The Rest of Your Life

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You’ve probably heard someone say at some time, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” It’s the kind of comment we expect in our hard-charging, Type A culture. There have certainly been times in my life when I feel as if my to do list will never get done unless I burn the midnight oil. But the older I get, the more I recognize the wonderful restorative effects of rest.

Just today as I walked past the local library,  I overheard a mother explaining to her three young children that there would be a mandatory rest time when they got home. “Why?” the son wanted to know, with something of a whine in his voice. “Because Mommy needs some time to herself,” was the answer.

I had to smile, remembering so many times when my house was filled with young children, and it was all I could do to use the bathroom in peace. But I can also remember being a little girl myself and absolutely detesting both nap time and bedtime. Because I had a hard time falling asleep, I felt bored and trapped in my twin bed or on the rest time mats we used in afternoon kindergarten. Worse, at bedtime, not only would I not be sleepy, but I would imagine that the shapes and lumps I saw in the dark were ghosts and monsters.

As is true with many aspects of life, you never know a good thing until it’s gone. So many times in my adult life I have longed for just a 30-minute nap to get me through the day. More times than I can count, I would find myself on the couch reading to one of my children in the middle of the afternoon, and my eyes would always start to droop magically during the third picture book. Three’s a charm, I guess.

Ironically, after your children grow up and you retire from your hectic job, you find yourself awakening at four in the morning or at numerous times during the night. Sleep starts to elude you just when you actually have the time for it again.

But I think it would behoove adults, both young and old, to consider the benefits of a good night’s sleep and the occasional 40 winks on the couch. Study after study has shown that lack of sleep can cause weight gain, health problems, and both industrial and driving accidents.

Let’s not make that comment about sleeping when you’re dead a prophetic one. We all need rest where we can have time to ourselves to relax, sleep, and dream. Our to do lists – sometimes even our children – can wait.

The Trump Effect

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Since Trump’s improbable run for the White House, public and political discourse in America seem to be devolving. Trump himself was able to call immigrants rapists and “bad hombres,” demonize Muslims, criticize women’s looks, and talk about his inappropriate sexual advances – all without having a substantial effect on his popularity. Notwithstanding the interference of the Russians and James Comey as factors in the Trump victory, Trump and his supporters seem to have taken this fact as license to spout off any mean-spirited remark that comes to mind. I call this the Trump Effect.

Case in point are some of the comments Republican lawmakers have made about health care in their efforts to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. For instance, Rep. John Shimkus questioned why pregnancy coverage should be required, and Rep. Roger Marshall said that poor people don’t care about their health anyway. More recently, after the House passed a bill that would allow states to opt out of coverage for pre-existing conditions, Rep. Robert Pittenger helpfully explained that people can just move to another state if they can’t get coverage. And Rep. Mo Brooks implied that getting sick was a moral failing that the “rest of us” shouldn’t have to pay for. Worst of all, Republican members of the House of Representatives voted essentially to deny health insurance to millions of Americans while keeping their own government-paid health plans.

The Trump Effect has not been limited to politicians. Across the country, Trump’s election has emboldened some Americans to dust off their swastika posters, shout racist epithets at strangers, and attack people wearing head coverings whom they think are Muslim. For example, not long ago, a man was removed from a plane for harassing Muslim passengers and asking them if they had a bomb in their luggage.

And speaking of airlines, the Trump Effect seems to have caused companies to say, “Screw it” in their approach to customer satisfaction. After the egregious abuse a man endured being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight, one would have thought all the major airlines would have run employee sensitivity training immediately. Instead, we keep hearing of more abusive behavior on the part of airline employees. Recently, an American Airlines flight attendant had to be reprimanded for her handling of a woman and toddler with a stroller. And just the other day, a young couple was threatened with jail and the removal of their children if they did not take their infant out of his car seat and give the seat (that they had paid for) to another passenger on an overbooked flight.

I honestly feel sorry for the writers of satire such as Saturday Night Live. People’s real life behavior has gotten so outrageous that it is hard to exaggerate for humorous effect. In fact, the situation in our country has gotten so awful that our comedians more and more have felt the need to play it straight. Jimmy Kimmel, for instance, made a heartfelt plea to lawmakers not to pass a law that would force families to watch their infant die because they couldn’t afford life-saving treatment.

Of course, Jimmy’s plea was met with compassion and restraint, right? Fat chance. Instead, we got deadbeat dad and right wing radio blabbermouth Joe Walsh saying, Sorry, Jimmy. I don’t care if your kid dies. I don’t want to have to help pay to save him. Yeah, I’m actually getting nostalgic for George H.W. Bush’s “thousand points of light” and his son’s “compassionate conservatism.”

The Trump Effect has also extended to alternate views of reality. Because Trump so often outright lies, members of his administration have been emboldened to do so. Remember Kellyanne Conway’s infamous “Bowling Green massacre”? Trump has peopled his Cabinet with climate-change deniers and shown his knowledge of history to be shaky at best. How else to explain his gaffes about Jefferson Davis and Andrew Jackson? The latest lies, of course, are about the effect the new health care law will have on ordinary Americans. The Republicans are hoping those lies hold until at least after the mid-term elections. Meanwhile, Trump, with a totally straight face, tells Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull that Australia’s universal healthcare program is better than the one in the U.S. No shit, Sherlock.

I don’t think I’m hyperbolizing when I declare that the Trump Effect is turning civilization on its head. Our rapidly descending standards for what is acceptable in a U.S. president are influencing the rest of American government and the society beyond. We need a return to norms of civility and kindness before it’s too late.

Too Much to Dream

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(The Dream, Salvador Dali)

The other night, my husband was shouting in his sleep. He sounded like a character in an action thriller. When I woke him up to calm him, he said that he’d had a nightmare, one of the few he’s ever had in his life. Throughout our marriage, my husband has insisted that he doesn’t dream, and I have insisted that everyone dreams, but he may not remember his.

Dreams are freaky glimpses into the unconscious. Over the years I’ve had scary dreams, recurring dreams, and the occasional erotic dream. In many of my dreams I have to climb or traverse a great height. Sometimes I am in an unbelievably high roller coaster that terrifies me. I also often dream about being lost or losing something I need.

It’s interesting to try to interpret what my dreams mean. For example, the online “Dream Bible” explains my fear of heights in dreams as a fear of success. In truth, though, I am just afraid of heights, so dreaming of them is probably just a reflection of that anxiety. Indeed, psychologist Patrick McNamara, PhD., states that there is no validity to most dream interpretation. In Psychology Today, McNamara claims that so-called dream interpretation is usually very subjective. He does, however, believe that one day psychology will be able to crack the codes of our dreams and find the meaning therein. (“The Folly of Dream Interpretation,” July 29, 2013)

Why we dream is also something of a mystery. There are theories that dreams are a way of restoring the mind to balance, an indication of stress or anxiety, a way of spurring creativity, or even markers for some neuro-degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and dementia.

The other thing that fascinates me about dreams is how normal they seem while I’m in them but incoherent when I remember them upon waking. As an example, last night I had the following dream: I was in a big city and stopped at a Walgreen’s to buy underwear for my daughter. While I was there, a man offered to sell me silver dollars, which I have actually been planning to get from the bank for an Easter egg hunt. There was no underwear in my kid’s size, so I left to find another Walgreen’s. Somehow I was transported to Minnesota, where my sisters live, and I thought I was there for my niece’s wedding, but it turned out she was actually already married and pregnant. She got angry when I said we were going to “par-tay” because she couldn’t drink. Next thing I knew I was on the sidewalk, and my husband was walking toward me with a mouth full of teeth that had fallen out. I was alarmed and then even more so as I noticed that I too was losing a few teeth. (The Dream Bible would say this indicates anxiety about getting old. No kidding!) We decided to head to the hospital, but my husband wouldn’t listen to me about which direction to take. We drove past an old nightclub called Limelight and found ourselves in a pitch dark neighborhood. Then we came upon some glamorous and glitzy part of the city I had never seen. I awoke before we ever reached our destination, which is a recurring aspect of my dreams.

Dreams remain a fascinating mystery to me. But I am convinced that they are an indispensable safety valve for the brain. When I was in college, I would pull all-nighters to cram for a test or write a paper. On those occasions, as I would finally allow my body to rest, I would start to have waking dreams, sort of hallucinations as my overtaxed brain slipped into sleep.

As for my husband, he remains convinced that he doesn’t usually dream, and that belief will probably remain until the next time I awaken him for shouting in his sleep, “I’m gonna blow your f#*!ing head off!”

 

Sadly, GOP Will Always Be With Us

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The Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare has been very revealing. As members of the House of Representatives discuss the American Health Care Act, or as one Chicago Tribune reader cleverly named it, “TryanCare,” the true colors of the Republican Party are being shown to the public.

Rep. John Shimkus, for instance, wanted to know why men should have to pay for prenatal and childbirth coverage. Aside from the fact that such a question shows a total ignorance of how insurance policies work, Shimkus’s comments reveal  his selfishness. “What’s in it for me?” should be the new GOP national slogan.

Republicans are simply tone deaf when it comes to ordinary Americans. Rep. Jason Chaffetz suggested that people might be able to afford health care if they simply refrained from buying such luxuries as an iPhone. If only a year’s worth of health care insurance cost $600, Jason! But what disgusts me is the likes of this privileged politician whose health care is paid for by taxpayers showing condescension toward Americans who are struggling to make ends meet.

Rep. Roger Marshall was even worse, misrepresenting Jesus by quoting from the Bible, “The poor will always be with us.” Say what? I’m pretty sure Jesus did not mean that we should ignore the poor since we’ll always have them to kick around. Marshall continued to dig his own grave by saying that poor people don’t take care of themselves and don’t really use health care services except in emergencies. That’s because until Obamacare, they had few decent options for obtaining regular health care services, you heartless buffoon.

There is a persistent theme among Republicans that people are poor because they are lazy and don’t want to work. Such attitudes go back, at least in my memory, to the Reagan era, when the black welfare queen was the image of poverty favored by the GOP.

The irony of all this is that Paul Ryan, architect of the new health care law and would be destroyer of Medicare and Medicaid, would not be where he is today if the Social Security system had not helped him and his family after the untimely death of his father. If we examined all the ways “corporate welfare” and other preferences made the fortunes of so many Congressmen and women, they would be hard pressed to defend their ruthless attacks against struggling Americans.

I’ve read that no one in the GOP wants his or her name on the new health care bill. I’m not surprised. I have a suggestion. Let’s call it the Ebenezer Scrooge Health Care Law and give Republicans a big fat “Bah, humbug!”

 

Facebook Fast

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As the penitential season of Lent begins, I as usual will give up my beloved sweets of all kinds: coffeecake, cookies, chocolate etc. But I have also decided to follow the lead of some of my friends and abstain from spending time on Facebook.

Facebook has been a blessing and a curse in my life. It has been great to reconnect with old friends, see photos of their families, and even get into some pretty serious conversations. I have learned so much more about many people I know than I ever would have in casual conversation at the supermarket or on the soccer sidelines.

But Facebook has had some drawbacks, and I feel the need to take a break from it. One of the most obvious drawbacks is how much time it can suck out of your day. There are many days when I spend little time on it, but others when I check it compulsively several times a day, adding up to hours spent on the social media platform.

There is apparently some evidence that spending time on Facebook can lead to depression. This does not surprise me. The reason given for this phenomenon is that it can be depressing to compare your life to all the wonderful things your friends are doing, what they are wearing, how cute their children are and the like. None of this particularly bothers me. I am not that competitive with others when it comes to social standing, looks, or just how much fun someone else seems to be having.

What I find depressing on Facebook is mostly the political divide that has become all too evident since the presidential election campaign began in earnest back in 2015. It is discouraging to see so much animosity on both sides and to realize that no matter how many meaty articles one posts or how well-considered one’s argument is, our friends on the other side of that divide are unlikely to come around to our way of thinking. Even the sheer exposure of current events that I see in my news feed every day, with or without commentary, can really get me down.

So I will be spending 40 days in the internet desert. I will still be posting on my blog, which automatically loads to Facebook. But I myself will not be scrolling along to see what’s up in cyber world. It is my hope that this Facebook fast will give me renewed energy, more time, and the chance to focus on my spiritual life, which is the purpose of Lent.

A New Spin on Curing Cancer

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170211_115416When I signed up to participate in Cycle for Survival, a “spin marathon” to support cancer research, I didn’t have a solid answer to the question on the website: “Who are you riding for?” To be sure, I have known many friends and family members who have been touched by cancer. I have friends and family who are cancer survivors, as well as loved ones who died of this terrible disease. Certainly, I would be riding for them. However, I didn’t know that I would find a much more urgent reason to put the pedal to the metal.

My daughter has been leading a team for Cycle for the past three years in New York City. Her involvement was the result of a very dear friend’s loss of her mother to cancer. I am so proud of my daughter and the support she gave her friend throughout the horrific ordeal of her mother’s cancer and death. That support led my daughter to action that may save the life of someone else’s mother:  involvement with Cycle for Survival.

Cycle for Survival is a nationwide fundraiser for Memorial Sloan Kettering  Cancer Center in New York City. Through the support of Equinox gyms across the country, riders have raised millions of dollars that have gone directly into research and treatment of rare cancers at MSK. Rare cancers are difficult because there is often no protocol for treatment and usually no organization to advocate for each particular type of cancer. Naturally, I’ve supported my daughter’s efforts emotionally and financially over the years. This year, however, my daughter assembled a team here in my hometown of Chicago, where she is currently attending business school. So she invited me to get off my duff and sign up to ride one of the dozens of stationary bikes at Equinox downtown.

There was a lot of energy and heart-pounding music when I arrived at the gym with my younger daughter and a friend. I remarked to my friend, “This place is like a bar without the alcohol!” My older daughter greeted us and helped us get set up on the bikes. Before our cycle session started, though, a young man stood up to speak. He told the story of his sister, a cancer survivor, and how she had gone on to marry and have a baby. Now, however, her infant son is in a battle of his own against cancer and is currently undergoing treatment at MSK. Through my tears, I started to pedal, knowing I had a new focus and an imminent reason to ride.

This disease is so hideously indiscriminate and unfair. What united all of us at Equinox gym yesterday, and what spurs the efforts of so many people across this country in events like Cycle, is that we have all been touched by cancer. It’s up to all of us together to help doctors and researchers wipe out this terrible scourge.

If you are interested in learning more about Cycle for Survival or contributing to this cause, please visit my page at: http://mskcc.convio.net/goto/maryrayis. One hundred percent of all donations goes directly to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

A world without cancer: That is truly something worth spinning for!

 

Comedians in Cars Being Offensive

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Comedy, like beauty, is in the eye (and ear) of the beholder. One fan’s hilarious is another’s offensive. But there are some topics that just don’t lend themselves to laughter, and abortion is one of them.

NARAL Pro Choice America recently released a video on YouTube that attempts to use humor to make a point about abortion rights. Unfortunately, “Comedians in Cars Getting Abortions” completely misses the mark. The short video is a spoof of Jerry Seinfeld’s popular web show “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” The NARAL spot features a male and female comedian driving around the Los Angeles area trying to get an abortion.

The ostensible point of the 6 minute video is that state laws have made it unduly burdensome for women to receive an abortion. But no matter  which side you come down on in the abortion debate, you are bound to be offended by the callous, leaden jokes about fetuses, religious beliefs, and women’s self-centered reasons for seeking an abortion.

You know it’s bad when I find myself agreeing with conservative political writer Heather Wilhelm, who wrote a scathing and spot-on opinion piece that appeared in today’s Chicago Tribune under the headline “The abortion lobby’s horrifying new ‘comedy’ act.” I share her bemusement about the comedic nature of comments about not wanting to bring any more bratty toddlers into the world and avoiding certain abortion clinics because demand will be high due to the Coachella Festival last month.

Far from furthering the pro-choice cause, “Comedians in Cars Getting Abortions” paints women who seek abortions as selfish, superficial, and unfeeling monsters who care not a whit for human life at any stage. I’m also puzzled that the YouTube video features a Prius commercial to match the sporty red Prius used by the comedians. If ever there were a piece of entertainment that advertisers should avoid like the plague, it’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Abortions.”

The subject of abortion is an incredibly important and divisive one. It’s worthy of serious and thoughtful discussion, not flippant parody. NARAL, you need a new public relations team.