My sister-in-law Jeanne does not think of herself as particularly brave or inspirational. Those qualities seem to be in the eye of the beholder.
Jeanne lives with the chronic illness Multiple Sclerosis, which has gradually diminished her physical abilities. From the neck down, her body pretty much ignores all commands.
"It's not sad or disabling," she says. "It's just me. People might think, 'Oh, that’s terrible she can’t do this or that' but I think it just depends on your perspective."
As long as I've known Jeanne, she's always been up for the next activity, jumping at the chance to do something new, or finding any excuse to have a party. She's positive and enthusiastic.
Her out-going personality is a plus when she notices people are uncomfortable about her wheelchair. "I try to make them feel at ease by smiling and talking. When kids stare at my wheels, I say, 'Yes! It's really fun.' and tell them I love my sippy cup."
"I bite the button because I can't press it with my thumb. If you get it it on the flat surface of your tooth it works great," she says.
It's no fun to have MS, and annoying when you can't scratch your nose when it itches, but Jeanne is intentional about enjoying everything she can do.
"You can decide to go on about your life, choose to do things, rather than just sit home. You can make jokes about it, and have family and friends who you trust who you can talk to."
You have to choose, do you want to be miserable, or do you want to be happy.
Jeanne enjoys listening to music and podcasts. She can’t read because she's lost her eyesight, but feels it's important to keep learning. She and her husband love to travel.
“We drive in the car, because the airline is difficult, although we just went to Hawaii. We drive all over the United States, you really enjoy the country driving it on the back roads, and stopping different places, eating the foods in different areas. ‘Course we drink beer.”
At left, Jeanne and Bob enjoy the Abyss release party at the Deschutes Public House in Portland, Oregon. In the next month or two they will travel from their home in Western Washington to Florida to visit a friend, Alabama for a wedding, and Colorado for their daughter's graduation from nursing school.
Bob is Jeanne's primary care-giver, chauffeur, housekeeper, cook, gardener, etc. He does all those little things for her that you and I use our hands to do for ourselves on a daily basis.
Jeanne says there are some advantages to not being physically able. "Some people might worry about their hair or something, I can’t even see my hair. There's less to worry about. It sounds funny, but MS is a blessing in disguise because you have to be positive, otherwise, you’d be a miserable person, and then you might as well just go check yourself into the mortuary."
"It's not Pollyanna,
What is MS?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.
The cause of MS is still unknown – scientists believe the disease is triggered by as-yet-unidentified environmental factor(s) in a person who is genetically predisposed to respond. There is no cure.
Friends and family gathered recently for Walk MS to raise money for MS research and support services for people living with MS. Jeanne's team slogan is: Putting MS to Sleep Permanently. And yes, we did wear our pajamas. The event is lots of fun.
I enjoy writing about brave people from way back in history. But sometimes the best inspiration comes from the courageous people close to us.
What about you? Do you have someone in your life who inspires you? Share in the comment section below.
Whoo-hoo! Sent final edits and photographs off to my editor my upcoming book, a biography on Labor Organizer Fannie Sellins. But a writer's work is never done.
I've been doing more research on the project, as I look ahead to promoting the book when it comes next year.
The past couple days I've researching poverty in America, and decided to share with you some of what I've found.
Fannie lived in the early 1900’s, often called the Gilded Age of American Industrialization. Steel, coal and railroad magnates wore diamonds and lived in mansions. Their workers wore rags and lived in primitive conditions.
Today American children live in a new Gilded Age where a corporate executive can drop $100 on a single restaurant meal, while a single mother cannot afford meat for her children.
The latest United States census report shows one out of seven Americans live below the poverty line.
The number of children in poverty is higher yet. UNICEF reports that since the start of the global recession in 2008, that number has increased in the United States by 32%. Since the recession has leveled off, the number has not dropped.
The National Center for Law and Economic Justice Inc. reports that close to 23% of American children (age 0-18) are poverty-stricken as measured by the U.S. census.
With the exception of Romania, no developed country has a higher percentage of kids in poverty than America, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNCF).
An article in Forbes Magazine disputes these stats on child poverty. Forbes, a leading source of news for American business and financial people in this country, published the assertion that the statistics were unfairly twisted to suggest the level of poverty in the U.S. is higher than is true.
However, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that the number of poor kids (age 0-17) in the U.S. exceeds 20%. The OECD is an international economic organization of 34 countries founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade.
There will always be disagreement and debate about how to handle the issue of poverty. But while the posturing continues and the arguments fly, it is the innocent and helpless who suffer. The largest group of impoverished children are age 0-3.
Our children thirst for hope. They hunger for compassion, and for leaders like Fannie to stand up for them. Whether one agrees with her methods or not, Fannie Sellins put her principles and all her resources into action. She did not relent in her efforts to help the poor, even when her life was at risk.
Not many folks left who remember April 9th as The Fall of Bataan, the day American forces surrendered to an enemy in battle. A surrender that demanded unimaginable courage from the men who survived the death march and hell ships that followed.
American nurses escaped Bataan as the Japanese closed in. I couldn't share all the nurses' stories in my book Pure Grit. Here's one I had to leave out--from Army Nurse Bertha Dworsky.
"Well, by that time, there were no boats there to meet us. But while we were waiting the Japanese bombers came over to bomb early in the morning. So we quickly dashed into the ditches, tried to protect ourselves.
Eventually, the bombing cleared and some boat came over and we piled onto it and we were on our way to Corregidor. It was, I think, a three mile water crossing between Corregidor and Marivales. As we were trying to land at Corregidor, the bombers
I recall so plainly that the bombs fell all around us and as they hit the water, it was just like a huge geyser coming up. Spouts all over from the bombs. But they didn't hit us. Eventually, the Japanese bombers left we went ashore and into The Rock.
Bertha shared her memories of her escape from Bataan April 9, 1983 when the POW nurses were honored by President Ronald Reagan at a White House ceremony. Thirty-one of the 67 Army and Navy nurses who had been captured by the Japanese in 1942 were alive and well enough to be there. For more on that story see the most recent post Norm Haskett's blog The Daily Chronicles of WWII.
Photo above of Army Nurse Bertha Dworsky Henderson courtesy: The Caldwell News and The Burleson County Ledger (Caldwell, Tex.), Vol. 58, No. 40, Ed. 1 Friday, April 13, 1945, Newspaper, April 13, 1945; accessed April 10, 2015), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, crediting Harrie P. Woodson Library, Caldwell, Texas.
"But, in Bataan you were out in the jungles. No buildings or anything…All we could do was to clear out a little more underbrush under trees and toss the blanket on the ground and put more patients allover.
We couldn't bathe them or anything. All we could do was try to give them a little medicine or a little food. I was just pretty much in a state of shock at the conditions at the time.
Nurse Bertha Dworksy had been on Bataan only two days when she got new orders. "Josephine Nesbitt Davis, she was the Chief Nurse, she told us to all pack our little suitcases; that we were being evacuated. This was late at night. So they loaded school buses and whatever vehicles they possibly could and started toward Marivales, toward the Coast. In the meantime, in the middle of the night, our own forces decided to blow up the ammunition dump. So we were kept up there for hours with the holocaust all around us. At first we didn't know what was going on until someone said, 'We're blowing up our own ammunition because the enemy is close by.'
In the meantime, they told us that Japanese snipers were in the trees all around the hospitals and various other places. We finally got through and reached the dock of Marivales early that morning.
Bataan is a small peninsula forming the western border of Manila Bay in the Philippine Islands, no more than 15 miles wide at the last battle line in April 1942. Imagine the night, a cacophony of gunfire, artillery shells and the cries of the wounded.
The decision had been made to surrender the following morning. General Jonathan Wainwright could not allow American women to fall into the hands of the Japanese Army.
Army Nurse Bertha Dworsky had been on duty in the underground tunnel hospital on Corregidor Island throughout the three-month battle. She was ordered to Bataan April 6, 1942.
“They were having so many casualties on Bataan that they wanted more help over there. When I got there, as little as I remember about it, I was pretty much in a daze. It was such a contrast to the clean (sort of) little bit of a secure feeling we had at The Rock. Even though we were bombed the bombs could not penetrate the rock and we were safe as long as we were underneath [in the tunnel].
This past week has been a whirlwind of photo research for my book about Labor Organizer Fannie Sellins! I told you about sending in the final manuscript, and my prediction that I would probably see it again.
It came back alright, with a massive change. The editor decided not to have an artist illustrate portions of the book, but to use only photographs. I went from providing 10-12 photographs to 40!
I collected many great pictures while researching the story since 2007. The one above shows mining families in company housing, similar to those on strike in West Virginia when Fannie Sellins went to jail. She was arrested for speaking publicly about the union. Union miners had to meet secretly because it was against the law to speak about labor unions.
Some photos that look fine on the computer screen are not sufficient quality for publication. Much of the photo research process is discovering the original source to find out if a high resolution copy exists and if I can gain permission to use it.
Below are two photos not good enough for the book.
I was initially disappointed the book would not include illustrations to portray some of the critical scenes in the story of Fannie's life and death. But letting go is part of the publishing process. Erasing the vision I’ve carried in my mind for many years and being open to a whole new concept is part of the process.
It’s a grief process, which happens over and over again as the story is editor, art director, and yes, sales and marketing. Abrams publishes amazing books (like Pure Grit), so I trust the process will produce a book which is better than I could have imagined alone.
I found myself experiencing the necessary stages of grief--denial, anger, bargaining (yes, I tried to convince my editor to see it my way) then pain and finally acceptance. Not a big deal compared to many of the losses we suffer in life, but still important, and also, good practice.
In the second half of life, loss is a loyal companion. I enjoy the freedom that comes each time I practice letting go. And I look for the new opportunity that often presents itself. In this case, I’m totally psyched about the new vision for Fannie’s story. The book will be chock full of amazing historical photos, and I’m confident my words will do their job well.
I can’t always let go in a matter of days. Many losses are more difficult and acute pain cannot be avoided. I’d love to hear about your experience of letting go. Do you think it helps to practice? Can we move through difficult losses with more grace if we’ve exercised the letting-go muscle? Or am I just building up my defenses, thinking I will be able to avoid the pain of losses to come? Share your thoughts below.
I'm fascinated to discover little-known stories from history. Stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
I also post here about my books and feature other authors and their books on compelling and important historical topics.
Occasionally, I share what makes me happy, pictures of my garden, recipes I've made, events I've attended, people I've met. I'm always happy to hear from readers, in the blog comments, by email or social media.