20 August 2006

I've come to SF to take care of Gail while she's on a chemotherapy regimen. “How are you?” I ask, meaningfully. She tells me about the new center for family literacy where she plans to bring resources into her community, helping people help each other.

There are worse ways to live.

At the hospital Infusion Center, Gail greets every nurse and receptionist by name, notices a new hairdo, asks about their families and their personal projects. There's a lot of waiting time, and she uses it to connect with the other patients, to introduce them to each other. After four hours hooked up to intravenous taxol she's supposed to be too woozy to drive home - isn't that why I'm here? Gail pauses to offer solace and comradery to the new patient in the corner chair and her east European husband. "I could tell when you walked in you have the kind of spirit that will thrive through this experience and emerge an even stronger person." 

The day after chemo, is the worst: nausea and lethargy. The medication that keeps the red blood cells growing also makes every bone in her body feel bruised. I want Gail to rest, but she has scheduled the afternoon volunteering at the Women's Health Center, giving massages to cancer patients.

One year after being diagnosed with Stage 3 metastatic cancer, her body shot through with tumors, Gail is in complete remission, with no detectable lesions and blood antibodies down to normal levels. Did she get cancer because she wasn't caring for herself, or did she get cured because she focuses all her energy in giving to others? 

I won't speculate about what I don't understand. It's my way, when I'm well, to offer my love and my efforts to people around me. But self-care is a first priority for me, and when I'm sick, it's my only priority.

I don't understand Gail, but I know that there are worse ways to live.

~ Josh Mitteldorf

19 August 2006

“Because then everybody would be happy except the people who pride themselves on creating their own happiness who as soon as they saw everybody who didn't create their own happiness happy they would probably grieve over sharing their own heretofore private sublimity,

A condition which I could face with equanimity.”

–  from The Anatomy of Happiness by Ogden Nash, born this day in 1902

(Please write to me if you have the full text.)

18 August 2006

“Let me share with you the formula our sages proposed for change and personal growth. ‘A man,’ they teach, ‘is shaped by his deeds and actions.’  Now this may not sound like such a revolutionary idea, but it is diametrically opposed to that which our secular world belives  – that it is our thoughts and convictions that mold and make us what we are...There is a world of difference between these two points of view. If you follow the secular path, then before you can shed your old habits and acquire new ones, you have to go through some sort of analysis or process of introspection, and that could tae a lifetime.  Furthermore, the mind is tricky, capable of rationalizing, playing games with ideas that the heart finds too demanding, or too restrictive, and so Sefer Ha Chinuch advises us to bypass the cerebral and concentrate on our deeds and actions, and just do what we have to do.  Through that doing, our personalities, our character traits, will be reshaped and molded until one day we will discover that we have become the new beings that we had hoped to become.”

– from The Committed Life, by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

17 August 2006

Ecological relationships begin as parasitism, and evolve toward symbiosis.  The way to gain a toehold in the ecosystem is to latch onto an existing member and mooch off his success.  But a parasite’s success is always self-limiting: as it grows in prevalence, the host on which it depends is thereby diminished.  Maximal exploitation has suicidal implications.  Thus the parasite learns first to curb its own virulence, and later actually to nurture its host.  The mature relationship is one of full mutualism, in which the long-term interests of the two species are fully identified, and cooperation is robust.

Evolutionary ecologists recognize this as a common evolutionary path:  Gastric infections become intestinal flora.  Ants learn to cultivate colonies of aphids.  Lions will not over-exploit a herd, but prune its old and sickly members, helping to maintain its health. 

Lynn Margulis takes a bold theoretical step, and proposes that this process is the primary source of novelty in evolutionary history.

16 August 2006

One of the most promising areas of brain/computer collaboration comes from a project designed to help blind people navigate on foot.  A computer is connected to GPS signals from satellites, four video cameras, and a head-position sensor.  All this information is integrated, processed, and translated into an audio signal that a blind person can learn to interpret as cues that tell her about her environment, and help guide her, with or without the help of a dog.  

An essential ingredient in the system is the learning process for the user, who benefits from experience with the audio signals, and gradually becomes better able to extract information.

SWAN is an acronym for “System for Wearable Audio Navigation”, being developed by Bruce Walker and Frank Dellaert at Georgia Tech.

15 August 2006

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love. 

For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in relinquishing our own will that we become sensible of thine.”

St Francis of Assisi

14 August 2006

See on the mountain’s southern side,
Where the prospect opens wide,
Where the evening gilds the tide;
How close and small the hedges lie!
What streaks of meadows cross the eye!
A step, methinks, may pass the stream,
So little distant dangers seem: 
Thus we mistake the Future’s face,
Ey’d thro’ Hope's deluding glass:
As yon summits soft and fair,
Clad in colours of the air,
Which to those who journey near,
Barren, brown, and rough appear;
Still we tread the same coarse way;
The present’s still a cloudy day.
O may I with myself agree,
And never covet what I see:
Content me with an humble shade,
My passions tam’d, my wishes laid;
For while our wishes wildly roll,
We banish quiet from the soul:
’Tis thus the busy beat the air;
And misers gather wealth and care.

Now, evn now, my joys run high,
As on the mountain-turf I lie:

While the wanton Zephyr sings,
And in the vale perfumes his wings;
While the waters murmur deep;
While the shepherd charms his sheep;
While the birds unbounded fly,
And with music fill the sky,
Now, evn now, my joys run high.

– from Grongar Hill, by John Dyer, born this day in 1699