Saturday was a beautiful summer day. I mowed the lawn, went to the dump and managed to get a half mile swim in. The underlying unease remained mostly out of mind. Yes, there were the text messages, emails and phone calls about and issue at work and the nagging concern about the uncle in hospice, but all in all it was a good day.
Sunday started off full of promise. The weather looked just as good. It was Pentecost. There would be a baptism at church followed by a picnic. I was singing in the choir as well as playing hand chimes. I awoke early so I could get to church for choir practice before the service.
As I drove down the road, I saw something in the middle of the road. It wasn’t clear what it was, perhaps some sort of child’s toy that had fallen from a car. As I got closer and carefully drove around it, it became clear. A large turtle on its back in the middle of the road. Had it been hit? Was it dead or still alive? I found a place to turn around and head back.
It was a good sized snapping turtle, a little larger in diameter than a dinner plate. It didn’t move. I approached it cautiously. I’ve helped snapping turtles cross the road in the past. I know that they have strong jaws, longer necks than you’d imagine and can stretch their necks around quickly.
Carefully, I picked up the turtle and turned him over. He had been hit, badly. The rear left side was crushed in. There was a large blog of red goop, I assume it was his blood, on the road. Yet his legs still moved, and he feebly lifted his head. I set him, right side up, on the side of the road and called my wife. I didn’t want to leave the turtle alone, in case there was hope that someone could save him, or, in case there was no hope. I called my wife and described the situation. She started calling wild animal rescue organizations and I headed off to choir.
The site of the injured turtle stayed with me. Should I have stayed with him till he died? Should I have taken him to the nearby pond that I imagine he had either just left or was heading to, in hopes that the water my bring restoration? I knew my wife would do as much as could be done.
At church the choirs practiced. Afterwards I checked my phone for messages. The crisis at work was worsening and the turtle had died. Was this an omen about work, about the uncle in hospice, something else, or simply more road kill?
Turtles carry great symbolism. They are what holds the earth up in various myths. The symbolize being grounded, moving slowly at peace, emotional strength, understanding and ancient wisdom. This ancient wisdom had been hit by a car, most likely driving too fast on our local road, and our peace, strength and wisdom has been shaken.
The turtle I stopped for is now dead. The crises remain and I am trying to keep moving slowly, peacefully, and provide emotional support, understanding, and wisdom for those around me.
On Friday, I filed my SEEC Form 1 with the State Elections Enforcement Commission. This form, along with others, provides the SEEC information about how the candidate is complying with campaign laws and provides the public an opportunity to find out who is influencing the candidate, at least in terms of financial contributions.
Yet with campaign finance reform in Connecticut, at least for state offices, the effect of financial influence is not as significant as it used to be, and it may be time to look at other forms of influence. We are all influenced by our family, friends and neighbors, and what we see in the media. An interesting book that explores this is Personal Influence: The Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications by Elihu Katz and Paul Lazarsfeld. It was first published back in 1955 and is perhaps even more relevant today as we think about influence online. This book influences my own thoughts about how we can work together for the sake of our community, state, and country.
Another key influence shaping my run for State Representative is the Connecticut Health Foundations Health Leadership Fellows Program. I became a fellow in this program last year. A key focus of the Foundation and the program is ‘Expanding Health Equity’. The program provides many great opportunities to gather with thought leaders to find ways to address health issues in Connecticut.
One opportunity was when Francois de Brantes from the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute spoke to fellows about payment reform. In preparation for the talk, the fellow read the policy brief, Improving Incentives. It is well worth the read. What incentives can we offer to medical providers, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and others to reduce the cost and improve the quality of healthcare in America? As an example, are their incentives for medical providers to encourage caesarean sections when natural childbirth would provide better health outcomes? Are their incentives to have a caesarean section prior to 39 weeks, even though, as the March of Dimes notes, at least 39 weeks is best for your baby.
Through the fellowship, I’ve connected with people at many great organizations, the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, the Connecticut Multicultural Health Partnership, the Commission on Health Equity, the Connecticut Health Policy Project to name just a few.
Yet there is much more that needs to be considered when we think about the wellbeing of our community, state, and country. On Friday, I spoke with the producer of Conversations on Health Care about an upcoming guest, Elizabeth Bradley, who wrote the book, The American Health Care Paradox: Why Spending More is Getting Us Less. While we spend more per capita than any other country on health care, our results are not as good as other countries. Why is this? Perhaps some of it comes from failing to spend enough of what leads to healthy societies, like good food and housing. Perhaps some of it is due to flaws in our educational system or transportation system.
These are the issues that we need to be thinking about. We need to find incentives that will help our communities, our state, and our country be stronger and healthier. This is where you come in. Who influences you? Who do you influence? Who has good ideas that need to be brought into the conversation? What are those ideas? Let’s talk. Let’s use this as an opportunity to work together for better communities.
It had been a nearly picture perfect June day. The weather had been warm, but not unbearably so, and as the sun approached the distant horizon, the temperature began to drop. Young children rolled in the grass in front of the outdoor stage as their older siblings sang or played their instruments. It was the school’s end of year concert.
As the orchestra played Handel’s water music, I remembered summer days on the lawn at Tanglewood. They were rare, but special events when the family would gather to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra. We would have a picnic lunch on the grass, and I would roll in the grass like the young kids sitting in front of me. I still carry fond memories of those days and the love of music they helped engender.
I looked around at many friends sitting on the hill. We had seen our children grow here, and learn so much. This would be my last elementary school concert as a parent of one of the young performers. I sought to soak it all in. My mother would devotedly show up at all my performance as a child and perhaps was looking down here from heaven. My father, always seemed to be occupied with other things and would rarely show up. Now, he’s occupied in a senior living complex.
My wife’s mother died before I met her, and may well have been sitting next to my mother. My wife’s father remarried, and Papa and Nana would have been at the concert if it wasn’t for something of graver concern.
At the end of the concert, it was announced that various groups had won high acclaim in their adjudication. I commented to my daughter that this acclaim, at least in my reckoning, was of much greater value to me than CMT or SBAC scores. The ability to read small ovals with stems rising from them is far more important the ability to select the right ovals to fill in on standardized tests. People come to believe that filling in the right oval is some sort of accomplishment in and of itself.
In the next town, adults were filling in little ovals indicating that they supported or opposed the proposed town budget. Such votes are important, but they aren’t a real accomplishment. No one wants taxes to go up or services to go down. The real accomplishment is getting into the thick of it and hammering out specific instances where a town should increase or decrease its spending.
When the concert ended, parents struggled to round up their children and get them home to dinner, baths and bedtime. Meanwhile, in a nearby hospital, a Vietnam Veteran, who had struggled and suffered so much both during the war, and perhaps more significantly afterwards rested in his bed. Family was gathered around him as they talked quietly about his prospects and waited.
Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. Another month rolls down the hill like a Sisyphean bolder and a new month begins. What will this month bring? Last month, my 2014 campaign for State Representative began. What kind of impact can I have this time? I went to an event to reimagine the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. I’ve shared my reactions and wonder what sort of impact that will have. Meanwhile, I try to balance work and home.
As I try to pull together thoughts on reimaging both politics and religion in the twenty-first century, I keep in mind what a luxury that is. For too many, it is too much to just get by from day to day. How do we encourage those who are too exhausted from the daily grind to be more engaged in politics or religion?
For me, my relaxation often comes from trying to gain new perspectives, particularly through the arts. I’m trying to determine what my literary diet for the coming months will be. Should I dive back into poetry? From Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni to Billy Collins and Denise Levertov? Should I reread some Thomas Merton or perhaps the writings of some Great Awakening preacher?
How do I relate all of this to what I read on Facebook? I’ve been thinking of trying to post something upbeat each day, whether it be a picture of a flower, a great quote, or an inspiring article. I’ve been trying to highlight things going on around me where regular people make a difference. I’ve been avoiding jumping into many of the discussions where seem to be venting with no real solutions.
Saturday, someone posted a link to Download a Free Copy of Danah Boyd’s Book, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. This led me to explore the Open Culture website for a while, and ultimately end up checking out their list of films by Andrei Tarkovsky that are online.
I ended up watching Ivan’s Childhood. One person describe the film this way:
First Film by the prophet of modern cinema Andrei Tarkovsky
While Sergei Eisenstein literally wrote the grammar of cinema by inventing Montage, Tarkovsky found the true calling of cinema with his exposition of long shot where the roving camera wanders examining stuff and through its eyes reach into the heart and soul of the protagonist. Through him film became what it was meant to be, the purveyor of dreams. All other developments in cinema are borrowed from other visual and literary developments.
The film is set on the front lines of World War II and traces the experiences of a child, Ivan. It is the sort of film to make you think, especially about the lives of people very different those of us living comfortably in the twenty-first century.
So, let’s see where the boulder rolls this month.
Recently, I attended the OMMA conference about videos at Internet Week. One of the best talks was by Gary Osifchin of Mondelez, the parent company of Honey Maid graham crackers. He spoke about their “wholesome” campaign. He spoke about how people see graham crackers as wholesome, but that people often associate “wholesome” with “old-fashioned” or “boring”. In order to stand out in this world of constant advertising and marketing everywhere, you need to present a strong point of view.
He suggested that to make “wholesome” relevant and exciting against this background, you need to look at cultural truths, for example, the changing face of American families. It is a risky strategy, because there will always be people who rebel against changes in cultural truths, but I believe that Honey Maid’s “Wholesome” campaign was very successful and helped to get people to look at how the world is changing.
He spoke about how he hoped other brands would follow suit and how the wholesome campaign is not just a single set of ads, but is a ten year campaign. On twitter, they are using the hashtag “#ThisIsWholesome”. It made me stop and think about how this could be done for other brands.
“This is…” I work at a health center serving vulnerable populations. What would a campaign about “This is health” look like? Would it talk about programs we do to help people eat healthier food? Get more exercise? Read more? Become more involved in their community? All of that fits into broader discussions about health, including social determinants of health and health equity.
What about my run for State Representative? Can we change “This is politics” into something positive? Can we talk about caring for the vulnerable amongst us, instead of how so much politics of today seems to be about grabbing what you can for yourself at the expense of everyone else around you? Instead of politics, should we talk about governance, citizenship, responsibility, or some related idea? After all, it seems like the cultural truths are currently stacked up against any positive image of politics.
As I think about the phrase, “This is…”, various phrases come to mind. “This is… American Idol”. “This is Spinal Tap”, “This is water”, “This is my body, which is given for you”.
What do we want to declare as cultural truths? What do we hope such declarations will bring about?