Where Reality and Television Intersect at the Line of Pain and Heartbreak

Stumbling Upon Two Posts That Won’t Let Me Go

Watching Death in South Africa

One of the things that I really like about blogging communities is that when the blogs are flashing by on the screen, you can come across some real gems. In fact, that’s how I’ve met all of my regular correspondent with whom I check in daily. But there was one blog that stopped me in my tracks, literally. And I backtracked to the original post, which came from a blog called “Letting Go.” 

The female speaker on this site has many entries about her recovering battle with alcoholism and her so far successful sobriety, as well as her travels. But the one particular post that caught my attention was called called “The Plague Years” ( http://louisey.wordpress.com/2009/01/04/the-plague-years/).

mourning-in-zimbabwe
Mourning in Zimbabwe

This post is incredibly stark in its depiction of the reality of AIDS in Africa, while at the same time being very moving in how the author shares with readers her own experiences amid all of this devastation.

Woke up this morning and thought about having to go to two funerals later today, both of them for young people who died of AIDS. It is not a certainty that the funerals will take place because the municipality still has to organise workers to dig the graves. The graveyard has overflowed the old fenced area and extended down the hillside, hot rocky ground that is not easy to dig. Every day of the week there are burials and it is mostly children who die because their little bodies are too malnourished to fight the opportunistic illnesses.

There are times when I feel this plague will never end. I have been going to funerals here and in Zimbabwe, in Kenya and Botswana and Mozambique since 1985, more than 20 years, and sometimes I feel I will keep watching these premature and unnecessary deaths until I myself am ready for the grave.

The society in which we live shapes us for better or for worse. The material conditions of our lives shape our values and sense of community and altruism, and limit or enlarge the possibilities open to us. Unrelieved poverty opens the door to plagues such as cholera, typhoid, tuberculosis and AIDS. If we have no africsaidspicretrovirals because the government does not want to believe AIDS really exists, thousands are condemned to death. If we have no AA or Alanon because nobody will admit he or she is alcoholic or battling to live with an alcoholic spouse, the struggle to stay sober is that much harder. If it is taboo to speak about AIDS or alcoholism so that there is no education in schools or on the television or radio, the lethal ignorance continues unabated. The discourses around shame and secrecy are the hardest to tackle.

All around me on this bright lovely morning there are birds singing, church bells tolling, childrens’ voices on the playing fields across the road — and all I can hear is the deafening silence of a conspiracy to prevent anyone from speaking the truth. It is forbidden to speak about sexuality in Xhosa, especially if you are a woman. The churches outlaw the use of condoms. And the death rate keeps soaring.

Here are some facts just about one of the countries involved in this epidemic: Zimbabwe is the third largest HIV/AIDS burden in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to an AIDS fact sheet distributed in 2005 by the Kaiser Foundation. That means that almost 2 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, and at least 120,000 of them are children. Young women between the ages of 15 to 25 make up about 77 percent of the infected population, and the projected life expectancy for females ranges from 30 to 34.

In a January 2008 article The Boston Globe cited the following statistics:

  • An April report by WHO and two other UN agencies said only 6 percent of children in need of treatment were getting it.
  • The government reports that more than 2,200 Zimbabweans die every week of AIDS complications.
  • According to the World Health Organization, 321,000 people need antiretroviral medicines, or ARVs, and only 91,000 have access to them.

As If That Wasn’t Enough To Hurt Your Heart

Thanks to another blogger with whom I have recently begun to correspond, I am now obsessed with watching “West Wing”  YouTube videos of memorable scenes. For example, from one of the earlier seasons, there is the episode called “Excelsis Deo” in which Toby is moved by the plight of a decorated homeless veteran who died wearing a coat that Toby had donated to charity. The coat still had Toby’s business card in it, so he was informed of the man’s death. The episode ends with the Dire Straits’ song “Brothers in Arms” playing in the background, the White House staff being serenaded to Christmas Carols by a children’s choir, and Toby in Arlington Cemetery with a full honor guard.

Okay. They could have stopped with just the full honor guard. That by itself is enough to give me goosebumps at anytime. Thank god they didn’t put me through the bugler’s “Taps.” I did have to make it through the folding of the flag and presentation on bended knee to the family member. Yes, I am crying openly by now. The link to this particular scene is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfOfUtkbiHQ.

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From "The West Wing," Episode: 20 Hours in America

But wait, I’m not finished. There’s Leo’s funeral. Enough said on that one. Or, there is the famous mood episode called “The Two Cathedrals Press Conference,” in which President Bartlett is asked if he is going to run again; that’s a classic for the staging alone. All of Bartlett’s team fall into line behind their President, and the scene is a shot of just the men from the thighs down.

But the single best scene from any episode of “West Wing,” the scene that embodies the best of Aaron Sorkin’s writing for his tenure on the show, the scene that I dare you to watch and not be moved by, comes from the epiode  “20 Hours in America.” In it, President Bartlett delivers one of the best speeches to be heard ever—not just television speeches, not just pretend president speeches, but best speeches ever. The rhetoric in it burns.

Just a taste (but without the video, it’s like reading Obama’s speeches rather than hearing them):

“The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They’re our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless.”

(I don’t even want to think of how badly W. would have mangled this. How do you type visually shuddering?)

And I so want to put the link in here, but I don’t know if that would be stealing from Willpen’s World (http://willpen.wordpress.com/) since she just ran the YouTube link on her site. So go to her site and watch the video there, and be sure to let her know that I sent you. It’s worth the hop and skip to see this. Trust me.

So, now that I have completely ruined your day and evening with truth and near truth, and the power of words to hold the human heart, let me close. There will be more later. Peace.

Amber Waves of Grain

After 9/11, More Justifications and Some Pre-Election Reflections

Someone Needs To Remind W. That Lame-Duck Means No More Global Pissing Contests

Why aren’t more people up in arms about Syria? Granted, I myself am late in posting anything about this latest questionable move by the Bush administration, but the Sunday incursion into sovereign territory, namely Syria, is getting hardly any media coverage. Why? Is it because it was on Bush’s watch, and no one wants to go there? The White House refuses to comment on the raid.

The few details that I can find are from the following AP report:

U.S. military helicopters attacked an area along the country’s border with Iraq, causing casualties, Syria’s state-run television and witnesses said Sunday.

The TV report quoted unnamed Syrian officials and said the area is near the Syrian border town of Abu Kamal. It gave no other details on Sunday’s attack.

Local residents told The Associated Press by telephone that two helicopters carrying U.S. soldiers raided the village of Hwijeh, 10 miles inside Syria’s border, killing seven people and wounding five.

An unnamed U.S. official claims that the target was Abu Ghadiyah, an Iraqi from Mosul, and supposedly a key figure in smuggling fighters into Iraq. Syria has protested to the UN Security Council, and Iraq has denounced the attack, saying that it does not want its land used as a launching pad for attacks on neighboring lands.

According to an article in the New York Times, the raid is in keeping with what many are calling the Bush Doctrine II, which in essence, allows for an “expansive definition of self-defense that provided a rationale for strikes on militant targets in sovereign nations without those countries’ consent.” Bush elaborated on this expansion of his doctrine during his speech to the U.N. General Assembly last month:

“As sovereign states, we have an obligation to govern responsibly, and solve problems before they spill across borders,” Mr. Bush said. “We have an obligation to prevent our territory from being used as a sanctuary for terrorism and proliferation and human trafficking and organized crime.”

As with all things George Bush, the frightening part is that a) He believes it, and b) He means it. Hence, we cross the Iraqi border with Special Forces helicopters and carry out a raid on Syria.

You know those lines on maps? Pshaw, they don’t really mean anything to us. We’re Americans. We can go where we want to. It would almost be funny if it weren’t true.

America the Beautiful

Bear with me here while I ask you to follow me on a little bit of a journey, a journey into Lola logic. I will get to my point, which is about Barack Obama’s thirty minutes of ready-for-prime-time, but I have to start with 9/11. Trust me, it will work.

In those days immediately following the collapse of the Twin Towers, when Americans were feeling the collapse of everything we took for granted—security, safety, normalcy, the sanctity of the very ground beneath our feet—many of us flocked to our places of worship in that first weekend following the destruction that unfolded in real time. Our family did; we went to our church, which was, quite literally, standing room only. This is saying a lot since our church is quite a large, old, stately church, which seats hundreds of people.

Normally, I do not do well in crowds, and I begin to fidget when I am pressed in closely next to people for more than a few minutes, but that Sunday, I really didn’t notice. Most of the hymns that day were patriotic, and one of the first was “America the Beautiful.” Now I have always loved this song, preferred it over the national anthem, not just because it is much more adaptable to any voice, but also because it is more prosaic. And on that Sunday, by the time I got to “amber waves of grain,” I had tears running down my face as did numerous people around me. I suspect it was because many of us were unsure if our America would ever again be that beautiful, unsullied land of which we were singing.

Cut to last night at 8 p.m. and the opening shot of Barack Obama’s thirty-minute, strategical media buy, and what did I see but a field of waving, golden wheat, and for just a moment, I was back in that church, surrounded by those people, singing that song, being buoyed by not just a room but a nation that was sustaining each other in a common cause, in our grief, in our fear, in our despair, but also in our resolve to hope and to be the country that we knew that we could be, no matter what fate had handed us.

All of this went through my body in just a nano second and gave me a chill, and I knew in that second—call me the hopeless romantic that I am—that Barack Obama would be elected president and that we would move out of the quagmire of the past eight years and come together as a country again and become the country that the world knows and respects as a nation. I felt down to my soul that this country can move beyond its differences, can move beyond the ugliness, can move beyond this time of feeling helpless and desperate and lost. This one man and his vision and his sincerity and his true hope for this counry is the right person to do this. And all of that was just from the opening scene.

So kudos to whoever produced that segment. Was it a good media buy? Was it worth the $5 million or so? You betcha, gee golly, bless yer little heart. Right up to and through the last 60 seconds when it cut to live in Florida, it was flawless, and you know the McCain campaign was gritting their collective teeth that they didn’t have the funds to produce their own gnarly rebuttal. Obama has elevated campaigning to a whole new level. He has raised the bar so high that everyone who comes after is going to be hard pressed to live up to this kind of presidential campaign. But then again, everyone who comes after is going to be hard pressed to live up to this kind of candidate.

More later. Peace.