Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Community Immunity – A Quakerly Concept

Photo by Summer Moon Scriver

The Quaker testimony on community is one of the ways we attempt to put our faith into practice. This belief in the equality of all people and the value placed on sharing and mutual obligation contrasts with the behavior of a materialistic and individualistic age.

Here’s what the testimony on community looks like. We make meals when a new baby arrives or when someone goes through chemotherapy.  When a family’s house burns down, we give shelter and help build a new one. Some of us mentor school kids, others drive shuttle buses for seniors, and many serve on the boards of non-profits.

There’s another important way to act on the testimony of community – immunizations.

Earlier this year, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that my county is the worst in the nation when it comes to vaccinating children, with only 28 percent of kindergarteners and 11 percent of sixth graders meeting school vaccine requirements. These numbers are troubling in light of my state health department’s recent announcement of a statewide pertussis (whooping cough) epidemic. The agency projects we’re headed for 3000 cases this year, an alarming jump over the 965 reported in 2011.

Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial infection that usually starts with mild cold symptoms. For young children, it typically causes uncontrollable coughing spells, followed by gagging or vomiting and a “whoop” sound. Infants are most vulnerable for severe complications and death. Last year, 38 infants in my state were hospitalized with pertussis, and 2 died.

Many of our communities are at risk for a variety of vaccine-preventable diseases like pertussis because thousands of parents refuse to immunize their children. As a school nurse and former immunization nurse, I’ve answered parents’ doubts that diseases like polio and measles still exist (they do and in some places are on the rise); I’ve heard fears about a study linking measles vaccines and autism (the report was retracted, and the doctor involved lost his license); and I’m aware that some perceive school vaccine requirements as government intrusion.

Others, though, can’t receive this preventive care even if they wanted to. Most vaccinations aren’t given to babies under 2 months because their immature immune systems can’t respond. Older children and adults whose immune systems are weak because of illness or aging can’t be vaccinated, either.

Here’s where our testimony on community comes in. When enough of us get our vaccinations, we benefit even those who don’t.  Such “community immunity” cuts the spread of diseases like pertussis to our vulnerable neighbors.

Now it’s time for us to do our part to achieve community immunity. Check immunization records. Schedule an appointment. Get yourself and your children immunized. It’s what we Quakers do for each other.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Walking in Circles

Carved labyrinth at
Whispers of Nature

           “Our lives are an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn. That there is no end in nature but every end is a beginning.” 
                                 ~  Ralph Waldo Emerson

             I spent part of May 5 walking in circles. Sometimes such circuitous movement is a result of confusion    and frustration, or it’s evidence of procrastination. But that day, my circling was intentional.

Three years ago, the Labyrinth Society, an international organization founded in 1998, designated the first Saturday in May as World Labyrinth Day. I learned about this commemoration from friends Susie and Nick Teague.  In 2006, they founded Whispers of Nature and since then have been developing an outdoor labyrinth. In honor of the global labyrinth event, Susie and Nick invited the public to walk the unique maze they’ve created.

Path surrounded by
herbs & flowers
While the precise origin of the labyrinth is unknown, the earliest datable labyrinth was built in Greece around 1300 B.C. This ancient tool for walking meditation can be found in schools, prisons, parks, hospitals, spas, churches, and retreat centers.  Many labyrinths around the world replicate the one laid in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France around 1200 A.D.  It has eleven circuits, or concentric circles, with a twelfth, at the center, in the shape of a six-petaled rosette. The labyrinth at Whispers of Nature has seven circuits, surrounded by a medicinal herb and flower garden. 

Whatever its design, the labyrinth is viewed as a metaphor for life’s journey.

There is no magic formula, no “right” way to walk a labyrinth.  It’s a mystical practice of the simple action of putting one foot in front of the other, following the labyrinth’s unexpected turns, and ending up at the center. A sign at the Whispers of Nature labyrinth offers simple instructions:
“Follow the single path in and out.  You may use it as a walking meditation, play music, or sing.  Your walk may be joyous, quiet, thoughtful or celebratory.  Choose your intention each time you walk.”
On World Labyrinth Day, I walked with intention and attention for three friends who are on their own walks with cancer, visualizing them held in a circle of love. 

Sculpture at the center of labyrinth

Sunshine glistened off the glass ornaments in the garden, and the wind whispered through the lavender, poppies, calendula, tulips, mint, and dozens of other plants I couldn’t identify. As always happens for me when I walk a labyrinth, I had moments of being uncertain of the route, of thinking I’d missed a turn, and then resting in the knowledge that the path would guide me if I trust it, slow down, and let go.

When I returned home, a copy of Western Friend waited in my mailbox; the issue’s theme – “Friends on Aging and Dying.”  The magazine fell open to “Every End Is A Beginning,” an essay by Susan Tweit, recounting her husband’s death from brain cancer.  The title is taken from the Emerson quote above.  I can’t imagine a more fitting thought to carry forward from my walk on World Labyrinth Day—and every day.