Journey


Through Life - 2007

 

Home 2006  | Asia 2006-2007 | Asia Trip 2005  | Budget Guide to Hong Kong  | Budget guide to SE Asia | Agape Clinic  

Personal page | Refugees |  East Dallas Restaurants  | Israel & the Middle East  | Travel photos  | A Cottage Garden

 

This page is a continuation of Asia 2006-2007, the 2006 Journey Through Life, Asia 2005, and A Personal Page. Here is David's site, and his current blog. My heart still races a little from sympathetic excitement as I think of David - I still feel full and joyous thinking about him on his life journey – not so much Cambodia, but his whole journey - past, present, and future. I'm writing here for myself and anyone else who cares to read it. Wouldn't it be nice if someone would read this 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.

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Having trouble with googlepages. This journal is continued through a new journal page and a new home page.

5/1 - A letter to a Marine's mother

Dear Libby,

That's quite a letter from you. I'm glad you wrote and very glad Owen is home, safe. The good news is way beyond the bad. 

I'll be completely honest here and maybe a little hard. These are just my thoughts - I'm no expert (and looking back over these thoughts, I'll bet there is nothing new here). Fighting in a war is like having advanced cancer or being in prison - it is almost impossible to communicate to those who haven't been there what there is like and the ways that there lives on inside - in ways even the warrior cannot explain or even understand. But we all, on some level, understand that it is essential to be loved.

If you ask Owen what leads him to hard drinking I doubt he could answer in a way that would satisfy him or you. From my perspective, even so long past those days, it's like what (tf) kind of question is that? I don't know if you're asking why - there's no reason why, it just is. Your son is a warrior and that's what warriors do. I know I did and many others do. I mean, what else would you do?

If someone had suggested to me when I came home from VN that I was suffering I wouldn't have had a clue how to respond. Feelings and war don't go together very well, do they. Later I understood. But not then. 

If you were to show this to Owen he would likely say something like, Yeah, whatever. Because it's all fresh to him and a lot more real than anything he's encountering here and certainly more real than anything an old veteran like me would have to say. No, we aren't the same when we come home and some day he'll understand that neither are you. Someday he'll have an understanding of what you've been through (but no help to try to get him to understand now). Someday he'll snap to the fact that you would sign a letter, Libby ____, mother of Sgt. Owen ______, USMC. He may even think that it's no big deal to be a Sergeant in the Marine Corps. But it is. 

You may have been naive - likely he was too - when I get home everything will be ... (I really did believe that, like the song says, we're gonna talk and laugh our time away). Well, he's home now and he's lucky to have a family that understands with such insight and clarity. 

I wish I could do a better job writing to you. But, here it is - with pride in Owen and a humbled heart where you are concerned,

Charles 

4/27 - A Marine in Iraq

From Jake's Life, a blog:

Welcome to my life. That's what this blog is all about. Being young. Being a Marine. Partying like a rockstar. Trying to save the world. Trying to find my way through life. Alot of friends and family read this, but I get a lot of emails from random people as well. The way I see it, if my life is not worth reading about, then I'm not really living it. So here it is, say what you will.

4/25 - Here is something one of my students wrote ...

Megan, 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.  I like to think that we pray to the same God.  Even though we may sometimes pray and practice in different ways, we are still able to share our burdens and find peace in a spiritual being – what a comfort to know that Maryam and Nabila can experience this.  We went to the Arboretum and had a wonderful time.  Maryam said she loved the fresh air (they were pushing her in a wheelchair).  She forced us to get ice cream – I think it’s funny (not in an ethnocentric way mind you) that in their culture that it is considered polite to forcedly insist that your guest eat – the more pushy you are the more polite you are (that just makes me laugh).  I will miss them.  I would love to keep in touch, but understand that I can’t make promises that I may not be able to keep.  They have changed my life…really…this is one of the first times that I have really formed a relationship with a hurting person, who is not in my usual circle, and not been on a mission trip.  This habit, this choice (to choose to love people in this way) can be a part of my daily life – a reality that I want so bad.  And, I have been blessed.  I think about them all the time, and hope that I will not just think but do.

4/25 - Here is something one of my students wrote ...

Stephani, week 4: This week with Maryam was very emotional and deep.  On Wednesday we were able to really talk to her about how discovering she had cancer made her feel.  She actually almost started to cry and it took all I had to hold back the tears.  It's amazing how much she is opening up to us as we spend more time with her.  I am so glad that we got an opportunity to talk about important issues like what she expects out of life these next few weeks.  I'm not sure if she truly comprehends what is going to happen as the days go by.  I didn't feel it was the right time to attempt to explain the path of her cancer and that it will lead to death.  I think everyone has the right to embrace illness and death at their own pace and I think Maryam will come to that in time.  So Wednesday was a very emotional day for me because we talked about the "valley of the shadow of death" and that is never easy.  Thursday was a much easier day and we talked about some fun things.  I am amazed at how universal conversations are for girls and how much fun it is sitting with Maryam, Nabila, and Megan laughing and sharing our lives together.  Next week we plan on going to lunch with Maryam and Nabila and we are all looking forward to that!

4/22 - Don't worry, Blowin' in the Wind

"Don't worry." That's what the passport man said last Tuesday when I left my birth certificate, etc. papers with him to get a new (expedited) passport. He called Friday to say that my passport was ready to pick up at his office! When I got there I also had papers for the Burmese visa (to replace the one in my old passport). What!? The State Department sent back my old passport stamped CANCELLED, so I have my new passport and the old one with the visa intact (unlikely that Burmese - or Myanmar, as they like to be called - immigration will snap to the cancelled part). The passport man said don't worry about that either. We'll see, but for now at least, we are set. Oh, and the Mother Land Inn wrote to say that our reservations are confirmed. Their website says they have electricity 24 hours/day - Nothing but the very best for me! Dark grainy photo above: Leslie on the Chungking Mansions stairs. Very few westerners walk those stairs and my guess for >60 years old women would be one or less/year. That's my girl! On the road again. Photo below: Taken by David on outreach in Ratanakiri Province 

We have a place to stay in Phnom Penh! The family, headed by Mr. Samnang, that has so graciously taken David into their lives is giving us a bedroom (with private bathroom) in their house. This is great news. We'll be in a real neighborhood vs. the sterile high-walled expat area. The Tsar Toul Tom Pong or "Russian Market" is a block away, internet cafés 1.5 blocks, and a big wat about three blocks further. The family has a cool little café downstairs - it's a very little café, with one or two tables - rice & pork for breakfast every day. I'm seeing myself hanging out down there, writing, reading, listening. Oh man. We just have to remember to not walk up the street where the meat market is - offal in the sun. 

__________________________

Along the road yesterday I was listening to Blowin' in the Wind: How many times can a man turn his head and pretend he just doesn't see ... How many years must a man have before he can hear people cry ... the answer my friend, is blowin' in the wind, the answer is blowin' in the wind.

And I'm realizing that Leslie is an answer to that song. She doesn't turn her head and she does hear people cry and she has been seeing and hearing and responding for many years, deep in the world. Today after church I went by Maryam's with a bowl of roses fragrant from the garden. One of her feet is swollen (3+ edema to her knee, which is a lot). Her cousin Nabila is wondering if this is a sign that the end is close, and I told her no, the edema is not a surprise and it's not a good thing, but it's not a sign. Nabila and Leslie have been talking every day and one of the things they talk about is talking about dying with Maryam - who does not want to talk about it. Someone is paying for funeral and burial and wants to discuss this with Maryam and Nabila, but Maryam doesn't want to deal directly with her terminal state so there is a little conflict. Leslie is saying there is no need to push the issue. Let it be. So the other person, Leslie, and Nabila are meeting next week away from the apartment to discuss all of this.

While I was there today the hospice nurse came by and figured out immediately that the pain meds need to be changed. That's a good thing. The whole time the nurse and I were there, Maryam's brother was lying on the (too short) couch with a blanket over his head. And Maryam continues to lose weight.  

4/18 - The fragrance is enchanting, Shirin, post from David

Walking out on the front porch this evening I'm greeted by the fragrance of many roses, the beginning of the Confederate jasmine blooming, and the iris. The deep purple iris is my favorite - they smell like they look - ahhh. One of the most fragrant roses is the amazingly thorny Autumn Damask - dating from (probably) the middle ages. The flowers are in clusters and last a day, but then others in the clusters bloom. Zephirine Drouhin and Maggie are by the porch and are in full bloom, as are Buff Beauty and Old Blush on the other side of the porch. Along the walk are Perle d' Or, American Beauty, Archduke Charles, Hermosa, Autumn Damask, and arching over the walk is New Dawn. Are you kidding me!? In a pot on the porch is Iceberg. All have a wonderful scent. This is the best year ever for me where roses are concerned. 

We have a friend, Shirin, who we met when David and Shirin's son, Chris started kindergarten. She is a true friend to Leslie, especially, and also to me. Her character and nature were revealed last Christmas when Leslie and I were in Asia. Chris was staying in our house and taking care of the redoubtable Buddy. Buddy, being an aging dog, has become fairly sensitive (actually, being a mistreated dog before he took up with us, he's always been a little sensitive). The first few nights when Chris was here, Buddy was anxiously wandering the house and was basically inconsolable. Shirin came up with the idea of Buddy spending the night at her house. He did the same thing there until she laid down on the floor with him for a few hours. Then he was fine. And that is the look into Shirin's basic lovely nature.

David spent two days of Khmer New Year with the family that has taken him in and one day with his birth parents. This from his blog: The first rains of the New Year started tonight, shortly before I began this entry. My AC is off, and my windows are all open. I love the rain, and this is a fantastic beginning to a new year. I went outside and sat for a while to just listen to the rain falling against the metal roof covering my balcony. The air is fresh and new and clean – just how a new year should begin.

4/16, 4/17 - Grace unfolding and the trip begins

Leslie got a check and more today from a Muslim women's organization. The check will go to the dentists who volunteered their time to help Maryam. But there is more. The same organization got enough money together to cover all costs of funeral and burial when Maryam dies. Grace unfolding ...

When the secrets all are told

And the petals all unfold

Maryam's cousin - I keep calling her that because I won't use her real name here and didn't know another name to call her here - will see our psychiatrist this week. Ahh, but now I have a name: Nabila (meaning noble - yes, that works). She is there (in a small 1 bedroom apartment) 24/7, and not just with her dying cousin, but also her very mentally ill other cousin. Nabila lives in another state, been married for just a few months and now this. What an extraordinary person! Strong and sweet - an honor and blessing to know her.

Maryam is a refugee because she was a leader of a women's rights group in bleeding Sudan. Sudan, whose government sponsors the slaughter of 100s of thousands in Darfur. Sudan, where the value of a life is zero. What a price people pay for freedom and dignity. Women's rights - we should all feel humbled - well, I do anyway.

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I guess this next will be the first entry in my 2007 travelogue. Sheesh, what a day. My story ... a month ago I realized I was running out of passport pages. So after we got our Burma visas last week I was trying to figure out how to send it to the State Department for added pages and it was looking like a passport service on the internet. Then, when we took Maryam to the dentist I saw a passport agency was in the same building as the dentist. I talked to the (Eritrean) man at the agency, arranged to get new pages through him, and gave him my passport. He called today to say that the State Department had confiscated my passport because it had been damaged (when I washed it. Dooh!) and I would have to apply for a new one. Well, we have 4 weeks until we leave and it takes several months to get a new passport. BUT, there is a way to get a new one expedited via the passport agency, so, following the Eritrean man's directions to Leslie (who happened to be at the dentist a few doors from the passport man), I filled out the application for a new passport on-line, printed it, took it to the Government services office, (where I lost my billfold - and a woman said, "You dropped your billfold" - thank you!), was told by the clerk that my photos were the wrong size - she let me stew for a minute or so and then said she could take the right size photos (Oh, she was a piece of work, alright) and I finally walked out with what I needed and went back to the passport man and gave it all to him. The trip has has begun. He says, "Don't worry." hahahaha 

Sent reservation request today (4/16) to the Mother Land Inn in Rangoon (Yangon). Many people have very good things to say about it. The link came from Joachin (Jo), a man I met on a travel message board, who maintains a very good Burma site, among other things. 

4/12 - Circling, repeating, flashing

I wrote yesterday about a Burmese child with significant health problems completely ignored by the refugee agency that is supposed to provide services to the child and her family. Caroline brought the child, her two siblings, and her mother to the clinic today. All the children have worms "like rice" in their stool as well as other problems. So, our plan was to document the problems and get the children to the East Dallas Health Center (EDHC) for treatment and into the system (currently they go to a refugee clinic about 8 miles from their home - when they can get there, which is seldom). 

As an aside, I brought the mother home a month or so ago from an appointment at Parkland re the breast mass she has - which turns out to be encysted worms (we're following up on that). When we got to her apartment, her two girls, ages 6 and 8 were standing outside on this misty day, wet, and there were three or four Anglo and Hispanic children on their bikes, a few feet from the girls, just sitting there looking at them. The life of refugees.

So anyway, today we got the children worked up and Leslie was on the phone moving heaven and earth to get an appointment (Thank you Mrs. Camacho, God Bless you). Caroline, meanwhile, was on the bus to another Burmese family's home to bring another sick mother and child in. All the pieces were in place except how the mother and children would get to EDHC and just then, in walk Vanida and Julie and they're saying, "Oh sure, we can do that." !!!! Unbelievable! Who says the days of miracles are over? So off they go to the health center. In a little while Caroline comes in with the other family and just as we were finishing up with them, we get a call from health center saying they need a translator. So, Caroline, the other mom and son, and I pile into the car and head to EDHC. 

Walking in it's a flashback: I'm with a lost refugee woman wearing a bright sarong with a child in very heavy winter cover-alls on a warm day, and of course, Caroline, steadfast and kind, calm and sorrowful. How many refugees have I taken to Parkland, Children's, EDHC? Actually, the EDHC was our idea in the first place (back in 1982 - it started as a refugee clinic) and I wrote many a grant to get the funding to make it happen. Upstairs, I see Consuelo and Suzy - both of whom I worked with in the the past (both when they were in high school - Suzy, when she was less than a year in the U.S. She gave our son a stuffed pink mouse that we named Pinky Mouse - David carried the mouse a lot for several years, his teeth clamped on the mouse's nose). Suzy says to me today, "Well, Charles, you're still at it" and we laughed our heads off. I see Mrs. Camacho and Sabrina, the RN. And when we walk into the exam room, there (along with the mother, 3 children, Julie, and Vanida) is Cesar T., a young pediatrician who worked with us several years ago and who said, the last time I saw him, "Prayer is of the utmost importance." 

I'm circling, Julie and Vanida circling, Leslie, Caroline, we're all ... What joy to see all these people and especially, in the exam room, to see Vanida and Julie.

4/11 - To Maryam

Lying in the bed,

A little smaller each day

Slender once, thinner now

Mocha framing numinous eyes

 

Quick mind, quick speech

Clear thin voice

Following each thought

Through this strange land

Where everyone everywhere every time

Has gone each time like the first time

 

Fearful

Smiling in the face of fear

We’ll not speak of this now

Now that we’re here

Here like all before

Here like never before

 

Last week seeing your sister

With drawn face

Open to her sadness and pain

When I came unexpected

Around the corner

Before she could cover her soul

 

We are flesh, blood, bone, skin

The carriages of our souls

Rolling through

These streets this life

This pain, this joy

This longing

 

You know and I know

What’s real (and what's not)

But we can wait for awhile

No need to rush to where we are going

4/11 - Burmese child

Caroline brought a Burmese (Karen) mother and her 8 year-old girl to the clinic today. The child has a life-long history of low-grade fever, her stools are clay-colored, and the stools have visible worms according to the mother. The family has been in the U.S. for 5 months. Nice work, refugee agency. For more than 25 years I've pulled people out of the depths of your inabilty to provide decent services for those unfortunate enough to be your so-called "clients." I cannot express the extent of my contempt and loathing for you. 

By the way, Maryam is another of this refugee agency's "clients." Leslie asked someone there if anyone from the agency had been to see her. No.

4/11 - No Mas

Mexican girls

Dark-eyes, sad-eyes, sloe-eyes, slow-eyes

Fiesta Mart perfume on

Skin so beautiful it takes my breath away.

Mexican girls

Walking arm in arm in lives

Arcing, peaking in the 10th grade

In love affairs bringing baby girls and boys

Sweet brown babies

Jessica, Junior, Araceley, Raymond

Riding in strollers with young mothers

Heads high in tattered pride

Knowing in this life there are no second chances and that

The 10th grade peak was it.

 

4/10

I was driving up Bryan Street one day, fiery hot dry summer day and just a half a block ahead of me a car slammed through the fence next to the Quiky Mart where Mexican and Honduran men stand waiting for someone to drive by offering work and by noon, some drunk (I've seen men washing up in the muddy water in the gutter there) and the car explodes the fence and I'm thinking uh-oh, but by the time I got there the passenger and driver both fell out of the car, laughing, drunk or high and then the cops were right there and I drove on. A few blocks up there was a whore of my acquaintance, also hoping someone would drive by and offer her some work, some money for her poor, AIDS-wasted crack-head body (she was kind of okay when it was just heroin - we taught her how to clean her works with bleach). We did one of those lift your head momentarily things by way of hello and I drove on and there's a man kneeling on the median, praying to the sun with arms stretched out like psychotic Jesus crucified on the cross of his insanity and his face just broiling red because I guess he's been there awhile ...

4/9 - Martyrs, Jihad in Africa, A Cottage Garden, "helloing and turning on the microwave"

A few days ago someone (whom I respect) said, "We're not called on to be martyrs." My sense is maybe not the group being spoken to at that time, but we are not exempt. Christians are being martyred with horrible regularity across the world (in Indonesia, Iraq, Philippines, Darfur, Nigeria, etc., etc.) while the priviliged in the U.S. sit comfortably having opinions. Our time will surely come again - at least, that's the plan of the jihadis.

I asked my friend, Ron, "Would you be a martyr?" He said, "Yes." I think it's good to pay attention to someone who has put their life on the line over and over again. Well, me too. I mean, not for a statement of faith, but for more than words? Yes.

When we were in the "Arab store" the other day there was an East African couple shopping who could star in a movie, Jihad in Africa: seriously serious, seriously hostile, and the woman was carrying a beautiful baby girl. I cannot imagine that the girl has not been or will not be cut. From the refugee health site: "The average age of girls who undergo female genital cutting is about three years of age, although ages range from seven days to fourteen years. The age varies based on the type of cutting to be done and the customs of the area in which the procedure is to be performed." 98% of Somali women and 89% of Sudanese women have been cut (type III, extreme). I guess jihad begins at home, with little girls.

______________________

Just a couple of days ago I wrote that I would eventually have to move my web pages that remain on Baylor's server. Got a call last week from a person who monitors faculty web pages. We have a phone appointment tomorrow - and in the meantime, I've moved some more material. Here is A Cottage Garden. I like this version better than the old. Then yesterday I got a call from someone representing the Master Gardener's Association - requesting permission to use photos from the cottage garden site in a presentation. Okay.

______________________

"Helloing and turning on the microwave" - what on earth could that mean? A few minutes ago I walked to the back of the house to fix an espresso, and said, "Hello." Leslie was in the bathroom, on the phone and didn't answer. Then I fixed the coffee and went about my business. Next she comes to the front of the house, accusing me of (that's right), "helloing and turning on the microwave." Can this marriage be saved? I mean, how much "helloing and turning on the microwave" can any marriage endure? Hello! Hello!

4/3 - Hallelujah

The other day I was looking at a photo of Maryam's cousin and Hallelujah was playing and I was thinking, truly, Hallelujah.

 

Maryam got to the dentist today, after several days delay. Leslie had to find a dentist (see 4/3), get medical records, wait on people and she's going, "grrrr, slow people drive me crazy." So today, Good Friday, about 7:20am it all came together and at 12:30 away we all went to a different dentist (slight change in plans - thank you Debbie!). Though Maryam did not want to lose her tooth, out it had to come. There was a slight complication with the extraction and the original dentist (see below) got involved. So now the dental problem is out of the way and now a Jewish dentist is part of this amazing grace. After the dentist we went to "the Arab store" for some food. Leslie and I ended up with some good olives and some flat bread. It's been a great day. Leslie's world circling, unfolding ...

 

My sense is more and more people coming to see Maryam, like the Ethiopian woman who works at the 7-11 on Gaston and a young Sudanese man we met today. Next week the plan is for Megan, Stephani, Maryam, her cousin, and Leslie to go to the little Pakistani cafe next to the Indo-Pak Market. Leslie and I went there about a year ago - it's a happening place, oh, no doubt about it.

 

4/4 - Waiting

 

The red dirt cemetery is dry under the Texas sun

Monuments stand straight, tilt in red dirt

In the center, Confederate battle flags still fly

Honoring the men who fought for their country

 

My Grandmother is buried next to those flags

My Grandfather, uncles, aunts, others

Are next to those flags

A little concrete border runs around the plot

 

Someday we’ll put my mother’s ashes there

But for now, they’re in our dining room

In a box, with an old-fashioned knitted cover draped

18 years there, waiting for me to be ready

4/3 - Who would have thought?

This weekend Maryam told Leslie she was having dental pain. Leslie and I made some calls and today (Tuesday), Leslie talked with a dentist who agreed to take care of Maryam. The dentist is talking with the palliative care doctor and we are ready to go. So now, we also have a Catholic Arab (the dentist) who grew up in Israel working with a Jewish doctor, a Presbyterian great heart, et al. to help a Muslim woman. As Mother Teresa said, it's something beautiful for God

I don't mean to go on and on and on about this, but truly, my wife is amazing. Sometimes, like today, when I found out about the dentist I was thinking, it's almost like she isn't real. How could anyone do what she does? I thought about her face, and how she is, and was just overwhelmed. Something beautiful, truly.

4/3 - We have a hostage situation

On 12/6 an organization was supposed to send the clinic 100 cases of an important medication (free). It finally got here on 3/26 and by then was a few weeks out of date. So they said, we can send it back and they'll try to replace it. Leslie says, "No, send the replacement and then you can have it back." So we're holding the medicine hostage - and giving it away while we wait for a replacement that may or may not come.

4/1 - Other things

Looking back over this journal I realize I tend to focus on just a few things. As I wrote yesterday, writing this is its own journey, but I also have the idea that if I get old (or older, as opposed to dying in the next few years), someone may read it to me - wouldn't that be nice! With that in mind, I thought I would write a little about other things I do.

Internet, of course. I spend most of my surfing time on the Lonely Planet travel discussion board, Thorn Tree Forum. I am a voracious consumer of the news (CNN, NYT, SFGate, Fox, Jersusalem Post, Al Jaz, etc.). I read Victor Davis HansonLittle Green Footballs, National Review, and other neo-con sites. I enjoy travel blogs and photos such as on Travelpod, Worldisround, Asiaphoto.de, etc. I also enjoy creating web pages and sites. I have two primary home pages, with some overlap: chaskemp's homepage and CK's Gateway Page, a more work-related site. I think I need to get the latter onto a different server, because when I leave Baylor, they will eventually delete my sites. 

Gardening is something I used to enjoy a lot. Over the past few years I have done less, as it has seemed more a burden than a pleasure, and now, with cutting back on work, I am again enjoying it. We have fresh flowers from our garden from early March until October or November. We have about 50 rose bushes, mostly old garden roses such as Old Blush, Felicia, Zepherine Drouhin, Katy Road Pink, Lady Banks, and so on. My site, A Cottage Garden covers this in some detail.

Working - I teach community health, palliative care, and other courses at Baylor. It's been good to work there and good to teach young people how to provide quality care for individuals, families, and the community. I work especially hard to teach people that dreams can be realized. I think my job is important. Writing and work are related ...

Writing - I have felt compelled to write because I have something to say. I have written three books, 50+ articles, a number of papers, and several websites - mostly on hospice and palliative care, cross-cultural healthcare, community health, and spiritual care. Several people have said to me something like, "... well, non-tenured faculty are not expected to publish, so ..." So? So what? Am I supposed to respect that kind of (what passes for) thinking? Sure, about like I respect the tenure system. I write for the patients and community, not for some old dinosaur academics. Except for this journal and a few other things, my race is about run where writing is concerned.

More on work (though I've tried to keep work out of this personal journal) - For a long time I've been able to integrate my teaching and my practice, first as a community health nurse and in recent years as a family nurse practitioner. I am deeply grateful for this. I have been at the Agape Clinic for the past six years. More to be grateful for.

Church and Bible study are very important in my life. Church is usually only Sunday school, where Dan F., my teacher is just that: my teacher (not a title lightly given!). Bible study meets Wednesdays 7-8am. The founders of our group are Jim C. and Chuck H. Together, church and Bible study take about two hours/week, but I've noticed they are critical reference points for my life. Maybe on another day, I'll write a statement of faith - suffice it to say here: I try to live my faith. 

Cooking (along with gardening) is as close as I think I get to a hobby. Recently I have triumphed (if I do say so myself) with tom kha (Thai coconut shrimp & chicken soup), bun cha (Vietnamese pork and noodles), several different crostinis (Italian - toast with various toppings), and some Mediterranean delights.

Socially, Leslie is my best friend and I love spending time with her. Jeff is also my best friend, though we have not been together since summer 2005 (he has been in Canada and his usual haunts in the Oklahoma woodlands). I get together with Ron C. about once a week - and sometimes Ron & Melinda & Leslie and I go out. My brother, John and I go to El Taquito now and then, and Chuck M. and I spend time together. Bible study is social in some respects, as is la clinica.

Traveling was on hold for most of the magic years - the best years of our life, when David was with us. I've written at length about those years, but not in this journal. Before David, Leslie and I traveled every few years for several months at a time. David and Leslie traveled some, as did David and I (major good times in San Francisco and Boston). Then, a couple of years ago, Leslie suggested that David, Jeff, and I go to Southeast Asia. We did and it was grand. Then David got a fellowship to go to Cambodia for a year. Leslie and I spent last Christmas with him with the three of us "piled up like puppies" as Leslie put it. Now we're getting ready to go again this summer 2007: two months, most of it working at the hospital where David works. I spend a lot of time planning and dreaming about this. My Asia travelogues, Budget Guide to Hong Kong, and Budget Guide to Southeast Asia.

Music is part of what keeps me going: Bach, Beethoven, U2, REM, Robert Earl Keen, Grateful Dead, 10,000 Maniacs, Bob Dylan, Statler Brothers, Neil Young, Incredible String Band, Airplane, Van Morrison. Will Oldham, Mozart, Chopin, Radiohead, and many many others.

3/31 - Dear Jeff,

Maybe see you in Cambodia this summer. Writing this is its own journey, but I also have the idea that if I get old, someone may read it to me.

3/30 - Rage Against The Machine (but it's not really the machine)

So, Leslie has been working on getting food stamps for Maryam. A couple of days ago I wrote that Maryam was okayed for emergency food stamps. There was a hang-up with getting her cousin to be the person to use the card, but that seemed worked out as well. Today, Leslie went to the food stamp office for the final stamp of the stamps for the cousin and was told that Maryam had to come to the office to sign the papers (not allowed for Leslie to take the papers to her to sign) even though she has spent little time out of the bedroom for several weeks and a ride in the car is out of the question. First, the food stamp people said no way could this happen without her there. Then they said, since it was an emergency (what with her dying and all), they could send a caseworker to her apartment next week. Leslie was reduced to tears, which is pretty amazing for her. Leslie called the "human services" (more like inhuman services) regional office and they understood the urgency and by the time she was off the phone, someone had been assigned to go over there this day. And now, the application for the cousin to use the card is in the mail to Austin. Here is the real issue: no way could this have happened without Leslie - no way would they get help until after Maryam is dead, when, of course, they would no longer be eligible (Lenny Bruce, call home - we've got a good one for you). 

Rage, Rage, RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE

Honor Role: the apartment manager made things happen on her first day on the job. The man at the regional office who gets the picture. Diane, who calmly does her thing. Megan and Stephani, all things bright and beautiful. Adrian, the oncology social worker, who understands social work. Dr. F, who understands the human condition and knows what to do. Marisa, who is always ready (except she's laid up right now - get well soon, your tribe needs you).

But, like I said, it's not really the machine. It's people - people who don't see, who don't feel, who don't want to be bothered ... 

3/30 - Shirley called

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a little about Shirley. For years, she and her husband, Ron had Girl Scout troops of all girls who were refugees. They stopped that work a few years ago (but continued to tutor children). For awhile, Shirley was working part-time at her job and also working with us at the clinic. Then she had to go back to work full-time. We talked a few weeks ago and she told me she and Ron had started another troop and she was happy for that. I called Shirley the day before yesterday to see if she would spend some time with Julie (who sent the email on suffering) and Vanida (who inspired the Pure Heart shrine to Alison a few weeks ago). She called back yesterday and said, of course, she would love to spend time with Vanida and Julie; and went on to tell me about the new group of girls - 12 of them, ages 6-13.

Here is the heart of this entry: one of the girls in an earlier incarnation of the troop said to me, once, something about how unfair things were at school and so on. Internally I was thinking uh-oh, no time for fair or unfair. She needs to go past it and drive for success. She did not and had several children early. Now, trying again, she has brought her two girls to Shirley and Ron's group - circling, circling.

3/30 - A gift

Part 1. Two months ago at a clinic luncheon, Nora spoke with great eloquence about her involvement with the clinic - as a patient, as a promotora, as the lead promotora. We were all moved, and one of the people there approached me later to pledge a regular anonymous gift (gift card) to Nora.

Part 2. From Leslie ... about a patient with MR who was basically cut loose by another clinic and just told to go to Parkland for possible cervical cancer. She came to us when she was unable to obtain care from the hospital or help from the other clinic with the process to obtain care. Nora took the lead in assisting her with documentation and into the Parkland system. At first, the news was good, just frequent testing. She moved and we lost track of her, but Nora found her and resumed assisting her with getting regular care. Last week we learned that now she will have surgery and Nora will help with that. Nora has the heart and skills to make it happen.

Part 3. Leslie found out today that Nora had been paying the woman's fees for care and for other parts of the care. How, Leslie asked? She sold one of the gift cards and used that money. Circling, circling. Leslie reimbursed her and some other good things happened as well. 

3/29 - More on yesterday's email and related

The email partly quoted yesterday keeps resonating in me. It's like an arrow piercing my chest with straightforward Truth (there is truth and then there is Truth). Because, suffering exists. Our patients suffer, Maryam suffers, I suffer (recognizing, right now, mine is superficial and of small import), we all suffer - sometimes more, sometimes less.

In 1978 I spent a week at a retreat with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross at a Catholic retreat center in San Antonio. About 1/3 of the 70 people there were dying, 1/3 had lost someone or something (mostly innocence), and 1/3 were people like me - nurses, doctors, chaplains, and the like who were working with people who were dying. Every day we went from 8am until about 2am and it was very intense and very painful. One of the issue for me was having spent 13 months in combat and all the issues attending that one!

Stephen Levine was there and out of all that he became my teacher (in the same sense that Dan Foster and Martin Hironaga are my teachers). One of the things that Stephen talked about and lived was the idea of embracing our dying, our suffering, our joy, our inadequacies, our strengths, our attachments - and as we embrace these things, softening around them and letting them go. That's a tough one, because we are so attached to all these things we think are us or ours. But we are more than this ... when you find out who you are, beautiful, beyond your dreams ...

Can I offer my sufferings up to God? Can I participate in Jesus' Passion? Can I be more united with Jesus?

3/28 - In an email I received today from a young woman, with thanks (we're having a conversation about spiritual care).

There's this awesome group at St. Lukes where basically the chronically sick and elderly ... basically those who are suffering are in a prayer group where they offer their sufferings up to God. Through suffering we are able to participate in Jesus' Passion and thus be more united to Jesus.

3/27 - Song of the day, 30 days, it's raining

Missa Solemnis (Sanctus), Beethoven, 1819-1823.

Here is Leslie's summary of the first 30 days with Maryam: On 2/21 a home visit was made by Baylor students to a young Sudanese woman who is a friend of our Burmese outreach worker. The students were unable to determine the cause of the patient’s pain and she was taken to the Baylor ER. The patient was admitted to the hospital from the ER and was diagnosed with breast cancer metastatic to brain, bones, liver, and lungs. She was discharged 3/14 and is at home with hospice care. I visit most days and am coordinating hospice and volunteer services, food stamp application and other social services, and volunteers. She has been okayed for emergency food stamps and we have gotten a working refrigerator in the apartment – both of which required significant effort. Her brother, who has schizophrenia and has been tortured, quit taking his antipsychotic medications the day his sister went to the hospital. He has been increasingly agitated, or conversely, showing signs of catatonia. We were able to get a home visit from ADAPT and he is back on his medications and is improving. Diane M, a professor of social work and one of our Friday volunteers visits the family on Fridays and two of the Baylor students visit every Wednesday and Thursday.

After a long dry spell it's finally raining - a good steady, soaking rain. I went out to sit on the front porch. It was cold and I was thinking about what to wear and flashed on the sweatshirt David gave before he left for Cambodia - the Rice sweatshirt I've worn every cold day since then - and I was even happier than I was when I was thinking about it raining and being able to sit on the porch.

David, I respect what you are doing and your mental toughness in sticking it out.

3/22 - Guns & Roses, Maryam

Katy Road Pink (found rose), Duchesse de Brabant (1857, Teddy Roosevelt's favorite boutonniere rose), and Belinda's Dream (1992) are blooming out front.

My ancestors fought in the Civil war (Confederacy, of course). My grandad was in WWI, I think not in heavy fighting. My Dad was wounded in Sicily in WWII. Uncle Lee fought in Korea and Vietnam - infantry and cavalry, wounded. I fought in Vietnam, wounded. That's enough - not my son!

Diane & Leslie were at Maryam's today, making food stamps happen (and it was not easy). Students, Megan & Stephani also went - took some Ensure. She's been in bed for several days. I think Maryam really likes Leslie being there. Leslie calls her "honey." 

3/21 - Life

1981-85 was a desperate, terrible time for Cambodian refugees in Dallas. Leslie and I were working 7 days/week serving refugees, often starting before 7am and usually ending after dark. It was all very intense and complex and, as I wrote elsewhere, the first time I found proof of God's presence (no way could I personally handle the complexities of what we were doing). There were several thousand Cambodians living in Old East Dallas in very bad circumstances: common for there to be 6-12 people in a one bedroom apartment, not enough food, unable to obtain health care except through us. It was a bad scene. So many people, so much suffering. 

1982 was the first big Cambodian New Year celebration in Dallas. Ceremonies (New Year is a religious and celebratory event for the Khmer) were held in the courtyard and some of the apartments at 4909 Live Oak. Leslie and I were invited and spent the day there, being kind of passed from one ceremony or feast to another. That evening the apartment balconies were packed and people were dancing through the courtyard. Oh, it was a fine party. At some point someone came up to me and said there was a woman sick in an apartment nearby.

We went over there (down the alley between Live Oak and Bryan and across Bryan) and found a woman lying in bed, apparently paralyzed and people all around, very distressed. I had no clue what the problem was and called 911. The paramedics came and examined her and took her to the hospital (now I realize it was a culture-bound syndrome, the name of which I've forgotten). There was also an American man there and he and I were talking as the paramedics worked on the woman. As they left, one of the medics said something to the man I was talking with indicating that the man was a police officer. After they were gone, the man and I continued talking and I asked him how the medics knew he was an officer. I don't recall his answer - it seems like he thought I was pretty lame for not knowing.

The man was Ron C, and for the next 5 years we worked together - a lot (and we remain close). He took the police and related end, I took the health, Leslie the social services, and all of us (it seems to me, anyway), were servants to these people seeking refuge.

In summer 2005 my son, David and I were visiting David's birth father outside of Phnom Penh. I was sitting on the floor in the living room and who came in, but Anh, the woman who was lying on the bed in that apartment on Bryan! She and her sister, Ean were staying in the same house in Phnom Penh - Ean and I had a good time, sitting on the upstairs balcony, watching the rain come in - and we are circling, circling.

3/20 - Garden

The old garden roses are blooming - Old Blush (1789), Hermosa (1840), Archduke Charles (1825), Perle d'Or (1884), Marie Pavié (1888), Lady Banks white (1807), Mme. Joseph Schwartz (1880), and here comes American Beauty (1875), New Dawn (1930), Buff Beauty (1939), and one very old rose whose discovery dates back to the 1600s). Wood sorrel (oxalis), iris, woodland phlox, trandescantia, rosemary, and other flowers starting to bloom. Texas mountain laurel blooming and perfuming. The Marine Corps flag is flying with pride, as it has since the U.S. first went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq - Semper Fidelis.   

3/19 - An email from Leslie to Diane & Marisa

Hi friends,< xml="true" ns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" prefix="o" namespace="">

Maryam was discharged today about 1:00. I saw her yesterday and had a long visit + began trying to make arrangements to have A____ (brother) admitted at Green Oaks as his condition continues to deteriorate. Maryam and N____ both want him hospitalized and put back on his meds but he has continued to refuse to go into the Baylor ER altho staff have assured the family that he would be admitted. I did not go to the apt today as they were waiting for the Hospice Nurse so I don’t know if N____ and her husband who arrived yesterday were able to take him to Green Oaks after I left yesterday- that was their plan when I left about 4:30.

So see how this sounds for a plan:

Tomorrow while Nora and I finish with patients and close the clinic, maybe the 2 of you could visit her and see that everything is in place with Hospice (I have the # for Vitas but don’t know what Social Worker and Nurse are assigned). I will plan to go on Friday and over the weekend. We need to visit whenever we can- she has begun to have increasing symptoms as the cancer spreads throughout her body. Two days ago, she began having severe pain in her right leg, a result of it spreading to the bones in that leg, and yesterday she began to have difficulty swallowing. So Min predicts that she has only a short time (when pushed for an estimate, she told me 4-6 weeks and maybe less). As the cancer progresses, Min says that she will decline rapidly so we need to schedule ourselves to go by any day we can. If we share and you take Thursday/Friday beginning next week, I’ll take the rest. It is a great comfort to both Maryam and N____ to have us so I think we must do whatever we can.

I’ll bring the phone numbers and address tomorrow and we’ll work out the details. Diane, Maryam loved the flowers that you brought and tells me often how much she loves us.

If either of you are praying people, now would be the time. My hear breaks for this family, scattered all over the world, who in the end don’t even have their Muslim brothers and sisters to support them. To my knowledge (and Min’s) there has only been one visitor from the mosque in < xml="true" ns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" prefix="st1" namespace="">Richardson and that was at least 2 weeks ago. Of course, we haven’t discussed the irony that this beautiful Muslim girl would die surrounded by a Jewish Dr., his Hindu Nurse, a fellow wounded soul from Burma and her Christian friends from Agape.

I’ll see you tomorrow. Thanks for your help.  

Leslie

3/18 - She arose gracefully and walked toward me to step on the roach I had just flicked off my leg, roses, politics 

That happened yesterday at an apartment where I was with a man and two women, one of them dying. I wish I could post a photo. Such beauty. Leslie is IT in this deal - I'm just helping out on the margin. Has to be a women because the woman who is dying is Muslim. Every time I turn around, and especially in matters of faith it seems to me that Leslie is there. Today in Sunday school Dan said (teaching from 1 John), "We are to love in deed and truth, not just word and speech ... we ought to lay down our lives for one another." And so, there is Leslie, caring in deed and truth, laying down her life for another - a true, living manifestation of agape.

I've been thinking for several weeks about the idea of laying down your life for others. In the past I thought this was only when a person sacrificed their life for others (I wish I was a sacrifice and somehow still lived on), but now I'm realizing there are other ways to lay one's life down.   

A few of the roses are blooming. Old Blush is always the first to bloom. There is one by the corner of the house and another to the right of the front steps. Archduke Charles (I don't name them, I just grow them) in the front bed came into bloom today. Lady Banks (in the alley) has a few scattered blooms; it will be in full bloom in about a week, I think. Here is my Cottage Garden site.

I've been a yellow-dog Democrat (if they run a yellow dog for office and call him a Democrat ...) most of my life - until 9/11/2001. One of my first thoughts on that day was, "Thank God that Al Gore (who I voted for) is not President." I understood with clarity that we are at war and for all his faults and missteps before and after 9/11, Bush is by far the better war-time President. He is the Commander-in-Chief and I'd follow him to hell.  One of my regrets is that I am too old to fight. 

On 9/12/2001 I broke down my weapons and cleaned them (not that they were dirty!), reassembled them and reloaded. The next day I started writing an article on bioterrorism (here is an early version of that article, which was published in a primary care journal). 9/11 threw me right back into that psychological place I was during and after Vietnam.

What a strange decade this has been! Waking up and finding myself in bed with (ewww) Dick Armey or that vile fellow from Sugarland (gag). One day in Sunday school, a friend brought a woman who was on her way to Iraq to be a human shield (protecting none other than Saddam Hussein - talk about bizzaroland!) and she sat by me. I think they thought I would be sympathetic. Not hardly. I felt confronted, but didn't say anything.

3/14

Happy birthday, Leslie. We started 46 years ago. What a time it has been. Still working together, heading to Asia in a few months, fortunate me.

Today, as I was leaving Bible study I got a call from Caroline ("All my life I've been in the revolution" - 2/27/07), who said, "I awoke this morning and I have the answer." "Yes, go ahead." "We can take a clinic to the borderlines. Then we can cross the river." In one sense, "borderlines" refers to the Thai-Burma border, and a river marks the border. Still, she knew what she was saying on other levels as well. "What do you think?" "I don't know. I don't know what will happen tomorrow - you want to go back?" "Yes."

Maryam is coming home today. She is having increased pain and difficulty swallowing (the latter is an ominous sign in the context of advanced cancer). Her brother was decompensating yesterday when Leslie was at the hospital. I don't know how that unfolded in the end. Leslie and I have been talking about our lives and the people we know - Caroline, Maryam, Jeff, Ron, Marisa, Alison ... I wonder, will the circle be unbroken? Will we hear the angels sing along? Muslims believe in angels. Sometimes in a dream ... 

A Pure Heart

This week a young Lao-American nurse started volunteering with the clinic. She came to us via Martin and knows Alison. As it turns out she grew up in the East Dallas enclave and was associated with Alison long ago. I asked her if she was at Alison's wedding and she said, yes ...

In the 1980s there were several main individuals serving refugees in East Dallas: Ron Cowart (and Melinda), Shirley and Ron Decker, Charles and Leslie, and Alison. Of course there were many others as well, like Lance, John the dance guy, and so on.

For a long time I didn't care for Alison. I thought her work with exclusively young people did not strengthen families, which I saw as a major need. So I was not very nice, but she always was. Then around 1987(?), a woman some of us were helping died. I was at her apartment when she died and afterward. At some point Alison came by to see the woman's daughter and after about 15 minutes, left. I was thinking, yeah, you're a big help. Awhile later, back she comes - with cartons of 7-Ups, etc. and suddenly I saw past my own stuff and saw Alison for what she is - a beautiful, faithful presence in the world. That sight turned me around and I asked Alison if we could work together after this and she said yes, and here we are, friends, some 20 years later and partners in The Work (and she and Leslie are deeply close).

Alison and Jim were married in a beautiful small church in Old East Dallas. The sanctuary was full of young people whose lives Alison changed. I don't know how many there were, 50, 100(?), but that's not the point - 5 would be astonishing. Being there, seeing this living testimony to a Pure Heart was a true high point in my life - jewels. And here in the clinic was one of those young people. What a life I have. 

3/7 - David in the countryside, a family with gravitas, & Buddy 

David spent a day with the Moeung family at a zoo outside of Phnom Penh a couple of days ago. This is the family that lives a few doors from his apartment and has taken him in. The relationship with the Moeung family has meant a significant and positive change for him. He has breakfast with them almost every day and dinner many evenings. He experiences them in a special way that I'm unsure how to characterize. For one thing (I think), they are not frivolous nor given to the beer-drinking triviality that is fairly common. And on the other hand, they are not caught up in religiosity and judgment. I perceived them as sober, dignified, and intelligent. It will be interesting to see what DK thinks about what I just wrote. A picture of Chanmony, the girl who was our first contact with them is below. The following is an email Leslie received from 9 year old Chanmony today (the Khmer address people - including those not related - mostly by relationship or title like mom, uncle, daughter, etc.). Photo: The Moeung family and David; below, Mony

Dear Mom,

I'm very glad to meet you again by this mail. I have some good news to you . About my exam it's wondefull I'm the first in the class "the very cleaver student" in my college.Yesteday David and my family went to a walk at the Phnom Tamao ( mountain )whose have a small zoo We can see the dance of elephant and afther that we go to the big lake Baty . David likes to swim very much.That is the best souveneir.( see the photos in my attachs). How about you ? and Chales ? I think everybody is alright.Please take care your  health. Now it's time that  I go to study Dear Mom see you soon  Love  Mony

Our dog Judo (AKA Buddy) is half golden retreiver & half pit bull. He came to us when he was about a year old like this: Leslie saw him hanging around on our street one very cold day and tried to get him to come to her, but he would not. When I came home that day I also saw him & was also unsuccessful at getting him to come to me. I followed him around the corner and finally got him into the truck and brought him home. He was very skittish, but friendly toward Goldy, our golden retreiver. It was snowing that night and I tried to keep him penned up in the kitchen, but he was just going crazy in there, barking and knocking things around. Finally I gave up and let him outside. I went out with him and made a pile of straw (I had several bales for the garden) with a little partial cave in it. He went straight to it and curled up as cozy as could be in a pretty good snow storm. He was still there in the morning and here we are 10 years later ...

Buddy has a warrior heart - a great dog. He is fine with people and totally aggressive with un-castrated male dogs, not to mention cats. For the first year or so that we had him he escaped from the yard more days than not. He would dig under the fence, squeeze through, who knows how all he got out. One day I looked out and there he was, standing in the yard with a deer leg in his mouth. I got it away from him and the next day he was back with another. He apparently found a deer carcass somewhere. Oh, he brought plenty of gross things home. When he escaped he would usually show up on our front porch, a little the worse for wear, but happy.

Over the years he has studied our habits and has fine-tuned his ability to predict where we will walk. He has become the finest of door-lying (also end of bed-lying, etc.) dogs. Wherever we go, there he is stretched out and in the way. It's no problem during the day, but at night, in the dark, there he is, for one of us to stumble over.

Another of his tricks is uphill, backing up, sideways pooping. He actually prefers backing up to a fence or standing, teetering on a slope - doo-wacka-doo. What a cute dog he is.

3/6 - Email from David

A guy came by this afternoon and asked at the front desk in the lobby for me. They called me and said a certain ________  wanted to see me. Apparently he had read your stuff on World Is Round and saw that your son was working in Phnom Penh. His son (who is in his 40s) is also working here, so he came by to meet me. We had a nice chat standing out in front of the lobby, and he said he's enjoyed your pictures. Anyway, kinda strange world when you can be on the other side of the world from where you live and and find someone who is looking for you because he read about you on a website that your dad posts on.

His son owns a guesthouse here and has been here for four years, and he invited me to visit sometime. Crazy stuff.

3/5 - Tickets

Leslie got the tickets today: Cathay Pacific RT DFW-HKG-BKK-YGN-BKK-HKG-DFW. Only 3 hours from arrival BKK to departure for YGN - it'll be a dash. Then when we get back to BKK stop off for a few days on Soi Rambuttri (near Khao San Road) and then Air Asia to PP. David tells us we will have jobs when we get to PP, a very good thing. Now to work out where we'll live in PP. The last time we were at Angkor I was thinking "the next time we're here" - which I recognized at the time as a pretty cool concept ... anyway, this time, it's a moto to Bateay Srei and Beng Mealea. People have negative things to say about KSR, but to me, the area is very good and anyway, we won't be hanging out on KSR itself. I think this is called flight of ideas. I'm pretty excited that it's done, it's set. Thank you, Leslie. Two months in SE Asia.

We have 10 days in Burma. It makes me shiver to write that. I'm thinking Rangoon (YGN), Inle Lake area, Pegu (Bago), maybe Moulmein (Mawlamyine) - kind of in Kipling's steps. On previous trips we spent a lot of time in Mandalay area (we were big fans), Bagan, and Rangoon. How many people have the good fortune to go to Burma 3 times? Burma used to be very hard traveling. We've stayed in several places with walls about 6' high and something like chicken wire to the ceiling, shared outside toilets and showers, and needless to say no electric. I think it's different now - bottled water, electric, restaurants with chairs with backs, the works... I'm very excited.

Here is my site with a page on Burmese refugees. When I leave my job in a few years I guess that site will go down.

Taking Judo for a walk here in just a minute. Got a couple of bricks in my pack. Getting ready! 

3/3 - 1st Chinese BBQ & limits

Leslie talked with Cathay Pacific this morning and got a good price RT tickets DFW-HKG-BKK-YGN-BKK-PP. Then we went to 1st Chinese BBQ, which has turned out to be a place where we make travel plans. Where in late 2004 Leslie said, "Do you think you and David and Jeff would like to go to Asia?" Where on 10/22/2006 I wrote in my journal that Leslie and I were going to "make concrete plans for everything we need to do before we leave" to visit David in Cambodia. Where today we looked at the print-out of the itinerary from Cathay Pacific and said, yes, this looks good. 

I've reached my limit. The first time I remember reaching my limit was in Viet Nam when we'd spent a night and day waiting patiently on an ambush. I was in a padi, so there was no shade and no chance to get up or move around to get more water. I guess I was pretty dehydrated and late in that long day, when the shooting started, I and some others ran up a trail toward a little hut from which we were receiving automatic weapons fire. When it was over we headed back toward Hill 55 and I couldn't go on. I was dehydrated and having a heat stroke and I remember thinking how sly I was as I tried to convince the others to go on without me. I was saying something like, "I'll be fine. I'll just rest here for awhile and catch up with ya'll ..." They poured their water over me and got me up the hill, no problem. Did you catch that? They poured their water over me ...

The 2nd time was when I came home from VN. The 3rd time was at the end of the 2-3 years of starting hospice. The 4th was after 5-6 years of total time working with Cambodian refugees. This is the 5th & it involves work and clinic and I'm worn out - which is not a bad thing. 

I wish I was a sacrifice, and somehow still lived on

3/2 - Making friends

A couple of days ago I was at another agency (through which Maryam's brother is treated) to give them an update on her status and perhaps light a fire for getting the brother's future planned as he will need living assistance. The person was saying, "What do we need to do?" And I'm saying, "Start planning." I gave her the address of a group house for people with mental illness, but I doubt she'll f/u. And she says, "Should I call _____  (someone who works at her center)?" And I say, "No need. I've never gotten a lick of work out of him." Oops.

Here is the history: they had a program to find and assist human trafficking victims and not only could I not (3 requests) get anyone from the agency to visit our waiting room to address a room full of people who have a very good idea where trafficked women are - I couldn't get brochures out of them! More often than not, when I would pass by the agency there would be staff sitting on the porch, smoking, talking. They had this program where people who had been tortured would paint flower pots with little flowers and designs. I'm telling you the truth here. All in all, pretty offensive stuff. But I guess now I'm the offensive one. But there's more.

Maryam told Leslie her brother had quit taking his medications. Leslie then called the psychiatrist, who, when they finally talked said, "I don't know why you people keep calling me. There's nothing I can do." Then she started telling Leslie why she (the psych) couldn't do anything and my wife says, "I don't have time for this," and brought the conversation to a close.

Why aren't we more politic? Often we are, but we've been confronted by this sloth and ineptitude and injustice for sooooo long. I mean, it's bleeding amazing. Once I was taking Van (pronounce like "vun"), a Vietnamese woman with advanced cancer to Parkland and the translator cancelled at the last minute and so with the woman in my truck, stopped by a multicultural assistance center and to see if their Vietnamese translator could help. There were about four staff people sitting around a table folding paper cranes for a peace festival or something like that. The director said, Sorry we can't help. We have to fold a 5000 (or some number) of these by tomorrow for (the event). Bizzaroworld. I just walked out. What could I say?   

Today, Leslie took her Dad to visit Maryam. Now there's an unreconstructed Alabama man in the mix, if only briefly. This was a good thing, all the way around. One Love.

3/1 - Update & where we've lived (more reminiscing)

Leslie and Marisa visited Maryam today. She's doing well - In the context of terminal illness. The palliative care team is going far beyond what one might expect in these days of "the healthcare industry" (a vile term & concept). It appears that things may come together without much intervention on our part. Amazing. Reminds me of comments from a few days ago re mercy (my teacher and Maryam's doctor are well-known to one another). 

_______________________________________

A year or so ago I started writing My Life, an utterly unpublishable account of my life, written mainly for David. Most of it is in a Word document and kept in a binder. In terms of word count, this journal should catch up with that writing in a few months. I was thinking today that besides for David, another use might be reading it when we get truly old. And I was thinking about where we've lived ...

Corner of Cole & Lee Streets: When we got married I was living in a triangular apartment on McMillan near Henderson. David Nichols was living in one of the other apartments in that building. It was there that I had my first healing vision. After we were married, Leslie and I lived in the Cole/Lee apartment. It was a wonderful time, but the place was not that memorable. We moved to ...

5848 Oram was in the hippest block of probably the hippest street in Dallas. Our apartment was a series of rooms all in a row - living room, dining room (except we didn't use it as a dining room), kitchen, bedroom & very long bathroom, and another room. Sally was the manager and she and her family were very good neighbors. Part of the time we had our bed on the living room floor and part of the time in the bedroom. Jeff & Renee lived with us for awhile and there were a lot of people passing through. The apartment, the building, the whole street was a scene. The kitchen was a warm, slightly off-center room where many good times were had. By now we had a cool little dog named Puppy-Tail and then another dog named Beefheart. Jeff & Renee moved back to Nevada and after awhile we went up there to join them.  Photo: our back yard now

Dayton, Nevada was classified by Nevada as a "ghost town" but there were a few people living there. We lived for a few months in a "hotel" across the street from a typical Nevada mining town bar (mining stuff nailed to the walls, shots of corn liquor for a quarter, bullet holes in the walls, even a dried out dead cat nailed to a wall). The whole scene was pretty wild west. I was working construction with Jeff, but things didn't work out and after a brief look at Berkeley, we came back to Dallas.

The Old Vic was on Vickery near Skillman. The things I remember most about this temporary stop of a couple of months was that I was very grateful for Leslie and that the apartment  had a gas refrigerator.

5848 Oram opened up again and back we went. Leslie was working for the Welfare Department and I was making waterbeds with Jeff and David Nichols (we also did the 2 carpenters out of work gig). At some point we found a great place one street over at ...

6014 LaVista: The neighborhood was still hip, but quieter. Our two bedroom downstairs duplex cost $135/month. There were stained glass windows in the living room, a great front porch, and a good kitchen. Leslie was still at the Welfare & I was in school. We had great neighbors - Mr. & Mrs. Foster on one side and Jim & Ruby Coates on the other. There was a man who lived a few doors up the street who spent his days picking up other people's garbage. He was known as the garbage-man and he drove Jim just about crazy. Once the garbage-man was doing some kind of yard work for the Coates' and Jim got upset and went after him in his wheelchair. The chair turned over and Jim just lay there on the ground like a turtle on its' back, cursing. This is where I started gardening after reading a Wendall Berry essay. Jim (Jackson), Mark, and Sabra, and I were spending time together. This moment, is different, from any, before it. This moment is different. It's now. 

23rd Street in Austin: I was in graduate school at UT and Leslie was working for the State. We lived in the spiffest place of our marriage so far - a duplex at the end of a dead-end street with a creek at the end. There was a living room, kitchen, dining area, bathroom and small bedroom downstairs and two large bedrooms and big bath up. Next door to us in a little house was a widower named John. He had been a merchant marine most of his life and he and I used to sit at his tiny kitchen table with him telling sea-stories. This was a great neighborhood with huge trees, old homes, a cool little grocery store a block away, and, to top it all off, an ice cream parlor. When I finished grad school I moved back to Dallas and Leslie moved in with Carol N. in Austin. For a year we had a commuter marriage, spending every weekend together at the ...

Oak Lawn apartment on Herschel Street. During this time I was planning and starting hospice in Dallas. A very intense and difficult time. I took care of Jan Viola as she died of breast cancer during this time. After about a year Leslie got a transfer back to Dallas and we moved to the ...   

Forest Hills Apartments in Hollywood Hills. This was mostly another way station, but a nice one in a beautiful neighborhood. We were having breakfast at John's Cafe one Saturday morning, looking at ads for houses when we saw what looked like a good deal. We went straight over to the house and made an offer to buy and the owners agreed and here we are ... Photo: Front room, home (Karen fabric from Caroline, on chair)

Still in Old East Dallas, living in our happy home where we raised David, where my Mom died, where Goldy chased tennis balls and Judo marauded, where Puppy-Tail, Beefheart, and Goldy are buried, where we may grow old together with roses, space heaters, in our neighborhood. Here is my cottage garden site.

Leslie, thank you. I love you.

2/27 - Coincidence

I was looking at a book this evening - Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth century - a terrible and brutal book (not terrible in the sense of bad writing, but terrible like the Beast) and I found a note I had written some years ago: Why did I hate _____ (the man in the 2/16 entry, Redemption) - for 30 years? Because I found my self, my humanity, my soul in that ville - and he wanted to take it away. Could we have done a My Lai? I don't think we would have - but we could have. Isn't that strange? In the space of a couple of minutes going from just another day on patrol - taking a sniper round every now & then & trying not to step on a mine to a battle for my soul. It just goes to show that things can come down real fast without notice - the same I'm sure for the people in the ville.

2/27 - Writing my mind & All my life I've been in the revolution

Reflecting on this journal I see patterns of love for a good woman, being loved, my son, war, suffering, enduring, mercy, gratitude, quests, having a good time, music. Recently I've had and turned down several opportunities to write. At breakfast the other day I was telling Ron and Melinda that I'm through writing for others (though almost all of what I've written was my passion) and now I'm going to write what's in my mind. Or, to put it in a slightly different way: I'm writing my mind. 

More than a year ago I asked Caroline, a Burmese (Karen) woman who works with us, what she did in Burma. She looked at me in her steady way and said, "All my life I've been in the revolution." Talk about heavy-duty! Not long ago she was telling a couple of us about a time when her family was running from the soldiers and they got across a river into Thailand 15 minutes ahead of the soldiers. What she did not say was that had they been caught they would have all been killed (and the women and girls raped as many times as there were soldiers). It was like a typical veteran's story, short on detail, short on words, and well, you just had to be there, because, think about it - how could I ever understand my family being chased by true evil?

Leslie, Maryam, and Maryam's cousin (see 2/23) were talking yesterday about Caroline. The cousin said that she is an "interesting person." Leslie and Maryam told her some about Caroline and the cousin said, "She seems so delicate." As it turns out the cancer is very widespread ... 

She seems so delicate - yes, she does  

So these are the things in my mind.

2/25 - Patterns, Tet, bun cha

Patterns: A few days ago I wrote, "Pretty soon, maybe, I'll quit writing about killing and dying." It didn't work out that way because things happened beyond my control (see 2/23) - who knows what will happen on a journey? It seems to me I'm writing a lot about war and suffering. War, of course, is part of my life and this is, after all, about my journey. The suffering is some of what I see on this journey; and within the suffering is mercy and the human spirit, enduring in adversity. I am amazed that people are sometimes merciful. To me, that's the greatest miracle. My teacher said today, "Transient acts of mercy are markers of something permanent." There we go. When it seems like there is no use in mercy, because, you know, who cares, here is another reason why - another reason to "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons..." The rest of the verse is, "...freely ye received, freely give." Transient acts of mercy as manifestations of The Eternal.

Tet: Leslie and I went back to the Hong Kong Market area today for more Tet (see 2/18). In Vietnam Tet is a three day celebration; in the U.S., Tet is a two weekend celebration. We went to Bistro B and just like last week, here came the lion dancers. What a scene! The lions (and their drummers) came into the restaurant, which was packed already. They went first to the altar and prostrated themselves, then went leaping and shaking through the restaurant. Oh, it was a grand time for all! Photo: Lions at the altar

Bun cha: I started a month ago trying to get close to grilling pork chops like that are available on the street in Vietnam - plate of rice, pork chop and cold fried egg on top with cucumber, tomato, scallion, and nuoc cham. Not to brag too much, but I'm getting close to the summit of pork chop grilling (I don't think I can actually match those old boys on the street, though) and so have decided to embark on a quest to make bun cha, the supreme Vietnamese street food (according to noodlepie). Right away there is a compromise: the ground pork for the little charred patties is too lean here in the U.S. Can I get away with lean patties? We'll find out. Another part of the puzzle is how to make the kind of like soup that the patties are served in or with. The Sticky Rice guy in Hanoi gives the ingredients (nuoc mam, rice vinegar, water, lime juice, sugar) but no proportions or amounts.     

It was magnificent! The little patties were perfect and not a bit too lean - the best I've ever had with little flecks of char floating in the soupy stuff (which was pretty good - 2 parts nuoc mam, 2 parts water, 1/2 part vinegar, some sugar & some lime juice - with slices of jicama). Grilled pork chops very good, cool noodles just right. What a feast. 

2/23 - Take me down, to the infirmary

This may get a little confusing, but here we go. Over the past year at the clinic we've given some help to some people from the Sudan. One of them is a man with a severe thought disorder as well as PTSD. We treat him for minor problems and another organization treats his psychiatric problems. (Once I went over there to to talk with the psychiatrist about this man and when I was ready to leave, she asked how much Seroquel [a potent antipsychotic for schizophrenia and acute manic episodes] I needed to borrow. I told her I didn't need any and we looked at each other and busted out laughing. It's a crazy world, man.)

Another of the Sudanese who has been in the clinic is the man's sister (we'll call her Maryam here). She is a very sweet woman, 20-something years old, seems lost in America, but making it - working in food service somewhere. Yesterday Maryam's brother came to to the clinic to stand there kind of shuffling and vibrating with his mental illness and the antipsychotics he's got on-board to tell us she was having severe back pain and couldn't leave the apartment. We had a full house at the clinic and I asked two of my students, Dana and Alicia to go to her apartment to see if they could determine what the problem was and what we should do. The anthropologist, Marisa, who works with us also went. (It's good to work with people like these.) They reported back that she really was in severe pain and there was no discernable etiology. There was a cousin visiting and he had a car. We sent them to the ER of the Medical Center nearby.

Today, the cousin came to see Leslie. He was sobbing (recall, he is a Sudanese man). Maryam has breast cancer metastatic to her spine (and probably elsewhere) and was admitted to the hospital. Leslie called to give me the news. I walked across the street to visit her. She looked so small, lying in the bed. "Thank you for visiting me," she said, in her sweet clear voice. Ahh, precious sister. It's a little strange interacting with her like this, she being pretty conservative Muslim and my inclination being to hold hands or whatever and knowing that's a bad idea, so I'm standing next to the bed - further away than I'd like ...

The social worker on the (oncology) unit has Leslie's cell number and it's in the chart, so that's a very good thing - justice-wise. Leslie and Caroline will visit her in the coming days, so here we go, Sudanese, Burmese (Karen), American, African, Asian, Anglo, Muslim, Christian, and my Leslie, a direct descendent of fierce old Isaiah.

So take me down,

to the infirmary.

Lay me down,

on cotton sheets.

Put a damp cloth,

on my forehead.

Lay me down,

let me sleep, let me sleep.

This is the saddest thing. Here we go.

2/20 - Pretty soon, maybe, I'll quit writing about killing and dying

Here is something from an email I received today from a man in Australia who had been to some of my websites, "... I was researching the area around Hill 55 in Vietnam. Why was I doing that? Because I was a platoon commander for Mike Company, Third Battalion Seventh Marines, which moved into the area in 1968 after 1/26 left. I spent some time on the "Golden Gate" bridge at the base of the hill, and patrolling the the adjacent area. "Dodge City", the "Arizona Territory" and the Go Noi Island are places I will never forget. I was badly wounded and medecaved out after a firefight on the south side of Route 4 on September 14, 1968. My platoon was taken over by Duncan Balfour Sleigh, a wonderful young officer. Shortly thereafter, on November 6, he was killed while throwing himself over some of his wounded young Marines, trying to protect them, in one of the Thuy Bo hamlets. He was awarded the Navy Cross, posthumously. I am hoping to go back to Vietnam soon, and to this area in particular. I am both looking forward to and dreading this experience."

Navy Cross

Thuy Bo was a dangerous place, where a lot of fighting took place - where 1/9 got its name, The Walking Dead. The Golden Gate bridge is where Jerry Georges was killed. We (1/26) took over from 1/9 and as you can see, 3/7 took over from us when we went to the DMZ. Now it's a lovely place that I wrote about in the 2005 return to SE Asia. Though I don't drink, I just got up and poured a taste of whiskey and drank one to Don, the former Old Man of M/3/7. Here's to you, brother. Have a good trip back to where you left your blood in the greenest, most beautiful place ...   

2/18 - And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own ...

This was the weekend of the G5 men's Bible study campout at Bryce's ranch near Fairfield. Mike picked me up Friday afternoon at my house and we hooked up at the church with Jim W. and Chris. Chris and I rode together and started off in the lead, but before we got to I-45, Mike whipped around us and that was the last we saw of his truck until we got to Bryce's. Chris and I had trouble finding the ranch gate in the dark, but thanks to cell phones and Chuck driving down to the gate to wait for us, we finally got there in time for some abuse over our slow driving (more about that later). Dave, Jim C., Mike, Jim W. and Chuck were already there, as was Bryce. We hung out in the house for awhile and as we were finishing dinner, Ken showed up. We were complete.

After dinner we went down the hill to the campfire (it was a cold night) where we talked and sang. Jim C. brought his guitar, fine voice, and vast repertoire of songs (Jim - how we all value him). We sang a lot of the old favorites like In the Garden, A Closer Walk with Thee, and so on - or I should say, Jim, Bryce, and Chuck sang them while the others of us hummed along or just listened. This was a very good time. Mike fell out first and then Chuck. What that meant was that they got the best spots on the living room floor in front of the fireplace and under the gaze of Old Red, a longhorn cow that Bryce had been fond enough of to have stuffed when she died (just the head, of course - I guess they ate most of the rest of Old Red). Ken and I also slept on the living room floor while the others (tenderfeet that they are) slept in the bedrooms.

After breakfast we hiked down to the creek, except that Chris drove, what with the arrhythmias and all, bouncing across the pasture in his rented mini-van. I dug that. He's a tough guy - a lawyer who gave it up to follow his God and go to seminary. He's had a lot of health problems and these days he's practicing law part-time and trying to figure out what next. Anyway, we hung out down there close to the creek, talking. Mike and Jim C. got to throwing cow chips at one another. Boys, come on now! 

We straggled back up to that Mansion on the Hill for horse shoes, potato gun, and general sloth before lunch. Here's how the food worked: Trish fixed casseroles and sides and wrote out detailed instructions for Bryce to follow. He followed the instructions to the letter and everything was great - except somewhere along the line he couldn't find a knife or something and had to call Trish for help (it was in different drawer, of course). After lunch Chris and I took off for Dallas, accompanied by more smart remarks about the slow driving. Later we learned that Mike and Jim W. ran out of gas as they raced back to Dallas. The tortoise arrives first - again.

It was a mighty fine campout. Thanks, Bryce. 

_________

Today, Sunday (Tet) , Leslie and I went to Nam Viet for some bun cha. On the way we were listening to Tammy Wynette and George Jones singing My Elusive Dreams

I know you're tired of followin'
My elusive dreams and schemes
For they're only fleeting things
My elusive dreams

When we got to the place where the restaurant is there was a lion dance going on. The dancers and drummers were very good and as we were ready to leave, they came into the restaurant. It was great. One of the lions gave Leslie butterfly kisses and the children were ecstatic and scared - more good times! And I have tears in my eyes and it's all I can do to not cry. Oh, Vietnam. Beautiful, sad Vietnam. When we were outside the restaurant in the market food area a man came up to me and asked if I remembered him. I did (vaguely, though). He told me I took care of his grandfather a long time ago. I thanked him for remembering me. The drums are still thundering and the lions leaping and I'm crying. I don't do these things so someone will thank me, but it's nice when it happens - especially on this day of remembrance, Tet, 2007. 

2/16 - Redemption

It never occured to me that I would write this. It was something to keep secret and inside me forever; something to take out now and then, turning it over in my mind like the treasure it is (to me, anyway). I told Jeff a few years ago, but he already knew about it, even though he was not on that patrol. 

We were on a long patrol - past even Dodge City. It had been raining for several days or maybe several weeks. I had this raincoat that was far superior to a poncho (I doubt many people ever wore a poncho past their first gunfight with one of those awkward things in the way of everything - I loved my raincoat). We were 3-4 days out, in an area we'd not seen before. We came to a ville and moved around and through it. The plan was to round up everyone in the ville and search the place and people for weapons.

I came to a hooch with a bunker (all the hooches had bunkers in that neighborhood) and inside the bunker were several women and some children. The interesting thing was that one of the women was wet - even her hair, which told me pretty clearly that she had been doing something in a hurry before we got into the ville, i.e., she was most definitely VC. The other woman was holding a baby and the baby was crying, the thin, weak cry of a very sick baby. I was standing there looking at them and it was like I could see myself as they saw me. I was death - unshaven, dirty death. The only clean thing about me was my machine-gun and it was immaculate. The gun oiled, every round in the 200 round belt perfectly cleaned, inspected - all truly perfect. I was looking at them and they were looking at me.

I was thinking, screw this. I'm not going to jack with these people. So I just stayed there, watching them (I had decided not to force them out, but not wanting to be killed, would never have taken my eyes off them). So we're there, they, no doubt wondering what is going to happen and me, just very comfortable with my decision. At some point I tossed a couple of cans of C-rat ham or whatever into the bunker They probably thought I was tossing grenades - they never touched the cans. Then trouble. The lieutenant running the patrol came over and the conversation went something like this: "Get these people out of there." "There's a sick baby in there." "I don't give a shit. Get them out of there." "There's a sick baby in there." "I said, get them out, now." I was thinking, I guess I'm going to have to kill him, but he read my eyes and saw what I was thinking before I could act and he pointed his rifle in my direction (he always carried an M1 carbine, a silly weapon for which I had only contempt - but, an M1 pointed at someone trumps an M60 in the other direction, if you know what I mean) and there was nothing I could do because my weapon was already pointed pretty much down and to the left. Even though I was a lot better gunfight-wise than this guy, there was just no way I could get to him faster than he could get to me. "I'm giving you an order, Marine. Get those g-d m-f people out of there right now." Then two things happened.

The Big Hair (Harris) was off to the side and he put his weapon on the lieutenant and said something like, "Be careful, lieutenant." Whew, what a relief. Then, the people in the bunker started coming out! The lieutenant walked off muttering threats. Harris smiled at me. "Yeah, man - f__in'-A." When the woman carrying the baby came out in the rain I stopped her and I took off my raincoat and gave it to her. She had no clue what that was about so I had to drape it over her. It was like the coat of a giant to her. Ridiculous.

I remember leaving the ville with all those people standing there in the rain and that sad-sack woman with her sick baby standing there with my raincoat dragging the ground.

Redemption song. Making a choice. I chose Life.

2/14 - Sometimes in a dream ...

I talked with the Dean (another tough one) yesterday about my decision to step back from classroom teaching as I wrote about here on 1/30. Sad, but a relief. I was thinking today that it's too bad I can't just stop right now with the clinical team that's with me now (another very good one). All of these students were with me in the community health class (or otherwise connected) last semester and I enjoyed working with them then, too.

I've been visiting someone in the psychiatric unit of the VA Hospital several times a week. The bad news is that he is hospitalized. The good news is that the VA is radically different now than it was when I came home from Vietnam. The people who work there are more helpful than in any hospital I've ever been in - and many of them seem genuinely concerned. It's good to be among all them old boys. 

I remember coming home from VN in 1967. We flew from Danang to Okinawa, where we stayed for a couple of days. One night Carver and I were in a little house where there were some women. There were also 5 or 6 other Marines there - we were sitting in a circle passing a bottle around. I remember looking at the other men, every one of them rear-echelon types, sergeants and staff sergeants, some of them tanned or muscled up or chubby, and I was hating them. I hated them for being in the rear, for being jovial, for being muscled up, for being chubby, for being tanned, for being. One of them noticed me staring at him and said something. In one of the great moments of my life I hit him in the face with everything I had, perfectly, and he went right through the wall. A melee followed and the Shore Patrol was there in what seemed like moments. Carver and I got away, but the next morning they lined all the VN returnees up to look at our hands to see who was involved. I slipped into the already-inspected group for a clean getaway.

We flew into California where we stood in our final formation. That was the saddest thing - 30-something men left from the 180 who started out in C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment 18 months before. The rest were dead, wounded badly enough that they were sent home, wounded three times (automatic go home), or (the truly lucky) sick with malaria and so on.

I remember so clearly sitting in a huge mess hall (I think at Camp Pendleton) full of other men home from the war. Every time I was there I loaded my tray with a ton of food, then all I would eat was chocolate cake and glass after glass of cold milk. Unlike all other Marine Corps mess halls, this one had a juke box and the song they kept playing over and over was Groovin' by the Young Rascals  "... couldn't get away too soon ... doing, anything we'd like to do ... all the happy people we could meet ... we'll keep on spending sunny days this way ... we're gonna talk and laugh our time away ..." Mostly it was all a blur. 

What did we look like? The ones who weren't "in Vietnam" - but the ones who fought in Vietnam? We were the skinny ones, the pale ones, the nervous ones, the sick ones, the ones with cold eyes.

War, our way of life & death

One night we went into L.A., drinking in a Filipino bar close to a freeway. At some point we were running across a bridge over the freeway, a couple of us running balanced on the handrail (it was a wide oval handrail) and a couple of the other guys stuffed into a grocery store basket rolling down the street. Somewhere along the way I was thinking, "At this stage of the game it doesn't make sense to be killed falling off a bridge onto an LA freeway." It was a good time.

I flew from California to Dallas Love Field. Nobody said anything to me - it seemed like nobody would look at me. There were already stories going around about people saying things to men coming home. I can't imagine anyone saying anything to me. How crazy would that have been? My father picked me up. I had nothing to say to him or anyone else. 

2/11 - Another quest, choices

Leslie was talking with someone this past Friday, trying to explain how we operate at Agape. Leslie is not given to quoting from the Bible, but at some point she said something like, "Look at it this way, '...for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'" And there you have it. Agape policy and procedure. Belief and action together. You might say, yeah, well, you can do it like that at Agape, but ..." I would say, "Okay." 

Yesterday afternoon I ran into Carolyn B. at Half-Price Books. Leslie and I were shopping for the child whose family has taken David in in Phnom Penh. While Carolyn and I were talking Leslie picked out Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, The Trumpet of the Swan, and Black Beauty. Has there ever been a better choice of books?

Carolyn was telling me that after she retired from teaching she began working in a hospice and how much she likes it. The hospice is run by Grace Presbytery and so here we are, full-circle. In the beginning hospice was a Christian mission - from the Irish Daughters of Charity to St. Christophers to the many individuals who came to hospice as part of their own spiritual journey. Then Medicare funding came along. I played a part in that, through conceiving and running one of the first national hospice demonstration projects. Because of the availability of money hospice shifted toward for-profit ventures (far out - only in America). A few nonprofits were still involved, but many of them were nonprofit in the same sense that large hospitals are nonprofit: they are not exactly nonprofit. So here is Carolyn, a fine, tough customer, working in hospice as we saw it in the beginning.

Haiphong Red Flamboyant

Dan Foster said today that Jesus did not stop the crucifixion, he transformed it. And here is Carolyn, not stopping death, but transforming it.    

If you aren't sad, if you aren't angry, if you aren't joyous, if you aren't grateful - you probably aren't paying attention

2/10 - A quest, kind of

When I first went to Saigon in summer 2005 I became an aficionado of grilled pork chops. For breakfast almost every day (then and in Saigon in 2006) I had pork chop on rice, with vegetables and a cold fried egg on top + cafe sua da at a sidewalk cafe on Bui Vien Street. Now I am on a quest to get as close as possible to those chops. In my first try I marinated the chops in nuoc mam with sugar + a little Indonesian soy sace (thick, sweet ketjap manis), dry lemon grass, and onion. When I cooked them, I kept dipping the meat back in the little bit of marinade that was left until there was nothing left. They were certainly moist, but also too salty. This next time I used more ketjap manis than nuoc mam, lemon grass, shallot, and garlic. Excellent flavor, but not as moist and tender. I served it with ginger & onion 1:1 with a little hot soy added, lemon juice and black pepper, cucumbers in vinegar and sugar with a little cilantro, sliced tomatoes, and rice. I'm making some progress here. Photo: breakfast 2005. I shared the table with a boy who, when he finished, picked up his books and headed off to school. 

As I noted when writing from Vietnam a few weeks ago, there are some who say that Vietnamese-style charcoal pork chops are good for you! That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

Next time I think I'll use nuoc mam with more sugar, garlic, and onion. Also, Given that I'm making so much progress here, maybe I'll try making bun cha. The nuoc cham for bun cha will take a few tries (the pie-man says there is some vinegar in it) and the patties may be a challenge. But, with the pork chops I'm already past what I've found so far in the U.S.

Here is a cultural tidbit. In Vietnam nobody puts toilet paper into the toilet. It goes into a waste basket beside the toilet. The reason given is that the pipes in VN cannot handle the paper. Of course, there is also the bidet factor. BUT, Leslie mentioned yesterday that in the women's restroom at one of our favorite Vietnamese restaurants, many women apparently put their used paper into the waste basket beside the toilet (no bidet, either). How about that?

February 7 - A good week

A few days ago someone contacted me about thoughts on adopting a child who had been abused or otherwise had special needs. As it happens, I know someone who has done that and went by where he works to ask if he would talk to this other person. There was someone kind of lingering in the doorway, so we went outside to talk. I told him why I was there and he started talking – swearing all the while. He and his wife had adopted several children and they had been through some very painful times. 

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Listening to him, to me, was like listening to someone who’s been in combat – for a noble cause, for something worth fighting for.

 

Frankl wrote about the will to meaning. I didn’t like the book that much, but I love the concept: meaning is essential to survival and essential to becoming. This man I know is heavy-weight. And so, I think is his wife and so are the children, now young or even middle-age adults.

 

Later that day I was at a psychiatric facility visiting someone. We had a prayer and I was so grateful for the many prayers that Martin H. has said for me, because part of what Martin was doing was teaching me to pray.

 

I’m deeply graced by two devout Catholics this week – by others as well, of course, but those two people stand out in my mind. Thanks Ray & Julie. 

February 2

"It's not so much a fault, it's a marvel." That's Leslie talking about me - and this is the revenge of the diarist.

February 1 - round and round

About 10 summers ago some students and I were working out of a small house on < xml="true" ns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" prefix="st1" namespace="">San Jacinto Street near Carroll. One day a girl and a few friends walked over from the apartments across the street and asked what we were doing. We fell into conversation and she began helping us with translations as we worked door-to-door on outreach through the apartments. The girl’s name was Yuridiana and she and her sister Mellisandra were helpful to us in making contact with Mexican families living on that block. One interesting thing about their family is that they were the only ones on their block who had a computer and books in their apartment. Photo: Yuri (in black), Cecelia (looking tired - more about her in a moment), la Abuela in blue and other granddaughters< xml="true" ns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" prefix="o" namespace="">

 

Some months later we moved operations to the Agape Clinic where we’ve been ever since. For about a year Mellisandra helped with translations at the clinic, then drifted away. We kept in contact over the years through family members such as their brother Josué and their older sister Cecelia coming to the clinic from time. I wrote about Cecelia in Stories from La Clinica and here is what I wrote:

 

Connections: Jessica came to the clinic with severe onychomycosis. We had enough itraconazole (a very expensive drug) to give her one pulse, which we did. We then contacted a dermatologist who gave us enough to finish the treatment. The last time we saw Jessica, her fingernails were growing out with no sign of infection. This was a good thing, but Jessica is not really the point of the story. Through the process of treatment, we noticed that Jessica's mother, Maria, seemed distressed. We asked her what was going on and learned that she had no money, her children were going hungry at school, and her husband had been deported. Lupe, our lay health promoter helped get the children signed up for a lunch program and we were able to give the Mom some money. Here is the point of the story: Because someone noticed that something was wrong and Lupe was helpful, one of the neighbors called Lupe in the second week of December, to tell her that the Mom had been killed. The neighbor, Cecelia, took care of the children for eight days until enough money had been donated to send the Mom's body back to Mexico.

 

The point for all of us is that we need to keep paying attention to what else is going on around us besides physical illness. Because someone noticed, we were able to participate in sending Maria home. 2000

 

Last Sunday Yuri called and left a message that she was going to get a scholarship and had some questions she wanted to ask. I called back Monday and we talked. I was afraid I was understanding her, but wasn’t sure, so asked Leslie to talk. As she did I tracked the conversation, and as I did, my throat began to close as I realized it really was not a good deal. In short, Yuri had to sell tickets to a dance and whatever she sold, she got 10% as a “scholarship” and the rest went to the “sorority” that was putting on the dance. There were expenses, too. I was thinking, this is the kind of thing that wears away at people’s spirit as they struggle to go forward in life and get yet another bad deal.

 

I talked with Tina, the student services counselor at Baylor, who gave me some good advice and also offered to talk with Yuri. You didn’t think public schools offer much in the way of counseling did you? So Yuri’s mom and sister came into the clinic today and we talked. Her mom was relieved, I think, that I didn’t believe the sorority scholarship was a good deal. I called Tina to set up a meeting next week – where Yuri will get the best counseling she’s had so far. In the meantime, Marisa, the anthropologist who is working with us offered to help Yuri fill out the Federal Application for Student Aid on-line. And also, I used money from the men in my Bible study to pay the Texas Woman’s University application fee for Yuri. So, we have some good things going.

 

I talked with Yuri this evening who told me that she talked with the sorority sponsor to tell she was not going to participate. She didn’t sound too disappointed – who knows, no doubt she has experience with disappointment. 

 

January 30 - farewell, farewell

Over the past year or so I've felt an ever-growing sense of oppression from the never-ending responsibilities of my job and the clinic. What were once opportunities are now burdens. And the emails, good Lord, the emails. Hey, feel free to send me anything anytime you take a notion to have a thought - let me know, include me in, send me an email.

I stop by Gachet or another coffee shop and I think, man, I'd like to stay here for an hour or two. Maybe read something besides the paper, talk with someone, hang out. Travel with Leslie. I'd like to spend some time with my mate Jeff. Hang out with my other mates, Lance and Ron. Maybe a little more church. Work in the garden (and really want to). Cook some wonderful things. Read. So I've begun saying no thank you to opportunities - guest lectures, chapters, articles, whatnot. And I've carved some relaxing evenings and weekend days out as a result. And of course there have been the two Asia trips since summer 2005.

But I need? want? more than traveling and a few evenings and weekends. I want to feel free; I want to be free. I've run hard for some years now and it's been productive and fulfilling. Now I think it's time to slow it way down. I told Baylor several months ago that I wanted to teach only the community health clinical on Wednesdays and Thursdays - and no more classroom teaching. But we reached a tentative agreement that I would write a book on health missions and that work would keep me at close enough to full time to stay on their insurance. But the prospect of the book is also oppressive. I don't want to do it, which is a shame, because I can write pretty fast and well these days. 

Yesterday, Sunday, Leslie looked carefully at our financial situation and we talked long and seriously about what we can do and what will be best for us. Part of the consideration was that my mother and father both died in their mid/late 60s. I'm 62. I live a healthier lifestyle than they did, but still, that's not an insignificant thing. So Leslie and I talked and decided that part-time teaching is plenty for now. No book. I'll go on her insurance and we'll cut back a little on expenses. 

~ I feel a lot lighter now ~

Here is a Guide to Community Resources in Dallas - done by my students ... and a clue to why I don't just turn my back on my work.

January 23

Today I went to Hu Warden's funeral. Hu was a member of the Wednesday morning men's Bible study at First Presbyterian Church - as am I. I sat with Mike Haney, Jim Carvell, and Bryce Weigand, some of the other Bible study members who were there. It was good to sit with them and the service was good, as was the music: Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past (good luck on me getting through that one without crying), How Great Thou Art, God Be with You Till We Meet Again, and a number of old favorite hymns played on the organ. Hu was a good, sometimes ornery man who declined these past few years. He was in the Corps and fought on Okinawa - a real balls-to-the-wall bloodbath. I remember I gave him a book: With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa and I recall writing about the old breed a few months ago. Hu was old breed. He also was married 60+ years to Helen, a good woman who I think is not ornery. Good work, Hu. Ahh, Helen. Sitting in the chapel, I thought how much I've missed being at church every week. 

1/23/2007 Leslie and I returned 2 1/2 weeks ago from a month in Southeast Asia visiting David. This page is a continuation of Asia 2006-2007, which is a continuation of 2006 Journey Through Life.