cali (east Sierras) and then 10 days in Sierras (Evolution Loop), up through Nevada to Cali and on to San Francisco for a few days and then Yosemite for 6-8 days, back to Dallas OR from Sierras head over to Wyoming to Winds for 10 OR to Colorado for Maroon Bells for 7 days and then south ... see grid in backpack page for possibilities. Spring start Grand Canyon 5 days April, Cali coast (Big Sur, Lost Coast) Ap-May, Yosemite 2 weeks June,

Traveling: Places to go: Boston area, New England; Cali and Pacific NW, Big Sur, SF, Lost Coast,  Vancouver; South, Alabama, Georgia, Carolinas, Virginia - in part it depends on where David ends up in school.     

 

12/15

From his first Christmas on until he was about 6, I took David out front riding on my shoulders to look at our Christmas lights most nights.

 

I went by the clinic today (Friday) on the way to work. Leslie was in the hall, sorting out the patients – which means that she was deciding who would be seen today and who would not. She doesn’t just turn people away, but this is the worst job in the house – one that weighs on those involved. It would be easier to just give numbers, but Leslie is adamantly against that – philosophically and in terms of basic community health concepts. So, one by one by one she was sorting them in, sorting them out.

 

I was thinking, as I decrease my volunteer involvement with the clinic, that (of course) there are unintended consequences …

 

It’s like going into the mountains – you hike and climb and get really tired and sore and as you keep going and time passes, things happen – you begin to experience the deep beauty, like sunrise in the mountains, looking across the distance from a mountain top, stars – shooting stars – in the desert. Awe-inspiring – but it seems that so many of these things require work, pushing limits.

 

So the unintended consequence of decreasing clinic involvement is that without the daily struggles/ downs/bads the daily beauty/ups/goods are less accessible. And more than this is that we’ve worked together for most of the past 25 years – I mean in addition to the way one might expect us to work together, as partners, parents and so on – I mean we’ve done this work with refugees and immigrants as complete partners. It has been the most amazing and joyous ride – nothing less than a blessing. But no matter what, I’m tired.

 

I saw a photograph today, taken at Khe Sanh – showed the Witch’s Tit – one of the (better shaped) mountains rising up above the base to the west and north. It wasn’t cold (as witches are reputed to be – “as cold as a witch’s …"). It was hot, hot and extraordinarily dangerous (There’s no place in Iraq as dangerous as that place) – death in the mountains – when I hear, “these mist-covered mountains …” it sends chills through me. I was with 1/9 and we were in the hills around Con Thien northwest of Khe Sanh. But I hung out some at Khe Sanh and I was in them forests and mountains. Photo: Con Thien - thanks to Vets With A Mission

 

I was at Dong Ha and was wanting to go to Khe Sanh to hang out with Jeff and whoever was left of 1/26. I was at the airstrip (or was it Phu Bai?) looking for a plane or chopper into the base and someone told me that a C-123 starting to taxi away was going to Khe Sanh. So I ran up to the side door to get on and the guy pulled me up into the plane. Whew! It stunk of aviation fuel and that's exactly what it was full of in 55 gallon barrels and I'm flashing on the fact that there is always someone using a heavy AA machine gun to shoot at planes landing at Khe Sanh (guns set up to fire at planes coming in from either way). You know, it's not really a major deal for bullets to go through a plane - but if they hit a person or engine or something explosive or flammable, well that's bad and of course this whole plane was flammable. But we were already taking off - it ain't enough that I'm hiking around in these bleeding bloody hills literally from one gunfight to another and now I'm riding in a giant torch. As I recall we did some pretty serious juking coming in - Hold On!

 

We didn't make it to Texoma - icy, icy weather and then his cousin died so he's away to Illinois and we'll go somewhere after Christmas. The major upside is that David is in town to go to Robin's graduation dinner, so I was conflicted about leaving as he came in. So I'm happy.

 

12/9 - Wandering all over the place

Once in about 1972, in the fall we were driving on a narrow street near where we lived in the McKinney/Cole area and the leaves were dancing across the street like magic & I saw them like that again today over here in Old East Dallas.

 

David’s quartet, the Dolce Quartet is playing in front of a boutique chocolate store …

 

Jeff and I heading off next Friday for a short (3 day) trek near Lake Texoma. In my account of my (personally momentous) Big Bend trek I wrote … Sitting on the ground, leaning against my pack with my legs straight out I feel like I’ve been sitting like this forever. Nevermind, it’s just a flashback. I wish Jeff was here. How many times did we rest like that with our weapons ready?  

 

Jeff told me that when he got to MCRD they were standing in the yellow footprints and there was a DI sitting behind a little table and he told the recruits to double-time to a single line in front of the little desk. The first man moved so fast and precipitously that he ran into the desk and the DI – who, along with several others immediately began beating the man. When they realized Jeff was laughing they went to work on him too. That’s a funny story, by the way.

 

This journal is about my life, not my work, so I’ve written very little about work here. I was thinking last week, maybe about time to let people in on a few secrets (as if anyone from there was reading this – your loss). The context is founding and building Texas’ first hospice, envisioning and (in partnership with many others) creating Texas’ first COPC – the East Dallas Health Coalition, building the Agape Clinic into a perfect jewel of a service-learning community health mission clinic, showing many students and others The Tao - The Way of community health, writing some, and over the years, providing high quality care to a lot of people. So that’s the context and here’s the secret: since 1977, when I was in Al Shapero’s graduate design seminar in the UT Business School I have put ~10% of my energy into the things that other people at my jobs (seem to) put nearly all their energy (roles, schedules, goals & objectives for doing the same thing over & over & over – AAARRGGHHH). My focus is on human needs, suffering & so on AND what can be done in the context of teaching. I've put enormous energy into what can happen and how to make it so/action – for 30 years I’ve thought about and worked for little else (in the context of work) + I've met my personal goal of making it to more than half of the meetings (planning and writing time for me). You could say that it’s like the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25).

 

An insight/secret to success: can't do trivial pursuits and much else - have to decide where to put your energy and then go for it as hard as you can (but you have to deal with all that other stuff).

I took a shot today. A shot of what? Gall? Spite/revenge? Yes. Years down the road (if I’m lucky and still alive), I’ll look at this and wonder, what was that about? You could say it’s like Positively 4th Street (You’d know what a drag it is to see you). I didn't even know there was conflict until it was over. 

 

The New Store (a wooden ship). I had this store in a house on Sears Street off Lower Greenville. In the front was where I made things out of wood, like tables, bed frames, walls, shelves and so on. In the back was a little showroom with oriental rugs, a wall made of interlaced wood, several beds, tables, shelves. One day I was taking an after-lunch nap in the workshop and heard someone say in the loveliest voice, “Hello.” It was Laura Joplin, Janice’s sister, whom I knew from David N’s place in Oak Lawn. What a contrast between Laura and what I've heard Janice was like.

 

Leslie and I have been eating every weekend at Pho Bang in Garland – THE best com tom suon (pork chops, rice with fried egg on top, cucumbers, etc.) in Dallas. Last week in Pho Bang there was the world’s worst singing group, 3 Vietnamese, one with a guitar (one chord, the wrong one) and all singing Feliz Navidad. When we were leaving I ran into one of Shirley D’s and Ron C’s former scouts – Ly, who looked great – grown up and all – yet still, in my mind, a sweet shy girl. We talked for awhile and I told her we got an email from Dung (pronounce Yung), who is in Minnesota … “I am doing good as long as I don't go outside. I am in Minneapolis right now and it's so cold.”

 

So that’s my world – Leslie, David, Jeff, Ron, Shirley, Ly, Dung (how could she know what magic we see in her emails). Why then would I give more than a passing glance to …   

 

No, I do not feel that good when I see the heartbreaks you embrace, If I was a master thief, perhaps I'd rob them.
And now I know you're dissatisfied with your position and your place, Don't you understand, it's not my problem.
I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes, And just for that one moment, I could be you.
Yes, I wish that for just one time, You could stand inside my shoes. You'd know what a drag it is to see you.

 

12/1 - Big Bend: Circling, whatever, aren’t you the guy …, how to see a mountain lion, the high point, cold ice wind and snow, my legs are pretty sore and we’re having a good time, randomness … (the beginning of a backpacking page)

 

Circling: I was in Scouts until I was 13 or 14, so backpacked quite a bit when I was young. I dropped out of high school and ended up spending almost two years (in two stints) in Colorado, Wyoming, etc. rock-climbing (see post 9/8(1) in this 2007 journal) and living outside much of that time. Then I spent 2 years in the Marine Corps infantry and 13 months in Vietnam where, once again, I slept on the ground nearly every night. After that, I said, no more. David and I went to several camps together (we stayed up all one drizzly night, tending a fire – can it get any better?) and we hiked, canoed and biked together – quite a bit, actually, but backpacking (other than through SE Asia together for 2 months), I mean backpacking in the American outdoors sense – no. Now, 42 years later, the mountains call. Continued at a backpacking page) Photo (by Faith) - Snowy day. That's a cloud at treetop level. 

 

11/20 - Big Bend tomorrow

I leave tomorrow at 6pm. David and Chris are leaving Houston tomorrow in time to get here before I leave - this is a good family and I'm already a little sad. Times of separation always bring thoughts of separation - that something might happen. I was thinking about that as I walked Judo on his nightly search for action ... I've been thinking about what I wrote in the dedication to the 2nd edition of my book on terminal illness. With gratitude ...

 

I lay dreaming that I was near an outdoor marketplace, watching a group of musicians set up to play. One by one, they began to tune, softly. Then in a soft clear voice, a woman sang the words, "Who knows ... where the time goes ... " and at that moment I awoke and said, "To Leslie." A true vision. Dedicated to my wife, Leslie.

 

When my son, David, was about five years old, I dreamed one night that the end of the world had come. Everything was just slowing, slowing, slowing and I was drifting in space. I knew when it all stopped, that would be the end. David drifted into my arms as a voice said, "Into the arms of his father." It was a calm encompassing peace. Dedicated to my son, David.

 

I Love You

 

11/15 - People from all over

Today in clinic people working or seen as patients included Mon (Burma), Karen (Burma), Burman, Khmer, Ethiopian, Mexican, Salvadoran, Vietnamese, American (White, Hispanic, Black), Japanese, French, Filipina - and I'll bet I've forgotten someone. Burma Refugees site (updated, again)

 

11/14 - Okra soup

We made several home visits today. At one apartment there was a strong smell of cooking - I wasn't sure what. It smelled good and I asked about it. So I ended up having a bowl of okra soup with some unidentified (by me) green plant. The broth was mild, tasty and the okra the same as boiled okra always has been.

 

In one apartment there was a young woman wearing a traditional Karen top and blue jeans. She was feeding a child sitting on the table, wearing a Batman mask, enjoying his rice and chicken. Now and then a little girl would walk by and get a bite. 

 

11/13 - Bob Dylan & Allen Ginsberg

Walking together in a graveyard somewhere - I guess many people from different generations would say they're glad to be part of their generation. In my mind, looking objectively at the great leaps - highs - lows of my generation, when has there ever been another time like this - the 60s and 70s? The tide has never come in higher, before or since. So, yeah, what a blessing to have been a part of that. When before would two men like these have walked together? Gay and straight, together for the world. Here's to you, Allen. And to you, Bob.

 

11/12 - Veteran's Day 2007 - Thoughts

My USMC flag flew today, just as it has every day since this war in Afghanistan and Iraq started.

 

My employer has a holiday called “Day of the Bear” (the mascot), but no commemoration or even acknowledgement of Veteran’s Day. This is incorrect. I couldn't find what was done this year, but things have been done in years past. I just couldn't find anything on the website and do not recall ever hearing anything about it. I used to make bitter sarcastic remarks about this, but no more (now I write the thoughts). I try to stay away on Veteran's Day, but this year was unsuccessful ... 

 

I was in a meeting today and the person sitting next to me said something in a joking way about a one-legged veteran. Sometimes I’m just speechless, which is far better (for my employment situation) than saying something appropriate.

 

I saw a news piece on TV about an army operation in Afghanistan. Two men were hit, one WIA, one KIA, and another of the troops was filmed moaning and sobbing in the field. What kind of discipline is that? Someone should have shut him up, fast.

 

Leslie gave me a special Veteran’s Day backrub this morning, so there was one very good part of the day.

 

Saw a headline and wrote it down: "Mentally Ill Vets Sent Back Into Combat" - LOL - what's your point? What else are you going to do with them and how many in the infantry are not at least a little mentally ill? So many people have no clue what war really is. The whole thing was pretty crazy last I checked.

 

Keep on Rockin' in the Free World

 

I've written on my war experiences, but haven't put them on a website. Below is a summary from A Personal Page:

 

I started at MCRD San Diego, then Infantry Training Regiment & Machine Gun School; Camp Pendleton & las Pulgas for Special Landing Force training. On to Subic Bay & Olongapo in the Philippines (oh, how we partied, like doomed youth); first landing southern South Vietnam (1st casualties); second landing Deckhouse & Prairie for serious battles; Hill 55 & Dodge City (snipers daily, mines, weekly firefights more or less & a few battles); Dong Ha & Hill Fights (168 KIA, but it took awhile); also at Con Thien, Gio Linh, and Khe Sanh, though mostly I was in the boondocks around these places. If there was a sound track to this section it would be Sympathy for the Devil, maybe Gimme Shelter. We won every battle and beat back very attack, but America lost its will and lost the war. All told, 13 months in combat (well, you know, not every day) in the two provinces (Quang Nam & Quang Tri) accounting for 25% of the US KIA (I think there are 20 or more provinces in VN); Danang (in our last formation there were about 30 men of the original company of about 180 men - I guess we were doomed youth), The World. God. I'm alive. From war to this: Stories from la clinica and now this: A return to Southeast Asia.

 

11/6 - Music

David was 6 years old when he said he wanted to learn to play the piano. We said okay, sure, and through our friends, Gerald and Kristin found a teacher. Our next door neighbor, Jay had put a square plastic piano (about 2' long and 1' high) out on the curb with some other stuff he didn’t want. That was the piano David practiced on for several months until it was clear that he really did want to learn and was willing to practice. We then got him a pretty nice upright from our church music minister. His teacher, Mitta played piano and viola, and when avid’s school started a little orchestra, he took up the viola as well. What a great teacher and friend she was and is. Even today, five years since Mitta taught David, Leslie still handles scheduling her students.

 

One year for Leslie’s birthday, David learned the complete version of Fur Elise, which he played at a recital. A great day!

 

After David had been playing viola for about a year, Mitta suggested he try out for a city-wide youth orchestra, the Young Performers Orchestra (YPO), the youngest of the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra organization. He made it and so every Sunday we took him to a three hour rehearsal at the “old pump house,” a place where they had several arts organizations as tenants. Leslie and I would sit on the floor in an area above and behind where the orchestra practiced. From time to time, David would turn around and smile at us. Talk about a wonderful time.

 

David worked his way through the GDYO organization until he was one of the younger members of the most advanced orchestra, the GDYO. He became First Chair viola when he was in the 9th or 10th grade, and never relinquished the position. This was a serious orchestra, playing the same versions of Beethoven, Mahler, and Brahms as any orchestra in the world. They were true professionals and were treated as such, with performances at the Meyerson. Photo: David & (sleepy looking) Mitta in front of her house

 

David moved to St. Marks School in the 4th grade and became First Chair in that orchestra as well. For his senior exhibition, he played the Hindemith Viola Concerto – brilliantly, and also a Bach suite.

 

In addition to the orchestra, he also played in several chamber groups with others from GDYO. Once again, they played serious music, such as Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and so on. I especially remember Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8 (“In memory of victims of fascism and war”) – intense!

 

A number of the musicians in GDYO received full music scholarships to various colleges and conservatories. David was not interested in a career in music, so did not apply. He played in the non-music majors orchestra at Rice and still today plays in a quartet. In Phnom Penh he was a regular in a duet at the Art Café near Wat Phnom.

 

All that great music – and my clearest and fondest memory is David at YPO turning around and smiling at us.

 

11/4 - Pho Bang, My Elusive Dreams, Melanie Mouse's Moving Day

We ate at Pho Bang today – a great meal of pho tai and com tam thit nuong. The differences between this place and any basic good restaurant in Vietnam are (1) fans are mounted on the ceiling vs. walls, (2) chairs are padded vs. blue plastic with or without backs, (3) aircon vs. not, (4) beef is a little better here vs. there, (5) here is more expensive. We shared a table with a random guy. Ran into a woman I know who has a very shady past. Sitting in there thinking about her and other people there – a room full of outrageous strength. Good time today.

On the way home, listening to My Elusive Dreams (George Jones and Tammy Wynette), tears, both of us …

T: I followed you to Texas
T: I followed you to Utah
G: We didn't find it there, so we moved on
T: I followed you to Alabam'
T: Things looked good in Birmingham
G: We didn't find it there, so we moved on

CHORUS (Both):
I know you're tired of followin'
My elusive dreams and schemes
For they're only fleeting things
My elusive dreams

T: I had your child in Memphis
T: You heard of work in Nashville
G: We didn't find it there, so we moved on
G: To a small farm in Nebraska
G: To a gold mine in Alaska
T: We didn't find it there, so we moved on

Both: And now we've left Alaska
Both: Because there was no gold mine
T: But this time, only two of us moved on
T: Now all we have is each other
T: And a little memory to cling to
G: And still you won't let me go on alone

REPEAT CHORUS (Both)

Both: For they're only fleeting things, my elusive dreams

 

This song and these singers touch me deeply. Leslie says, “I’d have turned it off (because so sad), but I know you like it … I have all the reality I can handle …” Me listening to the song reminded her of …

 

Melanie Mouse’s Moving Day – When David was little, Leslie and I had to work. We were able to cobble together a lot of time off, what with my teaching and her going to part time. Still, we had to look beyond ourselves. When David was a tiny baby, a Cambodian woman, Pov Lon (pronounce Po Luon, with Lon being her first name) took care of him while we were working, sometimes at our house and sometimes where she lived – in a back room downstairs in the big house (called “The Mansion” by the Khmer in Old East Dallas) on San Jacinto. When he was about a year old, we moved him to Lakewood Methodist Child Care, a very nice place, where he was happy. After a year or two there were some staff changes that we didn’t like (like a loud person was going to be his teacher), so we moved him to a well-known place operated by the American Association of University Women with the amazing Jeanne Whitt running the show.

 

In preparing to change, we started reading to David a book titled Melanie Mouse’s Moving Day. It was a book about changes and as David made the move, he would bring the book to us to read. He would cry just a little while we were reading it – our interpretation being that he was using the book as a kind of emotional outlet or reason to cry (he already was working on being strong and in control of his emotions). So maybe this song is the same for me. Photo: Sophea - my Hotel California partner

11/2 - Gear piled against the wall

I’m preparing for a 5 day back-pack in Big Bend over Thanksgiving. I’m fast-walking with a few hundred yards of slow running for 2-3 miles 5 of 7 days each week. I’m getting some gear together, the pack I got in Vietnam in 2005, sleeping bag, tent, boots, freeze-dried food, etc. The last few days I’ve carried a heavy pack (no running with a pack, of course). Feeling fairly strong.

 

It’s nice to have gear piled against the wall – like so many times before long ago, like in Boulder, Estes Park, and Fort Collins Colorado where there would be anywhere from 2-8 climbers living together in a run-down house or apartment with a living room full of packs, ropes, pitons, boots, etc., with most of us sleeping in sleeping bags on the floor. (Sorry to borrow a phrase), but we lived to climb and climbed to live, working a few weeks here and there, just enough to replenish worn gear – ropes especially, as they were, ahem, our lifelines and were compromised after 5-10 climbs, what with rubbing against sharp rocks, squeezing through cracks, holding weight, and so on. Those were fine times with fine people, living mostly in the mountains and more outside than inside.

 

And later, in the Marine Corps, going back to the rear, leaving helmet, pack, flack jacket, webbing, weapons, ammo in a pile (weapon always handy – and never going more than about 30 feet from the weapon). It always felt so good taking it all off, so you were wearing just utilities, boots, etc.

 

And later, traveling in Southeast Asia, but not much in the way of gear – backpack or roller, day pack – but always enjoying seeing it against the wall in a guesthouse in Luang Prabang or wherever.

 

So my legs are staying a little sore, but my stamina growing.  

 

10/30 Another Saturday, letter from Phnom Penh, walking, memories, refugees

It’s another Saturday in Dallas. Coffee, hang out in bed for awhile. Go for a fast walk & slow run. Breakfast at the Garden Café with my friend Ron. Coffee. Run a few errands. With Leslie - bun cha for lunch at Nam Viet, around the corner from the place we more often go – well actually we go every week to BistroB a newer, bigger, just generally happening Vietnamese restaurant. Talking about retirement - together. Go by Teh Shan’s apartment to set up appointment for prenatal clinic Monday. Home, relax, take a nap, hang out on the internet. Nora brought a dozen of Ofelia’s tamales y salsa by earlier, so supper is covered.

 

This from Mony (center of photo) in Phnom Penh:

Salutation y'all!

My family and me are very glad to see your mail and I know that you're fine. Every body also misses you especially Sophea talk active girl. I'm also busy in my school because I must study the technical word especially in biology, physic, chemistry are extremely hard subjects. My grandfather's health is normal like you know. He also sends regard to you and to Mom and Dad and Brandy too. The book I read is not like before because I'm busy to do my homework. Please send me the photo ( Brandy too ) because every body wants to see your face and your room too. Send also to Brandy that I miss her and Sophea "Yes no okay" want to talk with you because Sophea learns a lot of conversation now. I think you usually write to me when you've time. Did you see my photo in graduation day and I wear the gown? My grandfather wants to see also you wear the gown in your master degreed in law. The way seem long but the sky is bright to you, to me and Brandy in the aim.

Sorry, the time is short I've to go to study and to do my homework I wish you good luck good health long life and happiness in your life.

Love, Mony

 

Today, Monday, my legs were sore from walking/running and I decided to not go for my usual walk/run (90% walk/10% run - okay, I lied, it's 95/5). Then as the afternoon waned, changed my mind and headed out. I was walking along where the railroad tracks used to run, where David I spent so much time when he was little. Much of the time he would ride on my shoulders. Later, when he was around 4, he rode less. He liked to push on through the underbrush on the tall steep berm near the creek (not an easy walk by any means). Great fun. Today, a cool, slightly misty and very quiet evening along where those tracks ran, remembering, oh what a life. Later, on the way back, tiring and to keep up the pace I turned on the iPod and one of the songs was Pink Floyd,

 

On the Turning Away

On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say
Which we won’t understand
Don’t accept that what’s happening
Is just a case of others suffering
Or you’ll find that you’re joining in
The turning away

 

The song touches me because tomorrow, Leslie and I are starting the day at 6:45 meeting with several people from an organization. We’re meeting about this (from my long letter to that agency – the XYZ agency):

- XYZ should treat all refugees with humanity and dignity. Intimidation of and trash talking about refugees is unprofessional and unacceptable.

- XYZ should transition refugees into mainstream services so that when their eligibility for refugee services comes to an end they will be able to obtain health and other services.

- XYZ should begin cooperating with community groups that are trying to serve refugees, including community groups with whom XYZ does not have a financial or other relationship.

 

Of course we'll be addressing specifics, like that there is no mental health care, no well-woman care, etc. Lord, will it ever end? NO.

 

The way seem long but the sky is bright to you, to me and Brandy in the aim

 

10/26 - We're running a little late

Leslie calls a few minutes ago and says, “We’re running a little late. We were getting ready to leave and a mother came in with her little girl who was just sobbing from pain in her ear. Jacque said she’d stay and take care of her if we’d stay with her, so I’ll be home in a little while.” Why? You can’t take care of everyone – why didn’t the mother bring the child in earlier – it’s not like it really makes any difference – she could go to the ER – now we’re running late – blah blah blah. Why indeed. Actually, I don’t know. It’s like it's just what we do, what we choose to do. You can dress it up with religion, scripture, ethics, philosophizing, whatever, but in the end, it’s what we do. And the "few minutes" turns out to be just moments short of 2 hours. So here’s to you, Jacque, and to you Leslie, and to you, Nora (on your way to Parkland to pick up an old abandoned woman). Choose to choose

The roses are blooming. In the front yard we see American Beauty, Maggie, Don Juan, Buff Beauty, Perle d'Or, Marie Pavie, New Dawn, a few Cecille Brunner(!), and even Old Blush. They don't seem to be as fragrant in the fall as in the spring & summer, but a rose is a rose is a rose. The garden is amazingly overgrown. Two months gone in a very rainy summer and I never caught up. If the house was smaller, you'd think a Hobbit lived here. Hmmm, maybe that's what I'll do when I retire - become a Hobbit. My Cottage Garden site. Rose photo: Perle d'Or.

 

10/23 - Semper Fidelis is Latin for Always Faithful

My young friend, Chris joined the Marine Corps last week. It was for him that I wrote the boot camp memories – I knew he was going to go. I think the only thing slowing him down was his attempt to bring his mother along, decision-wise. Of course, being a mother, she wasn’t likely to agree, but there you have it. Leslie tried mightily to dissuade him and I tried as well. But I knew.

 

Chris will be a good Marine, no doubt about that. He already has shown toughness and loyalty – he was the one who showed up to help us bury our good old golden retriever, Goldy. He was the one who took care of his Dad when he was dying (Chris’ Mom helped a lot, too, but she and George were long since divorced - but she hung in there). Chris is basically a real solid guy with pretty obvious mental toughness. Actually, his father was pretty tough too – so many physical problems and he kept on trucking. I remember once we were on a giant water slide at a camp in East Texas and George got hung up on the way down and someone ran into him full speed – slammed into him really hard. George (>60 years at the time) never turned a hair – just kept on.

 

Chris has about a month before he ships out to MCRD San Diego. It’s nice to think the war in Iraq will come to an end before he completes all his training. But this war is going to last a long time, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan, or wherever. The enemy is determined, so here we are in a war some call a clash of civilizations. More accurate I think to call it a war for civilization.

 

Chris, I’m proud of you. You’ll be a good Marine and a credit to the Corps.

10/18 - 38 years! Brokedown Palace 

Today is our 38th wedding anniversary. And after all these years, here we are, working together – 46 patients today. So yeah, it’s good. Together (in so many ways), still, after all these years. And not just still married, but still strong, still fighting for human rights, still helping our brothers and sisters. Amazing to have a relationship like this. This and David are the Great Blessings of my life. Happy Anniversary Leslie. I Love You! 

 

When I was a student at Baylor, one of my teachers (Dorothy Pettigrew) asked us each to envision and write about where/what we might be in 20-30 years. I wrote that I could see myself in a white van, helping my brothers and sisters with health problems.

My current situation isn’t far off that mark. Of course the church where the clinic is doesn’t have wheels and it’s a lot bigger than a van, but still, here I am (with Leslie!), helping my brothers and sisters … who would have imagined that they would be Khmer, Karen, Mexican …

 

Leslie said (paraphrased) – no matter how tired I might be (careerly tired, that is) - I should remember that it’s not likely to get any better than this.  Working with Leslie. The students and I working together to encourage, to en-courage the Karen refugees so new and so lost here. And other parts, too. Aaron coming on at la clinica. Daw Li. Tammy helping out (this afternoon she saw a patient I’d seen earlier in the day and asked to come back for Tammy to evaluate what I thought was a thyroid tumor – but no, it was probably a sentinel node – and though the news is surely bad [worse than a thyroid tumor], we caught it maybe early enough – we were a place to turn). Burma Refugees site (updated)

 

10/11 - Boot camp

(Marine Corps Recruit Depot - strong language, racist language, sexist language, violence warning - Get Some!)

For the longest time I almost never thought about boot camp except in momentary thoughts because – the best I can say it is that boot camp was part of a lead up to the war and the war was everything. But I read something about training by a man in the Black Watch and thought, hmmm, training, not an insignificant experience …

 

To get to San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot I flew to San Diego via whatever airline they put me and 10-20 other recruits on. There was a bus waiting for us and we swaggered like the Texas yokels we were, onto the bus. When everyone was on, a bored corporal got on and gave a little speech about how we were the property of the United States Marine Corps and we were to keep quiet and keep our eyes to the front, blah blah. But there wasn’t really anything remarkable about the ride. Guys would look at one another and kind of snicker nervously.

 

The bus got to MCRD well after dark. A sergeant got on the bus and started screaming at us to shut the fuck up you shit-heads and you assholes better listen up and so on and so forth and we got off the bus (not much swaggering at this point - what have I gotten myself into!) according to his instructions and there were the yellow footprints of legend. Each of us was required to stand on a set of footprints at what passed for attention. It seems like it was foggy or misty and the lights were bright and there was a drill instructor standing off to the side. He was black and looked like every other DI, completely squared away and he was looking at us with a kind of special meanness and contempt. I remember thinking, I hope that guy isn’t my drill instructor. Of course he was the one who marched some of us through that first long night and the one who awakened us the next morning, shouting and pulling guys out of their racks. Of course he was one our DIs.

 

I don’t remember the sequence of the next events – maybe head shave first, then shower including chemicals (except I seem to remember going to sleep with hair down the back of my neck), then go through the process of drawing utilities, etc. But maybe that happened the next day, who knows. Sometime after midnight we were marched to a Quonset hut where I fell sound asleep, exhausted. The next morning at maybe 0400 the DI awakened us for the first full day of boot camp.

 

At some point the first night or first day we were marched through a supply shed and measured in the most general terms (except they did take care with measuring our feet) and issued boots, shower shoes (flip-flops), utilities (same as fatigues), underwear, socks, footlocker, scrub brush, and a few other things. Of course we all looked like original sad sacks, with ill-fitting, rumpled fatigues and utility covers (hats) pulled down to the tops of our jug ears and black, brown and pasty white skin. Our stupid appearance and inability to even stand at attention, much less march inflamed the DIs who started getting really crazy. They would get right in our faces like in a movie or something except that it’s not much fun in the real world, screaming abuse and woe to anyone who flinched or looked away. Then it would get physical, though I never saw anyone really beaten by a DI - just kind of roughed up. Now, in the post Abu Ghraib angst, we were probably being (gasp) "tortured."

 

I remember on probably the second or third day that we were marking and stowing our gear in the footlocker in the precise Marine Corps way of doing things. By now I knew that the only acceptable answer to any question or statement was, “Yes Sir!” The DI I described earlier asked me something and I said, “Yes Sir!” – but with a southern accent like “Yes Suh” or something. That infuriated him and he started calling me a redneck cracker so on and so forth and made me do push-ups until my arms were quivering and I collapsed and then it was “50 more!” As it turned out, this DI seemed to hate those of us from the South and black guys about equally. Maybe he hated us even more than he hated know-it-alls. But sooner or later, everyone came under his bad spell.

 

Most days were something like, reveille, get dressed, make rack, police area, PT, breakfast, marching, class, marching or PT, class, lunch, run (especially if the food was extra good), combat training, some kind of random something like vaccinations, supper, clean gear or related, marching, police area, formations and abuse, and finally sleep. It was exhausting. Really a test of will and strength – and most men made it. A few were sent to the “fat farm” for additional PT and weight loss regimen (and then joined a new platoon). A few disappeared to wherever disappeared people went.

 

In those end of day formations there were all sorts of opportunities to screw up and end up in the sand pit in front of the DI’s barrack. It was difficult to meet the standards of the DIs in inspection. We would be at attention in formation and the DI walking up and down in front of us and he could always “hear your eyeballs move” and would catch men looking somewhere other than straight ahead. Into the sand pit for endless pushups. One guy was able to do just the slightest intake of breath – just enough for the DI to sense, but not enough to actually get busted.   

 

We had some training in hand-to-hand combat, with and without weapons. The without weapons training was rudimentary – all I really remember was the, “don’t put your toe jam on the mats” talk. I’d never heard of toe jam before – what a concept. Bayonet training was taken seriously by all. We used poles with padded ends in place of bayonet and butt, but people were hurt.

 

Back to the DI who didn’t like blacks and Southern whites, but then everyone else just a hair behind … one of the black guys in our platoon was older (what, like 23?) and kind of soft around the middle and the DI especially didn’t like him – and he did actually struggle to keep up. During bayonet training one day, the DI stopped his fight and asked (no doubt, wtf) is that wet stuff on your ___ ___ boots. It was blood. The man’s feet were bleeding up and over the tops of his boots and it was like, yeah, Sgt. badass, here’s tough and strong for you. My recollection is that we all were strengthened by this. But I can’t be sure. It may be one of those redemption attempts that people make up. Some things I’m sure of and some I’m not.

 

One night someone in a nearby platoon cut his wrists. They awakened us all and marched over to that platoon and through the barrack where he lay on the floor, bleeding and us looking at him. He was an example to us of everything contemptible. Harsh, but how can you go into battle with someone who can’t hack it?

 

We had some free time on Sundays. Reveille was a little later, maybe 0600 and breakfast not as rushed. After breakfast we got ourselves completely squared away and we were marched to church. I liked church because I could actually doze for a few minutes. But the major free time was when we each sat on an overturned bucket all of us lined up in two rows facing one another on each side of the walkway that ran through our platoon’s barracks. We could actually talk while we shined boots, cleaned weapons and other such fun, time-off things. One Sunday they ran us to the fence that separated Marine Corps and Navy Basic Camps so we could see the slovenly Navy guys with THEIR HANDS IN THEIR POCKETS! The dirty bastards. Yeah, lol, we had a good time on Sundays!

 

Someone managed during church to get to a vending machine and bought some candy. How did he do that and how did he have money? So a couple of us were in a corner, checking out the contraband and someone said something about a candy he called, “nigger toes.” A black guy said, “What?!” And the other one repeated it and said, “Well, that’s what they are.” So anyway, they went at it fist, tooth, and nail and then they both paid the equal opportunity boot camp price – no sleep, PT, and short rations (they can’t actually withhold food, but they can exercise you until you’re exhausted then give you a few minutes to eat and then run you until you vomit) until they were staggering.

 

Once (and it was kind of funny and stupid even then) they marched us to the psychiatric unit. We stood in formation outside while the DI harangued us about “draft-dodgers and cock-suckers” – which in their opinion was who ended up in a psych unit. The person who attempted suicide I guess would be in the draft-dodger category, maybe even both.

 

In about the next to last week we went to the MCRD Rifle Range for a week. I think we got there via a forced march along the beach (I know that’s how we returned). The Rifle Range was pretty good. I remember with intensity that we would stand in formation after breakfast and “the smokin’ lamp is lit” – so the smokers could smoke one cigarette and I would stand at ease, staring off to the highway in the distance, watching the cars with their lights shining in the dark and thinking about being in one of those cars, on the way to or from breakfast, smoking a Winston or a Marlboro (a Winny or a Marly), warm, relaxed, listening to the radio, the dashboard lights …

 

The Marine Corps has several basic positions from which a rifle is fired on the range: standing, kneeling, sitting, and prone. They all involve the use of the rifle’s sling, and are all uncomfortable. Part of the rifle range is being forced into the most effective firing positions, so in the sitting position especially, you are forced down into a pretty unnatural position. But young bodies are flexible and we all eventually made it into position and learned to shoot with care and accuracy.

 

I was a good shot, but on Qualifying Day shot poorly and fired one point below Expert, qualifying as a Sharpshooter. I was unhappy, but at least I wasn’t among the few lowly “non-quals.” Oh, the shame of that! On the way back to MCRD, the non-quals had to double-time in the ocean while the rest of the platoon trotted carefree along the beach. Being a non-qual was even worse than having a dirty rifle – though the two may have correlated.

 

Why is boot camp – Basic Training – this way? I guess because it’s part of a system that works well in turning out quality warriors. To be a Marine you have to be truly tested. War is serious business and you understand how completely serious and irrevocable it all is the first time in battle or the first time someone is killed.

 

I think my first mess duty was either at the end of boot camp or beginning of ITR – Infantry Training Regiment. It wasn’t bad at all. I liked working in the reefer (walk-in refrigerator) because you got to be kind of alone and once they had strawberries and whipped cream, each in huge jugs and I was eating first strawberries, then whipped cream then strawberries, then … until I could eat no more, and in those times I could eat a lot. Got some stout abdominal cramps out of that one. I also liked working in the trash – which was all brought to a little house thing with a wall half-way up and screen up to the roof. So we could hang out some in there, sneak a smoke, take it easy. Who cares what the garbage men are doing - they ain't nothin' but garbage men, anyway?

 

Someone was putting food into the “buffalo chopper” – institutional whirling thick blades in a hole in a sink to chop almost anything and he turned to the side and his hand went in deeper than it should and he wasn’t using the push block or steel glove and it took 3 or 4 fingers right off. Other than that, mess duty was mostly good.

 

In the end we marched proud and strong on The Grinder past the past the MCRD Officer and Staff NCO Corps and some parents. The DIs called us “Marines” and “you people” and it felt mighty good. We were Marines – more testing and training to come, but we were Marines.

 

10/5 - Refugees & related, Saturday

I worked a little late last night and when I was done I flashed on things I do/be: father, husband, refugee worker/human rights activist, lover, Christian, hospice expert, teacher, boddhisatva, traveler, ________, Marine/gunfighter/warrior, rocker, gardener, and more than that (the blank doesn't signify - just that I know I forgot something). And I'm thinking, how does this work? How am I doing this? How come, if I'm all this, I'm still ......

I've been thinking about mortification. It started when a woman I know and like was telling me about being beaten with a rifle butt and when she came to, the soldiers had put her son into the fire. They both survived, but not intact - yet strong, "... through the flame. If I could, through myself, set your spirit free, I'd lead your heart away, see you break, break away - into the light ..."

Thinking about a gay couple with HIV/AIDS (and very poor compliance with antiretroviral treatment) that I took care of for several months. One of them was so thin and the other had a variety of lesions in his flesh that you couldn't see until he was undressed - and edema, even though he was only about 35 years old. Leslie was the one who really took care of them. I always felt sad after talking with or treating them.

Spending this time with Karen refugees is having an effect on me. I ended up the other evening on youtube watching/listening to U2 performing Bad at Live Aid back in 1985. That was the first time I really saw U2 - on TV on a Saturday morning in 1985. Bad - what an intense song! "So let it go ..."

Another Saturday I was on the front porch or maybe in the front yard and there was something like a big explosion far away. Leslie asked, "What was that?" I answered, "The end of the world." As soon as I said it I regretted it. And I regretted it even more when we found out a little while later that we had heard the Challenger explode over Texas and it was the end of the world for the astronauts and Christa McAuliffe. I guess the times we live in and my life are such that the end of the world is not at all incomprehensible. "So let it go - uh huh - and so fade away ..."

Pleased to meet you - hope you get my name

This morning Leslie was talking about how important music is to our (humanity's) mental health. Not fade away. 

Burma Refugees site (incomplete)

9/26 - Refugees

Today was an amazing day. We had a meeting with a refugee agency where Caroline, our Karen outreach worker showed immense dignity in making a case for the refugees. Later we all went to some apartments where a number of refugees had been placed. We had a baby shower* for a woman we've been helping - close to term, first baby - she's pretty scared. So we got her some nice things and answered her questions. I think it helped. Marisa, Jennifer, and Caroline have been going every week, and I think we'll all start going. every week. Lot of refugees with questions and concerns, like the pregnancy, a child with worms, a baby with fever, and so on. For me it was like the bad old days with the Cambodians in 1981-86 (they were the best of times, too). Sitting with people so lost, so strong, so hurt, so tough. Oh, it's a justice issue, all right. I think we found a good resource, too - helping one another.

I kept/keep thinking about what Paul Thai said to me many years ago: "If you're around refugess you're gonna be sad."

* Funded in part by G5 men's Bible study at First Presbyterian.

9/24 - Running away

A few years ago we were at the apartments on Virginia Street near Annex. They were pretty run down at the time (darkest, dirtiest hallways award), with an interesting mix of people living and hanging out there. We found a girl 17 years old, living with a man in his 30s and his extended family. He was abusive and the girl wanted out, but the man's mother kept a close eye on her and she couldn't leave. So we came up with a plan - and here is how it played out:

Two of my associates went to see the family and one checked the mother's blood pressure, looked at her meds, etc., etc. while the other went into the girl's bedroom with some black plastic garbage sacks. She and the girl put all of her meager clothes and belongings into the sacks and threw them out of the 2nd story window to me, waiting in the alley below (someday I'm going to get shot or arrested or something doing this stuff). I tossed it into my truck, zipped around the corner, went up to the apartment and we all  walked out past the mother and on over to the police. The cops arrested the man and put the girl on a bus back to California. She was back with the guy in about two weeks.  

9/19 - Jenny Jenny Jenny, won't you come along with me, Jenny-Jen - WOOO - Jenny-Jen; human rights; Phuong; new website; row row row your boat; today

Jenny: David and I took tae kwon do lessons together when he was about 11 and 12. It was a good time - good discipline, good techniques, good exercise, good times together. Shirin and Chris also took lessons toward the end of our time there, and that was good, too. One evening I think before a class some of the children and young people were standing around together. One of them, Jenny, was just into puberty and another kid made some remark about her breasts. She pivoted and delivered a perfect kick to the side of his head - no warning, no anything, just Pow! He collapsed against the wall, crying, the side of his face all red and splotchy. It was a great moment for me and I'm sure, her too. In a flash I knew this girl would never be a victim or at least never be a passive victim. And I figured the boy learned a pretty good lesson, too. Master Choi had Jenny bow and apologize, but I saw the look on her face. She wasn't sorry. (Title from Little Richard.)

Human rights: In part, through postings and discussions on the Thorntree Forum (a traveler message and discussion board - SE Asia mainland) I recently came to the realization and was able to articulate that Leslie and I have been human rights activists together for more than 25 years - actually, she has been in it for about 40 years. All action, not much on beliefs or opinions. Pretty amazing.

Phuong: I can't write any details because of la migra, but here's to you, Phuong, well-tempered steel and grace - inspiration to Leslie and me.

Website: David is making great progress on the new Agape website

Row row row your boat (from the 2005 Asia Trip journal): On what I thought was probably the last Star Ferry ride of my life I'm staring across the harbor, feeling the engines throbbing under the deck, feeling nostalgic ... a little girl, maybe 4 or 5 years old, sitting right behind me in her Dad's lap - starts singing over and over again, first in English and then in Chinese ...
"Row row row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily merrily merrily,
Life is but a dream."
Another grace note for the trip.

Today: Today we saw (among other people), a man whose foot was literally rotting from the bottom up. One of my students stepped out of the exam room and said, "Mr. Kemp, I think you should come in here." The stench was very strong - reaching into the pharmacy. All we could do was put a dressing on it, wrap it, give him some crutches, and take him to the Parkland ER. Lupe, one of the promotoras drove the man and the student to the ER and the student got the man signed in. I can't imagine they can salvage his foot. We'll go see him tomorrow. We put a large plastic bag over the dressing so the Lupe's truck wouldn't have a lingering odor. This was one of the worst things I've seen in quite awhile. 

Later we saw a woman who had numerous complaints - to the extent that it was likely at least some of the complaints were psychophysiologic in nature. We talked with her and it was so - many stressors in her life, including 1000s of miles apart from her children (youngest 10 years old), in a relationship that she doesn't like, poverty, and whatever internal issues she had. She seemed very sad and strong sitting in the hall outside the exam rooms. I think we did a good job of caring for her, spiritually and pharmacologically, but I don't know if it will help.

Refugees - lost in a world that could care less of their sacrifices, their losses, their personhood.

With these and other patients and situations I was - I am reminded of the suffering that people go through. People talk about the beauty of the world and how God this and love that. Well, I know something of beauty and love and I know this world as largely a mean brutish place where people are ground up and down (physically, mentally, socially, spiritually) like so much sausage until some surrender to despair. What can you do? Keep on truckin' I guess. 

Let's drink to the hard-working people, Let's drink to the lowly of birth, Raise your glass to the good not/and the evil, Let's drink to the salt of the earth.

Say a prayer for the common foot soldier. Spare a thought for his back-breaking work. Say a prayer for his wife and his children, Let's drink to the salt of the earth (Guns & Roses)

9/18 - Things coming together

I talked with David this morning and he agreed that a 2 week trek into the Wind Rivers or Sierras sounds good. Actually on Sunday Shirin and I were talking and I was telling her about some of these wilderness ideas and she suggested that Chris, David, and I could go. I told her I had floated the idea with David and he was non-commital. But when I talked with him today and suggested Chris join us (which had not come up before), he was ready to go. He also was positive re Jeff going as well. So I am enormously excited. Right now, the Wind Rivers seems like a very good idea - heading north through the Cirque of the Towers and into the remote peaks and passes of the Bridger Wilderness. But there are many other options, so who knows where we will end up. Glacier? Sierras? John Muir Trail? The timing seems very good - August 2008, between wherever David is working and the start of school. 

9/11/2007 - Six years on and something else altogether

Today marks 6 years since the 9/11 attacks on America. I marked the day with a prayer for the dead, the families of the fallen, and for the men and women fighting for America in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our Marine Corps flag has flown in front of our home every day since that day and I guess it will keep flying as long as this war lasts - which I think will be a long time.

9/11 changed a lot for me. In a heartbeat I realized we were at war. My first reaction was to clean my weapons (not that they were dirty!), then I went to work on an article on biological weapons - knowing that bio-weapons were a logical next step for terrorists. I also quit being a yellow-dog Democrat. I was happy that Bush was President as I thought (and continue to think) he is a better war-time President than Gore or Clinton. Over the past 40 years I've gone from warrior to complete pacifist and now back to warrior (mentality anyway). I feel like I am in a war and all that that entails. We are locked and loaded over here.

And by the way, the "terrorists" do not terrorize me.

Something else: A girl I've known since she was about 7, Yuri, called this evening to tell me that she is enrolled in a community college AD nursing program. What a happy call! And I got an email earlier today from a former student, Xavier, telling me he is in the armed services and doing well. Then Megan (see April in the first 2007 journal) came by the clinic and worked a morning in the pharmacy. She also talked with my students, several of whom were inspired. My cup runneth over.   

9/8 (2) - Rambling on - Be sure to see preceding 9/8 (1) post below - an amazing post

I was looking at some new photos of a backpacking trip David took in southern Colorado. I had not realized that this was a very good hike in the high mountains - all the previous photos I'd seen were in forests. The only high mountain experience I've had was going half way (the easy half) up the east face of Long's Peak in the Rockies. My drive to get into the mountains is strengthened. Photo: David's Colorado hike.

I said, after Vietnam, I would never sleep outside again (I slept on the ground for the 1st 7 months in VN - maybe 5 nights on a cot the whole time - whew). Then David and outside seemed more pleasant. Now, I feel some urgency. The chances are pretty good that physical limitations will limit what I can do, and at 63 years I can expect my capabilities to decline every year. Yikes! The plan follows (I think I'll just keep track of my ideas here):

  • Go to orthopedist Monday and get exercises for my sometimes painful left shoulder - I have a card waiting for me at the Landry Center downstairs from orthopedist. So, I'll get started tomorrow with conditioning - CV, upper/lower body strength + shoulder.
  • I have some gear ordered (sleeping bag, tent) and will start looking for boots, etc. on sale. 9/11 - got the sleeping bag, tent, sleeping pad, boots, socks, stove, compass, etc. - I have everything I need. Started conditioning (my legs hurt - ahhh).
  • Planning out local (Texas) backpacking trips with 1st around Thanksgiving. Found a book, Hiking & Backpacking Trails of Texas, M. Little, Taylor Trade Pub. that shows some decent (if short) overnight hikes near Dallas. Copies in file.

Looking at possibilities for next summer (2008) - what FUN! to consider various hikes.

  • Sierras - Evolution Loop ~12 days, maybe Mt. Whitney. August
  • Yosemite - back country - I think ~7-10 days, but shorter too. May-June 
  • Lost Coast - north of San Francisco ~ 4 days. Anytime
  • Maroon Bells Circuit - near Aspen ~ 7 days. August 
  • Julia Pfeifer Burns (California) State Park Big Sur area 2-3 days. Anytime
  • Wind Rivers - Wyoming ~ 12 days. August
  • Olympic - Washington High Divide - 7 Lakes basin ~ 3 days into September

I know, I know, about 3 miles into the mountains I'll be saying, "Ohhh, yeah, THIS is what I didn't like about hiking." I even wonder if this is too ambitious - 12 days is a long hike! The times I gave are a little longer than what guidebooks say - it's a mistake to rush acclimation to the altitude - I can really see taking it easy. We'll see - it will all come clearer over time.

9/8 (1) - An amazing post on a series of convergences

I was at Paperbacks Plus (used bookstore, writer’s place, etc.) the other day, just hanging out. I was sitting in the camping and hiking area and noticed a book on climbing in the desert (Canyon Country Climbs). I picked it up and was leafing idly through it and saw my name … “On a frigid winter day in 1964 Layton Kor visited Arches (National Monument) with Bob Bradley and Charlie Kemp. They were determined to climb one of the numerous untouched towers … the trio approached the rangers of Arches to request permission to climb. It was regarded as an unusual request … Yet here were three scruffy young men seeking sanction to attempt one of the many soft sandstone towers." Photo above: Looking down, past my foot toward Bradley following, wearing red helmet.

 

We got permission and did a first ascent of what we named the Argon Tower. It was a fairly short climb (270 feet of climbing) with about 3 leads as I recall. From the book: “The climbing was difficult … pin placements and anchors were questionable …” The Argon Tower name was chosen on the basis of some heavy gas passed during the ascent. We had also made another first in the Fisher Towers near Arches. Photo below: base of Argon Tower - climber at chimney gives sense of the size. 

 

Shirley on the final rappel...I was hurt on the Argon climb while rappelling off the tower. The bottom part was overhanging and somehow the rope slipped up over my neck instead going across my shoulder and back (we were short of rappelling carabiners). The rope started burning into the back of my neck (the scar is still there) and then I started spinning in the air. It really hurt and I could smell my flesh burning. I could hear Kor screaming, “Don’t stop! Don’t stop or you’ll die!” - because if I stopped I'd be unable to start again and then I would fall. I kept going and passed out shortly before I got to the base. I fell, rolling down the slope (see photo above - and the first climbing photo - the slope is pretty steep!) and was stopped a few feet before the precipice by a small boulder. Had the boulder not been there I would have fallen another 100 or so feet off the sloping part to my death. The climber in the chimney gives a sense of the size of the tower.

 

Kor (never Layton, always Kor) was one of the great climbers of all time. Less than two years after the climbs in Arches, he was on the  ill-fated diretissima of Eiger's North Face, in winter, with John Harlin, Dougal Haston, and Chris Bonington. Harlin fell 5000 feet to his death on that climb. Shortly after the Eiger, Kor disappeared from the climbing scene and nobody seems to know what happened to him (but keep reading). I was one of the climbers fortunate enough to climb with Kor. His skill, courage, experience, and knowledge were far beyond mine, but we did several climbs together while I was in Colorado. Photo below: CK, Kor, Bradley on the summit of the Argon Tower (1st ascent, 1964). Photo scanned from book on desert climbing. A year later I was in battalion landing force training at Camp Pendleton by early summer, 1966 I was in Vietnam.

 

Okay, so I stumbled across this book and somehow, without looking, found my name in it ... You know how you meet people on the internet. I have this internet friend, Somsai, who has spent a lot of time in Laos. He has a blog titled Lao Bumpkin, and as my habit is, I was reading through his recent posts the other evening. He had a photograph of a tower in Utah, and I wrote him and said, "Curious post - in and of itself, and curious with respect to a couple of photos and a post from my far distant past taken in Utah ..." (linking him to this page). So Somsai visits and here is his response (that sent chills across my body):  

Somsai: It gets more interesting. CK must be you. Argon Tower looks to be in the Fisher Towers right? I was a local at the same area Layton came from, but twenty years later. Interestingly he took up climbing again for a while at least. I met him through Charlie Fowler who recently met his maker in China due to avalanche. I blogged about Charlie earlier here briefly.

I’ve also climbed in Arches, though not a tower, never in the Fisher Towers. Now he is a more subdued “Layton”, but not sure if he is still at it, I’d estimate I met him in 87 or 88 when he first took it back up. I was on a run out route he had put up actually. He had married and became seriously religious, I want to say Jehovah’s Witness but don’t know for sure. I’m sure he’s around.

9/3 - Parallel universes

I work with someone with whom I've had conflict. The thing is, this person has done - and continues to do - magnificent work. She is a proud, smart, and dedicated servant and I have only the greatest admiration for her. Once we were in the church disagreeing about something (funny how one forgets what seemed like essential details at the time, i.e., what the problem was) and she said, "I think we need to take this to the sanctuary." So we went upstairs to the sanctuary and continued the disagreement. Little by little, though, the anger began slipping away and finally we saw ourselves as what we both are - hard-charging, dedicated people with maybe a little too much pride (speaking only for myself here). Maybe we were both right about whatever it was that was between us. It was a beautiful thing to be there at that time.

My understanding of our relationship is that we both recognize the presence of conflict and we value one another's contributions to the community. We have, it seems to me, evolved to the point where we work in parallel universes toward the same goal. And my respect and caring for her deepen over time.

8/26 - Roses Round The Virgin

I talked with Jeff Last night - running some of my recent thoughts and ideas by him, like getting a good backpacking tent and sleeping bag and boots and going up to Oklahoma over Thanksgiving (I'll have a lot of days off) for us to make a 2 day hike into the woods and hills near his home. Kind of a test run for future hikes into wilderness areas like back-country Yosemite or along the Lost Coast in northern California - see how the tent sets up, cooking on the little backpacker stove, finding out about any boot issues, and so on. My sense was that he was taken aback by my middle-class organization man approach. He was saying, well, maybe.

He also said, about a road and hiking trip, that's pretty much the way he's been living for a long time, so sure, he's ready to go. He talked about liking to keep moving - not meandering. So I'm thinking we may need to do a little adjusting - I take on more of a moving on approach and he opens to meandering some. The critical thing for me is to get into the actual wilderness. RV-type places okay for getting there, but I don't need no beer-drinking, TV-watching, Game Boy-playing neighbors in the woods - "Jo-Deen, gimme a Budweiser. Where's the damn remote? Hey you kids, keep it down!" Yeah, I want to sleep somewhere in the same universe as Bob and Jo-Deen and their offspring.

I'm seeking silence - except for the waves against the rocks and the wind through the trees. I don't want to go high into the high Sierras, I need to go. Feel the cold wind blowing over the high mountains. And really, from where I'm at right now, there's only two people I want to go with: David and Jeff.

Current thinking, looping like this: power on up the highway to Big Sur, spend a few days there; stop off for a few days in Santa Cruz or San Francisco, catch a concert, hang out in bookstores and coffee shops; Lost Coast hike and camp for a week or so; Yosemite for a week into the Sierras; Grand Canyon or Zion National Park on the way back. Photo: Another one from the desert climbing book - 1st pitch of Argon Tower. My foot is in center bottom and that's Bradley's head down below. See photo with 8/1 entry for perspective. 

I found these lines among some papers. I have no idea who wrote them. Maybe me, maybe Robert Hunter. All I know is that I wrote them down on a scrap of paper.

Roses Round The Virgin

 

Joyfully she sings

I'll be remembered

A 1000 years and over again.

And I saw

her tear.

 

Red roses, pink, white

In fragrant garland

On her breast.

No thorn, but

soft petals on

The Virgin's breast.      

   

8/25 - No hands, falling

There's a curve at the hill where Abrams Road runs a few blocks from our home. Today I saw someone on a motorcycle - standing straight up on the pegs with his hands in the air heading fast around that curve and down the hill.

Last week I saw a young man I've known for several years - he's recently out of the penitentary - a bad boy. He's got a lot of the kind of tatoos you see on gangsters, the ones done by friends or other prisoners. I asked him what he was doing to avoid hepatitis and he said he gets sterile needles. He said it in such a way that I asked another question, I forget what. He told me he does his own tatoos. Hmmm. True body art. The poets down here don't write nothin' at all. Short-arcing lives. Coming back after 2 or 6 or 10 years in TDC, enchiladas at El Taquito, veteranos at every 3rd or 4th table. Children, too

I've been falling so long it's like gravity's gone and I'm just floating

8/18 - A great day - David is home

Chris went with us to DFW to pick David up this evening. He got on an earlier flight and was here at 8:20. We went straight away to Chipotle for some of the food that got him through Rice. Then home. David is home - A great day. 

8/17 - I don't know what to say about my wife

I'm at a luncheon today when my cell phone rings. It's Leslie, who tells me that at clinic this morning Aaron and Mary removed a bee from a patient's ear using the alligator forceps Mary ordered several months ago. The forceps were expensive - about $50, and we had discussed whether to get them or not. But Patrick, our wonderful ER pediatrician wanted them, so we went ahead and spent the money. So, with this one patient, our $50 saved a $200-$400 ER visit expense for the patient - a good thing. Leslie says, "I'm bringing the bee home in a plastic bag for you." "Uh, okay. Well, I gotta go." As I write, there is a dead bee in a plastic medication cup sitting by the keyboard. I don't know what to say about my wife (she is the one, you may recall, who gave me a wet Willy in a tense highway traffic situation). 

8/13 - Waking among the redwoods

Years ago I went to a meditation retreat with Stephen Levine near Ben Lomand, California. I flew into San Jose in the afternoon and walked out of the airport to hitch a ride. I caught two rides, the second one in a Ford Mustang with a man who drove too fast and was given to raving - raving in the old-fashioned sense. We were driving through the night, through fog and mountains and forests and at some point I saw a building and said something like, "This is my stop." He let me out and with great relief I walked into the forest. I had a blanket, so laid down and went to sleep. When I awoke in the morning I saw as far as I could see, redwoods! I was in the first redwood forest I've ever seen. Birds were singing (I saw some kind of very blue bluebird I'd never seen before) and there were trilliums blooming and I'd never seen them before either. 

Well those drifter's days are past me now
Ive got so much more to think about,
Deadlines and commitments
What to leave in, what to leave out.

Against the wind
I'm still runnin' against the wind,
Well I'm older now and still runnin'
Against the wind.

A Google advertisement suddenly appeared here - hope it goes away - Dang, it hasn't gone away. Right now I'm thinking about what we can fix for David when he comes home - steak? Hamburgers? Pancakes? Chili? Omelet? What will it be?

8/11 - Retirement

It looks like it will be two years until I can retire. This is not good news, but, oh well. I feel oppressed in my work - not by anyone or anything - it's more like a feeling of a lack of freedom - deadlines and commitments, no spaciousness, all of that. Hard to put into words and I realize pretty self-indulgent. Here is a passage from our journal Rangoon to Bago:

I fall into conversation with the woman sitting on the little blue stool next to me. She tells me she is retired, a physician. She and her husband (also a doctor) have a small practice in a village near Bago. I ask her what is the biggest problem they see and she says, "Poverty." Diagnoses-wise, they see the basic primary care things, except more parasites. I ask her how people pay for the care and she smiles softly, "They cannot pay very much." I say, "So you are choosing to do this." And she looks at me directly and says, "Yes."

So we were on the bus (photo above - that's the bus station, too - HaHaHaHa) with a doctor who has to sit on one of the little plastic stools they place in the aisle of the bus after all the seats are taken - we were in a rogue nation, a police state, and now I'm complaining about feeling oppressed! Oh, you poor dear. Shut tf up you big baby. Okay, but I want to say one more thing.

I told Leslie today that if I die or become disabled or whatever before I can retire, she should always remember that in 2005 when she said, "Why don't you and David and Jeff go to Vietnam and Cambodia" (for a couple of months) it was like we shifted into another dimension. I was fulfilled and it didn't matter if we made the trip or not or if I work 10 more years or whatever. She set me free and in that freedom, I committed and bound myself even stronger to her and to us.

8/9 - Rambling

I finished the travelogue site (separate from the blog we kept on travelpod) and it's all on the Asia Trips site. Pretty complicated process. Also finished posting photos to worldisround. Turning my thoughts to retirement and travel in the U.S. Leslie affirmed day before yesterday that she is keen on traveling. We've traveled so little since David was born until 12/2006, when we went to asia - then again 5/2007-7/2007. The levee broke and here we go. I'm also thinking a lot about traveling with Jeff. Maybe next summer to Big Sur and over to Yosemite for 8-10 days into the back country, then over to Wind Rivers and back home and then with Leslie off to San Francisco and up to Oregon and then Victoria. It's all just thought now, so we'll see. 

Was just instant messaging with David - who is coming home in 9 days. Leslie and I are SO HAPPY! David is happy to be coming home, too. He stuck it out for a long time in Cambodia. Good work, son. We're very proud of you. 

Earlier this week I made a presentation on refugees and Islam at the Baylor Palliative Care Team luncheon. It was good to be among these brothers and sisters. The presentation went well. Some discussion with person I later learned is a neuro-oncologist. I almost laughed out loud. I mean, how out there is it to be a bleeding neuro-oncologist?

Been receiving some wonderful emails lately. Ken Joyce, a WWII vet (British river/coastal boats fighting in Burma) sent update from himself and his wife, Heather in Australia. Michael Montague ("montyman"), a serious, gritty traveler from the U.K sent some great photos taken on his travels.

8/5/2007 - Asia

I have had several communications with a man who has a guesthouse in Cambodia - Two Dragons, recommended - and maintains an essential website on Cambodia, especially Siem Reap. In my last message to him I mentioned that David and his friend Brandy stayed at Two Dragons a few days ago. When I got up this morning their was a message from this man on my computer: 

Charles
Your son David is sitting in my restaurant not more than twenty feet away from me as I write this....
Cheers
Gordon

From travelogue: Today - Monday - we caught the train that goes around Rangoon. Very slow, 50 or so stops, wooden benches along the side, people packed in, bags of who knows what in the floor, holes in the floor (see the tracks rushing by) smell of cheroots and paan, oh SO FINE. So we're sitting on the bench, watching the countryside slip slowly by and watching the other people in our car. There is a young couple, the man sick, his wife loving and patting on him, wiping the sweat from his face. She never took her hands off him. 8/5: This couple has stayed with me so strong. They are in the center of the photo to the left, below.

7/25 - Encounter at Fiesta

Some years ago my friend Lance and I were involved with a Vietnamese family – an old man, his wife, and the young woman who came to the U.S. with them. They lived at 4400 San Jacinto, a very rough building*, in the upstairs corner apartment. The young woman was named Van and she was Amerasian and deaf-mute (don’t you know her life was miserable in VN). I’m unclear re the timeline here, but at some point she had a daughter named Ly Ly. The old man had a stroke and I helped take care of him, but the stroke was massive and the care too much for his wife. He was put in a nursing home, which fortunately was close (less than 2 miles) to their apartment. Every morning, his wife would walk to the nursing home and every afternoon she would walk home. I don’t remember her name; all I remember is how she looked and how strong she was. I remember being shocked when I realized how tiny (physically) she was – every day, she would walk up Bryan Street, wearing her conical Viet hat and every afternoon, back home.

 

I remember when he died, there were only a few people at the funeral and that the wife cried with such desolation. She and Van collapsed on the floor in front of the coffin at the funeral home, clinging to one another, crying.

 

Today I was at Fiesta Mart, the big Mexican store and I saw Van. There was a young woman with her and I asked, “Are you Ly Ly?” She said, “Yes, who are you?” I tried to explain to her (and Van signing as we talked), and oh man, was I happy. She said, “I’m sorry, I don’t remember you.” “Oh never mind, you were just a little girl.” Afterwards I was walking around the store, smiling and smiling. I am rethinking the idea of moving from Dallas after retirement. Good things happening here.

 

Ly Ly looks so good and I realize that Van is probably as strong as her Mom.

7/23

Home from Asia - a good trip, good times with Leslie, David. I've added most of the trip to the Asia Trips site. Maryam, whom I wrote about so much in the spring has died, under hospice care in Denver, about 3 weeks after we parted.

On 5/15 I'll move my writing to a travelogue on a travel blog service. 

5/13/2007

I just got back from my last visit with Maryam, Nabila, and M's brother. They're leaving for Colorado this Tuesday - and Leslie and I are leaving the same day for Asia. M was in bed, her Mom was sitting on a prayer rug on the floor (reading? praying?), a visiting cousin was in a chair, and I was on another bed. Suitcases piled around. M's brother wandering in and out, but looking very good. He just got out of the state hospital and is back on his meds - much clearer now (Thanks, Diane). I said my farewells and it was emotional, but then they said, "Wait, we're fixing you tea." So I waited and had some tea and rose water flavored dessert and again said goodby (I told Maryam I'd see her over yonder in the sweet bye & bye - I don't know if she believes it, but oh well, we'll see) and left. 

It's been quite a ride. Steadfast - justice, mercy, truth, strength, beauty ...

5/9/2007 - Clarification

A lot has happened since the last post. I don't know where to start except to say, first, we're fine - Leslie's fine, I'm fine. The past few days have been beyond stressful. Last week Leslie had a chest xray and then this Monday her doctor called to say that there was a suspicious finding and he had made her an appointment to have a CT scan Wednesday. Neither of us are under any illusions about lung cancer (almost always a poor prognosis disease), so this hit very very hard. I'm thinking a really good outcome would be tuberculosis. We're both pretty well oriented to life and values, but still, there was a clarifying element to these waiting days. Except for seeing David, for me, the trip suddenly had zero importance. The clinic seemed a burden. Work was just work. All that mattered was (and is) Leslie and David. We kept planning for the trip, but it was like going through the motions - still, we're all about keepin' on truckin'. 

Today, Leslie went for the CT scan - by herself - because that's the way she is. She called about 10:30 to say she is fine. The abnormality is from an old rib fracture. I'm giddy and weak and ecstatic all at once. 

Yesterday (Tuesday) I went to see Maryam and Nabila. A really great thing is that Maryam's Mom is here now - just came in from Egypt. Maryam looked wonderful. She's normally very pretty, but for the past several months has not looked at all well. But yesterday, she looked so good. Her Mom is kind of severe looking. Dressed mostly in black, shapeless full length Muslim woman dress, plain military-looking glasses. I guess she heard that Americans like to shake hands, so she stuck her hand out for a brief handshake. After that she sat on the couch next to Maryam reading. We talked more than usual and I stayed longer than on most visits. We talked a lot about Nabila's husband and how this situation has clarified and strengthened their relationship. Being a Muslim man, he does not have to let his wife stay away for any length of time, much less for months. They are newlyweds - what stress this is. But he has and gracefully. He also has dropped out of school to make more money to support this family of his. I'm sorry to say I haven't met him. This was an emotional conversation.  

Something happened while I was there. At one point Maryam went to the kitchen, slowly, with her walker, leaving Nabila, the Mom, and I in the living room. I looked at Nabila and said something like, "I don't want to talk too much; I don't want to answer questions. I want to ask you to pray for Leslie." She looked at me quizzically for a moment and said, "I will pray for her." Why did I ask this one person to pray for my wife? It's hard to say except that I experience her as extraordinarily strong and somehow closer to God than most other people I know.

When Maryam was in the hospital I said to her and Nabila that Leslie and I were in this (with them) for the long haul if they wanted and I would not proselytize. I told them if I said something about praying for them it was prayer only for their well-being and not an intro to anything. And that's how it has played out. The interesting thing has been that our relationship has been spiritually affirming for me, and I hope for them as well. And we have talked a fair amount about spiritual matters. Here, again, is what Megan, one of my students wrote (week 5): I think we were able to form/recognize a spiritual connection this week.  Stephani was sitting on something that looked like a blanket, and I asked Nabila what it was – she told me they were their prayer mats.  So, we started talking about prayer – how we pray, things we pray for – and then, there was a warm pause – not an awkward, uncomfortable silence, but one that communicated something.  I smiled and was comforted that Maryam and Nabila have this source of power and encouragement. 

Maryam and Nabila are moving to Colorado next week. Leslie and I are leaving for Asia next week. Looking back on these few months, it seems to me that a lot has been accomplished - almost all by or through Leslie: rent paid, food, dental care, active and enormously helpful involvement of Muslim women's group, Maryams' Mom coming to the US, help for her brother, and so on. Some beautiful non-essential things happened, too: going out to eat, the arboretum, flowers ... I think we've all learned a lot and made some serious connections.

Last week I told Leslie that of all the people I know, I admire her and Dan Foster more than anyone else.

5/9/2007 - Other things

Nooobodeee knows the troubles I've seeeennn ... A month and a half ago I started carrying a pack with rocks in it - as I have before - to get up to speed for backpacking in Asia. A few weeks ago my left shoulder started hurting. After a few days I connected the two dots and quit carrying the pack. At about the same time my thumb, 1st, and 2nd fingers of my left hand started tingling - a lot. Clearly it was a nerve issue - median or medial, I'm not sure now. I loaded up on ibuprofen to decrease the inflammation and it's gotten some better over the last two weeks. Sunday I tried carrying my big pack (all packed up for the trip) and my fingers just buzzed. So, too bad, I laid my pack aside and got a rolling suitcase. 

One week before we leave.

Went to Bible study this morning, like pretty much every other Wednesday morning. Over the years I've learned a lot through the weekly study - even an appreciation for Revelation! Seriously good fellowship, too. It was a good place to be on the day Leslie was to have a CT scan. Thanks guys. 

5/2/2007 - She was a gangster

I used to know this young Latina who was a gangster. When she saw me walking on the street, she'd say, "Hey maan, what's up." From time to time we'd hang out on the stoop at 4314 San Jacinto, talking, watching the world go by. She was really pretty in a gangster sort of way and she would flirt with me a little and then laugh and laugh. I knew her mom and some other family members. She moved about 6 blocks away to a house at San Jacinto and Fitzhugh and from there to a downstairs apartment at 1519 Annex.

The Annex apartment was where another family I knew had lived. It was an odd apartment, sort of a combination of 2 or 3 apartments with all kinds of passage-ways from room to room. This family (Peng's) was Cambodian, with a ton of children of their own and always a few extra children and random people around. We had some good times in that apartment.

When the woman upstairs died (and the husband was drinking himself into oblivion and oldest son went down to the penitentary at age 14 or 15 as an adult - he was a bad boy), Peng took the daughter and son in for several months. At one of the funeral ceremonies at the temple - maybe the 100 day ceremony, we were in the usual crowd sitting on mats on the floor and one of Peng's daughters and someone else and I were kind of tangled up really close, leaning on one another and staying with it together in a pure, sweet way and it was really fine.

Anyway, Peng and her crew moved and the Latina and her family moved in and on Christmas Eve 2004 there was a fire and her 4 year old daughter Esmerelda ran the wrong way - into a bathroom - and died there. I saw her mom a few times after that, but she didn't flirt anymore. 

Start of 2007 journal