Conscious Aging: The Right to Die

My late husband Jerry was a big proponent of the right to die. He had a financial planning client with dual U.S./Netherlands citizenship, and when the client fell gravely ill with ALS, he and his family traveled to the Netherlands to end his life in their own time and own way. Jerry approved.

A 104 year old Australian man, David Goodall, recently ended his life in a Swiss clinic. Goodall was neither gravely ill nor in pain; he was simply old, too old in his view to live life as he wanted. He went out listening to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, which seems to me to be a fitting culmination of a long and fruitful life.

I think the arguments for the right to die are clear. Here’s a well-written and reasoned counterpoint, raising questions that go beyond any one individual’s decision.

Who has the right to end a life — and why? And what does it mean to make assumptions that a life is, or is not, worth living? At what point do the sometimes competing ideas of “best interest,” individual freedom, and the inherent goodness of life overlap, and where do they contradict each other? And what does the increasing medicalization of death say about our attitude to life?”

I can actually imagine choosing to end my life if I had something like ALS. People with ALS eventually suffocate, because they lose the muscle strength to push air in and out of their lungs. I can’t think that believing in the sanctity of life requires anyone to endure that. My dear friend Brenda did die that way, and her partner shared with me that the last hours of life were terrifying. What they’d intended to be a peaceful at home death turned into a frantic race to the hospital, where Brenda got enough morphine to ease her into the inevitable end. Sounded perfectly awful for both of them.

Minga may choose, at some point, not to continue with dialysis — effectively choosing to die. I would completely support her making that choice, and wouldn’t think she had given up on life. I’d think she was making a statement that she’d already lived to the fullest the many parts of her life that were good.

How our life ends is hard to think and talk about under any circumstances, and probably we only do it when prompted by articles like those about David Goodall. I’m sure, in a couple of days, I’ll push this topic to the farthest reaches of my mind.

Glad to hear your thoughts before I do.


I don’t agree with conservatives on much, but I agree with David Frum’s opinion piece in the Atlantic. Frum is writing about a book by Laurence Tribe, one of the country’s leading constitutional scholars, and his former student Joshua Matz. Their conclusion is that impeachment of a president, even when it may be warranted, is a dangerous thing.

I think Trump is doing enormous damage to our country, to democratic norms and values, to our standing in the world, and to innocent people who are suffering under his racist and xenophobic administration. I think Trump is making a mockery of the presidency with his in-your-face decision to use the office to enrich himself and his family.

But an impeachment would give us what, Mike Pence? Maybe Pence would pick someone like uber-hawk Nikki Haley as vice president. They look more normal than Trump and so would attract more Republican votes, but their ultra conservative policies are no less a horror show. I see no benefit to going from bad to bad.

Tribe’s point is different. He says that impeachment, absent a bipartisan consensus, is too damaging a step. He’s probably right. The 40% or so who uncritically support Trump, and vow to do so in 2020 regardless of anything that happens between now and then, would view impeachment as an attempt to overturn the election — albeit an election that looks more and more as if it was unduly influenced by foreign powers. I don’t think we ever get those people back on board, so the only solution is to muster enough other voters to get Trump and his cronies out of office.

Twenty twenty sounds awfully far away.

Deportation: A Very Personal Conversation

The sequel to CBS’s popular series The Good Wife is called The Good Fight, and I have become a fan. The next-to-last episode, which began streaming last Sunday, is the chilling case of a young black investigator caught up in deportation proceedings by ICE. The story is frightening, and all too real and believable.

I have a deportation conversation happening much closer to home. The woman who cleans my house is Salvadoran. She and her husband are here legally; they have papers allowing them to be here and to work. Their young daughters are American citizens. But protections for Salvadorans fleeing violence in their country have been ended by the Trump administration. In 2019, she and her family expect to have to return to their village in El Salvador.

An elderly neighbor of her mother’s, who lives in the village, was thought by gang members to have seen something she shouldn’t. They came for her at midnight, and her body was found the next morning in a ditch, two bullets in her head.

Trump supporters would say that violence in El Salvador isn’t our problem, and perhaps it isn’t. But we are a large and rich country. We admitted this family in recognition of the threat to their lives, which apparently has not abated. They work. They pay taxes. They contribute to our culture. Their daughters are Americans, like us.

And she sits at my kitchen counter, eating lunch, talking about her fears and their  reluctant preparations.

I am ashamed of my country.

Next Act for Barack and Michelle Obama

I quite love that Barack and Michelle Obama are having an interesting and highly creative next act. They are becoming TV and film producers for Netflix. They have a lot to say, and a lot of people who want to hear them. I remember seeing a documentary about Michelle Obama as First Lady, traveling to meet young girls in Africa to encourage them to stay in school. She was in the company of classy gal pals, like Meryl Streep. I hope that inspiring program gives us an inkling of what kind of programming the Obamas might do next.

Trump has done his best to draw Barack Obama into a tit-for-tat over the presidential legacy, which Obama has studiously ignored. He gave us eight years of class, integrity, intelligence, and competence in the Oval Office, and he has the ability to move on. What an emotionally healthy man. Trump, by contrast, never lets anything go. And it’s taken him under two years to turn the Oval Office into a place of self-enriching sleaze and corruption, never mind incompetence.

Here’s the message the Obamas are giving us in this dark time: you do your thing, you do your best, and you move on. I like it.

Panama 2018: Gloria’s New Grandbaby

Gloria’s youngest son Luis and his partner Lynette have just give birth to their first child, a little boy named Axel Antonio. This is Gloria’s fourth grandchild, joining Gabrielito and Alia, and Milenys.

Luis has a good job working security at the Decameron Hotel. He and Lynette have been together since she was fourteen; she moved in with the Samanegos and lived with Luis in his bedroom. They are still living there, but Gloria and papa Luis are finishing a small house for them next to the main house. Gloria is extremely straightforward about sexual matters; a condition of Lynette moving in was that they not start a family until they were ready as a couple. Luis is now 22 or so, and I imagine Lynette is 20 or close to it.

Friend and regular readers Phyllis and Sally will remember our first visit to Panama 10 years ago, when we and our late friend Marilyn sat around the dining room table looking at XRays of Luis’ clubbed foot, showing all sorts of metal in the foot from previous interventions. He had a badly withered leg that kept breaking just because of his body weight, and at that moment had been in a cast for many weeks — far longer than he should have been. Luis was being treated at the free public hospital in Panama City, which is one rung below the hospital where Minga goes. I can barely imagine. I intervened to have Luis see a private orthopedic doctor, who removed the cast, prescribed shoes with a lift to compensate for Luis’ uneven leg lengths and a toe box in the front to provide better balance. Luis also got six months of physical therapy to strengthen the leg.

Some of my interventions are more successful than others, but this was a big one. Luis’ entire life has been different: no more sitting inside in a cast while the other kids were outside playing. His bad leg, while not normal in size, has held up even as his body has evolved into a heavier adult male size — Gloria was afraid he would wind up in a wheelchair, which hasn’t happened. He is able to work, and walks pretty normally.

Now he is a father, and in what appears to be a stable long term relationship. He is a loving son. Those of us who have visited Panama and know this young man can take great joy in seeing him grown up.

Welcome to the world, little Axel Antonio. 🙂

Writing Life: To Keep or Not to Keep

This piece from Quartz is actually talking about journaling or diary writing, a more personal form of expression than writing a blog that is open for public view. But the question is pertinent: to keep or not to keep.

The opinion writer here suggests that diaries are not to be kept, for the simple reason that “very little writing stands the test of time, and that’s fine.” Diary writing has numerous benefits for the individual who writes, but the entries are not necessarily of timeless benefit to the literary world.

Here is one enduring benefit, and it strikes a chord with me in terms of blog writing.  I think blog writing makes me more fluent in the language of both contemplation and observation.

Journaling also offers some of the same benefits as meditation, refining your relationship to the mind. It’s an opportunity to observe thoughts and feelings, watch them arise, and then let them go. Just as a meditator is taught not to judge thinking, but to note its qualities—how thoughts are constant and constantly shifting—a diary writer can become fluent in the language of contemplation.”

There is really no backup on the WordPress system for blog posts, which I’ve been writing since 2009. I could create my own backup, or I could print out the daily posts and enter them in a notebook, keeping what I’ve written in the old fashioned way. But I choose not to. The point of the blog is that I observe and contemplate the world around me, part of a daily spiritual discipline that involves being attentive and grateful for the immense gift of being alive. The point is not so much what I write as THAT I write.

And that you read, of course. That’s the difference between blogging and journaling. Blogging has readers, and journaling has an author who is the singular reader. Blogging is reciprocal and active. Journaling is individual and contemplative.

Your thoughts? Do you write regularly in any form, and do you keep what you’ve written?

The Black Church Bishop and the Royals

Stereotyping the British upper class really isn’t fair, but their public behavior does make them look like an uptight bunch. The Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry, who gave the impassioned sermon at the royal wedding, clearly jarred whatever expectations of a sedate service the attendees might have had. Really, the facial expressions were priceless — all except for Meghan and Harry, who appeared to have gotten just the sermon they hoped for. 🙂

Klainer West Celebrates Matt’s 40th Birthday

Amy threw a wonderful 40th birthday for Matt at a Ballard neighborhood eatery called The Pantry. More on the dining experience in a separate post.

Friends and family gathered round, and it was a really happy evening. I recall my mother saying at one point that while she didn’t feel old, she certainly had old children. Having my baby hit 40 certainly is a milestone — a good one, though. Jerry was there in spirit. He would be, and I am, very proud of the man Matt has become.

Happy birthday, tootsie. 🙂