FTDO: A Message of Peace

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The Heap presents a special edition of “From The Desk Of” since I really don’t have the chance to write from work anymore. It has gotten extremely busy these days, especially now that it is the end of the year! So I’ll tell the tale from the comfort of home!

I have stories upon stories to tell thanks to the vast array of interesting people my job allows me to help through the county’s patient assistance program. But this ONE story really touched me. I mean, it absolutely makes you appreciate the circumstances I was born into, how fate had it that I was born as an American during a relatively peaceful time, and how one of my patients was born into extreme poverty in what can be considered a third world country. He grew up during a time of political unrest and ultimately bloody revolution. He lives to tell of the atrocities he has experienced.

A lot of my older patients have a hard time understanding the general process of the program we run, and what exactly is needed. Now factor in that he can only speak and understand Spanish, and confusion reaches a whole new level. Both he and his wife are recent immigrants to the US mainland, so despite their age, they are not eligible for the mainstream government programs. Fortunately, they became citizens and are eligible for these other programs directly from the manufacturers of their medication.

Now let’s pause here and think about this. How bad must things be for someone to leave their country at an old age for a land where you don’t know the language and you have absolutely nothing. You are leaving poverty for poverty essentially, and I dare say that living in an impoverished state here in the US might even be worse than that of Cuba. Obviously, it’s not a question of quality of life. While poverty is not the ideal situation to find yourself in, the US has a rich history of community service and outreach programs. Americans are typically very generous.

The problem is that poverty and dependence on the government has such a negative stigma here (and in particular these days as fiscal policy is scrutinized seemingly every hour!). The situation MUST be dire to leave a place where EVERYONE is poor to a place where not only will you be poor, but you might even be looked down upon due to stereotypic generalization. (This is a rant for another day)

My patient takes a medication called Abilify. It helps with depression, but often causes “spaceyness” and forgetfulness. We’ve faced the same problem with the Abilify program for months. They require a state Medicaid denial letter in order to receive beyond the initial shipment of the medication. So of course, we have the task of calling to remind patients that this must be done in 90 days. Needless to say, there are a good number of patients who just don’t cooperate or don’t understand.

Our patient was one that didn’t understand. So he and his wife came to the office to see what could be done. His wife’s medications were simple enough, and we haven’t really had any problems with any of her applications. But for the patient, there were still some medications pending. To make a long story short, I offered to do the Medicaid application for him online.

So we went back to my office, and we just began to talk. My patient preaches a message of world peace. It’s on the top of his prayer list, as he told me. He grew up before and during the Cuba Revolution. He was deemed as a “government asset” and was assigned clerical tasks instead of being forced to be a laborer. Unfortunately, he lost favor with one of his commanding officers and he was forced to join the military, and was given the task of digging graves as well as digging up graves in search of precious metals. It was a period of extreme fear. He would come to work one day only to learn of the government executing a coworker.

He made it through, and somehow was allowed to immigrate into the US with his wife. He was able to bring his daughter and granddaughter over, and they are all able to get by together. They were lucky, and they know it.

This all happened maybe a month or so ago. What compelled me to write about this was that he called me today to with me a Merry Christmas! And again to stress the importance of peace among countries of the world. I was very touched by this.

How can we get to a state of peace here in this world where differences are grounds for war? Is it an attainable goal? It it plausible to even depend on God / religion as a cornerstone for developing peace among peoples? Especially with the issue of “God(s)” being the very issue that many go to war for?

Can society ever become “colorblind”? This is where John Lennon’s “Imagine” makes perfect sense. All possible categories of difference would theoretically have to be eliminated. Anyone have thoughts on this issue? Does religion have to be part of a solution, or would it further hinder the process? Why does the human race place figurative values on a human life according to category?

This Christmas, spread a message of Peace, Joy, and Love.

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A Pre-Lenten Reflection

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Lent is my favorite part of the Catholic calendar. The obvious association is that of giving something up for those 40 days or so. It’s a wonderful tradition and it’s certainly the least we can do as Christians when it comes to what Christ endured. Lent is much deeper than the simple sacrificial action or non-action. It’s about how the Lenten sacrifice enriches your spiritual life and how you use this period of renewal n order to grow closer to God.

The sacrifices of fasting and not eating meat are a traditional component. We Catholics know ALL about traditions. I couldn’t tell you why we don’t eat meat on Fridays or why it’s customary to abstain from something desirable. It’s just tradition, and a harmless one at that. It fits in well.

Most of the religious aspects of modern Catholicism are themselves ancestral relics of action- customs which have survived persecution, fundamental resistance, and time. It’s a tradition I am proud to partake in, despite the conspiracies behind why Catholics started eating meat on Fridays. What does it matter? Perhaps in the past the reasons were tainted with hints of corruption. As we’ve learned in CCD or Catholic School, this part of our religious history is a regrettable part of history.

I just choose to celebrate it as part of our tradition as well. I mean, why not help further the stereotype, right?

This act of sacrifice in the season of Lent goes hand in hand with the ultimate sacrifice which occurs on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Through our own seemingly insignificant sacrifices we symbolically emulate Christ’s path to the cross. (Oh, we LOVE symbols!) We give up something that is very integrated in our lives thus rendering us as lacking, and as time goes on, as wanting. Alas, our sacrifice is transformed into a nice euphemism for Lent’s entire purpose- the recognition of how much we as sinners are in ultimate need of Christ for salvation. He becomes your favorite carbonated beverage, your hours watching TV, or the plethora of other things we give up or pledge to do during Lent.

It should be our goal to recognize the season as such. Yet, an acceptance of the absence and needed presence of God in our lives leads to the realization that perhaps as an individual I haven’t steered the right course. Lent is most importantly about personal renewal.

Enter the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

If you don’t go any other time of the year, this is the period of time best to do it in. All souls get tarnished by the wear and tear of free will. You can’t make the right choice all of the time. Reconciliation is a humbling of the human ego through the admission of wrongdoing. What results is a renewal of resolve and spirituality. It’s about the effort.

Let’s look at it this way. Our Supreme Professor has made this test so hard that there is no one gets 100% in this class.  All we can do is go to office hours (multiple times in our lives through Sacrament and through prayer), admit we made wrong choices, and learn from our mistakes, leaving with an empowering resolve to not make the same mistakes. As long as we do our part, we can only hope he takes notice at our efforts and offers a large curve :).

I’ve always wondered why the Feast Of Christ the King, the Sunday before Advent, ushers in the new fiscal year of the liturgical calendar. For me, the season of Lent and Eastern are the essential definition of the Christian experience. Why wouldn’t renewal be synonymous with a new “year?” I digress.

Lenten Goals for 2009

  • No Coke or any similar products
  • Resume regular Mass attendance with ultimate participation in Communion after a good confession prior to Easter
  • No Drinking of Alcohol either
  • Being More Positive and No Cursing
  • Being more expressive and spending more family time
  • The infamous “Lenten Challenge”

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On the Road Again

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I’ve always loved to travel.

It doesn’t matter by what mode of transportation, as it usually leads to a thrilling adventure, a reunion of some sorts with people you love, or vacation. Even when the reasons aren’t so happy and ideal, traveling may lead to familial and friendly support, a temporary escape, or ultimate closure.

Last weekend, it was a trip to Austin, Texas, to see my significant other for Valentine’s Day. It was the first time that I’ve really actually gotten into V-Day, and well, the first time I’ve had the chance to take a girl out for it. As she pointed out, who would have thought it would have been in San Antonio.

I sure didn’t.

It was a romantic weekend. We decided to go down to San Antonio to eat dinner at a nice restaurant on the Riverwalk. It was a picturesque perfection that I can only hope we can top as we continue to be together, despite the persistent chilly breeze that made us cold and a wobbly table. Our first official Valentine’s. Unforgettable.

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Today, it’s another reunion for me. I write from seat 6A on my Southwest flight to Chicago. There I will catch my connection to Omaha, Nebraska. It’s been nine months since I’ve seen my closest friends from Notre Dame. It will be wonderful to see them again and spend the little time that we’ll have together.

I guess it wasn’t until these past few weeks I’ve realized how much I enjoy flying. We know there are certain stresses that come with flying, such as worrying about finding overhead space for bags, getting through security with your belongings and dignity intact, and hoping you make connecting flights. But once you meet these challenges, you’re free. And you’re on a non-stop flight to the future.

Oh the freedom of flight.

For those few hours, you are free of the modern day ball and chain- the cell phone and the internet. Sure, people still know where you are. You’re on a flight! But there is no waiting for the next email or text or phone call. It can’t even be on.

It’s just you, your complimentary 6 ounces of your favorite Coke product, and fellow passengers.

Of course, even now there are business men and women typing away on their computers trying to meet deadlines. But we are free, if only temporarily, from the grasp the world has on us. Those 30,000 feet make all the difference. You can sit and take a breather from life almost, while peering down on it. It’s marvelous isn’t it? The countryside, the cities, the oceans. God’s partnership with mankind produces some wonders.

So anytime that you heapsters are on the road again, remember to enjoy those precious moments of tranquility. It’s only a matter of time until you arrive at the Future, where you’ll activate again your social shackles getting to where you have to go and doing what you have to do.

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2009 NCAA Football Preseason Polls? Already?

You can leave it to the unnaturally addicted college football addicts to already begin speculating about the 2009 season. Alas, only a mere 3 days after Florida was crowned the AP and BCS champion, the boys at Rivals.com already have a preliminary Top 25.

We all know how useful preseason polls are.

Nevertheless, it is great to see Notre Dame in the mix! (Scroll down to 23). Realistically, I feel that it is an appropriate ranking. This team has the potential to be good. Really good. And as the description (and many ND haters) will point out, the schedule is quite favorable. See Nevada, Washington, Washington St.

Could this be the year we finally beat USC? With the development of top recruiting classes finally beginning to materialize, not to mention the strong possibility of another top 5 recruiting class, I think we will at least have a shot. But again…. it always depends on what happens with the defense.

Well, here’s the list. Florida at number 1. Not a big surprise. I mean God Tim Tebow is coming back. And of course, Texas and USC are right up there in the mix after winning ther respective bowl games. LSU being ranked so high is a bit surprising, after having a disappointing season- though they whipped GT in their bowl game. And according to the list, the 2009 BCS buster? Boise State. We’ll see if they go undefeated similar to Utah this year, and clamor for their shot at the title game.

Rivals.com 2009 Preseason Top 25

1. Florida
The Buzz: The potential exists for all 11 defensive starters – and each of their backups – to be back in 2009. And with QB Tim Tebow returning, the Gators will be prohibitive favorites to repeat.
2. Texas
The Buzz: QB Colt McCoy‘s decision to return means the offense again will put up a ton of points – and the running game should be better in 2009. The secondary could be a strength, but the front seven needs some tweaking.
3. USC
The Buzz: The defense will undergo an overhaul, from the coordinator down to the players. But the offense could be truly explosive.
4. Oklahoma
The Buzz: If quarterback Sam Bradford, TE Jermaine Gresham and DT Gerald McCoy go pro, this ranking will drop. If all three return, OU will battle for the Big 12 – and maybe national – title.
5. LSU
The Buzz: QB Jordan Jefferson‘s performance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl provides hope that the offense will be more consistent. The linebacking corps needs to be rebuilt.
6. Ohio State
The Buzz: You have to figure the coaches will unleash quarterback Terrelle Pryor, which will jazz up the offense. The defense will be fine even without CB Malcolm Jenkins and LB James Laurinaitis.
7. Virginia Tech
The Buzz: The Hokies look as if they will be the class of the ACC. The defense always will be good, and if QB Tyrod Taylor becomes a better passer, the offense actually could be dangerous.
8. Alabama
The Buzz: The offensive line could have some questions and there will be a new quarterback, but depth should be better and there are some talented skill-position players on hand.
9. Boise State
The Buzz: QB Kellen Moore can become a star. If the Broncos can get their front four on defense settled, an undefeated season is within their grasp.
10. Oklahoma State
The Buzz: The Cowboys should have a deadly offensive trio in QB Zac Robinson, TB Kendall Hunter and WR Dez Bryant. The defense, though, has some work to do.
11. Georgia Tech
The Buzz: The Yellow Jackets were surprisingly good in coach Paul Johnson‘s first season, and Year Two in the triple-option offense could lead to big numbers. The defense should be fine.
12. California
The Buzz: Jahvid Best may go into the 2009 season as the nation’s best running back. Coach Jeff Tedford needs to settle on a quarterback and the linebacking corps must be rebuilt.
13. Penn State
The Buzz: QB Daryll Clark and TB Evan Royster return, though there are questions about the offensive line, the receiving corps and the secondary. The front seven on defense could be outstanding.
14. Ole Miss
The Buzz: Coach Houston Nutt changed the culture around the program, and if Tim Tebow goes pro, Jevan Snead will be the best quarterback in the SEC. There is a lot of skill-position talent around him, too.
15. Oregon
The Buzz: The Ducks will need to settle on a quarterback and do some tweaking in the secondary. But the rushing attack again should be the team strength.
16. Florida State
The Buzz: The defense has a lot of potential, if the coaches can find some safeties. The offensive line actually could be a strength. But the passing attack must improve.
17. Utah
The Buzz: The passing game will be a huge question. But the defense returns a lot of key players in the front seven, and the Utes will be able to run the ball.
18. Georgia
The Buzz: Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno are gone. But it’s not as if the Bulldogs’ roster is bereft of talent. The offensive line should be much better, as should the defense.
19. Kansas
The Buzz: On paper, at least, the Jayhawks look to be the class of the Big 12 North. The return of QB Todd Reesing means the offense should be one of the most productive in the nation. But the defense must replace three starting linebackers.
20. Texas Tech
The Buzz: No Graham Harrell. No Michael Crabtree. A rebuilt offensive line. A tougher schedule. And the same old defense.
21.Iowa
The Buzz: Yes, star running back Shonn Greene is gone, but the defense again should be tough. The offensive line should be stout and there still are some good backs on campus.
22. BYU
The Buzz: Replacing four starters on the offensive line is the top priority for the Cougars, whose defense should be much better.
23. Notre Dame
The Buzz: Hey, calm down there, all you Irish haters. Notre Dame has talent, the schedule is navigable and a staff shakeup should help on the field.
24. USF
The Buzz: One of these seasons, USF will start fast and finish strong. Next season will be the final go-round for quarterback Matt Grothe, who must cut down on his mistakes.
25. Oregon State
The Buzz: The Rodgers brothers mean the offense should be fine, and coordinator Mark Banker always seems to find answers on his defense.