Of Life and Death

December 15, 2009

This post is a bit more personal than my usual, but I wanted to share a different part of my life with you all. Yesterday my children were Baptized at Holy Name Church in Birmingham, MI. The day before, I visited my brother, Doug, as he lay dying. My children are beginning their lives. My brother’s life is ending.

I am not much of a “believer” type, though I am sure that there is much more to life than the material. I am the son of a non-believer Jewish father and non-believing Norwegian mother. Indeed, my mom’s father became an atheist when they tried to shove Catholicism down his throat at a time he wasn’t ready to swallow.

Still, it was good for me to share the same excitement, confusion, and even amusement that my children had during the ceremony. My oldest son, Julian age 8, was able to understand some of the meaning of the sacrament – about as much as this Jewigian, raised as a Unitarian understood. Like Julian, Aiden and Quinn, I also began to listen to the prayers and participated in the ceremony, I began to understand something about my own life, death and the rituals and what it all means.

At the same time, my brother Doug is very sick with a cancer that will likely end his life. I love my brother and the prospect of his passing is painful for me. As I stood near the Baptismal font, listening to the prayers and smelling the incense and oils, sometimes staring out the windows and watching snowflakes fall on an otherwise dark December day, my thoughts alternated between my children and my brother. I was hearing and smelling and feeling the voyage from life to death and to life again. I felt the Maker’s rage for order. The Baptism brought home to me that death and life are the same when seen through the prism of the Universe and its continuum.

I don’t know what happens when people die, but I think it is not the end of us. It seems strange, in this cold, dark December reality of life, there is a source of life eternal – my love for my brother and for my children. That love will never die and that love makes life (and death) so much more understandable.

Choosing How to Live

December 9, 2009

Last week I wrote about faith and a number of people asked me to elaborate. Real faith, and not religious dogma, liberates us from fear and opens us up to actions that will improve the world. Writing about a quality I need to encourage in myself is one way I can focus on what I can do in response to the challenges the world presents. Last week I was starting to feel discouraged about the direction this country is taking.

The world can overwhelm us unless we can use the opportunities that problems represent to improve those qualities we have and do what we can to change what is wrong in the world. It’s too easy to give in to hopelessness and fear (just turn on cable news 24/7). The economy, wars, climate change… let alone the personal struggles we face every day… life can be hard and it can be a challenge. I choose to look at life as a challenge.

So many times in the past people have remarked to me about how I seem to be able to handle very stressful situations so easily. Well, it’s not easy, and I do feel anxious or unsure at times. I am only human. When facing death threats (as I did when representing Jack Kevorkian and the right of self-determination) or representing the victims of police brutality, running for Governor or even facing prosecution (persecution) by the Government – I am human and I do have times when I feel anxious or hopeless. In fact, I have those moments in every trial. I choose to not focus on the situation – or give in to the whining and hand-wringing. I choose to look inward and challenge myself to overcome any feelings or challenge the world presents to me. If I feel fear it is because I need to have more faith and act like it.

We all have more influence over our lives than we think – the world doesn’t defeat us, we do. Not me, not in any trial, not in this lifetime.

Déjà vu – All Over Again

December 4, 2009

I read an interesting excerpt from Mikhail Gorbachov’s autobiography regarding the period of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He recounted a meeting when the Army and the KGB were advising Soviet leader Brezhnev that 150,000 troops and brutal tactics were not subduing resistance and that the only military and politically feasible solution was to reinforce their occupation with an additional 100,000 troops and then withdraw after a year. Sound familiar?

I share the extreme disappointment of many people in Obama. It started with his economic policy that favored Wall St. at the expense of working men and women (or should I say unemployed men and women?), worsened with his decisions to keep most, if not all, Bush era policies on domestic spying and executive privilege. But the Afghanistan policy has convinced me that Obama is no change at all.
What are we doing in Afghanistan? Obama tells us that our national security depends on it (sound familiar?). How? Why? There are already more terrorist camps in Somalia than there ever were in Afghanistan, there are more al Qaeda in Pakistan than anywhere else in the world. The threat of international terrorism wouldn’t exist at all except for the funding coming from Saudi Arabia. All of those countries are a far greater threat than Afghanistan.

Do you remember the helicopter shot down in Afghanistan last month killing at least 14 soldiers? They were on a mission to capture Taliban who were guarding a cache of money and opium. Guess who owned the money and opium? Karzai’s brother. And how was it that the Taliban had been alerted to the raid and were waiting for us?

Troops there can’t trust the Afghans beyond the last bribe – they literally have to pay Afghan soldiers cash every time in order to get them to go out on patrols.

Another senseless war, this time Obama’s war, and to think I helped him get elected.