Saturday, March 19, 2011

Old folks, Alzheimer's, Tomahawk missiles, and a jaundiced glance back at Black History Month 2011. Wow.

Verne Strickland Blogmaster

I went to the doctor recently. I'm 74, and blessed with good health for my age. In fact, there are days when I feel 72 again.

Waiting rooms don't bother me too much. For the most part, I'm happy I can get good medical care.

I waited an hour before I was called in. I often use this lag time to read, or to talk with fellow patients. I'm interested in them, and, without prying, I am able to learn much about them -- not only their problems, but also the whole person that they see in themselves.

This time, I sat down beside an elderly gentleman who was in a wheelchair. He glanced up at me, but lowered his eyes again. I figured he felt I wouldn't be interested in talking with an old man. Hell, I'm one too. He didn't know who he was dealing with.

Claude is 94, native to California. He graduated from Georgia Tech, and had a successful career as a chemical engineer. He lives at Wrightsville Beach with his wife, who quietly observed us at we talked.

He is bright, engaging, and has a rich baritone voice. He has diabetes. His legs have been ravaged. It hasn't hurt his spirit. We had a great chat. I gained more than I gave.

The elderly are not unfeeling or unaware. They are interesting -- and interested -- and have a lifetime of adventures and experience to draw on and share.

Usually they won't initiate a conversation. But they will speak if spoken to, and usually seem quite willing to open up about themselves.

I came in for another reason. My legs work pretty good. It's my brain that's misfiring. Alzheimer's is gnawing at the edges of my mind. I had some recent episodes that indicated it's getting worse. There are some prescription medications that can help out, although the problem can't be cured and its cause is not known.

I'm a writer. It's been my career and is one thing I can do well. Alzheimer's to this point hasn't affected that much, though I can't add stuff very well. But I never could.

I just tell people I have a wonderful memory. It's not very long, it's just wonderful.

I'll shift gears here. After Claude left, I inventoried the rather scant offering of reading material, and came across something that made the search worthwhile. I'll share it here.

In the news, President Obama has high-tailed it way out of town, there to bask in the glow that attends U.S. presidents, whether or not they are worthy of it.

Accompanying him to Brazil is his wife, the bulbous First Lady, in ill-chosen attire that cannot disguise how she fails to practice what she preaches -- eat well, but sparingly. Don't let your fanny exceed your dress size.

I'm way off topic, but maybe I will be forgiven these little wanderings which lead, in a circuitous way, to my sermon for the day.

My reward in the waiting room was the discovery of a column by one Colbert I. King, a conservative writer -- African American, mind you -- who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for distinguished commentary for the Washington Post.

This post by Mr. King, published during Black History Month, was so good that it lives on after the month of February stole sullenly into the history books.

by Colbert King, The Washington Post

Here we are, another Black History Month: time to lionize great black men and women of the past. Twenty-eight days to praise the first African-American to do this. Another month of looking back with pride — as we ignore the calamity in our midst.

When Black History Month was celebrated in 1950, according to State University of New York research, 77.7 percent of black families had two parents. As of January 2010, according to the Census Bureau, the share of two-parent families among African-Americans had fallen to 38 percent.

We know that children, particularly young male African-Americans, benefit from parental marriage and from having a father in the home. Today, the majority of black children are born to single, unmarried mothers.

Celebrate? Let's celebrate.

Three years ago, I wrote about young girls in our city who are not learning what they are really worth, young men who aren't being taught to treat young women with respect, and boys and girls who are learning how to make babies but not how to raise them.

Those conditions, the column suggested, find expression in youth violence, child abuse and neglect, school dropout rates, and the steady stream of young men flowing into the city's detention facilities.

Boys get guns, girls get babies. This pattern isn't new.

An intergenerational cycle of dysfunction is unfolding before our eyes, even as we spend time rhapsodizing about our past.

No less discouraging is the response that has become ingrained.

Sixteen, unmarried and having a baby? No problem. Here are your food stamps, cash assistance and medical coverage. Can't be bothered with the kid? No sweat, there's foster care. Make the young father step up to his responsibilities?

Consider this statement I received from a sexual health coordinator and youth programs coordinator in the District of Columbia concerning a teen mother she is counseling: "She recently had a child by a man who is 24 years old and has 5 other children. He is homeless and does not work but knows how to work young girls very well. . . . This young man is still trying to have more children."

He's a cause. Our community deals with his consequences. Sure, tackle the consequences. Construct a bigger, better, more humane safety net. I'm for that, especially where children are concerned. And the causes? God forbid, don't mention causes.


V.S. Last Word: Still with me? I survived the visit with my doctor, still have memory problems, and have a new favorite columnist. He's the courageous and scintillating Colbert I. King. I'll go to great lengths to be reading him again -- next time I'm hanging out in my doctor's waiting room. As for Obama? He pushed the button that lit up Libya with U.S. Tomahawk missiles, showing our military might. But Obama had dithered too long. He gets no credit from me -- which won't hurt his ultimate legacy, I'm sure.