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In the debate surrounding the purported link between abortion and breast cancer (ABC link), there has arisen a core of individuals whose demeanor can best be described as zealous. This group has all but abandoned the core scientific principle of allowing themselves to be led, without prejudice, by the preponderance of the scientific data. It is a dangerous tack that they have taken for as scientists we are trained in a method that is meant to protect us, and the public who listen to our informed opinion, from the errors that come with thinking not in empirical terms, but from hewing to outmoded orthodoxies. Scientists and physicians fall into this error time and again, which precludes being open to new information. Currently the abortion breast cancer debate swirling in Australia as one of the chief proponents of this link (Dr. Angela Lanfranchi) is there to give a presentation on the topic. This debate provides us a window into this issue of orthodoxies creeping into the scientific community and taking stubborn hold. The identity of the orthodox wing in this debate, and its machinations, may be surprising.

As the Canadian Nobel Laureate (Chemistry), Dr. John Polanyi, noted:

At the heart of science lies discovery which involves a change in worldview. Discovery in science is possible only in societies which accord their citizens the freedom to pursue the truth where it may lead and which therefore have respect for different paths to that truth.

While Polanyi’s words beg to be taken to heart, the reality behind the denial of the ABC link is rooted in precisely the abuse of intellectual freedom Polanyi abhors. For over a decade in the United States all major medical and cancer societies have adopted the position that there is no link between abortion and breast cancer. They have done so based upon a single workshop conducted at the U.S. National Cancer Institute. Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Louise Brinton, who dismissed the unambiguous data in the literature establishing an ABC link, chaired this workshop. In it only those on her side of the issue were given a voice. Brinton would go on to coauthor a paper six years later that included oral contraceptive use and induced abortion as risk factors for breast cancer. For an excellent update on the state of the international literature in the field, Dr. Joel Brind gives one here.

Far from discredited junk science, researchers all across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas continue to do research, publish in peer-reviewed journals, and continue to substantiate the ABC link. Their data, contained in two meta analyses discussed by Dr. Brind, all build on a devastatingly simple biological model that even the data deniers at NCI do not refute.

When a woman becomes pregnant her estrogen levels increase 2,000 times greater than baseline. The immediate effect is a swelling of breast tissue as the number of ductal cells roughly double. These cells are immature, undifferentiated, and cancer-prone. In the latter part of the second trimester and during the third trimester human placental lactogen is produced by the placenta, which matures and differentiates about 85% of the breast tissue from the cancer-prone Type 1 and Type 2 cells to milk producing and cancer resistant Type 3 and Type 4 cells. With breast-feeding and successive pregnancies the remaining 15% of cells are successively transformed to cancer resistant cells.

This is not only true in humans, but has been repeatedly demonstrated in animal models as well.

These facts are not in dispute by either side. Neither are the data showing that women who suffer first trimester miscarriage have no increased risk of breast cancer compared to women who have induced abortion, as their hormone levels never really increase appreciably. Neither in dispute are the data that demonstrate the earlier a woman has a first full term pregnancy, the lower her risk for breast cancer. Neither are the data by Danish epidemiologist Dr. Mads Melbye who discovered a 3% increased risk of breast cancer for every week after week seven of gestation where women have an induced abortion. He found an 89% increased risk of breast cancer after week eighteen in women who have had induced abortions. Melbye, it must be noted, denies the validity of his own statistically significant data.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Melbye, Brinton, and the rest of the NCI coterie deny the validity of their own data (as well as data from all over the globe), data that time and time again substantiate the ABC link. Their sole reason for denying the data in case-control studies (which are retrospective analyses) is the assertion that women who have had induced abortions are more likely to recall them, or report them if they have breast cancer. Dr. Janet Daling who included in one of her studies a test of this putative bias, studied women with cervical cancer and found absolutely no recall bias in her cases or controls. That makes sense because nearly all cervical cancers are caused by human papilloma virus. Janet Daling also publishes with the deniers.

That’s all they have: A disproven assertion, destroyed by one of their own.

That’s all there is behind the attack on results substantiating an ABC link in over seventy peer reviewed papers and two meta analyses. A small group of deniers with a large platform who didn’t give time or fair hearing at the workshop held to address this significant objection to results that cut across nations, cultures, religions, and reproductive practices and belief systems.

So how to explain all of this? The elephant in the room isn’t induced abortion as that which prevents attaining the protective effect of placental lactogen in the latter stages of pregnancy. The issue is the legality of induced abortion and what the frightening specter of breast cancer fifteen or twenty years later might mean. In other words, it’s scientists denying scientific data because of a political agenda. In the words of Dr. Leslie Bernstein who helped run the sham NCI workshop which so many scientific societies have swallowed uncritically:

The biggest bang for the buck is the first birth, and the younger you are, the better off you are….There are so many other messages we can give women about lifestyle modification and the impact of lifestyle and risk that I would never be a proponent of going around and telling them that having babies is the way to reduce your risk. I don’t want the issue relating to induced abortion to breast cancer risk to be part of the mix of the discussion of induced abortion, its legality, its continued availability. I think it should not be part of the argument.

This flies in the face of the freedom so essential to not only pursuing scientific truth, but in keeping the scientific community the free society Polanyi so eloquently proposes. Political orthodoxy has trumped the science and reason of hundreds of epidemiologists all over the globe, in scores of studies. Predictably the deniers will as a last resort point to the religious faith of some, suggesting that people of faith are incapable of adhering to the scientific method and discovering truth. Such orthodoxy prevents the funding by NCI of further studies along the ABC line of investigation, which only hurts women and their families in the long term.

This month, Australians have in their midst a physician and surgeon who boldly proclaims the truth of global discoveries. Can we all be wrong? And should a small band of highly placed scientific truth deniers sell the public on the scientifically heretical idea that there is such a thing as settled science around hotly contested issues? If one’s hypothesis isn’t open to being falsified by further research, then by definition one has exited science and entered the realm of orthodoxy. Such is the political orthodoxy, so truthfully stated by Dr. Bernstein, that has led so very many away from a small mountain of clear and convincing data on an issue impacting hundreds of millions of women who have had induced abortions.

This isn’t how good science is done. It is the very thing of which they accuse us: substituting political orthodoxy for science and reason.

be-still-know-that-i-am-god

A few thoughts on the growing Ebola scare for my friends and loved ones…

This comes from the heart and mind of a medical microbiologist. Yes, I think that not enough is being done to shut down travel from the endemic areas, and this carries with it the potential for ebola’s introduction here. I also think the American aid workers should have been treated in the hot zone for the same reasons. While ebola is truly frightful, there is no cause for panic at this juncture.

NONE.

PERIOD.

What is needed is vigilance and sound policy decisions. This is the time to call your Congressional representatives. However, I’m seeing plenty of paranoid meanderings from folks who think that Obama wants to unleash ebola on the streets, that “THEY,” whoever “THEY” are, want to wipe out Africans in an attempt to conquer a continent with vast resources.

Look, biological warfare is indiscriminite. To aid an outbreak and shepherd it into a pandemic, thinking it will somehow limit itself to the despised class, is breathtakingly naive. There is a reason why nobody has deployed biological weapons in war. They are the gift that keeps on giving.

IF an outbreak occurs here, we’ll deal with all of the safety measures when that happens. Right now, there are no signs pointing to any outbreak. So let’s just put our trust in the Lord, be vigilant, be proactive and call our politicians regarding restrictions on travel, and in the words of Psalm 46:

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

Breathe.

(It isn’t airborne, either.)

fatigue

The internet social media sites have lately been swamped with photos and videos of mass executions, raped women, severed heads and blood flowing like a river. A monster has been unleashed on the civilized world once again, but to be fair to Islam, this monster has been seen before. Among some of the many practitioners have been the ancient Greeks, Romans, Caananite cults, Medeival and Renaissance Christians (Yes, Catholics!), Turks, Mongols, Chinese, Japanese, Communists (in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Soviet Union), etc.

Islam does seem to have a greater degree of recidivism, however.

In all of these episodic spasms of violence, it is not usually the civilization itself, but death cults that well up within them and sweep up many in much the same way ordinary people can find themselves easily swept up in a vigilante mob and doing what hours before would have been unthinkable. Much is the same in the latest spasm of satanic slaughter in the Middle East.

We are alarmed at the persecution of Christians, their wholesale slaughter, and that of rival Muslim sects as well. We are sickened at the sight of their slaughter and want to do something about it.

But what?

Beyond prayer and consciousness raising, what else can be done? The answer is military, but in a war-weary nation that actually helped precipitate this by the sudden withdrawal of our troops (creating the vacuum for ISIS) there is no political will or stomach for another fight. So the answer is what?

A steady diet of these photos will only produce compassion fatigue, the genesis of which is illustrated in the Venn diagram below:

Diagram - Compassion Fatigue

Moreover, there is a legitimate debate about the potentially voyeuristic participation in such atrocity and its effects on the psyche and soul. Such imagery becomes like pornography in requiring ever greater thresholds of depravity depicted in order to elicit arousal. This occurred with the nightly news images during the Vietnam War, which had no greater degree of atrocity than other wars, as the historical record continues to bear. Eventually we became outraged, then numbed, then seized with the desire to move on.

Teddy Kennedy led the defunding, we declared victory and came home. This created the vacuum for Pol Pot and his slaughter of over three million humans in just a few short years. In Iraq, history is repeating itself, and the question is what do we do with these images?

On FaceBook I have joined Deacon Greg Kandra in declaring that I will unfriend anyone who posts these images. I don’t need them on a daily basis, and their abundance will merely desensitize me. In just a few short weeks I have already lost the ability to feel shock and horror. It’s becoming just more of the same, and that’s the real shock and horror.

In a recent blog post, Fr. Dwight Longnecker declared that we dare not look away. I disagree. The real danger is incurring the fate of Lots’ wife, of turning to stone for having looked back.

If we truly care, we’ll act. We’ll actually DO something. That will begin with electing new national leadership and rebuilding our military. Death cults have only ever been stopped by military force, and this one is no exception. However, maintaining our edge means not looking on the horror with unfiltered gaze.

That’s the challenge.

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Americans United for Life Just released this analysis in an email, and has given permission for its dissemination. Here is AUL on the Hobby Lobby decision today:

Today’s decision: The “contraceptive” mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) by requiring three closely held corporations to provide health insurance coverage for life-ending contraception in violation of the sincerely held religious beliefs of the companies’ owners. Assuming that the government has a “compelling interest” in the mandate (which the Court does not hold, but just assumes for purposes of this case), there are less restrictive means to accomplish their goal.

Breakdown:

Today’s decision applies to closely held corporations (e.g. the Green and Hahn family businesses). The Court strongly explains that these corporations are people:
· “Corporations, ‘separate and apart from’ the human beings who own, run, and are employed by them cannot do anything at all” (36)
· “[P]rotecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, and Mardel protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies.” (18)

It is based on the Court accepting as their sincere religious belief that these drugs and devices can destroy an embryo:
· “The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients. If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions, and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price . . . If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would.” (2)
· “Like the Hahns, the Greens believe that life begins at conception and that it would violate their religion to facilitate access to contraceptive drugs and devices that operate after that point” (14)
· “[T]he Hahns and Greens have a sincere religious belief that life begins at conception. They therefore object on religious grounds to providing health insurance that covers methods of birth control that, as HHS acknowledges [] may result in the destruction of an embryo. By requiring the Hahns and Greens and their companies to arrange for such coverage, the HHS mandate demands that they engage in conduct that seriously violates their religious beliefs.” (32)
· “the end that they find to be morally wrong (destruction of an embryo)…” (35)
· “HHS and the dissent note that providing the coverage itself would not result in the destruction of an embryo; that would occur only if an employee chose to take advantage of the coverage and to use one of the four methods at issue” (35)
· “The Hahns and Greens believe that providing the coverage demanded by the HHS regulations is connected to the destruction of an embryo in a way that is sufficient to make it immoral for them to provide the coverage.” (36)

The Court ruled the mandate failed the narrow-tailoring requirement of RFRA, pointing to the accommodation as a clearly less-restrictive means of accomplishing the Obama Administration’s stated goal. “HHS itself has demonstrated that it has at its disposal an approach that is less restrictive than requiring employers to fund contraceptive methods that violate their religious beliefs. . . . HHS has already established an accommodation for nonprofit organizations with religious objections.” (43)

The for-profit employers who object to all contraceptives (for example, many of the Catholic employers) should be protected by this ruling since the Mandate violates a sincere religious belief, even though it is not solely regarding the life-ending properties of some of these drugs and devices.
· The Court makes clear: “it is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial” (37) .
· And, most importantly, the Mandate (as applied to them) also clearly fails to be narrowly tailored means –e.g. non-profit Catholic employers are already “accommodated” with respect to all contraceptives.

The Court acknowledged the dangerous and radical view advanced by the Obama Administration: “Under HHS’s view, RFRA would permit the Government to require all employers to provide coverage for any medical procedure allowed by law in the jurisdiction in question—for instance, third-trimester abortions or assisted suicide. The owners of many closely held corporations could not in good conscience provide such coverage, and thus HHS would effectively exclude these people form full participation in the economic life of the Nation.” (45-46)

The decision does NOT decide the constitutionality/legality of the “accommodation.”
· “We do not decide today whether an approach of this type complies with RFRA for purposes of all religious claims.” (44)
· Footnote 40: “The principal dissent faults us for being ‘noncommital’ in refusing to decide a case that is not before us here. The less restrictive approach we describe accommodates the religious beliefs asserted in these cases, and that is the only question we are permitted to address.” (44)
· There is some troubling language. For example, there is this line on page 9 – “In addition, HHS has effectively exempted certain religious nonprofit organizations, described under HHS regulations as ‘eligible organizations,’ from the contraceptive mandate (emphasis added).”
o We do NOT think the “accommodation” is effectively an exemption – quite the opposite.
o Going forward the accommodation cases must emphasize that the “accommodation” still requires these companies to “arrange” for the coverage, given that they are providing the insurance plan.
· The Court does note that there could be another method (besides the “accommodation”) for achieving the government’s goal — namely, the government could provide the contraception coverage. That indicates that they could also find the accommodation fails to be narrowly tailored.
o “HHS has not shown that it lacks other means of achieving its desired goal without imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion . . . . The most straight forward way of doing this would be for the Government to assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives at issue to any women who are unable to obtain them under their health-insurance policies due to their employers’ religious objections.” (40-41)

Importantly, the Court did NOT rule on whether or not the Obama Administration’s stated goal was a compelling interest.
· In order to impose a substantial burden, the government must have a “compelling interest”
· “We find it unnecessary to adjudicate this issue” (pg 40) since it was not narrowly-tailored.
· Acknowledging there are arguments against this being a compelling interest: “The objecting parties contend that HHS has not shown that the mandate serves a compelling government interest, and it is arguable that there are features of ACA that support that view.” (39)
· And the Court acknowledges that “tens of millions” (page 11) have been exempted from the Mandate for non-religious reasons (including grandfathering) – a fact that undermines the government’s claim that forcing this Mandate is compelling (i.e. if it was compelling, they wouldn’t make those millions of exemptions).

The accommodation – whether or not it satisfies RFRA and the Constitution— may be decided by the Court next term.

Since the effect of today’s ruling is that the Obama Administration cannot impose its Mandate on family businesses with sincere religious objections, which it has not exempted, we should be prepared for the Obama Administration to, very soon, extend its “accommodation” at least to closely-held corporations. Because the “accommodation” applies to objections to all contraceptives (not limited to those with life-ending properties), we would expect the Obama Administration to “accommodate” for-profit employers for all the drugs/devices as well. At that point, it will be for the Green and Hahn families, and other family businesses, to decide whether the accommodation violates their conscience and/or whether they pursue litigation over it.

Some other good language from the majority opinion:

· “If the Hahns and the Greens and their companies do not yield to this demand, the economic consequences will be severe.” But the Court also recognizes that the Green and Hahn families would not want to drop insurance coverage for their employees altogether, also because of their religious beliefs: “[T]he Hans and the Greens and their companies have religious reasons for providing health insurance to their employees.”

· Life-affirming healthcare severely punished by Mandate: “If they insist on providing insurance coverage in accordance with their religious beliefs, the mandate clearly imposes a substantial burden on those beliefs” (38)

· “The plain terms of RFRA make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate [] against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs.” (2)

· “As we have seen, RFRA was designed to provide very broad protection for religious liberty.” (17)

· The dissent, points out the majority, disagrees with RFRA. It doesn’t like the law that broadly protects religious liberty. “In its final pages, the principal dissent reveals that its fundamental objection to the claims of the plaintiffs is an objection to RFRA itself.” (48)

· “Our responsibility is to enforce RFRA as written, and under the standard that RFRA prescribes, the HHS contraceptive mandate is unlawful.” (49)

cogdis

In the latest school shooting, President Obama sums up what many of us believe. From the NY Daily News:

It was the 74th shooting at an American school since the December 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School — and the 37th just this year, according to a tally by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America…

“This is not acceptable, this is not normal,” he said in a Tumblr chat. “We’re the only developed country on Earth where this happens and it happens now once a week and it’s a one-day story.”
Gun violence in America, Obama said, is “off the charts.”

“There’s no advanced, developed country on Earth that would put up with this,” he said. “This is becoming the norm and we take it for granted in ways that, as a parent, are terrifying to me . . . If public opinion does not demand change in Congress, it will not change.”

While some people think mental illness is the problem, Obama said, “The United States does not have a monopoly on crazy people.” The problem, Obama said, is the availability of guns and “this country has to do a lot of soul searching.”

They really are going by in a blur, all of these school shootings. But blaming the guns misses the mark by a mile.

WHY are these shootings taking place, and WHY now?

We have tighter restrictions on gun purchase and ownership than in any time in America. There is a seeming proportionality between restrictions and violence, but even that cannot explain the motives. Where motive is concerned, there is no one, single, prognosticator. It is rather akin to looking at a painting and taking it all in at once. The components defy logical analysis of themselves and only function in a unified and organic wholeness with one another.

Obama is too myopically focussed on the gun to see the coarsening to life that he himself has championed his whole adult life. He fails to see the 57 million babies torn apart in abortion.

He fails to see the overwhelming majority (~80%) of post-abortive mothers with psychological sequelae.

He fails to see an African American community decimated by 15 million missing members from abortion.

He fails to see the victims of his health legislation who have lost their physicians and their health policies and consequently their cancer therapies.

He fails to see violent video games that are virtual training academies for the real-life violence in our schools.

He fails to see a medical community increasingly lazy and given to passive and active euthanasia.

He fails to see his own failures at stemming the tide of illegal drugs.

He fails to see his Hollywood pals and their culpability in producing a river of filth.

He fails to see the effects of pornography on the devaluation of both men and women.

He fails to see his role in destroying the economic girders that produce jobs, which give young people hope and purpose.

He fails to see how rampant teenage promiscuity factors into young people regarding one another more as objects that exist solely for one’s personal pleasure than as peers to be cherished, and cheerleads Planned Parenthood as they prey upon our children.

He fails to see the abdication of parental responsibility in raising children and overseeing their progress in school.

He fails to see that he presides over a nation that has lost everything:

Standing in the world.

Prosperity.

Sense of mission and purpose.

And worst of all, the very thing he campaigned to restore… HOPE.

So myopically focussed on the guns in this portrait of modern America is our president, that he sees nothing else. The proximal and distal causes all collapse into one dimension with him. Such a man is incapable of leadership, and as we have seen since the beginning, can only blame everyone else for the difficulties over which he presides.

But blaming Obama is as myopic as the president’s vision.

We have brought all of this upon ourselves. We live in a constitutional republic: limited powers to government with elected officials. We have been too narcissistic and hedonistic to care about the destruction wrought by these men and women who come from us, and are a reflection of us. We have lived lives, as a people, that are out of control and have raised children in a coarsened and calloused environment of our own making.

We did this, collectively.

The gun is an afterthought.

The only difference between the victims of Columbine, Sandy Hook, the other school shootings, and the 57 million butchered babies is that these children in school were wanted children.

That’s how to spell “Calloused” and “Hedonistic”.

That’s the America Obama can’t see.

Eagle_Scout_Award

For family, friends and denizens of this blog, I have been chronicling my son Joseph’s growth through the Boy Scouts over the 3 1/2 years since he has joined. Read the several posts here, here, here, here, and here. Joseph has come up through the ranks as a Scout, Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life, and now on the precipice of becoming an Eagle Scout. He has grown through several leadership positions, most notably as a Den Chief for Cub Scouts, and as a Patrol Leader this year, counselor-in-training at last year’s summer camp, and now off to work for the summer as a full camp counselor. Guest-blogging today is Joseph, in his own words, about the leadership service project he has chosen, and a request from those who may wish to help support the project.

Here in his own words is my hero, Life Scout, Joseph Nadal:
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Dear Reader,

As part of my final steps towards Eagle Scout, I must do the following requirement found in the BSA Handbook:

“While a Life Scout, plan, develop, and give leadership to others in a service project helpful to any religious institution, any school, or your community. (The project must benefit an organization other than Boy Scouting.) A project proposal must be approved by the organization benefiting from the effort, your unit leader and unit committee, and the council or district before you start. You must use the Eagle Scout Service project Workbook, BSA publication No. 512-927 in meeting this requirement.”

The organization I am helping is A Very Special Place, Inc., a group that helps adults with developmental disabilities (such as Autism and Down Syndrome) live fuller lives. The organization has several locations in Staten Island, NY, one of them being their executive offices, with others being centers for day programming and still others being group homes.

During Hurricane Sandy in October, 2012, two of their buildings were severely damaged inside, totaling over $1,000,000 in damages. Having repaired and re-opened the two buildings, one of them (the Adult Day Care center in the devastated New Dorp Beach neighborhood) suffered the loss of thirty-six Arborvitae trees along the front and left side of the building. These trees are all dead or dying from the salty ocean water and other contaminants in the water as can be seen in the photo here.

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My project is to direct the scouts in my troop to:

1. Remove all of the trees along both sides of the building.
2. Rehabilitate the soil using approximately six yards of fresh top soil, three yards of pete moss, and thirty bags of composted cow-manure, mixed together using a rototiller.
3. Plant new Arborvitae trees where old ones existed.
4. Place edging bricks along edge of soil to make 130 feet of flower bed space for the clients to do their occupational therapy in gardening, since the community gardens (on NYC Parks land a few blocks from this location) were washed out from Hurricane Sandy, and NYC has no plans to replace those gardens. The photo below shows a sample brick along the soil’s edge.

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The bricks are necessary to keep the flowers that will be planted from being killed by the landscapers’ weed whackers. I’m also directing the planting of a short Japanese Maple tree in an empty corner of the property surrounded with the same kind of edging brick used for the flower bed stacked three high, and placing a park bench in front of a handicapped ramp. I plan to do this project on June 27, and June 28 July 25 and 26 (this is a two-day project). But in order to do this, I need to raise $3,000 to purchase the trees, soil, peat moss, fertilizer, bricks, and roto-tiller rental.

So today, I am asking if you would care to join in a partnership with me by making a donation to help make this project possible? Your gift (whatever size!) can be claimed as a charitable income tax deduction. (These next four weeks are a narrow window because the trees need to be planted before the August heat at the beach area sets in.) Checks should be written to:

“BSA Troop 37″

The memo on the check should say:

“J. Nadal Project”

BSA policy requires that all money left at the end of the project is to be turned over to the project beneficiary (A Very Special Place, Inc. in this instance). So there’s even better news.

Checks can be mailed to:

Joseph Nadal
℅ BSA Troop 37 Treasurer
33 Ainsworth Avenue
Staten Island, New York 10308

Thank you for taking the time to read this request and for your consideration. Please keep the clients of A Very Special Place, Inc. in your thoughts and prayers as we continue our process of improving their Adult Day Care center.

Respectfully,

Joseph Nadal

{And there he is, in his own words. I’m thinking of turning the blog over to him pretty soon. I’m proud that Joseph has freely chosen this project and developed it as he has. It’s rather poignant for us, and I’m proud of the young man he has become at the ripe old age of 15 years and three weeks. If anyone requires a letter of acknowledgement for tax purposes, A Very Special Place will provide that as the project beneficiary. Joseph will be sending his personal thanks to all. God Bless, G.N.}

“Life is Difficult.”

With those three opening words of profound truth, M. Scott Peck began a self-help revolution in his classic, The Road Less Traveled. It is really a provocative opening line for a book, a statement of the incredibly obvious, and yet a revelation. As one of the central institutions of civilization marriage, too, is difficult. It is life in microcosm, and yet it is the paradigm for civilization itself. Therefore, it should not come as a great surprise to note the parallel realities of a civilization in decline in proportion to the failure rate of that civilization’s marriages.

For decades now, the divorce rate in the United States has hovered at fifty percent.

Life is difficult.

Having known far too many couples who have divorced, having walked the road with them before, during, and after, Peck’s words come as an understatement. In truth life can be brutal, demoralizing, and even dehumanizing. Outside of war and famine, nowhere do these experiences come into such sharp relief as in the experience of a failed marriage. At its completion, people are left broken, often ruined financially, devastated psychologically, and often relieved that the ordeal is finally over.

Being somewhat jaded by these realities, it takes quite a bit to penetrate the shell of cynicism that comes with being a New Yorker. That happened this week when I learned of the increasing popularity of divorce parties that often come with anti-wedding cakes showing either a dead bride or groom, a bride or groom dragging the other out to the trash, or a bride or groom shoving their spouse off the cake. Google “Divorce cakes” to see the macabre celebration of love’s tragic death.

Fox News had an article on the trend. From the article:

Duff Goldman, chef and owner of Charm City Cakes in Baltimore and Charm City Cakes West in Los Angeles, said he has been creating divorce cakes for a decade, with one or so orders a month nowadays.

“We’re thrilled to put a positive spin on what can be a difficult and stressful time for people,” said Duff, whose custom cakes were featured on the Food Network reality show “Ace of Cakes” from 2006 to 2011.

O’Malley’s first big divorce client popped up two years ago. She’s the one who hosted the $25,000 bash at a fancy venue, complete with a cocktail reception, sit-down dinner, toasts and an eight-piece band. She wore white, though not her wedding gown.

“We set up a chapel-looking area and her father walked down the aisle by himself to take her back, instead of give her away,” said O’Malley, who has handled several divorce parties since.

The bridesmaid who caught the woman’s bouquet eight years prior threw one back to her, he said. Wedding gifts were photographed, placed in silver frames and given to gifters in attendance.

“This is something you don’t have to regret, like the wedding,” O’Malley said. “It’s something without any shame.”

Shame is not the issue here, nor should it be. Divorce, and the death of love are brutal. Shame is anticlimactic in context. Rather, the party seems to take the death of something far greater than the individuals and turns its burial into a cause for celebration. So what is being celebrated? To answer that, one needs to delve into the realm of the cognitive and affective on the wedding day itself. There are the love songs that are played, songs that speak of longing, and waiting, and fulfillment. Boyce Avenue’s cover of Christina Perri’s A Thousand Years captures this about as well as any.

Heart beats fast
Colors and promises
How to be brave?
How can I love when I’m afraid to fall?
But watching you stand alone,
All of my doubt suddenly goes away somehow.

One step closer

[Chorus:]
I have died every day waiting for you
Darling, don’t be afraid I have loved you
For a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

Time stands still
Beauty in all she is
I will be brave
I will not let anything take away
What’s standing in front of me
Every breath
Every hour has come to this

One step closer

[Chorus:]
I have died every day waiting for you
Darling, don’t be afraid I have loved you
For a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

And all along I believed I would find you
Time has brought your heart to me
I have loved you for a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

One step closer
One step closer

[Chorus:]
I have died every day waiting for you
Darling don’t be afraid I have loved you
For a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

And all along I believed I would find you
Time has brought your heart to me
I have loved you for a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

Quite beautiful, both the lyrics and melody. Moreso, quite a powerful declaration of love, of devotion, of permanence.

It’s against this affective backdrop that vows are made, that promises and expectations are declared before family, friends, and the church assembled. I can think of no more affirming moment in my life, affirmation of all that I am, than when Regina pledged her love and fidelity to me until the day one of us dies. She was (and remains) a beautiful, brilliant, and holy woman who could have had any man she wanted, and yet she chose me and put it all on the line before God and man. The emotional impact of that reality can not be understated, because it sets the table for either great good, or great harm.

Apart from sexual infidelity, which is the only kind envisioned when the word, “infidelity,” is mentioned, there are a thousand other infidelities that creep into a marriage along the way. The vows made on the wedding day are not just for sexual fidelity. Sex is never mentioned explicitly. Our vows were,

“I, ______, take you, ______, to be my wife/husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”

Of course sex is a part of that being, “true to you.” But the reality is that there is so much more in daily life that is a part of being true, of loving and honoring the other. It is primarily in the daily acts of being true that marriages prosper, or wither. Establishing common goals, respecting differences, being slow to anger and quick to forgive have much to do with being true to the other.

The vows point to learning sacrificial love, which grows out of the seed of romantic love, and takes a lifetime to perfect as it is learned in layers. As Dostoyevsky reminds us in The Brothers Karamazov:

“Brothers, love is a teacher, but a hard one to obtain: learning to love is hard and we pay dearly for it. It takes hard work and a long apprenticeship, for it is not just for a moment that we must learn to love, but forever.”

There is a raw and powerful beauty in that kind of love, and a correspondingly raw and powerful bitterness when it doesn’t take root.

Before we began homeschooling the children, Regina would find herself talking with the other mothers in the school yard at morning drop-off. The women would take turns bashing and belittling their husbands, and when they came to Regina in the circle, she would have nothing to contribute, not because I don’t give her heartburn with regularity, but because she loves and respects me in spite of the heartburn. The thought of trashing me was abhorrent to her, and she quickly found herself on the outs with that crowd, many of whom are now divorced.

Knowing many of them, one could see the creeping progression of the illness in their marriages. The tipping point comes when disappointments lead to unforgiveness and loss of respect. It’s seldom sudden, almost always imperceptible, and spiritually toxic. When the ink is finally dry on the divorce, both parties are often psychologically and spiritually exhausted.

After such a journey, no party can bring closure. The wound is too deep. The promise of love has given way to the other feeling better off without their spouse.

It is anti-love, which may be necessary in many cases. But anti-love should never beget celebrations. It should remind us of what Peck did almost forty years ago, and prompt us to address that reality constructively:

Life is difficult.

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