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MERI Center Blog

November 25, 2020

As I ponder Thanksgiving this year, I am torn between the myth of Thanksgiving and the real history of Thanksgiving in the United States.  To choose to reappropriate Thanksgiving as a time of gratitude and reflection without acknowledging the violence and pain this day represents for Native Americans would be sweeping their history under the rug, ignoring it because it makes us feel uncomfortable.  And in this year, a year that has brought so many challenges, it seems particularly important to call out the pain and suffering the colonists inflicted upon the Native Americans throughout history. To learn more Oyate.org has a great list of Thanksgiving myths.

I am grateful, though, for this opportunity to reflect on this past year and to remember there are things I am thankful for.

  1. Anti-Racism and diversity are once again at the forefront of our minds

As a child of Asian American activists, discussions on racism were normal in our house and while I am disappointed that we have not more strides yest, I am heartened to see widespread discussions and efforts to fight racism and inequity. I am particularly grateful to co-chair our division’s Anti-racism task force.

  1. Being home with my children has deepened our relationship and not having to rush from one meeting to another has helped me feel less overwhelmed, less rushed, leaving with me more patience.  With less extracurricular activities, my kids have more time to work on the homework and spend time with family.  My daughter and I watch Korean dramas most nights, 1 episode a night, which has been a...
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November 2, 2020
Events

Among all the intense news of the world and the anxiety of our upcoming elections,  October brought with it the light and soft air of Autumn, two Full Moons, (including the Blue Moon which happened on the morning of Halloween) and the book launch of the writings of Merijane Block, in a new book entitled  “Everything Takes Longer Than You Think It Should or Thought it Would, Except for Life.”

 Merijane Block is the namesake of the MERI Center—Making Education Relevant and Integrated. On Thursday, Oct 29, the MERI Center hosted a Zoom book launch featuring  readings of Merijane’s eloquent and often difficult writings, by many of her close friends. Christopher DeLorenzo and Elizabeth Levitt, along with others, compassionately read through all of Merijane’s notebooks after her death in 2017 and put together an exquisite edition of her writings.  The book includes stories of her youth and freedom as a creative, artistic and curious woman of the 1960’s and 70’s, growing up on the East Coast  through her early life in San Francisco, walking everywhere on her strong “Legs” ( title of a piece in her book), exploring love and life in what came to be “her city,”  and continues through her introduction to her unexpected journey with metastatic breast cancer for 26 years. 

Meri tells us clearly in her poems, “Admonitions for the Uninitiated II” that she did NOT want to be seen as a “warrior,” a “fighter,” a woman embattled in her own bodily survival. She did not want to be called a “survivor.” She always insisted that she be seen as her...

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October 1, 2020

While 2020 continues to pile catastrophes and crises upon us, I am buoyed by the connections I am seeing, hearing, and feeling.  As another fire ravages the North Bay, one of our poetry group members offered his home to someone who may need to evacuate.  Another member, from Sweden, expressed concern for the safety of those living in the area and are being affected by the fires and smoke.  Separated by miles, by continents, by the pandemic, we still form connections, we still care about each other, and we still reach out to support each other. 
 
I am immensely grateful for these connections, knowing that these tendrils of support can snake through and around all of these obstacles placed before us and provide comfort and care. These connections come in so many forms: poems, text, emails, songs, art, even in our dreams.  They can twine together with others forming stronger supports, reminding us we are not alone even when we are by ourselves. 
 
We are pleased to announce a special event for in honor and memory of a dear friend, Merijane Block.  I met Merijane many years ago when she started seeing Dr. Rabow in the UCSF Symptom Management Service, an outpatient palliative care clinic for cancer patients.  We had many delightful conversations as she waited for her visit and soon she became more than one of our patients, she became a friend.  Merijane demanded that all of her providers treat her as a person and not as a disease or problem to solve, to form a connection, a deep, meaningful connection, with her and all of their patients.  When the MERI Center was...

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September 30, 2020
SMS Meeting Poems
Compassion

 

This week's Symptom Management Service poem was "If You Knew" by Ellen Bass.  It was the perfect choice for my mood the past few days as I was writing our monthly newsletter, which focuses on connection.  In this time of social (physical) distancing, it feels like we are so far apart from each other at times and yet, we can find ways to make even small, seemingly ephemeral connections that have meaning.  I get to sit in two poetry workshop each week, "lurking" in the background, listening to poems created in under 5 minutes, soaking in the imagery and emotion they evoke, thinking about how those words resonate in me. I have not met most of them in person and yet, I feel connected to each of them.  I feel blessed by each of them through their words. 

Listening today to "If You Knew" by Ellen Bass just highlighted that even the briefest interactions can have a huge impact and we should strive to remember that the smallest ounce of compassion can make a difference. 

If You Knew

by Ellen Bass

What if you knew you’d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line’s crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn’t signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won’t say Thank you, I don’t remember
they’re going to die....

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September 23, 2020
SMS Meeting Poems
Grief/Loss

Today, Mike Rabow read, "When Great Trees Fall" by Maya Angelou, in honor of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's passing.  Since Friday, I've cycled between shock, grief, anxiety, and gratitude.  Losing Notorious RBG was devastating not only on a personal, human level, but also on a societal and political level.  We owe her a debt of gratitude for all her work on equality and road she has paved for us. We owe it to her and many others, including Maya Angelou, to continue the struggle for equality, against social injustice of any sort.  We can be. Be and be better. For they have existed. And today, it feels like we must be and better for so much is at stake. 

Thank you, RBG, for blazing the trail as long as you could and for being an outstanding role model.  May we pick up the torch you have passed us and hold it high.

When Great Trees Fall

Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,

rocks on distant hills shudder,

lions hunker down

in tall grasses,

and even elephants

lumber after safety.



When great trees fall

in forests,

small things recoil into silence,

their senses

eroded beyond fear.



When great souls die,

the air around us becomes

light, rare, sterile.

We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,

see with

a hurtful clarity.

Our memory, suddenly sharpened,

examines,

gnaws on kind words

unsaid,

promised walks

never taken.


Great souls die and

our reality, bound to

them, takes leave of us.

Our souls,

dependent upon their

nurture,

now shrink, wizened.

Our minds, formed...

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September 10, 2020
SMS Meeting Poems

Yesterday's Symptom Management Service meeting poem, read by Dr. Mike Rabow, was "I Am Not I" by Juan Ramon Jiminez.

“I Am Not I”

BY JUAN RAMÓN JIMÉNEZ

TRANSLATED BY ROBERT BLY

I am not I.

                   I am this one

walking beside me whom I do not see,

whom at times I manage to visit,

and whom at other times I forget;

who remains calm and silent while I talk,

and forgives, gently, when I hate,

who walks where I am not,

who will remain standing when I die.

 

The title in and of itself seemed appropriate for yesterday, which to me seemed like a day that was not a day. The orange-hued fire haze eclipsing the sun and turning the day into an endless night.  My social media was flooded with pictures of the tinted air that blanketed the Bay Area and beyond. Eerie, brownish-orange apocalyptic air mixed with a heavy layer of fog in my neighborhood.  By 2:30 pm, it felt like 7:30 pm and I was ready to stop working and go to bed.  What more will 2020 bring us?  

 

September 2, 2020

2020 continues to devolve with hurricanes, typhoons, and wildfires piling it on, not to mention the continued police brutality against Black Americans.  In mid-August, the San Francisco Bay Area reached a sad milestone of 1,000 deaths due to COVID.  Our director, Dr. Michael Rabow, was interviewed for this piece in the SF Chronicle, “Bay Area’s COVID death toll reaches 1,000 as coronavirus pandemic marches on”,  where he contemplated not only the loss of lives, but the collective losses that we are all feeling. Not only are we suffering from loss of life, we are suffering from loss of normalcy, loss of physical connection, loss of almost a year. 
 
The MERI Center continues to contemplate how best to help both internally at UCSF and in the greater community. We have converted our Loss, Losing, & Loosening: Exploring Grief and Healing Through Poem-Making to a weekly group in the month of September, where we can...

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August 27, 2020
SMS Meeting Poems
Resilience/Wellbeing

It’s been too long since we have last posted to this blog.  The summer, even during the pandemic, diverted our attention. New workshops, writing a paper, focusing on the future and how we will mold it to our vision.  And a fear that I personally was using it as a platform for my agenda, my beliefs, my pain.  It can be a fine line of representing an organization and misrepresenting your own beliefs as the organization’s.   But I realize that not focusing on the blog was a mistake.   So I, we, will make an effort to post regularly. 

To start our renewed efforts, I end with a poem that Dr. Rabow read at yesterday's Symptom Management Service meeting, one that is particularly powerful as we contineu to fight against racial injustice.

 

Absolute
by Jacqueline Woodson

The summer I was ten a teenager named Kim butterflied my hair. Cornrows curling into braids behind each ear.

Everybody’s wearing this style now, Kim said.

Who could try to tell me I wasn’t beautiful. The magic in something as once ordinary as hair that for too long had not been good enough now winged and amazing now connected

to a long line of crowns.

Now connected to a long line of girls moving through Brooklyn with our heads

held so high, our necks ached. You must know this too – that feeling

of being so much more than you once believed yourself to be

so much more than your too-skinny arms and too-big feet and too-long fingers and too-thick and stubborn hair

All of us now suddenly seen the trick mirror that had us believe we weren’t truly beautiful suddenly shifts

and there we are

and there we are

and...

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June 11, 2020
SMS Meeting Poems

Hope to Sin Only in the Service of Waking Up 

by Alice Walker

Hope never to believe it is your duty or right to harm another simply because you mistakenly believe they are not you.

Hope to understand suffering as the hard assignment even in school you wished to avoid. But could not.

Hope to be imperfect in all the ways that keep you growing.

Hope never to see another not even a blade of grass that is beyond your joy.

Hope not to be a snob the very day Love shows up in love’s work clothes.

Hope to see your own skin in the wood grains of your house.

Hope to talk to trees & at last tell them everything you’ve always thought.

Hope at the end to enter the Unknown knowing yourself. Forgetting yourself also. 

Hope to be consumed to disappear into your own Love.

Hope to know where you are –Paradise–if nobody else does.

Hope that every failure is an arrow pointing toward enlightenment.

Hope to sin only in the service of waking up.

June 3, 2020
Personal Reflections

Since June 1, I’ve been trying to write about the uprisings/protests/riots happening right now in a clear and thoughtful way.  With anger and sadness, between meetings and work, the words jumbled together in a near stream of consciousness, fragmented and all over the place.   Reading and rereading my written thoughts, I struggle to find the balance between professionalism and honesty, between honesty and unintended (?) consequences.  And yet, it feels profoundly important to write something for this blog during this time.

I am an Asian American woman, daughter of Asian American activists. My father was a part of the Third World Strike at UC Berkeley in 1968/9, when Black, Latinx, and Asian American students came together to demand Ethnic Studies.  My mother, a bit older than my father, marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. My paternal grandparents were incarcerated during WWII at Topaz, Utah.  My paternal grandfather fought in WWII with the 44nd Regimental Battalion made up of Japanese American men.  I am also the wife of a Caucasian man and the mother of two incredible Hapa children. I am a Person of Color.  These uprisings have affected me deeply. 

Monday was a struggle, trying to find the words to adequately describe my feelings while going from meeting to meeting, where the uprisings became the main topic of discussion. I ping ponged between anger and intense grief.  I cried about 3, maybe 4 times.  Cried at the injustice, cried for the strides we haven’t made, cried in anger, cried in sadness.  There was also frustration as colleagues reminded our workgroups to make talking about racism a normal part of our conversations.  Such privilege to have to be reminded to make this a normal...

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