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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Food for thought
Posted by Jill | 2:13 PM

No pun intended. This is a letter posted at Altercation today:

Dear Dr. Alterman:
I have an irony to illuminate.

A few months ago, I spent a lot of time at a nursing home keeping my elderly aunt company as she faded gently to black. My sister and I had the privilege of holding her and singing her to sleep in her final hour. We had no wrenching decision to make - Mavis was very clear with us about heroic measures.

During many long visits I came to know a lovely man named John who spent many of his waking hours at the home keeping his beloved Christine company. "Steen", as she was known was lost forever to the impenetrable fog of Alzheimer's. Many years ago, John and Steen worked for the Dutch Underground in their efforts to hide Jews, gather intel for the Allies and give the Nazis all possible grief. As John asserted, "Steen was the hero." As a courier, she had to smuggle all manner of stuff from town to town, evading German patrols and getting through checkpoints and roadblocks undetected. Had she been caught, she would have faced down a firing squad. John told me blushingly and proudly that Steen was a world-class flirt and voluptuous 16yr old beauty with long golden hair who could wiggle, tease and giggle her way out of any situation.

And so she did, saving countless lives and contributing to the great victory.

After the war, John and Steen came to Canada, declared themselves unhyphenated Canadians and gave generously to their new homeland. Steen died recently with John at her side in grieving silence. She was the love of his life; his rock and his heroine.

And so the irony. The whole world knows who Terri Schiavo is. We know the details of her medical condition, the sounds she makes, the minutiae of her marriage and have seen unflattering photos of her wasted limbs and vacant visage. We even got to see a picture of the now iconic feeding tube protruding from her navel.

Terri Schiavo, the innocent sufferer is the unwitting center of a huge and ugly morality play that demeans us all. Steen, the intrepid heroine to whom many still living owe their lives died quietly in a small Canadian town. Not even the local paper managed to note that a woman of extraordinary grace and courage passed this way and made the world a better place.


As someone whose grandparents lost relatives in Hitler's camps, let me be the second American to say: Thank you, "Steen."
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