Monday, November 24, 2014

The Peaceful Fields

Dark-Eyed Juncos in Berthoud, CO near Carter Lake. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

"How can we hear the song of the field while our ears have the clamor of the city to swallow?" --Kahlil Gibran

Sparrow in tree near Berthoud, CO. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

I live on half an acre in the mountains of Colorado. There are fields behind my home filled with wildflowers in the summertime and sparkling white snow in winter. I call them my peace fields. They fill my heart with peace.

Late at night, I stand on the back porch, stare up at the stars and make my wish that some day I will be able to plant these fields with fruit trees and vegetables, and with goats and chickens. I dream that I will use the gift of these crops to help families who are struggling to feed themselves. I know how stressful and frightening life can be for young parents who must struggle to feed their families. I was once a young, single mother struggling to feed her two children when a woman, a stranger, offered to rent her home to me at a shockingly low rate. The home was surrounded by quiet, peaceful fields, and I used these fields to grow vegetables and herbs, and raise goats and chickens.

Yucca in snow. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

These are difficult times. In our county, the food program was increased in early 2000 to help families struggling with recession. Now, the food program has been reduced--for some families as much as $50 a month--in order to compensate for the increase ten years earlier. I was blessed to have friends in my community help me through my struggles. I actually paid for my daycare with goat's milk and chicken eggs so I could attend college! I know there is a reason why God sent me back to this same small town, and why I am surrounded by peaceful fields.

Tree at Carter Lake near my home in Berthoud, CO. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

As I watch the tiny birds sitting in the trees and listen to their song it enables me to think, plan, and dream. I dream of creating a microfarm to help struggling families, and I believe that is why I am here once again, in this same place, in this same small town.

I believe everyone needs a dream. Dreams give us hope. This is my dream--to pay it forward to this wonderful community of people who helped me through the years. It is a good dream, to make wise use of these peaceful fields and help others. I feel it in my heart.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Woman Injured in Skydiving Accident--Please Pray!

This is Kenzie Markie. She was injured in a skydiving accident in Arizona and is in serious condition. She is family of a friend and she needs to get home to her father in Canada, but she is still in serious condition. Please send prayers and healing energy!

This is a link to an article explaining the accident: Kenzie Markey

This is the link to donate a dollar to help send her home: Fundrazr . com

Monday, April 14, 2014

Kindness, Paying it Forward, and Goats

Alpine Goat in Paris, France. Photo by Eponimm. I was told by a local goat farmer that the Alpine goat is a great milking goat. 

When my children were young and I was suddenly a single mother I was determined to do everything I could to make their lives beautiful so the pain and grieving experience of losing a relationship would not affect them as it was affecting me. Some things I tried worked well, some did not. I tried writing them letters to tell them about my life, but they ended up expressing a bit too much pain, but I would still highly recommend journal writing as a healing tool. I also played subliminal positive affirmation tapes while they were falling asleep, tapes that had a man's soft voice telling them they were strong, intelligent, amazing people speaking behind music that generally put them to sleep within minutes. Oddly enough, I believe that was effective. Although they were sleeping when he spoke, they can still recite the introduction to those tapes 30 years later, and yes, they are strong, intelligent, and amazing!

And now I'll bet you're wondering what this has to do with the goats...

Nubian goat. I love Nubian goats. I think it's something about those ears! Photo by TTaylor.

During this healing phase I also decided I was going to teach my children to appreciate the many gifts God has given us, including the gift of animals. In order to do this I obviously could not raise my children in an apartment in the city. I lived with my parents for a short time and they generously cared for my children while I looked for a new home. This was a great decision because my parents taught them that family supports each other. However, I still prayed for a home of our own, a place away from the city where we could rest, heal, and live with nature. 

I was at work when I found the ad in the paper. It was like a miracle you would see in a movie! At the bottom of the page, just a few lines, a two-bedroom farmhouse with fenced yard and barn for $300 a month. I think I actually started crying. (Yes, I'm getting to the goats!)

African Pygmy Goat. Photo in pubic domain. I have read that milk from the Pygmy Goat works well for making butter--and they're just so cute! In fact, according to a book I found online, Pygmy Goat milk is the best for making butter because milk from the other varieties of goats is not as rich. This, however, makes their milk good for different purposes, which I will discuss in a moment. 

I met the woman who owned the rental house--the original homesteading house on the historic property. She owned all of the land around, and a much larger house down the road so she would be fairly close in case of an emergency. The house had a chicken coop for night safety, a barn, a rabbit hutch, and a small pond that I built for ducks. It had trees, and birds, and wild animals that crept about at night. It was across a field from the train tracks and we could listen to the trains and sometimes walked along the tracks while I told them stories about the history of Colorado. It was perfect.

Layla Lou, my house bunny, in her hutch. My current bunny lives in our dining room because her hutch fits perfectly by the back door and she can look outside whenever she wants. 

My older sister, who lives in Arkansas, tried to give me advice. We started with the rabbits and they seemed very happy, but my sister disapproved. Apparently we were supposed to eat the rabbits, not pet them. That idea didn't go over well with any of us! We then bought chickens and unfortunately ended up with a few too many roosters. One of the roosters tried to attack my daughter every time she wore a certain pink coat. A friend took care of the rooster problem. I had a few Running Ducks and the chickens and ducks roamed the yard, ate all the bugs, and left us a large supply of eggs. The house also had a huge kitchen and I made all of our bread. I then found a goat, Ivy. She was registered and had a pedigree, performed little dances for the children, and her milk was delicious. There was only one problem: I had too much food! In fact, I had so much milk and eggs that I had to throw some away because it was spoiling.

I loved our Running Ducks. They remind me of little people, get along great with other animals, and they make great guard...ducks. Photo by Lantus.

Then my world changed again. I was offered my old job back in Denver. The pay was fantastic, and we needed to get back on our feet financially, but I didn't have money for a babysitter saved up yet and I had already asked so much of my parents! My mother tried caring for my children for awhile, but she had a job, too, working with my father. It was time to pray for another miracle, and the miracle came with the help of Ivy, the wonder goat. 

Look! It's a kid! Photo by Lionel Rich.

The miracle was not what I expected! My mother met a woman who recently gave birth to her fourth child, but the baby would not take her breast milk or formula. She did, however, drink goats milk! The young woman told me that she also went through a time in her life when she could not pay for groceries and a stranger helped her out so she and her children could start over. She offered to babysit for me in exchange for goats milk and chicken eggs. I couldn't believe it--a babysitter who actually needed our excess goat's milk and chicken eggs! It was too much, really! I mean, I knew how much she could have charged me for watching my children, but she didn't charge me--she was paying it forward.

Take Five! What a cute collection! Chicks are so adorable, and they are useful in teaching children to be gentle. Photo by siehe Lizenz.

It wasn't easy. I was a single mother working a full-time job. I had to milk the goat at sunrise, feed the chickens, dress the children for daycare, drive half an hour one way to the babysitter then drive 1 1/2 hours to Denver to work. It was a challenge, but a fun challenge. Every minute of every day was fun!

And oh how quickly life changes. My children's father returned to the state and we decided that even though we could not make our marriage work, we were going to do all we could to make our divorce work with joint custody and equal support. I realized I had to make a choice between being able to afford to support my children and pay for college, or work in Denver and sacrifice the college education. But the education was a learning experience that I wanted for my children, too! I wanted them to see me succeed! I told them, always, that they could be anyone the wanted to be, that they could do anything they wanted to do! I had started working as a journalist at 18 years old with no college education, just determination and the desire to succeed. Now, I wanted the education to back up my journalism career, and more than anything, I wanted to show my children I could succeed.

Life is a series of decisions and choices, and so, my little farm came to a sad, painful end.

The farmhouse was torn down years ago and replaced with a subdivision as we moved on with our lives. However, none of us has ever forgotten our little farm in Berthoud, Colorado. In fact, I still hear my children talking about it to their friends and their own children, and my children are now in their thirties. And I have a debt of kindness to repay to society. I need to pay it forward.

Herd of goats in the Greek highlands/public domain. I may need a herd this size to fulfill my dream!

I now have a new dream, and I will make this dream happen. I want to raise goats and chickens and donate the milk, cheese, and eggs to single mothers and low-income families. My grandchildren are strong, intelligent, active, and growing older, and they can help me with the animals the way their parents helped me, and they can learn about these wonderful gifts from God. 

It is more than a dream, it is something that I know in my heart I must do, so once again, I am praying for a miracle. We have sold our house in New Mexico and we are moving back to Colorado to live close to our children and grandchildren. I know, in my heart, that this miracle will come true.

African Pygmy Goat. Photo in public domain.

So I am praying. I am praying that all the pieces will come together. I am praying that I will find the perfect home, and the goats and chickens, and the strength and energy to run this small enterprise, and the people who need my help with the gift of milk, eggs, and cheese. I am praying for a miracle. I am praying for the chance to pay it forward after all these years in memory of that wonderful woman who helped me so generously with her gift of kindness by trading goats milk for child care.

Friday, April 11, 2014

On Joy...

"We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, 
joy follows like a shadow that never leaves." 

"Joy in looking and comprehending is nature's most beautiful gift." --Albert Einstein

"Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls." 
--Mother Teresa

"Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness 
that you are able to give." --Eleanor Roosevelt

White-Winged Dove building a nest. 
All photos by Darla Sue Dollman. Do not use without permission.

In Love...

Black Vultures in Kingsland, Texas. 
Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.                            

I photographed vultures often when I lived in Texas where they are welcomed as God's cleaning crew and admired for their huge size and interesting habit of circling around warm updrafts. (No, vultures do not circle around dead animals). However, Black Vultures are also interesting for another reason--they are monogamous, and they mate for life.

While photographing and studying vultures I also noticed that Black Vultures were actually affectionate toward each other. For example, one afternoon my husband and I were driving through town and noticed two vultures sitting side by side on a rooftop. We pulled the truck over to the side of the road to watch. One of the vultures--I assumed it was the male--would leave on occasion and fly in circles around the other then each time it came in to land it was just a little bit closer until he was right beside her. It was fascinating to watch. Then it started to rain and the bird did the most amazing thing--he spread his wing around her back as if to protect her and keep her warm.

I told this story to a friend who also studies birds and he laughed and told me I was trying to attribute human habits to animals, but I know what I saw, and my husband saw the same thing. It was a moment we will never forget. As we watched those two birds sitting on the rooftop my husband and I sat in our truck holding hands and watched the cuddling vultures in the rain.

Black Vultures form such a close bond with each other that they spend all of their time together, not just during mating season. They sit close to each other, or if they are on separate posts, across from each other or side by side. In vulture culture flirting with other vultures is taboo. In fact, vultures will drive cheaters out of their venue (flock).

I firmly believe they enjoy each other's company because they are in love.

Being in love is more than just giggling and flirting, buying gifts and dating, though I do believe those activities are important to human relationships. It may be important to Black Vultures, as well. For example, there was a couple of Black Vultures that lived in the forest behind our Texas home. Every night I climbed onto the roof of our house to photograph the sunset. Every night, those vultures flew out of the forest and onto a large, metal post in the distance.

The vulture couple watching the sunset. When the sun went down they would fly back over my head as I sat on the roof and into the forest behind me. Black Vultures build their nests on the ground and it was around Valentine's Day, so I think they had a nest behind the house. It would be the perfect spot, right next to our stream and with a never-ending supply of small birds that I kept well-fed! 

They sat side by side, facing the setting sun, and when the sun was down they flew back over my head and returned to their forest home. This may just be my opinion, but I believe they did this because they were "in love," because they enjoyed each other's company all of the time.

Sunset over Kingsland, Texas. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

And I guess that's my point. It's fun to fall in love and it's fun to flirt and go on dates, but you know you are truly "in love" when you are willing to be there for each other through the good and the bad, through the long haul, for life, and you truly enjoy each other's company. You know you are in love when you are willing to sit next to each other in a rain storm and one of you places your wing across the shoulders of the other to keep your partner warm and dry. That is being in love.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Happiness: How to Stay Happy in Love

My secret to a happy and joyful relationship: 
Watch the sunrise together...

Watch the sunset together...

And when the sky is clear, step outside and stare at the moon together. 

Then just before bed, hold each other's hands and pray together. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Good for you, Good for Them, Good for the World

Wedding Rings. One of the fastest ways to destroy a marriage is to fight on Facebook. If it's not good for you, and it's not good for your marriage, don't do it. Photo by Musaromana.

For those of you who do not know, Facebook is a social media network. I joined six or seven years ago on the advice of my children so I could communicate with them and their friends more often--my children are married with children of their own and still have the same friends they did in elementary school, and now, they are my friends, too. 

My parents are on Facebook, all of my children, their in-laws, their friends, my friends--I now feel more connected with family and friends through Facebook than I have felt my entire life.

When Social Media is NOT Good for you...

However, there are two hidden dangers in this connection--comfort and strangers. Strange to think comfort would be a danger? Not with social media. 

Along with adding friends and family, you quickly learn how easy it is to add strangers. Eventually, these strangers become very good friends...or they don't. I honestly do not see how anyone can be "very good friends" with 350 Facebook friends! Inviting strangers into your personal world is a risk, it is dangerous if we discuss too much of our personal lives, especially disagreements. 

Which brings me to hidden danger number two: Comfort. One of the first things I noticed about Facebook was how comfortable people seemed to be talking about their personal lives. I am referring to people who talk poorly about their spouses or children on Facebook. 

I have seen/read fights that lasted for days between family members who were all friends with me and friends with each other on Facebook, and some of these people had 300 friends on their page from work, school, family, and all of these friends read every word of these arguments, and if these friends do not have their page set up properly, all of their friends saw these arguments, and so on and so on. You do the math--it frightens me! 

When I joined, I made a promise to myself that I would never speak poorly of a family member or friend on Facebook. Sometimes I am temperamental. Sometimes I say things I do not mean. I have deleted many comments immediately after making them. I have deleted friends for consistently being mean to me or others.

Good for you! 

My point is, if it isn't good for me, I shouldn't do it. If it is bad for me, bad for my family, my friends, the people I love, I shouldn't say it, do it, post it. 

I wish I could say this to some of my friends without sounding judgmental. I wish I could stop them in the middle of a fight and say, "Hey! Your 300 game friends, 100 school friends and 50 family members are all reading this every personal argument between you and your husband! This is not good for you! This is not good for your marriage!" 

But, this is not my business, either. All I can do is keep in mind that programs like Facebook--as much as they might feel like home while we're talking to our friends and family and posting photos of our children--are public, not private. Just about as public as you can get!

No judgment here, just advice...

So yes, I will offer this advice: If it's not good for you, perhaps you should not join. Or perhaps you should un-join. If it's not good for your relationships, friendships, children, then why are you doing it? Yes, it can be fun, but it can also be addicting, and addictions are not good for you. Yes, the games are fun, too, but the more people you add to play games, that's more people who will read and know everything about your personal life. 

Personal is private, and disagreements with someone you love should always be private. When they become public--especially to 300 people--it is nearly impossible to heal the pain. 

We all say things we regret later, some of us more often than others, and we all have times when we need to apologize to those we love, but if we say those hurtful words in front of an audience, the pain we've caused intensifies. It becomes embarrassment, public humiliation, and perhaps could even be considered abuse depending on the situation. 

"Corazon" by Ilhh. Public domain.

I'm not a marriage therapist. I'm not a psychiatrist. I'm a wife, mother, stepmother, a grandmother, and a friend, and I don't see these roles as work, but if I did refer to them as jobs I would say, from my heart, that they are the most important jobs I will ever have. 

Our children and grandchildren are the future of this world. If we teach them peace, honor, compassion, kindness and love, this is what they will continue to bring to this world long after we are gone. It is our legacy. They are our legacy.

This Train we Call Life

My grandmother told me once that families are like trains and each generation should be better than the last, improving in every way, growing in strength and positive energy sent out into the world as each generation moves closer to the engine, the ultimate source of power in this train we call life.

Train outside Eaton, Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

We can teach our children, grandchildren, and other family members to speak and act with compassion, kindness and love--through example--so they can teach the same to their families and each generation will serve to build a better world. Yes, we can. 

My grandchildren, Eli and Layla, waiting for the train.

"But wait," you might say to me, "That engine driving this world can be good or bad!" As each generation in my family moves closer to that engine, I want to make sure that it is better than the last. That is not to say my ancestors were bad, but that I want every member of my family to continue to add positive energy to the world, and the only way I can assist in this movement is by watching my words, to make good comments, positive, loving, compassionate comments. Good for me. Good for them. Good for the world. We can choose to send positive energy to drive that train! 
Some Things Last Forever

The words I speak and have spoken will affect my relationships with my family for the rest of their lives, including the apologies I make. I must tread carefully, making sure that my words and actions always express my love to the best of my ability, and if they don't, I must make sure that I make amends. If my words and actions are broadcast in front of 300 people, that becomes almost impossible...and that is why, as I said before, I promised myself that I would never speak poorly of a family or friend on Facebook, or any other social media. If it's not good for you, it's not good for them. Don't do it. If you can't stop, then opt out of social media. It is that simple. 

If someone told me I had the chance to offer one piece of advice to all of my friends and family, that would be it--be kind to your family and friends on social media. Do not air your dirty laundry in public because it leaves a stain that you will never wash out. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Forgiveness as Defined in the Bible

Photos by Darla Sue Dollman.

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth." --I Corinthians 13:4-6, The Bible

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven." --Luke 6:37, The Bible

"When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” --Luke 23:33-34, The Bible

"Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."--Colossians 3:13, The Bible

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Empathy: Why I Became a Vegetarian

Gentleman Bud. Buddy has more ability to show empathy than most humans I've known. He is an eight-year-old chocolate lab and 100 pounds of pure love. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

My dog, Buddy, is one of the most compassionate and loving animals I've ever known, especially with other animals. He listens carefully to the sounds made by other animals and responds appropriately. Years ago, my son had a dog named Brewser, a much smaller chocolate lab who had seizures when he was afraid. I've posted before on my Blessed Little Creatures blog about the fact that when we adopt animals we have no way of knowing about their past and sometimes they come with burdens too great for them to bear, just like humans. Brewser was such an animal. When Brewser became frightened he cried like a child. 

Buddy, Baby, who was rescued from the New Mexico desert, and Buddy's sister, Holly watching Dad cook (they're not begging, really, just supervising). Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

When this happened at our home, Buddy crawled "commando-style" to Brewser's side, moving softly, quietly, through the gunfire in Brewser's mind to remain undetected, and when he reached Brewser he licked his nose and make soft, comforting sounds until Brewser stopped shaking. Brewser's body language showed fear. Buddy read that fear and responded with compassion. We never knew what happened to Brewser to create such intense feelings in him. We still don't know what happened to Buddy that helps him connect empathetically to other creatures in ways that some humans find impossible to do. 

Baby, Buddy, Holly and Chewy--the "pack"--waiting for Dad to come in the door. They jump up when they hear his truck in the driveway. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

What I do know is my personal experience in watching Buddy connect with other animals and humans has reinforced in me my dedication to vegetarianism. I know animals have emotions. I know, in my heart, that animals have the right to be treated with kindness and compassion. We are their caretakers, and that is a great responsibility. When I see photos of men beating sick and frightened cattle it makes me want to vomit, and anyone who is capable of feeling empathy should feel the same way, but this IS our food industry. It is cruel and abusive, and it must be changed.

Why I Became a Vegetarian
I have been a vegetarian since I was a teenager and collected quotes on vegetarianism for many years, posting them in my journals, writing about the thoughts and feelings they inspired. There are many aspects to the issue of vegetarianism, including compassion for all living creatures, which addresses the treatment of animals before they are slaughtered and suffering and pain they endure; the perceived need to eat animal flesh to survive; and the ethical issues involved in taking the life of another living creature. 

Deer in Kingsland, Texas. During hunting season they often come into town seeking safe haven. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

These quotes cover many of these issues. They form a statement of sorts, an explanation of why I have taken a vow to never intentionally harm another living creature. I am not perfect, I sometimes fail in my goal not to harm, but I do try my very best, and these quotes are my inspiration.


Author Rai Aren--Rai Aren is the author Secrets of the Sand, an archaeology adventure, historical fiction novel and Amazon Kindle bestseller. Her book received the silver medal in the 2009 Readers Fiction-Mystery category. 

One of my favorite quotes from her book: "Know that the same spark of life that is within you, is within all of our animal friends, the desire to live is the same within all of us." When asked about her decision to become a vegan, Aren replied, "I made the choice...because I will not eat (or wear, or use) anything that could have an emotional response to its death or captivity. I can well imagine what that must feel like for our non-human friends--the fear, the terror, the pain--and I will not cause such suffering to a fellow living being."

Chewy was abandoned in the forest that surrounded our house in Texas. He came to us in a thunderstorm as we were prepared our home during a tornado watch. He was hiding beneath my truck, whining, begging for shelter. He's been with us ever since, usually hiding beneath the blankets as chihuahuas love to do! Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Philosopher Albert Schweitzer--Albert Schweitzer (Jan 14, 1875-Sept 4, 1965) was a German philosopher and Lutheran medical missionary who left his church position to move to Gabon in west central Africa where he founded the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambarene. He was the recipient of a 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for his philosophy of "Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben," which means "to be in awe of the mystery of life," or more often translated as "a reverence for life." His work at the hospital in Lambarene was his attempt to demonstrate this philosophy.

One of the baby rabbits in our neighborhood. They don't last long due to the large number of coyotes. It is hard to think about, but it is the natural cycle of life, which I do not believe includes humans. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

As Schweitzer explained, "A man is truly ethical only when he obeys the compulsion to help all lives which he is able to assist, and shrinks from injuring anything that lives." In a similar vein, which also describes his work at the hospital, he also said, "A man is ethical only when life, as such, is sacred to him, that of plants and animals as that of his fellow men, and when he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help."

Animal Rights and Morality 

Author Henry Stephens Salt--Writer, biographer, and literary critic, Henry Stephens Salt (Sept 20, 1851-April 19, 1939) dedicated his life to fighting for the rights of animals. In his writings, he clearly distinguished between the need for better treatment of animals, an argument popular with many of his colleagues, and his belief that animals have rights. In his treatise Animal Rights, Salt said, "To live one's own life--to realize one's true self--is the highest moral purpose of man and animal alike; and that animals possess their due measure of this sense of individuality is scarcely open to doubt."

Mohandas K. Gandhi, 1940s, photographer unknown, public domain.

Salt was also an acquaintance of Mohandas Gandhi. In a letter Salt wrote to Gandhi in 1890, he summarized his feelings about the connection between humanitarianism and vegetarianism when he said, "I cannot see how there can be any real and full recognition of kinship as long as men continue either to eat or cheat their fellow beings. In 1931, Gandhi appeared before the Vegetarian Society and explained that, "It was Mr. Salt's book, A Plea for Vegetarianism, which showed me why, apart from my adherence to a vow administered to me by my mother, it was right to be a vegetarian. He showed me why it was a moral duty incumbent on vegetarians not to live upon fellow-animals."

Canadian Goose at sunset. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Author Isaac Bashevis Singer--Polish born, Jewish-American author Isaac Bashevis Singer (Nov 21, 1902-July 24, 1991) is known as a leader in the Yiddish literary movement and a recipient of a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978. He was also awarded two National Book Awards; one in Children's Literature for his memoir: A Day of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw; and Fiction for his collection A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories. Singer is also believed to be one of the most powerful pro-animal voices of the 20th century.

Kissing Doves in Rio Rancho, NM. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Singer explained his decision to become a vegetarian quite clearly: "My vegetarianism is a great protest, and I dream that there may be a whole religion based on protest...against everything which is not just: about the fact that there is so much sickness, so much death, so much cruelty. My vegetarianism is my religion, and it's part of my protest against the conduct of the world." He also viewed vegetarianism as a moral issue. As he explained, "People often say that humans have always eaten animals, as if this is a justification for continuing the practice. According to this logic, we should not try to prevent people from murdering other people, since this has also been done since the earliest of times." My favorite Singer quote, though, is: "I didn't become a vegetarian for my health, I did it for the health of the chickens!"


Activist Thich Nhat Hanh--One of my favorite authors, Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and acclaimed author of more than 100 books, including the bestselling True Love. He is also active in the peace movement and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr. Thich Nhat Hanh said that "Even if we cannot be completely non-violent, by being vegetarian we are going in the direction of non-violence."

Layla Lou our house bunny. She was found beneath our trailer, dehydrated, covered in bugs and with her ribs showing beneath her fur. Now she's fat and sassy. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

He also advocates vegetarianism to protect the health of our planet. In his book, The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology he wrote, "By eating meat we share the responsibility of climate change, the destruction of our forests, and the poisoning of our air and water. The simple act of becoming a vegetarian will make a difference in the health of our planet." In the forward to Joan Halifax's exploration of Buddhism: The Fruitful Darkness: A Journey Through Buddhist Practice and Tribal Wisdom, he wrote, "Being vegetarian here also means that we do not consume dairy and egg products, because they are products of the meat industry. If we stop consuming, they will stop producing. Only collective awakening can create enough determination for action."

Another baby bunny. We do have many here in New Mexico! Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Author Jonathan Safran Foer--Jonathan Safran Foer is a prolific writer as well as an animal activist. Foer was the recipient of the Zoetrope All-Story Fiction Prize in 2000; the New York Public Library's Young Lions Fiction Award in 2003; and was included in Granta's Best of Young American Novelists in 2007. He is also the author of the controversial 2009 non-fiction novel Eating Animals, exposing the horrors of slaughterhouses and exploring the issues of factory farming and commercial fisheries. In Eating Animals, Foer says, "Perhaps in the back of our minds we already understand, without all the science I've discussed, that something terribly wrong is happening. Our sustenance now comes from misery. We know that if someone offers to show us a film on how our meat is produced, it will be a horror film. We perhaps know more than we care to admit, keeping it down in the dark places of our memory--disavowed. When we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own."

Mexican Wolf. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

In this same book, the statement by Foer that perhaps has affected me the most is actually a question. "Just how destructive does a culinary preference have to be before we decide to eat something else? If contributing to the suffering of billions of animals that live miserable lives and (quite often) die in horrific ways isn't motivating, what would be? If being the number one contributor to the most serious threat facing the planet (global warming) isn't enough, what is? And if you are tempted to put off these questions of conscience, to say now now, then when?"

Baby cow in Utah. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

These quotes are more than words to me, they are ideals, values, principles that I pursue as a goal. Share with me! I invite you to post your own thoughts and favorite quotes on vegetarianism in the comment section below.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Doctor: Compassion in Health Care

William Hurt signing autographs at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival while promoting History of Violence. Photograph by sheksay (Tony Shek).

In 1988, Random House published Dr. Edward Rosenbaum's book A Taste of my Own Medicine, a biographical account of his experience as a doctor who develops throat cancer and is suddenly forced to understand life as a patient instead of a doctor. 

The film version was released in 1991 by Touchstone Pictures, directed by Randa Haines and starring Academy Award Winners William Hurt and Christine Lahti, and Golden Globe Nominees Mandy Patinkin and Elizabeth Perkins. The film is emotionally stunning. The first time I watched it I knew it had the potential to impact the American medical system in a profound way, but it was overshadowed by the simultaneous release of Regarding Henry, starring Harrison Ford. 

Sometimes I think we need film activists to fight for the promotion of movies like The Doctor, movies so powerful they have the ability to create change, (though the same argument could be made for Regarding Henry).

The Plot of The Doctor and how it Reflects Reality

In The Doctor, William Hurt plays Dr. Jack McKee, one of the top surgeons at what appears to be a teaching hospital. At the beginning of the movie he is shown speaking to a group of interns, explaining to them that they should avoid any emotional connection with the patients. He also has a brief conversation with his partner, Dr. Murray Kaplan, played by Mandy Patinkin. Kaplan is apparently being sued and he wants McKee to meet with him so they can "get their stories straight," as they have before, he implies, in similar situations. McKee calmly agrees.

The opening scenes of this film are vitally important to understanding the meaning of this film. McKee's behavior, and that of his partner, often resembles that of a sociopath with the lack of empathy and remorse; refusal to take responsibility for the effects their actions have on the lives of others; changing their image to avoid prosecution; shallow emotions; and grandiose sense of self. 

Mandy Patinkin on January 13, 2012, outside the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Photo by Bearian.

McKee is next shown in a surgical setting with his partner assisting. It is a relaxed setting with loud music and inappropriate comments made about the patient who is under sedation. This was particularly disturbing to me as I experienced a minor procedure once while under sedation and I could hear and remember everything that was said about me up to the point that the doctor realized I was still awake and listening, and it was not pleasant. 

It Starts With a Cough

McKee's sociopathic tendencies become even more evident when he realizes he is sick and needs treatment. As with most illnesses, McKee's cancer first shows with a simple cough. He clears his throat. Later, returning from a dinner party with his wife, he has a coughing fit in the car. He has a biopsy, which is positive for cancer. 

McKee makes an appointment with a surgeon--keep in mind this is a woman who has the same job he does--and the doctor is just as cold and rude as he is to his own patients. McKee is shocked, offended that she would treat him this way, and yet, this is how he has trained other doctors to treat patients--he is no longer the doctor. 

A Name on a Chart

McKee tries to find out the results of his tests and is forced to wait a ridiculous amount of time. He again is angry. He works at the hospital! He demands his tests and makes a scene. Another patient, June Ellis, played by Elizabeth Perkins, makes it clear to him that his behavior is rude and inappropriate as everyone else in the room is also waiting for their tests, also have jobs and families and places they need to be, and they've been waiting longer than he has for their tests. 

McKee calms down and asks about her diagnosis and when she tells him about her diagnosis, an inoperable brain tumor. McKee lies and tells her his father once had a patient with the same diagnosis who survived. She is offended and later confronts him about the lie. He is embarrassed. He tries to explain that he was only trying to help her feel better, but he is beginning to realize that he has no idea how to connect with people. He has spent so many years building an emotional wall between himself and others that he is completely lost. 

He is also beginning to notice that his colleagues, and coworkers who were of a lower hierarchical status in the medical professions, are treating him differently now that he has become a patient. 

Abrupt Role Reversal

McKee's role has been reversed overnight and he's had no time to adjust. That's the way it is with illness. There is never time to adjust to the fact that overnight as the patient suddenly loses all social status, respect, and dignity, and becomes a name and set of numbers on a chart.

He does try to adjust, though. Slowly, McKee begins to empathize with the other patients. He learns the names of other patients. He recognizes the cold and impersonal treatment of the medical personnel, and it can get pretty cold in a hospital when a patient is in a gown with their fanny exposed! He experiences things that anyone who has ever been in a hospital can relate to, such as trying to make a comment to a nurse or compliment a technician and have them ignore the comment or act as if the patient is not even in the room while they are sticking needles and tubes into the patient's body and drawing blood from his or her veins. This behavior, ignoring the patient, refusing to respond to comments, acting as if the patient is not even there is a form of bullying and can be emotionally devastating to a patient. McKee sees all of this, and he takes it all in, absorbs it, feels it, and begins to change even more. 

He sees a man struggling with his car. The man is locked out of his car. McKee realizes this man is the same patient suing his partner. The man is in pain, angry, frustrated. McKee's colleagues tell him the man is crazy--yes, you guessed it, more bullying--and advise him to walk away. It is clear that every aspect of this poor man's life has been destroyed, not just by his suffering and pain from the mistakes made by Dr. Kaplan, McKee's partner, but by the denial, the lie. This is not only clear to the audience, but suddenly, to McKee, as well, who helps the man with his car. 

The Lie 

We are taught in our society that we cannot heal ourselves, that we must turn to medical "professionals" for help. The person, or patient, is frightened, suffering, confused by the barrage of terms, overwhelmed with bills, and most of all, vulnerable. 

When medical professionals fail to help, or make the situation worse, and respond with bullying, abuse, and lies as they do in this film, then collaborate to literally "gang up" against their patients with more lies when the case goes to court--as it often must so the patient can afford the help he or she will need for the remainder of his or her life--the effects are devastating and not surprisingly, often lead to patient suicide, at which point the medical professionals respond by claiming the patient had mental issues from the start. 

This is actually typical behavior of bullies and abusers documented in spousal abuse studies. Perhaps it is time that cases like the one presented in this film require a mental examination of the doctors, as well, and laws forbidding doctors to discuss the case in advance so they can work on a lie, which is what Kaplan asks of McKee throughout the film. I believe it is time that an appropriate, compassionate beside manner is taught and demanded of medical professionals.   

The Disappearance

McKee's friendship with Ellis deepens even though he knows she is going to die. He is taking a great risk with his emotions, and he does so willingly. He has clearly changed from the man he was as a doctor and become a patient, a person, a human being. However, there are still many connections he has made in his life that he has failed to build into relationships, such as the connection with his wife, his partner, and his students.

When Ellis mentions that she has always wanted to see a specific Native American Indian show, McKee surprises her by trying to drive her to the show, which proves to be too much for her. He has forgotten to inform his wife of his plans, though. He has bonded emotionally as a patient, but still failed to connect with other people, even the most important people in his life. His wife is struggling to understand the sudden changes in her husband, but he has become a stranger to her, a man she's never met before, and she is understandably frightened and concerned.

Cancer as a Metaphor

The radiation treatments do not stop McKee's cancer. It is destroying his vocal cords. The cancer is also destroying the man he once was and he must change completely in order to survive. The disease has become a metaphor for McKee's life, even though it is killing him. It will kill him metaphorically. It must in order to destroy the old Dr. McKee so a new man can emerge.

McKee finally confronts his doctor, calls her out on her cold, callous behavior and ends their doctor/patient relationship. He then turns to another doctor, Eli Bloomfield played by Adam Arkin. It is clearly a difficult conversation for McKee as he admits that he and his partner, Kaplan, often mocked Bloomfield, which brings in another issue of bullying in the workplace as discussed in my last post and the many reasons this takes place.

McKee begins his conversation with Bloomfield with an apology, which is a big step for him, then asks Bloomfield to perform the surgery on his vocal cords. Bloomfield replies with a joke, saying, "Well, Jack, I've always wanted to slit your throat." Bloomfield smiles, and his smile tells it all. Bloomfield is McKee's foil in the plot. Where McKee and his partner are the bullies of the hospital, Bloomfield is the voice of compassion in the workplace, which makes him the target of bullying and abuse by the other doctors for many reasons including power, control, and psychological issues.

The Trade-Off

June Ellis dies. As a writer, I knew this had to happen. She is the sacrifice. Her death is necessary to make McKee's transformation complete. She is the caterpillar who disappears, and the healed McKee is the butterfly that emerges. Her death is, of course, devastating to McKee who no longer displays the personality traits of a sociopath. Ellis leaves him a private letter that speaks from the heart and provides even more fuel for change. He empathizes. He understands. He hurts. He clearly loved Ellis, not on a romantic level, but as a friend and as a fellow human being.

McKee is told that his cancer is completely gone, and we, as intelligent viewers, realize he had to recover because the disappearance of the cancer, his healing, is vital to his complete transformation. Of course, there is always the chance that cancer will return, but as a viewer you can almost hear the victims of bullying in the audience sigh with relief when McKee discovers he will survive because it has now become clear that he is a permanently changed man and we know that in the end scenes he will also change his ways in the hospital and his personal life.

A New Man

When McKee returns home he cannot speak. He uses a chalkboard to communicate with his wife. They both quickly discover she is not ready to accept him into their home, a place that has become her solace, her private space while he works ridiculous hours (yes, I do believe we expect way too much of doctors and invite potentially deadly mistakes from exhaustion), attends parties, meetings, and even disappears with fellow patients. Anne makes it clear to her husband that she no longer knows who he is, not only because he has changed through the process of the illness, but also because they have grown apart through years of relationship neglect. 

McKee uses a bell and his chalkboard to communicate his regret and his desire to begin again in a heart-wrenching scene as he chases his wife through the house, begging for a second chance, but to Anne, he is even more of a stranger. His desperation is clear and his performance at this point Oscar-worthy. He needs her, he tells her, and we, the audience, know this is true, more than ever. 

McKee eventually returns to work. He has transformed. He confronts his partner with the fact that Kaplan did, in fact, make a terrible mistake and should take responsibility for his actions. Kaplan is stunned. McKee, however, has a clear conscience because he now has a conscience! 

McKee then meets with his students. He instructs the interns to change into medical gowns, exposing their own fannies to the world, leaving them completely vulnerable, essentially and metaphorically naked and exposed as their patients will be when they become doctors. 

McKee has files in his hands with the titles of various illnesses written on the front. He tells the patients that in the following weeks, instead of following him around (as he makes snide remarks about patients and other doctors and instructs them to keep an emotional distance), they will now become the patients, each with a specific illness. He orders the appropriate tests for each intern so they will know how it feels when a nurse sticks a needle in their arm, ignores their small talk, pretends they are invisible. They will live the experience of being a patient. They will feel the pain. 

I believe this film should be required viewing for anyone who works in a medical profession. I believe it represents a flaw in the system. No, it is more like an open wound that festers and is growing more deadly with time. The new, transformed Dr. McKee represents the many medical professionals who know that it is time for a change, that there is a desperate need for compassionate care in medical settings. These men and women, in my mind, are heroes.   

May God bless them, each and every one.    

  • The Doctor. Dir. Randa Haines. Perf. William Hurt; Christine Lahti; Elizabeth Perkins; Mandy Patinkin; Alan Arkin. Touchstone Pictures: 1991.