“Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but . . . life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” ~ Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

“Mother Playing with Child” (ca 1897)
Mary Cassatt

                   

“Human lives are not pieces of string that can be separated out from a knot of others and laid out straight.  Families are webs.  Impossible to touch one part of it without setting the rest vibrating.  Impossible to understand one part without having a sense of the whole.”  ~ Diane Setterfield, from The Thirteenth Tale

Friday afternoon. High 90’s, heat index over 100.

Sitting here in the labor and delivery with Alexis, Mike, and Corey. My mother has wandered off to find some food. So far, we’re going on 25 hours. Lex and Mike got her around 2 yesterday afternoon, and Corey and I came around 4:30 after picking up Brett from campus.

I know that I predicted the 8th, but this is good too. Actually, for a while, she had her doctor, who was on call. Now, the next doctor is on call. So this is what’s going on so far: Her water broke around 10 yesterday morning, but she wasn’t sure if that was what was happening, so she called her friend Katie (who has two daughters), and Katie came over, confirmed the broken water, and helped to calm her enough to focus on getting ready for the hospital.

I told Lex that she had time to take a shower and pack her bag. The same thing happened when I was pregnant with her—my water broke at 11 at night, but I didn’t start having real contractions until 7 in the morning.

Anyway, she wasn’t really progressing, so the decision was made to give her pitocin early this morning to try to get things moving.

“It’s a secondhand world we’re born into. What is novel to us is only so because we’re newborn, and what we cannot see, that has come before—what our parents have seen and been and done—are the hand-me-downs we begin to wear as swaddling clothes, even as we ourselves are naked. The flaw runs through us, implicating us in its imperfection even as it separates us, delivers us onto opposite sides of a chasm. It is both terribly beautiful and terribly sad, but it is, finally, the fault in the universe that gives birth to us all.” ~ Katherine Min, from Secondhand World

I had planned to spend the night here so that I wouldn’t have to get up in the middle of the night and drive should the need arise, but I found out (after Corey had left for home) that only one person can spend the night in the room with the patient, and the waiting room chairs were impossible to get into any comfortable position.

I called Corey (my ever-patient, every-accommodating spouse), and asked him to come and get me around 1:30 a.m.. I didn’t realize how tired I was until I fell sound asleep in the car on the short ride home. Got home and crawled into bed without washing my face or anything. Got up at 6 a.m. and hit McD’s on the way back to the hospital.

When I walked into the room, I could tell that Alexis was definitely feeling worse, so I suggested that she ask for her epidural, but when the nurse asked her what her pain level was, Lex replied about a 3 or 4. I knew that she wasn’t sure how to gauge her pain level, so she looked at the smiley-face chart, and realized that she was at a level 6, at least.

Okee dokee. Time for that epidural.

“One great question underlies our experience, whether we think about it or not: what is the purpose of life? From the moment of birth every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affects this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment. Therefore, it is important to discover what will bring about the greatest degree of happiness” ~ The Dalai Lama

I know that she was a bit apprehensive about someone sticking something in her spinal column (who wouldn’t be?), but the nurse anesthetist was really good, and the epidural was inserted without any problems.

She began to feel much better, and her contractions were coming about two minutes apart. Then they stopped the pitocin . . . not so good. Contractions decreased to a snail’s crawl, and progress halted.

On and off there were naps. Mike went home this morning, and Lex and I tried to nap, but my mother called and woke me up just as I was drifting off. So much for sleep for me.

Anyway, the last few hours have crawled by. Lex’s friend Jennifer dropped in to say hello (she had been in the ER for some unexplained pain), and then my mother showed up. I had kept her at bay for as long as I could, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hold her off forever. Since everything has slowed down again, I’m trying to convince mom to go home and rest while Mike and Lex take naps. So far, it’s not working . . .

“There is divine beauty in learning . . . To learn means to accept the postulate that life did not begin at my birth.  Others have been here before me, and I walk in their footsteps.  The books I have read were composed by generations of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, teachers and disciples.  I am the sum total of their experiences, their quests.  And so are you.” ~ Elie Wiesel

So here we all sit. I’m on Mike’s laptop. I just had a little cleaning spree in the room, getting everything into place, organizing the few things that I can organize.

Actually, after the 4th of July, I should have suspected that Alexis might go into labor. We both spent the day doing lots of things: laundry, making lists, working on the Rodeo (that would be Mike there), and other stuff. Lots of nesting going on.

I really felt bad because I had thought that I had everything all set for the work on the Rodeo. I had ordered all of the parts, had them in a box, and told Mike that he could do as little or as much as he wanted to do on the Rodeo. Turns out, I had bought rear shocks but not front shocks. I bought the wrong kind of brakes for the rear. And I ordered spark plug wires for a vehicle that does not use wires but uses some exorbitantly pricey tube thingies (the precise term escapes me at the moment as my mother is talking to me while eating Fritos as I try to type).

Anyway, Mike ended up working over eight hours on the Rodeo, with breaks in between while Corey switched the parts for the right parts, bought new brake cylinders to replace the ones that blew when Mike put on the new pads . . . of course, would expect nothing less.

“We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from the another’s vantage point. As if new, it may still take our breath away. Come . . . dry your eyes. For you are life, rarer than a quark and unpredictable beyond the dreams of Heisenberg; the clay in which the forces that shape all things leave their fingerprints most clearly.” ~ Alan Moore, from Watchmen

So, here we are. Last check, Alexis is ready to go—doctor says she should be ready to push soon. So waiting, but productive waiting. I managed to get mom to go home for a couple of hours, and the atmosphere in the room calmed. It’s probably mostly me and how she sets me off without even trying.

Sorry. I try, really I do, but it just never works.

We’re as ready as we’re going to be, all of us. Corey and I took the cradle over yesterday and put it in the apartment. Mike has the car seat in Alexis’s car. I brought a cotton robe that Lex’s grandmother made for me when I was in the hospital with Brett. I thought that she might want to wear it post partum while she’s in the hospital (which will only be about 24 hours after delivery).

The puppy is having a sleep over at Aunt Ann’s with all of her dogs and cats and various other animals. Mike went out and bought a beautiful baby book today, and Alexis and I made some notes about the last 24 hours to add to the book later, better now while everything was still fresh in our minds.

Like I said, as ready as we’ll ever be.

I know that today’s quotes are quite long, but I thought that they were appropriate, and I liked them, and didn’t really want to shorten them.

I’ll report tomorrow on how this evening goes. Keep a good thought.

More later. Peace.

*Sorry. No poem today and only one image. We’re connected to the hospital Internet, and it doesn’t like visits to image sites, might be cruising for porn or something.

Music by Ben Harper, “Happily Ever After In Your Eyes,” the lullaby that he wrote especially for Heath Ledger’s daughter:

                   

Late addition:

Training

I’m thinking of living forever.
I think that way I might finally
get my gig straight and solve the crosswords.
I’m considering outlasting everyone
although I know I’d have a hard time
explaining not having read Ulysses
past the first chapter.
I don’t care if death smells like nutmeg.
I don’t buy the plotline on eternal rest.
By staying alive someday
I might manage to hail a taxi,
and fulfill my father’s wish
of reaching town without a red light.
I couldn’t expect to avoid anger or brooding
or to make the journey with my beasts appeased.
But I might walk vast expanses
of earth and always be beginning
and I love beginning
or could learn
to love it.

~ Sarah J. Sloat

linebreak

Peace has to be created, in order to be maintained. It is the product of Faith, Strength, Energy, Will, Sympathy, Justice, Imagination, and the triumph of principle. It will never be achieved by passivity and quietism.” ~ Dorothy Thompson

Barack Obama 10-2009

President Barack Obama, Winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize

Manners people, please! 

“Manners are of more importance than laws . . . Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt  or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in.” ~ Edmund Burke

Sometimes, I really think that I must be living in some kind of fairy tale world, one in which individuals treat each other with respect, one in which the office of the President of the United States still commands respect, one in which the failures of a nation, as in the ability to secure hosting of the Olympics, would not be turned into a sabre-rattling challenge of President Obama’s abilities as Chief Executive.

I also believe that puppy dogs are cute, oatmeal is good for you, a flat tax is the only fair way in which to tax people, national healthcare is a good thing, Asian horror movies are better than English-language horror movies, cotton candy is only good for the first half of the cone, and you don’t yell out of turn on national television during a presidential address. You wait until a maroon from Fox News asks you what you think, and then you open your mouth and let the drivel pour forth.

I know, my liberal bias is showing. But not really. See, if by some strange stretch of the imagination W. had won the Nobel Peace Prize, I would have been amazed, dumbfounded even, but I still would have considered it one in the bonus slot for the country. That’s just how I am: I may not respect the man, but I do respect the office. And I’m pretty sure that I didn’t coin that phrase, that someone years ago came up with it first.

american_flag I would think, given that I consider myself to be pretty patriotic, that having the President of the United States win the Nobel Peace Prize would be a cause for celebration, elation, and a groundswell of that old proud to be an American feeling. But once again, I find myself to be hopelessly clueless in daring to consider such nonsense.

Apparently, there is a group of people out there—composed of both liberals and conservatives—who do not believe that President Obama deserves the much-honored prize because he “hasn’t really done anything.”

According to one article that I read, Erick Erickson of the conservative RedState.com contends that the President won in part because he is black:

“I did not realize the Nobel Peace Prize had an affirmative action quota for it, but that is the only thing I can think of for this news,” Erickson wrote. “There is no way Barack Obama earned it in the nominations period.”

That is just a vile and ignorant thing to say, and I am not going to lower myself to respond because my blog might get censored.

Fortunately, some Republicans were more gracious. Senator John McCain commented in the same article, saying that while he “could not divine the Nobel committee’s intentions,” he did think that “part of their decision-making was expectations.”  McCain said that he was certain that the “the president understands that he now has even more to live up to. But as Americans, we’re proud when our president receives an award of that prestigious category.”

Look, I will admit, as I have done before, that Obama has failed his supporters on some promises. But at the same time, I try to remember that it is only his first year, not even a year actually, and it takes time to get things done in Washington, D.C. I’m still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that he follows through on more campaign promises than he lets fall by the wayside.

Having said that, I would like to point out that this is a pretty big deal, folks. Only two other sitting presidents have been awarded the very illustrious Nobel Peace Prize: Woodrow Wilson won in 1919, predominantly for the formation of the League of Nations, and before him, Theodore Roosevelt won in 1906 for his role in helping to end the Russo-Japanese War.

peace-earthSince its inception in 1901, Alfred Nobel’s Peace Prize has been awarded to 96 individuals and 23 organizations, including ex-secretaries of state, journalists, priests, writers, ambassadors, professors, the 14th Dalai Lama, the International Red Cross, Amnesty International, and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, to name but a few. All with differing backgrounds, viewpoints, countries of origin, and accomplishments.

President Obama may not be the man you cast your vote for in November, but he is the man who holds the Oval Office, and the naysayers should remember that regardless of their politics, the person in the Oval Office is due the respect of this country’s citizenry.  Winning a peace prize of the calier of the renowned Nobel brings with it a great history of tradition and enormous recognition. Not to mention that it could go a long way in enabling the POTUS to mend international fences after years of eroding relationships with many countries around the world.

No, he hasn’t ended any wars. No, he hasn’t brokered any peaces between nations as President Carter did between Egypt and Israel. But by awarding him this prize, the  Nobel committee gave President Obama a show of support for his policies, for his far-reaching vision regarding diplomacy, and for his hopes for a brighter future for the citizens of the world. 

Let us stop to consider those reasons for a moment, shall we? If the reasoning behind the award is the belief in a man for what he may be able to do for people, a desire to show support for this man’s values, then that is quite a statement. A reflection, if you will, of not just mine, or hers, or my friend’s  or sons’ desires, but a desire on the part of the world’s citizens to make tangible strides towards stopping the leaks before the entire ship Mother Earth has to be scuttled.

 I, for one, am still willing to believe.

“We should take care, in inculcating patriotism into our boys and girls, that is a patriotism above the narrow sentiment which usually stops at one’s country, and thus inspires jealousy and enmity in dealing with others . . . Our patriotism should be of the wider, nobler kind which recognises justice and reasonableness in the claims of others and which lead our country into comradeship with . . . the other nations of the world.” ~ Lord Baden-Powell

peace activist posterIn case you would like to know more about why, I have included the entire text of the committee’s announcement:

OSLO — Following is the text of the announcement Friday by the Norwegian Nobel Committee giving the Nobel Peace Prize to U.S. President Barack Obama taken from the National Post:

“The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

“Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

“Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.

“For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world’s leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama’s appeal that “Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.”

Now, more than ever, Peace.

 

The world will note and long remember what was said and done there

Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others they send forth a ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples built a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” ~ Robert Kennedy

Man in front of Tanks Tiananmen

  The Tank Man of Tiananmen Square

“Be isolated, be ignored, be attacked, be in doubt, be frightened, but do not be silenced.” ~ Bertrand Russell

Today, June 4, 2009, marks the 20th anniversary of the student uprising in Tiananmen Square in China. Students from various universities led a series of mass demonstrations in Beijing, calling for greater freedoms and economic reforms that challenged the supremacy of the Chinese Communist Party. The key event that sparked the protest was the death of  former Secretary General Hu Yaobang, a well-liked figure who was forced to resign because he supported economic and political reform.

On April 17, small groups of people gathered at the Great Hall of the People, part of Tiananmen Square, to mourn Hu Yaobang. By midnight, the group had grown to include students from Peking and Tsinghua Universities. The initial reason for the gathering changed as students began drafting a list of pleas and suggestions (list of seven demands) that they wanted the government to listen to and carry through. The night before Hu’s funeral, April 21, 100,000 students gathered in Tiananmen  Square. The students called for a strike on the universities.

The demonstrations began in earnest on April 27, 1989 when students from Peking University, People’s University, Tsinghua University, University of Political Science and Law, and Beijing Normal University met up in a march through the city towards Tiananmen Square. As the students walked, more and more came out and joined in the march. Even some non-students participated in the march. As described in an excerpt from Eddie Cheng’s book, Standoff at Tiananmen Square:

There were also occasional non-students in the march. At the front of the TsinghuaUniversity block, several old professors marched witha particular display of dignity. Their silver hair danced in the sunshine as they proudly held up a sign: “[We have been] kneeling for too long, [now we] stand up and walk a little.” The sign was referring both to the students’ kneeling petition and the sufferings these professors had endured under the decades of communist rule.

By the time the student procession reached Tiananmen Square, it was estimated that over 200,000 people had marched, with over one million citizens cheering them on along the route.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On May 4, approximately 100,000 students and workers marched in Beijing to make demands for free media and to call for a formal dialogue between the authorities and student-elected representatives. A declaration demanded the government to accelerate political reform. The government refused the proposed dialogue, but agreed to speak with selected student organization representatives.

The students held repeated meetings on what their next actions should be. The idea of a hunger strike was brought to the table as a possible means of forcing the government to hold talks with the student representatives. In China, the government, by law, must intervene in a hunger strike after 72 hours, so the students who were considering the strike never really thought that such a strike would go on for very long. It was decided that the hunger strike would begin on May 14, while the Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev was visiting China.

One of the protestors, Chai Ling, announced her intentions to strike and made a very moving speech to the crowd:

Why should we go on a hunger strike? Because we want to use this method, the only freedom we have left, to see the true face of our country and the true face of our people. I want to see if this country is worth our sacrifice and contribution . . . The government has time and again lied to us, ignored us. We only want the government to talk with us and to say that we are not traitors. We, the children, are ready to die. We, the children, are ready to use our lives to pursue the truth. We, the children, are ready to sacrifice ourselves.

We want to fight to live. We want to fight to live withthe resolve of death.

Chai Ling’s heartfelt speech moved many in the crowd to tears, and her extemporaneous speech was shaped into a Hunger Strike manifesto. In the beginning, over 100 students participated in the strike. By May 17, day 5 of the hunger strike, a reportedly two to three thousand people were participating in the strike. On May 19, the students called off the strike and turned their protest into a sit-in at Tiananmen Square. They had been informed that the government was going to impose martial law on May 20.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will.” ~ Frederick Douglass

On May 20, troops approached the site of the protest, but thousands of regular citizens barred their way. May 24 marked the 5th  day of martial law. Sunday, May 28,  was designated as a day for global demonstration for democracy in China. All over the world people of Chinese heritage and descendancy, as well as those sympathetic to the protestors’ cause showed their solidarity with the protesters in Tiananmen Square.

May 30, the students were supposed to end their protest and leave the square to return to their universities and their studies. Funds were running low, and many of the participants were losing hope of obtaining any lasting changes. However, a decision was made to stay in the square for three more weeks.

Goddess of Democracy erected in TS
The Goddess of Democracy and Freedom

On the night of May 30, students erected their Goddess of Democracy and Freedom. Constructed of foam and papier mache, the statue stood at about 33 feet tall. The students who built the statue transported it to Tiananmen Square on four carts, and used two other carts to carry the tools necessary to assemble it. Ironically, the statue faced the huge portrait of Chairman Mao.

However, by June 2, it was becoming clear to the protesters and the rest of the world that the government was sending in more troops to encircle Tiananmen Square. Tensions were running high. The student protesters were tired; many were dispirited, and some wanted to end the protest. On the morning of June 3, protesters awoke to find military troops wearing white shirts and army pants surrounding Tiananmen Square. That night, the shooting began.

The assault began when APC’s (Armored Personnel Carriers) and troops with bayonets descended on the crowd. The government had also sent infantry troops bearing assault rifles to the site to deal with the protesters once and for all. Tents that had been erected during the time of the protest were crushed indiscriminately, whether or not individuals were inside. A tent gives little protection against an oncoming tank.

At first many in the crowd believed the soldiers to be firing rubber bullets and were not afraid, but as soon as the blood began to appear on shirts and skin, the horror of  what was really happening became real. Students were shouting, “Why are you killing us?”

Reporter Charlie Cole was on scene and reported that at about 4 or 5 in the morning of June 4, tanks began smashing into the square, crushing vehicles and people. By 5:40 a.m. June 4, the Square had been cleared.

In all, the movement lasted seven weeks. Accounts of the number of people killed vary considerably. China reported that only 241 people died. The media said it was as many as 800, but  Amnesty International estimated that 1,000 people were killed in the Tiananmen Square massacre, including people who were just onlookers. Reactions from around the world were predominantly negative. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher expressed “utter revulsion and outrage,” and was “appalled by the indiscriminate shooting of unarmed people.”

“It is in the inherent nature of human beings to yearn for freedom, equality and dignity. Brute force, no matter how strongly applied, can never subdue the basic desire for freedom and dignity. ~ The Dalai Lama

In China, the massacre is known as the June 4th incident—such an innocuous name for a barbaric act. Chinese censors have managed to erase all mention of that tragedy from the country’s textbooks and state-run media. Chinese youth born after the event are never taught anything about what happened during those seven weeks. If they know anything about the Tiananmen Square massacre, it is because they have learned about it from family members. The tradition of oral history ensures that June 4, 1989 is never forgotten.

If you are too young to remember the detailed events of what happened in the People’s Republic of China during those seven weeks, I hope that you will take a chance to learn more. So much can be gained in examining these events. For one thing, students and others from all over joined in this protest because they believed that it was time for a change in the Chinese government. The protesters viewed themselves as Chinese patriots, carrying on the May 4th Movement for “science and democracy” in 1919.

The students’ activity gradually developed from protests against corruption into demands for freedom of the press and an end to, or the reform of, the rule of the PRC by the Communist Party of China and leader Deng Xiaoping. Some bore signs and carried banners that read, “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Granted, the protest suffered from a lack of unified leadership, with different people making decisions for all involved at different times. There was infighting, as is usually the case in a massive protest. Most of the students were privileged and looking for more freedom in the media and in speech; while the workers who supported the protest were alarmed by the government’s new economic reforms, growing inflation, and government corruption. 

The protesters themselves urged people not involved in the protest not to harm the soldiers, not to throw bottle rockets. In spite of this, those involved in the protest never dreamed that it would all come to such a violent, bloody end.

A few other points:

  • The world once again stood by and watched as an atrocity unfolded before their eyes.
  • A tyrannical government under military rule chose to use force even though many of those in power preferred to keep things peaceful.
  • The PRC leaders who were in favor of a soft approach to the demonstrations, including General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, were overruled.
  • Because journalists from the West had been invited to cover the Gorbachev visit, many were on-hand to document what happened on June 3rd and 4th in Tiananmen Square.
  • If we are to believe the PRC, none of the above ever happened.

I will never forget for as long as I have memory, the image of that single man who had the courage to face down a column of tanks. He had no weapons, only grocery bags. He was no one famous. In fact, he has never been named. His act was completely spontaneous, but that act reflects exactly the difference that one individual can make in the history of the world.  Show anyone who is old enough to remember that picture, and I can almost guarantee you that they will pause for a moment in what they are doing because that image is seared into our collective conscious.

The PRC would not have us remember this anniversary. They have wished it all away. But it is our job, as everyday people, to remember history-changing events like Tiananmen Square—if for no other reason than to be able to recount what happened orally, that we pass down this knowledge to those who come after us, that we make sure that however many people who died during those hours, that they did not die in vain.

I have always been a big Abraham Lincoln fan, ever since I had to memorize The Gettysburg Address in fourth grade. But Lincoln was wrong: The world did note, and everyone remembered Gettysburg. I find it wholly applicable that these same words be used to describe those students who sought in 1989 what we too often shamelessly take for granted:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.

I leave you with these indelible images. Peace be with you.