Life is absurd. And life is precious. Family is a lot of both.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Chilly Phenomenon


The ALS ice bucket challenge has been an amazing social media phenomenon to observe. To say it's swept the nation is an understatement as everyone from my next-door neighbor to former President George W. Bush has taken to video with some ice water, some words, and some money for research.

It's the stuff marketing and fundraising people dream about. Who can predict what will capture the public's attention and motivate them to give?

And people really are giving. That's the more amazing part of it, I think. People can star in their own "watch me dump water on my head" show for whatever reason. But to actually write the check or click and donate is a much bigger deal. Media accounts say the donations are about $40 million more than the average August. $40 million. 

The most interesting part of the movement, at least on my newsfeed, has been the varying reactions from participants and non-participants. On the one hand, it's fun and it's for a great cause and who are you to throw cold water (pun intended) on a good deed by questioning the filmer/donor's motivation. Does she truly care about ALS? Is he really going to donate? Don't they know about embyonic stem cell research? 

I get it.

I did not want to do the challenge. Mostly because I try to avoid silly things in public. Also because we already donate just about all we can afford on a monthly basis to very worthy causes. Also because I do have very strong feelings about embryonic stem cell research. (Why? Read this.) Or here's the synopsis - 
  • Embryonic stem cells are “starter cells” that can be coaxed into becoming any of the specialized cells of the body, meaning they are “pluripotent.” Embryonic stem cells are derived from eggs fertilized in the laboratory, not in a woman’s body.
If you believe, as do I, that human life begins at fertilization, then you believe that lives are being created and then disposed of for the sole purpose of medical research. If you don't believe that life begins at fertilization then you probably don't see what the big deal is. But of course you'll respect the belief of others and why it motivates them to find another adult stem cell-only research project. 

Side note: from what I've read, the ALS Association  allows you to state your preference for your donation to avoid their embryonic stem cell research project and go solely to the others. It's hard to find that option on its donation page however. So most of the anti-embryonic stem cell crowd has chosen to donate to other places that also support ALS research.

So I had my reasons to be glad that I'd flown under the radar and not been challenged. But then I was. So was my husband. Same day. We thought we'd ignore it. But that seemed, well, rude and snobbish. Also our children were ecstatic about the idea of dumping water on both of us.

Since I was in a dress (and I just hate to change clothes more than once per day), my always-funny husband declared he'd put on a coat and tie and we'd do a classy version. So we did. The kids howled. We wrote our check to the John Paul II Research Institute.

And then my husband said, "Let's upload it to Facebook."

Wait. What? Whoa!

Because, like I said, I don't like looking silly. Especially on a public forum. And this video is silly. Not so much because of the water (and the ensuing hair don't), but mostly because I have my hand on my hip!

I don't know why I have my hand on my hip. I was just striking a comfortable pose. But I kind of find the hand-on-the-hip-to-make-my-arm-look-smaller-in-this-photo fad just, well, silly. So I never do it. Except on this ice bucket video. Argh. So silly.

And then it hit me.

Many of the nay-sayers of the whole ice bucket challenge are poking fun (if that's what you want to call it) at the motivation of people doing it. It's all just so self-centered, they proclaim -- "Look at me! Look at what I did! I did something silly and now I'm giving money!"

I get it.

But if, in the end, one minute or one dollar is focused on helping someone else, that someone else couldn't care less what the motivation was, just that help is coming.

So I stepped away from my own self-centeredness and posted our own silly video.

"I did something silly and now I'm giving money!"

That's about right.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Reading Her Story

We all write a story with the way we live, what we choose to do and say, sometimes what we choose not to do and say. And we never know who is paying attention or how they might be affected by what they see.

There is a woman I knew in Georgia. We picked up our children from school at the same time each day and always visited in a group on the parking lot. Her two older children shared classrooms with two of my kids and she had a curly-topped toddler in tow each day too. I never got to know her beyond the parking lot and a few field trips and birthday parties. But she was one of those people who caught my attention because of her story. 

She had a radiant smile and great laugh and wasn’t afraid to show up in her workout clothes and no make up if that’s the kind of day she’d had. She was a constant volunteer and good listener and the kind of mom who seemed to never tire of swinging her toddler around and around just to hear her giggle. She was the kind of mom, the kind of person, I wanted to be.

Then life brought us back to Missouri and we stayed Facebook friends and I watched as she trained to run a marathon and I continued to be impressed with how she was living her life. I was reading her story and she probably never knew.

Then one day she posted about having some annoying health issues. Then about having tests run and her optimism that everything would be great and she’d run another race soon. Then the diagnosis came and it was colon cancer at age 40. She wrote about how she told her children, about how her relationship with her husband went to a new level, about how she hated relying on others to do the things she had always done for her family and community. About how she hated her body. And then loved it. About how her faith was challenged, then strengthened, then challenged - an ongoing cycle.

It’s impossible not to put ourselves in the shoes of others when we read their stories. I think my friend knew that. So she began to write beautiful journal pieces about living with disease and treatment and hope and disappointment and frustration and gratitude and anger and wisdom and all the things that people with terminal illnesses face. They were tough chapters she would never have chosen to write, but she wrote them with dignity and an openness that was riveting.

She died last month. The end came swiftly, at least it seemed to those of us on the fringe of her life, but she had gained almost two full years with those she loved by fighting hard to do whatever it took to get through just one more day. In the end her closest friends and her husband took over her journal page and shared her last thoughts. 

Among those was the poem by Emily Dickinson her husband read at her funeral:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.

I am very grateful that I got to read her story. She lived, and died, in hope and beauty and remains the kind of mom, the kind of person, I want to be.