man’s inhumanity to man

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, considered the largest and deadliest of the extermination camps established by the Nazis during WWII. There aren’t hard numbers, but an estimated 1 million people died at the camp (950,000 of the 1.2 million Jewish people sent there; the rest comprising Romany, Polish, and Soviet POWs). Most of us know the general history and horror of WWII, but we really only get a simplistic and somewhat sanitized view. Even when you visit the Holocaust memorials around the world (such as the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC) to bear witness to the atrocities that were committed, there is still a gulf between what happened “back then” and today.

Auschwitz wasn’t the only concentration camp; some were also extermination camps, and others were work camps. Nazi doctors experimented on prisoners in horrific ways in the name of “science” (or more accurately, simply barbarism, as there is not a lot of consensus that the experiments done hold any sort of scientific validity, aside from being completely immoral, unethical, and horrendous).

But seventy years is not a long time. Less than a lifetime, really, especially for someone who lives in North America or Western Europe. A mere blip in human history. But still we seem to relegate what happened in WWII to some distant past, feeling secure in our knowledge that something like that could never happen again.

Of course, it has happened again. Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, only to name a few. Some are still ongoing: Syria. NE Nigeria. South Sudan. And these only name the large-scale conflicts that descended into genocide. Even while WWII was happening, and the Nazis were promulgating their theories about racial superiority, the US was in the middle of its own eugenics programs: sterilizing women with mental illnesses or living in poverty. The Tuskegee Airmen. Guatemala.

It’s easy enough to say “Never Again”. But one need only look at the plight of the Romany in Europe, the school-to-prison pipeline in the US, and the not-too-distant legacy of state-sponsored violence in Latin America today to wonder: did we really mean it? “The World’s most unfulfilled promise” is one way to look at it.

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reading list

I didn’t set this as a new year’s resolution, but I’d like to read more well-written and engaging literature. I pulled up an old list, did a bit of research, and asked around a bit and selected the following:

  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers
  • A Girl is a Half Formed Thing
  • Fighting for Life
  • Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
  • A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard
  • A Wedding in Haiti
  • The Conference of the Birds
  • Wild
  • The Collected Works of Forugh Farrokhzad

The plan is to read these all in the first half of the year. Depending on how that goes, I’ll make a list for the second half of the year too.

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You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow?

And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the overprudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city?
And what is fear of need but need itself?
Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?

There are those who give little of the much which they have–and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.
And there are those who have little and give it all.
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.
There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.
Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.

It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding;
And to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving.
And is there aught you would withhold?
All you have shall some day be given;
Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors’.

You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.”
The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.
They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.
Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights, is worthy of all else from you.
And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream.
And what desert greater shall there be, than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving?
And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their worth naked and their pride unabashed?
See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving.
For in truth it is life that gives unto life while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.

~Kahlil Gibran

on giving

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365 days. 1000 km. 1 overly ambitious new years resolution

Somehow I let a friend convince me that running 1000 km in a year was doable. To be fair, she’s aiming for 1000 mi, but I have some small bit of sense about what my limits are. Plus, I measure my distance in km, anyway.

With about 52 weeks a year, that means about 20 km a week. And how am I doing so far, you might ask? Well as of 18 January, I had run a grand total of 0 km. But then there’s that moment where you say, ah feck it. Just do it. Or don’t do it. But then just shut up about it.

So suitably chastened, I gulped down my coffee, and got dressed. Since I have an iPhone, which only lets you upload music with iTunes, I used one of Spotify’s running playlists. I say “one of”, but as far as I can tell, they are all the same? Lots of Avicii, Not Avicii, David Guetta, and David Guetta remixing everyone else. But it all had a beat, so it worked well enough.

Shoes on, laces up, hoodie, legwarmers (which will fall down anyway, but that’s ok because I overheat when I exercise), and a huge deep breath before opening the door to the COLD.

My running app might be a bit inaccurate, as it logged me at a painful, and painfully slow, 5 km, when I’m fairly certain that route is only 4 km. But, as it’s the tracker, 5 km is what got recorded.

So. 5 km down. 995 km to go.

I’ll say this – it was hard, like it’s always hard when you do a thing you used to be somewhat decent at, but haven’t done in a while, and now you are not that great at it. But once you get over that and just get on with it, there’s a certain amount of peace you make with the discomfort and the pain and the oh-god-how-am-i-only-2-km-in??? Because you know, it’s just going to be like this the first few times, and it doesn’t matter how much you put it off. It’s just going to be like this. So either you just do it, or you just forget about the whole thing. But the worst is to just talk about how one day you’re just going to do this thing. Any day now. Seriously.

First run down. First run’s the hardest. 5 km at a time, slowly chipping away.

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on writing, motivation, and these cold and dark days

I woke up this morning to some snow on the ground. It’s only on the sidewalk and pavement, so the contrast between the startlingly green grass (it is called the Emerald Isle, you know!) and the bright white powder on deep black asphalt is striking. In a few hours it will be gone of course, but in the meantime, the sky is suitably grey, and it all just looks so cold.

Three days ago I posted that I would try to blog at least once a day. And then I went two days without posting anything. I have an excuse of course – I was trying to meet a deadline, and then we went out for dinner, and drinks (found a cute new pub), and a movie. And then I spent some time with a friend yesterday and you know, the days just get away from you. But in any case, excuses are excuses, and in the end I didn’t do what I said I would do.

So then of course, I’m spending some time this morning making up for it with two posts. I love to write. I do. I have so many thoughts in my head, and most of them aren’t worth the time it takes to put them down, but every so often, there’s that one clear thought that needs to be expressed, but it hasn’t quite crystallized, and I think – write. this. down. Even just in the act of writing, thoughts can become clearer. Ideas can deepen. And maybe even new thoughts and ideas can emerge.

But I never do. Or maybe I put a piece of it on Facebook or Twitter, and then leave it there, like some half-formed thing, thinking I’ll take it up again at some distant point, clean it and polish it, or take it apart piece by piece to examine and perhaps reassemble into something that more closely resembles the seed from which the idea sprung. But mostly, it just dangles there, like that time you wanted to try sprouting lentils, and you put them in water in to soak, but you did something wrong (are you supposed to change the water every so often? refrigerate? add salt?), and they sprouted, but then kind of got stuck between the seed and sprout stages. Cute, and tasty, and it worked well enough, but not quite what you were going for. And ultimately they disappointed, because you just didn’t do what you should have done.

You’d think winter would be a good time for writing. If you’re lucky enough to live in a place where the snow comes down regularly and cleanly, I suppose you’d spend more time outside. But when the days get shorter, the nights darker, the sun struggles to break through the clouds, and the wind, oh man, the wind is just cold here. Well, then you find it a bit cozier to be inside, turn on the heating, snuggle into a blanket, make some soup…. and write? Or not.

But it’s 2015 now, so time for new beginnings. Time to re-dedicate ourselves to all those things we meant to do last year, or five years ago, or maybe one day in the future, only the future is now, so this is it, this year I’m going. to. do. that. thing. And I’m going to start today.

Well, tomorrow, anyway. There’s still a small smattering of snow on the ground yet.

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new year, new you

Maybe I’m a masochist, but I’ve decided to re-new my commitment to this blog. I’ve a whole host of travel posts to get up, plus I’d like to post more creative writings, as well as some reflections on current events, particularly in public health.

Since it’s still early in the year, I’ll consider this one of my new year’s resolutions: one post a day, even if some (oh who am I kidding – most!) days it is just a quote, or a picture. I’m leaving my old posts up too.

Some other new years’ resolutions:

  • run 1000 km in 2015
  • get back to weight lifting (2x a week)
  • yoga reboot (this one requires further exploration)
  • make some ice cream (with the ice cream maker)
  • 2 week Spanish immersion
  • learn something new (or maybe re-learn something from previously?)
  • get a job
  • write a novel
  • knock out the rest of the ones I haven’t seen: http://www.roughguides.com/destinations/europe/ireland/things-miss/#/0
  • accomplish one more activity on my 10-year plan

I’ve made a small amount of progress on one of these goals, but will be revisiting them more next week.

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