Saturday, April 02, 2005

When I didn't see the Pope but I heard the commotion

I have a story to tell about The Pope John Paul II. In the Winter of 1989 my partner, Mina, and I and two Lesbian friends of ours visited Rome. Our two friends convinced Mina and me, both of us secular Jews, to visit the Vatican. We were duly impressed and glad we went, although much overwhelmed by the size of the place and the various bejeweled possessions and sacred objects contained inside the Vatican museum. After the visit to the main public rooms in the Vatican and the open spaces outside, we returned to our small hotel which was located across from the Pantheon, a sacred temple that is now a Church where many famous personages are buried in above ground sculpturally decorated sarcophagi.

There is also an open place below the Oculus of the Dome, the open air hole in the dome, in the Pantheon where a special New Year's Eve musical service was to take place. That evening we decided to go to hear the choir singing at the Pantheon urged on by one of our friends, who was raised Catholic. Before we left the hotel, one of the guests who mistook me for a "sister" Catholic, I guess I look Italian, and who was visiting Rome from the Boston area told me about a particular Church I should visit which she thought was quite special. When I told her I was going to a musical service at the Pantheon, she became quite excited as it further confirmed that we were on the same mission in Rome. I didn't have the heart to enlighten her to who or what I was so I left it at that.

We went to the Service at the Pantheon, a former Roman Temple. Three quarters of the way through the musical service, which included a choir singing in their beautiful monotone voices and also included several archbishops carrying scepters and spreading incense, we heard a commotion outside. My first impulse was to get up and go outside to look as a number of others did but I didn't want to disrupt the service in any way especially since I am a nonbeliever so I stayed in my seat. Then the noise became louder and we heard cries of Il Papa! Il Papa! Finally the service was over. We ran outside and saw the Pope Mobile across the Square moving away from us into the distance. He had just been outside the doors of Pantheon and the crowd was now dispersing.

I really could not make the Pope's figure out from where we stood. We had missed the Pope. When I got back to the hotel, the woman who thought I was a "sister" Catholic came up to me excitedly. Did you see the Pope? He was here. Did you see him? Yes, I said. I saw him. And we jumped up and down together. The Boston woman said "He looked strong. He is tall." Yes, I said. He is large and tall, Big. I will never forget the time I missed seeing the Pope but heard all the commotion. And think of it, a nice Jewish girl like me.

Angels in America: See it!! (playing on HBO again)

I happened to catch the last 1/2 of Part I of the video made for tv titled Angels in America directed by Mike Nichols in 2003 on HBO TV. It reminded me how absolutely great Angels was to see the first, second and third time round. Yes that is how much I loved that movie. And, yes I did see the original play in LA and I liked it then too, although I felt the video version improved my understanding of the themes and symbolism. I have a friend who hated the movie and have known other people who really didn't care for it or were kind of neutral about it. I have never been able to understand this as my lover and I were absolutely enthralled with everything about Angels.

Angels captured the feeling of what the AIDS epidemic was like for people affected in the 80's. The religious exploration and heavenly drama that haunts the main characater Prior Walter is so full of feeling it knocked me over emotionally. Everything that happens in the movie including the exquisite acting of Al Pacino's playing Roy Cohn is surreal. That included Meryl Streep's portrayal of Ethel Rosenberg and her entrance early in the movie as an old Jewish Rabbi (male) is quite
surprising but good.

I need to take the time to see the whole movie a fourth time when I have the 5-6 hours of time again to put aside for seeing this brilliant cast again. I wonder if it is the period of time that is depicted by the video and the focus, on Gay males, Jewish New York characters, the McCarthy period, the religious questioning, the racist bluntness portrayed by the Roy Cohn character, the compassion toward Roy that both Ethel and the Norman character display toward Roy if that is what it is. I'll never understand why everyone doesn't see Angels as the best, the absolutely best of its kind ever. If you haven't seen it, please do but don't let me know you didn't like it. That would be too much to bear again.

Written by Tony Kushner, Directed by Mike Nichols, Acted by Al Pacino- Roy Cohn Meryl Streep- Rabbi Isidor Chemelwitz/Hannah Porter Pitt/Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg/The Angel Australia Emma Thompson- The Angel of America/Nurse Emily/Homeless Woman Mary-Louise Parker- Harper Amaty Pitt Jeffrey Wright- Norman 'Belize' Arriaga/Mr. Lies/The Angel Antarctica Patrick Wilson- Joe Pitt Ben Shenkman- Louis Ironson/The Angel Europa James Cromwell- Doctor Henry Brian Markinson- Martin Heller Robin Weigert- Mormon Mother Jeff Aaron- Park Patron Justin Kirk- Prior Walter/The Man in the Park.

Land of The Elderly Old (LA times opinion)

The article below highlights important issues for those growing older today. Great Commentary.

April 2, 2005 E-mail story Print Most E-Mailed
Bumpy Travels in the Land of the Elderly Old
LA times April 1, 2005
By Rose T. Monroe,

Rose T. Monroe earned her master's degree in psychology at 75, after a number of other careers.
Not everyone reading these words will be able to book passage on a trip to the Land of the Elderly Old. Still, since 2000 the world has been adding 795,000 people a month to this unchartered territory, according to the Census Bureau's booklet "An Aging World." In 1919, when I was born, the average life span was 54.7 years. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, it was at a high of 77.3 years in 2005. Worldwide, women live longer than men, although surveys show men are catching up.
But, male and female, the Census Bureau's "elderly old" — those 85 and older — comprise 4.9 million Americans.

Rich or poor, whatever color or religion, when you reach those years, you face many questions. If you're physically OK, you wonder how long you will be able to maintain your current lifestyle. If married, you wonder what changes you might have to make financially and physically if one of you becomes ill or dies. What if you can no longer care for yourself? Have you checked out retirement and assisted-living facilities to know their costs, their pluses and minuses? When should one or both of you stop driving? What if you have to ask your children for support?
The 21st century is forcing us to add new questions. What happens if our Social Security benefits disappear?

The monthly cost of everything, including medical insurance, increases every year. This year, my husband's and my medical costs equal half of one of our Social Security checks.

We who grew up during the Depression have a difficult time with the changing value of money. How could what we thought would last a lifetime have shrunk so fast?
And then there's this business of losing our memory. Cancer used to be the scare word when our parents were aging. Now it's Alzheimer's. Every "senior moment" becomes a fearful symptom.
Why isn't a part of the world adjusting to the increasing number of people who wear hearing aids? Those automated phone systems help businesses lay off workers, but our brains, which process speech more slowly every day, get lost in their instructions.

And what about those new packaging geniuses: They beat out terrorists for scaring elders with arthritic fingers. Cataracts and macular degeneration are words more familiar to us than the names of movie stars.

We laughingly claim the territory is not a place for sissies but fight off the Depression, which we beat in the 1930s. Now it's returned as a different beast.
What we miss the most is a sense of integrity. Growing up, our parents taught us, "There's no free lunch." We have been given almost 40 more years during our lifetime. But we have friends celebrating their 90th, 100th even their 105th birthdays. Are these extra years a joke, a test or a punishment?
These are the thoughts troubling this member of the Land of the Elderly Old.

Youth have replaced us as the revered ones. It was
ever so, the sages say.
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made ….
Are we equal to the task?

Friday, April 01, 2005

sharon with mina032

sharon with mina032
Originally uploaded by sm1raphael.

Why Would a Feminist Support Michael Schiavo?

Why would any feminist support the right of the husband to make a life and death decision over the fate of an uncomprehending brain damaged wife in the absence of a living will? Feminism values the struggle for equality in relationships whether that relationship be between a woman and man, a woman and a woman or a man and a man. When a person enters into a committed kind of relationship in this case a marriage. the assumption exists that in the future many important decisions can and will be made that can affect both parties and in the event of illness or death the spouse unless stated otherwise will make those decisions unless there is evidence that the wishes of the spouse were contraindicated.

If Michael Schiavo were in Terri Schiavo's condition and she was the healthy one and it was clear this is what he wanted, then it would be Terri making the decision to pull or not to pull the feeding tube. If a wife or any person does not trust her male spouse, she has the right to give the right of decision making to another person. The same is true for a male spouse. It could be argued that since there is an unequal relationship between husband and wife in society, that there is a danger that this right is being abused or has the potential to be abused by the male spouse for selfish reasons. This may be true and the system as it stands is clearly not perfect.

In any case, even if one thinks heteterosexal marrage implies ownership of a wife by a husband, the alternative of allowing parents to decide over the legitimate spouses's right to make decisions is just as wrong, for according to this kind of thinking the decision making would fall to the father and then one is talking about two men fighting for the right to make a decision over a vulnerable woman's life. Giving the state or parents or even grandparents rights over a legal spousal relationship or domestic partnership undermines the basic freedom of the individual to make the original choice about who she or he decides is the primary person and co-decision maker in her or his life.

The answer here is not to give the state or parents or grandparent more rights but to strengthen the rights of the individual to make her or his own decisions about who she or he wishes to trust to make life and death decisions whether that be husband and wife, same sex partners, or friends trusting friends. I would hope in this case that the feminist perspective and humanist perspective are one and the same which should be to support the right of the individual to create the kind of primary family bonds he or she chooses. Legally, these family type bonds come with legal implications and should not be entered into without forethought.

I welcome other opinions, given that I am not an authority on the law and there are many strains of feminist thinking when it comes to family issues.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Theresa Schiavo: "Free At Last"

Now that Theresa Schiavo has died, the country can begin to better examine legal remedies creating more options for persons dealing with end of life decisions and hopefully coming away with a better educated public about the need for living wills and durable power of attorney directives. Jesse Jackson stressed the need for government to help more people to have long term health care for all persons which is what allowed Teresa to linger this long, although I feel the Schindler family's desire to keep their daughter alive in her condition was wrong as it was not their decision to make. I agree with Jackson that everyone should have the right to have the option to continuuing care which most people do not.

Jesse Jackson Straddling Two Fences in Schiavo Case

Two days ago Jesse Jackson was quoted by AP saying "I implore them to apply this same passion for Terri Schiavo to the young infants and children dying of starvation and lack of prenatal and postnatal care," Jackson said in a statement released by the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, his Chicago-based group. "Those on food stamps need a feeding tube to fend off poverty." To be fair he also said he thought the feeding tube should be reinserted. Is Jackson trying to straddle two fences here, his African-=American religious audience and his political to the left one.

Today we find Jackson side by side with the Schindler family acting as though he is their spiritual adviser, a strange coming together of sorts given they are Catholics and Jackson I believe is a Baptist. It is hard to guess but given Jackson's charismatic presence it is not hard to guess there may be some kind of agenda here that seems to add up to Jackson trying to get the two sides together, Michael Schiavo and the parents, although Schiavo is not cooperating.

It is my hope that Jackson is attempting to get the parents to face facts at this late date as the daughter is failing greatly, mostl likely losing organ function, and any attempt to reinsert the feeding tube could cause more pain and suffering that is what they say they are trying to avoid. Facing facts means in this case letting the daughter die with dignity. Any other course would be profoundly immoral. Certainly Jackson is smart enough to know that the medical profession involved with hospice care and palliative care would frown on any last minute attempt now to reinsert the tubes.

I have a lot of respect for Jesse Jackson and up to the Schiavo case have agreed with his support of causes in spite of all the bad publicity questioning his motives and sincerity. I am hoping Jesse will do the right thing and try to help close the chapter on the Schiavo case rather than inflame and "keep hope alive" when hope is better kept vanquished in this tragic situation.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Review of Fat Actress Show (Showtime)

I must admit I have been watching Kirsty Alley's new Show Fat Actress with some trepidation. As an overweight person myself and a feminist, I hate to see women who are heavier than the expected norm desires shown in a negative way or viewed for the laughs. But I have noticed with each vewing that I have become drawn in and tonite was the clincher. Whoever is writing the scripts is brillliant (probably Kirsty herself has a lot to do with the content). The entire production is a satire and the show I saw that features Kirsty inviting little people to her home in a misguided attempt to lose weight based on a Professor Oy's Theory of Koi which says size is related to the size of people and size of the space in which you live is making fun not of fat women or fat people in general but at the absurd way society drives fat women in particular to go to desperate lengths to lose weight. The whole concept and creation of this Doctor Oy and his Strange Koi Theory was silly beyond imagination and hysterically funny. I think this show will become a classic. Kirsty Alley, You are terrific! What a brilliant idea.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Schiavo Case, Sharon Kowalski, Families and Gay Rights

In 1983 there was another case that reminds me of the Schiavo case. The main difference, the main person in the case, Sharon Kowalski who was severely injured in a car crash in 1983 had a Lesbian partner. Sharon was deep in the closet with her parents and a major legal struggle ensued for years between Sharon parents' and Sharon's partner, Karen Thompson, of ten years over who would have control and decision making power over Sharon Kowalski's life. No one in this case wanted to allow Sharon to die. She was not being kept alive by tube or machine (for most of the time) but the parents and the lover disagreed bitterly on what kind of care was best for Sharon Kowalski. Sharon was mentally impaired from the accident but had the potential to learn to speak. Both sides were in dispute over where Sharon should live and who should be in charge. The parents were basically warehousing their daughter in a nursing home in a semi-rural area far from where Karen Thompson lived. Karen Thompson felt the parents were ashamed of the daughter's condition and of her lesbianism. Karen wanted to be in charge of Sharon's care.

In the end, Sharon's lover/partner won the case. By that time, the lover had a new lover not unlike Schiavo but continued to insist she was the right person to make decisions and knew what was best for her former lover which seemed the best course as the parents did not want to offer their daughter rehabilitation or recognition of who she was. In this case, as I remember it Sharon was able to communicate her preference for her partner although those communications were contested at times. As a result of the outcome of that case, Gay Rights protections were advanced and the stage was set for passage of domestic rights acts across the country. There asre still many Lesbians and Gay men in this country who are not covered by domestic partnership or legal contracts that ensure rights i.e. advanced directives that spell out who is to be in charge in the event one is mentally incapacitated or unable to communicate.It is still very posssible to legally contest the documents that exist today especially in those environment and locals where Gay Rights and Gay persons and their relationships are not respected.

The Kowalski And Schiavo case in spite of the positive outcome in favor of the "spouse" rather than the parents is a warning to all persons who do not have legal documents that spell out the formal relationship between spouse and spouse or even in many cases a close intimate or responsible party the person in question names to make decisions for her or him when she or he cannot. Coupled, Gay or Straight or Single we need to think about who will be in charge in case of mental diability or death. Who do you trust?

The issue of who should have the rights, parents or spouses is also being raised in the Schiavo case. Some Pro-Life supporters of Schiavo's parents feel parents should be able to prevail when advanced directives empowering the spouse have not been stated and I suppose when other factors come into play. Other factors probably relate to a negative judgment about spouses of people in vegetative states llike alzheimer's taking on new partners or lovers. This raises an interesting opposite view of what one would think traditionalists would desire given the emphasis in the fundamental Christian religion giving the husband the ultimate authorit. Moral forces are driving this tendency to appeal in favor of parents.

I personally think it would be a terrible overthrow of a system that has been working fairly well but only when a person who does not want a spouse to have authority in these situations takes care of the situation by having a durable power of attorney giving the authority to someone else who could be a parent. Most people do not think of parents outliving their adult children although it happens often enough. It is in Gay people's interest to have their domestic partnerships or "marriages" recognized in order to avoid homophobic persons who are often parents making end of life decision for adult children they do not understand or even have compassion for such as seems true in the Schiavo case. The daughter stated clearly as witnessed by two other person besides the husband that she did not want tubes keeping her alive when her mind was gone. It is not just a Gay issue. I am sure most heterosexual couples feel the same way and would rather trust a spouse who is also usuallly a contemporary with similar values rather than parents to make these decisions. As for single persons, many today designate a trusted other who shares similar valules to do the same thing.

To learn more about the Sharon Kowalski case, read The Sharon Kowalski Case: Lesbian and Gay Rights on Trial
Author: Casey Charles
University Press of Kansas, May 2003

sharon with jenny031

sharon with jenny031
Originally uploaded by sm1raphael.

As I wrote in the first Schiavo article when it comes to the right to die, "pets are often given more humane treatment than humans". Jenny lived 16 healthy fun filled years and in the end was allowed to die with dignity and in peace.