Wednesday, October 28, 2009

So simple, so chimp?

This amazing photo shows a group of Chimpanzees at the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Centre in eastern Cameroon lined up solemnly near a fence after one of their fellow chimps died and is taken away. Chimpanzees are normally very noisy creatures, but after the passing of one of their fellow chimps, an elderly female named Dorothy, the entire group rushed over to the fence and watched in silence as her body was buried. They sat there by the fence with their hands on each others shoulders as if mourning and consoling each other.

The photo was taken by Monica Szczupider, and the article from Inquisitr, a worker at the rescue center. She said Dorothy the chimp was well into her thirties when she died of heart failure after being ill.

Given the way some families are treated after the death of a loved one, I wonder if we have evolved or devolved... see my other blog/rant for the day below: So simple, so human. Perhaps, it should have been titled: So simple, so chimp?

*Thank you Kim

So simple, so human...

The power of compassion heals.
-Joanne Cacciatore

I've always known, intuitively- viscerally, that the compassionate presence of another human being could heal, not just psychologically, but also the somata (the body). But who knew that a smile or a hug just might curtail the common cold?

A new study conducted by the University of Wisconsin's School of Medicine and Public Health suggests that compassionate interaction with a physician can actually decrease the duration of rhinovirus. Yes, indeed. It's true. David Rakel, M.D., the principal investigator, notes that, "... if you perceive your doctor as empathetic (sic), that might influence your immune system and help you recover faster from the common cold...Out of everything that's been studied - zinc, vitamin C, anti-viral medications - nothing has worked better at fighting a cold than being kind to people."

He added, "...The individual needs to find the clinician with whom they believe they can form an ongoing therapeutic relationship. This also stresses the importance of relationship primary care, where each individual develops a collaboration and relationship with a clinician they trust over time."

Apparently, patients who felt that connection had higher levels of IL-8, a chemical that "summons" cells in the immune system to fight microbial infectors.

Wow. Compassion heals.

Now, if a person can experience expedited recovery from a cold through simple acts of kindness, imagine- just imagine- the powerful effects of truly connecting with another human being during a trauma. No, kindness won't assuage grief, or guilt, or shame, or any other residually painful emotion of human trauma. But imagine the dramatic potential of kindness- empathy- compassion on the long-term psychological well-being of a traumatized person. And taken a step further, imagine the long-term, potential effects to their physical health as well. If a compassionate other can increase a person's immune response, then what happens to a person in the absence of compassion, particularly during a serious or terminal illness- or during a traumatic experience?

I have never understood why compulsory courses on compassionate psychosocial care weren't part of the curriculum in medical schools. It seems so basic- so human- that is, being kind to another. Perhaps, someday soon, at the behest of insurance companies seeking to reduce healthcare costs, this type of training will be an integral part of medical training for both physicians and nurses- and pastoral care and social workers- and psychologists and psychiatrists. Perhaps, one day, the central pedagogy of body-mind-soul will be accepted into the orthodoxy of medicine. And perhaps, one day, as Albert Einstein said, "our humanity will surpass our technology."

Now that's nothing to sneeze at.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Parasitism: Inflammatory rhetoric of the ignorant

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

Political language. . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable,
and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

George Orwell

Recently, I've engaged in lively debate with a person who asserted that unborn babies - fetuses (Latin- foetus- meaning offspring) - were nothing more than parasitic organisms. I found this to be curiously inaccurate for an intellectual to wantonly assert as well as inflammatory and offensive.

Now,this person is a fellow academic. Not an ignorant person. Or so I thought.

I'm not a professor of parasitology or biology, so I decided to challenge her assertion.

So I went to an expert- Dr. H.D. Crofton- Parasitologist and author of the academic text Parasitology to define the criterion for a "parasite". According to Crofton, each of the following criteria must be met in order for an organism to be classified a parasite:

1. A parasitic relationship is an ecological relationship between two different organisms/species, one designated the parasite, the other the host.

2. The parasite is physiologically or metabolically dependent upon its host.

3. Heavily infected hosts will be killed by their parasites or harm will be done to the host.

4. The
reproductive potential of the parasite exceeds that of their hosts.

5. There is an
overdispersed frequency distribution of parasites within the host population. That is, the parasite population is not evenly distributed amongst the host population nor is it randomly distributed but clumped, so some hosts have a lot of parasites, most have very few.
(Crofton, H. D. Parasitology 63, 179–193 )

So, frankly, this person with whom I was debating was vagariously using imprecise terminology.

This type of ideological recklessness occurs in academics when scientists do not sufficiently explore terminology...their vernacular is often influenced by suppositions. And suppositions without sufficient evidence are often incited by the sociopolitical context wherein rhetoric is not challenged; rather, it is passively accepted by the majority as absolute in order to satiate an agenda.

In other words, unborn babies are referred to in certain arenas as "parasites" for political reasons. But it's an demagogic- and plain instigative- assertion.

But wait- there is so much more in defense of unborn babies.

And it's beautiful.

Seminal research on fetal microchimerism suggest that when a woman has a baby, she receives, in exchange for her sacrifice, a gift of cells that remain behind and protect her for the rest of her life.

That's because a baby's cells linger in the mom's body and -- like stem cells -- may help to repair damage when she gets sick. It's such an enticing idea that even the scientists who came up with the idea worry that it may be too beautiful to be true. Diana Bianchi, Chief of Genetics at the New England Medical Center in Boston did some of the pioneering research that discovered that moms carry fetal cells in their blood for years and years.

In fact, "fetal cells that persist in a mother's body long after the pregnancy- even decades later- may reduce her risk of breast cancer," according to researchers at the University of Washington and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Their findings are published in the journal Cancer Research.

Robert Krulwich, an NPR journalist spoke to many scientists who agree: He says, "It's not a far-fetched idea. These cells may behave like those famous embryonic cells: They can turn themselves into any cell mom needs. If she's got a bad heart, they can be healthy heart cells. Bad lungs? No problem, they can be lung cells. Fetal cells may be the ultimate repairmen (or repairwomen)."


Wait, wait. This is big people. The cells of every baby I've had- my four living children- and my beloved dead child- are living now, inside me. And they may help to save my life one day. I carry my children in my heart, perhaps, both mythically and literally. Chey's cells live. Inside me. Now that is enough to bring a tear or three to my eyes. As I told Sam on FB, it's gleefully ironic when mother's intuition synchronizes with science, and when the wisdom of the ancients eclipses the jaundice of modern thinking.

Every mother who has lost a child has within her cells that belonged to that son or daughter.


So, the relationship between a mother and her unborn baby is most accurately portrayed by the concept of mutualism or symbiosis. Each benefits the other in some very profound and perduring ways.

Thus, there are many scientific facts that should compel intelligent people to cease referring to unborn babies as parasites. Let's begin with the fact that it's indiscriminate and manipulative and ignorant, and reflects poorly on the cognitive capacity of the individual making such erroneous claims.

But, there are even better reasons to stop referring to unborn babies as parasites. It is hate language intended to devalue a woman's baby. And the devaluing of her baby is a devaluing of her self.

It's offensive to women- to mothers- to the babies- and to all those who really love them.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

October 15th is Infant and Child Death Awareness Day

Reminded by beautiful Kara and KotaPress, I want to share a video produced by the MISS Foundation to recognize the children who died before their time, and the countless families left to mourn in their wake. In addition, two years ago, I accepted the Hon Kachina Award just two days before Oct 15th in honor of these children and the organization that has done so much to change the way our culture mourns the death of a child because, for all eternity, they are ours- we are theirs.

I know that many of you already know about the Hon Kachina Award last night. Thank you Kylie's mom, Dana Southworth, for the nomination. It was such a wonderful surprise to be offered this award.

As I accepted this prestigious award, I held all your children in my heart, and I ached. There was not a single moment last night when I was not filled with gratitude for this beautiful organization that has helped so many. They filled a really beautiful vignette which I will share with you when I can figure out how to attach it.
Thank you all for having a heart of grace and a soul of love.
Your child lives through your service to others.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
This award belongs to all our children, the inspiration for our devotion to this cause.

I would like to share my acceptance speech.
By Joanne Cacciatore (c)
October 13, 2007
Scottsdale, Arizona
Hon Kachina acceptance speech

Everyone can be great, because anyone can live a life of service to others. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You need only a heart full of grace. You need only a soul filled with love.

Martin Luther King Jr.
Good evening and thank you. This award is only mine in trust. On July 27, 1994, I was called to serve. On this tragic day, my precious child died, and I had no choice but to answer the call to duty. During a time of inconsolable grief more than13 years ago, I made a vow that if I survived I would help others. While the cost was too high, the beauty from that pain has proven incalculable. And now, I could not begin to imagine my life without the many lessons that I’ve learned, my greatest teacher a child who lived so briefly. She taught me mindfulness and compassion, and that helping even one person can change the world; she taught me that love is stronger than Death; and most importantly, she inspired me to lead by serving.

The most noble and effectual form of leadership is exemplified in service to others—by responding to the needs of others- bridging the chasm between helplessness and hope. Leaders act as stewards in the building of communities. It is truly the greatest, most principled life you can lead- a life devoted to humanity. In service to others, you will realize far more than that which you sacrifice - you will discover the power of a purposeful life.

I hope I have inspired service as I have been inspired by others to serve, including comrades and colleagues, the most extraordinary people I have ever known. I hope that I have modeled the maxim of kindness for my children, and someday my grandchildren. I hope the legacy of my sojourn will be one in which, my name forgotten, the philosophy of this social movement will endure across generations.

I am so honored and humbled to receive the Hon Kachina in memory of all the children who died too soon, and I am incredibly grateful, especially to my five children, my source of sustenance, my four who walk – Arman, Cameron, Stevie Jo, Joshua and my one who soars, Cheyenne.

Remember: A life in service to others is the cornerstone of quintessential greatness. We can, indeed, change the world in which we live. It takes only a heart full of grace and a soul full of love. Thank you so very much.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Solitary and a Song

Loneliness and the feeling of being unheard is the most terrible poverty.
Mother Teresa

In the criminal justice world, solitary confinement is used as a punishment to avert future unwanted behaviors. It's effects are powerful. This type of draconian measure often drives prisoners to near madness. While some believe solitary confinement is more humane than harsh punitive interventions, I imagine the psychological flagellation and sociosensory deprivation to be nearly intolerable for most human beings.

I am reminded, however, that many bereaved- particularly those marginalized by stigmatic losses- are, in a sense, sentenced to a period of unsolicited solitary confinement. It's a period of incredible loneliness, even when surrounded by many others, particularly when one's loss goes unrecognized or unsanctioned by societal norms and values. Here, I am reminded of feminist Adrienne Rich's words:
Whatever is unnamed, undepicted in images, whatever is omitted from biography, censored in collections of letters, whatever is misnamed as something else, made difficult-to-come-by, whatever is buried in the memory by the collapse of meaning under an inadequate or lying language -- this will become, not merely unspoken, but unspeakable. And for the human being who is having the "unspeakable" experience, the sense of aloneness contributes to their invisibility, to their ushering into the shadows, to their solitude and pain.

This is a problem in the death studies field particularly in Western culture where the sense of the collective unification has been hijacked in order to stave off fears over feuding political ideologies (wherein the term "collective" is viewed as a pejorative by anti-socialists). But emotional collectivism and the rituals that are a natural accoutrement to those processes- truly help the individual in society. Unity in mourning or during crisis can unburden, sharing the bereavement experience and connecting humans to one another. Unity during times of joy and celebration can enrich, strengthen, and prolong the euphoria. I think of it as shared joy multiplying the joy and shared sorrow dividing the sorrow.

Thomas Verny, M.D. talks about one such collective lifespan ritual in his book Birth & Violence:
There is a tribe in East Africa in which the art of true intimacy (I would call it bonding) is fostered even before birth. In this tribe, the birth date of a child is not counted from the day of its physical birth nor even the day of conception, as in other village cultures. For this tribe the birth date comes the first time the child is a thought in its mother's mind. Aware of her intention to conceive a child with a particular father, the mother then goes off to sit alone under a tree. There she sits and listens until she can hear the song of the child that she hopes to conceive. Once she has heard it, she returns to her village and teaches it to the father so that they can sing it together as they make love, inviting the child to join them. After the child is conceived, she sings it to the baby in her womb. Then she teaches it to the old women and midwives of the village, so that throughout the labor and at the miraculous moment of birth itself, the child is greeted with its song. After the birth, all the villagers learn the song of their new member and sing it to the child when it falls or hurts itself. It is sung in times of triumph, or in rituals and initiations. The song becomes a part of the marriage ceremony when the child is grown, and at the end of life, his or her loved ones will gather around the deathbed and sing this song for the last time.

There is no solitary confinement there. No psychological violence or emotional torture. From the cradle to the grave, they are upheld, united by love, song, and death. No, there is no solitary confinement there.


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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