Monday, June 23, 2008

Things: Installment 3

My trip to Memphis gave me reason to pause & ponder. So this week's Things Series is a bit more serious & soul-searching in nature.

Things: That Make Me Stop & Think
  1. St. Jude's Childrens Research Hospital- While in Memphis, I was able to tour this amazing facility. It was founded by Danny Thomas. In the beginning of his career, he knelt at a statue of St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes, & asked for guidance. At that point in his life, he had no money, no job, no hope. Soon after, Danny's career in comedy took off. Much time passed and Danny passed another statue of St. Jude & remembered his earlier plea for guidance. Being thankful for the guidance and the resulting success, Danny vowed to build a shrine to St. Jude. And so the idea to build a hospital devoted to catastrophic childhood illnesses took shape. What stands in Memphis today is a 70+ acre campus that leads the world in research of childhood diseases. The facility costs more than $400 million a year to operate. And 100% of that $400 million is donated (not a single grant of any kind). All it takes to get treated at St. Jude? A phone call from the child's doctor. From the time the child steps foot in the hospital, one claim is filed on insurance, assuming the family has a policy with a cancer clause with no deductible, and from that moment forward the family owes nothing. NOTHING. St. Jude's provides treatment, medicine, housing, food, weekly allowances for incidentals, childcare for siblings. Everything. And once you're a patient of St. Jude, you're ALWAYS a patient of St. Jude. That's right. Even if you have a recurrence in adulthood. Even for check-ups. You'll never stop being a patient of St. Jude. And your care continues at no cost. Know what else is amazing? The hospital is HAPPY! It's a happy place. Danny Thomas knew that laughter was an excellent medicine. And he wanted his hospital to induce that healing laughter. Every single mural in that hospital is happy. Everything smiles - the animals, the flowers, the sun, the moon. If you can paint a face on it, it has a smile on it. The ceilings also have happy murals. Why? Because a lot of the patients are toted around in wagons or on gurneys, which means they're lying on their backs. What do they see? The ceiling. So naturally, happy things smile down on them from the ceilings, as well. This is such an amazing place. And it's one I hope to keep open for a very long time. What a legacy Danny Thomas has left behind. What a testament to "it takes one person to change the world." Danny Thomas continues to change the world - one child at a time.
  2. Cancer - Touring St. Jude really brought home the frailty of life. Sure, we all know that we will one day pass away. We refuse to acknowledge the reality that it could be today. Or simply sooner than we can imagine. At least, I know that I do. And scientifically, the number of us who will be claimed by cancer is really quite staggering. I certainly am aware of my familial risks, and I do my best to take steps to (a) prevent the disease altogether and/or (b) go for regular check-ups so the disease is caught early. This is driven home everytime I hear that someone has received a cancer diagnosis. Most importantly, though, St. Jude made me stop, take inventory, be thankful, plan, and prepare. Do you treat each day as if it's your last? Telling those loved ones that you love them? It's easy to take that for granted, thinking there's always the next time. Do you stop & give thanks for the many blessings in your life? Your friends, your family, your health, your stable living? These are also things that we become so accustomed to that we forget they are gifts. So I hope that these small lessons I've gleaned will continue to stay atop my checklist - be thankful, take nothing for granted, and tell your loved ones how much they mean to you.
  3. Celiac Disease - Until my mom received her diagnosis about a month ago, I didn't know that much about celiac disease. What little I did know I'd learned from my friend SarahJ. Needless to say, it's been a learning experience as I've helped mom compile helpful links and recipes and information about the disease & how to cope. You just don't realize how our food supply is inundated with gluten. It's really overwhelming. And finding safe, tasty alternatives can be challenging when you don't live in a major metropolitan area. Interestingly enough, one of the kids who went on the Memphis tour is a celiac. It was nice to be able to help him make wise decisions (when his mom wasn't hovering over his shoulder) when he ended up in my group at mealtimes. And I visited with him very briefly about it (teenage boys aren't big talkers). Surprisingly, CD is quite common (though not nearly as common as it is in Italy & Ireland), but few people are properly diagnosed. B/c CD is genetic, there is a possibility that my brother & I could currently have it or develop it in the future. And this has made me pay greater attention to all the minute details. While CD is not a life-threatening disease persay, it is nonetheless life-altering. I suppose you can compare its risks to that of hypertension. In & of itself not necessarily dangerous, but over time, it can really do major damage. Have you given much thought to these types of diseases? How would you cope?
  4. Studio session - I was in the studio this weekend cutting a cd. What makes this particularly interesting & thought-provoking is the why. I recorded what's become known at my house as the 'funeral cd.' My grandmother has long been bugging me about recording songs that could be played at her funeral. And it makes sense. Think about how hard it would be to hold it together & actually sing well. A cd is certainly a good idea. But lately she's become a little more insistent about the cd. I think the 10-day trip to Ireland has really made it a more urgent request. You see, my grandfather has been in the nursing home the last several years (combination of Alzheimer's & Parkinson's makes care at home impossible). While he's doing fine, all things considered, he's certainly becoming more & more frail. Each minor illness takes a little more of the spark and he just doesn't bounce back to where he was before. So the cd is insurance that I can sing at the funeral, if that should happen, Heaven forbid, while I'm in Ireland. And, one step further, it's insurance that I can sing at anyone's funeral without having to appear in person. And why not record those favorites now while I'm in the prime of my voice? It's just an odd thing to ponder. Talks of the cd & what songs to put it on it have made me come to grips with the fact that my grandparents are aging. Sure, we celebrate birthdays. But we don't often digest what those birthdays really mean. You think your grandparents will live forever. But at some point, you have to swallow the reality that they won't.
  5. Teenagers - After spending five days with teenagers, I was thrown back to my days of youth. Funny enough, my charges asked me about growing up. 'What was it like being a teenager?' A lot different than it is now. Which made me feel SO much more like a grown-up. Ugh. As I grow farther & farther away from the days of my childhood, I'm beginning to feel like my parents must have felt when I was a teen. First, you wonder when they're ever going to lose the head-spinning, fang-toting, I-know-everything attitudes. (Though the kids on the trip were pretty good even in this respect.) Then, you wonder when things are ever going to slow down. These kids are FAR busier than I could have ever dreamed to be at that age. I don't know how they sleep! You wonder if the shorts will get any longer. The bathing suits anymore modest. The issues facing them any less complicated. Things were SO different for me as a teen. Sure, there were sex, drugs, & rock-n-roll. But it seems like those things are so much MORE pervasive now. Or is it just me? Can't we go back to the 50s? Things were so much simpler then. Progress for the sake of progress isn't really progress at all - that makes so much more sense now.

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