Happy. Healthy. Heathen.

Traveling, training, thinking, talking, typing


June 2011

A new way to look at things

In the “look on the bright side” column of the past two weeks, from my dad’s initial heart attack until now, there are many thing for which I am grateful.

➔  Of course, foremost is my dad’s successful surgery and his beginning rehabilitation, which includes my gratitude to the professional staff who is his medical team, whose praises I cannot laud enough.

➔  The amount of time I’ve gotten to spend with my mother and brother, which even though it was in waiting rooms, hospital rooms, and cars, were still precious quality moments with two of my fave people.

➔  My family were all off on their adventures and hearing from them was a highlight of my day, especially when things were difficult here, as I found I was hungry for a happy, normal voice.

➔  My dear clients in Murfreesboro who have been patient, tolerant, and understanding in my sudden 2 weeks of unavailability.

➔  The law school program I’ve chosen which has allowed me to attend lectures in the middle of the night, chat with my classmates instantly, and even take my 3-hour essay midterm at the local library.

➔  Time I’ve spent in the hometown of my youth which has allowed me to reconnect with a couple of old familiar faces.  It’s amazing how much everyone else has changed since high school.

➔  Because I’ve been done so much of my studying online instead of with my textbooks at home, I’ve had some extended cyber-conversations with several friends, most of whom are using the medium for asking how dad’s doing, and mom, and me.  One particular conversation went in a little different direction, and it is the body of that conversation I want to post about today.

My friend lives in Nashville, and recently the notorious Westboro Baptist Church bunch came rolling into town to protest yet another military funeral.  My friend’s group participated in a counter-protest, and it was an experience that had an impact on her.  She talked about seeing the group, about seeing that they had their children with them, about how they looked as normal as anyone else — the usual responses you read about during one of the WBC counter-protests.

Westboro Baptist Church "members"

Let me back up a bit and explain a little phenomenon that occurs almost without fail any time I have a conversation with a believer about my journey out of faith.  There are invariably 4 topics that arise, if not in that initial convo, then shortly thereafter:  1)  What about the afterlife?  2)  What if you are wrong?  3)  How can you be moral without God?  and 4) If evolution is true, why are there still apes?  [That one troubles me beyond words; we should not be asking this question in the US in the 21st century]  This post is about question #3.

This conversation with my friend is the third such conversation I have had about WBC.  Each of the friends with whom I’ve had this chat is a believer, each knows that I am not.  I am touched that each one of these people reached out to me to tell me about their experiences; I think that the underlying motivation is to share with me what they perceive as our common acceptance that there are religions that are not good and healthy and kind and compassionate.  Not all of my Christian friends are so willing to engage in a conversation about anything regarding faith, and I am grateful that these friends have chosen to do this.

Try to put aside for a moment what you know I am going to write about the First Amendment.  I think what WBC is repulsive, hateful, arrogant, and inflammatory.  Exactly the type of speech that the 1st Amendment protects.  Another post for another time.

Try to put aside for a moment what you know I am going to write about the basis for this church’s position.  If you have researched them at all, you know that they match a biblical mandate to every action they take.  Another post for another time.

The issue that is holding my attention here is the individual response my friends are describing to me.  I hear the passion in their voices when they tell me how they feel about their experience.  I hear them talk about the families and friends of the deceased (in the Nashville case it was a soldier), and their compassion and understanding of their pain, and their desire to keep that pain from being magnified by WBC’s malicious actions.

In other words, they are having a humanist response.

Their motivation to act is built on sympathy, compassion, and concern; none of my friends had any connection to the soldier’s family or friends.  They describe to me what it must feel like for that family and those friends to have received the news of their loved one’s death, the trauma and shock they must be experiencing, the grief and loss that is relentless in those first few days and weeks, and then to have to consider the possibility that this organization may publicly celebrate that very pain.  One friend even said that she couldn’t NOT participate in trying to protect this grieving group of people from more pain.

The Good Without God question is not only a valid one, it is incredibly important.  I have believing friends who can’t even begin to address whether or not the faith has any evidence or is rational or reasonable because this issue is so overriding.  There is such a default mentality that without supreme guidance, we could not govern our impulses – without external rules we have no restrictions against stealing or killing or destruction.  I would suggest that that is not the case.

This is a topic of discussion within the atheist community, and there are several great books out now on the subject:  The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris, The God Virus by Darrel Ray, Godless by Dan Barker, and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.  These I have read; there are others, but I don’t want to recommend a book I haven’t read.  These folks address the issue from a sociological, anthropological, and psychological standpoint.  I wish I had read these books as a believer; I think they give insight on the subject of morality well worth exploring whatever your life’s philosophy.

Like every concerned parent of my generation, when I began to have children I read a few parenting books, from across the spectrum of opinion.  I was confident I didn’t want to use the Because I Said So approach and leave my children vulnerable when they weren’t around me.  It took me their lifetimes to determine that my goal was to guide them toward a self-discipline based on reason, compassion, and empathy.  They have learned that lesson in spite of me, and have become kind, loving, generous, moral people.  I’ve seen each of them give of themselves to others when even I thought they should conserve.  I’ve seen them reach out to someone in pain or need, and I’ve seen them share in another’s joy just for the sake of that person’s joy.

This post was not to have been one of Those Posts.  My kids are great, but my larger point is this:  an individual, internalized, intentional, reasonable, compassion-based, empathy-driven morality is not only possible, it transcends whatever external rules and laws are implemented by religion or government.

Have the conversation.  Think about it, read about it, talk about it.  Let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading (and thinking)!

Quintuple bypass

And now, because I blog about everything…

Dad’s surgery.

Day 11.  Dad comes home tomorrow.  That’s day 6 post-op.  From having his skin cut open, his sternum cracked and his ribs spread, his lungs deactivated temporarily, a vein removed from his leg and quinsected for parts, that vein attached to heart vessels and attached again to heart muscle.  I am more than astounded.  And this procedure is common enough for him to have received an invitation to be a part of the “zipper club” in this area.

No doubt Dad still has a long recovery.  Fortunately for him, he was active before his heart attack, and he was neither a smoker nor overweight.  He’ll have to begin with a tiny little walking program and progress on to longer and longer distances.  For the last 18 months he had done 30 minutes on the treadmill every night, so he has a goal of returning to his former level.  He also has travel plans on his schedule; he had to cancel June’s and most of July’s activities (mom and dad are RVers – serious-9-months-and-thousands-of-miles-a-year-RVers).

I am so proud of how hard he’s trying (keep in mind it IS only day 11 since the heart attack), and I’m so proud of mom for holding up and managing and handling the drama and the effort.  Eric and I have been here and have taken our turns with whatever needs done, but the two of them have been troopers.

Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta has been wonderful, their church has been lovely to respect dad’s request for  no company in the hospital, and their friends and neighbors have been delightful in providing me with southern comfort foods.  My online school program has allowed me the mobility I’ve needed to be here (oh, yes, studied in the hospital and waiting rooms, even took my midterm today at the local library).  Brother has shuffled his trial schedule and has been available every day for support.

What’s troubling me?

In a word:  nutrition.

Yesterday, mom, dad, and I attended the cardiac rehab class at the hospital.  We got information on what it would be like for dad once he got home, the accommodations we need to make for his recovery, what his physical activity regimen would be, and the program of food choices he would need to make at home.  The class teacher showed up little vials of the fat content of various food, with dramatic oohs and aahs from the attendees.  Ribeye steak – full of fat – BAD.  Baked potato – almost none – good.  Bagels – almost none – good.  Pretzels – none – good.  Cheese – lots of fat – bad.  Nuts – lots of fat – bad.  Olives – lots of fat – bad.

I didn’t go to medical school.  I’m not a nutritionist.  I have only my own research and understanding of metabolic science to go on.  And I will not try to override anything dad’s medical team is telling him about his rehab plan.  I went grocery shopping today in anticipation of his coming home, and I tried to buy those things which bisect my choices for his health with his team’s choices.  Lean meats.  Vegetables.  Fruits.  All those grains?  Can’t do it.  I know mom (a diabetic) will buy those when I’m gone, and I won’t comment on it.

Here’s the deal.  If you’ve read the blog at all, you know the banner I wave is one of evidence-based living, scientific research, and reason and ration.  When I underwent my own health-recovery journey 10 years ago, I fervently tried to get an understanding of the metabolic process, nutrients in foods we eat, the factors influencing weight and health.  I tried to bypass interpretations of the science as much as I could, even reading the abstracts myself.  I don’t have a science degree, so I would do the best I could, then I’d refer to professional interpretation (read:  medical experts, not diet-book writers).

Along with virtually every scientist in the world, I understand and accept the theory of evolution.  I understand the micro-changes that have allowed us to get to this point in evolutionary history.  When you study that process, over the course of millions of years, and you see where agriculture came onto the scene, so to speak, and the results of introducing grain into our diet.  For millions of years, we thrived on meat-eating, almost primarily.  It is what gave us our big, beautiful brains, we know what protein does in our system, we know that fat, even saturated fat, is metabolically inert and doesn’t create an insulin response, we know what grains and sugar do to that insulin response, and we know the cascade effect of that chronic insulin response.

I know how I’m going to eat for the rest of my life, unless evidence and science show me differently.  I know how I would eat if I were recovering from a heart attack and heart surgery.  However, for my precious diabetic mother, and my precious fragile father, I can only relate my understanding of the process, what that eating style has done to my body and my lifestyle, and what I would do.  I won’t advise them to do the same.  I’m in law school, not medical school.

Don’t mean to be a Debbie-downer.  I’m elated that Dad has had the great fortune he has had with his recovery so far.  I will support and cheer and encourage as much as I possibly can.

Caribbean Cruise, 2009
same cruise - mom, dad, amy, and me

Thank you for all the well-wishes and kind words and deeds, and as always, thanks for reading!

Bonnaroo 2011

I’m home, I’m clean, I’m rested.

What a grand 6 days.  Yes, I know the festival is only 4, but as a volunteer we go in 2 days early, so that adds an extra 2 days of fun.  And sun.  And sweat.  And portapotties.

So here’s the deal.  When you volunteer to work at Bonnaroo, you commit to working roughly three 6-hour shifts.  In return, you get a free general admission ticket, early entrance and camping in the highly exclusive volunteer campground, 3 meal tokens plus a little box lunch during your shift.  At $275 a ticket, you can do the math on the hourly rate.  The jobs are various – picking up trash, working the toll booth, parking golf carts, manning information booths.  I’ll tell you about mine in a bit.

First I want to write about the festival.  This was Bonnaroo’s 10th year.  I remember when my oldest, as a teenager, asked me if he could go the first year.  I didn’t let him – he was 15 and I didn’t think he was ready for that.  I’d probably still say the same thing.  I had that reaffirmed this year:  my camping neighbors just happened to be moms of teenagers, one of whose daughter attended.  I just don’t think Bonnaroo works as well for high-schoolers.  They are still in the phase where they are terribly concerned about their appearance and peer conformity and not so much about the creativity of the music and the joy of the shared experience.  This doesn’t apply to everyone in high school, I realize, but to a great many it does.

So the lineup, as always, was fab.  There are 173 acts total.  There’s one main stage – if you google aerial pics of Bonnaroo, it’s easy to spot.  Then there are secondary stages, cleverly named Which Stage, This Tent, That Tent, among others.  It’s a real trick trying to get to every act you want to see, and only 4 days to do it.  Although Centeroo is open 24 hours, the acts mostly run from noon to about 2 am.

There are the standard festival vendors – deep fried crap on sticks, greasy pizza, funnel cake, and the hippie fare too – falafel, vegetarian rice dishes, pasta.  No event is complete without the overpriced beer, but there’s also a Brooer’s Fest Tent where you can get specialty beers for about the same $6 as the Millers and Buds.

The biggest challenge this year wasn’t even the heat, which was oppressive.  It was the dust.  80,000 pairs of feet over the same 700 acres can destroy grass in a hurry, especially when it’s been dry to begin with.  Golf cart drivers wore bandanas, and in the end, just about everyone had to cover nose and mouth to get around.  We’ve had wet Bonnaroos where it was as muddy as this year’s was dusty, so take your pic.

Tent camping explains itself, along with the portapotties that go with it.  Pooping at Bonnaroo was a topic of conversation at every campsite.  There’s no trick to it – just get over it.  I wish I had had 1000 GoGirls, my handy-dandy girl tool that allows me to pee standing up – I could have sold them all.  The tents become unbearably hot by about 8 in the morning, so plan on moving outside to finish your sleeping in.

One of the joys of the community camping is the sharing of food and drink.  I go the easy route with cheese, nuts, olives, jerky, fruit – not gonna cook at Bonnaroo.  Plus, those are easy things to share with your campmates.  It helps if you have everything prepared – chopped and put into serving-sized bags – you want to limit the time spent digging around in the cooler, melting your ice.  But I know folks who eat gourmet at Bonnaroo – I’m too hot and too lazy.

This year’s top shows:  Mumford.  Buffalo Springfield.  Eminem.  Amos Lee.  Khalifa.  (This is my very scientific survey consisting of my opinion and that of my campmates.)  Honestly, the dust kept me from shows in the worst areas of it.  The pasture in front of the main stage has retained its cool, green grass.  That has a lot of appeal in 97 degree heat.

Now for my volunteer shift.  The first one was a 12-hour long haul 10pm til 10am in the VIP tent camping check-in.  That was fun because I’d never been in VIP and it was interesting to see (and I used their flush-toilets several times).  My second shift was the doozy.  It was Saturday 10-4 in…wait for it….Total Access.  Oh yes.  You and up to 7 of your closest friends can participate too, IF you come up with a measly $25,000.  That gets you VIP limo ride from the Nville airport, delivery to the door of your rockstar motorhome inside the secret, hidden, shaded campground that is Total Access, food from the 5-star, airconditioned, white linen restaurant in your campground, access to every show backstage, golf cart rides to ANYWHERE at Roo, all the food you can eat and liquor you can drink.  Blew what little of what was left of my mind on day 4.  Seriously.  Google it.

I’ve taken pics of Bonnaroo before, and didn’t do a very good job of it this year, but there’s scads of pics of the festival on the interwebs.  It was a helluva festival – always is.  It’s pretty high on the grunge factor, but worth it when you’re lying there on a quilt, listening to the jam with your friends.

Bonnaroo 2012.  I’m there.  Now to find that $25,000…..

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