The State of Medical Care in America

The following is from a letter that I just wrote to a British friend.

It is my understanding that many in your country want to replace your public healthcare system with a private one. I will preface my comments by saying that few Americans can even afford medical care unless they have insurance, yet they can't afford insurance unless they are able to get it through their employer because the cost of anything beyond "catastrophic coverage" can easily exceed $20,000 a year. It doesn't help matters that insurance companies do everything possible to discriminate against those who are deemed likely to actually need medical care. 

Under Obama, such discrimination was banned, but Trump has returned to doing everything possible to allow companies to price "poor risks" out of the market or even to refuse coverage altogether. Those who support such discrimination tend to be healthy young Republicans who argue that they shouldn't have to pay more because other people enjoy less than optimal health (the unstated motto of the Republican Party is, "Me first and screw you"). Peggy and I had employer-sponsored insurance until we turned 65 and could go on the government plan called Medicare. It is the best insurance we've had had, but even so, we have to supplement it with private insurance, and insurance companies do their best to fool people into thinking they're getting more than they actually are.

Here are three examples that people in your country might bear in mind in regard to the imagined success of privatized healthcare. All three of these examples were in the news here last week.

(1) Nearly all insurance plans have "in network providers," i.e. medical providers who have agreed to accept a lower level of reimbursement in return for insurers throwing business their way. If, for whatever reason, a person elects to see an "out of network" provider, his or her insurance company will pay a much smaller percentage of the bill.

Because the Republicans are doing their utmost to deregulate and privatize anything and everything, more and more of America's ambulance services are going from being owned and run by municipalities and county governments to being owned and run by private companies. This means that if you have an emergency and have the bad luck to be taken to the hospital in an out of network ambulance, you can, and almost surely will, end up many thousands of dollars in debt because ambulances are damned expensive, and god help you if you need to be taken on a second ambulance ride from, for example, a small community hospital to a remote big city hospital; and double god help you if your condition is so dire that you need to be transported in an air ambulance.

(2) Insurance companies are moving in the direction of refusing to pay any of your ambulance and emergency room expenses if they (the insurance company) decide that you didn't really need to go the emergency room. One problem with this is that it relies upon the honesty of dishonest insurers. Another is that patients are often in no position to know whether or not that they can get by with either waiting to see a doctor during regular office hours, or, in the case of the larger urban areas, going to an "urgent care center," which is a clinic that provides speedy medical care to people who, although their condition doesn't appear to be life threatening, are in too much distress to wait until regular office hours. Obviously, there will be people who die because of this policy, but as every American with an IQ above 60 knows, the priority of insurance companies isn't with getting people the care they need but with maximizing profit. I suspect that the same is true of private anything.

(3) America's drug manufacturers have shown themselves especially eager to buy up the exclusive rights to manufacture drugs that are the only approved treatments for life threatening illnesses, and then jacking up the prices of those drugs by hundreds or thousands of percent, a practice that is entirely legal in the U.S., and that insurance companies refuse to pay for. The most infamous of these drug company profiteers was a man named Martin Shkreli who, literally overnight, raised the price of the only approved treatment for toxoplasmosis from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill (a 5,000% increase). Even so, Shkreli doesn't stand out for what he did, but for not bothering to offer the usual bullshit lie for why he did it, even claiming from behind his perpetual smirk that he deserved appreciation for not raising the price of Daraprim even more. After all, he said, it would have been legal. Shkreli was sentenced to seven years in prison last week, but it wasn't for the deaths he caused, but for fraud in a non-related case. He cried in self-pity in the courtroom, self-pity being the only pity of which he is capable.

America has the highest cost of medical care of anyplace on earth with 25% of the money going to insurance companies. The cost of healthcare in America increases yearly at a rate that is far beyond what almost anyone can afford, yet there is no end in sight because well-funded lobbies--like Big Oil, Big Pharma, the National Rifle Association, and the insurance lobby--owns Congress. Despite what it spends, America doesn't even have a high standard of medical care compared to other first world nations. 

I'll throw in a final example that didn't hit the national news but very much hit the news in our household.

(4) Peggy spent hours last week fighting over the costs of her drugs while in the hospital for back surgery. Her hospital bill alone--the surgeon and anesthesiologist will bill separately--for the twenty hour stay was $17,000). When it comes to their charges and business practices, hospitals appear to say, "If you can't trust us, the people who work to keep you alive, who can you trust?" but the fact is that "the people who work to keep you alive" are the last people you can trust because they: (a)
refuse to give estimates, although charges for the same services differ dramatically from hospital to hospital; (b) are notorious for charges that are excessive and downright fanciful; (c) after their services are rendered, they refuse to send out itemized statements. In Peggy's case, her phone call was transferred from one office to another before she finally learned that she was being charged for at least one drug and one medical device that was neither ordered nor received. As is typical, she is unable to get the mistake corrected simply because it is not in the hospital's financial interest to correct it, this at a Catholic hospital that boasts of its "Christian values." 

The older I get, the more I become convinced that unregulated capitalism (which is what America's Republican Party assures us is the remedy for all of our ills) brings out the worst in people, and nowhere is this more obvious than when it comes to medical care. It speaks to the immorality of our system when a mugger with a gun receives a death sentence for murdering someone for $20, while a white collar thug like Martin Shkreli openly laughs about raising the cost of an essential drug to the point that only the rich can afford life.

It seems to me that people who voted for Trump fell into three main categories: the super rich who believed he would make them richer, which he has; fascists who believed he would inspire hatred and division, which he has; and the naive poor who believed that he was "the friend of the little man," which he most certainly is not. The people in the first two categories knew what they were getting; the people in the final category had no idea, and it is they who are being increasingly left to suffer and die as the government-funded medical care and economic assistance that they disproportionately rely upon is being slashed. Sadly, the Republican Party enjoys its greatest popularity among the very people whom its policies hurt the most, but how it does this will have to wait until another post.

My Personal History with Carrying Firearms; Thoughts on Arming Teachers

The political response to school shootings is always the same.

1) Republicans say, "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families."

2) Democrats call for "stricter measures to keep guns out of the wrong hands."

3) Republicans say, "This is not the time to talk about gun control. This is the time to remember the victims."

4) Democrats continue to call for "common sense gun control."

5) Republicans say, "The only answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

End of debate until the next time, and the next time, and the next time...

I used to have a concealed carry permit, not because I felt the need to carry a gun, but because I knew someone who did and thought it would be fun. I had been around guns all my life, and had kept one in my car as a teenager, but it never occurred to me to regularly carry one on my person until I talked with that friend. After completing a minimal permit training course, I started out by carrying a .357 magnum that I kept in a special belly pack that was designed for quick access. When the gun's size and weight became burdensome, I switched to a .38 special. When it too became unpleasant to carry, I gave up carrying a gun. The fun part about carrying a concealed weapon was that it was my secret, and that it made me feel powerful. The not fun part was the gun's weight, and the fact that carrying it focused my thoughts upon the possibility of violence, which made my world seem more dangerous than it really was.

I'm cautious and orderly to the point that I lack spontaneity, yet during the short time that I carried a gun, I unknowingly let a .22 caliber bullet roll into the burner on my kitchen stove. When I lit the stove, the bullet exploded and hit Peggy in the stomach, but no damage was done (a bullet that explodes in a stove doesn't have the force of a bullet that comes out of a gun because the slug goes one way and the cartridge casing the other), the incident alerted me to the fact that even careful people have accidents. A few weeks later, I took my gun to a dinner party, took off my belly pack, and didn't even know I had left it there until the people called me at home. When they asked why I had taken a gun to their party, I didn't know what to say, so I said that if I had left it at home--or in my car--someone might have stolen it. As I look back upon the incident, I realize that carrying a gun was like having a new toy, and that I was experimenting with whether I wanted to do it full-time. My conclusion was that walking around with a gun is a lethal version of walking around with a fire extinguisher in that while it might come in handy, it's probably not worth the risk and aggravation.

I share these stories to show that guns are inherently dangerous (the nearby Portland, Oregon, police chief accidentally shot a friend as did Vice-President Dick Cheney). President Trump echoed the NRA recently by proposing that "qualified teachers" carry guns to school. I can think of so many obvious objections to his proposal that I regard it as being like much of what Trump says, i.e. blindingly stupid. For instance: 

(1) There is NO evidence to suggest that armed teachers could protect children while there IS evidence to suggest that they couldn't.* (2) Trump gave no clue as to whom would pay for the extensive and ongoing training that would be required to make teachers safe and proficient with firearms, and no evidence to indicate that teachers would have the time and inclination to take such training. (3) A school shooter could arm himself by assaulting a teacher and taking his or her gun. (4) If cops are capable of snapping and murdering people due to job stress, teachers probably are too. (5) A gun-toting teacher might find it harder to instill in students the value of peaceable solutions than would other teachers. (6) Teaching is enough work without the added responsibility of being perpetually prepared to shoot one's students. (7) Arming teachers would imbue in children the belief that they are always and everywhere in danger. (8) Just as I accidentally left a gun at someone's house, a teacher might accidentally leave a gun in a classroom or bathroom. (9) Guns can go off accidentally. (10) When we take extreme measures to feel safe, we increase our belief that we are unsafe. (11) There is no evidence to suggest that giving more guns to more people would make us safer, while the scarcity of gun deaths in countries with few guns would seem to prove otherwise. (12) A society in which people need to carry guns to protect themselves and others is by definition a society that has failed to insure the safety of its citizens, and this implies that the work we must do is societal rather than individual. 

I'll just add one more thing. The NRA insists that being able to own and carry guns is both a human right and a Constitutional right under the Second Amendment. The former is not evident to anyone outside the NRA, but neither is the latter. The Second Amendment reads as follows: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." How the NRA makes the leap from that to AR15s is a mystery to me, but if AR15s are legally allowable, then why not .50 cal machine guns or even grenade launchers? I don't think this is what the founding fathers had in mind, yet if the Constitution really does justify something that, instead of promoting the common good, harms the public good, then it's time to change the Constitution because the way the NRA would have us live is insane.


Margaretta Wade Campbell Deland

Margaret Deland 1857-1945
If life is a series of births and deaths, I was reborn in the old books' section of a St. Vincent dePaul store in Albany, Oregon, in 2015, when I discovered John Ward Preacher by Margaret Deland. I was so entranced that I, a non-collector of almost anything, quickly became a joyous collector of all things Deland. I now have six feet of shelf space devoted to her books (many novels, two autobiographies, a book of poetry, and an account of a summer in Florida) along with two Deland biographies. I also own numerous photos and letters. While mine isn't a notable collection, I'm in the process of willing it to a New England university so that it can supplement an existing Deland collection.

My love for Deland is being born afresh now that I'm rereading her books, of which I own multiple first edition copies, many of them autographed. I haven't seen the three silent films that her works inspired, and her Broadway play ended before World War I. She was awarded four honorary doctorates, and was among the first women to be elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. As labels go, she was a Pennsylvania regionalist and a member of the American Realist Movement.

John Ward Preacher (1888), is about the marriage of a non-religious Episcopalian named Helen Jeffrey to a very religious Presbyterian preacher named John Ward. Like her heroine, Deland was orphaned and grew up in the home of an uncle. Deland's uncle was a non-observing Presbyterian who came from a family rich in influential ministers; her aunt a former Episcopalian who obeyed society's expectation that she join her husband's church. The Presbyterians in Deland's life, and of whom she wrote, were not the mainstream Presbyterians of today, but hardcore Calvinists who saw no contradiction between a deity who was perfect in love but could predestine infants to eternal hell.

Unlike Deland's uncle, Helen's uncle was an Episcopal priest who lived a comfortable life despite his lack of religious conviction. He was dismayed by Helen's choice of a husband, but, not being a man to make waves, he remained silent. By contrast, John Ward took his Presbyterian religion very seriously indeed and, despite being a gentle, loving man, didn't hesitate to make waves except when it came to Helen, who he was afraid to  lose. To this end, he didn't allow her to hear him preach (they lived miles apart), and he avoided the subject of religion, telling himself that there would be plenty of time for that after they were married. Helen had hints that his views were abhorrent, but she also avoided the subject, telling herself that love alone was enough for a happy relationship, and that he would eventually come to respect her lack of religious conviction. 

William Campbell 1808-1890
After they were married, John tried to avoid alienating Helen by dodging his church's expectation that he preach hellfire sermons vividly and often. When he finally told Helen about his church's belief that God had predestined most people to a fiery hell before the world was created, she begged him to never speak of the matter again. Months passed during which John agonized over her lost state and wondered how to convert her. 

When Helen sought counsel from her priestly uncle regarding her doubts about religion, he was painfully reminded of his own non-belief, and told his daughter Lois, "I shall tell her to mend her husband's stockings, and not bother her little head with theological questions that are too big for her." Because of her outspokenness, the elders of John's church eventually learned that Helen didn't accept their church's belief about hell, and demanded that John turn her over to them "for discipline." John, worried that instead of winning her to God, the elders would push her away, undertook an all out effort to convert Helen to his views. When this failed, a despairing John imagined that God wanted him to expel Helen from their home so she would be forced to look to God for help, whereupon God would show her the reality of hell. 

As did Deland, the more Helen thought about religion, the more she came to doubt that any of it was true, and through the intense loneliness of her struggle, I saw myself. Coming as I did from rural Mississippi, all I knew of religious doubt was what I learned in church where ignorant preachers described it as the product of modern universities, and claimed that it represented a renunciation of morality, tradition, and common sense. I knew that such words didn't apply to me, yet I didn't even meet another non-believer until I was 29, and I had to make a special trip to New Orleans to do so then. So it was that the loneliness and desperation of a fictional character in a 127-year old novel by a forgotten author came to seem more real to me than anything else I had ever read. 

Houghton Mifflin had misgivings about publishing a book that was critical of religion, but since Deland's first book had done well, they finally put her under contract. When she wrote of the news to her family, "The result, in the domestic circle, was like the unexpected explosion of a firecracker." "Maggie...knows no more about hell than a kitten knows about a steam engine," her uncle raged, and it looked as if she might have to choose between telling the truth as she understood it and being disowned. Given that the heroine of John Ward Preacher, like the women in her later books, prized intellectual integrity above patriarchal acceptance, the answer might seem obvious, but it didn't come without a struggle, and it was followed by a heavy cost.
Lorin Deland 1855-1917

Deland's uncle finally proposed that she travel from Boston (where she moved when she married the famous Harvard football coach Lorin Deland) to New Jersey, to discuss the appropriateness of the book's publication with the spiritual patriarch of the clan, the Rev. Dr. William Howard Campbell (president of Rutgers) and abide by by his decision. She discussed the proposal, first with Lorin, and later with their friend, the renowned Episcopal clergyman and bishop, Phillips Brooks. She finally told her family that she would talk to her great uncle, but that she wouldn't be bound by his opinion. After a very long conversation, the Reverend Doctor gave Deland's book his approval. Her family's disappointment was such that a cousin suggested that the aged patriarch had become senile.

John Ward Preacher inspired plaudits and outrage. While walking her dog, Deland was accosted by a stranger who said that her book would "destroy Christianity." A friend of Deland's was castigated at a dinner party for keeping such low company. For a time, her family excluded her from gatherings. She was denounced from pulpits, and literary critics attacked her personally. The disapproval extended beyond the book's criticism of religion and into Deland's rejection of patriarchy, a rejection that also occurred in her later books. The following beliefs were commonplace in 19th century America:
Rev. Phillips Brooks 1835-1893

(1) Criticizing religion is wrong. (2) Women are the bulwarks of Godliness, so it is especially wrong for women to criticize religion. (3) Women lack the intelligence to address profound subjects. (4) "Ladies" don't write about hell. (5) Girls should adopt the faith of their fathers; women of their husbands.

I am glad that I possess things that Deland's hands touched, yet I rarely look at her letters, it being enough that I own them, if such things can be owned. While I regret the fact that I will never be able to talk with her, I have no reason to think that we would be friends because, whatever problems I bring to relationships, Deland admitted that she found it difficult to love. When she was still small, she overheard the aunt who adopted her say about another orphan, "No one can love a child as its own mother loves it." Deland was hurt to the core, but when she wrote of the experience decades later, she blamed herself for her loss of faith in her aunt's love: "As I think of that day in the back entry, and the smell of cinnamon and cloves, and the moving leaf shadows on the hall floor, and the tears in the sweet dark eyes, I am ashamed of Maggie. She seems to me a cold little monster..." Still speaking of her childhood self in the third person Deland wrote: "...she is selfish, cold-hearted, joyfully cruel, with no love in her, and not a particle of humor."

Perhaps as a result of losing trust in her adoptive aunt, Deland came to display two dominant characteristics. One was that, from a very young age, she was uncompromisingly independent, both in her intellectual integrity and in her desire for financial self-sufficiency. The other was that she concealed her intense nature behind a reserve that was generally mistaken for tranquility. Only Lorin was allowed to penetrate her core, and when he died in 1917, her very being and all that she had accomplished seemed empty. She dealt with the crisis by immersing herself in the misery of others as a canteen volunteer in war torn France. She also followed the lead of many others of the World War I generation, and turned to spiritualism. Her former belief that death was an eternal sleep became unbearable, and she, like Arthur Conan Doyle, came to believe that our earthly identities and relationships somehow survive the grave. 

Yet, what was to her, as it is to me, the nearly unbearable tragedy of loving and being loved in a world that contains death had tormented Deland long before Lorin died. She had even debated all sides of the issue with herself through the mouths of the characters in her 1890 novel Sidney. As with religion, the inability to reconcile myself to the fact that death and love exist in the same world is another existential theme that Deland and I share, and that enables her words to enter my depths. If I should someday discover a writer with the power to affect me more profoundly than Deland--both for good and for ill--I don't know how I will bear it, because she so often moves me to tears.

A Jaundiced View of a Game that Exemplies American Values

I began to hate American football when I was forced to attend weekly high school "pep rallies" in which cheer leaders worked their fellow students into a foot-stomping frenzy in the unsubstantiated belief that it would inspire the school's team to win that night's game. When, decades later, I learned that there is an incontrovertible link between football and brain damage, my hatred of the game escalated. Despite this loathing, Peggy and I watched this year's Super Bowl to see what all the hooplah was about. It was an enlightening experience. 

First, the football players ran onto the field between lines of Rah, Rah, Boom Bang cheerleaders. Next came the singing of America the Beautiful and the Star Spangled Banner. The latter is America's National Anthem, and everyone is expected to stand with their hands over their hearts while listening to it. This is not the case with America the Beautiful, but most of the crowd didn't seem to know that. Then military jets flew overhead and World War II Medal of Honor winners were paraded onto the field for no apparent reason. 

I don't know if every Super Bowl goes to such extremes to tie football to patriotism, but I do know that the teams' owners were eager to reverse the impression that black football players (most professional football players are black) are unpatriotic, an impression that started in 2016 when some of them started "taking the knee" during the National Anthem in order to protest police mistreatment of black people. Trump fanned the flames with his usual mean spirited ineloquence when he said, "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field..." His epithet made him the first president to use language that couldn't be repeated on TV or radio, although, thanks to Trump, vulgarity during newscasts is now commonplace.

Companies that run ads during the Super Bowl go all out to make the $1.7 million a second cost worthwhile. Coke proved that its mixture of corn syrup and carbonated water is the choice of those who value individuality and diversity (not to mention obesity, tooth decay, and diabetes) by showing diverse people (all of them young, thin, and attractive) in a state of exaltation because, "There's a Coke for he, and she, and her, and me, and them. There's a different Coke for all of us." 

Dodge tried to boost truck sales by claiming that it's true to the vision of Martin Luther King Jr., in that its primary values are love and service (because America's highest court regards corporations as having the rights of human beings, it only follows that corporations can feel the gamut of human emotions). It did this--that is it attempted to do this--by playing an audio of King sermonizing alongside a video of inspirational images (a fireman rescuing a child, volunteers handing out food, etc.) interlaced with images of Dodge trucks. For those who still failed to understand that Dodge is the choice of people who buy a truck because they value love and good deeds over flashiness and horsepower, the commercial ended with the name of the company in white letters against a black background (it had kicked-off the commercial with the name of King against a black background). 

Because MLK was an outspoken opponent of both capitalism and materialism (he objected to Coretta spending money on curtains), no one can seriously envision him sitting behind the wheel of a two ton diesel (Americans just adore superfluous power), but Dodge relied on the fact that he was dead before its mostly white buyers were born, and the finer points of his message have been forgotten, not just by Dodge buyers but by King's children who have long shown themselves ready to rake in big bucks in exchange for his sermons. Not to be bested by Dodge, Jeep showed that its Wrangler can leave tread marks and erosion channels in pristine natural settings (Jeep admitted the destructive power of its product by boasting that the commercial was filmed in a manmade lake and waterfall that doesn't flow into any other body of water).

This year's Super Bowl was in Minneapolis, home of the deceased musician, Prince. The star attraction, Justin Timberlake, sang a duet (I know of no other way to put it) with a hologram of the dead performer. The fact that Prince called such performances "demonic" didn't dampen the crowd's enthusiasm. Because Prince is associated with the color purple, viewers were lifted high above the stadium and treated to a view of a city blanketed by purple snow, a phenomenon that never occurred during my two winters in Minneapolis. 

During the game, my inner eye kept returning to the very real image of the brains of football players setting silently in jars in darkened labs (it being Sunday) waiting to be sliced and diced in the study of brain damage caused by that damnable game. The carnage continues with the blessing of parents and public schools despite the fact that studies have shown that boys in their teens exhibit football related learning disabilities. America gives football scholarships and other, under the table, benefits to poor (mostly black) youngsters who have no other way out of poverty; sends them to the pros; and is unmoved by the fact that they're bumbling and pain-wracked by age forty.

How do people find it within themselves to pay $3,000 (cost of a cheap seat at the Super Bowl) to witness a game that destroys lives? And why don't fans care that no kid with an IQ higher than 38 can come to age in America without being cynicalized by an onslaught of commercials that exploit our species' best people and its highest values to sell products that harm minds, bodies, and the environment? Super Bowl fans pretend that they're watching gifted athletes at the height of their prowess, but what they're actually seeing are wounded men who are propped up on a diet of narcotics and steroids so they can play through their injuries. 

Coke was touted as the beverage choice of young, healthy, athletic, liberal, and mostly white, heterosexuals (among the couples depicted, there were no gays), although its primary users are fat, diabetic, poorly educated, and impoverished. Jeep presented its Wrangler as a means to enjoy nature in remote places although, as every hiker knows, no one who drives ATVs into roadless areas can seriously say they love nature when the very act of driving in such places destroys nature. Rather they want to get far enough from civilized society that they can do whatever they damn well please, which means that, in place of wildflowers and fragile rock formations, they leave a sea of mud, shell casings, bullet holes, and, oh yeah, lots and lots of garbage. 

The Super Bowl is a pernicious lie built upon a foundation of greed and callousness. The thing that bothered me most about those long ago pep rallies was that they conveyed the idea that if I was unwilling to scream, stomp, and jump up and down to inspire "our boys" to beat "their boys," I lacked some ineffable quality called "school spirit." The experience was designed to assault dissenters with the club of peer pressure in order to make them feel like they were all alone, but if this were true, why were these non-educational events compulsory? 

The answer was that pep rallies had everything to do with educating kids, only in covert ways that no teacher or administrator would have admitted to. Namely, they were meant to instill in students the value of tribalism, of pitting our side against someone else's side. Such was the message of the Super Bowl. Why else would a football game include a superabundance of patriotic songs and images, songs and images that might have been reasonably expected to bring violence upon anyone who didn't go through the motions of acquiescence? 

I don't doubt but what football fans see themselves as being every bit as compassionate and integrous as the next person, and that the same is true of those who create the pandering commercials, but how can this be? An ancient manuscript called Apophthegmata Patrum gives the answer as follows, although what the writer probably intended as a literal analysis, I regard as metaphorical. 

"When the eyes of an ox or mule are covered, then he goes round and round turning the mill wheel; but if his eyes are uncovered, he will not go around in the circle of the mill wheel. So too the devil, if he manages to cover the eyes of a man, can humiliate him in every sin. But if that man's eyes are not closed, he can easily escape the devil."

No one can enjoy football without opening both eyes to the public spectacle of bodies clashing against bodies while closing them to the long and private misery of the game's causalities, yet the latter is no less a part of the game than the former.

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare

Prabhupada's Palace of Gold near Moundsville, West Virginia 
For much of my adult life, I was fascinated by communal living, and this led me to visit many interesting places. The second of these was a Hare Krishna farm (New Talavan, which still exists) in south Mississippi that I visited in 1980. I assumed that it was situated where it was so recruits could be brought out from nearby New Orleans. The men lived in a dormitory, and the women and children lived in their own little houses, sex being limited to the actual attempt to bear a child, which, as I recall, wasn't a decision that was made by the couple, although I don't remember who did make it. Everyone spent a lot of time chanting out loud while dancing barefoot in a concrete floored building, which, although I was still young and strong enough that health problems seemed like something that happened to other people, struck me as a really bad idea. The residents ate in yet another building which, because people were constantly coming in and going out, was full of flies. Hare Krishnas won't kill anything, so there was no way to keep the flies off their food, which bothered me considerably more than the barefoot dancing because I was eating the same food. 

The people repeated their sixteen word chant (mostly under their breath) over a thousand times a day (I forget the exact number), which meant that they spent nearly all day everyday chanting, no matter what else they were doing or who they were talking to. One other thing that stands out in my memory is that some of the men slept on the wooden floor beside their beds as a form of devotion, perhaps of penance. My only complaint was that everyone seemed somehow distant. Maybe it was because I was an outsider; maybe it was because of the number of visitors who went through the place; or maybe it was just due to the necessity of having to chant while talking.

A few years later, while Peggy and I were on one of our six week camping trips, we visited the big Hare Krishna temple near Moundsville, West Virginia. Construction was still in progress, and despite the fact that the work was being done by people with no building experience, the temple was beautiful. CBS reported, "The magnificence of the Palace of Gold would be hard to exaggerate." Life Magazine called it "a place where tourists can come and be amazed." The New York Times exclaimed "Welcome to Heaven," and The Courier-Journal of Louisville enthused, "It's hard to believe that Prabhupada's Palace is in West Virginia. In fact, it's hard to believe it's on this planet." The builders attributed the success of their work to "Krishna Consciousness."

We unknowingly arrived at the height of a festival, so there were, perhaps, a thousand people camped around the palace, which resulted in a fair amount of mud. Their guru, Swami Prabhupada, had died in 1977, but they tried to retain him as a living presence by venerating a life-size wax effigy. This effigy had its own "living quarters" and was treated as if it were alive. The devotees would gather before it and listen to Prabhupada's speeches while a couple of people gently fanned flies away from its face.

On our first night, one of the Krishnas knocked on the door of our Datsun truck camper and asked to borrow a flashlight, which he never returned. The theft added to my suspicion that America's Krishnas regarded people outside their group as fair game for exploitation. No one can denounce every aspect of their own culture (except its language) by the way they look, act, and think without harboring a hatred of that culture and, by extension, its people. I was also bothered by their practice of sticking flowers in strangers' shirt pockets at airports and on street corners, and then asking for a donation. Finally, I noted that their four "regulative principals" (no gambling, no intoxicants, no meat eating, and no illicit sex) were all expressed as negatives and made no mention of honesty or compassion, at least in regard to humans.  

We camped for two nights, ate with the Krishnas, and went away glad that we didn't have to eat their strangely spiced vegan food all the time. We were happy we had visited but even happier to escape the crowds and mud, yet our happiness was nothing compared to that of our little schnauzer, Wendy, who was SO glad to leave that it was comical. Her emotions had ranged from ill at ease to scared silly the whole time, leaving us to wonder if it was the ambiance of the place or the mixture of body odors and cooking odors that bothered her.

I chose the following recording of "My Sweet Lord" despite the relatively poor sound quality and the fact that it cuts off the chanting at the end. I did so because the photos indicate that the song wasn't just a fleeting appropriation of a religion, but that "Krishna Consciousness" was an important part of George Harrison's life (in one interview he talked about how high he got from chanting Hare Krishna three days running). George died of lung cancer at age 58. He was a gentle and sensitive man.

Kanye the Shelter Dog

If a being that is all powerful, all knowing, and all compassionate exists, whence came such misery, but if it doesn't, why worship it?

My first church held to a literal interpretation of the Biblical account in which God made the world perfect. The first two humans were innocent of the knowledge of right and wrong, and it was to them that God gave the very first thou shalt not. As soon as these childlike humans were tempted by Satan, they disobeyed God, and God was forced by his perfect sense of justice (God's inviolable virtues are often in unavoidable conflict) to place an everlasting curse upon all of his living creation and their descendants forever. Everything that is painful in any creature's life is attributable to that curse. When, as pubescent, I argued that this was unfair, I was told that that my human sense of fairness was flawed; that God's sense of fairness is perfect; that I was never to question or doubt God; and that I was to "live a Godly life" (whatever that means).

Because I found it impossible to accept what I was told about God, I often asked other people how they explained suffering. Some said that we couldn't appreciate health and happiness unless we were exposed to disease and misery (why we couldn't, they couldn't say), and this meant that God had to make the world imperfect. I then wondered how a perfect God managed to get himself boxed into a corner from which he was forced to create imperfection in order to achieve his goal; why there has to be so much suffering; and why the suffering is unevenly distributed. I was told that some people suffer more than others because they are too proud and stubborn to ask to God for relief, yet I've known people who begged God for relief without getting it.

I was also told that it's our responsibility to end suffering, because it's not God who failed us but us who failed God, but how was it that we, the perfect creation of a perfect being, were able to choose imperfection, and what of creatures like babies and puppies that don't even know what the word means; would a God of perfect justice allow them to suffer? It's also true that even if millions upon millions of we humans worked together, we couldn't possibly end all of the misery inflicted by our species, and then there's the evil that's not inflicted by our species, things like tornadoes, earthquakes, cancers, Alzheimer's, birth defects, mosquitoes, freak accidents, mental illness, and so on.

I was often told that I "think too much" or that I "ask too many questions," but I could easily turn the criticism back upon my critics by arguing that the main problem with religion comes from thinking that one knows everything that's necessary to know about God despite being unable to answer even the most basic questions. Religious people form their beliefs based upon what someone else says is true, and they commonly persecute anyone who disagrees with what that someone else says (or at least with what they think he says), but why should they believe this someone else in the first place? There's a hymn that goes, "Trust and obey for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey," but if the existence of the very being that forms the foundation of a person's trust can't be substantiated, why have "faith" in Jesus instead of in some other god? 

Yet another "answer" regarding why a good God runs a bad world is that God really isn't all powerful, so he needs our help in making the world safe and happy. Really!? The God who made more galaxies than there are earthly particles of sand needs our help to make one little planet a fit place to live? Couldn't he at least put an end to some of the most obvious sources of suffering? For instance, he could remove the earth's entire stock of explosives, or he could make it so would be murderers would feel faint when they tried to hurt someone.

Look at it this way, when God made Adam and Eve, he walked in the Garden with them "in the cool of the day" (paradise being hot the rest of the time), and they knew him face-to-face as a friend, yet they chose Satan over him, so if he couldn't make a relationship work between himself and the world's first two humans back when he had everything going for him, how can he make it work for billions of people now that he's nowhere to be found, and when a big problem for those billions of people is that millions of them want to kill one another because of him? Couldn't he at least tell us all how he wants to be worshiped?

I regard earthly reality as an ocean of greed and hatred interspersed by islands of goodwill, like the one in the video. I'm told that ours is a back-forty solar system in a second rate galaxy amid billions of other galaxies, so maybe we are ruled over by a back-forty god who lives in fear of being judged by his betters. When I see a puppy screaming in terror before a loving hand, I have no choice but to deny the existence of any being that is worthy of being called God. Puppies deserve to be safe, happy, and loved, and if God can't even get that right, what can he get right?

I commit the unpardonable sin

Unofficial Motto of the Church of Christ
Some basics: The fundamentalist Church of Christ is congregationally ruled, and its beliefs and practices differ by time and location. The following is based upon my experiences in Mississippi and Georgia during the 1950s and '60s, places in which my father's father and his father had been preachers. 

The churches of my boyhood: (1) regarded the Church of Christ as the "one true church" and explained its actual 19th century origin as a resurfacing following two millennia of persecution; (2) boasted of having no written statement of faith; (3) held that salvation was through a combination of faith and works; (4) believed that members of other churches and religions were destined for eternal agony; (5) practiced baptism by immersion; (6) forbade women preachers and (in Mississippi) women Sunday school teachers and announcement makers; (7) celebrated "the Lord's Supper" every Sunday; (8) boasted of studying "the Bible only" rather than books about the Bible; (9) taught that "the way of salvation is so simple that even a child can understand it;" (10) held that all doctrinal mistakes come from willful disobedience and doom the person who makes them to hell

(11) regarded political involvement as un-Christian; (12) held that all lawyers are hell-bound liars; (13) disapproved of Masonry and other secret organizations; (14) believed that divorced people who remarry commit adultery; (15) denied the intellectual reality of atheism ("The fool hath said in his heart that there is no God);" (16) regarded instrumental music during worship services as sinful (people weren't even allowed to bring a piano into the church for a wedding for fear non-church attendees might think the church used musical instruments all the time); (17) denounced Christmas as a "pagan holiday;" (18) kept no membership roles because only God knows who is and isn't a member of his church and; (19) kept no tithing roles because the promise of future income would eliminate the necessity of faith; (20) believed that sincere seekers of God in all places and at all times would be led by God to a Church of Christ; (21) Churches of Christ that disagreed with other Churches of Christ claimed that these other churches were "false churches" and were therefore doomed to hell; (22) some churches forbade the use of more than one glass for communion because when he instituted "the Lord's Supper," Christ said "this cup" rather than "these cups."

Although people (ourselves included) commonly referred to our church as the Church of Christ, its official name was given in the plural because that's how it appears in the Bible. This meant that instead of saying, "I belong to Johnson Grove Church of Christ," I was supposed to say, "I belong to Johnson Grove Churches of Christ." Another example of literalism turned fanaticism comes from the occasional ministerial debates I heard that ran along the following line and that, coincidentally, related to my own history. To whit: the Bible says that a person has to be baptized to be saved; when I was twelve, I asked to be baptized during a revival at a church without a baptistry; I was taken to another church for baptism. 

The debate question was this: if someone dies in a wreck on the way to be baptized, will he go to heaven or hell? The invariable conclusion was that he would go to hell because he failed to meet one of the requirements of salvation. Small wonder that even the literalistic Southern Baptists considered the Church of Christ nutty, not that we cared about their opinion because they weren't even Christians in our view.

The most painful event of my boyhood occurred one day when I was thirteen and running my paper route. I had been struggling for two years to hold onto my faith, and in exasperation, I said to God at a spot in the street that I still remember, "I don't know how you can expect me to trust you when you failed your own son" (as he hung on the cross, Christ had uttered, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"). I don't know how many seconds passed before it occurred to me that I might have committed the unpardonable sin (a sin that is mentioned in the Bible but, strange to say, never defined), but I lived in terror for years.

The prospect of telling anyone what I had done seemed unthinkable, yet I became so desperate for reassurance that, a few years later, I went to the country home of Bro Buford Stewart (we called our preachers Brother because the Bible didn't authorize the word reverend) the man who baptized me. Once there, my courage failed, so I suffered for several more years until I had so little remaining faith that I stopped worrying and started hating. First, I hated the Church of Christ for the needless pain I had endured because I trusted it; I hated the people who abandoned me when I left the church; and I hated the deity that it represented, not because I still believed in him, but because of how much I had suffered because of what I had been told about him. From my earliest memory, I had been made to feel so afraid of God that I would sometimes hide under the bed in tearful terror after a "fire and brimstone" sermon (something that the Church of Christ was big on), and I now concluded that this made me a victim of emotional abuse.

Some men my age remember the War in Vietnam--I remember living in daily fear of eternal hell. I have been told that, had I grown up with a kindly image of God in some other church, I wouldn't have become an atheist, but all churches worship a deity that is depicted as all-powerful and all-loving yet one that created an imperfect world and that continues to remain passive in the face of an infinity of suffering and death, much of it committed in his name. Even if a deity should exist, I believe that we commit an act of cowardice and even immorality when we profess to love him for "sending his only begotten son to die for our sins," when it is he who is in need of our forgiveness. We might as well whitewash shit and serve it up as bread.

On Sex, a Personal Perspective

Bower Bird Artistry
The recent news regarding men who sexually degrade women has led many women to express the belief that all, or nearly all, men are guilty of at least wanting to engage in sexual aggression; sexual aggression doesn't deserve to be understood; the only way to end sexual aggression is to shame, sue, and criminalize bad behavior. Furthermore, all sexual aggression is the same, so any man who dares to suggest that,  

There’s a difference between patting someone on the butt and rape (a paraphrase of Matt Damon)  

Is unqualified to judge such things by reasons of his maleness, so all men should keep quiet and listen for once (a paraphrase of Minnie Driver). 

Man that I am, keeping quiet is not one of the things I do best, so I'm going to write about my own sexual history and the beliefs regarding women that led to my behavior.

My earliest memory is of wanting to sleep beside the wife of a visiting cousin when I was, I suppose, three or four. I thought the woman was more than human and that she was drawing me irresistibly to her. I believed she knew everything about me, and that she had given her silent consent for us to sleep together. When my mother said it was time for me to go to bed, I was pulled from the woman's lap screaming amid adult laughter. I have often felt a similar heartache regarding my relationships with women. 

During my adolescent years, my sexual naiveté was endless. For example, I must have been fourteen before I discovered that vaginas existed. That same year, I called a friend one night to ask what the word fuck meant. He said I was supposed to already know, so I hung-up wondering if he knew.

When I was fourteen or fifteen, three male friends and I went on a camping trip together. They knew one another better than I knew them, and they wanted us to pair-up for sex. I saw the prospect as an exotic lark, but when Dennis tried to stick his penis up my ass, I tightened my buttocks until he gave up. I might have been the only straight kid in school who knew who many of the queers were, because even the ones who intuited that I was straight trusted me with their secret. I often wished that I was gay because men can understand men in a way that women can't.

All but one of the girls I dated in high school wanted to have sex with me, but I demurred because I was in abject terror of getting them pregnant, none of them being on the pill, and me not trusting condoms. 

I imagined that girls had all the power in relationships, yet I began to feel sorry for them one day in the school cafeteria while watching my friends repeatedly drop their forks on the floor so that they could stick their heads under the table and "shoot squirrels." Poor student that I was, I wouldn't have known the word dehumanizing, but that's how I felt, and when they went on to talk about girls as if they were objects that boys needed yet hated, my sympathy increased. If a boy talked tough about girls, I figured he was tough, it never occurring to me that he might have been hiding his vulnerability. It did occur to me that anyone who hated girls was doomed to being unhappy and causing unhappiness.

I lost my virginity at age twenty-two to a contraceptive-taking college girl named Judy. Judy was only fairly attractive, but there she was; there I was; and the sex felt good. I think she gave me hepatitis, but the blood test for the disease was inconclusive in 1971, and later blood tests didn't contain the expected markers. I lost thirty pounds, ran a low grade fever, and felt so fatigued that I had to quit my first teaching job. When I turned yellow, my doctor put me in the hospital where I got well on my own.

I only behaved with sexual aggression once, and that was in 1970 or '71 when I took a new acquaintance on a picnic. I was, in a manner of speaking, was "all over her." When she went from discomfort to fear, I stopped. Because I regarded attractive women as demigods (I had no such illusions about homely women), I not only treated them well, I was afraid of them. I felt like a male bower bird who knocks himself out to impress females, while said females stand to one side and pass judgment on his existence. I would guess that a lot of male anger toward females is inspired by the fact that our self-worth comes from winning the approval of females, yet the games we are obliged to play to win their approval robs us of self-worth. 

As for my deficits, I was handsome but not memorably so, and although my personality was pleasing, people didn't seek me out. I wouldn't have spent money conspicuously even if I had been rich, nor would I have been interested in women who valued conspicuous spending. As for assets, I possessed depth, sensitivity, intellectual leanings, and a college education. I also preferred the company of women to that of men. When a female co-worker said, "You really like women, and not many men do," I couldn't imagine what there was to dislike.

If I thought a woman's eyes contained kindness, depth, wisdom, and sadness (sad women made me feel protective and therefore safe), I was capable of investing their owner with all manner of virtues. The trait that attracted me most was the one that I found in Peggy, which was gentle modesty, while the one that bothered me most was what I interpreted as an effort to present oneself as sexually available by wearing tight clothes, string bikinis, heavy makeup, low necklines, exposing one's midriff, and so on. Despite the fact that I was promiscuous for much of my adult life, I regarded the appearance of promiscuity as being like a sign that read, "All I'm good for is fucking." Other turn-offs were women who were loud, vulgar, mercenary, incurious, unintelligent, or fur clad. I regarded the Playboy models as interchangeable from the neck down and as near as Hugh Hefner could make them from the neck up. While I was willing to have sex with women I didn't like, sex was all I was willing to have with them.

Because I valued emotionally honest women, I tried to present myself as emotionally honest even if I had to lie. If a woman preferred a man who could cry, I could cry. If she wanted poetry, I could write poetry. If she asked for my complete acceptance, I would feign complete acceptance even if it meant telling a potty mouth that I preferred profane women, or a smoker that I was okay with kisses that tasted like a dirty ash tray. My combination of lust and adoration were such that whatever a woman honestly wanted, I could fool myself into honestly giving, at least until we had sex, after which I sometimes lost all interest in her.

I regarded physical intimacy as inseparable from emotional intimacy, but also as something that needed to be gotten out of the way before emotional intimacy could occur. I suspect that most men would prefer to get to know a woman by fucking first and talking later, the desire for sex being like the need to scratch an itch

I used to feel sorry for older men because I didn't believe that younger women could want them for anything other than their money, so I'm now happy to find that this older man has no interest in younger women--or in older women for that matter--for sex. I've gone from being unable to walk a city block without being repeatedly aroused to regarding few women as beautiful, and even those few don't strongly affect me. If I could choose between a gift subscription to a porn magazine or to a magazine about cats, I would take the one about cats.

I've gone from thinking that permanent bliss could only be attained through women (I was vague about how many women this would require) to realizing that my pursuit of women was like a collapsed bridge that separated me from bliss. Thomas Moore wrote the following over 200 years ago, not about women, but about the obsessive pursuit of women. When I first read Moore's poem (of which the following is a fragment) decades ago, I thought he was engaging in wishful thinking, the reason being that I regarded women as the sea and men as tiny boats that the sea is free to toss about and sometimes destroy.

"The time I’ve lost in wooing,
In watching and pursuing
The light, that lies
In woman’s eyes,
Has been my heart’s undoing.
Though Wisdom oft has sought me,
I scorn’d the lore she brought me,
My only books
Were woman’s looks,
And folly’s all they’ve taught me.

As for sex itself, I thought of the vagina as something that had the power to draw me unto itself whether I willed it or not, or whether I was granted access or not. I have come to realize that this attitude is not a given among men, with some men even abhorring the thought of a union that I regarded as an act of worship, an act that could lift me to the heavens, if only for a moment. The following is Hjalmar Söderberg's expression of a view wholly unlike my own:

"Why must the life of our species be preserved and our longing stilled by means of an organ that we use several times a day as a drain for impurities; why couldn't it be done by means of some act composed of dignity and beauty, as well as of the highest voluptuousness? An action which could be carried out in church, before the eyes of all, just as well as in darkness and solitude? Or in a temple of roses, in the eye of the sun, to the chanting of choirs and a dance of wedding guests."
from Dr. Glas, circa 1905

Indeed, why couldn't it? I elevated to the heavens an act full of sweat, odors, cries, screams, grunts, and squirming, an act also conducted by hogs in filth. I imagined that the gender that brought life into the world could somehow preserve my own life although it can't even save itself. Even when I claimed to worship Jesus, I would have urinated on the Bible in exchange for sex with any one of innumerable women that I mistook for goddesses. I now regard my behavior as degrading, yet if my hormones were to rage now as they raged then, I doubt that I would behave any better.

Putting all that aside, a man is not a hog and, for better and worse, we presumably bring more than a hog to the act of sex and all that surrounds it. I will quote again from Söderberg, only this time, instead of teaching me things that I had only dimly considered, he's reminding me of decades spent longing to be saved while also longing to save:

"...we know so little about one another. We embrace a shadow and love a dream... But I'm alone and the moon is shining, and I long for a woman. I could be tempted to go over to the window and call her up, she who is sitting down there alone on the bench, waiting for someone who doesn't come. I have port wine and brandy and beer and good food and the bed has been made. Wouldn't it be heaven...?"

A New Kitty

Sage's Cage Card
We agreed that three cats were enough. Then we made the mistake of looking at the kitties at PetSmart nine days ago just for fun. We had done the same thing after agreeing that two cats were enough, and the result of that visit had been Scully. 

I encouraged Peggy to get Sage, and after thinking about him continually for two days, she did. Scully's adoption had been more interesting in that after Peggy fell in love with her but declined to adopt her, we went across the street to Costco to grocery shop. While there, I asked Peggy if she was sure she didn't want Scully, to which she responded, "Go get her." Upon hearing these words, I ran from the store, only getting to PetSmart a minute ahead of another person who wanted her. Peggy later said that she had been joking about getting Scully and had thought I was too.

The Back of Sage's Cage Card
If you have other cats, you're supposed to keep your new cat isolated for a few days until the cats you already have get used to his presence. Meanwhile, you're supposed to take items that the cats have touched back and forth so the cats can smell one another. When we did this with Smokie (a cat we kept for a few weeks until his new owner could get him), and our cat Brewsky hated him anyway, we decided to ignore the isolation advice when we adopted our second cat, Ollie. When Brewsky immediately started bathing Ollie, we knew we had done right, so we did the same thing when we go Scully. Scully hissed at Brewsky and Ollie for about an hour, but after that they were friends, so we again concluded that we had done right.

So we did the same thing with Sage (a week ago today), only to watch in horror as Brewsky stomped about hissing, not only at Sage but at Ollie and Scully. By the next day, things had calmed down. Scully and Sage are now playmates and Scully is bathing Sage. As for Brewsky, he's somewhere tween rejection and acceptance. Ollie is still hissing, but only when Sage gets really close to him.

An acquaintance of mine asked me why we would pay $120 for a cat when we could have gotten one for free off Craigslist. The question reminded me of why I dislike the man who asked it. I told him that the money got us a cat that had been socialized in foster care, had received its shots, been neutered, been treated for parasites, and came with a free vet visit. Most importantly, we were supporting people who are doing their best to make the world better for cats, to which end they reserve the right to visit your home and require that the cat be indoor-only. They also ask: what you would do if the cat needed $2,000 worth of veterinary care; how long each day the cat will be alone; what you will do with the cat if you move; and other questions that people like my interrogator would consider intrusive.*

I didn't say, but wish I had, that I don't even want to look into the face of people who only have kittens to get rid of because they're too callous and irresponsible to have their cats spayed and neutered. I didn't say this because my questioner had just told me of taking a box of fourteen kittens to work and leaving them outside his door. All he knew of their fate was that they were gone at the end of the day, and that was good enough for him. I hate people like that, yet they're the kind of people who rescue groups are forced to interact with for the good of their cats.

I admire no one on earth more than I admire people who help animals that have no voice with which to praise them and no arms with which to give them plaques and trophies. I often feel guilty that I'm not such a person. The author of Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion argues that too much empathy is the enemy of compassion. His says is that when a person identifies too strongly with the victims of the world, it makes him so miserable when he tries to help those victims that he can't keep it up. This, I believe, is true of me. Maybe it's also an excuse. For what it's worth, I try to be a really good pet owner. I look at our new kitty, and I ponder the fact that all in the money in the world couldn't create such a miracle, yet millions of his kin die needlessly each year because of people like my questioner. Peggy and I had the same furnace technician out three times this year, and on his second visit, he told us that when he dies, he hopes to come back as one of our cats. Aside from Peggy telling me that she loves me, it was the nicest thing anyone ever said to me.

*Please visit my friend Strayer at

I find myself in a quandary

Peggy is going to have back surgery for two slipped lumbar disks and one extrusion (the inside of the disk is being squeezed out of the disk). It's her third surgery ever (I'm up to around twenty), and the other two weren't as scary.

Peggy's back started hurting her out of the blue two months ago, but she wouldn't go to the doctor until she was fighting back tears. Then came an MRI, steroids, and a two week wait to see a surgeon (Carmina Angeles). I told Carmina that I knew Peggy to be in a lot of pain because Peggy is in the habit of hiding her pain, but she has been unable to hide this. Carmina said she's seen grown men cry and grown women crawl into her office begging for surgery when their MRIs looked like Peggy's.

Peggy has a friend named W___ who has been in love with her for at least two decades. W___ and I were good friends for years, but when his last marriage failed (he's had five failed relationships in the thirty years we've known him, two of which were marriages), he no longer wanted to be around me. He wouldn't say why, but I suspected that it was because he saw me as a barrier between him and Peggy. I suspected this strongly enough that I wouldn't have stood between him and a cliff-top, yet I couldn't be certain that I was right. When I had my knee replacement last August, he stayed at the hospital for every waking moment (of the three days) that he wasn't at work, and he treated me so lovingly that I came to trust that he wanted to be friends again. When I got out of the hospital and he ignored me completely, I felt hurt and pressed (over three emails) for an explanation. After my third email, he responded with but one word ("Stop"), and I concluded that he hadn't spent all those hours at the hospital in order to support me but rather to support Peggy. 

Now that it's Peggy's turn to go into the hospital, I anticipate him wanting to stay with her. I told her that I wouldn't be comfortable with that, and she said that: (1) his welcome would be contingent upon him apologizing for that email; and (2) she won't tell him that she expects such an apology unless he says that he intends to come to the hospital. In other words, she's unwilling to broach the subject of him coming to the hospital, but if he broaches it, she won't demand that he answer my question, but she will demand that he apologize to me for his response. Such an apology wouldn't mean squat to me because all I would take from it would be that W___ was willing to fake an apology in order to stay at the hospital with Peggy. My best guess is that he will either not bring up the subject of coming to the hospital and afterwards not come, or that he will show-up unannounced.

Peggy doesn't plan to tell him when she's going to the hospital in order to avoid the latter scenario, but I'm confident that he will be able to figure it out. If he should simply show up, I'll just bear it the best I can because it certainly wouldn't be a good time for a row, and because I wouldn't see it as my right to tell him to leave. For Peggy's sake, I can but hope he won't come, and this makes me wonder if she's doing right by not telling him upfront what she expects of him if he wants to come. She could, of course, ask the hospital to withhold her room number, but what a sad commentary that would be upon their friendship. In fact, it would be such a sad commentary that it would suggest--to me--that their friendship was damned near dead.

But regardless of what Peggy does, here's my problem: should I try to put aside my feelings, and tell Peggy that I would be okay with him coming to the hospital without offering an apology since his apology would be meaningless to me? While I wouldn't anticipate her changing her mind about demanding that he apologize, this isn't about what she says to him, but about what I say to her. My thought is that, if out of love for her, I were able to put aside my feelings, it might at the very least alleviate some of the tension she must be feeling given that she cares deeply for W___, and that, if circumstances were different, having him there would mean a lot to her. 


Peggy and I hadn't talked about this post until just now (two days after it was put online). She said that I seem to have misunderstood her in that, even if I said it was okay for W___ to come to the hospital, she wouldn't want him there unless he apologized to me because she recognizes that his presence would (1) cause me unhappiness, and (2) would make it harder for me to be emotionally present for her. She was also concerned that my post might be interpreted as portraying her as being on the fence about whom she wants to be her life's partner, although she is firm in her commitment to me alone.