March for Life 2018

Between the Metro & the March and a museum visit, we walked 7.5 miles today.

Turnout was enormous.  The column of marchers extended as far as you could see, filling the streets.

One of the things people do is come in groups with matching hats, or scarves, or t-shirts, or sweatshirts — and in one case, yellow ponchos. Many of them are very memorable.  The March is so big that you’ll see thousands upon thousands of people, and then when you are walking to a Metro station afterwards, you’ll see groups gathered waiting for their tour bus that you never saw the entire day until you passed each other post-March.

 

There were a couple marching bands along the route.  (Sound quality is my phone, not the band – they were super.)

The atmosphere varies as you go, but it’s always friendly and peaceful.  We prayed along with part or all of various Rosaries and Chaplets of Divine Mercy being led by participants:

As the roads widen and narrow, and people walk at different paces, you end up here and there, walking alongside all kinds of different people.

We ended up stopped for a bit next to this group in blue sweatshirts:

The baby on the back of the sweatshirt was actually on last year’s March, in-utero, then born prematurely, and now doing great.  The adult hand in the picture is the father’s hand:

The caption at the bottom is: No hand is too small that it cannot leave an imprint on this world.

 

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And something amusing . . .

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All dogs go to Heaven.  All youth groups go to Air & Space.  US History gets its share, too.

Somehow the first time I went to DC for the March I imagined we wouldn’t be allowed into the museums during the March.  I guess I figured we were the rabble that had to be kept away from the innocent visitors.

Actually: As long as you comply with the rules & regulations for the museum of your choice, you are welcome to come inside.

And hence this year I confirmed that if you want tranquility, and a surprising number of Dominicans, go to the National Gallery.   You’ll spend $40,000 on lunch in the cafeteria (but it’s decent food).  But maybe also you will be able to personally identify the person in art who looks most like yourself.

This is me & my kids a few years ago:


It’s not so much the precise physical resemblance as the Oh my gosh, someone has painted a picture of my life.  And yes, we’re as tired as we look.  Here’s a version not from my phone:

The kids are little taller now.

 

 

All photos & video by Jen Fitz except that one you can find on Wikimedia, Public Domain.

Snowpersons for Life

What do you when the interstate becomes impassable on your route to the March for Life?  Pull over and make Phyllis, the snowperson.  Why yes, the pro-life movement is young — and happy to be alive.

FYI if you didn’t see it over at the Register, this is what happened at our state March for Life, when a non-denominational Christian tried to talk my son and his friends out of being Catholic.

One Weird Trick for Understanding Homeless People

Over Thanksgiving the topic of services for the homeless came up at dinner, and last night the subject again resurfaced.  In my experience, there is no such thing as a “typical” homeless person, because people are complex and their stories are unique.  You can speak of common factors among this or that sub-group (mental illness, lack of a personal social net, etc.) but the intricacies don’t satisfy.  People want to “understand homelessness” as if it were a tricky lock in need of the right key and combination.

Finally I told my husband that if he wanted to understand why someone would be persistently homeless, despite the many social services available in our area (which help!), here’s what you do:

Think about something that you, personally, absolutely stink at.  The part of your life where you just can’t seem to get your act together.  Other people manage to do this thing just fine, but you don’t.

[In my husband’s case: Keeping the garage clean.  We could say the same about my desk and my inbox and let’s not even talk about the state of my refrigerator.  Other people might struggle with family relationships, or road rage, or over-eating, anorexia, compulsive shopping . . . whatever.]

You persistently, year after year, struggle with this thing that ought to be simple.  Sometimes you make progress, and other times you fall back into the pit.

Other people who have this problem are sympathetic; those who don’t have this problem wonder why you can’t get your act together in this area.  You’ve got so much else going for you — what’s the big deal?

Think about that problem.  Think about all the things that contribute to that problem.

Some of things might be outside your control: Your health, your work schedule, your family dynamics.  Some of the things that contribute to your problem are just your own personal collection of weaknesses and foibles.  Many things are a combination — your circumstances work against you, and you work against you, too.

Be really honest about acknowledging your problem and all the many things that make it so persistent.

***

And that’s it.   Now you know.

 

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Artwork via Wikimedia, public domain.

Not So Bewuthered

What started last week and has been keeping me busy and happy is my literature class on The Hobbit.  It’ll run six weeks, and the students range from devoted fans taking the class purely for fun to poor, downtrodden middle-schoolers being forced to drudge through worthwhile art and write about it for actual English lit and composition credit.  Homework assignments vary per the student (at the parents’ direction), which promises to make grading much more interesting and the class less of a slog for everybody.

I’m not a Tolkien expert, I’m a writer, so that’s how we’re looking at the book.  I do think one of the most important parts of studying literature is making sure that the kids understand what the heck they’re reading.  So before each reading assignment we go through two sets of vocabulary.  The first set is Landscape of Middle Earth, because if you don’t know what laburnums are, how can you possibly visualize them?  Wikimedia is my fast friend in finding images for the tour.

The other set of vocabulary is non-landscape words that the kids are unlikely to know, or for which they might not know the intended meaning in context.  (The fender on a fireplace rather than one on a car, or a porter that you drink, not one that you hire.)

In looking up vocabulary, I’ve noticed Tolkien is assumed to have created a few words that he didn’t invent, or didn’t quite.  A few that get attention:

Flummoxed – bewildered, confounded, confused.  Not a Tolkien-built word: Merriam Webster notes its appearance in The Pickwick Papers.

Confusticate – (slang) – to confuse, perplex, bewilder.  Notes on the presumed origin (American) are here and here.  Where the word came from is not very clear, but it’s quite clear it wasn’t Tolkien’s invention.

Bebother – to bring trouble upon (someone).  Wicktionary has citations from 1896 and 1908.

Bebother follows the same pattern as bewilder, as in the famous description of Bilbo as being “bewildered and bewuthered.”

Bewuther, the fan pages tell us, is a fabricated word that means the same thing as bewilder.  I disagree.

Look up the word wuther:

verb (used without object), British Dialect. 1. (of wind) to blow fiercely. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/wuthering

1846; variant of dial. and Scots whither, Middle English (Scots) quhediren; compare Old Norse hvitha squall of wind

Someone who was, say, a professor of Anglo-Saxon literature, would know the word wuther.  Such a person would also know how to use the prefix “be-” to build related words, such as bewilder, bedraggle, bespoke, bespeak, become, bemuse, and so forth.

Bewilder, if we look at its etymology, has a sense of someone going astray or getting lost.  Think of it as being led into the emotional wild-lands.

We should infer, using the logic that Tolkien knows what English words mean and that he builds English constructions accordingly, that bewuther means something slightly different than bewilder.  It means to be wuthered – to be blown about.

→ Bewuthered is to be blown about, in a figurative sense in this case.

One can therefore be both bewildered and bewuthered, but one is not necessarily both at the same time.  You might be thoroughly bewuthered and yet entirely sure of where you’ve landed, for example — not bewildered at all, just well-tossed and reeling a bit from the blow.

Or, if you take my literature class, hopefully you end up neither.  In addition to going over tricky words before the reading, we’ll do a plot summary at the start of class each week to make sure the kids understood the reading.  There’s no sense talking about writing techniques and stunning poetry until you know who did what, when, where and how.   After that?  Bring it on.

 

My partner in crime came up with a project for the fankids, writing their names on stones in runes.  It was pretty cool.  This artwork courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain.

2 Things You, Your Friends, and Your Family Need to Know About Dysautonomia

It is the time of year when I get flooded with reminders about Dysautonomia Awareness Month.  I’m aware, thanks.  I’m not a big fan of colored ribbon empathy-signalling for any disease, so we can skip that.  I’m going to save the “How’s it going, Jen?” post for another time, too.  Let’s skip this year straight to the info that is useful for anyone headed to the doctor about those weird symptoms.

Refresher: What is Dysautonomia?

You can skip this part if you already know.

Your autonomic nervous system is the part of your body that makes things work without you having to think about it.  Your heart beats, your innards digest, your temperature regulates, and your blood pressure presses, even if you completely ignore them.

Autonomic dysfunction, or dysautonomia, is when that system doesn’t work right.   When your blood pressure fails to compensate when you stand up.  When your stomach declines to empty.  When your heart decides to beat to the rhythm of its own drummer.

It’s complicated (we’ll get into that again in the next section) because of course you might have problems with these symptoms due to some other disorder.  It’s double-complicated because you can have autonomic dysfunction as a complication of an ordinary disease (like diabetes), a horrendously complicated disease (like certain inherited mitochondrial disorders), or just cause.

So “dysautonomia” is a bit of an umbrella.  It’s like saying “I have stomach problems” or “lady troubles” except more scientific sounding.  But just like you need to know that your digestive and reproductive tracts sometimes require medical attention, it is important to know that your autonomic nervous system is a part of your body that can malfunction.

What happens when you don’t know about this is what I’m writing about today.

Problem 1: Don’t Be So Nervous!

If you’ve ever felt your heart race, your stomach churn, or your hands sweat when you were nervous, you’ve felt your autonomic nervous system doing one of its things.

This creates a tricky dilemma: Say you go to the doctor because you are short of breath, and all the tests show your heart and lungs are just fine.  Are you just really anxious?

Maybe you are.  You’ll probably get referred for a psychological evaluation.  What you need to know is that many forms of dysautonomia have surface similarities to the physical side of anxiety disorders.   How do you know the difference?  For one thing, anxiety disorders involve being anxious.

So here’s the layman’s differential diagnosis:

If your stomach churns every time you walk past your boss’s office, regardless of the time of day or what you’ve eaten or how much sleep you got or whether your boss is wearing way too much cologne or not — if there is no physical reason for your boss’s office to make you ill — and you feel fabulous otherwise, it’s probably anxiety.

But if your stomach sometimes churns while you’re chilling out watching your favorite movie, or relaxing with your family on a vacation you genuinely enjoy (don’t lie), or on the day when you and your boss whom you love are on a roll achieving great stuff . . . that doesn’t sound like anxiety.   It is highly unlikely you are secretly anxious and have no idea.    The physical symptoms of anxiety tend to correlate with anxiety.  The physical symptoms of dysautonomia are not dependent on your emotional state.

Some minor complications to remember:

  • You can be a person with a known anxiety disorder, but also have a dysautonomia.  There’s no numerical limit on how many diseases you are allowed to have.
  • You can be a person with dysautonomia who develops anxiety symptoms related to the stress your illness causes.   People with cancer or typhus or foot-and-mouth disease sometimes get anxious about their condition, so if you worry about your life sometimes, you’re not exactly a pioneer there.

Therefore do some reality checking.  If you get faint with prolonged standing, that’s probably dysautonomia.  If you get faint at the sight of blood, that’s probably anxiety.  If you get faint under both instances, it’s probably two different problems that have similar symptoms.

(Or maybe you have a pathological fear of standing, and also a latex allergy you’re unaware of, because you think it’s just fear of needles.  But it’s more likely you have POTS than a pathological fear of standing, despite the thirty-seven physicians who looked you straight in the face and told you to get a hobby, because it never occurred to them to do a tilt-table test.  Tell me about your childhood . . . did you have to stand a lot?  How did that make you feel?  Did your mother do a lot of standing around you? . . . )

Problem 2: You Just Need to Exercise!

Your body works better if you use it regularly and well.  Lots of people are overweight and out of shape, and when they make the decision to eat sensibly and get out for a walk every day, they find they feel much better.

What you need to know is that some forms of dysautonomia can present like you just need to get more exercise, but actually they are a disease process that inhibits your ability to exercise.

In my case, my diagnosis of IST (Inappropriate Sinus Tachycardia) hinged on the fact that my treadmill testing looked like a basic model “she needs to work out more” case, except that I didn’t actually need to work out more.

I presented with shortness of breath on exertion, but every test came back normal.   If I had been overweight, I would never have been diagnosed, period.

The only clue we had that I had a tachycardia and not a fitness problem was that (a) my symptoms came on too suddenly to be deconditioning and (b) I wasn’t fat enough.  I “passed” all tests with three different specialists, because I was healthier than any of their usual heart-attack or COPD patients.  Because of my underlying fitness level and experience as an athlete, I had the ability to push myself on a treadmill despite feeling horrible, so I’d score in an “acceptable” range.  (Even if I was gasping for air in order to do it — they didn’t chart that.  Just the number.  Hmmn.)  It took a really fat doctor who knew his own numbers and who liked to geek out on technicalities to pick up that something wasn’t right in what he was seeing.

So here is my firm advice: If you are tired and intolerant of exercise, and you try taking the usual steps to improve your health but it seems like it’s just impossible, or like you just can’t do it and you keep falling off the wagon, dig deeper.  There are a number of endocrine disorders that can cause this problem, there are some dysautonomias that can cause this problem, and there are who knows how many other things as well.

You’ll have to go through all the other first-line tests looking for obvious stuff  (if you have a pulmonary embolism, you need to know that ASAP, so rule it out, please). But if that all that comes back normal and you are still pretty sure there’s something wrong, start looking at dysautonomia as a possibility.

“Failure as a human being” is not a medical diagnosis.  Find a doctor who doesn’t shove you off, and keep looking until you figure out what’s wrong for real.  After you’ve addressed the underlying health problems that are sabotaging your efforts, you’ll find that the triad of healthy diet, exercise, and stress management actually starts to work for you.

And that’s why you should be aware of dysautonomia, and some of the other ribbons in the rainbow as well.

Follow-up Reading: Here’s a post from a health care professional who didn’t believe in dysautonomia until  it happened to her.

 

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Artwork: Mihály Munkácsy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The Problem of Evil Revisited

I always carry a knife sharpener, this one, when I travel, because I abhor dull knives.  In the US when I travel I either bring my own chef’s knife and cutting board, or anticipate buying one at my destination if necessary. I didn’t need any of that in France, I discovered happily and without too much surprise.  The French are civilized and value good meals.

In Chamonix on the Epic Vacation, while the boy trekked away at summer camp, two girls and I invested in lift passes for the valley and spent the week riding up mountains.  At the Aigulle de Midi lift, they check your bags before they let you into the cable car

The amount of profiling going on at the security checkpoint was blatant.  A group of climbers were waved through at a glance.  I opened my backpack and the security guy noted the heavily bagged, unidentifiable object within.  “What is this?” he asked.

“Picnic,” I said.  Cutting board, a good sharp knife, sausage, bread, cheese, and so forth.  I was concerned that after a long wait we’d be sent home because of the knife. I prepared to open the inner bag and see if I couldn’t talk the guy into holding the knife for us to pick up when we came down at the end of the day.

But the guy never even saw the knife.  I said picnic and he didn’t bother to look further.  Middle aged lady with a couple little girls in tow.  If I say it’s my picnic, it’s probably a picnic.  He assumed, rightly, that neither I nor the climbers, though they too of course were equipped with sturdy knives, had any intention of stabbing our fellows during the long ride up the mountain.

An Armed Society . . .

Security in France is pretty good these days.

This is a photo of the TGV station at Charles de Gaulle airport:

In the foreground you see a seating area and reputable coffee machines (I’m not sure how good they are).  Look deep in the center of the photo.  That’s one of a group of four heavily armed soldiers who were doing the rounds outside the secure area of the airport.  They are, in this photo, all standing guard looking down towards the platform while the TGV from Marseille arrives and unloads.  Once the train emptied without incident, they continued their patrol.

There are groups of soldiers like this throughout the country at key spots (the Strasbourg cathedral had its share), and armed police stationed elsewhere. When we visited the shrine of St. Odile, an officer (with back-up on the grounds) was stationed at the monastery entrance all day.

Officers like these are the reason that the stabbing in Marseille earlier this week was limited to just two victims, instead of becoming a mass-casualty rampage.  This is one of the reasons we preferred to vacation in France.  The torpor with which the UK has begun to rearm its police officers did not inspire confidence.

What It Takes to Feel Safe

The reason I feel safer when a group of French soldiers is patrolling the train station is the same reason the security guy at the ski lift let me pass without looking too closely at my bag.  I have no reason to suspect the French military or police are going to harm me.  I could not say that about every group of soldiers around the world.  These officers — four strong men, heavily armed — are capable of unspeakable evil, but they don’t commit it.  Those climbers and I, working as a group, would have been capable of holding a cabin of tourists hostage and murdering them all, but we didn’t.  We had no desire or intention to do so.

Security works when you manage to make the good guys stronger than the bad guys.

France attempts this via security profiling and a strong police presence, combined with fairly strict gun laws.  The success of this strategy is variable.  You can see a summary of French terror attacks here.   Note that since the 2015 attacks in Paris, off-duty police officers are now allowed to carry firearms — the reasoning behind that is self-evident.

The laws themselves, though, are not what makes security work (when it does).  We can think of nations where the local citizens need to arm themselves specifically against the police and military.  What makes security work is when the law is ordered towards giving the upper hand to the people who can be trusted with it.  The French police generally do not go around terrorizing the populace.

Are Americans Safe People?

Last week I had the chance to listen to Representative Cezar McKnight tell a story from his childhood.  I’ll blog more about the context of the story another day.  But here’s what he remembers:

His parents, a black couple who by McKnight’s telling were sometimes mistaken for a mixed-race couple, owned a nightclub-liquor store in rural South Carolina.  One day his mother, alone with the children, was in the store when men in KKK garb gathered outside.  They had no idea what these men wanted or what their plans might be, but there was plenty of reason to be afraid.  His mother took the shotgun they kept behind the counter and prepared to defend her children and herself if necessary.

She had sound reason to trust neither her fellow citizens not to harm her nor the authorities to come to her aid.

By and large Americans share this sentiment today.  The impulse to arm or disarm America is rooted in the essential equation: How do we make the good guys relatively stronger and the bad guys relatively weaker?

This is a practical question that should not be entirely put off.  Attacks such as the recent massacre in Las Vegas, the Boston Marathon bombing, or the 9/11 attacks are particularly vexing because they pose, in their time, new problems that the (then-) current modes of security have not anticipated.    How shall we anticipate such problems in the future, preventing them when possible and curtailing them when not?  How do you give the good guys the upper hand?

This is not, however, the only way to study the equation.

On the Art of Being Good

What is necessary to make any law work is for people to be good.

It’s paradoxical, since of course if people were actually good, you wouldn’t need the law.

“Just make people good,” furthermore, sounds even more far-fetched than “disarm the bad guys” or whatever other security plans people are devising.   And yet, weirdly, it is the one thing that actually works.

There are police officers who do not shoot innocent civilians. There are soldiers who protect their citizen rather than terrorizing them. There are ordinary people who, though capable, refrain from evil and sometimes even rise to heroic virtue.  Unremitting goodness is the reason you can go buy groceries without being raped and murdered.   Where that decency is lacking, death reigns.

This is hopeful, because we can see that even though nobody is perfect, we can also see that there are places where the people are generally good enough for the purposes of peace and safety.  This is discouraging, however, because evil cannot be fixed with a law or an executive order.

What must be understood in the face of a horrifying crime is that the relationship between good laws and good people is inextricable.  A good law is designed to protect good people and ward against evil people.  The law cannot depend on human goodness alone for its strength, though — it must anticipate abuse of the law, because people will try to abuse it.  But the law itself is not sufficient.

The bulk of the work in creating a safe, civilized society is not in the work of the law, but in the work of helping each other become people who do not do evil things.  Our mission is nothing short of overturning the present culture of narcissism and death.

That is a long road — an unending road. But it is also something that we as ordinary people can work to accomplish.

Taylor Swift, All American Girl

Last night I hosted the Tom Petty Tribute Kitchen Cleaning at my house, which made my husband hopeful (about the kitchen) and my children puzzled (about Tom Petty).  I looked my son in the eyes and shook my head and said, “You’re not from the 8o’s, are you?”

He affirmed that he was not.

Tom Hoopes at Aleteia sums up the reason parents of a certain age have such a profound love of Tom Petty, despite the man’s flaws: “Tom Petty provided the soundtrack to my life.”  The songs matched what we were thinking and feeling and didn’t necessarily even know it until we heard the song.

Taylor Swift does that.  She is an astute businesswoman, yes, but also she is an artist with a gift for saying what American women are feeling.

Discerning Catholics will not necessarily care for everything Tom Petty had to say, and certainly should not care for everything Taylor Swift has to say.  But as I argue over at the Register, we need to pay attention to what Swift is saying.  Why?  Because she is describing the lives of nearly every woman in this country today.

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Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain.

What Do You Do With a Day Like Today?

You’re Googling lists of Las Vegas shooting victims, and then this.  Unacceptable.  I don’t see productive blogging happening in a timely fashion.  Redneck Triduum song it will be:

May the souls of the departed rest in peace, amen.

 

 

 

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Artwork: Illumination from the Passionary of Weissenau (Weißenauer Passionale); Fondation Bodmer, Coligny, Switzerland; Cod. Bodmer 127, fol. 144r, circa 1170 and 1200.  Source http://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/list/one/cb/0127  [Public Domain] via Wikimedia.

 

 

Who Owns “Social Justice”?

One of the news sources I flip through occasionally is Al Jazeera It’s not the only place I’d turn for information (goodness gracious!), but for coverage of Middle Eastern politics it’s a bit more thorough than the average American paper, go figure.  Al Jazeera also has good human rights coverage sometimes, such as this investigation into Britian’s modern-day slave trade.  Catholics are big into human rights.

The most painful fallacy I see among Catholics is the false dichotomy between “social justice” and “life issues.”  It’s moldering baggage from the Church’s political divisions over the last fifty years or so: We know that a branch of dissenting Catholics labeled themselves “social justice” warriors, and so our alarm bells go off whenever we hear someone talking in vague terms about peace and justice and not much clear doctrine.

We have to cut this out.

Catholics who believe the entirety of the Catholic faith are not obliged to hand over a portion of our faith to agnostics-in-Catholic-clothing.  We get to own the whole package: the Trinity, the Church, the Sacraments, Scripture, and the entire Christian moral life.  We don’t have to settle for our slice of the “pelvic issue” pie and doggedly shun any topic we fear might have somehow, somewhere, been enjoyed by a Democrat.  We certainly don’t have to swallow the line that justice with regards to immigrants, the environment, workers, prisoners, or any other category popular on the Left can thereby only be solved by the Left.

The Church proposes a beautiful, sensible, logical, theologically-sound way of looking at social issues, and it’s ours to love and cherish.  Enjoy it.  Own it.  Don’t let anyone deny you your right to the entirety of the Catholic faith.

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain]

New App Simplifies Trafficking, Incest & Statutory Rape

CHARLOTTE, NC — A new App called Nurx ensures sex traffickers, abusive relatives and overbearing boyfriends are not burdened by complicated encounters with health care professionals, while ensuring that the girls who service them never, ever, meet a physician, nurse, or clinic work who might intervene and contact the authorities.

“If a teenage girl is engaging in a behavior that has potentially life-threatening consequences, that’s not something her parents need to know about,” the health care provider explained.  “It’s better just to give her a medication with known fatal side effects without ever consulting a physician in person.”

Critics have questioned whether teenagers are able to reliably choose their own prescription medications, but teachers and school administrators all agreed in an industry consensus statement, “If there’s one thing we can say about teenagers, it’s that they are reliable, diligent, and filled with a deep sense of personal responsibility.”

The document went on to say, “No teenager would ever lie on a form on the internet.  Sexual predators don’t ever use fake identities on the internet either. So this is completely not a public health concern.”

“We care about girls’ reproductive health and freedom,” a public health official observed.  “Many girls have said they’d ‘rather die’ then let their parents know what they’re doing. Nurx is here to make that possible for them.”

 

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Need a prescription?  Internet doctors can help you with that.  Photo courtesy of Wikimedia [CC 3.0]