All posts by jgerber123

I teach sustainable food and farming at the University of Massachusetts and try to contribute to my local community without causing too much harm....

Why I bother with God….

In a recent episode of the TV series The Crown, Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Phillip, had a brief conversation with his mother Princess Alice of Battenberg, who asked him casually “so how is your faith?”  After a slight hesitation he replied, “dormant.”   The aging Princess told her middle aged son bluntly….  “That’s not good, let this be a mothers gift to her child … find yourself faith, it helps, no… not just helps … its everything.”

It is easy to imagine why the husband of the Queen of England might find himself too busy to worry about his faith… too busy to “bother with God.”  After all, there are all those royal ceremonies to attend!  But what about you and me?  Why and when did we let a sense of the divine, the spiritual or the sacred slip out of our lives?  Or maybe we are hard core materialists (if you can’t see it, then it doesn’t exist) and have never had any sense of the spiritual in the first place?  If so, you would not be all that unusual in the secular world in which we live today.  Most of us today don’t “bother with God.”

Continue reading Why I bother with God….

A Letter to the People of the Earth…

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The Earth’s Human Rights Day, December 10, might be an appropriate time to consider the following…

Assuming there are 400 billion galaxies and about 250 billion stars in each galaxy in the universe, it is not too far-fetched to imagine there is not only life on many planets circling stars throughout the universe but also “thoughtful life”.   If so, it might also be possible that a Community of Universal Thoughtful Species might send the following letter to the people of the Earth….


Dear Earth,

Good day, I am your representative from the Community of Universal Thoughtful Species, and I bring you greetings from Us All. As you are interested in sharing our Cumulative Knowledge, we have a couple of questions to ask you first, questions that would be obvious to any responsible membership manager.

How are you going to get along with 10 trillion other species in our community if you do not respect even your own? If you permit yourselves to treat your own kind so despicably, why would we grant you the power and reach to treat others as badly?

Moreover, if you do not have the highest respect for the natural bounty that has befallen you, if you do not protect and nurture it for all you are worth, why would we afford to you the means to abuse as badly similar treasures elsewhere?

Continue reading A Letter to the People of the Earth…

A Thanksgiving message from Phyl and more

TO:  Friends and Family ..

I asked Phyl to write a note to you herself.   It took her several hours of painstaking hitting her IPad keyboard with a pointer – and she did it.  I’ve pasted it into this email below.  As her body continues to fail, she struggles to maintain her positive attitude.  In her letter, I can feel the struggle.  She wrote the following, just for you….

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Dear Friends and Family…

Thanksgiving is upon us and it’s a wonderful time to reflect upon what we are grateful for. I know it might be hard to imagine that while dealing with ALS that there are things for me to be thankful for. I’ve had to let go of so much. In its place came an opportunity to feel the overwhelming love of family and friends. And it gave you all an opportunity to express it.

I am grateful for each and every one of you. I’m thankful for the walks around the neighborhood, the prayers, the outings, the problem solving to make situations work for me, the kisses and hugs, the food, the txt, the phone calls, my new bathroom (thx Dad), the chats on the deck (some serious and some hysterically funny) and the shoulders to cry on.

I am grateful beyond words for my incredible partner of 46 years, John. He is my hero, my rock! I couldn’t do this journey without him by my side. He has supported me with his love and his brilliance! He has done so much research that at times he knows more than the Drs! He is always ready and willing, with a smile, to help me in any way.

My heart is bursts with such love and gratitude for my amazing sons. They continue to give me so much joy and love every day. I count my blessings that they each have incredible partners whose love and support have helped them on this journey with me.

There is nothing that comes even close to the joys of being a grandparent! My heart explodes when I’m with them or thinking of them. They are the most precious little unique spirits. Our newest granddaughter, Lucia Tziporah Marine Gerber, was born on Nov 4th. I am so grateful that she is healthy and beautiful and a part of our clan!

I am thankful that there are machines and gadgets to make my life more doable. I’m thankful that I’m a slow ALS progressor!

This disease has made me “stop and smell the roses”!

I am thankful for so much in my life, but I am only human. I get overwhelmed at times with anger, sadness or fear. It is devastating to experience the loss of body functions as I have. That is why I continue to need you all to keep sharing your love and support!

Thank you all and Happy Thanksgiving!

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Back to my words (John)….

It is hard to imagine that our journey with ALS has been going on for 4 years.  Phyl mentioned that she is grateful that she is a “slow progressor”.  In the ALS community, this is relatively rare.  Most (about 75%) of the people who developed symptoms at the same time as Phyl have passed.  I recently had to put this record together for a doc.  Here is a summary of her disease:

  • Summer 2015 – initial trouble breathing while running
  • Fall 2016 – foot drop and weakness in left hand
  • March 15, 2017 – first diagnosis of ALS by a neurologist
  • August 28, 2017 – began Amylyx experimental drug trial at UMass Medical Center
  • February 2019 – respirator used over night to help with breathing
  • April 2019 – feeding tube surgery
  • July 2019 – began to use the power wheelchair regularly
  • October 2019 – respirator used part time during the day

At present, she has very little leg movement and some hand and arm movement.  This allows her to feed herself and drive her power wheelchair around.  We do regular stretching and range of motion activities in the chair to keep her muscles from tightening up.  Her hands cramp up pretty badly if they are used too much but otherwise she can position herself to be comfortable in the chair and bed.  She asks me to move her legs and feet regularly during the day and several times at night.  This seems to work and allows her some comfort.

Those of you who have visited recently know that she needs to use her respirator at least part of the day.  She can go for several hours without it so she can eat, chat and enjoy your company.  She takes a breath and then is able to say a few words or a sentence and then needs to pull in another labored breath.   But as soon as she is not active, the respirator mask goes back on.  She wears it in the van while we drive as well.  Although she can pull in a breath on her own, the respirator allows her to breathe more easily and sleep through the night. The next step would be a tracheostomy which we discussed with the docs at the Lahey ALS Clinic recently.   Phyl has a difficult time thinking about this as it would prevent her from eating and speaking.  She continues to hope for results from the experimental drugs she is taking.  I do believe they have significantly slowed down the progress of her disease because she had several gaps when she could not take the drugs and I could observe a much more rapid decline during those periods.   We have now stockpiled at least 6 months of the two drugs that I believe are helping.

Phyl does better when she has something to look forward to.  Our current plan is to enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas with family and then (hopefully) spend all of February in Florida.  We’ve rented a handicap accessible house in Naples.  After February, we have no long term plans but Phyl loves springtime in New England and she will direct her friends and some folks we will hire to bring her gardens back to life.

I think I mentioned retirement plans for me in a previous email.  That has changed as UMass has asked me to continue to teach from home.  I can teach my classes online from now on and still be available at home to support Phyl.  So that’s the plan, for now.   We have a health care aide who comes in three times a week to help out and we’ll increase her hours as needed.

As long as I stay healthy, we will keep on keeping on.  I turned 68 years old last week (and sometimes I feel it).  But mostly, I am grateful that I’m physically strong enough to care for my beautiful wife.  I’ve been practicing living “one day at a time” for the past 20+ years through my 12 Step Program…. and it has prepared more than I could ever have imagined to be a caregiver.  My prayer is that I”m allowed to continue to take care of Phyl for a long long time….

Love to you all….

John


Click here for the next email in Phyl’s story

Digging for new ideas

I introduced the quotes below from Dr. Edward DeBono’s book, The Use of Lateral Thinking,  at a 1988 conference exploring the role of university faculty in dealing with the new concept (at that time) of sustainability.  Universities that ridiculed the idea of sustainability have now accepted sustainability as a primary objective, at best, or perhaps an advertising tactic, at worse.   In 1988, sustainability was a “new idea” and like many new ideas it was rejected by most university faculty.

While it has been asserted that the function of the public university is the creation of new knowledge (through research) and dissemination of knowledge (through teaching Continue reading Digging for new ideas

Beyond a Job: Doing The Great Work

Adapted from an Interview with Matthew Fox by Mary NurrieStearns

Much of our life is spent in the world of work. Our time, energy, and even identity are wrapped up in what we do and how much money we have. Therefore it is important to explore how work is associated with prosperity. At times, work is a job an exchange of effort for money. But work can also be vocation. When work is vocation, it is where we express our unique talents, find meaning, and contribute to what Matthew Fox calls “the great work,” the work of the universe.

To discuss this subject with Matthew Fox was like finding a gold mine. The author of many books, Fox describes in “The Reinvention of Work” a new vision of livelihood. In his envisioned world of work intellect, heart, and health come together to celebrate the whole person. He is a true teacher of what he espouses. He was dismissed by the Continue reading Beyond a Job: Doing The Great Work

Excerpts from “Thoughts in the Presence of Fear”

Full article published in Orion Magazine by Wendall Berry

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  • The time will soon come when we will not be able to remember the horrors of September 11 without remembering also the unquestioning technological and economic optimism that ended on that day.
  • This optimism rested on the proposition that we were living in a “new world order” and a “new economy” that would “grow” on and on, bringing a prosperity of which every new increment would be “unprecedented”.
  • The dominant politicians, corporate officers, and investors who believed this Continue reading Excerpts from “Thoughts in the Presence of Fear”

Want to be a plant scientist? Look at a leaf…

FROM: Lab Girl (pp. 3-4) by Hope Jahren. Knopf Doubleday Publishing

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“People are like plants… they grow toward the light”

PEOPLE LOVE THE OCEAN. People are always asking me why I don’t study the ocean, because, after all, I live in Hawaii. I tell them that it’s because the ocean is a lonely, empty place. There is six hundred times more life on land than there is in the ocean, and this fact mostly comes down to plants. The average ocean plant is one cell that lives for about twenty days. The average land plant is a two-ton tree that lives for more than one hundred years. The mass ratio of plants to animals in the ocean is close to four, while the ratio on land is closer to a thousand. Plant numbers are staggering: there are eighty billion trees just within the protected forests of the western United States. The ratio of trees to people in America is well over two hundred. As a rule, people live among plants but they don’t really see them. Since I’ve discovered these numbers, I can see little else.

So humor me for a minute, and look out your window. Continue reading Want to be a plant scientist? Look at a leaf…

Fight climate change in your own backyard

Posted in Yes Magazine  and written by Deonna Anderson

GARDENS30-- Volunteers work on getting the Victory Garden, in Fort Collins, ready for this summer.Fort Collins is one of several communities developing Depression and World War II-era "Victory Gardens," where people can grow their own food in these tough
By 1944, nearly 20 million victory gardens  produced about 8 million tons of food.
Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

During World War I, Americans were encouraged to do their part in the war effort by planting, fertilizing, harvesting and storing their own fruits and vegetables. The food would go to allies in Europe, where there was a food crisis. These so-called “victory gardens” declined when WWI ended but resurged during World War II. By 1944, nearly 20 million victory gardens produced about 8 million tons of food. Continue reading Fight climate change in your own backyard

Growing your own food undermines our corrupt political/economic system!

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I live in a food prison.. It’s all by design just like prisons are by designed. I just got tired of being an inmate. So I figured, let me change this paradigm, let me grown my own food. This is one thing I can do to escape this predestined life that I have unwillingly subscribed to. – Ron Finley

The most effective change-makers in our society aren’t waiting around for a new president to make their lives better, they’re planting seeds, quite literally, and through the revolutionary act of gardening, they’re rebuilding their communities while growing their own independence.

Every four years when the big election comes around, millions of people put their passion for creating a better world into an increasingly corrupt and absurd political Continue reading Growing your own food undermines our corrupt political/economic system!