Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The White Table

By now the instant analysis, second-guessing and armchair quarterbacking have started in earnest over the truly tragic events at Virginia Tech yesterday. I won't jump in, and agree wholeheartedly with Ralph D'Andrea and the Rocky as far as their respective take on the issue. The President and Police Chief of Virginia Tech are also spot-on about the ability to effectively alert and/or lock down a 100-building campus spread over 2600 acres.

As someone with a public safety background, I can make some general observations about what makes or breaks the response to something like this, especially in a largely rural area with limited or distant specialized resources:

1. Unified Command using standardized methods such as the Incident Command System are paramount to any level of responsiveness or success in mitigating an incident such as this.

2. Knowing how to effectively interact with your neighboring agencies and other public safety disciplines on all levels is another make-or-break factor. With something like this that requires an efficient and large scale multi-disciplinary response, there is no room for politics, petty prejudices, or stereotypes.

3. "Interoperability", the buzzword that speaks to the ability of disparate public safety agencies to communicate when working together, is usually referred to when discussing technology deficiencies, especially as it pertains to radio communications. It actually means a great deal more than making sure your radio talks with other agencies and vice versa; it's a state of mind that has to be sold, utilized, and enforced across all levels of an incident response. Interoperability is not just about technology; it's about the processes used to operate, the training that responders receive, and the attitude with which they approach the tasks at hand. See #1 and #2.

I'll look forward to the investigations and reports.
Enough said for now; let the mourning and remembrance begin. My prayers are with the families and fellow students and staff.

Family and friends are starting to arrive in town for tomorrow's memorial service. In an effort to make more room for visitors and others, I began moving things around and cleaning up over the last couple of days. One thing that had to get cleaned off and put away was one of those ubiquitous 4-foot white folding tables that I picked up at Sam's Club about two years ago to use for a yard sale.

This table was rapidly pressed into service when Jan came home in August 2005, after her surgery and first stay in the hospital for rehab and radiation treatments. It stood in our bedroom, filled and organized with the myriad medications and other things necessary for Jan's care at the time.

As Jan's condition started to become more stable over last year, her tumors held in check by an oral chemotherapy med that she responded well to, the table started to have other things on it, including reading material, journals, the binders where I kept information on doctor's appointments and medical records, and other things. As this drug stopped working, and Jan started experiencing other types of discomfort, this material made its' way elsewhere, in favor of additional medications and supplies.

After Jan's stroke and second hospital stay, lots more supplies came into the house, including pads, pre-filled syringes, and new medications. With Jan's hospital bed in the living room, the table was moved and re-organized, along with a white board on the wall to write down medication times, blood sugar readings, and anything needing restocked.

The simple act of cleaning these supplies off of the table, folding it, and storing it away impacted me more than I thought it would. It was for me the last physical vestige of the events of the last 19 months, the diligence and organization required over that time frame, and the final realization that she is gone. Even the brand name embossed onto the tabletop - "LIFETIME" - bears a certain degree of irony for me that I will not shake easily, or for a long time. The neat piles of folding tables for sale at Sam's will be a constant, and perhaps welcome, reminder of what transpired in our house the last 19 months.

I've been fighting a feeling of emptiness these last few days. This isn't something that was unexpected, but its' profundity is more than I perhaps thought possible or probable.
Learning to live without her will be an adjustment of significant proportions, but I will not forget how to care, how to love, and how to share her lessons with others. This is her gift to me, and hopefully to anyone else that I may have the privilege of knowing as the journey winds on.

I'll leave you with another one of Jan's favorite songs. This one is profound in its' message, not only for my family but for our society in general, in part because of the reminder we all got yesterday that there are people in this world that are in need of our collective love and caring. We are NOT alone.

God bless you.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


Boy, what would we do without humor? After the last 19 months, I thank God for the ability to laugh, at both myself and others.

Jon Stewart takes four and a half minutes and deftly dissects one of the key problems with our media and society today. It's unfortunate that Nancy "not one iota of" Grace has to bear the brunt of this, but as someone long dead and gone once said, "Instant karma's gonna get you".


Here's another one of Jan's favorite songs.
Hope the rest of your weekend is quiet and joyous.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Loss, Indignation, and Wonder

When I read yesterday that Kurt Vonnegut had passed away, I felt the loss of another individual who shaped part of my life in some meaningful way. I have read most of Vonnegut's early books, which really isn't a grand achievement for someone who was a teenager in the 70's. They were seemingly everywhere to someone like me whose idea of summertime fun was curling up with a good book, or holing up in my room and talking on the CB until the wee hours of the morning. This is, of course, before I discovered girls.

Like many I thoroughly enjoyed Slaughterhouse-Five, in part because it deals a lot with Vonnegut's own experience as a survivor of the bombing of Dresden as a POW in World War II.
I felt an honesty to his writing that was uncharacteristic in relationship to other books I had read at the time. The writing was simple, direct, and unemotional.

Vonnegut appeared in one of a famous series of ads for International Paper Company in the 70's called The Power of the Printed Word. His contribution, titled How to Write with Style, provided me with advice that I try to remember when ever I sit down to write; "
If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out."

There is an excellent remembrance of Vonnegut in recent years on Borders' website. So it goes.

The controversy over Don Imus this week is becoming the latest weapon of mass distraction, but it has disturbing undertones associated with it. Many in the blogosphere seem to see it as a continued symptom of the media's fascination with things that are not news. Yesterday morning I was watching CNN's Your World Today, which had in-depth coverage of the bombing of a bridge in Baghdad along with the successful breach of security by a suicide bomber at the Iraqi parliament. I quickly flipped to MSNBC and Fox; Imus was still the topic at hand.

What worries me is the potential for increased scrutiny of what would otherwise be protected speech in this country. Imus did a stupid thing, but I'm more concerned with the ripple effect on broadcasters and others in either being or feeling restricted from expressing their views, especially in a reasoned way. As both a citizen and the producer of a radio program, this concerns me greatly.

Harsh words like Imus chooses to use do not promote the effective exchange of ideas, but as Media Matters demonstrated yesterday, he's hardly the exception to the rule. What's next for other polarizing media types that use language and words similar to Imus? Do we insist on their firing as well?

Coincidentally, the ACLU sent out a press release yesterday concerning legislation that would increase the federal capability to prosecute hate crimes when local and/or state authorities do not. At first blush, it appears to be a balanced approach to the problem. I wonder if Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson will weigh in on it. It would certainly seem to be a more productive use of their time than the Imus debacle.

I don't know enough about the issue to go any further with this, but
yesterday I saw a local example of Sharpton-esque indignation that was, at least for me, pretty comical.

The Junction Daily Blog of April 10 was a small blurb about the recent expansion of Channel 12's capabilities, with a fairly critical approach. Someone chose to send back an informed, reasoned, and anonymous comment about it, which Ralph D'Andrea posted in yesterday's edition, along with the information that the comment had originated from Mesa County's Internet server.

Not to be outdone by other Rutgers alumni, Ralph has taken the approach that the comment is, in his opinion as a taxpayer, inappropriate in relationship to the duties of a county employee. I'm not so sure about that, given that Ralph took the time to criticize a county operation in a way that appeared to want to generate feedback of some kind, or at least a little controversy.

From the viewpoint of a private citizen and a public servant, I disagree with Ralph's assertions.
First, Channel 12 is an excellent community resource that is operated in a fiscally responsible way. I know this because while they do a great job, they're not perfect. Any programming produced by Channel 12, including the live broadcast of public meetings, must be accessible to the hearing impaired, per Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This has yet to happen, and when it does it will be a little costly. My wife was the main reason I got involved with this, but I will continue with these efforts for the benefit of others.

Second, while the comment may have been sent anonymously from a government computer, it was spot on with relevant, enlightening, non-sensitive information that would otherwise not be readily available unless someone took the time to ask. The author's first sentence seemed to set Ralph off a bit, perhaps extending the tax-induced agita that he complained of in his original post.

I've learned my lesson more than once to take a few deep breaths before clicking "Send" or "Post", and I need to be reminded at times. Sounds to me like Ralph got such a reminder and is none too happy about it. I'm hopeful he will get over it.

I found another video, this time of a song that reminds me a lot of Jan. I'm off shortly to the mortuary and the church to finalize plans for her memorial, so this seems like a fitting way to conclude. Enough said for now.

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Words of Thanks

Thanks to all of the readers and friends who have posted comments with condolences and encouragement. Evan and I greatly appreciate it.

Jan's online obituary and guest book is available here.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette chose to do a news obituary about Jan's life. I spoke with their reporter yesterday, and he did an excellent job. You can read it here.

I am now starting to become immersed in the practical responsibilities of what's happened. As a result, I don't have a great deal more to say at this point.

Jan liked lots of different music. In recent months I've collected a lot of songs that Jan loved, and songs that remind me of her and the way I felt about her. I still have a lot of Jan's vinyl 33 LP's, and one that always stood out was a very worn copy of Harvest. Thanks to YouTube, I can share one of her favorite songs.

Take care and God bless.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

She is Free

Jan Carrow Zeller

December 6, 1952 - April 8, 2007

Don't grieve for me, for now I'm free
I'm following the path God laid for me
I took His hand when I heard Him call
I turned my back and left it all.
I could not stay another day, to laugh,
to love, to work or play.
Tasks undone must stay that way
I've found that peace at the close of the day.

If parting has left a void, then fill it
with remembered joy.
A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss,
Ah, yes, these things I too will miss.

Be not burdened with times of sorrow
I wish for you the sunshine of tomorrow.
My life's been full, I savored much
Good friends, good times,
a loved one's touch.

Perhaps my time seemed all too brief,
Don't lengthen it now with undue grief.
Lift up your hearts and share with me,
God wants me now, He set me free.

Easter Wishes

Jan's struggle with cancer is nearing its' end. While I'm tempted to reflect upon the paradoxical nature of this happening during the Christian world's celebration of Christ's resurrection, I'll instead defer to something that I've been reminded of in different ways several times this week.
The Sermon on the Mount showed itself to me on several occasions the last few days, the last time this morning while I had Turner Classic Movies on, and they were running trailers of upcoming films. On reading it again I thought it was highly appropriate to both the nature of public discourse and my wife's impending departure from our mortal world to share it with as many as I could.
Matthew 5:1-12
The Beatitudes
1Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them saying:
3"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


When I read these words, I ask myself how someone who strives to be truly Christlike can remain relevant in the world of ideas as it exists today. Then I spent some time talking with friends of Jan who had come by to visit, and afterward I held Jan's hand, stroked her hair, and came to realize a couple of things:

1. Relevance, as anything else, is not something that is under our control. God decides how we will be relevant to the work and plan He has for us. I've worried in the past about staying relevant at work with all of the things that have happened with Jan over the last year and a half. I'm not worrying anymore.

2. If the response of friends and family is any indication, Jan has had a much more profound influence on people's lives than anyone could have previously predicted. This from a largely reserved but highly driven and committed woman of faith who found a gift and a plan to use it, and went from there. While imperfect like all of us, Jan always seemed to strive for understanding over creating barriers between people who shared a common mission, but may have disagreed with how to accomplish it. While she was not always successful, I feel that she tried her best, and I feel deeply indebted to her for teaching and nurturing our son and myself.
I will take those lessons down whatever path God has intended for me.

I see so many examples of doubt today, from the ongoing intolerance of religious extremism (both here and abroad) to the worship of celebrity and material wealth, and even the frenzy to find physical evidence of the Nativity or the Resurrection so as to try to empirically establish what Christians know by faith. Jan's struggle enforces what to me is a critical lesson along life's path; that our faith establishes and maintains the Kingdom of God on Earth.

Consider this a wish for peace to you at Easter and in the future. Maybe the Sermon on the Mount should be required reading for bloggers and talk radio hosts from now on.

Take care and God bless.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

New Discoveries

Being a full-time caregiver affords me the opportunity to watch a lot of TV. I've been trying to put on some of my wife's favorite movies at night so we can watch them together. In the interim I've found some interesting examples of some great things going on, the most significant being the extraordinary 11-part series Planet Earth on the Discovery Channel.

This series combines exquisite photography, informative writing, and great narration (by Sigourney Weaver) into something that captivates for the full hour. I will buy this on DVD; this is something that would look better on PBS because the commercials are truly an annoyance. That's how good this is. Here's the trailer, which doesn't do it justice but is still a good snapshot of what they've been able to accomplish in the 5 years it took to film and produce it:

Something else that caught my attention was a story late last week that involved the parent of the Discovery Channel buying out one of its' part owners, Cox Communications. This includes Cox taking possession of The Travel Channel, which is fine with me so long as Samantha Brown stays, but Discovery is also downsizing in the process, laying off 300 workers to start and perhaps as much as 10 % of its' work force.

There are some local tie-ins to this story. Cox is a subsidiary of privately-held Cox Enterprises, Inc., which also owns Cox Newspapers, publishers of The Daily Sentinel.

Discovery Communications, Inc. is headed by Founder and Chairman John Hendricks, who owns a 20,000-plus square foot mansion and compound in the Gateway area of Mesa County, and is also the owner and driving force behind the development of the Gateway Canyons resort complex. This development is opposed by several local residents, who fear increased demand on public safety services that are scarce and largely volunteer-based.

I haven't seen any coverage of the Discovery/Cox sale in either of the Grand Junction newspapers, and this is a little surprising, but not too much. I would think that a significant business action that involves two corporate entities with a significant presence in Mesa County would warrant a blurb somewhere. Maybe I just missed it.

As far as development in Gateway, a metro Denver Fire Chief said something both simple and profound several years ago. "If it can't be protected, it shouldn't be built". Enough said from this corner.

On another matter, the Sentinel obtained and released the recordings of 9-1-1 calls received during the reckless journey of Patrick Strawmatt that led to the tragic deaths of Jennifer Kois and Jake Brock last month. I'm proud to be counted among the employees of the 9-1-1 center, who have to deal with this kind of stuff every day and do an admirable job of it.

I'm not too thrilled with the local judiciary in Park County that allowed Mr. Strawmatt to post a meager bond after a similar incident in February where he assaulted the Sheriff there. I hope that the media, MADD , or someone keeps Magistrate Larry Allen under the microscope. If he won't comment or explain himself further publicly, his next retention election, should he pursue it, should have a strong challenge against it.

Time to see how my wife is doing and get her turned and medicated. Best wishes for a blessed, safe, and peaceful Easter week. That goes double if you plan on being anywhere near Moab, Utah. St. Mary's CareFlight should just move there this week.