Health People Stories Swimming

Surprised By Gratitude

Each weekday morning I go to the swimming pool to, well, swim.  I usually swim three miles, which takes me about an hour and a half. The lanes at my pool are 25 yards long. It takes 5,250 of these yards to make a three mile swim. That’s 105 laps, a lap being down to the end and back. Often I get in the water and swim non-stop. Now many of my fellow swimmers swim faster than me, but not many swim longer or farther. I catch views of others as I swim. Many do a few laps and then hang on the sides of the pool talking. Many of them spend more time talking in the water than swimming in it. When I observe this, I feel proud to be such a dedicated swimmer.

New Yorker swimming pool coverThese are my fellow swimmers. But there are a lot of others taking up water space in the pool who are not swimmers. I call them the splashers. They get in the water to wade, chat, clap, bounce, float, splash, act silly, and dance around. Often they do these things in groups and with an overweight leader, and to loud and lively music. I think they pay money to join these groups, and they probably imagine they’re getting in shape by doing this. From the looks of most of them, they have a long way to go. The New Yorker captured this phenomenon in a recent cover illustration. Count the number of individuals who are actually swimming, despite the inspirational image on the front wall. (click to enlarge the picture and better appreciate)

The men’s locker room at our pool is a communal place. There are no privacy curtains or individual shower stalls. We dress and undress and shower together; we hear and overhear conversations; we may not speak with others, but we do hear and observe things.

On morning I was there getting dressed and I heard loud panting and wheezing. I looked around the corner and there was a large, overweight, out-of-shape man trying to put on his clothes. Even putting on socks was a great effort for him. His breathing was so labored that I wondered how he could swim at all. Lazy bastard! I imagined him lounging on the sofa, watching TV, and eating potato chips and ice cream and drinking beer. I assumed he was one of the splashers. Why did he even bother coming here? …

Nature Photography

Eagles

e-scout-medalMy interest in the American Bald Eagle began early. When I joined boy scout Troop 88 in Maryville, Tennessee with the rank of Tenderfoot, I knew that the ultimate was to become an Eagle Scout. This goal was held out before us over the years of advancing to higher ranks of scouting. I was not especially fond of studying and working on all those merit badges, but I did it because of the goal. Whenever I met an Eagle Scout in uniform I would glance at the imposing badge with the red, white, and blue ribbon and the silver eagle hanging below it. I wanted one of those and eventually did get one.

Select DSCN0223The Bald Eagle is, of course, our national bird and a symbol for others besides boy scouts. I am happy that Benjamin Franklin did not have his way about selecting the turkey as our national bird, even though I do like turkeys also. The Bald Eagle is just an amazing, strong, soaring, intelligent, skilled, majestic bird. I never tire of watching them, and when I can I enjoy trying to photograph them.

E7K_3493 selectMost of my photographs have been from a considerable distance. I do have telephoto lenses, but those get you only so close. I am amused when people observe my long lenses and think that they can magically bring any distant object "up close." They can't. You still have to work hard, be patient, and be lucky to get close shots. I keep trying.

I was lucky the other day in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge, Maryland. From a distant road I saw two eagles apparently having a fight over something. It turns out there was food on the ground and they were fighting over it. By the time I got there one eagle had chased the other on off and was eating. There were already three photographer cars there I joined them. The eagle was intent on its meal and did not fly away. I shot from the roof of my car, first stills and then video. I got four short videos, each about a minute in length. The following is unedited and the sounds you hear in the background are camera shutters clicking as fast as they could. Enlarge to full screen for the best view . . ..

[youtube]https://youtu.be/dBn5_BjS17Y[/youtube]

Commentary Guns

Evolved Thinking

On Tuesday, November 8th, 1960 I cast my first vote in a U.S. presidential election, at the age of 23.  I voted for Richard Nixon against John F. Kennedy. I was a Southern Baptist ministerial student at the time, and although I did not openly admit it, I was influenced by the fervent anti-Catholic sentiments I heard around me in Tennessee. Preachers said that a vote for Kennedy was a vote to have the Pope running things in America. My voiced rationale for the Nixon vote was that he was “more experienced.” 

kennedy nixonI did learn better. In the 1964 election I voted for Lyndon Johnson against Barry Goldwater, then for Hubert Humphrey against Nixon in 1968, then for George McGovern against Nixon (who seemed never to go away) in 1972. My thinking on Nixon and what he represented had clearly “evolved.” 

I grew up in rural Tennessee, and although he had a Ph.D, my father was still a mountain man from North Carolina. He gave me a rifle at an early age and taught me to shoot and hunt. I developed a love for guns and hunting and marksmanship.

I joined the National Rifle Association and benefitted from its connection with the U.S. military that allowed NRA members to purchase surplus weapons for almost nothing. I obtained and refinished guns such as the classic M1903 Springfield .30-06, the army M1 .30 Carbine, and the .45 caliber pistol. I learned to re-finish and re-blue weapons, and to fit and furnish them with new and beautiful wooden stocks. In those days you might have called me a “gun nut” and been pretty accurate. …

Commentary Health Stories Swimming

Don’t Hold Your Breath

When I was a boy and aspiring to become a man, I spent most of my summers at Boy Scout camp. For me, this was Camp Pellissippi on Norris Lake in East Tennessee. I began as a regular camper and later became a camp counselor and handicrafts instructor. I was also the camp bugler. I played Reveille to get them up, Assembly to form them into rows before the flag, and Mess Call to bring them to meals. Other calls sounded throughout the day, and Taps was played at the end, when they were obliged to go to sleep.

The highlight of my week at camp was the Saturday morning swim meet down on the waterfront. We swam in the lake, but mostly inside a floating wooden “crib” as it was called. Wooden boards formed the side walls and bottom of the crib, and it was supported in the water by empty oil drums. Water from the lake circulated freely in and out. It was much like a regular swimming pool, having diving boards, walkways, ladders, and life guards. The crib was attached to shore and held in place with cables, and these were adjusted as the lake level rose or fell.

My favorite swim meet event was the underwater swim. The goal was to swim farther underwater than anyone else. Those entered went one at a time and the order was determined by drawing straws or guessing a number or something similar. I became good at swimming distances underwater. I learned how to hyperventilate and store up oxygen in my system, and how to dive in with lungs full and exhale most grudgingly. Another camper was good as well, and one or the other of us always won the event. Often it came down to the order. If he went first, I had the advantage of knowing just how far I needed to go to beat him. If I went first, this advantage was his. …

Commentary Religion

The Plight of the Christian Cakebaker

Numerous U.S. State legislatures have passed or are considering what are termed “Religious Freedom Bills.” These exempt the owner of a business from liability for refusing to do business in cases where the owner has a religious objection. When asked what problem these bills seek to address, the example often given is that of a Christian cake baker who is requested to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

gayweddingcakeIt is assumed that the cake baker will gladly bake a cake for John and Mary, but objects to the wedding of John and Jim, or of Mary and Sally. The cake baker considers these relationships immoral and does not wish to be associated with them. Providing cake-baking services might be construed as giving approval to a sinful act. Apparently, in this person’s church, you do not want to become known as a friend of sinners.

“Friend of sinners” . . . I remember that phrase from somewhere. Actually it was a term used against Jesus by his self-righteous critics (Matthew 11:19 and Luke 7:34). Jesus was known to associate with the most despised people of his day: prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, adulterers, Samaritans, thieves, Roman occupiers, and street beggars. Jesus was also known to suggest that these friends of his had higher moral standing than his self-righteous critics. Which brings us back to the sinner-avoiding Christian cake baker.

Really? If you are in the cake baking business, you want to pick and choose your customers? You want to focus your moral judgment on each person who comes to the counter and consider if you should be associated with him or her? Maybe you don’t want to serve Muslims or Buddhists or Jehovah’s Witnesses? You don’t want anything to do with sex offenders or former prison inmates? What about “sinful” (your judgment) women who have had abortions? Why not screen for use of contraceptives or foul language or immodest dress habits? When you aim to create a legal protection for moral judgments, the list goes on and on. …

Commentary Religion

President Carter and Southern Baptists

As a former Southern Baptist myself, I was much interested in President Carter’s reaction to recent actions by the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC is the the largest protestant religious body in the U.S. 

450986231-8aa3bc9064417c9c4b78ddfdb32837aa3eb8e7e0-s800-c15I have been a practicing Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

People Stories

Insiders and Outsiders

Years ago I knew an elderly couple living on a large farm near Winchester, Kentucky. The house was old and run down, the dairy was unkept, the car was old and smoked, and their clothes were plain and worn. To see them, you would never have guessed it about this couple, but they were worth a fortune. The owned a large tract of prime land that was smack in the middle of plans for a new interstate highway. They were cash poor but land rich. Very rich.

79292_Front_3-4_WebThe couple had a number of children, all grown up, around six as I recall. The couple was strong minded. They argued among themselves and with neighbors, and they argued with their children. The children fell into two categories: those in favor and those not. Those in favor would come around and visit now and then. The others never came around.

The mother died first, and the father soon afterward. 

When the will was read, it left $25 each to the out-of-favor children, and the fortune to be divided among the in-favor children.

The out-of-favor children took their money and went out to dinner together. There is no record of their discussion that evening, but one can imagine. Word of all this was out and about in the town and discussions took place in barber shops, beauty parlors, Sunday School classes, and whenever people met up on the streets. Some people laughed about it, others shook their heads. All wondered what would happen next.

None of the in-favor children had been very prosperous . . . until now. The cars they drove, the clothes they wore, and the houses they lived in were similar to those of their parents. But things began to change, and fast. Shiny new luxury cars replaced their old ones, new homes were built on estate size lawns, trips were made to Louisville to buy stylish cothes. A lot of showing off took place. It was the talk of the town, how the old couple had lived like poor folks all their lives, and now that they were gone their children were living like kings and queens.

Some of them, that is.

People Stories

Greeting at the Pool

I was approaching the handicapped entrance to the pool, and I saw her rushing to open the door for me. Rushing like it was urgent. She saw I was a man with a bandaged foot riding a scooter thing. She saw a tube connecting the foot to a shoulder bag. She took all this in and spoke five words:

"I hope you get well."

451px-Handicapped_Accessible_sign.svgAs soon as she spoke, the slur of her voice told me she suffers from a neurological condition of some sort. Her voice felt of some pain, but for me and not her. It said the woman identified with me as a fellow sufferer. 

I was drawn in by her words, as in the four months since my first surgery-gone-wrong, I have sometimes wondered if I will ever get well. Again and again I have hoped to get well. In four more days I will have yet another surgery trying to bring that about. 

She asked was I going to swim in the pool, somewhat disbelieving, I thought. She was wondering how someone in my condition could get in the water. I explained about the device that waterproofs my wound in a vacuum sealed covering and allows me to swim.

Her words—"I hope you get well"—stayed with me throughout that day, and are with me still.

A few words from the right person can mean a lot.

Health People

Our Military Heroes

No, I'm not speaking about the Army or Navy or Marines or Air Force. I'm speaking about those who are waging the fight against Ebola, especially our fellow country men and women who volunteer to fight it at its source in West Africa.

Is it stretching a point to speak of their efforts in military terms? I think not. On our behalf, they are fighting a deadly enemy that could destroy us all unless stopped. Those who know about such diseases tell us that Ebola must be fought and defeated at its source, and that trying to hide from or evade the disease, while letting it spread, will be self-defeating in the end. If we stand off and let the rest of the world perish from the disease we will join them eventually.

140801-ebola-doctor-5a_d8ef47b6ea1f911e2c99e137ac2b60dd.nbcnews-fp-1040-600Working directly to save Ebola patients and protect others from infection is dangerous work. It is especially hard in poor countries where the medical infrastructure is lacking or inadequate. It is especially hard in places where ignorance and prejudice add to the risks and burden of fighting the disease. Some are saying that Ebola is a plague God has sent to punish homosexuality. Reportedly some Evangelical Christian missionaries have joined in this assertion. And by this bizzarre logic, to fight against the disease is to fight against the plan and will of God. This, then, would make the task not only dangerous but thankless.

The man or woman who performs a dangerous task but with the gratitude of others is in one situation. These include our war heroes. But the man or woman who performs a task that is both dangerous and thankless is in another situation entirely. And there can be heroes in either situation, but it seems to me that the greater heroes are those who risk and sometimes give their lives with little thanks and sometimes even blame.

If Ebola is to be defeated, we need to admire, respect, and support the heroes who volunteer to fight it. How many American doctors and nurses would volunteer their time to do this work in West Africa? How many? Surely not a very high percentage. If that is true, then it should increase our appreciation for those who are willing and brave enough to do so, 

They are military heroes. They are fighting for us all.

Commentary Humanity

Life At the Social Security Office

He had made an appointment to see me at 1:30 to “catch up.” When I looked up and saw him walking in, I saw there was an HR person following. Inwardly I said, “Oh Shit!” Verbally I said, “Looks like I’m in trouble.”

2014-06-20_05-40-29So yesterday I went to my local Social Security office to apply for Medicare to replace the company health plan I’ll be losing soon.

The SSA office opens at 9:00 a.m. and I arrived right on time so I could get this done promptly. Instead, I found there were 50 people already there and lined up ahead of me. The guard opened the door on schedule, and we were all assigned a number and told to wait for our number to be called. Others kept arriving and all the seating on the hard steel rows of benches was taken and newcomers began standing around the walls. It seemed to take about 5 minutes for a new number to be called. That was not encouraging. …

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