January 29th, 2008

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Poem by Galway Kinnell -

Why Regret?
Didn't you like the way the ants help
the peony globes open by eating the glue off?
Weren't you cheered to see the ironworkers
sitting on an I-beam dangling from a cable,
in a row, like starlings, eating lunch, maybe
baloney on white with fluorescent mustard?
Wasn't it a revelation to waggle
from the estuary all the way up the river,
the kill, the pirle, the run, the rent, the beck,
the sike barely trickling, to the shock of a spring?
Didn't you almost shiver, hearing book lice
clicking their sexual dissonance inside an old
Webster's New International, perhaps having just
eaten of it izle, xyster, and thalassacon?
Forget about becoming emaciated. Think of the wren
and how little flesh is needed to make a song.
Didn't it seem somehow familiar when the nymph
split open and the mayfly struggled free
and flew and perched and then its own back
broke open and the imago, the true adult,
somersaulted out and took flight, seeking
the swarm, mouth-parts vestigial,
alimentary canal come to a stop,
a day or hour left to find the desired one?
Or when Casanova took up the platter
of linguine in squid's ink and slid the stuff
out the window, telling his startled companion,
"The perfected lover does not eat."
Didn't you glimpse in the monarchs
what seemed your own inner blazonry
flapping and gliding, in desire, in the middle air?
Weren't you reassured to think these flimsy
hinged beings, and then their offspring,
and then their offspring's offspring, could
navigate, working in shifts, all the way to Mexico,
to the exact plot, perhaps the very tree,
by tracing the flair of the bodies of ancestors
who fell in this same migration a year ago?
Doesn't it outdo the pleasure of the brilliant concert
to wake in the night and find ourselves
holding hands in our sleep?
~ Galway Kinnell ~
(Strong Is Your Hold)

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Jane's Poem -

Jane was responding to the new book that is out by David Rieff, on the death of his mother Susan Sontag.  She was a fighter, decades of fighting cancer.  The book is Swimming in a Sea of Death.

Jane's Poem:

For Susan Sontag
The desire to live
that burns in some
compels the fight
denies acceptance
is it ego holding fast
or the force that permeates
the tree and holds it half in ground
and half in air for centuries?

 - Jane Ann Flint

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Ego vs. Destiny -

Jane and I spoke for a few minutes this morning as we do, and then, each wrote.  We then spoke again to share what came.  We realized we were both struggling to understand this subject of ego vs. destiny.   Our results are in different forms.  I struggle to understand how the candidates continue day after day, what motivates them.  Perhaps they truly do believe they are the only one  to change the world.  I always felt John Kerry didn't really have his heart in it, and I think Al Gore is comfortable where he is now.   Anyway, this is my exploration of the subject for myself.  I feel a bit sad this morning.   I think the three Democrats left standing at this point have good motivation and heart, and we need the one that can win, that can beat the Republicans.  It is looking like it will be McCain, and in this moment, I feel Barack Obama is the one who has the best chance to win in 2008.

The Campaign Trail


Where are the steps that lead us to our destiny

as easily as the hummingbird to the throat

of the flower,

the wings to the lift of the air.


Some people think they should be president

of the “greatest country in the world.”

They have ideas on how to lead,

are forceful in their speech,


and some hold back on dreams,

that may not be their own.

My two cats, Tiger and Bella,

live in union with their desire.


They eat, hunt, play, nap, sleep, all four paws

in agreement

with their way of life,

their family unit, their small tribe.

Any gene in them to lead is safe from organization

and speech after speech after speech.


Humans survive in relationship.

Is it ego or destiny,

that lubricates the head,

with the myth of the pride?


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Choice -

As medical treatment has become more complex, we all will most likely have to struggle with how to let go and when to release.
There are no easy decisions when it comes to this subject. 


A Fight for Life Consumes Both Mother and Son

Published: January 29, 2008

“A good death” may be one of the emptiest phrases in the English language. Research has confirmed that no two people use it to mean exactly the same thing. Even the premise is unclear; for whom, exactly, is that death supposed to be good? Many would prefer a swift, sudden and painless exit for themselves — but a little warning when it comes to friends and relatives, with time to prepare and to say goodbye.

“A bad death” is another matter. We all know those when we see them, the miserably protracted and painful affairs that overwhelm everyone — the deceased and survivors alike — with panic, guilt and bitter regrets.

And now we have a new benchmark of bad. The writer Susan Sontag's death, as set out in this short and immensely disturbing account by her son, David Rieff, must rank as one of the worst ever described.

For starters, it took a long time. Ms. Sontag was diagnosed with breast cancer metastatic to the lymph nodes in 1975, at 42. She survived the draconian treatment and the years spent expecting her unlikely remission to end, only to develop unrelated uterine cancer in the late 1990s. Again she survived, and again she developed a new cancer,  this time myelodysplastic syndrome, a virtually untreatable variant of leukemia, probably related to the treatment for the first two. She died in 2004.

Three decades of having cancer, being treated for cancer or waiting for cancer to recur might bring out the inner philosopher in some. In Ms. Sontag, an inner adolescent seems to have emerged instead, with each battle and victory strengthening her determined appetite for life and her conviction that she was immortal. Intellectually, of course, she knew otherwise, but she balanced that age-old contradiction with the insouciance of a helmetless 18-year-old on a snowboard. “She believed in her own will, and, grandiose though it may seem, in her own star,” Mr. Rieff says in his book. “My mother came to being ill imbued with a profound sense of being the exception to every rule.”

To watch that kind of arrogance and bravery succeed is marvelous; to watch it fail, dreadful. For an elderly woman with a body weakened and deformed by prior surgery and bones oozing new malignant cells, failure was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

Such was the strength of Ms. Sontag’s giant personality, however, that apparently no one in her coterie of friends, family or physicians was willing or able to help her along the path to accepting the inevitable. She took them with her instead, on the snowboard heading straight for a cliff.

During the nine months before the final plunge Ms. Sontag embarked on an all-out campaign to cure an incurable disease. She experienced gruesome mental and physical suffering before and after a bone marrow transplant that predictably failed: recurrent hospitalizations, dire infections, wild mood swings, bouts of confusion — all punctuated by desperate Internet searches for more and better treatment. She never admitted she was dying.

“Obviously,” Mr. Rieff says, “there is no comparison between the sufferings of a person who is ill and the sufferings of those who love them.” Still, one suspects he got the worst of the deal, for despite what he describes as a tense relationship with his mother, he was cast in the role of head cheerleader. His job was to enthusiastically endorse her struggle, always to be optimistic and supportive and never, ever, to talk about death.

“What she wanted from me was an adamant refusal to accept that it was even possible that she might not survive,” Mr. Rieff writes. Ms. Sontag “might be covered in sores, incontinent and half delirious,” but Mr. Rieff would “tell her at great and cheerful length about how much better she seemed to look/seem/be compared to the day before.”

Months of this duplicity left him guilty and miserable, obsessively revisiting every decision again and again, even — and especially — after she died. On the one hand, Mr. Rieff acknowledges, “she was entitled to die her own death.” On the other: “Did I do the right thing? Could I have done more?”

Poor Mr. Rieff wound up entangled in the single biggest dilemma in medicine: how to calculate the dose of hope, that most powerful of all medications, to be dispensed in hopeless cases. The professionals stumble here all the time. No child could or should be asked to get it right for a parent.

It is small wonder that Mr. Rieff finds all the usual compromises inadequate. He is equally upset by the platitudes in a brochure trying to make a bad disease seem not so bad, by a doctor who pulls no punches in announcing how bad it actually is, by friends who maintain against all reason that Ms. Sontag is going to survive and by doctors who suggest that she should settle for smaller goals than survival.

Mr. Rieff’s misery as a son is so palpable that it seems petty to wince at some of the decisions he makes as a writer. This is a jagged, strangely shapeless work, as if the author were determined not to smooth any part of it with standard narrative tools. Ms. Sontag’s story is told only glancingly; his own whirling emotions take center stage. For a journalist (Mr. Rieff is a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine), he chooses some odd locutions, with jarring “dear reader” interjections and annoying neo-verbs like “vigilize.”

Most frustrating of all is that Mr. Rieff maintains an unflagging admiration for Ms. Sontag’s primary physician, yet the reader never learns the exact words this doctor chose to counsel his famous, courageous and deluded patient as the months passed. Would uninvolved observers find them inspiring, or problematic? It is hard to know.

When it comes to dying writers, William Saroyan said it best: “Why am I writing this book? To save my life, to keep from dying, of course. That is why we get up in the morning.” Desperate as she was to live, Ms. Sontag knew perfectly well that she was bound to live on in her work.

Mr. Rieff has now guaranteed her a second immortality. He and his mother will undoubtedly survive for a long time to come in medical school courses on death and dying — as a case study in how not to do it.



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Sensory Awareness -

You may remember that my "homework" for the Sensory Awareness study group was in the first week to wake up, and feel what was happening as I woke, and to say what I was grateful for.

The second week we were to pay attention to our dressing routine and perhaps dare to change it.   Could I put my left leg on first, rather than the right?  Yes!!

This week we are to eat one meal a day alone, without reading or listening to music.  We are to pay close attention to "the physical sensations of eating, texture, taste, temperature, etc. of the food."   Before beginning to eat, we follow three breaths.

I just did that for my breakfast.   What an amazing experience still juicing in me.    Try it.

We are also reading Pema Chodrun's, wonderful little book, Practicing Peace in Times of War.

I recommend that too.   Eat one meal today, alone, and in silence.   Yum!    Feel and honor how beautifully your inner hums.

We are alive and can consciously choose to live and feast in that aliveness.  Awake!!

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This is beautiful, a must-read!!!

When I was going through chemotherapy, I was "forced" to receive.  It was the oddest thing when I suddenly realized that in receiving, I was also giving.  People love to give, and someone "needs" to receive it.  I was that someone for a time, and a beautiful flow and glow of energy surrounded me the whole time.

Read this and feel inspired.   I know this election is pulling us back and forth.  Relax and believe in the beauty of people, the giving and receiving of joy.