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The Right to Choose

On November 1, 2014, a 29 year old woman in Oregon took her own life. It made the news, but not because it was a tragic suicide. The tragedy occurred 11 months before, when Brittany Maynard was diagnosed with a brain tumor and was told she had about six months to live.

And live, Brittany Maynard did. She was given the opportunity to make the most of her time left on Earth, to make memories for the people she would leave behind, and to come to terms with her failing health and ultimate death. A search on Google will give you plenty of details on how Brittany spent the last year of her life, and that’s not what I want to write about, anyway. I want to write about how she chose to die, as I imagine a lot of people are doing this week.

All Brittany Maynard wanted was to die with dignity. She didn’t want to linger in pain, become dependent on friends, family or machines to continue her life. There was no doubt she would die, so she wanted to be in control of how much suffering she would be made to endure. She wanted her loved ones to remember her life, and not how awful her decline and death was. She wanted to die in a humane manner.

Ms. Maynard’s wishes gained national attention because willingly taking a human life, including our own, is a big deal. In many states suicide is illegal and, in fact, she moved to Oregon in order to be able to die when she was ready. Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico are the only other states that have similar laws that allow people to take their own lives if they are terminally ill. Ms. Maynard’s death wasn’t suicide as we have come to think about suicide. She didn’t kill herself because she didn’t want to live; in fact, it seems her very desire to live was part of the foundation of her decision. She never hid the fact that she was dying, and she was very open with the media about her decision, so I can only imagine that she had plenty of difficult conversations with those who were close to her. It can’t have been easy to accept that she would die, but nothing was going to change that. How she would die was the one thing anyone could control, and it was entirely Ms. Maynard’s choice.

It boggles my mind that I can take my cat, which had an aggressive and painful tumor that caused her to waste away, to the veterinarian’s office for a drug cocktail that will stop her suffering, but that we cannot allow another human being the right to make the same decision for his or herself. We wouldn’t allow an animal to suffer the same way we make humans suffer by not allowing the terminally ill to choose how their life will end. We have lots of choices about what will happen when it’s time to die, including Do Not Resuscitate orders, Power of Attorney to allow our loved ones to speak on our behalf when we can’t, and even the choice of how our body will be disposed of once we’re dead. If a person wishes to not suffer at the end of their life, how can we humanely say no to that? It’s an insanely personal, insanely hard decision, and everything about it sucks, but it should be an option when there are very few options left.

So, thank you, Brittany Maynard, for getting us to talk about the hard stuff. Your life, and your death, was meaningful. May you rest in peace.


Back At It – With a Few Egrets

Well, I was on a roll for a while, wasn’t I? Then I fell off the face of the Earth, as I often do with blogging. This is why I gave myself permission to suck once in a while: it gives me the courage to come back and start writing again without shame.

A big reason I haven’t posted in a while is because I found myself wanting to capture a pretty awesome moment in the most descriptive way possible, and wound up creating something even a Thomas Kincaide fan would have found too idyllic for their tastes. I decided against publishing the piece, and found myself not wanting to come back and look at it again, even if just to trash it.

It really was a fantastic moment I wanted to capture – the boys, my mother and I had dinner at our favorite Thai restaurant, and then drove down to Eastern Point Beach in Groton, Connecticut to watch the sunset. We were all back in the car, headed back to mom’s house, when we came around the corner, with the sunset at our backs, and saw at least a dozen Great Egrets roosting in the trees in the salt marsh. I didn’t have a camera, but I don’t think any picture I could have taken would have done the moment justice. In lieu of my own picture, and instead of me trying to describe it, I’ll invite you to check out a really nice blog that I found titled The Great Egrets of Avery Point. There are some great pictures of the egrets and other fauna that frequent the marshes at various times of the year. Enjoy!

So, with that hurdle conquered, I am back at it with no regrets – just a few egrets.

What’s Going On Outside My Window

One of the nice things about my office is that I have a window seat. I get plenty of natural light, and a front row view to anything interesting happening in the street. It’s usually pretty quiet, but once in a while there’s some entertainment. Like, a few months ago, I heard a crash down below and turned around to see three cars involved in an accident. The guy who caused the accident jumped out of his car and started chasing the other two drivers like he was going to tear their heads off. A pedestrian intervened, and the aggressive guy jumped back in his car to drive off, just as the police showed up. If I hadn’t been so surprised by the guy’s reaction, I might have thought faster and snapped a picture of his license plate as he squealed away. It was certainly one of the more adrenaline producing “shows” we’ve witnessed.

Periodically, we see the police pulling over multiple cars just up the street from me. It wasn’t readily apparent what was triggering the police to pull over one person and not another, but at times they’d have 5 or more cars lined up, waiting to get ticketed. Elsewhere in the city, I’ve encountered similar setups looking for expired inspection stickers, so that was one of our theories. That theory held up when they were pulling people over at the beginning of the month, but they also show up mid-month and pull over just as many people, so we decided it wasn’t inspection stickers. Then we decided there must be another police unit further down the street that was in radio contact with the units we can see out the windows. The drivers must be doing something to get the attention of the police, and then it’s the job of the units by us to pull them over and issue tickets. This theory holds up over time, and explains why people coming up to the intersection from the cross-street aren’t ever pulled over. But what are these people doing – apparently in droves – to warrant a ticket?

Yesterday, we finally figured it out. The building where I work takes up a whole city block, and the street outside my window is a one-way with three lanes, coming from my left as I’m looking out the window. Halfway between the intersection to my left and the intersection to my right, where the police units are set up, is a cross walk. There’s a plain clothes police officer stationed at the cross walk, and when the units tell him they’re ready, he casually tries to cross the street. From what I can see, they try to time this for when there’s a decent sized knot of cars coming along, and the ones who don’t stop for the under cover cop are pulled over once they reach the units up ahead. It’s sneaky, but I love it!  Hopefully this set up happens around the city, and reminds drivers to be on the lookout for people crossing the street. Maybe the city will be a safer place to walk, one of these days!

The Delicate Art of Friendship

When I was in kindergarten, I made friends left and right. Anyone who played with me at the park was instantly my friend, even if I’d never met them before and would never see them again. As I got older, I realized not everyone I meet is going to be my friend, nor am I going to want to be friends with everyone I meet.  I realized the value of the word “acquaintance” and its many synonyms (classmate, coworker, customer, etc.)

Then along came social media. At first, one had to be a real geek to find people on the internet (remember BBS and IRC?) Then along came providers like CompuServe and AOL, which made access to the internet as easy as installing a floppy disc that showed up one day in the mail. Suddenly it wasn’t just the hardcore computer geeks who were surfing the World Wide Web, or at least as much of the WWW as your online service provider would let you see. People could connect with other people all over the world, and the anonymous intimacy of online friendship spread like wildfire, though it was often awkward to try to explain to the non-internet savvy people that some of your best friends are people that you’ve never seen in the flesh. Before facebook, there wasn’t really a label for that relationship. Facebook normalized online interaction and made it acceptable to say that the 800+ people you’ve connected with are your friends. With Facebook, there are no more acquaintances – if you want to connect with someone online, you’re automatically their friend; it’s a virtual kindergarten, and Facebook is always encouraging you to go out and find more friends.

Herein lies the rub, however; we’ve lost sight of the line between acquaintance and friend. We’ve developed the ability to have over 800 friends and still feel lonely. Perhaps we’ve even grown lazy in face-to-face social situations, relying, for example, on a Facebook school parents group to make connections with each other rather than breaching the silence of the after school pick up line. I’ve been both a contributor to and the  recipient of premature familiarity with someone, simply because our children are friends and we’ve connected on Facebook. I’ve caught myself feeling momentarily jealous of pictures of Facebook friends enjoying wine night – at least until I remember that we’re not that close.

This blurred line between acquaintance and friend has made me realize just how precious are the women and men whom I would call friends, even without social media. These are the people who listen, not because they enjoy drama, but because they genuinely care and want to make the situation better. These are the people who share their crazy life drama with me, knowing I’ll listen and offer advice without judgement. Being with true friends means feeling comfortable and safe, but it takes work to get to that point. Social media can be a powerful tool; remembering not to rush a connection, and honoring the people with whom you ahead have that connection, is the true art of friendship. I’ve been a lot happier since I figured this out.

Thank You!

As a new blogger, it’s exciting to see those little notifications that someone liked my post. It’s even more exciting to see that the person people who liked my post aren’t people I already know!

On top of that, I’ve got some new followers – welcome!

Thanks to all of you for reading – friends, family and people I haven’t had the pleasure to meet just yet. I’m planning some more posts very soon. I hope you’ll leave a comment below if there’s anything in particular you’d like to hear about from me.

Until then, happy Monday!