Monday, July 21, 2014

Deep Breaths

They say that to relax you must take deep breaths in.... then let them out..
Yesterday, I feel like I finally exhaled.
OK, it took a trip to a Japanese Tea Garden and an Irish pub to make it happen.
It also took being with my best friend, my wife Michelle.

The last several years have been nothing but easy.
We've lost three parents and two brother in laws,  and at the same time, I helped form a union against strong opposition from my employer, and became it's first president.

So it's been a taxing several years, and I continue try to learn balance. Balance between time for Michelle and I, time to relax, and time to accomplish what I am called to do.

I see such great potential in the movement, potential for working families, for patients, for students, for the disadvantaged, and for this country as a whole.
It's impossible for me not to give it my all.
So yes, I may struggle to find balance, but the larger struggle has been going on for ages, a struggle for respect, dignity, and fairness for all people.

Michelle and I spoke about the future, for us, for our lives together as we near or sixth decade, for the movement, and for our role in the movement.

She is my best friend, and has been so since we met 42 years ago in that high school hall, and for that, I am blessed.

As my best friend, she is willing to put my feelings before hers.
As someone who believes that we should care for one another, I am willing to put the movement before myself.

I do not know what the future holds, I know only what I believe in.

So, if that means being part of a struggle, then let it be so.
Just give me my best friend to be beside me, and a chance to relax once in a while.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Good night, mom, God bless

My mom has gone to her eternal reward.
I don't know what Heaven is like, but I do believe it exists, and this gives me great comfort.
She raised 6 children, which I find incredible, and I think she has reason to be proud of how we are each doing.
Not so much as our status or station in life, but in how we each try to live our lives.

We owe that in large part to the lessons our parents taught us, through word and action.
She was a devout Catholic, hence the 6 children :) , and her Catholic beliefs were in line with the teachings of the Gospel, which sometimes does and sometimes doesn't conform to what church leaders preach at a particular point in time.
Love one another, who is my brother, if a man has two coats he should share with he who has none, let he who is without sin cast the first stone, blessed are the peacemakers, the poor, the meek, those who hunger or are persecuted for righteousness, the merciful, those who mourn.
She always said never hate another person, hate what they say or do, but never hate them.

At a time when some Catholics still did not accept some Jews, we were taught that the only difference between us and our neighbors, Mr and Mrs Siegel, where the church (synagogue) we attended.
At a time of the civil rights movements, and later, race riots, she taught us the "n word" was never to be spoken, and though we knew no people of color people growing up, we were taught that black, brown, native american, and others, were no different than us.
We were reminded that Irish Catholics have been persecuted at times as well.

This translated into her actions.
She volunteered at the hospital and the church.
She boycotted grapes for the farm workers.
She treated and spoke to all with respect.
She devoted her life to her family.

But boy, did she love to play devil's advocate.
If I would say that if I said the sky was very blue today, she would counter with, Yes, but there seems to be clouds on the horizon.
Even in this, I was taught a lesson. There are always two side to a story, always two opinions, and rarely is one completely right and one completely wrong.

We almost lost her a few weeks ago, and I realized that one day, when I said goodbye at the end of a visit, it would be for the last time, but I would not know which visit that would be.
I think that helped me begin to prepare for what was to come.

At the end of one of these visits, when I told her I was going but would check in with her and her doctors, she responded, OK John, good night, God bless.
That is how she put us to bed as children.
Say your prayers, good night, God Bless.
It brought me back to my youth and the lessons I learned from her, and I started whispering it in her ear as I ended visits from that day on.

She has finished the work she was supposed to do on this earth, she has finished the race, she has kept the faith.
Good night mom, God bless.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Stephanie, Lisa, and Harry

This morning I watched my brother and 2 sisters, Harry, Lisa, and Stephanie, named AFT Everyday Heroes by our union, AFT.
They were recognized because they led their Locals through a 4 day strike, that was followed by an illegal 19 day illegal lockout in the dead of winter, just before Christmas. Their hospital counted on the Locals imploding under the pressure, instead, they became stronger with each passing day.
There were many factors that lead to this increasing of strength; the executive boards of the locals, the support from other locals, other unions, the community, the politicians, the state federation and the national federation, but let us be clear, without the leadership of Lisa, Stephanie, and Harry, the hospital would have won, and the patients would have lost.
They are a remarkable trio, each with their own strengths, and together, they are a force to be reconned with.
More than that, to me they are truly brother and sisters, mentors, and friends.
I started this role as union president without training. I had never been involved in a union, never worked my way through the ranks, never watched someone else to see how it was done.
Stephanie, Harry, anf Lisa, have been my guides, my mentors.
I am extremely proud of their recognition, proud of the AFT, and proud of my Local and the support role we played.
More than anything, I am thankful to have these three friends come into my life, at this time, and to have an opportunity to work side by side with them, and make a difference.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Mom's lesson

I am leaving early tomorrow for Los Angeles for my union's national convention.
With my mom sick in the hospital, I contemplated not going.

Then I remembered a day a long time ago, when mom came home from the grocery store and announced that we would not have table grapes because a man in California was asking people not to buy them and he was trying to help the farmers.
I knew I had cousins in California, and I figured if it helped them that was good enough for me.
Years later, I would realize my family had participated in the 1965-1970 Delano Grape Strike and Boycott and that man was Cezar Chavez, who would become one of my heroes. The picture of he and Bobby Kennedy sitting together (on the above web link) hangs in my office.

Mom never said the word union, never said boycott, never said United Farm Workers, she simply said people needed our help. She also taught us that we are all children of God, and as such, were all brothers and sisters.

It was not my cousins we were helping, it was my brothers and sisters.

I leave my angel to go to the City of Angels, to represent my members, to advocate for my patients, to continue the work of Cesar, Bobby, Martin, Gandhi, my mom and so many others in the past and now. The role I play is small, but that's OK, because it's all of us playing our small roles, working together, tiring at times, but never giving up, passing it on to the next generation, that matters.

It matters because all workers should be treated with dignity, all people should be equal, there should be no discrimination, people should have the right to a living wage, and affordable, accessible quality, healthcare and education,. No one should go hungry and no one should become rich at the expense of another.

These are the lessons my mom has taught me, not so much in words, as in action, including the simple action of not buying grapes and teaching her children they are part of the human family, and when one of their human brothers and sisters suffer, so do we.
Sí, se puede, mom.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Precious Time

"I began to realize that advocating for my patient meant advocating at the bedside, but also in the boardroom and the state house."
That quote, or something close to it, is from my good friend, fellow nurse, and nurse organizer, Lesa Hanson.  She spoke these words during our Backus organizing drive.
This thought is what gives my AFT union brothers and sisters the courage and the drive to work day after day in what is sometimes a difficult battle.
We represent patients, students, and the public; all of whom we care about.  If we did not, we would work in another field. We are in public service in one form or another.

Having my Mom in the hospital has made me think about how precious time is, and about how I spend it.
I work long and hard for what I believe in, and others like me do the same.
Sometimes, those we care about the most pay the price for that.
It's not that we wish to take those we love for granted, it's just that we sometimes feel there must be a way to do it all, to have it all, to find the balance.

Maybe there is, I hope so.
I will continue to search for it.
But, at the same time, I must have the right priorities.

Football star Gale Sayers wrote a book entitled "I am third".
In it he says God is first, his family is second, and he is third.
Seems like a good place to start.
Many recovery programs have a step in which the member must turn his/her will over to the care of a Higher Power, praying only for the knowledge of that Higher Power's will and the courage to carry it out.

What is my Higher Power's will, how do I find it, and how do I find the courage to carry it out, especially if a part of me wants to do otherwise?
Obviously I have not answered these questions yet, but I do know how to become closer to the answer.
I cannot know my Higher Power's will without knowing my Higher Power, and just like knowing another person, I cannot know my HP without spending time with him.