Sunday, January 25, 2009

This is not about Grey's Anatomy

Well, not exactly. If you watched the last three episodes, you know they had a PDR (Prisoner Death Row) in the ER. During a fight in the prison, he had a shunt stuck in his back that paralyzed him. Meanwhile Dr. Bailey had a young patient who needed a multiple organ transplant and the PDR started messing with people's minds.

There was a discussion among the surgeons and interns about whether they should save his life, leave him paralyzed, etc, etc. Of course there was a little backstory to explain why McDreamy was being so hostile in the ER.

Anyway, that got me to thinking about the death penalty in general, my Prisoner on Death Row pen pal in particular, and salvation. (This isn't a religious blog either, BTW.)

Currently the State of North Carolina has a moratorium on executions. This was brought about when the Medical association decided that doctors could not participate in executions as required by state law. The doctors say participation would be a violation of their Hippocratic Oath. (First do no harm)

I am against the death penalty for several reasons:

1. It is a sentence that is not meted out equitably. You don't find wealthy people on death row.

2. The decision to seek the death penalty is often made for political reasons.

3. Too many mistakes have been made. We have seen many convictions overturned in recent years due to the availability of DNA testing.

4. As a Christian, I see every person as having a possibility for redemption. The State should not be in a position to deny that possibility.

And then there is my personal ministry. I'm not a minister, but as a "church lady" I have a personal mission. I have been involved in AIDS ministry for several years, and my current care partner is on death row. I can separate the sin from the sinner, and treat him as another human being who needs a friend.

Which brings me back to the Grey's Anatomy. Maybe Meredith was being manipulated by the PDR, so she felt compassion for him. McDreamy threw compassion out the window because of his father was murdered years ago. They did, after three weeks of wrangling, find another donor for Bailey's patient (gotta save the little kid's life). Life on a night-time soap is never simple.

Especially with the ghost of Denny Ducat hanging around.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Finally, I'm a belonger

My husband and I made the journey up to Washington, and stood in the cold for about five hours to witness the inauguration of "MY" President. We had few of the glitches that have been reported by many travelers to the event. It was an exhilarating day. It was good to be there with the masses of people who braved the cold for this once-in-a-lifetime event.

From the time we entered the Metro at around 7:30 AM and all through the day, the mood was high. Voices broke out singing America the Beautiful, even on the train. Even with the over-crowding and lack of direction, there were few signs of frustration, rather a thankfulness at having the opportunity to be there.

I experienced moments of overwhelming joy, with tears freezing on my face. And I thought back to the time when I first learned what it meant to be black in this country.

I was born in Petersburg, Virginia, in the segregated, Jim-Crow south. I wrote of that day in my memoir.

We lived in the rectory next to the church, and I was born there. The rectory was bound on one side by the church, the Gem Movie Theater on the other, and the Wiss scissors factory on the back. Across the street was a store that sold groceries, and next to it was a place that sold beer. This was the Negro business district, and it was a busy street. By the time I was four or five, I would ride my tricycle up and down Halifax Street in front of the church. At first Daddy would watch me, then he gave me instructions that I could only go to the left as far as the corner to Owens’ Cleaners. I wasn't supposed to go to the right past the Gem Theater, because depending on the time of day there might be crowds of people waiting for the movie, or going in to buy a hot dog for ten cents at the snack bar inside. Eventually Daddy left me to ride on my own. I would ride, pedaling as hard and fast as I could, and I didn’t notice I had passed the corner and was heading down another street. At first I panicked, but I kept riding. Since it was a short city block, I soon discovered I was back on Halifax Street where I started.

After that first time I became more adventurous, and would ride around the block whenever nobody was watching. I didn’t have to cross a street, so I felt safe, but still very grown up. I remember the exhilaration I felt at making the wheels turn faster than I could walk. Even then I was independent and a loner, who didn’t want to have someone watching me all the time. One day when I was riding, I passed a house with a picket fence, and there was a little girl sitting on the porch. I stopped riding and spoke to her, and we talked a little bit about riding my tricycle. Then it became a regular part of my ride around the block, and I would stop and talk to the little girl on the porch.

One day while we were talking, the little girl’s mother came out and scolded me for talking to the little girl. “You don’t belong on this street.” I rode away frightened and crying. When I got home, I didn’t want to tell Daddy I had been off Halifax Street, but he could see that I was crying and I told him about that mean old lady that scared me away. He asked if she was white. I hadn’t noticed before, but she was. Daddy explained, “They don’t want us on that street, so you should stay on Halifax Street like you were told.”

My mother taught her seven children to be the best in spite of the system that would keep us back, to refuse to accept second-class, and second-hand. But still throughout my life there continued the nagging sense that I didn't belong. Even as I reached an executive level position in my professional life, I felt the need to identify those whose thought I did not belong. I thought my quiet defiance could brace me against the potential day when I might be ejected from a place that someone thought I didn't belong.

I heard that term "belonger" when we visited Grand Turks in December. Our guide, who was Jamaican told us that there were certain privileges,
such as land ownership, reserved for those who were born in Turks and Caicos. He said that since he was not a "belonger" he would have to marry a native before he could buy a house.

On Tuesday, I thought of how long my people have been in this country. I can't trace my ancestry back to a village in Africa, but I can go back five generations to a county in Georgia, over 150 years ago. All those years of not belonging here. Somehow the weight of those ancestors was lifted on Tuesday. In the faces of the young and old, black and white, Christian, Muslim, and otherwise, there shined a hope and a dream and a uniting force for our country. And it suddenly came to me, I belong.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Christmas shopping on the internet - the aftermath

I didn't do a lot of shopping this time, and what I did was on the internet. I generally stick with known entities that have a history of delivering on time. I know I can depend on Amazon and any of their partners. There are some others that I use fairly regularly.

Norm Thompson used to be one I could depend on, but no more. I'll admit I waited until two weeks into December. I had a monetary reason for that. But once I decided I could afford one more gift for Tinker, I saw what I wanted in the Norm Thompson catalog. It was December 16, and I knew the US Postal Service said the last date for domestic mailing to get it there by Christmas was December 17.

I checked the Norm Thompson catalog and website, and they said, "Order by Dec 21 3PM ET (standard shipping)" and they could get it there by Christmas. The item I wanted was in stock. I placed my order. The sent me a confirmation email within the hour. I expected another email saying that it had been shipped. On December 18 I checked the website for that status of my order. It said "Item in stock, in shipping." On December 21, the website said the same thing, "in stock, in shipping." I called the 800 number. The customer service rep said the same thing, "The item you ordered is in stock, and it's in shipping." I said, "What are they doing with it in shipping for five days, I was expecting to get it in time for Christmas." She did the standard apology, and offered free shipping when it does go out. I said OK, and still hoped it might get here before we left for Wilmington. It didn't.

After Christmas it stayed in shipping. Finally on January 2, I received an email with updated status. My order was scheduled for pickup. Over the next TWO weeks, I checked that tracking link every day. It finally left Pennsylvania January 5, and arrived in Raleigh on January 9!!!

While all this was happening, one of my other most favored web-sites had an after-Christmas sale. 70% off everything online at

I placed an order with Coldwater Creek on December 31, and received it on January 4. I loved the way the pants fit so much that I ordered 3 more pair on January 5. (the 70% off sale was still going on!) I received that order on January 8. Two new orders requested and received in the same time that Norm Thompson had Sweetie's Christmas sweater "in stock, in shipping."

I guess you know who I have crossed off my Christmas list....NORM!!

If Norm had given me any explanation at all...the shipping machine is broken...we're snowed in and can't get any packages out...any excuse at all, I would have been more forgiving.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Implants anyone? (If you're sqeamish about teeth, don't read this)

Keeping a healthy mouth is a full-time job for me. I have suffered with bruxism for as long as I have had teeth. When I was two years old, my sister complained that my teeth grinding kept her awake at night. I don't know what kind of stress I had at two, but I'm still doing it.

The grinding led to TMJ - temporomandibular joint problems. About 25 years ago, my face hurt so bad from my dislocated jaw, that I needed braces. And I had beat up my front teeth so bad that it took bone grafts to save them. I continue to see a periodontist 3 times a year, and I wear night guards (retainers) to protect my teeth from the continued grinding.

Retainers don't last forever. I replaced the lower one about five years ago, and the upper one in August. The fitting process took several visits. But I'm still grinding away at night, and the teeth did some moving to adjust to the new retainer.

At my last regular periodontist visit, I told the technician that I noticed a few days earlier that my bridge seemed to be loose. The X-ray above confirmed the problem...not a loose bridge, but a cracked tooth. (Don't you love digital technology. No more developing of X-rays in a dark room. You can see them immediately on the screen of the laptop, even magnify that sucker.)

That was December 19. The Periodontist started drooling at the mouth and suggested two implants. He could do it before Christmas!! I wasn't ready to do anything so drastic without a second opinion, especially considering the cost. He hadn't told me what the cost would be, but I was imagining having to take out a second mortgage. I left there feeling the need for a good cry. We went to see "Seven Pounds" and that didn't help any.

I called my dentist that afternoon, and left a message. He doesn't work on Friday. I didn't find out until the next week that he was taking off until January 5.

I finally saw him this morning. We talked about options. The cracked tooth was also decayed, and I didn't feel any pain with it because it had a root canal. It would have to come out. He said the implants would cost about $3,600 per tooth (two teeth)!! If I were 20 years younger, and still working, I might have gone with that. But we decided on the cheaper route. In any case, I'm nursing a swollen jaw, and mourning the loss of another tooth.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Lessons in Dying

We learn that death is a part of life through the course of our own lives. Nobody sat me down to tell me, and I consider myself blessed to have learned at an early age. It doesn't get easier, but with each death I am closer to being able to cope with my own mortality.

Our family dog, Midnight, died when I was a toddler. My sister Toni considered him her dog because we got him when she was the baby of the family. Midnight was a mutt, probably part Labrador Retriever. He had a blue-black coat and a purple stain on his tongue that Toni would show to threaten anyone who might bother her. She said it showed how mean he was. After she thought she had scared someone sufficiently, I would place my hand on Midnight's tongue to show how gentle he really was. Midnight was hit by a car and died. Toni and I were devastated. Daddy went out somewhere and brought home a puppy the next day. I guess the lesson for a toddler was that life goes on.

The next death in my life was the most crushing of all. My mother died of breast cancer when I was twelve. It was 1958, the time when children were seen and not heard. Cancer was talked about only in hushed tones. I guess people thought that if you didn't say it out loud, it wouldn't happen to them. There was no chemotherapy in those days, only radical surgery and radiation. I knew about the surgeries, even though the hospital didn't allow visitation by children under twelve. I knew there was cutting and burning so that her chest was one big burn scar, and there was hardly any muscle left to her upper arms. But I didn't know she would die. Adults didn't talk to children about dying.

My Mother takes on a different life through family saga, so that I have come to know her from an adult perspective. She knew she was dying, and made her request for how she would be laid up for viewing. But that conversation never included me, the baby-girl.

I had a little more warning when my husband died. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in February, 1997. The doctor said it was inoperable. I didn't know that was code-word for "get your affairs in order." His only request was that he not linger and suffer. He agreed reluctantly to chemo and radiation, encouraged by a doctor who thought he could shrink the lemon-sized mass on the main artery to the lung, and make it operable. I did my research, hoping we would have two to five years. He died two months later in April 1997.

I have since lost a sister and a brother, and it doesn't get any easier for me the survivor. I wanted them to be in my life forever. But they were both philosophical about their own deaths. My brother was a quadraplegic and had lived 35 years after that tragic accident, beating the odds by 30 years. My sister had Parkinson's disease, and found peace after her struggle to even open her eyes every day.

On January 1, we lost Annie, my late brother's widow. It was Annie who helped my brother beat the odds, and helped him have a quality of life far beyond what any of us hoped for him. She was from Kenya, a nurse, and herbal practitioner. But more than that she shared an uncommon peacefulness with our family. Since my brother's death she worked in China, teaching English. She moved back to the States last year. And then we learned in August that she had terminal gallbladder cancer.

How do you comfort someone who is dying? It was Annie who was trying to comfort me. She said she was ready to go home and be with Ron. She died peacefully on New Year's Day.

The lesson does not get easier, but I have good examples to follow. May God grant me such courage.