Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Glad Position: Gratitude

The Bowery Mission, New York City

Scott Mission, Toronto (Torstar News Service)

Whitman Park, Grand Junction (The Christian Chronicle)

For that free Grace bringing us past great risks
& thro' great griefs surviving to this feast

sober & still, with the children unborn and born,
among brave friends, Lord, we stand again in debt
and find ourselves in the glad position: Gratitude.

We praise our ancestors who delivered us here
within warm walls all safe, aware of music,
likely toward ample & attractive meat
with whatever accompaniment

Kate in her kind ingenuity has seen fit to devise,

and we hope - across the most strange year to come -
continually to do them and You not sufficient honour
but such as we become able to devise
out of decent or joyful conscience & thanksgiving.
Bless then, as Thou wilt, this wilderness board.

"Minnesota Thanksgiving" by John Berryman, from Collected Poems 1937-1971
© The Noonday Press.

"Homeless Christ" by Deb Hoeffner. Used with permission of artist.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Quiet" Time in the Civil Wars

One month ago, I left Denver after successfully completing Aircraft Dispatcher training. The trip five Mondays ago to San Jose was interesting and enlightening; more about that below. I then flew the redeye from San Jose to JFK and then a morning flight into Pittsburgh, for about five days with Leslie and the girls, and perhaps a chance to decompress for the first time in a good while. The visit was all of that, and a bit more.

I arrived back in Grand Junction in the wee hours of Nov. 4, and got about 3 hours of sleep before beginning the better part of three days of recording about 160 middle schoolers for the Words program. Post-production begins in earnest this week, with no real end in sight, as we will be recording another large group of kids in December. Despite some at times tenuous logistical and other challenges, this is a lot of fun, and has helped to keep stressful times in their place.

Since returning from Pittsbur
gh, I've been decidedly more reflective about things as they are, and about how they may turn in certain ways in the foreseeable future. I use this term almost laughingly; if, six years ago, I could have foreseen what was going to happen to my family and career, I would not have believed it.

In any case, the written word has been hard to come by of late, and I chalk this up to something that I can't put my finger on, save that I've been more peaceful and quiet than I can remember in a long time. For the most part, it's been a good thing. I hope that I can hold on to that feeling while I try to bring this electronic journal up to speed, along with managing the process of getting a new job in a tough economy.


The Air Medical Transport Conference in San Jose was kind of what I expected; many of these trade conferences are somewhat formulaic in their organization and presentation, and the venues are typically some cavernous convention facility that all look painfully similar, save for the unique metropolitan canvas that has been painted around each one.

The differences with this conference, aside from all of the nice helicopters in the exhibit hall, seemed to center around unspoken differences, discomforts, and uncertainties coming from those who ply their trade in the air medical
industry, or who supply hard goods and/or services to it.

Some of the presentations that I attended were straightforward and very informative. An overview of proposed and pending FAA regulation of air medical services operating under Part 135 of the FAA's rules seemed to be fairly well-received by the numerous attendees present.
Some of the recent NTSB recommendations were discussed at greater length than others, but I came away from the session with what I had traveled in part to hear; that there will be a greater emphasis placed on operational control by the FAA with HEMS operators who have more than 10 aircraft operating. This means the potential for a greater number of people trained as I am to be working as part of the industry.

A presentation on dealing with "difficult" employees was interesting, but in retrospect was somewhat off the mark in my mind. The presenter had plenty of anecdotal information about different situations involving what
he perceived as difficult employees, and some of the things he recounted were truly egregious. I thought he needed to more discerning between an employee who causes a specific and significant problem, and an employee who is truly difficult to manage, for whatever reason. Having at times been labeled this myself, I think it has more to do with personal mismanagement of job-related knowledge, pre-conceived notions and/or agendas, combined with just the right amount of attitude.

By far the most interesting session was conducted by Dr. Ira Blumen of the University of Chicago, on HEMS accidents. Dr. Blumen subtitled his presentation "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly" to relate his session to the famous 60's spaghetti western of the same name.

Part of his stated reasoning for this was that the three main characters of the film (played by Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach) were Civil War veterans. He related this to his view of what he called a "civil war" among those engaged in the provision of air medical services. He cited the various business models, both for profit and non-profit, hospital-based and stand-alone, along with numerous organizations of physicians, pilots, nurses, paramedics, and others, some with agendas that may conflict with those of others.

Dr. Blumen and his colleagues have conducted exhaustive data collection and research into accidents involving air medical services. The NTSB and FAA have referenced his research as part of their investigation into the inordinate number of HEMS accidents during 2008. One interesting trend that is being seen is an increase in the use of single-engine aircraft, presumably due to reduced operating costs.

Another impressive part of the conference was the emphasis on safety being promulgated from many different corners. One such effort is the Vision Zero initiative, sponsored by several trade organizations along with AAMS.

I saw a lot of familiar faces, from my days in Pittsburgh and elsewhere. I saw equal measures of people who have been in the business a long time and seemed to be growing weary, and young, healthy, idealistic hard workers who had reached the top of their game and were ready to get busy.

I left San Jose with the impression that the industry was in the midst of systemic change, and while uncomfortable it is inevitable and somewhat necessary if this expensive and critical resource is to remain credible and accessible to those who need it most.


The underlying theme of systemic change is also making its way known in my personal life as well. While I was in Pittsburgh at the beginning of the month, I proposed to Leslie. She said yes.

Leslie is a strong, intelligent, independent, driven Christian woman that I've known for a long time. Those of you who have been here for a while know that she has two daughters. Gianna will turn 17 at the end of the month.

Michaela, who just turned 8, has been fighting cancer for almost 4 years now. There are new developments in her treatment course that are beginning to take shape. I'll have more about those later.

I have no other words right now other than I know what I feel when I am with Leslie. It is a mixture of calm, peace, and confidence in the face of life challenges for both of us.

As many are much more aware than I am, there are many obstacles to bringing two lives together. Family issues are unfortunately a big part of this. I'm hopeful that the gratitude we all have for being in homes, with ample food and good people both around us and thinking of us from afar, will nurture understanding as this joining of lives and hearts moves toward becoming a reality.

Leslie recommended a good movie that I found in the Redbox and watched yesterday. Not Easily Broken is an excellent story about how life can be good and joyful, even when it's challenging from more than a few fronts, expected and otherwise. If you're interested further, grab it up.


I was out getting a turkey and other things for Thursday's meal today, and one other thing I did was to take up Ralph D'Andrea's suggestion from a few days ago, and drop off a 21 lb. turkey at the Salvation Army offices on 4th Street. It will be used to feed the many in our community who are in need of a good meal on Thanksgiving Day.

Good night.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Week - A Good Start

Hi there.

I know it's been a while, and I'm almost done with a post that will hopefully fill in some of the gap of the last few weeks. That will be here tomorrow, I hope.

Yesterday's sermon at Canyon View Vineyard highlighted the work of
Convoy of Hope, a non-profit group that specializes in providing water, food, supplies, and personnel to people in need. Their work appears to be responsive, effective, and efficient. You may want to consider them in your end-of-year charitable giving.

Yesterday also marked the end of the NASCAR season, which means I am thankful (and hopeful) for the end of those ridiculous NASCAR Raceday ads on nearly every Bresnan channel I watch.

That was the start of what I hope will be a good week of giving thanks in a simple, direct way. I hope to have more examples as the week progresses, and while I bear no ill will toward the retail sector, it seems appropriate for me this year to hope that this Friday's convocation of the First Church of My Stuff will be smaller in size and bad craziness, and that we can enjoy something akin to what Father Guido Sarducci called a "Little Christmas".

Today's installment of The Writer's Almanac included the excerpt below, which touched me as one reason to give thanks for the stability we enjoy in this country, regardless of who is in charge, or how much we make of the comparatively small problems and issues we may encounter each day.

Today is the 29th birthday of Ishmael Beah, (books by this author) born in the fishing town of Mattru Jong, Sierra Leone (1980). He's the author of the book A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (2007), published when he was 26 years old and chosen as No. 3 on Time magazine's list of 10 best nonfiction books of 2007. That year, Starbucks chose Beah's memoir as its Featured Book and displayed it at thousands of coffeehouses around the country.

When Beah was 12, Sierra Leone was in the midst of a brutal civil war, but his town seemed far removed from it, and he was busy memorizing Shakespeare and performing in a dance and rap ensemble. Then the rebel army came into his town and started shooting. His parents and brothers were killed. He recounted: "I ran away, along paths and roads that were littered with dead bodies, some mutilated in ways so horrible that looking at them left a permanent scar on my memory. I ran for days, weeks and months, and I couldn't believe that the simple and precious world I had known, where nights were celebrated with storytelling and dancing and mornings greeted with the singing of birds and cock crows, was now a place where only guns spoke and sometimes it seemed even the sun hesitated to shine."

The Sierra Leone government army conscripted him; by the time he was 13 he was carrying an AK-47 and constantly high on drugs — speed pills and also "brown-brown," a mixture of cocaine and gunpowder that the child soldiers were given to sniff. For two years, he fought constantly in bloody battles.

Then, there came a directive to disarm child soldiers, and he was chosen by the army to go to a UNICEF-sponsored rehabilitation center, where he spent eight months.

He got in touch with a woman in New York who worked for an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization), whom he'd met when he'd been invited to speak at a UN conference earlier. He asked her if he could live with her. She agreed and sent him some money and clothes. He narrowly escaped from Sierra Leone into Guinea, and then went on to New York, where the Brooklyn Jewish woman officially adopted him. He finished high school in New York, graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio with a political science degree in 2004, and wrote his memoir, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.

Ishmael Beah, who said, "I believe children have the resilience to outlive their sufferings, if given a chance."
Enjoy your week ahead.