“I believe alien life is quite common in the universe, though intelligent life is less so. Some say it has yet to appear on planet earth.”

~Stephen Hawking

As running goes, it was a scheduled off week as far as mileage was concerned, which didn’t keep the big toenail on my right foot from trying to go AWOL, the ligament in my right groin from nagging at me every morning, nor the lingering wound on my left foot from festering in a manner I’m too polite to write about. It did, however, provide some much-needed relief to my joints, and after a restful Saturday I knocked out a half marathon Sunday morning with little difficulty, running mile thirteen at a sub-seven pace just to prove a point to myself. In all, I managed a modest forty-four miles this week, putting me at 126.5 on the month and 1,753.4 on the year, around six hundred miles more than I’ve run in any previous year of my life.

In somewhat related health news, Friday morning I had my cholesterol checked. Two months ago it was so high that my doctor wanted to put me on statins immediately, but instead I visited Bosnia for three weeks, enjoying the delicious but not especially diet-friendly cuisine, before returning home and adjusting my diet with the tremendous support of my wife and unwilling, possibly unwitting support of my children who sometimes but not always can recognize tofu. I’ve cut out a lot of meat, replaced eggs with egg whites, quadrupled my fiber intake mostly through fruits and vegetables, added more garlic to my diet, started taking fish oil and red rice yeast, and demanded of myself an average of twenty eight-ounce cups of water daily. Coupled with my regular exercise routine and some additional lifting, the results have been dramatic. My total cholesterol fell from 303 to 224 over the course of only six weeks, while my LDL (bad) cholesterol fell from 203 to 150. Both are still a bit higher than optimal, I’ll grant, but it’s clear that my new routine is having a positive impact and I’m excited to see the results in another six weeks. Hopefully the progress continues.

And yet. And yet. Health is far from merely a state of mind, farther still from something as simple as a lifestyle. Friday, I attended the ceremony of a dear friend who was retiring from the Airforce. Still a young man, last year he lost his equally young wife—and my wife and I lost another dear friend—to cancer. Sunday, my family and I attended an event known as the 26.2 Step Mini-Marathon in Cancer Survivor’s Park on Pacific Street in Omaha, not far from the Regency neighborhood. It was founded by a friend of mine, the mother of two of my former runners, after her cancer diagnosis. She was an elite athlete and a marathoner before that diagnosis, and soon by no doing of her own found herself in a place where taking twenty-six steps was a noteworthy accomplishment. Whether it is cancer, a bus, or the Taliban, I recognize that our health is not always within our control, and each evening as we share what we are thankful for before dinner, and every morning as I write my gratitude journal, the health of my family and myself are on my mind.

Health, of course, is also far more than just the physical. I would often as a school teacher speak to my students about the importance of counseling, referencing my own experiences, and the need for our society to destigmatize mental illness. Somewhat to that end, I spent part of my week writing letters to my elected representatives. Sometimes it feels fruitless, living in a bright red wasteland as it sometimes feels that I do, and yet I know each of my elected representatives in Congress is not beyond seeing the importance of the issue of supporting Afghan refugees. Senator Sasse, for his many faults, was once a University president and at times appears to have a knack for centrism—at least when he thinks it may serve him. (Besides, he isn’t up for reelection anytime soon.) Senator Fisher was once an elementary school teacher (mine) and she and I used to have the occasional coffee when she was still a state senator in Lincoln. She’s far less reasonable than she was back then, and yet I remember our discussions often circling foreign affairs, her often signaling understandings that today in public I fear she would deny. At least when it comes to voting, she may not be entirely beyond the pale on this issue. As for General Don Bacon, he certainly sees the value of Afghanistan militarily, and I have it on good authority that he has worked much behind the scenes to aid Afghans seeking to enter the United States since the American troop withdrawal a little more than a year ago. So I wrote to each of them this week. The issue on my mind was S. 4787, otherwise known as the Afghan Adjustment Act, proposed by Senator Klobuchar. The official synopsis of the bill reads as follows:

“To provide support for nationals of Afghanistan who supported the United States mission in Afghanistan, adequate vetting for parolees from Afghanistan, adjustment of status for certain nationals of Afghanistan, and special immigrant status for at-risk Afghan allies and relatives of certain members of the Armed Forces, and for other purposes.”

If you go on to read the bill, it talks a lot about “aliens” which is a term I’d find mildly humorous if I were able to get past the tremendous offense it cultivates within me (imagine how the “aliens” in question must feel). Here’s a link to the entire bill, if anyone is interested:  https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/4787/text So this week I sent the following letter to Senator Ben Sasse, Senator Deb Fisher, and Representative Don Bacon, on behalf of the so-called aliens:

Good morning,

I hope this message finds you well. I’m writing today as your constituent, based in Omaha, to ask you to support the Afghan Adjustment Act.  Simply put, we made a commitment to the Afghan people, and it is imperative both to the well-being of our Afghan brothers and sisters as well as to America’s standing in the world that we not be seen reneging on our commitments to foreign powers and foreign nationals alike. Not only is this the right thing to do for the Afghan diaspora in America, but it is also the right thing to do for America as a whole; the better adjusted and better supported the displaced find themselves, the more productive to society and less susceptible to negative elements in our society they are sure to be.

Throughout Omaha, Lincoln, and other parts of our state, Afghans who fled the Taliban with little more than what they could wear and whom they could hold on to find themselves struggling to adjust to new surroundings. Being well-traveled, I think perhaps you can relate on some level, and I hope that whatever empathy you’re able to experience is enough to move you toward supporting legislation that will make starting life anew in the United States not easy, no, but in the very least possible.

One of my heroes once urged another man to do what is right, rather than what is easy. Unfortunately, the person receiving the advice failed to take it, and the results were nearly catastrophic. Today I urge you similarly, to support the Afghan Adjustment Act with no regard  for whatever pushback you may experience from extremist factions in your own party. It is never a bad day to be on the right side of history. Those of us who write that history, myself included, indeed are paying close attention.

Respectfully,

Dr. Mark Gudgel

Omaha, Nebraska

I never know if I’m being too “cute” or too “heavy handed” as some have said. Certainly, I’m in no position to threaten any of these people, though I tend to support their opponents at every opportunity. When I was asked to run against Senator Sasse I declined, and sometimes I wonder about that in retrospect. I can’t imagine what I could have said or done that would have unseated an incumbent with $5M plus in his war chest, and of course my brief foray into municipal politics did not end in my being elected. Nevertheless, I am constantly wondering what the world would look like if the people in power concerned themselves more with the lives and livelihoods of their fellow human beings and less with party politics and their desire to get reelected. I dare say it’s unlikely we’ll ever find out. Until next time, my friends.

~Mark

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