Dignity and Dedication

You do not know what you are made of until you are put to the test. Most of us can do well, show desirable traits when the living is easy. Those who can be strong, cool and dignified when the world is raining down disaster upon them are at a whole new level.

There are examples of people stepping up where there are major disasters such as 911or Katrina. There are also examples of the smaller scale incidents that impact smaller groups such as couples or families.

I have a front row seat to the latter right now. And what I am witnessing are the highest levels of dignity and dedication.

Before my Mom entered the hospital at the beginning of the month she was already infirm. Practically blind, a liver that not even Hannibal Lecter would like, a bloated stomach and legs that were not holding her weight. She needed help getting out of bed, getting to the bathroom, getting dressed getting fed.

Fred, her husband, has sacrificed almost all of the rest of his life to take care of her. He was staying home every day and doing everything that she needs. He has been a full time caretaker for a couple of months now. He does not complain. He does what he does because in his mind this is what a spouse, a person, a mench dos in this situation. No second thoughts. He defines dedication.

My Mom is frustrated that she cannot do the things that she used to do. She is forced to wear a diaper and to be cleaned by someone else. She works so hard to feed herself–her hands aren’t working well and the stroke has weakened her right arm. Being almost blind also kinda hampers depth perception so just seeing where to poke a fork is challenging. She is exhausted by the time she is done. Yet she will not let anyone help her until she just can physically do no more. In therapy she is relearning to walk and to speak.

Yet ask her how she is doing and she will smile and say she is doing as well as she can. She has not let great indignities take her dignity from her.

I can only hope that I will act with the grace under fire and have the ability to do what I must–without complaining –as the two people who are my role models today.

Small X Many = Big

The question of what can I do as an individual to help solve a big problem comes up frequently. The environment/global warming, violence in the country, the feeding the poor, finding homes for the homeless – you get the idea. Fortunately, in my opinion, there seems to be some movement toward personal responsibility in taking the actions we can take. Recycling, volunteering, providing one on one help to people in need. You may not feel like you are changing the world but there is evidence that all contributions help.

 

Even UPS thinks so. This humongous delivery company is looking at ways to use less fuel. The motivations are profit oriented as well as environmental, they spend billions of dollars a year on fuel. Some bright engineering type came up with a clever idea. He calculated the fuel impact of every time a UPS truck had to make a turn. Overall, a right turn uses less fuel than a left turn. On average a truck spends more time idling in the intersection making left turns than right turns. Take that small amount of fuel usage multiplied times many millions of turns and there was a real cost. He devised a program that mapped out the most efficient routes for deliveries with an objective of all right turns.

 

Bottom line was millions of dollars of savings to the company’s bottom line.

 

If the concept of Small X Many = BIG works for UPS it should work for all of us. Do all you can.

The Daredevil, The Intellect and the Mench

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I have been contemplating the recent deaths of three people; Steve Fossett, William F. Buckley, Jr. and Baba Amte. While the first two are well known in the U.S. the latter distinguished his life in a more saintly fashion. In different ways I hope to become more like each of them.

Steve Fossett made a fortune by his early 40s on the options exchange. For a man known to seek challenges of height and speed  one would assume he was a trader. No, he made his money renting seats on the Chicago and NY exchanges.

He also had a list of things to achieve which showed that he dreamed great dreams. According to The Economist, “Mr Fossett had typed out a list of things to do that included…doing all the World Loppet cross-country skiing marathons, swimming the English Channel and climbing the highest mountain on each continent. He did them all, except for climbing Everest, for which he found he did not have the patience. But he also took part in the Le Mans 24-hour car race, the Boston Marathon and the Iditarod dog-sled race in Alaska. He performed the fastest sail circumnavigation, the fastest sail transatlantic crossing and the highest flight in a glider, nine miles (15.5km) above the Andes. By sea or by air he set 116 records, of which 60 still stand, sewing them up (ever the keen Eagle Scout) like badges on his arm.” He also sailed around the world in a balloon, not letting several failed attempts stop him.

And yet the magazine also had this description of him, “You could tell by the look of him that he was no thrill-seeker: a plump man, even plumper in a pressurised suit, who had to breathe in sharply to wriggle into the tiny capsules on his record-breaking craft, and whose thin grey hair lifted in the wind as he struggled out again. You could tell it, too, by his soft unhurried voice. There was no self-promotion, only method and doggedness.”

Doggedness? I am not sure that one can eliminate thrill seeker from the description. Look at the things he did. My wild aspirations go no further than biking in hills, breaking the 18mph mark and having some cool SCUBA adventures. My regular list has more to do with losing the 15 extra pounds I carry and doing enough yoga so I can touch my toes. I have much to learn from him. Or would if he had not been lost after leaving his home in one of the least adventurous of his flying machines, a single engine Bellanca Super Decathlon. He was declared dead on February 15 at the tender age of 63. I aspire to his sense of adventure.

William F. Buckley, Jr. died at age 82. He needed the long life to work his way through his voluminous vocabulary. According to the New York Times he “marshaled polysyllabic exuberance, famously arched eyebrows and a refined, perspicacious mind to elevate conservatism to the center of American political discourse”.  I may not have agreed with his politics but I loved to hear the man speak.

I do not go for the loquacious speaker but the times I heard William F. pontificate, I never considered him verbose. Just magnificently educated, elegant and insightful. It almost, and I mean almost, made me want to be a Conservative.

This man wrote book, founded The National Review and for many years had his own show “Firing Line”  which ran from 1966 to 1999. It became the longest running program with a single host — beating out Johnny Carson by three years. He sailed across the Atlantic at age 50 (I am 2 years too late) and wrote novels. When do people like him sleep?

The part I most admired about him was the intellect and the style he brought to his opinions. He was the anti-Limbaugh. Is there a Conservative in the media today that does much beyond attack and rant? I aspire to his eloquence.

Baba Amte was born into a wealthy Brahmin family in India in 1915. For a time he was a successful, highly paid lawyer. He began to change, to find out how the less fortuate lived.

And then one day his world changed. As described in The Ecomnomist, ”

HE HADN’T meant to touch it. As he grubbed in the rain-filled gutter to pick up dog shit, human excrement and blackened, rotten vegetables, stowing them in the basket he carried on his head, he brushed what seemed to be a pile of rags, and it moved a little. The pile was flesh; it was a leper, dying. Eyes, nose, fingers and toes had already gone. Maggots writhed on him. And Murlidhar Devidas Amte, shaking with terror and nausea, stumbled to his feet and ran away.”

This encounter led to a lifetime of helping lepers. He worked in leper clinics. Then he founded an ashram (a secluded residence of a religious community and its guru.)  “It was called Anandwan, “grove of joy”; its philosophy was that lepers could be rehabilitated not by charity, nor by the begging life in railway stations and on streets, but by hard work and creativity, which would bring self-respect. Not by tears, but by sweat, Mr Amte wrote once, and noted how similar those were.

By his death around 3,000 people lived at Anandwan. The farm grew millet, grains and fruit; in the schools, lepers taught the blind, deaf and dumb; there were colleges, two hospitals, workshops and an orchestra, where popular songs were conducted by a polio victim. Warora townsfolk, who had shunned the ashram in its early years, had learnt to buy its vegetables and drink its milk without fear of contagion.”

I can think of no greater descriptor for this incredible man beyond that of Mench. I aspire to his selflessness.

Three men, unique in their own ways, have left us in the month of February 2008. But for a combined 238 years they created legacies like few before them. Somethings to aspire to be.

Giving All Without Losing Yourself

When a friend needs help…do you? Always? For as long as it takes? No matter what? How can you not!

This is more than philosophic musing. I have been engrossed with these thoughts since a good friend of mine raised similar questions as he has been giving of himself to a close friend of his. 

Frank is a very good man dealing with a formidable situation. In addition to running a successful business and being part of a family with two teenage boys he is helping a friend. The word “helping” actually does not begin to describe the commitment of time as well as physical and emotional energy. And yet for those who believe that there is a right way to live, there is no real choice. One does what one has to do. He wrote about it.  What Would You Do If a Friend Needed Help? Gets right to the point. You help in every way you can. Frank is the true ubermench.

But are there…should there be…must there be limits to what you give of yourself? After all, some situations can be or at least appear to be a black hole. No matter what you give it gets sucked in and still there is darkness. Progress if it comes at all comes slowly and often situations get much worse without any visible path to better. We all have others that need us as well. Can we give to one at the cost of not being there for another in our lives? And what about us? If we give so much that we have little left, then what?  Should we not preserve ourselves?

Bill took this on in a comment to Frank. It is worth repeating here. Bill is the closest person to a philosopher that I know. (If there were an election for philosopher king instead of president, Bill would be leading the polls.) His guidance to Frank:

We live in a world of scarcity. We live among men and women of innate volition. We are temporal.

At some point, you need to choose how much of yourself you can invest in rectifying a given scarcity and a given decision. Because you are scarce too. You are temporal too. Some of you can be invested, even in a losing cause because it is the right thing to do, but there are other right things that also need to be reserved for.

Your own peace, development and happiness are worth reserving for.”

I was so moved by both these men that it has taken weeks before I could write about this. I very much agree with Bill’s words. I have seen people give until they had nothing left. There is a line to be drawn that allows each of us to give without losing ourselves. I am not one to give advice to Frank or anyone else. And yet..

Once you accept that there is such a line,  how does this affirmation change the way you think or behave about helping your friend? Do you stop? No. Do you do less? If so, how much less?  How much do you pull back when the need continues to be strong. What if you just gave your all for another day, week, month? How would you feel if something went irreversibly wrong and maybe something you could have done would have made a difference. While we are temporal and scarcity abounds, do we not get comfort from what we do for others? Are we not temporal but renewable as well. Astounding amounts of energy are, at times, generated by the process of doing good.

There was a time in my life where I gave a lot of myself to a friend in need. At the time I was single so there were fewer demands on me and yet by most people’s definitions this was a huge commitment. At times it drained me. At times I was frustrated, hurt or confused. Yet I am convinced that I played a role in getting this friend and her child to the other side. there was a reward for the efforts but at many times along the way I was going on hope and faith.

I thought the same thing then as Frank does now. It is how I was brought up. What surprised me at the time was that some people thought I was doing something strange instead of something wonderful. I did what I thought was right. I am OK with that.  Another opportunity for giving is on its way as my mother ages and the responsibility for my autistic sister begins to fall more to me and my other siblings.

The only conclusion that I can think of after all of this philosophic exploration is that Frank is right and Bill is right. However, what makes Bill “the most right” is not the specific words he shared but that he is there for his friend as his friend does for another. To me that is the bottom line.

We all need friends and family who are looking out for us.