Sunday, August 28, 2011

Prayers for Coach Summitt

I was dismayed to learn last week that Pat Summitt, the head coach of the University of Tennessee women's basketball team has been diagnosed with early onset dementia of a type similar to Alzheimer's Disease. She chose to make the announcement herself, with the support of her family, assistant coaches, players, and university administration. She has announced her intention to continue as head coach as long as she is able, doing mental and physical exercises to keep her mind and body as fit as possible for as long as possible, but she will be delegating more responsibilities to her assistants.

Her accomplishments on the basketball court have been almost legendary, and when I say legendary, I mean legendary. She has been the head coach of the Lady Volunteers for 37 seasons, winning eight national championships for Tennessee. She's the most successful coach in either men's or women's college basketball, winning an astonishing 84% of her games overall. In an era when many college and professional coaches seem to be willing to do anything to achieve success, Coach Summitt has achieved hers honestly, and by all accounts is as interested in building the character and integrity of the young women who play for her as she is in producing winning teams. She is the only person to have two basketball courts used by Division I basketball teams (and two streets on two different University of Tennessee campuses) named in her honor. I'd say that's legendary.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am a huge University of South Carolina fan. South Carolina and Tennessee are in the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference, so quite often I tend to think of Tennessee as a rival to and a competitor with my beloved Gamecocks. I'd love to see the men's or women's basketball programs at USC achieve even a fraction of the success that Coach Summitt and the Lady Vols have achieved. In this instance, however, I'd like to put partisanship aside and wish Coach Summitt, her family, her players, and staff, the very best as she battles this illness. You are in my thoughts and prayers, Coach. This season, This Gamecock will be cheering for Coach Summitt and her family and friends all the way.

I suppose one reason this news disturbs me so much is that Coach Summitt is only about ten years older than I am. If Alzheimer's Disease can happen to the most successful coach in college basketball at the height of her career, it can happen to anyone. I already have a physical disability and some associated health problems, so I've been able to adjust fairly well to the idea of a body that doesn't always work properly. I've always been able to compensate, at least to some extent, with a fairly sharp intellect. If my cognitive and mental functions were to begin declining, however, I'd really be in a mess. It's the one thing that truly scares me about growing older.

Coach Summitt has said that she began wondering about her mental and intellectual health when tasks that had always been routine, such as planning her daily schedule and the strategy for her team suddenly became noticeably more difficult for her. Her son Tyler has said that he noticed something didn't seem right when his mother would mislay her car keys three times in one day or forget when she was supposed to go to her office or meet the team for practice. For the most successful coach in college basketball to forget the scheduled time for practice would indeed be a red flag. It's made me think twice about my own forgetfulness and absentmindedness and wonder what I can do to keep my mind sharp. I would urge anyone reading this who might be wondering about the state of their cognitive abilities to see their doctor, get tested, and find out what they can do to stay mentally alert. In the words of a famous slogan, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste."

Friday, August 26, 2011

"Oh The Dreadful Wind and Rain"

Hurricane Irene is lumbering her way up the South Carolina coast at the moment, which means I'm keeping an eye on weather conditions. I don't believe the effects on me will be too severe because I'm so far inland, but it's possible we could see some heavy rain and gusty winds here later tonight. As a consequence of the weather, however, I keep thinking of this grisly little murder ballad with the oft-repeated chorus, "Oh the dreadful wind and rain." I've heard Scottish, Irish, and American versions and variants. It's an eerie tale of ill-fated love, jealousy, homicide, cannibalism, and the supernatural. Here's an outstanding a capella version by singers Paul and Kim Caudell:

On a somewhat lighter note, I'm also thinking of Feste's closing song from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night:

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came to man's estate,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
'Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
For the rain, it raineth every day.

But when I came, alas! to wive,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive,
For the rain, it raineth every day.

But when I came unto my beds,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
With toss-pots still had drunken heads,
For the rain, it raineth every day.

A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that's all one, our play is done,
And we'll strive to please you every day.

Because The Bard left us only the lyrics for this song and not a melody, it's been set to any number of tunes in any number of productions of the play. Here's a cut from the 1996 film version of Twelfth Night directed by Trevor Nunn, with Ben Kingsley as Feste. I also like the Celtic flavor of the closing music composed by Shaun Davey:

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Et maintenant, un petit peu de musique Cajun

(And now a little bit of Cajun music).

Bonjour! I've blogged before about how I find YouTube endlessly fascinating. I've discovered that it's a virtually limitless video jukebox with samples of just about every kind of music imaginable (and some you can't imagine) available for the asking. The past few days I've had an inexplicable hankering for Cajun music, of all things—not sure why. I don't have any French ancestors that I know of, I'm not from Louisiana, and I don't have relatives there, but I've loved the music ever since I discovered it in college. I think the combination of joy and melancholy in the music is truly remarkable.The chaplain at my undergraduate school grew up in Southwest Louisiana, and could drop into a French-accented English patois in an instant. Maybe I'm thinking of him. Bob Martin, wherever you are, these are going out for you, cher.

Here are two selections by the Balfa Brothers. The Balfas are to Cajun music what Bill Monroe is to bluegrass or Chuck Berry is to rock and roll: giants of the genre, seminal artists without whom it would be impossible to understand the music properly. The first piece, "'tit Galop pour Mamou," is accompanied by what seems to be archival footage of floods in Louisiana in the 1930s and efforts to rebuild the levees after the flooding. I can't tell for sure because the title cards at the beginning of the clip are blurry and out of focus. The music, however, comes through loud and clear:

The second, "J'ai passé devant ta porte," (I passed by your door) is a characteristically melancholy Cajun waltz, a lament for forsaken love—but what fun the Cajuns have being melancholy! They seem to pour every ounce of their heartache into the song (including those long wails in the background) and you can't help feeling better after listening to it:

The person who posted this video even included lyrics in Cajun with an English translation:

J'ai passé devant ta porte,
J'ai crié, 'bye-bye, la belle.'
'Y a personne qui m'a répondu!
Oh yé yaille! Mon coeur fait mal...

I passed in front of your door.
I cried good-bye to my sweetheart.
No one answered me!
Oh, it hurts! My heart hurts...

Allons danser!

Life Is Easier When You Have A Helping Hand

Well hello there, my two or three faithful readers! You may be wondering where I've been all summer. For a long time I was feeling depressed and discouraged and having difficulty keeping up with the basic activities and responsibilities of daily life. I have some continuing medical issues, and for awhile there it seemed to be increasingly difficult for me to keep abreast of those issues by myself. I'm on a fixed income, and it was hard meeting my basic expenses month to month. It looked as if I would have to move into an assisted living center in North Carolina, a move about which I had mixed feelings at best.

Then in July, after a long time on a waiting list I was notified that I qualified for a program known as Community Long Term Care, which is funded through Medicare and Medicaid. Under the program, I can stay in my home and have an aide or attendant come to the house five days a week for a few hours each day to help me with health, hygiene, and housekeeping issues. I have a "lifeline" system installed so that I can quickly call for help in an emergency. I can have meals delivered during the week, and I'm also receiving assistance from a local food bank, which reduces my weekly spending for food and makes budgeting easier.

All these improvements have made a huge positive difference in my mood and attitude. With a basic safety net in place, I don't have to worry quite so much about basic survival and can think more about what to do with the rest of my life and about ways I can make a positive contribution to the world. My main worry, however, is that I seem to be depending most heavily on government assistance just at a time when terrible economic conditions may require that government at all levels reduce spending dramatically. If Caesar giveth, Caesar can also take away. I know times are lousy, and governments will have to rethink their priorities, reduce spending, and balance their budgets, but I hope ways can be found to do these things that will not harm the poorest, the neediest, and the most vulnerable.