Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Election Day

Misleading arguments, outright lies, vitriol, more lies and more vitriol... the 2012 campaign will be a good one to put behind us.  And it's not just the candidates.  I find myself mustering all sorts of criticism for the "other side"--likely spreading half-truths myself; condemning family, friends and strangers who think differently than I do; and (although I believe everyone should vote), secretly hoping only my candidate's supporters will show up at the polls today.   

I care deeply about equality and justice for all, how our foreign policy impacts the everyday lives of families in other countries, and what kind of economic and environmental policies my daughter will inherit.  But as I look at this short list, I realize other things I'm passionate about aren't even on it. 

The first amendment.  Other than partisan ramblings sparked by the anti-Muslim video, freedom of speech has not been a serious part of the election conversation.  You know why?  Because - like the right to vote - we take it for granted.  

Today's censored IHT in Pakistan.
Three days ago I read an article in the New York Times titled "Gays in Pakistan Move Cautiously To Gain Acceptance."  Today, when Pakistanis open up the International Herald Tribune, this is what they're finding;  a rectangular white out covering more than half the page where that same article is supposed to be.  

It's easy to say "Don't take things for granted," but harder to put into practice.  Even harder to realize too late that what you've taken for granted, you've now lost.  Freedom of speech isn't designed to protect what is inoffensive or benign.  The ideas that need protection are the ones that are most provocative and motivate others to take some action as a result of those views.  Haven't we been trying to be provocative with our recent political Facebook posts, twitter feeds, blog entries and emails?  

Today, "freedom of speech" and "the right to vote" sound like old rhetoric.  They aren't.  

Speak up and vote. 

Thursday, November 01, 2012

A Mother's Love

This cough-assist machine removes
secretions from Greer's lungs
(since she can't cough on her own),
and lowers the chances she'll develop
 a life-threatening respiratory infection.

There are moments in life when you meet someone who brings you to tears because of the beauty they offer to the world when the world has shown them such extraordinary hardship.  That's how I feel after meeting 4-year-old Greer and her mother, Kate.  

"It's not a sad life, but it will be a sad ending if a cure isn't found," says Kate.  She looks over her shoulder while she's talking to me.  Unable to stand on her own, Greer is strapped into a medieval-looking machine that keeps her upright.  

"I. Am. A. Ro. Bot." Greer repeated with a wide grin as her mom pulled the straps around her legs and waist.  Now, she's coloring on the tray in front of her and quietly chatting to herself - just like any other 4-year-old girl.

After a series of frustrating, inconclusive tests when Greer was two-years-old (and was still unable to lift her head off the ground), the diagnosis was finally made: spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).  SMA is a terminal and aggressive disease that affects young children.  It's the number one genetic killer of children under the age of two.  

No one - not her doctors, not her family -  expected Greer to survive long enough to celebrate her fourth birthday.  But celebrate it, she did.   Zooming around Hull's Paragon Carousel in her electric wheelchair ("She parallel parks better than her grandmother!" Kate jokes), Greer was the life of the party.  

Said the Pulitzer Prize journalist William Tammeus, "You don't really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave at his parents every time around--and why his parents will always wave back."

Today, researchers at the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research are working hard to find a cure.  In the meantime, Kate finds hope in the scientists' efforts, and is using her voice to inspire them to work harder, faster.  

"Most mothers tell their children about the world.  I'm telling the world about my child."