Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What is a virus?

The first question the swine flu epidemic brings to mind is, “What is a virus?” I know that there is a difference between getting a bacteriological infection and getting a virus. I know that one can be treated with antibiotics and the latter cannot. It wasn’t until a couple weeks ago that my sister told me that viruses are not alive. My doctor and biologist friends ardently confirm this. So that’s why they can’t be treated with antibiotics; the word “antibiotic” means “against life,” and viruses are not alive! Well, um, shrug, that’s where my knowledge stops and the questions begin. They sure seem to be a life force (a sort of consciousness). So if they are not life, what is life? And if they’re not alive, what are they?

Wikipedia has a long article detailing viruses. The article refers to them as “infectious agents”. They’re like little seed packets: RNA or DNA strands packed inside a protein case. In the influenza virus, the protein cases are covered in little spiky projections. These are protein, which help the virus attach to a cell and enzymes, which help the virus enter the host cell. Viruses can’t reproduce on their own. So, once they inject their RNA or DNA into the host cell, they co-opt the cell’s ability to reproduce. And then they reproduce so much that they weaken the cell and cause it to burst. This is like the seed pod opening and spreading its seeds. Thus the infection spreads. This activity requires no food, but it does require the host cell’s energy. And, although not self-mobile, they do adapt to the environment by shifting their protein casing, or mutating.

There are several classes of viruses, the one currently in the news being Type A Influenza. This type of influenza mutates more frequently than others. Saturday’s SFGate article stated, “Hospitals and public health departments throughout California, where six of the American cases have been found, were told Friday to increase surveillance of the rare strain of flu that combines genetic material from humans, pigs and birds.” Because this is a new virus that has evolved from animals to humans and has continued to spread from human to human, the World Health Organization’s pandemic alert is now at phase 4. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , people are potentially contagious for seven days after onset of the illness or while symptomatic. The virus is transmitted through coughing or sneezing but, according to the CDC, can be acquired by touching something that a sick person has touched. “We know that some viruses and bacteria can live 2 hours or longer on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, and desks. Frequent handwashing will help you reduce the chance of getting contamination from these common surfaces.” Wait a minute. Back up. “Viruses…can live”?!

It appears that the verdict is not out on whether or not viruses are alive. While they don’t meet the requirements for life in the way that we normally think, they are so close as to be arguable. Scientific American has an excellent article that takes that to task. Perhaps we need to further define what life is?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine Flu Pandemic Panic

Reports started percolating Saturday about an influenza epidemic in Mexico. It has been dubbed “the swine flu,” because it is a sickness that originated in pigs. So far it is believed that approximately eighty people have died from it. Thousands are sick. Schools are closed. Public events have been shut down. People who must go out wear masks. But the media doesn’t give me too much time to be sad for the people of Mexico. The virus is spreading to my country—and possibly yours. The news is inciting panic about the swine flu becoming a global pandemic. A part of me wants to turn away. I’ve heard this story before. Mad cow disease. Bird flu. West Nile. Death. Fear, fear, fear. Enter the pharmaceutical (or pesticide) industries, who don their flowing capes and “save the day.” Then the media, like hungry leeches, latch onto another victim. This is what I want to turn away from.

Don’t get me wrong. I feel for the people of Mexico. There is a reality here. People are dying from this virus. People are afraid. I am afraid. However, I do believe that the more you think things through yourself, the less helpless you are. You may still be afraid. You may not have all the answers. But you’ll be empowered. I’d like to take some time in the next few days to think about this out-loud. I have questions….

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Spirit of Intimacy Book Review

The Spirit of Intimacy: Ancient African Teachings in the Ways of Relationships The Spirit of Intimacy: Ancient African Teachings in the Ways of Relationships by Sobonfu Some

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a deceptively simple book about living in relationship--with one's self, community, world, and the spirit realm. Sobonfu Some portrays the indigenous rituals of the West African culture that she comes from. Her writing is beautiful and characterizes a people with little armor and masks.

This book was a quick read--simple, straight-forward and heartfelt. I experienced an opening--that there is a precious jewel embedded in that simplicity. But it is difficult to translate indigenous wholeness in today's differentiated world. This is the same feeling I got from reading Jean Liedloff's The Continuum Concept. There is something so primal in our makeup that is not being met today.

I will read her other two books. Maybe she gives more possibilities of tranlating the indigenous connectedness into the western culture. And, if not--I have a task ahead of me!

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Poem for Earth Day

Hopi Prophecy

“You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered…

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?

Know your garden.
It is time to speak your truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.

Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.

And I say, see who is there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all, ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!

Banish the word ‘struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

Oraibi, Arizona
Hopi Nation
June 8, 2000

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Can you hear them?

My family and I went on a mini road trip. The day was warm and breezy—just perfect. The hills were exquisitely dusted with little yellow, purple and white wildflowers. My mom would have loved them. I almost felt like the earth was singing for her. As we entered a little river canyon, one hill was on fire—not literally—but it had a vibrant orange cast to it. California poppies!

There was no place to pull over, so we decided to stop on our journey back. We had a nice outing together. We ate lunch and went to this great rock shop that we love. Then we made our way back to the poppies.

We got some good shots, but my family wanted to climb the hill to get pictures without power lines. I was done taking pictures and content to admire them from where I was at—to be alone with my thoughts. A woman pulled up behind us to take some pictures. Wanting to share in the wonder of it, I said, “Aren’t they gorgeous?!” She eyed me up and replied, “They’re the same every year.”

After she drove away, I stood there, alone in my thoughts, and considered what she said. I got really sad, because they’re not the same this year—the world is not the same. My mom is not here. Nothing will ever be the same again. I became deeply, overwhelmingly sad and started to cry. We think that people and situations—that life—is fixed. We glance at something—or someone—and end our exploration or togetherness there and put it in the “I’ve already seen that before; been there, done that” category. We create the illusion of permanence. We categorize and order our experience to feel stable—and immortal. But what we lose is the freshness and opportunity in each new moment. This is not a new thought. Around 500 B.C., Heraclitus said, “You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you.” I’m sure many native cultures had similar thoughts. It often takes loss to realize that we took life for granted. But I had never felt it in such a raw way. It made me angry. At what? Myself? My mom? Humanity? I wanted to scream, right there on the roadside. I wanted to throw myself to the gravel in the agony of it all. Instead, I crawled into the car and curled up and cried. My family returned from their hike, and we all drove home in silence.

But the poppies, oh, those poppies! In his poem "Hamatreya," Emerson says, “Earth laughs in flowers.” I could almost hear them….

Monday, April 20, 2009

Shining Through

A few years ago my mom realized that she had breast cancer. She chose not to have a mastectomy or do chemo. This was not a decision made lightly. My mom loved life.
My mom was an artist who captured the natural world. She eventually became interested in healing plants and became an herbalist. From there she combined her interest in herbs and health with her writing skills and wrote for a holistic health newsletter. Then my mom got into environmentalism. Last year she created an environmental website. She wanted to expose and hold accountable the industries that so heavily contribute to the disease of our planet.

She felt that the human body is a microcosm of our planet and that, just like planetary ecosystems, our body is comprised of holistic systems. So, when disease occurred in her system, she didn’t want to clear-cut and poison it in the name of modern medicine. She set to researching breast health and alternative cancer treatments. Here’s a peak at her book collection. My mom wanted us to know that she wanted to work with her body and not against it. She treated herself by eating good, organic foods. She juiced and fasted periodically. She supported her immune system with herbs. She continued to meditate daily and began to cultivate peace in her heart. This journey she took privately. And, tho' it is confusing for the rest of us, who knows the depths of the heart?

My mom was a complex woman. What she wholeheartedly chose to devote herself to was her family. She loved us deeply, fiercely, and defended us to the teeth. She loved her husband and welcomed him home every day with a warm smile. She had the most beautiful smile. My mom chose to homeschool my little sister. She really appreciated how close they were and the depth of conversations that they could have. My mom said that she was not sentimental; she was pretty feisty and had strong convictions. But looking back, I see how very important her relationships were to her. She had pictures of people tucked here and there around the house. My mom enjoyed the time she was able to spend with her family, those near and far. She liked to shop, but not just for herself. She often thought about the people she loved and enjoyed getting them something special. She didn’t do things out of obligation. My mom wasn’t sappy. But maybe, just maybe, she was sentimental.

Last year my mom’s health started to decline. But her spirit did not. In November we went to Disneyland for her birthday.

In December she cooked us a delicious Christmas feast. Then in January she was hospitalized for a series of strokes. The medical establishment couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong or what to do with her. My family and I went on a rollercoaster of hope and despair. After numerous inconclusive tests, the doctors saw her cancer and gave her a brief time to live. We brought her home for hospice care. I’m so glad I didn’t have to go it alone. My family and I knitted together around my mom and enjoyed her life with her. Though her body was giving way, she defied the doctors’ expectations and shone through her disease. This was, at once, the greatest heartbreak and the greatest gift I’ve ever faced. I appreciate the time we had to spend with her.
My mom died last month, followed by her little brother. I miss them. It feels so utterly unreal. The law of conservation of energy states that energy is neither created nor destroyed; it merely changes form. I hold onto this thought. I look for my mom in the night sky. I listen for her on the breeze. I call to her in my dreams. I remember. Why do I feel such loss? I know that my family is grieving. Friends are grieving. Thich Nhat Hanh says, "Everyone's tears are salty." Why do I feel so alone?