From the Moment We’re Born

 

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Joey, and joey, hanging by threads over the Abyss. As are we all. (Suspension by Jeffrey. Photo by Nancy.)

The moment we’re born, the dying begins.  Decline is part of life.

People fixate on “health”, even as they decline.

That’s a failure of thought, or of language.

Thoughtful people don’t care about “health”.  They care about being, about doing.  A disease or defect matters only to the extent that it gets in the way.

Ride chauffeur Jeffrey is determined to emulate me, the Kangaroo Court Puppet.  Puppets just . . . ARE.  And they do their thing.

Because our 2018 plans soon may change, I’ll share some secrets from the last few Rides.  You’ll see Jeffrey’s determination to BE and to DO.  And you’ll be prepared for a possible zig to our zag.

You may recall that in 2015, Jeffrey pedaled us 1000 miles through New England despite a painful broken leg.

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Ten days before the 2015 Ride.  Three partly healed breaks.

In 2016, Jeffrey pedaled us 1400 miles from Chicago to Albuquerque despite four irritating screws.

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Two of the screws removed after the 2016 Ride.  The rod remains.

In 2017, Jeffrey pedaled us another 1400 miles to San Jose.  The public story was that friend George would see us safely across the desert.  Kept quiet ‘til now is that the day before we left NYC, Jeffrey’s heart went haywire with supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), doubling or tripling his resting pulse for hours at a time.  Jeffrey asked Nancy and the doctor what would convince them to allow us to go West.  The answer was, a chaperone for the 800 desolate miles from Albuquerque to the eastern reaches of Los Angeles.  Enter George.  We made it to San Jose without incident.  Then SVT attacks resumed.  In August 2017, a doctor zapped the short circuit in Jeffrey’s heart.  Problem solved!

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Jeffrey’s resting heart rate during a 2017 SVT episode.

These trivialities did not stop us in 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Now it’s 2018.

A few days ago, Jeffrey was admitted to hospital with a pulmonary embolism (PE)—a painful lung-killing blockage of the pulmonary artery.  The Director of the hospital’s Inpatient Pulmonary Service, an embolism expert who immigrated to the U.S. despite our government’s efforts to exclude him, was surprised because Jeffrey has no risk factors.  He will investigate why this happened.  Meanwhile, he said Jeffrey’s “beautiful lungs” will recover fully.

Then gasping, feverish Jeffrey was diagnosed with pneumonia.  It’s a common sequel to PE lung damage.

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Instead of a photo of lungs, here’s a breath of freshness: the lovely, ageless, patient Nancy, who cares for the disintegrating Jeffrey, aloft in a hot air balloon over Orange County, NY.

Jeffrey’s home.  Fever’s gone.  Breathing’s easing.  But he’s been inactive for 10 days.  Going soft.  And he’s not 27 anymore.  (I’m 27.)

Dare we proceed with the Seattle Ride on February 28?

“Health” means nothing.  What matters is ability.

Joey can be Joey.

But can Jeffrey be Jeffrey?

We could do a shorter local Ride in March.  We could stay home until the May Ride to the Deep South, and save Seattle for next fall or next year.

But we don’t want to live someone else’s life.  We want to live our own.

In this American time of soul-crushing cruelty to our neighbors who without money or papers have no effective way to resist, it’s our duty to leave the NYC cocoon, to see and be seen, to listen and be heard, to learn and to teach about human rights.  It isn’t much.  But it’s something.

Yet there are multiple values to weigh.  As the sage Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who is for me?  But if I am only for myself, what am I?  And if not now, when?”

No pity party!  Just transparency.  When we decide what path makes sense for 2018, we’ll tell you.  Promise!

Stay tuned.

Ride for Human Rights: Joey Goes to Seattle and the Deep South

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Joey, hatted and umbrellaed for the Pacific Northwest, with a banjoed knee (a la “Oh! Susanna”) for Alabama.

Joey here.  Kangaroo Court Puppet.  Lawyer Jeffrey’s companion for asylum lectures since 1991.  Chauffeured by Jeffrey on seven Rides for Human Rights since 2011.  One hundred fifty-four days (more than 5 months) and 8,975 miles (14,540 km) on the road, in 32 of the United States and one Canadian province, from Atlantic to Pacific, from Lake Superior to the Gulf of Mexico.

We’re at it again.  Welcome to the 8th Annual Ride for Human Rights.

Every year, we pedal at least a thousand miles of our vast country.  Along the way, we talk to our fellow Americans of every status and background.  We raise consciousness of immigration, refugee and asylum issues.  We raise funds for Human Rights First to support their training of lawyers to represent, for free, asylum applicants in the U.S., their work to promote American values in domestic policy, and their efforts to improve human rights abroad so good people won’t have to flee their homelands anymore.

This year’s Ride will be in two acts.

Act I:  On or about March 1, we’ll continue the journey that paused in May 2017 in San Jose, California.  Jeffrey will pedal us 1000 miles along the Pacific coast to Seattle, Washington.

We’ll spend April back home.

Act II:  In May, we’ll resume our travels in Indiana, a state we crossed on the 1st Ride (2011); pedal to Nashville, the destination of the 2nd Ride (2012); and continue south and west into a region with few immigrants, where the politics sometimes are unwelcoming to refugees.  If it can be arranged, along the way we will speak with school, civic, and faith groups.  When people know about the asylum system, they have the tools to decide how best to live their American and religious values through their treatment of refugees.

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We visited the thirty-two Yellow states on Rides 1-7.  We hope to reach the seven Green states on Ride 8.

You can help.

By following our journey, you put the wind at our backs.

By speaking up gently to dispel myths—for example, many people don’t realize that foreigners have the legal right to apply for asylum, and that even unauthorized immigrants are healthier, more likely to work, and have a lower crime rate than Americans—you will encourage your friends and neighbors to live our values by welcoming the stranger without fear.

Donating to Human Rights First will further protect and project the American Way.

We will post here occasionally in the coming weeks.  Once we are on the road, we intend to post an illustrated essay each night without fail, as we have done on every Ride so far.  We’ll show you an America you haven’t seen before, up close and personal.

Each Ride changes us, we hope for the better.  Come along with us, if only on the Web.  Maybe the Ride will change you too.

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A Mighty Woman

Jeffrey here. As every year, until next spring’s Ride, Joey gives me the last word.

Nancy brought me home by plane, 5 weeks to the day after I left for Albuquerque.  We arrived before dawn.

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Home!  My first view west from our apartment. That’s New Jersey across the Hudson River.

This seventh Ride achieved my goal to propel myself across the United States.

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Not shown: the Rides from NYC to Iowa, Tennessee, Florida, the Great Lakes, & New England.

The circuitous route of over 3500 miles (5700 km) more than compensated for some tens of unpedaled dangerous desert miles through which my truckin’ New Mexico friends, Jesus and George, powered Joey and me on the 6th and 7th Rides.

L to R: Jesus, Joey (2016); Joey, George (2017)

Every Ride is a hypnotizing mix of mental and physical challenge, solitude and human connection, focus on the moment and absorption in the vastness, staggering beauty and ugly motor traffic, and people of all backgrounds. I need time to process it. Channeling The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (1962):

The thread through every Ride is American kindness and fairmindedness. When gently shown that our law abandons persecuted foreigners to fend for themselves in court, the People say NO.

It’s why, every year, I fall in love with Americans again.

Emma Lazarus loved America, too. You know her 1883 sonnet. Please read it again, with added emphases.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Refugees are the Least Among Us.  They have no country to protect them.

In this land that belongs to its inhabitants, no matter their papers (what papers did the First Nations, the Conquistadores, the Pilgrims, Alexander Hamilton, and most Ellis Island arrivals have?), Americans want to be fair and generous to strangers, as their Scriptures tell them to be.

Some of our kind neighbors don’t realize they have the tools to help.

Let’s speak up softly but firmly when people are misled into fearing refugees. Refute lies about immigrants: even unauthorized immigrants commit less crime, spread less disease, create jobs for Americans, and work harder than the America-born. Be a friend to the stranger. Join with others in the community, and with nationwide organizations like Human Rights First, to see that asylum applicants get the professional help they need to have their cases fairly heard.

Let’s lift our lamp beside the golden door.

And now, some thanks . . .

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America is wonderful. Each year, I roll through a land set like a banquet table. Even its worst roads, are roads.  Even its poorest food, is food.  Even its simplest motel is shelter.  My needs are met by new friends I make every day.  People are kind and generous.  I am but dust, yet it seems that the whole world was created for my sake.

Question:  If a kangaroo puppet is pedaled across the country and no one notices, did it really happen?

Answer:  The answer is irrelevant, because this year, as every year, friends like you show that you notice.  You email and text, you post encouraging comments on the blog, you donate to The Cause, you spread the word, you are the wind at my back and the descent after a hard climb.  I don’t often respond, but I see, and I remember, and I’m grateful.

I’m particularly grateful to friends and family who took me in:  Peggy and George in New Mexico; Steve and Michele, Hillary and Courtney, Cindy and Lou, Terry, Julie and Nattie, in California. They made a home for me, far from my home.

Peggy and George went above and beyond. For 12 days, George (in a truck he rented and fueled) made sure I got over the mountains and across the desert.  George supplied me with iced water, tuna subs, sugary snacks.  He explained area geology and suggested detours into the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, and Meteor Crater.  After he saw me past the Mojave, George needed 2 more days to drive home.  Peggy gave her time, money, and blessing to make it happen.  And imagine—through our mutual Maryland friends Elisa E., Irene and Mario, we first met less than a year ago!  I can’t thank them enough.

Emma Lazarus called Liberty “a mighty woman with a torch”.

There is a mighty woman for whom I carry the torch.

IMG_2433Nancy is brilliant, principled and determined.  She has run businesses and ran (not walked) the NYC Marathon.  Someone has to run our family; talent and circumstance chose her.

Without her annual fearful assent, the Rides would not happen.

On every Ride, I eat and sleep because Nancy works to pay my way.

This year—when the route included hundreds of miles of desert beginning in New Mexico, followed by 250 miles across California’s arid Mojave— Nancy asked me to find a chaperone (enter George!).  The dangers I encounter are less scary than the dangers Nancy imagines.  But she never says that I can’t go.

If I am the kite, pretty Nancy is the string.  She lets me rise, keeps me steady, and at the end of the adventure, draws me home.

To be with my love.

Where I belong.

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