Sunday, June 01, 2014

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Not to worry: Nothing [new] has happened. Just my usual tangential thinking.

It's just that I recently attended a stroke conference, mostly to help man a table for Brain Injury Voices. That put me in a position to repeatedly rattle off my laundry list of experience with stroke. That list is somewhat tattooed on my brain (so to speak) because of a t-shirt Jamie got me for Father's Day last year. It reads: "I had an aneurysm, two brain surgeries, a heart attack, and a stroke, and all I got was this f*ing t-shirt". It's a big hit at support group. There's no room for more, but I suppose I could add, "a cerebral hemorrhage, a craniotomy, cranioplasty with a plastic skull flap, two months in rehab, and a grand mal seizure." I'm not showing off or claiming my list is longer or worse than anyone else's. Some speakers at the conference (mostly rehab doctors and therapists) reminded me how lucky I was in how my stroke affected me. For instance, while I experienced a little"left-side neglect," some stroke victims are literally unable to see one hemisphere of their world (going so far as cutting off half of words they're trying to read). Some right-side stroke sufferers also experience Anosognosia, making them completely unaware of their deficits. The speaker gave an example of one patient who would press the call button during the night, stating that someone was grabbing her in her sleep, when in fact she had simply rolled onto her own stroke-affected arm. There are always those, "There but for the grace..." moments.

Here's where I'm going -- I was also struck by the recent, "Botched execution" in Oklahoma. Wouldn't you think an execution is "botched" only if the prisoner survives?Apparently not. It was one of those times in our history when, perhaps, a reasonable debate will begin in our country only because something went wrong and tested the tenuous, though intractable, boundaries of our Constitution. It feels fairly obvious to me that The Founders' intentions in the Eighth Amendment were to prevent the abuse of power by the government (just as I would apply that intention toward the Second Amendment). Why would the defining document our society holds so dear rely on suffering to determine how and when we should adjust our willingness to be somewhat flexible about which freedoms we hold most self evident -- whether that be the right to sentence a criminal to death or to own a gun)? Personally, I don't think it does; and that's where we've gone off the rails -- extending our goal to run a government which does not oppress its people, into an unreasonable  philosophy of life, built around expectation, entitlement, and "fairness". I'm coming to accept, "I deserve," as a rationale for choices -- as long as that sense of deserving comes from a place of self worth -- but I don't think I'll ever be able to get behind anyone's belief that he or she is owed something simply because of historical advantage or suffering. 

When I heard Kenneth Feinberg speak in Washington about his time running the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund (amongst other, similar disaster relief funds), I was in awe of both the magnitude of his task -- knowing that no amount of money could right the wrongs committed -- and the nerve of some claims he received. One such example he gave was from a person wanting compensation for losing a loved one in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and another who called regarding the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. I do get it. I get the desire for something resembling fairness or justice, as well as the desire on Mr. Feinberg's part to create an impactful speech by repeating the phrase, "Where's my check?".  As much as I've at times wondered if my suffering is some kind of fair payback for my otherwise blessed life, I understand the desire to get what you believe is coming to you.

But, as I say a lot to my kids: "Blame is lame." As is, by the way, using the phrase, "Blame is lame." Life is like a box of chocolates. Or, maybe life is like a crock of sausage -- You don't want to know how it's made and it's never made the same way twice.