Fighting and being fought for

I was in the hospital, recovering from a nasty intestinal infection, when I heard the awful news that in Tucson, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 19 other people had been injured—six of them killed.

Back on the farm, taking a break from trudging through the snow drifts and ice, struggling to do the chores of caring for over fifty sheep and eight dogs, and feeling quite weak and sorry for myself, I heard Gifford’s husband, Mark E. Kelly, say that he knew his wife would make a full recovery, because “She is a fighter like nobody else that I know.”

I naturally wondered, “Am I a fighter?”

Back in the barn with the sheep I looked at ewe number 144 with her one blind eye, lost because I was late in getting her on antibiotics. A remembered number 91 who had to be culled because she had such a hard time tending her lambs, and the good looking lamb we just found dead last spring, and wonderful old Mirk the Border Collie who we put down last fall because he couldn’t walk and his hollow stare said the time had come.

On the farm we deal with disease and death all the time. No sheep or dog wanted to go blind or get sick or die. None died because they weren’t fighters. They depended on me. I depend on veterinarians and more experienced sheep people for advice. We all depend on a host of others who have more skills, who make the medicines, who walked this way before us.

I could have had all the fight in the world in me and still died from my infection and the wacky heart ailment that it triggered in me. I needed a tag team of doctors and an army of nurses, aides and technicians. And I would still be moping around my farm feeling sorry for myself if it were not for a holy host of others who phoned, wrote cards and e-mails and came over with prayers and food and to plow the snow and stack hay and help my good wife tend to me and the animals while I crept back to health.

When I was a callow youth I studied such books as Places Rated Almanac to find which communities in the nation were the best places to live—which had the best universities, transit systems, theaters, sports venues and the like.

I’ve now come to realize that the truly vital aspects of a community aren’t even touched upon in books like that. Now, if someone would compile profiles of communities so full of caring people who fight for others that you could live there and never be afraid and never have to be alone—that would be the book to have. That book would steer you to places where a person could thrive when they are strong and full of fight as well as when they are down and out.

That would be a book that would have a community like Sycamore, Illinois right at the top of its list.

It’s a wonderful thing that Gabrielle Giffords is a great fighter, but I hope and pray that Houston, Texas and Tucson, Arizona are communities strong enough to get her through.

This article appeared in the Daily Chronicle on February 18, 2011. Page A2.