Archive for the ‘Service’ Category

Nothing To Be Proud Of

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

I was proud of myself.  And then I was ashamed of myself for being proud of myself.  You see, the very thing of which I was so proud was something over which I had no control – a complete coincidence, to be sure.  No one deserves to be proud of themselves for something they didn’t do on purpose – like being tall, or not needing glasses.

Why was I proud?  I had just dropped off a couple hundred ounces of frozen breast milk packed in dry ice at a UPS distribution center for overnight delivery to a milk bank in Indiana.

Why was I ashamed?  Because given the circumstances donating the milk was the only decent thing to do.  It wasn’t heroic.  It was the very least I could do.  Anything else would have been borderline despicable.  So being proud of myself for donating it felt awfully self-serving.

What are the circumstances I refer to?  Well, the fact that I had a few hundred ounces of frozen breast milk to give in the first place.  For reasons that are unknown to me and completely out of my control, I produce a lot of milk.  (I joke that I’m part Holstein.)  It was this way when IEP was a baby, and now with SSP we’re right back there.  I make more milk than any one baby needs and it piles up in our freezer.  When this happens I have two choices – let it go to waste, or ship it off to a milk bank for babies who need it.  Seriously, there’s only one right answer here.

As I got to thinking about this I was reminded of a passage in the book I’m currently reading, Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman.  It’s a charming and insightful book; one that I’m quite glad my mother pushed on me.  Amidst the author’s commentary about all that American parents do wrong she does call out the French for quite shamelessly ignoring the benefits of breast milk.  As a culture they turn, almost unilaterally, to formula.  It was one of the few parenting decisions she made that ran counter to her fellow Parisians.  However, in her discussion of this topic she also calls out American mothers for turning nursing into a competition.  She writes:

After the baby is born, the first obvious difference between French and American moms is breastfeeding.  For us Anglophone mothers, the length of time that we breast-feed – like the size of a Wall Street bonus – is a measure of performance.  One former businesswoman in my Anglophone playgroup regularly sidles up to me and asks, faux innocently, “Oh, are you still nursing?”

It’s faux because we all know that our breastfeeding “number” is a concrete way to compete with one another.  A mother’s score is reduced if she mixes in formula, relies too heavily on a breast-milk pump, or actually breast-feeds for too long (at which point she starts to seem like a crazed hippie.)

In middle-class circles in the United States, many mothers treat infant formula as practically a form of child abuse. The fact that breast-feeding requires endurance, inconvenience, and in some cases physical suffering only increases its status.

It is a passage that stuck with me.  Reading it made me realize afresh how absolutely ridiculous it is to associate any amount of status with nursing.  Yes, I’m all for promoting the health benefits to both the mother and baby.  I’m all for eliminating any negative stigmas attached to nursing.  And I would certainly advocate for anyone who has the ability to nurse her baby for at least six months (and up to a year if possible) to do so.  Nevertheless, many of the circumstances that add up to that kind of success are often out of our control.  A woman’s milk supply can be affected by her diet, level of hydration, and how frequently she nurses or pumps.  But by and large it’s a part of her biology that was determined long ago and in which she had no hand.  The second major factor in successful nursing is the ability to nurse regularly.  Granted pumping greatly increases the freedom and flexibility that a nursing mother has.  Nevertheless, many working women have jobs that don’t afford them the opportunity to stop working for 20 to 30 minutes every three hours so they can pump.

Some women do deserve to be proud for going the distance with nursing.  Women who struggle with supply and pump between feedings just to produce enough milk for the baby to thrive.  Women who battle thrush, and mastitis, and clogged ducts.  Women whose jobs are not at all conducive to pumping and who finagle a way to make it work in spite of crappy logistics.  These women should be proud of what they’ve accomplished if they manage to nurse their babies for longer periods of time because they’ve overcome some major obstacles to do so.  (Which isn’t at all to say that they should be ashamed if they switch to formula instead of doing battle with their breasts each day.  These are highly personal decisions.)

As for me, I am lucky.  I have a good milk supply and a desk job with an office door that locks.  Given this stacked deck nearly any woman could easily nurse her baby to a year.  But the fact remains that not all women are dealt this hand.  And every time we judge or condemn a woman who weans her baby earlier than that we undermine the community and fellowship that all mothers should share.

For a woman in my position, donating the milk was the only decent thing to do.  Being proud of it would be like being proud that my kids are up to date on their shots; or being proud that I gave a seat on a bus to a 95-year-old woman.  When it’s the only reasonable option it’s nothing to be proud of.

A Point of Honor

Friday, February 10th, 2012

About nine months ago my mother and sister started yammering on about some British series that I absolutely had to watch called “Downton Abbey.”  I blew them off.  While I can certainly appreciate a good British production my tastes are typically more mainstream than theirs.  These two can devour episode after episode of the most obscure film or series.  I assumed this was more of the same.  Then the Emmys rolled around and “Downton Abbey” cleaned up.  Over the holidays when we all gathered here for Christmas their well-intentioned suggestions started afresh.  Finally, a couple of weeks ago I gave in.  And…

They were right.  It’s wonderful.  The scenery and costumes are stunning.  The characters are fresh.  The dialog is clever.  The plot is intriguing.  In short, I am hooked.

Imagining a life of evening gowns and ladies’ maids is mind candy enough.  But when I stop daydreaming there are other aspects of this show that pique my interest even further.  The biggest “for instance” in this category is the sense of honor and pride exemplified by many of the characters, most notably the staff.

These are people who are, by all practical means, condemned to a life of service.  There was no way out of the class you were born into in England at that time.  Cooking and cleaning.  Being always present but still invisible.  Tending to the needs – however superficial – of other people all the time.  Zipping dresses they’ll never get to wear and fluffing beds they’ll never get to sleep in.  This is largely thankless work, but these characters take a surprising amount of pride in doing it well and bringing honor to the family they serve in the process.

Watching “Downton Abbey” I can’t help but wonder how many people today put so much of themselves into their work.  I’m not just talking about long hours in corporate cubicles.  Many people put that much of their time into their work.  But how many people derive such a sense of honor from their work?  How many of us avoid foolish behavior because of the shadow it might cast on our employer?  How many of us would tender our resignations because an embarrassing incident from our past came to light and might be seen as shameful to our boss?  I can’t get over the extent to which these characters’ identities are inextricable from their work in the household.

Of course they are fictional characters.  They are largely painted in shades of black and white in the way that many imagined characters are.  So this phenomenon I write of here is likely exaggerated for the screen.  Nevertheless, in shows and films that take place in present day we see characters compartmentalize their personal and professional lives.  (Granted most of us don’t live in our bosses’ homes.  That presents an additional dynamic.)  We see characters try to explain away their mistakes and bad behavior.  We see them fight for their personal gain.  We rarely see such devotion to any person or cause outside the character’s own self.

I suppose what I’m angling at here is that in looking at our culture today I see a lack of service.*  Yes, when earthquakes and tsunamis hit we line up to donate blood and money.  But on a regular basis I don’t typically find that service – to the greater good in any of its forms – is a driving force in the lives of many people around me.  To clarify, I don’t think that being a footman or a ladies’ maid in an aristocratic British house really did that much for the greater good either.  But these characters (most of them, anyway – there are a few weasels in the bunch…) exhibit a true spirit of service, and pride in doing so.  And that is a quality I don’t see much of.  And it’s a quality that I think, if more prevalent, could be an incredible agent for change and improvement in today’s world.

*And I’m not the only one.  Earlier this week I read this article that looks at the career choices of Prince William’s classmates at Eton, sadly noting that most of them have chosen careers that afford them great opportunities to make vast sums of money, but little opportunity to do much real good.

Before and After

Monday, December 5th, 2011

I have a friend who has the kind of hair that every girl envies.  It is fine, but thick.  It is the perfect shade of blonde.  It is well-behaved and straight.  It falls with conviction down to the middle of her back.  It swings when she walks and bounces when she runs.  If she weren’t one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing, I might hate her for it.

I do not have that kind of hair.  My hair is not especially thick; perhaps a bit thinner than average.  It is naturally a bit wavy, depending on the humidity, but I can’t really rely on it ever to do the same thing twice.  My hair and I get along the best when I keep it trimmed just above my shoulders, and I pull it back into a low, parted ponytail quite often.

My friend – the nice one, with the killer hair – isn’t just nice.  She’s better than that.  She is good, and kind, and generous.  Every few years she goes into a salon, sweeps her hair back into an elastic, and instructs the stylist to cut 10 or 12 inches of perfect hair off of her head.  She places it in a plastic baggy and donates it.  Every time she does it I’m inspired.

Because my hair isn’t particularly suited to the half-way-down-your-back look, I’ve never let it get long enough to donate.  (I am a big fan of charity, but also a big fan of personal grooming.)  But with this most recent pregnancy, I had a game plan in place.

When I was pregnant with IEP I discovered that something about pregnancy hormones causes my hair to roughly double in thickness over the course of nine months.  Instead of shedding dozens and dozens of hairs every time I shampoo I lose only four or five individual hairs.  By the end of a pregnancy I have hair that is legitimately enviable.  The flip side to this coin, though, is that a few weeks after delivery karmic justice rears its ugly head and all of the hair that didn’t shed out during the pregnancy exits stage left over the course of about 10 days.  It breaks my heart.

So this time around I decided to trade my heartbreak in for something a little happier.

More than a year ago, before SSP was even in the works, I started growing my shoulder-length locks out.  By the time SSP was born I had enough hair to follow my super nice and super generous friend’s incredible example.  (That photo up top was taken when SSP was two weeks old.)

And last week I walked into my salon looking like this:

Cold feet struck me when I sat down in the chair at the salon.  My stylist gave me a much needed pep talk (“Gale, you have hair and some kid out there doesn’t.”), and then when I gave her the final go-ahead she started snipping.  About an hour later, she stopped.

I walked out looking like this:

Most of my charitable acts are financial donations to good causes, casseroles made for the church food pantry, and time spent volunteering at the local children’s hospital.  But something about this felt different – both bigger and smaller.  I gave, quite literally, a piece of myself.  It wasn’t a ton of hair and will certainly have to be combined with other donations to make a single wig, but, like the widow’s mite, I gave all of what I had, and it was a fundamentally different experience.   It feels quite different to give all that you can, rather than to make a token offering that only represents further generosity that wasn’t extended.

I am amazed by the people like my friend who give this incredible gift over and over.  I wish I had the kind of hair that I could grow out and donate repeatedly, but am thankful that I had the opportunity to do it this once.  It feels good to lay all that you have out on the table.  I should do it more often.

Paging a Creative Solution

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

My favorite page

I suppose I think it’s a shame.  I’ve been mulling it over for several days now, trying to decide what, exactly, was my stance on the decision of the House of Representatives to end its 200-year-old page program.

I was never a page, so I don’t have any personal nostalgia attached to the news.  Nevertheless, I feel a bit sad about it.  I read that, “After nearly 200 years, the House page program that allowed high school students to serve as messengers and learn about Congress is ending, rendered obsolete by the Internet and email in cost-cutting times,” and it took the wind out of my sails a bit.

Apparently the program costs around $5 million per year to run.  And apparently with so much communication delivered electronically now (including the news that the program would be ending), the House just didn’t feel it could justify the cost.  I get that.  This is not a time to be wasting money solely in a nod to tradition.   But why not find something else for these eager and civic-minded kids to do?

I’ve read one after another article in recent years about how today’s teens and college aged kids are narcissistic and utterly self-absorbed.  If that’s really true, doesn’t something like the page program seem like a perfect antidote?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful for these kids to continue to have the chance to get away from home for a summer, become a part of something much bigger and much older than themselves, and learn a lot about how our legislative branch works?  So what if they aren’t needed as errand boys and girls anymore.  That doesn’t mean there’s nothing for them to do.  I wish that, rather than chuck the thing altogether, someone had come up with another use for the pages.  I’m not a Washington insider, so I haven’t the foggiest idea what needs are unmet, but I can’t imagine that there’s nothing in Washington that a group of smart, motivated kids couldn’t tackle.

It’s not that I’m advocating keeping the page program out of some sense of hanging onto the past.  Perhaps there is a token of that – it’s always sad to see something that once thrived wither and die on the vine – but more than anything I think it’s a lost opportunity.  It’s a lost opportunity not only for the kids who won’t get to serve, but also for our country which is giving up on an opportunity to inspire young people.  (Despite the fact that this summer likely wouldn’t have been a very inspiring one on Capitol Hill…)

Congress has proven many times over recently that creative thinking isn’t their forte, so perhaps it’s asking too much to suggest that they come up with a better use for the pages.  But I have a hard time believing that all the value that changed hands through the page program (in both directions) over the past 200 years can be wholly captured by e-mail.

Service and Sacrifice

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

I had a different topic in mind for today, but I’m interrupting our regularly schedule programming because this is more important.

Yesterday while checking in on Facebook I noticed a link posted by my good friend and fellow blogger Aidan at Ivy League Insecurities.  Aidan is currently in the midst of a month-long blogging sabbatical, so I was surprised to see a post from her and immediately clicked over.

I will let you read Aidan’s post yourself, and I hope you will because I think it is valuable, but I will give you a little foretaste.  I’m sure you heard in the news recently of the 30 Navy SEALs who were killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.  It was the largest single-day loss off life for American troops since the war began nearly 10 years ago.  As it turns out, one of the troops killed in that tragic event was the brother of the fiance of one of Aidan’s girlfriends.  When Aidan reached out to her friend to ask what she could do the friend requested a blog post dedicated to her fiance’s brother.  And that is exactly what Aidan did.

When a war has dragged on as our war in Afghanistan has it is easy to grow numb to the depressing statistics that roll through our media month after month.  It is easy to hear the numbers without attaching names or faces or grieving families.  And so I think it is important that, from time to time, we take the time to learn the stories of the soldiers who have sacrificed their lives in service to our country.  It should be painful.  It should be uncomfortable.  It should hurt.  These soldiers are more than talking points for politicians and fodder for cable news pundits.  They are people who have given their lives in service to our country, which is more than any of us have done.

Please click here to read Aidan’s post.  And if you feel so moved, please leave your condolences for Sgt. Hamburger’s family in the Comments section there.  And please, if you do nothing else, give some thought today to all of the families who continue to grieve the loss of their loved ones.

Say It with Casseroles

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Here in the blogging world we like to comfort each other with our words.  We try hard to turn phrases that convey the precise sentiment we’re feeling.  We try to evoke moods and meaning.  Most of the time we at least get close.  But I’m here to say that, as far as I’m concerned, when the going really gets tough nothing expresses care and concern like food.

I’m an old fashioned girl in many respects.  I insist on carrying cotton handkerchiefs, writing on monogrammed stationery, and sending thank you notes any time I’ve been an overnight guest in someone’s house.  GAP indulges and respects my traditional ways, but doesn’t typically share them.  So I tend to go it alone in this regard.  The one exception to this rule is taking food to people in times of need.

Last week the father of a casual friend of ours passed away unexpectedly.  As I read the brief update on Facebook I tried to think of what she must have been feeling; tried to put myself in her shoes; tried to come up with exactly the right words to send her way, offering peace and comfort.  I drew a blank.

Instead I sent her this note:

I wanted to touch base with you and see what your weekend looks like.  I’d like to drop off some food for you and J, but I don’t know when your dad’s funeral is scheduled or what other family plans you might have.  Can you let me know if there’s a time this weekend, or one evening next week when it would be convenient for me to stop by?

From there I went on to express my condolences, although briefly, because I knew that nothing I could say in an e-mail would matter as much as a meal on her doorstep.  Food says all the things that words can’t.  Food takes time.  Delivering it takes time.  Being willing to stay for a visit, or merely drop off the food and leave – depending on the emotional needs of the grieving person – takes nuance and consideration.  All these things combined offer, I believe, a much more compelling expression of sympathy and affection than nearly any string of words.

This whole situation reminded me of a scene in Eat, Pray, Love when Liz Gilbert discusses the differences between her approach to the world and that of her older sister.

“A family in my sister’s neighborhood was recently stricken with a double tragedy, when both the young mother and her three-year-old son were diagnosed with cancer. When Catherine told me about this, I could only say, shocked, “Dear God, that family needs grace.” She replied firmly, “That family needs casseroles,” and then proceeded to organize the entire neighborhood into bringing that family dinner, in shifts, every single night, for an entire year. I do not know if my sister fully recognizes that this is grace.”

Of course my one meal delivered yesterday afternoon falls far short of a year’s worth of coordinated deliveries, but I suppose the sentiment is the same.

I haven’t written this post to say that I get it right every time.  This approach has its drawbacks too.  I have a cousin out of state whose family is currently fighting one of the most hideous cancer battles I’ve ever seen, and short of one batch of macaroons, I haven’t been able to offer much.  So I certainly fall short more than I’d like.  But nine times out of ten I’ve found that I can be much more helpful with the gift of a meal than anything else I might have to offer.

Thus ends my little PSA.  The next time someone you know is in pain, I hope you’ll write them a little note (ideally on monogrammed stationery).  But what I really hope is that you’ll tape it to the top of a casserole dish, along with baking instructions, because your love and affection could hardly be better expressed.

Putting the Honor Back in “Honor”

Monday, June 27th, 2011

The logic goes like this: Women go carousing around committing adultery or having sex out of wedlock.  This brings shame on their families.  So they are murdered by their families in order to restore honor to the group.

That, friends, is the premise of a so-called “honor killing.”

“Honor killings” are most often carried out in the Middle East.  Although (per Wikipedia) they’ve been reported throughout the world including locations in Southeast Asia, and within immigrant communities in France, Germany, and the UK.  Apparently they were first conceived and encourage in ancient Rome because male family members of adulterous women would be persecuted based on the women’s behavior.  Today the United Nations Population Fund estimates that as many as 5,000 women and girls are murdered this way each year, although many women’s rights groups in the Middle East and Southeast Asia estimate that it could be as many as 20,000.

It’s the kind of thing that makes your stomach sink.  You feel like you’ve died just a little inside by merely knowing that such a practice exists, even if it is being carried out continents away by no one you actually know.  It’s horrendous and there is no excuse for it under any circumstance.  And, while it seems like it should be impossible, there are situations when this cruel practice is even worse.

Rape victims are also subject to ”honor killings.”

Yes, women who’ve been subjugated, molested, violated, and abused, are then murdered by the very people who are supposed to love them most due to the “shame” they have brought upon their families.  Truly, it boggles the mind.  But I’m not just trying to bum you out on a Monday, so stick with me.

Equally mind boggling was this article from Salon, which an old high school classmate of mine posted on Facebook.  Apparently, in a small but growing trend, in Syria men are marrying rape victims (whom they don’t necessarily even know) to spare them from “honor killings.”  This all started when four teenage sisters from a Syrian-Turkish border town were raped.  As they healed in the hospital news of their tragic story spread and a small group of men from a neighboring town vowed to marry them.

One of these men said, “I know that these girls suffered. They were taken against their will. I don’t care what they look like, the point is to stand by them, and I do with all of my heart.”

So often all we hear about gender relations in the Middle East is negative.  Men dress in comfortable Western attire, while women must don headscarves and burkas.  Men can drive cars, run for political office, and socialize with whomever they choose at any time, while women’s freedoms are often severely limited.  Rarely do we hear about men stepping up for women who’ve been victimized by the system.  Given all this, I can think of nothing more honorable for these Syrian men to have done.

The Salon article asserts that if this trend continues it may nullify the stigma attached to rape over time, perhaps eventually sparing future victims from further abuse beyond whatever they’ve already survived.  What an incredible transformation that would be!

When I Grow Up

Monday, December 6th, 2010

I think for most people a NICU would be a very unsettling place.  I know that was true for me the first time I went into one.  However, over time, it has become a very comfortable place to be for me. 

Every Sunday afternoon I walk into the NICU at the children’s hospital where I volunteer and I feel perfectly at home.  I know many of the nurses by name.  And most of the babies are familiar to me as well since most of them remain patients for weeks and even months.  I walk through the ward tending to babies who are crying.  I hold them and rock them.  I put pacifiers back in mouths.  I notify nurses when feeding tubes have emptied or diapers need changing.  And during some shifts I may hold the same baby for three straight hours.  There are days when it is really very peaceful.

Lately, though, the NICU census is down and there just aren’t as many babies on the floor.  Additionally, most of the babies who are admitted right now are pretty well behaved.  This is generally a good thing.  But it can make for a slow volunteer shift.  So, on days like these I try to make myself useful elsewhere.  As regular readers of this blog will already know, I am a fan of being thrown out of my comfort zone every now and then, and yesterday’s shift was a classic example.

I ended up in the Progressive Care Unit, which means inpatient kids, but not intensive care kids.  After delivering a baby doll to flushed and overwhelmed two-year-old in the PICU, I met Emily* in Progressive Care, who was just finishing up her lunch.  The playroom for inpatients was about to open, Emily’s mother was dog tired, and Emily was quite geared up for some playtime.  So off we went.

Emily could not have been more different from my typical tightly swaddled charges.  She is seven years old.  She is missing her two front teeth.  She is bouncy and eager and talkative.  This volunteer shift was not going to be spent curled up in a rocking chair in a dimly lit room holding four or five pounds of newborn sweetness.    

And so we played.  We played kitchen, wherein she made me scrambled eggs and we split a soda.  We played Jenga.  We played baseball, which she declared boring after a few catches and requested to play basketball.  Then we played basketball for quite a while – she shot, I rebounded – until that too was declared boring.  We played with toys, puzzles, dolls, Wrestle Mania action figures, plastic animals, dress-up paper dolls, board games, and one last round of basketball again just as the room was closing. 

My time with Emily was at one time draining and fulfilling.  At the end of two hours I was fully exhausted, but also swollen with inspiration.  Had it not been for the giant IV pole and hospital-issue pajamas, she could have been any kid on any playground.  And her thirst for activity and play outweighed any physical limitations.  With about half an hour left before the playroom’s closing time she rubbed her eyes.

“Are you tired?” I asked.


“We don’t have to keep playing if you’d rather go back to your room.”

“No.  I want to play.”

And she did.  For the next 30 minutes we continued to jump from one activity to the next.  Her energy began to flag, but not her perky disposition.  This tiny little peanut of a girl, self-assured and ready to roll (even with a stranger she’d never met), snowed me with her outlook and her stamina.

I don’t know why she’s in the hospital.**  I don’t know what the two IV lines going into her chest were for.  I don’t know if she’s bothered by all the scar tissue on her arms from many previous IVs.  I didn’t know whether it was true when another little girl in the playroom looked at Emily and loudly said to her mother, “She has a big pole with lots of medicine.  That means she’s really sick.”  (I quickly redirected Emily back to our dollhouse activities so she wouldn’t have time to digest this statement.) 

What I do know is that she is happy and confident and fun.  I know that we were the last ones to leave the playroom and that she wanted to make sure to get a board game for the road.  I know that she didn’t allow her medical condition (or the equipment that goes with it) prevent her from squeezing every last moment of fun out of her two-hour playtime.  And I suspect that she similarly does not allow her illness to stop her from squeezing all she wants out of life in general. 

I know that when I grow up I’d like to be as much like Emily as I possibly can. 

*not her real name
**HIPAA prevents volunteers from asking patients any personal information, including their conditions

The Long Arm of the Coconut Macaroon

Friday, August 27th, 2010

This is the story of two blogs and a cookie. 

A couple of weeks ago fellow blogger Jane reposted a piece she wrote last winter about a Random Act of Kindness.  The second time around WordPress picked it up and featured it, driving huge numbers of readers to Jane’s site and leaving their own RAOK stories.  It was really inspiring.

I wanted desperately to jump on this do-gooder bandwagon, but the deck seemed stacked against me.  I simply couldn’t find the right opportunity to inject my goodness into the world.  I saw an old woman walking home from the grocery store on an especially hot day and offered her a ride.  She gave me the sign of the cross and said, “Bless you” in heavily accented English, but turned me down.  I rarely go through drive-thru windows where I might pay for someone’s order.  I didn’t see elderly people needing help crossing the street.  I was striking out left and right.  I decided to stop obsessing.

Then last week my sister Anne wrote an impassioned post about how a simple coconut macaroon helped her through an especially difficult year of graduate school.  I was moved by her post and decided that I needed to make my own batch of macaroons.  Later that day I got an e-mail from Anne which was a forwarded message from my 90-year-old grandfather.  A reader of her blog, he thought her macaroons sounded delicious and asked for the recipe.  Having made them myself I recognized that this was slightly more complicated than your average cookie recipe and potentially out of the culinary reach of a man who has probably never cooked anything more complicated than a bowl of oatmeal.

And then it hit me!

The recipe made nearly 30 cookies.  GAP is not a coconut lover and had no interest in the macaroons.  I have no business eating 30 cookies by myself.  And I could only in good conscience allow IEP (who, it turns out, is a coconut lover) to eat little bites here and there.  The answer?  A care package.

I transferred several macaroons to a Ziplock bag, wrote an accompanying note, and went to the UPS Store.  A couple of days later a truck pulled up in front of Granddaddy’s house and handed him a box that he was not at all expecting. 

That evening I received an e-mail from my grandfather which said, in part, “I couldn’t imagine what it could be as it wasn’t Xmas or my birthday and I hadn’t ordered anything from Amazon.” (As an aside, I just love that my 90-year-old grandfather e-mails and shops online.) “Imagine my surprise to open it and find it was a macaroon package from my oldest grandchild.  I had one for dessert and it was delicious.  In fact I had to make a big decision whether to eat another or not – so they would last a little longer.  Thank you so much.  I think this is the nicest ‘unexpected’ present I have ever received.”

It wasn’t anonymous.  It wasn’t for a stranger.  It wasn’t even entirely random.  But I think it captured the spirit of the little movement that Jane started.  Thanks, Jane, for providing me with such inspiration.  And thanks, Anne, for speaking directly to my sweet tooth.  You were both unwitting accomplices in making an old man very happy.

Doggy Disorder

Monday, August 9th, 2010

If you have a dog (or have in the past) would you say that your dog is tuned into you?  Would you say that she knows when you’re happy or sad or angry?  Would you say that she senses the difference between a threat and a non-threat?

Most people would ascribe these characteristics to their dogs.  (I’m not a cat person, so I can’t speak about the proclivities of the feline persuasion.)  This is due in part to the fact that after thousands years of being bred for working, sporting, and playing alongside humans, they tend to be in touch with us.  It is also because certain highly trained dogs have learned to interpret human situations with incredible accuracy.  (Did you catch this story a few years ago about the dog that dialed 911 and then opened the door for emergency responders?)

Service and assistance dogs astound me.  So do police dogs, drug dogs, and bomb-sniffing dogs.  These animals rise well above the status of “good pets” and help out mankind on another level altogether.  Many of them thrive on it.  However, apparently, such lives of thrill and danger can take their toll on dogs just as much as they can on humans.

From a story that is simultaneously heart-breaking and inspiring, I learned that a 2-year-old German shepherd named Gina has returned from a tour in Iraq with PTSD.  I won’t rehash the entire story (it won’t take you but a minute to read on your own), but the gist of it is that she left for Iraq as a highly trained but sweet and happy bomb-sniffing dog.  She returned home “cowering and fearful.”  She was diagnosed by a military veterinarian with canine PTSD which he says can affect dogs just as it affects people.

This is fascinating it its own rite.  But the aspect of the story that most captured my attention was this sentence:

But some veterinarians dislike applying the diagnosis to animals, thinking it demeans servicemen and women.

Demeans them?  Really?  Perhaps it’s because I’m a dog lover.  Perhaps it’s because I recently watched The Hurt Locker and the dangers endured by bomb squads are fresh in my mind.  But I struggle to understand how anyone who is willing to put her life in the hands of a brilliantly trained dog, and put that dog’s life at risk in the same moment, could ever claim to be demeaned by the idea that the dog might suffer the same long term effects of warfare that the soldier herself does. 

If we believe that a dog can understand how to find a bomb, or how to predict a seizure, or how to find drugs hidden inside tires at border checks, then how can we consider that the same dog couldn’t understand the context of risk and danger implicit in many of those situations?  I find it more demeaning to the dog to assert that they couldn’t have PTSD than to the soldier to assert that they could.