Saturday, October 13, 2012

Female Continuing Care Unit: Where Validation and Acceptance Lead to Healing and New Beginnings

Unit logo after becoming FCC.
Though it has been a long time since my last blog post, I will pick up where my last post left off --Dorothea Dix Hospital.  When I walked up the front steps at Dix that first, full day and was preceded up the steps by a bright red cardinal, I had only an inkling of the task I was undertaking and no thought at all of being at Dix beyond the 30 hours a week for 60 days that was spelled out in my initial contract.  As it turned out, though, I usually worked more than 60 hours a week, often thought about the work there when I was elsewhere, and had my contract repeatedly extended. Ultimately, Dix, its patients, and its staff were the primary focus of my attention for 28 months.  While the challenges were for me at times profound, I now look back on that time as some of the most satisfying of my 35 years in psychiatry.
As the attending psychiatrist for the long-term female unit, I initially was faced with learning about each patient--why they were there and what had been done to treat them so far.  I met regularly with the other members of the staff who had in most cases been working there for several years, and slowly but surely I gained a relatively complete picture of  each person involved and how the unit was functioning to provide services to women reputed to be among the most seriously mentally ill in North Carolina.
On my first day I was told by one of our health-care technicians that I was the first psychiatrist in 15 years to ask her name.  This did not seem to me like a good omen.  I came rather quickly to realize that if I was going to have an impact on the lives of our patients, I was going to have to develop a close working relationship with the other members of our entire staff, not just those with professional credentials.  I invited everyone who wished to share ideas with me to talk with me in my office, and many changes suggested by staff members were subsequently implemented.
For the first four months there was a lot of chaos that included on an almost daily basis having someone put in four-point, leather restraints due to her otherwise uncontrollable violent behavior.  A water fountain was being torn from the wall about once a week, and the glass in the nurses station was being broken out about once a month.  The unit usually sounded to me more like the lobby of a large train station than a hospital.  I asked that our staff members strive to lower voice volume and whenever possible to avoid shouting from one end of the hall to the other.  And as our staff  lowered the volume, it at least became easier to tell whether a commotion was coming from patients or from staff.  Over time, as requested, the sound level did become more like a library and less like a train station.

Each patient who wanted a CD player was given one along with CDs of the music she wanted to hear. An attitude of validation and acceptance was modeled and encouraged. Staff members were asked to respond to patient requests with "Yes" if there wasn't a good reason to say, "No;" and if there was a good reason to say, "No," then they were encouraged whenever possible to say, "Let me check with the treatment team, and I'll get back to you."
After four months, it became obvious that significant changes had begun to occur.  Patients were no longer being placed in restraints; and significant violence including destruction of hospital property was a thing of the past.  Several patients who had been expected to live in the hospital for the rest of their lives improved enough to be released to less-restrictive living arrangements.
One example is a woman who had been hospitalized for over half her life and regularly stated that she hated doctors. For months on end she would scream almost incessantly, refuse to take medications, refuse to walk, and would only rarely leave her room. Gradually a cordial relationship was developed with her, thus allowing her treatment team to subsequently negotiate with her to establish an effective treatment strategy.  It is my understanding that she is now living quite happily in a group home, walking with a cane, and taking responsibility for management of her chronic medical conditions in a way she previously could not. Another example is a woman who also screamed a lot and had 2 to 1, arm's length observation 24 hours a day.  She was thought to have HIV dementia, but by changing several of her medications and interacting with her using the principles of validation and acceptance, the symptoms of dementia cleared and psychotic symptoms improved so dramatically that within six months she was transferred to a semi-independent living facility where she has continued to do quite well.

In the spring of 2010 it became necessary for our unit to move from one section of the hospital to another, and the opportunity was taken to change our name. Staff members and patients nominated new names for the unit, and three subsequent rounds of voting narrowed our choice of over fifty submitted possibilities down to the one we chose, Female Continuing Care Unit. The hospital administration allowed us to officially change the name; and incorporating numerous staff and patient suggestions for changes in our new space, we partially remodeled the area that became our new home. Both staff and patients seemed to take pride in how we had evolved. Many staff members were involved in planning appropriate, off-campus weekend activities; and there seemed to be in many ways a sense of being a caring family.

This was our unit philosophy:
Validation and Acceptance Can Lead To Healing and New Beginnings

We believe:
  1. All people make sense all of the time (at least they make sense to themselves) and that everyone deserves our best effort at understanding. 
  2. Sometimes people “speak” with behavior rather than words and still make sense; again, at least to themselves.
  3. We ourselves might speak and act in similar or even more difficult ways to understand if our lives had taken similar paths.
  4. Speaking softly and in a kind manner to others can help us arrive at a place of better understanding.
  5. Really listening with compassion to the concerns, hopes, and dreams of others in order to understand rather than to win an argument or to control them may be the ultimate way to show respect and caring.
  6. Partial gains are important, and it's important to maintain our patience even when it's hard to do.
  7. Martin Luther King, Jr., was correct in his assessment that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.   Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
  8. Our work is about loving as best we know how.

My time working at Dorothea Dix Hospital was for me a great joy, and I was very sad when the decision was made to a close an institution that has meant so much to so many over its long, illustrious, trail-blazing existence.  I will always cherish my relationships with all the people I came to know during that time of team-building and collaboration that I believe truly led to healing and new beginnings for many of the women we served.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Led By Cardinals: Reality or Illusions?

One step at a time beginning with the first one and continuing all the way to the top step (18 steps in all) a male cardinal preceded me as I climbed the front steps at the entrance of Raleigh's Dorothea Dix Hospital on August 19, 2008, my first full day on the job as Attending Psychiatrist of the Adult Long-term Female Unit. After reaching the upper landing, the cardinal flew to the nearby railing and then to an adjacent bush. Prior to encountering the cardinal, I had walked from the parking lot; and as I walked, I had prayed the same prayer I described in a previous posting on prayer, magical thinking or a transforming shift in consciousness? This is the prayer: "Dear God. If it be your will, please increase the beneficial energy associated with my being and completely transform the detrimental energy into beneficial energy. And Dear God, if it be your will, please adjust the frequencies of all the energy systems known and unknown to me so that the highest and best for all concerned may be the result. And Dear God, if it be your will, please help me to be an instrument of your peace today. In deep gratitude, I pray." Having this cardinal precede me up the steps seemed like a sign to me that I was being called by a force greater than I to some special task or purpose. But what would cause me to think this way?

Well, in the winter of 2003 my wife Libba and I were sitting in our living room meditating when we heard a knocking sound. It was early in the morning, and we at first couldn't imagine what might be causing the sound which seemed to be coming from a north-side window not far from where we were sitting. I got up to investigate and saw a bright red, male, Northern Cardinal repeatedly flying feet-first against the glass of the window. He would hit the window, return to a nearby tree and then do it all over again. I was immediately reminded of a conversation I had years earlier with an old friend, Sister Alice, who was a nun and biology professor. She struck me as a wise woman, and one day in one of our many discussions that happened during her sabbatical that brought her to UNC for a semester, she told me that whenever she saw a cardinal, her first thought was of God. Since then, whenever I've seen a cardinal, I've thought of God and said a prayer of gratitude for the beauty of cardinals, for the opportunity to live, love, and learn, and for the love of God that I imagined was always present everywhere for each of us and for all of creation.

The cardinal that knocked on our window that morning (or one that looked like him) continued to knock on a window every day for about three years. After awhile, if I walked over and said, "Good morning," he would fly off only to return the next day. It seemed that if we were on the middle level of our house, he would come to a window on that level; and if we we were in the basement, he would come to a basement window. On one occasion while I was sitting in my office up the hill from our house, he knocked on the window just adjacent to my chair. On another occasion, he knocked on the glass of a door to our deck and then sat on the top of a rocking chair on the deck. I went over to say, "Good morning," and he flew to the deck rail as his mate took his place on the top of the deck chair. I then said to her while holding her gaze, "Good morning!" We each held the gaze of the other for about 10 minutes. At that point, I had to do something else and walked away; and she flew from her perch.

It seemed to me that perhaps the cardinals were trying to say something to me, perhaps to remind me that I have a connection to all of the entire Universe and that my small contribution to Tikkun Olam is important. I, of course, don't know for sure why they came with such regularity that lasted for so long until one day they stopped. After that, about once a week for many months, as I neared home in my car, a male cardinal would fly across my path. This same kind of flight across my path still occurs from time to time, and I always feel comforted somehow when it happens.

In the spring of 2008 while in an Atlanta hotel room and working to complete the last of the preparations for the hiking I was about to begin with my son Mark on the Appalachian Trail, there was a knocking at my window. I pulled back the curtain to find a male cardinal sitting on the ledge. I took it to be a blessing of my impending Appalachian Trail adventure. The picture to the right was taken of that cardinal that day.

So what do you think? Was there a connection between seeing these cardinals and anything going on in my life? Were they present to inspire me, or was I inspired by their presence because I needed inspiration and imagined their presence to be meant for me? I don't think I can know the answer to these questions with absolute certainty, and different parts of me are inclined to answer differently. What has definitely happened, however, is that I was hired at Dorothea Dix to help for only 60 days with the transition of the patients on my unit (scheduled to be transferred to Central Regional Hospital, Butner, NC); and 18 months later, our patients (the ones we haven't discharged) and I are still there. Today is the second anniversary of closing my private psychiatric practice of 25 years. Tomorrow, February 15, 2010, Central Regional Hospital, Raleigh Campus, returns to being a separate facility known again as Dorothea Dix Hospital, a name associated for more than 150 years with providing the best treatment available for the mentally ill citizens of North Carolina (please see Haven on the Hill: The History of North Carolina's Dorothea Dix Hospital by Marjorie O'Rorke). I also know that during my time on Dix Hill I have had the privilege of working with some wonderful folks (staff members and patients) who have changed my life forever and for whom in some cases, perhaps, I have been an important healing influence. In any case, I have experienced my time there as a blessing for which I am very grateful.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

In 1971, when I was in the Navy and serving aboard the USS Sampson (DDG-10), we were deployed in the Mediterranean for six months; and on two occasions we were anchored off shore near Athens. For the first Athens visit I had to stay on board for the two weeks that the other Hospital Corpsman was on leave, since one of the two of us had to be available at all times for any emergency that might have arisen. On our second visit, though, I had my chance for two weeks of leave and traveled from Athens via the Orient Express to London. During the three day train trip that took us through Yugoslavia, Hungry, Austria, Switzerland, and France, I got to know fairly well the seven other folks who were traveling with me in the second-class compartment made for eight. They were all traveling on British student tickets, and we took turns sleeping in the luggage racks and under the seats in whatever configuration we could manage. I introduced them to peanut butter and jelly, and they invited me to visit them during my stay in Britain. I did just that and traveled by train and hitchhiking from London to Birmingham, Liverpool, Edinburgh, and back to London before starting my trip to meet the Sampson that was scheduled to be in northern Italy upon my return. All my British hosts shared their modest accommodations without any apparent hesitation and were extremely kind to me. The first night in Bucks, England, near London, David Vincent, took me home to his parent's house in Gerrads Cross where his mother drew a bath in the tub in the kitchen. After he had his bath, I got to have one in the same water (something I had never done before nor done again since) in order to save the cost of heating water which was done by gas and paid for by putting coins in a meter. Whatever level of hospitality was possible was shared. One new friend, Andy Lowe of Edinburgh, was an artist and gave me two of his water color paintings that I continue to treasure.

Since this was before the time of credit cards, I took with me what I thought would be sufficient cash for my entire trip. Soon, though, I realized that I needed more money and was delighted to discover that I could cash a Wachovia personal check at a Barclays branch in the Hampstead township of London (Wachovia was a correspondent bank of Barclays). Unfortunately, however, as I was about to depart London from Victoria Station, the Barclays branch there would not consider cashing one of my checks . This meant that I left for Paris with about one dollar and my pre-purchased train ticket to Orbetello, a town in the province of Grosseto (Tuscany), Italy, where the Sampson was scheduled to arrive three days later when my leave would be over.

Upon my arrival in Paris, a small bag of pommes de fritzd was purchased with my remaining funds (5 francs). Moneyless, and after discovering that the American Express office was closed, I decided to see if the Marine guards at the American Embassy would be willing to help me. I figured that I would otherwise have to go without food and lodging until I could get back to the ship. I used my very limited French to ask various people for directions, "Pardonnez s'il vous plaît, où se trouve l'ambassade américaine?" Folks would smile and ask, "À pied?" I would answer, "Oui;" and they would laugh and point in the direction of the embassy.

As I walked along the sidewalk in the direction I had been shown, I passed a couple seated outside at one of the many sidewalk cafes. For some reason, our eyes met and I said, "Hello," rather than "Bonjour." There was a nice reply in English, and I was invited to sit with them and have a beer. In the course of our conversation, it was revealed that I was a Navy Hospital Corpsman on active duty, without money, and on my way back to my ship. I explained the circumstances of my being moneyless and that my plan was to throw myself on the mercy of the Marines at the American Embassy. As it turned out, I was speaking with an active duty US Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and his wife. Their daughter had been born at the Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, my home state, and not too far from Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station where I had been previously stationed at the Naval Hospital and had helped to deliver the babies of about 700 Marines. Upon our parting, Colonel and Mrs. John Coffman loaned me $50 which I promised to send back to them in the form of a check as soon as I got back to the ship. I was no longer moneyless, and I had met two very generous, kind people!

Fifty dollars (worth about $250 in today's money) allowed me to stay at the USO and to spend the next day visiting The Palace at Versailles with a member of the Air Force who was stationed in England and visiting Paris. He was staying at the USO, had a car, and asked me to go with him to Versailles. The fifty dollars also allowed me to eat adequately until I arrived in northern Italy where I found the Sampson pulling into port right on schedule. After getting back on board, the first thing I did was to write and mail a check to my guardian angels, the Coffmans. For many years after that, we exchanged holiday greeting cards.

For me those two weeks continued over the ensuing years to be extremely memorable, not so much that it was in Europe (which was, indeed, great for a small-town fellow who had never previously left the United States) but much more as a result of the many people I met along the way who treated me with so much kindness and generosity. I've lost touch with most of them, but my memories of their kindnesses are an indelible part of my most valued experiences. There are many more examples of similar kindnesses shown to me over my entire life, and it has been my goal, whenever possible, to pay them forward.
Pay It Forward--Assignment To Save The World

When I was hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2008, there were many instances of "Trail Magic" where people would unexpectedly show up with much welcomed food, drink, or a ride to a town. On one occasion a deputy sheriff, after checking to make sure I wasn't wanted for something, drove me with all my gear the17 miles from Erwin, TN, back to the Trail at Sams Gap where I had gotten off the AT for a night. I had previously been given a ride to Erwin from Sams Gap by the Georgian "Slow" (his trail name) of the two-brother pair of hikers, "Slow and Steady." "Slow" had a car parked at Sams Gap and was ending his hiking adventure. He said, "My brother loves this, and I hate it." I later ran into "Steady" who was flip flopping in Virginia. Melisa, from Chicago, was another angel who gave me seedless green grapes when she showed up at Russell Field Shelter in the Smokies, walked with me to Spence Field, and then showed up again at Newfound Gap at just the right moment to give "Savannah," "Low Gear," and me a ride to Gatlinburg where the four of us had dinner.

As I said, there have been so many instances of kindness shown to me from strangers. Just two days ago, I ran out of gas late at night in the middle of Research Triangle Park where gas stations are few and far between and traffic was light. I left Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh heading home about 11:30 pm and realized about 11:50 that I had no more gas and could only travel a little further on Prius battery power. I got off I-40 and turned south on Davis Drive, hoping to find gas despite the lack of a sign indicating the distance to gas. I managed to drive about 2 miles before it was not possible to drive another inch. At that point it was about midnight and I felt that I was in the middle of nowhere. I eventually got home at 2:18 am, but would have been much later had it not been for Romero, a nice fellow originally from Bogata, Columbia, who stopped at about 1:00 am and asked if he could help. He drove me to the nearest station about 2.5 miles away, brought me back, and helped me figure out how to operate the gas container. How is that for kindness and compassion from a stranger? I only got about three hours sleep after that and was tired at work later that morning but was otherwise no worse for the experience--actually I was better for having met Ramero, father of six whose license plate is REVIVAL. He said that he has lived in the US for about 20 years, the first seven being like being in hell. For the last twelve years, though, he has been doing computer work for Fidelity Investments and says life has been good for him and his family. He also said he nearly always stops to help others. I won't be surprised if we meet again somewhere along the way.

I am so grateful for having met the folks from Britain with whom I shared the cramped quarters of a second-class compartment on the Orient Express, the Coffmans who kept me from being moneyless and without food or shelter in Paris, the Airman with whom I visited Versailles, "Slow" and the deputy who provided me with transportation from and back to Sams Gap at a time when I really needed a break from hiking, Melissa who shared her grapes, her time and thoughts, and gave my friends and me a ride when we needed another hiking break, and Romero who stopped in the middle of a cold night to help a stranger on the side of the road. Each of these folks gave me even more than hospitality or the needed immediate assistance. They (and the countless others who have given me similar gifts) also gave me a chance to get to know them at least a little and to learn over and over again how there are a lot of good folks in this world who are willing to take a chance and reach out to others in need, not because they have to but because of their kindness and compassion.

Please consider sharing your own experiences of being the recipient of kindness from a stranger or any thoughts you may have about reaching out to others for whom there is need and with whom you have the means to share what is needed.

I like this quote attributed to John Wesley, "Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Afterlife and Angels: Message From Spirit Guides

For about the last six years, I have been participating in what many people might think of as a strange meditation group.  It has, at least for me, been a very unusual but personally rewarding experience.

In short, I have been in a group of very loving folks, one of whom has for more than 40 years been purportedly channeling spirit guides.  It is my understanding that it is the perspective of at least most of the participants of the group over the years that our friend has been given a gift that allows the spirit guides or, if you will, the guardian angels, of all the group participants to speak with one voice through our friend.

The group meets about twice a month, and at each group meeting the message from the previous meeting is read aloud and discussed.  After the discussion, each group member offers a prayer (either out loud or silently), the friend who does the purported channeling offers a prayer, and then the guides purportedly begin to speak through him while we all are in a meditative state of consciousness.  What is spoken is tape recorded and later transcribed by one of the group members.

Copies of the transcripts back to1979 are on my computer which allows for keyword searches.  I have not by any means read all of the transcribed material, but what I have read has been for me extremely inspirational.  I feel blessed for having the opportunity to be one of the participants in the group.

Everyone, of course, is free to draw his or her own conclusions about the messages and from where they come.

What follows is a "Spirit Guide message" received on April 05, 2005 after the death of a member of our group.

Afterlife and Angels: Message From Spirit Guides

God illuminates your lives with compassionate love, with a caring concern, and with a warmth that reflects endurance, strength, vulnerability, and openness.  God’s love reflects your love just as yours reflects God’s.  All souls are like mirrors that reflect at many angles, that take light and spread it outward and create an illumination that provides light to and from all creation.

Your prayers for Marie are deeply felt.  She is with us.  She is resting.  She is filled with love.  She is filled with a great peace and great joy.  Marie is surrounded by all those whom she loved who preceded her to the spiritual manifestation of love.  She recognizes all.  She sees your own lights.  She knows of your concerns and interests, and she feels your support.  But it is also important that you realize that she surrounds you with love and light and peace.   She will communicate with each of you.  You will know when it is appropriate.

Marie has entered the first of several stages of spiritual enlightenment.  These stages, these levels or spheres of development are experienced by all souls.  When a soul joins us, it is part of a continuous process of growth, of healing, a process of learning more about love, a process that leads some to teach, as we teach.  For others, the process is converting energy more purely into love—the energy of creation, the energy of light, the energy of mankind, the energy of the inanimate as well as the animate.

There is much that occupies the life of a soul.  Yes, it is filled with peace.  Yes, it is filled with joy, with love, with light.  But the growth of which we have spoken continues constantly.  You might ask why such growth continues, what is the benefit?  The benefit is in strengthening the power and presence of God, affirming the power of love, enabling love to overcome all that is negative, allowing beauty to reign—beauty that you see and beauty that is beyond your vision.  The purpose of growth is always to bring affirmation, to create an environment in which love flourishes in a nonjudgmental manner.

We learn much in our growth.  We learn what it means not to be different in superficial ways.  We learn the beauty of individual characteristics.  As we learn that beauty, we become empowered even more to help you learn these lessons.  Your guides are not at the lowest level of spiritual development.  We are not on the first sphere, but we have experienced the first sphere.  We have learned from that, and we are a part of that continuum of growth.  Eventually our growth leads us to different activities.  Even though we are not forever your individual guide, we are always with you and we always are in support of that spirit that has chosen to shepherd your lives through the human condition.

There are, therefore, many layers to the Spirit.  You wonder about angels and archangels, the Holy Spirit.  We can tell you that it is true, there are numerous levels.  Angels or guardian angels…they are the same.  When you sense an angel is with you, you are sensing your guardian angel, your guide.  But as there are so many levels of spiritual growth, there are equal levels of angels.  It is perhaps most helpful for you to feel that your guardian angel is your guide, but there are different such levels.  All are angels.

Mankind has forever been concerned and sometimes consumed by the issue of angels, of spirits—spirits in nature, spirits in the trees, spirits in the clouds, spirits in the earth, spirits in the rock—for all human beings seek at some level to understand: Why life?  Why am I alive?  Why are you alive?  Why is there human life?  What is the relationship between human life and the natural environment that surrounds you?  In the desire to understand those relationships and in a desire to understand why one has life at all, some cultures establish deities.  Some cultures establish icons that represent spiritual identification.  Some cultures teach about the existence of angels.  We can tell you in truth that all of these constructions collectively are correct, but each culture has its own view of that ultimate reality and for that specific culture, that view is truth, that view serves the highest purposes.  Such views are not complete, but they are in themselves within their own limitations, correct.

All religions of the world try to explain life beyond what is seen and heard and felt, and so each religion, each belief system is created to provide meaning for people.  For this reason, no religion can claim sole authority for what is correct.  Is there an absolute truth that separates one belief system from another, that gives validity to one group at the expense of another value system?  The answer is yes and no.  There is absolute truth.  That truth is: God Is; You Are God.  All else comes from these statements.  God Is and therefore You Are.  There is no You without the existence of God.  There is no Us on our level of spiritual growth without God, for we are as much a part of God as each of you.  We are not more a part of God.  We have a greater understanding, a greater knowledge of God, for we understand more what it means to be loving, but that does not make us more a part of God.  We are closer to the Source because we are all Spirit, but we are not more a part of God.

There is so much strife in the world created by a sense of exclusivity, of owning the “real truth.”  As we grow in our ability to experience and express love, we are given the power to help break down the sense of exclusivity.  As each of you joins us, the collective ability to change and influence mankind is enhanced.  That which we learn in our own stages or spheres of development is essentially a clearer understanding of the God-center of all that is.  Your journey on that path of growth began during your human life to take on specific characteristics.  You learned before you became human, but human life provided and continues to provide the context for what you learned prior to human life and what you continue to learn during human life.  This context gives richness and depth to your lives.

Human life is but a moment in the continuum of spiritual deepening.  The first level of spiritual life that is experienced after human life is also one step in the direction of ultimate perfection, of being drawn to the Spirit-center that is God.  All souls make that journey regardless of what was learned prior to human life, regardless of what is learned during human life.  The journey is successfully completed.  This journey is not arduous for it is a journey based solely on the expression of love.  As you express love as human beings, you become more capable of expressing greater love.  

It is the same for us.  We learn to love more deeply and in that process we guide you, we are your guardian angels.  It is not so important that you know our names.  For some individuals it is essential, for they feel that in knowing the name of their guide, there is a personal connection.  It is no longer anonymous, it is no longer a concept.  It seems more personal, identifiable.  We had names in our previous life, but those names in themselves are not of great importance.  What is essential is our loving duty to be with each of you.  Some of us become guardian angels for spirits on our side, for in addition to being surrounded by those who have loved you and those whom you have loved, spirits are also surrounded by guides.  We have our guardian angels.  Our guardian angels have their guardian angels.  The life of spirit is a life of shared giving to one another, teaching, loving.

It is this environment that Marie has entered so joyfully and so peacefully.  You are about to honor Marie.  You are about to celebrate her presence among you, and you wonder what can be done for her and what can be done for each of you.  Most importantly, you can pray for her growth and you can feel gratitude and love for her love in your lives.  Each of you is given the opportunity of assisting souls who have joined us.  It is certainly understandable and fitting and appropriate to mourn her loss, for it is a shared loss.  But you will ultimately give her strength when you use your sense of loss as a springboard for prayer for her growth.

We benefit always when we are prayed for.  We obviously grow when you ask for our help, for in our response to your request, growth is also achieved.  Holding one who has transitioned to us in a loving light that is peaceful, thankful, and asks only for the best for that soul, provides a support beyond your imagination.

We grow when you pray.  Our lights are brighter because your prayers send out a great illumination.  We mirror that warmth, we mirror that light back to you and back to countless others.  When you pray for us, many whom you do not know are warmed and sustained by that prayer, for we reflect that love back to human life.  We share life together.  We walk with you, you walk with us.  Our lives are enhanced because of what you do just as much as your lives are enhanced by an acknowledgment of what we do.  It is a permanent partnership of love.  There is no end to this relationship.  There is no end to a relationship between you and one you have loved who has joined our side.  

So many beliefs describe the transition as the great divide.  In truth, there is no distance.  We are no further away nor separated from you than your thoughts are from you.  We are around you, we are within you, above you, below you.  If we had physical bodies, you would feel our touch constantly.  Some of you may sense our presence physically.  Others may sense our presence visually.  Jim’s experience of an aroma is also a manifestation of spiritual presence.  Your relationships to nature are a manifestation.  But there is no distance between us, between those you love, and you.  It is for this reason that our relationship to you and our relationship to other spirits is permanent, for one cannot be separated from what one is.

You are each spirits, but you are each part of Spirit with a capital S.  You are each drops in the ocean.  You are never separated from that ocean; you are always in contact.  Energy knows no boundary; the Spirit has no boundary.  Those who have joined us have no boundary that separates them from you.  You are no longer able to see them in the way you saw them before, but that never changes the reality of their presence.

Pray for Marie, pray for her growth, pray for her peace, pray for her love.  Express your gratitude for her presence.  Express your love…that is what is needed.  she is on his journey through your prayers and with the assistance of our loving presence.  It is a time of rejoicing for Marie’s new life.  It is a time for missing her immediate visible presence in yours.  The two go hand in hand.

Affirm life, life that is permanent.
                      Affirm the Spirit.
                                Affirm your love for one another.

For more on guardian angels or spirit guides see:

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Jew Among The Baptists

by Jim Wells
Hebrew Name: Yaakov Maoz Eliad ben Abraham and Sarah
May 25, 2005

I think on some level I have always known that I am a Jew, though I was born into a Southern Baptist family in Greenville, North Carolina, where when I was growing up there were only a few Jews.  My mother’s sister married a Jew she met while teaching in Wilmington.  Her sons were raised Jewish, though she remained a Methodist.  Two of my mother’s brothers worked for awhile for a Jewish merchant.  To my knowledge there were only two Jewish families in the town.  Morris Brody owned a very successful women’s apparel store, and Eli Bloom was a lawyer and a member of the same Masonic Lodge to which my father belonged.   Morris and Eli were friends of my father and my Uncle Al. My brother Stuart’s best friend was Morris’ son Hyman.   The nearest synagogue was about 30 miles away.

So why do I believe I’ve always been Jewish or at least possess a Jewish soul?  That’s what I am about to share.

In July, 2003, at the Kibbutz Shefayim in Israel I sat sobbing as I listened to Austrian Eveline Eichmann, daughter of a Nazi, tell the story of how she found out about the horrors of the Holocaust.   She  was  speaking in German which was being translated into English by Hedy Schleifer, who spent her earliest years in a refugee camp in Switzerland.  I had not experienced such deep emotion since the death of my father.  I really couldn’t understand it at first.  Though Stuart Cohen was my best friend when I was in the Navy, Jim Bedrick my best friend in medical school, and Roger Perilstein my best local friend and professional colleague currently,   I didn’t  think  I could attribute the intensity of my feelings to my connections  with  these Jewish  friends and their families.   I also have very close Austrian friends, Walther and Ilse Gruber and their family.  I had these close Jewish and Austrian connections, but the feelings were stronger than I could attribute to these friendships.  These feelings seemed  to  be  coming  from  the  depth  of  my  being.   Then I remembered my mother having told me that I said when I was very young that I used to be a freckle-faced little boy from Grimesland, a little town near Greenville.  Could I have said Rhineland or some other German name for which she had no reference?   I don’t know, but at that moment I had the thought that I had once been a child who was killed in the Holocaust and then reborn in this body in 1947.   Through streaming tears,  I told Yumi, Hedy’s husband, that it might sound crazy;  but  I  thought  perhaps  I  had  been  a  child  killed  in the Holocaust.  He said that it didn’t sound crazy to him and shared that he believed Hedy was the reincarnation of his sister who had been killed by the Nazis.

As a child going to a Baptist church, I remember thinking that I didn’t believe you had to be a Christian to get into heaven.  How would the Creator of all of us reject some of us who might not have even heard of Jesus?  I also questioned the notion of a virgin birth and Jesus being the only begotten son of God.  What about Buddha?  What about all of us being called children of God?  What was the difference between being a child of God and being the son of God?   I  could  be  a  child  of  God  like everybody else, so why wasn’t I also a son of God?   I also had trouble with the idea that just believing Jesus to be the son of God was sufficient to put someone in the “saved” column, while good people who really tried to live an upright life were going to hell for lack of belief.  At the same time, I really liked what Jesus was teaching about loving God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.  It was confusing.  I loved the teachings of Jesus and yet, couldn’t buy into many things being taught by the church.

During college I suppose I thought of myself as an agnostic and that religion was a way of controlling the masses, much as Karl Marx had said.  I thought the really important thing was treating others in a way that we would want to be treated, or maybe more to the point as stated by Hillel, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.”  I didn’t know whether there was an afterlife or not, but  I believed  it important to be as  honest and fair as possible in our dealings with one another.  I figured that if there was a God and this God was at all good and just, then I would go to heaven if there was such a place; not because I was such a good person, but because I was a responsible person who was trying day to day to act in a kind and decent manner toward others.

After marrying the widow of a Presbyterian minister and mother of  two young sons, I began to think with her about finding a church where we could find community and support and hopefully like-minded people with a social consciousness.  We found Binkley Baptist Church in Chapel Hill.  It was a very socially active congregation with an ecumenical spirit.   It was a  place  where  someone  could  be agnostic and be welcome.  The Bible was believed important but not inerrant.   I think it was a good place for us.  When people would ask me where I went to church, I would say the Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist Baptist church next to University Mall.  For six years I lead a meditation church school class for adults, was four times elected to three-year terms on the Diaconate, and was twice the Diaconate chairperson.  The people of Binkley Church will always hold a special place in my heart.

The  only  problem  for  me  with  Binkley  Church  is  that  as open  to  diverse perspectives as it is, there is still more Christian theology than I can wholeheartedly embrace.   I am no longer an agnostic; but neither am I now, nor have I ever been, exclusively Christian.  I now think of myself as a Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jew  who wants to live and worship as a Jew while deeply appreciating the teachings of the Jewish Jesus about love, non-violence, and social justice.

I believe that there is an organizing force that created the Universe and that I am a part of that force and that force is a part of me.   I believe that the Creator of the Universe is One and that although there are many names for this Creating Force, these names merely represent different aspects of the One which is All-That-Is.   I believe that my consciousness is a gift from the Source of all Life and that I am not truly separate from anyone or anything else.  I believe that all of Creation is sacred and that this experience of separate consciousness is for the purpose of experiencing the diversity of Life and for learning that we are all co-creators in unity with the Divine.  “Hear O Israel.  The Lord, our God, the Lord is One.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Health Care Reform: Facebook Friends Respectfully Agree to Disagree

A friend and I have recently had a discussion via Facebook about reforming health care delivery in the United States.  I am sharing here, with her permission, our exchange of ideas.  If anyone would like to add to this discussion or comment on the way the discussion was undertaken, please leave a comment here on the blog.

I will begin by sharing the last few posts of  our exchange that took place over four days on Facebook beginning on October 31, 2009:

Marjorie (pseudonym), would you mind if I share our discussion with some friends who probably think more like you than like me concerning the things we talked about? I can replace your name with a pseudonym if you prefer. I think it would be interesting to get some additional feedback from other folks who have been thinking about these issues.

I suspect that nothing I said was enlightening since I ended up shooting from the hip every time, but if you don't use my name or inform me of the cynical laughter emanating from the readers, you may attempt to find worthwhile feedback using our discussion.

Thank you! I think you are great! Not only were you willing to seriously engage me in an exchange on a topic about which you obviously have strong opinions, you also are willing to let others consider our exchange and potentially ridicule (though I hope not) your ideas or mine.

The exchange on Facebook began when Marjorie posted:

ABC's John Stossel Destroys/Pulverizes/Crushes Obama's anti-American 'Health Care' Plan

(Click on link below to watch Stossel video.  Then to return to blog click on back button of browser.)
Stossel Video

Jim responded:
Marjorie, Are you saying President Obama and the Democrats who are in the majority (having been elected by the American people) are supporting an "anti-American 'health care' plan?" That's what the title of your post suggests to me.

And having watched the video, it makes sense to me that you may fear having to perhaps wait a little longer to have hip replacement surgery or something similar. I'm wondering, though, if you mean that people who don't have a job that provides insurance and can't afford the high cost of a non-group policy should just take their chances as my son has been doing and then go bankrupt (leaving everyone else to pay his expenses) if he is in a serious car crash or comes down with MS or some other terrible condition? And do you mean that health care decisions should be based on who has enough money to pay cash (or the best insurance coverage) rather than on who needs a procedure right away? It seems to me that if health-care costs have to be contained in order that the country not go bankrupt, then the current House proposal will provide a big step in that direction while helping thousands who would have died for lack of coverage a good chance at getting the care they need and would have otherwise had to do without. I am quite confident that rich people will ALWAYS have access to a fast, private option. This true in Austria and France where unlike here everyone regardless of socio-economic status has access to quality care. Here, people who are very poor are covered by Medicaid, and disabled folks are covered by Medicare. It's the people in the middle who are losing their homes when they win the serious injury or illness lottery. As a physician who cares about all my patients, I can hardly wait for The President and Democrats in Congress to succeed in reforming a system I believe is seriously broken. It seems to me that the video is an effort to frighten folks into believing change is anti-American if the currently well-enough off are going to be inconvenienced even a little even if the slight inconvenience helps a lot of people live longer and helps decrease the budget deficit.

Marjorie replied:
I knew I would hear from you; you have a list of questions that I should not respond to with questions, so I will wait until I can give my response more time. I do not like the health plan, though. I do not believe that the current proposed plan answers your emotional questions. My favorite cousin died as a result of not having insurance; that that could happen in this country is appalling. In her situation, though, I believe that under this new plan she would have died, also. One question: Why am I not allowed to disagree with the current majority party? It seems every time I do I am accused of being hard-hearted or against the poor and hungry. Furthermore, if John Stossel was fired for this report, then ABC is definitely NOT an unbiased news source; that point was the purpose of my posting this link. Former Teen Dem president and not a strict "party-man" voter, Marjorie

Jim replied:
Marjorie, It seem to me it's one thing to disagree with aspects of a plan and quite another to post a video entitled, "ABC's John Stossel Destroys/Pulverizes/Crushes Obama's anti-American 'Health Care' Plan." I certainly support you having any opinion whatsoever contrary to the majority, but to label the majority health-care plan "anti-American" sounds to me more like Rush Limbaugh than the expression of a thoughtful, majority-contrary opinion.

Seems to me that if the primary reason for posting the video was to object to the firing of John Stossel or to say that as you see it, ABC is biased in some direction, it would have been helpful to comment to that effect when posting it. Stossel's report seems very biased to me. Makes me wonder if he was fired for double dipping from both ABC and the health insurance lobby?

Marjorie, I'm not trying to come down on you; and I am concerned about using terms like "anti-American" to describe The President with whom you may, in my opinion, freely disagree but who, as I see it, is certainly not pursuing an anti-American agenda. Using words like "anti-American" and "Destroys/Pulverizes/Crushes" seems to me to be extremely provocative, perhaps even inflammatory, and doesn't, in my opinion, contribute to a thoughtful examination of specific differences in perspectives about the legislation currently being debated.

Marjorie responded:
I did comment by asking if it were true; then I went to snopes and found nothing; then I Googled them both with no definite answer as to whether or not that was why he was fired, so I removed the question. Sorry. I did not entitle the video; it came to me that way; however, I believe Socialism is anti-American. It has been since FDR instituted Social Security, which is being used as a retirement plan when it was never meant to be used that way. Both of my sons and my daughter have gone without health insurance at times themselves, and I agree that that is dangerous. The military families I talk to are not happy about their free medical service; my friends in Denmark are not happy about their almost 40% national sales tax; my friends in Canada are not satisfied with their socialized system; my point is that we should not look at and seriously revise the current insurance system in the US, but there is a lot about it which is better than anywhere else in the world--we don't need to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Rushing into this serious a change when no one has bothered to even read the entire bill and pork has been added to it is a grave error. What I know about it, I do not agree with doing; the main thing that scares me is what everyone else and I don't know about it.

Marjorie said further:
I meant to write that my point is that our system needs some revising but that any revising needs to be done carefully, that other systems in use should be studied from all angles, and that even though you can hardly wait for the revamping, patience is important when you are dealing with so many people's lives and the economy in this great nation.

Jim replied:
Marjorie, I've been at the hospital for awhile, so I'm just now getting back to you again.

I'm reading you as saying that you intended to comment on the video and checked it out via snopes and google but didn't find anything but in any case you do believe that Socialism is anti-American and that it has been since FDR instituted Social Security, which you believe was never meant to be used as a retirement program. You also agree that going without insurance is dangerous and have been told by some military families that they do not like their free medical service and by other friends around the world that they do not like their medical delivery systems nor do they like their high taxes. Sounds like you believe that while the system in the US may need some revision after careful examination, there is a lot about it which is better than anywhere else in the world and that you think we don't need to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I'm hearing you say that you think nobody has read the entire bill and that you believe a lot of pork has been added to it and that what scares you is what everyone else and you don't know about it and think that other systems need to be studied from all angles before revamping something that deals with so many people's lives and the economy of this great nation. Am I hearing you correctly?

If so, it makes sense to me that since you seem to think no one has even read the bill and since you also seem to think that Social Security is a form of anti-American socialism, you would be very concerned that the result of this effort to reform health care delivery will be terrible; that The President and members of Congress don't even know what they are putting together; that it will be filled with pork; and that there is a significant risk of acting so hastily that the result will be another anti-American, socialistic program.

Is there more that you would like to say about this before I respond with a few more thoughts of my own?

Marjorie replied:

I have a migraine and don't dare comment at this point; however, you kind of get what I am saying. I am not saying "filled" with pork; I am not saying it "would" be terrible; not reading the entire bill means that the president and congress are unaware of everything it says; socialism is the mildest thing I could call what proposals I have understood.  I hear you saying that you believe that "fear" is motivating me, and that news stories such as John Stossel's are the source of my "fear." Somehow, I don't think I am as emotional about this decision as you seem to be. So far we have rushed through everything we have done since January, and the results are not good. This bill is way too wide-sweeping to rush through it. Respond away, Jim...

Jim replied:

Sorry about your headache.  Hope our discussion hasn't been a contributing factor and that you are now headache-free.

As I read your last post, seems to me that you think I'm kind of getting what you are saying but that you are not saying that the House health care bill would be terrible.  On the other hand, you do think that The President and members of Congress haven't read the bill and are not aware of everything it says and that "socialism" is the mildest thing you could call the proposals that you understand are included. I'm also reading that you think that everything done since January has been rushed with results that you think are not good. Given that you are concerned that changes are being made that you don't think are good and that it is your perception that everything is being rushed, it makes sense to me that you want this wide-sweeping bill on health care to be carefully deliberated.

I guess I'm still not sure about your SPECIFIC concerns. To what proposals specifically in the House bill do you know you have objections? It is hard for me to understand what you think is inappropriate, misguided, or corrupt about what is being proposed without specific examples.  I hear your general concern that the bill will lead to something worse than socialism ("socialism is the mildest thing I could call what proposals I have understood"), but to what specifically are you referring, and what from your point of view would be a less mild but more accurate description of what you think is being proposed?

From my perspective, the current House bill as I understand it is inadequate, because many will still be left uninsured. This concerns me not only because of the personal costs to the individuals involved but also because of the increased costs to the rest of us when the health care of the uninsured is neglected due to not being able to afford it leaving them with treatment in an emergency room as their only option.  The cost of that treatment will be passed on to you and me as it is now.  As I understand it, government is already either directly or indirectly paying for 65% of the cost of all health care provided but with less than optimal results.  I am concerned that despite having the most expensive health-care system in the world, we still have a maternal death rate higher than many other developed nations (41st in the world for maternal mortality rates It bothers me that when I do evaluations in the emergency room that many of the people I see can’t afford the medications most likely to help them and will stop taking the medicine I prescribe after the 30-day supply provided by a pharmaceutical company coupon has run out.  Then it is highly likely that they will return to the emergency room and perhaps even have to be admitted to the hospital with no means of paying for those costs.

It seems to me that “socialism” is bandied about as a pejorative term  which may often be meant to frighten people but without being specific about what is considered objectionable about the policy being maligned.  It could also be that “socialism” is a term that can be applied to our collective paying for fire protection, police protection, military expenses, and other government services.  Seems to me that just as for many other words, “socialism” is a word that has different connotations for different people.  I don’t think, however, that it implies something that is inherently unconstitutional or “anti-American.”

Marjorie responded:
Migraine left after a night's sleep and medicine. I'm not sure what sparked this one, but it could have been several things, one of which was working on a a project for my daughter in poor lighting.

"Most socialists share the view that capitalism unfairly concentrates power and wealth among a small segment of society that controls capital and derives its wealth through exploitation, creates an unequal society, does not provide equal opportunities for everyone to maximize their potentialities and does not utilise technology and resources to their maximum potential nor in the interests of the public." Lenin believed that socialism was the middle stage between capitalism and communism. There is a difference in our paying taxes to provide protective services for society and "sharing the wealth." As a republic, even since before colonial times, we have been faced with a tenuous balance which has to be maintained between personal freedom and government protection. Those who had to live within the walls of a fort, for instance, to save their families from Indian attack, chose for a period of time to protect themselves by relinquishing some of their personal freedoms. Those who chose to live in communes in the 1960s chose to share everything on principle; they chose to relinquish their freedoms in order to remove themselves from the materialism and capitalism they disagreed with in the US society. That was their choice. It was not mine. I believe that capitalism is one of the secrets of our government's survival over the two centuries.

From where do you get your facts on the health plan; have you read the 1900 pages? what do you believe is in there that will save our poor and hungry? Do you really believe that independent companies will continue to make a profit in competition with our government run plan? do you really believe that employers will continue to provide the perks of health insurance to employees who can simply accept the government plan? do you really believe that costs for private insurance will drop due to that government competition? do you really believe that the new program will pay for itself in ten years?

Jim replied:
Glad you no longer have a headache.  Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn talks about being grateful for non-toothache.  I think the same goes for non-headache.

In True Success:  Ideas About Living And Loving In An Unbalanced World (1991) I wrote, "Seldom does anything have to be all or nothing.  The best available approximation of a balance between the extremes is usually desirable."

I also wrote in True Success, "The world needs to discover a balanced synthesis of two ideals, one American and the other socialist. In an ideal world there would be a spirit of cooperation which would encourage all of us as members of the world community to consider the priorities of everyone else in the world as we set our own priorities.  The "greatest good for the greatest number" is a principle which is consistent with this spirit as long as the basic needs of all INDIVIDUALS are never forsaken involuntarily for the interests of the majority.

The inalienable individual rights of The First Amendment to The Constitution of The United States of America are considered in the U.S.A. to be "basic needs," while in socialist countries "basic needs" are adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.

Rather than adopt either of these definitions of "basic needs" exclusive of the other, it would be far better to join forces as a world community in which no one person is allowed to have excesses above a certain level until the basics of both The First Amendment AND adequate housing, food, clothing, and medical needs are provided for all inhabitants of the world.  In order for this to be possible, while avoiding irresponsible exploitation of our environmental resources, it might be necessary to encourage vigorously the limitation of the world's human population.  At least limit the population until technological developments make it possible to provide the comprehensive basic needs to all without doing irreparable harm to the environment which belongs to us all and to all future generations.

How could this synthesis between individual rights and collective rights be attained? First, we have to come to understand that we are all in this together--that our world has become so small as the result of technological developments, increases in the global human population, and intertwined national economies that we can no longer pretend that we can sagely isolate ourselves from each other.  We are capable of ruining our entire world environment with all kinds of chemical, biological, and nuclear pollutants even if warfare never becomes a factor. Second, we must preserve the opportunity for individual economic incentives while not allowing any single individual or small group of individuals (in business corporations or governments) to exert so much power that they cannot be prevented from doing irreparable harm to the environmental birthright of us all.  Third, we must spread the news that true success does not come from more and more wealth and power but rather from meeting our basic needs and having a loving attitude toward ourselves and equally toward others.  This loving attitude must be demonstrated by our respect for ourselves and for the rights of others.  After meeting our own basic needs, freely given service to others within our own unique limitations can then replace self-centered and ultimately unsatisfying greed and provide us with genuine mutual satisfaction."

Even though those words were written more than 18 years ago, I continue to think in a way that is consistent with what I wrote then.

My perspective on "sharing the wealth" is that it is already being shared but in the opposite direction from what I think you mean.  As I see it, people who work two jobs and can barely make ends meet are sharing their wealth with the people who do nothing other than invest money and bet on the market. I know some folks who held "short" positions in the market before October of last year about which one of them who was already very, very wealthy said, "This was the biggest transfer of wealth in history."  It was a transfer of wealth from hard working pensioners and people invested in mutual funds to people who bet on the market to crash.  Somehow, that doesn't seem like the best way to encourage ordinary people to work hard and invest their hard-earned capital, though I am certainly one who has worked very hard and invested my capital in various ways consistent with our system.  I'm not in any way suggesting we adopt socialism or communism in place of capitalism, but I do think that given the human propensity for power to corrupt, there have to be checks and balances in place that protect the less powerful from the potential intentional or unintentional exploitation by the very powerful.

My information about the House bill on health care reform comes from David Price, Representative from the 4th Congressional District.  While I have not read the entire House bill myself, I have known David well for many years and trust that he has either read it all or is being advised by members of his staff who have read it all.  My answer to all your questions is basically, "Yes." I think that while there will always be the need to make changes in whatever decisions are made about this issue or any other, the House bill on health care reform should, in my opinion, help move us in a direction which will overall be quite beneficial.

Sorry - you left me completely when you said "it would be far better to join forces as a world community in which no one person is allowed to have excesses above a certain level until the basics of both The First Amendment AND adequate housing, food, clothing, and medical needs are provided for all inhabitants of the world." We just are going to have to agree to disagree.

Marjorie, It also seems to me that we are not likely to agree about the best way to reform health care, though I suspect there are lots of other things about which we have pretty similar perspectives. For instance, I bet we are both fans of Tarheel basketball, both love our work, both want our children, grandchildren, students, and patients to have satisfying lives, and both appreciate having been lucky enough to grow up in Greenville rather than Siberia or some other desolate place. Thanks for an interesting discussion; and may the highest and best for all concerned, whatever form that may require, eventually unfold.

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