America’s First Black President Barack Obama

What would Benjamin Franklin say about America’s first black president?

Here’s what he’d say: “I told you so!” Franklin, after all, both created the job of president and promoted the abolition of slavery, so Barack Obama’s inauguration represents the final conjunction of two of Franklin’s most significant contributions to life in America.

Franklin first proposed a central government for British North America during the Albany Congress in 1754, fully 27 years before the U.S. Constitution incorporated his ideas in our founding document. The head of this central government would be a president-general, appointed by the British monarch. In this way, Franklin hoped the constant feuding between the 13 colonies would end, easing trade.

Regarding slavery, as a young Philadelphia businessman, Franklin owned a slave couple, which he later sold because they were too costly to maintain. Moreover, his Pennsylvania Gazette frequently advertised slaves for sale. The justification for slavery in North America revolved around the status of Africans as either “beasts” or infidels — heathens who didn’t know Christian teachings and hadn’t been baptized. This stance led to heated debates about what happened when Africans became Christianized.

Gradually the notion took hold among certain sects that blacks who converted to Christianity should be freed from bondage. Quakers were among the first to insist on this principle, excommunicating meeting house members who held Christianized slaves. This, in turn, fueled missionary zeal among those who saw slavery as ungodly. They set up schools to teach blacks the reading skills needed to study and absorb the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In 1758, a school for Negroes was opened in Philadelphia. Many slave owners disparaged such schools, claiming that Africans were incapable of learning to read or write. Franklin, however, came to the opposite conclusion. In 1763 he visited one such school and wrote about the experience to a British friend, saying that he had “visited the Negro School … and had the Children thoroughly examin’d.” Franklin reported, “They appear’d all to have made considerable Progress in Reading for the Time they had respectively been in the School, and most of them answer’d readily and well the Questions of the Catechism; they behav’d very orderly, show’d a proper Respect and ready Obedience to the Mistress, and seem’d very attentive.” Franklin concluded, “From what I then saw, [I] have conceiv’d a higher Opinion of the natural Capacities of the black Race, than I had ever before entertained. Their Apprehension seems as quick, their Memory as strong, and their Docility in every Respect equal to that of white Children.”

Franklin, during the 1787 U.S. Constitutional Convention, was effectively governor of Pennsylvania and head of his state’s delegation to that assemblage. Shortly after the convention ended, however, Franklin returned to private life, at least for a while, retiring from Pennsylvania’s presidency on November 5, 1788. By then, Franklin was already president of an organization started 10 years earlier by righteous-minded Quakers called The Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage and for Improving the Condition of the African Race. The group’s stated objective was “to use such means as are in their power, to extend the blessings of freedom to every part of the human race.”

As soon as his government duties ended, Franklin got down to the business of abolishing slavery. He used his considerable energy, skill, and prestige to make things happen. He thus became the leader of the abolitionist movement.

Franklin approached the antislavery project with a level of commitment equaling his dedication to civic achievement during his earlier tradesman days. In November 1789, Franklin issued “An Address to the Public” in which he called slavery “such an atrocious debasement of human nature” that eliminating it without proper preparation could “open a source of serious evil.”

Franklin’s antislavery campaign ultimately led to America’s Civil War. Our nation’s new constitution put off for 20 years any laws limiting slavery. This would allow congressmen to set the matter aside and deal with more pressing questions, such as how to pay off national debts and whether to maintain a standing army during peacetime.

However, Benjamin Franklin, the nation’s patriarch, sent a petition to the First Continental Congress soon after it convened. This document, from Franklin’s pen, raised religious and moral issues to condemn slavery.

Franklin’s petition reminded Congress that they had been given power for “promoting the Welfare and securing the blessings of liberty to the People of the United States” and declared “that these blessings ought rightfully to be administered, without distinction of Color, to all descriptions of People.” The document asked Congress for “the Restoration of liberty to those unhappy Men, who alone in this land of Freedom are degraded into perpetual Bondage … groaning in servile Subjection.” Franklin’s signature at the bottom of the petition, seemingly larger than usual, insured open debate on the subject. And debate they did: The discourse laid out the issues that continued to come up with increasing animosity for the next 70 years.

Indeed, Franklin opened a can of worms that Congress could not close. At the time, however, the balance between free and slave states shackled progress towards emancipation. The debate in our nation’s capital over the contentious issue of slavery, however, eventually split the country in two.

Abraham Lincoln was, in effect, carrying out Benjamin Franklin’s objective when he emancipated slaves in the conquered regions of the South.

If Ben Franklin came back to life today, he’d burst with pride over the outcomes of two of his favorite projects: the abolition of slavery and the formation of a national American government. However, he’d wonder why it took more than 230 years for these two objectives to coalesce in the election of a black president of the United States of America.

Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms

Inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous “Four Freedoms” speech delivered to Congress on the eve of World War II, Norman Rockwell created four paintings depicting simple family scenes, illustrating freedoms Americans often take for granted.

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of Speech
February 21, 1943

Freedom of Worship, February 27, 1943, Norman Rockwell

Freedom of Worship
February 27, 1943

Freedom from Want, March 6, 1943, Norman Rockwell

Freedom from Want
March 6, 1943

Freedom from Fear

Freedom from Fear
March 13, 1943

Rockwell spent six months painting the Four Freedoms, which were published in a series of Saturday Evening Post issues in 1943, accompanied by short essays from four distinguished writers. The U.S. government subsequently issued posters of Rockwell’s paintings in a highly successful war bond campaign that raised more than $132 million for the war effort. Rockwell’s homey depictions of Roosevelt’s abstract concepts were widely popular across America, yet not everyone was completely in tune with the ideas elaborated in Roosevelt’s speech.

In an editorial published later in 1943 (reprinted below), Post editors addressed a controversy over the meaning of the freedoms, in a debate that still has relevance today. Is the dream still alive? As then, we are certainly permitted to hope and aspire to the same ideal today.

The Four Freedoms Are an Ideal

For millions of people throughout the world the Four Freedoms have come to represent something which gives meaning and importance to the sacrifices which the human race is now making, but these freedoms are by no means universally accepted as worthy aims for nations at war. Indeed, a not inconsiderable number of people regard the Four Freedoms as actually evil, an effort to deceive people into imagining that they will never again have to take thought for the morrow, since government will provide everything for them.

Few people object to the first two freedoms mentioned by President Roosevelt in his message of January 6, 1941. Freedoms of Speech and Religion are familiar to Americans and are already guaranteed to them. Some people wondered whether the President’s phrase “everywhere in the world” meant that the United States would be called on to fight until such liberties as we enjoy became the right of millions in Asia, Russia, and Eastern Europe. But what the President said was that we “look forward to a world” in which these freedoms are taken for granted. In as much as we Americans have prided ourselves on looking forward to such a free world ever since we became free ourselves, it is difficult to see that Mr. Roosevelt said anything very alarming when he led the world to hope that Freedoms of Speech and Religion might someday be the possession of men everywhere.

The real controversy, of course, rages about the other two freedoms: Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. The assumption by those who are alarmed at their inclusion in a body of doctrine is that they imply that men are to be guaranteed not merely against “want” in the literal sense, but against lacking anything they happen to desire at any given moment. Freedom from Fear, these critics affect to believe, implies that the Government is fraudulently promising to remove all the hazards of life which men have feared in the past.

If we believed that either Freedom from Want or Freedom from Fear meant that the New Deal was promising to pass a miracle which would end the necessity of individual work or foresight, reward the lazy and incompetent as richly as the able and conscientious, and set up a “welfare state,” we should be as dubious about the Four Freedoms as are some of our correspondents. Some New Dealers may misconstrue these freedoms, but there is little ground for such an interpretation. After all, “economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants” are as nearly realizable as “the full dinner pail” or “a chicken in every pot”— phrases seldom associated with radical welfare schemes. In fact, such understandings have been the professed goal of American statesmen for many years.

As to Freedom from Fear, it seems to us to contain no meaning more revolutionary than that suggested by Norman Rockwell’s touching artistic interpretation, in the picture of the parents regarding the untroubled sleep of their children. Mr. Roosevelt expressed Freedom from Fear as translatable into “a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point…that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor.” Nothing about guarantees against fear of measles, graying hair or the consequences of laziness or incompetence.

If there is genuine confusion about the meaning of the Four Freedoms, some of it is doubtless explained by failure to note that Mr. Roosevelt, in listing these objectives, used the expression, “we look forward to a world.” Well, so do the rest of us look forward to a world in which men shall respect the right of others to their own opinions; a world in which better use shall be made of the machinery of production, so that lack of necessities which are so easily produced shall be the lot of nobody who can and will contribute his labor; a world organized politically, so that men need not fear the horrors of destruction by weapons of war.

Few of us expect such a world to be attained all at once, by fiat of the executive or by mere use of phrases. But all of us are permitted to hope, in the midst of an unprecedently cruel and destructive war, that the peoples of the world will eventually understand their problems sufficiently to solve some of them. Thus interpreted, the Four Freedoms represent pretty well what men have always hoped for—political liberty, a better standard of living and an end to war. We should think all Americans could get together on such an expression of human aspiration.

The Naples Effect

Like many of Naples’ residents and visitors, Colin Estrem came to this Gulf-front town from the Midwest. The Wisconsin transplant moved here three years ago to join the area’s thriving restaurant scene, which has bloomed within the past decade. When he’s not tending to his new business—Avenue Wine Bar on Fifth Avenue downtown—Estrem enjoys fishing on the Gulf and dining alfresco at sidewalk cafés.

“Naples is the best of both worlds. I describe it as a cross between Orange County and a fishing village,” he says.

“I can go downtown and have a gourmet meal in a chic, cosmopolitan restaurant, and then, within minutes, I can be at the beach or out on the water.”

It is this duality of upscale amenities and natural assets that gives Naples its charm. In fact, the city’s popularity with folks from the Frozen North even has prompted some to call Naples the Riviera of the Midwest. And many of those visitors eventually become converts, moving to Naples as full-time residents. That’s the strength of its allure.

The heart of the city, Old Naples, comprises two bustling streets, Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South. Lined with palm trees, lush bougainvillea, and European-inspired architecture, these downtown areas offer top-notch shopping, dining and entertainment. Although Naples has become quite upscale with ongoing development, it is tempered by a laid-back, mellow vibe. This is Florida, after all, and many denizens operate on “island time” (meaning slow paced).

“The most amazing thing about living in Naples is that you can enjoy a really casual lifestyle—shorts and flip-flops are the uniform—and yet still be in a chic, upscale-feeling environment,” says Cathy Christopher, director of sales and marketing for the Inn on Fifth, a popular downtown hotel. “Somehow Naples has captured the magic of being elegant combined with casual, easy and unpretentious. It really is magic.”

Naples sunsets are also magic, as the sun sinks to the horizon over the Gulf, awash in a palette of warm colors. One of the best vantage points for this nightly show is the Naples Fishing Pier, built in 1888. This area landmark reaches out over the water from the sugar-white sand of the Municipal Beach, one of several beaches in the area. Other popular options include Vanderbilt Beach and Lowdermilk Beach Park, while Clams Pass Beach Park and Delnor Wiggins Pass State Recreation Area are a bit more private. They all offer opportunities for swimming, shelling, watersports and just general beach-bumming.

New York Times bestselling author Dr. Robin Cook, who has lived in Naples since 1981, thinks that the Gulf is the city’s No. 1 asset and spends his time swimming, body surfing and windsurfing.

“The main reason the city is there and the main reason I’m there is because of the proximity of the water,” he says. “I like to take advantage of the water every day.”

The Naples area is renowned for its saltwater fishing, and one of the best spots is the 35,000-acre Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, southeast of Naples. It’s open to the public for fishing, hunting, camping and wildlife viewing (manatees, alligators, dolphins, and other occupants).

Another natural attraction is the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, northeast of Naples, where visitors traverse a 2.25-mile raised boardwalk through a pine upland, a wet prairie, a cypress forest, and a marsh. Expect to see a wide variety of birds, flowers, and butterflies—and maybe even a bobcat or a bald eagle. Pick up a pair of binoculars and a field guide from the Nature Store to prep for the trek.

Less adventurous visitors can enjoy the outdoors and the Florida sunshine in a more refined environment by hitting the links. Golf is a favorite pastime in Naples—as evidenced by the fact that it has the highest ratio of golf courses to golfers in the country. Try the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club for a retro modern vibe, or opt for the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort for a more posh experience. After a day of fun under the sun, capped off with a first-rate dinner, it’s no wonder that some visitors never leave Naples.

Heading Off the Pain of Migraines

Debra BenAvram’s health woes kicked off with a “really horrible” migraine three years ago. She has no idea what triggered the attack. But over the next six months, it turned into a constant daily headache that forced her home from work each afternoon.

Since then, much of her life has been filled with a myriad of drugs and specialists, two surgeries to relieve neck and head nerve pressure, nausea, acupuncture, holistic diets, fatigue, days in bed. And lots of frustration.

But she’s persevered.

“I just haven’t wanted to cave,” said the 32-year-old CEO of a medical society in Silver Spring, Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C. “For me, I feel like it would be giving up. I have a son, a job I love and care about, and a family. I’m not ready to give up.”

Ben Avram has found some relief, though, thanks to the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago and more effective medications. She’s down to 10 to 12 fewer severe migraines a month — cut by more than half. But like many of the more than 29 million Americans suffering migraines, she struggles to keep them under control with a combination of drugs, dietary changes, and other methods.

It’s a daily challenge for 10 percent of the population dealing with this painful and often debilitating headache disorder. More women — one in five — are affected than men (one in 20).

Yet the outlook for migraine sufferers is better than it’s been in years.

Drug research and development for migraine and chronic headache treatments is escalating, with new medications and different forms of drug and nondrug treatments in the pipeline or close to the market.

Among them are skin patches, nasal powders, inhalation devices, a portable transcranial magnetic stimulator (TMS), a surgically implanted stimulator, and the first new class of drugs for migraine prevention in 15 years. Successful clinical trials for some of these new developments impressed experts at the annual American Headache Society’s conference last June in Boston.

“It’s a very exciting period of time for headache drugs. It’s exciting because of the interest of drug manufacturers,” said Dr. Seymour Diamond, cofounder of the National Headache Foundation and one of the pioneers in headache research. He opened the first private headache clinic in 1972 in Chicago.

More than 20 pharmaceutical and biotech companies are in the middle of research or developing drugs and other remedies to treat headaches and migraines. Seymour said the Food and Drug Administration’s approval in 1992 of the first triptan, a drug specifically designed for the acute treatment of migraine, made the drug industry realize a financial market existed for drugs for the long-standing headache sufferer.

But the drug-approval process is a long, arduous one requiring, on average, 10 to 15 years to go from lab testing to the pharmacy. In the end, only one in five drugs tested on humans is approved for the market.

The new potential remedies are coming none too soon for migraine sufferers.

Despite the development of the popular triptans, many migraine sufferers still aren’t getting adequate treatment or the relief they need, according to the recent American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention Study, sponsored by the National Headache Foundation. It concluded physicians have not dramatically changed their approach to the treatment of migraine in the past 10 years.

“We know that less than half of the people (with migraines) are being treated for migraines at any one time,” said Dr. Stephen Silberstein, neurology professor and director of the Jefferson Headache Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

The drugs either don’t work for them, cause side effects, or people are afraid to take them, experts say.

Triptans are the most often prescribed and most effective drugs in stopping a migraine attack after it begins, according to Silberstein. They work by stimulating serotonin, a neurotransmitter found in the brain, to reduce inflammation and constrict blood vessels. But people with a past history of, or risk factors for, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, angina, stroke, or diabetes can’t use them.

In the future, Silberstein expects more nondrug options, and more alternatives to injections will be available, both of which will make seeking treatment more appealing.

The first new class of drugs since triptans for the acute treatment of migraines
is awaiting FDA approval now and could be on the market by 2010, he said. A so-called receptor antagonist drug, telcagepant — developed by Merck & Company — blocks the effect of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) released from nerve endings during a migraine.

“It’s as effective as a class of triptans, but it has no side effects and doesn’t create cardiovascular effects,” said Silberstein. “More people should be able to safety take it.”

Another promising class of migraine prevention drugs essentially calms down the nerve or glial cells in the brain, he said. Research presented at the headache conference shows these cells talk to and regulate each other. During migraine attacks, abnormal activity occurs in these cells. The tablet drug, called tonabersat— developed by England-based Minster Pharmaceuticals—interferes with this process, stopping migraines from developing.

Future drugs, Diamond predicted, should be more effective because they will abort or reverse migraines, and some may actually prevent them, with fewer side effects. Some nondrug remedies may be particularly attractive because they don’t involve any side effects.

One of those, nicknamed the “zapper,” uses a portable electronic device about the size of a hairdryer to administer two painless magnetic pulses that “zap” the neurons in the brain. Called a transcranial magnetic stimulator (TMS), it affects the aura phase before migraines begin when people experience flashes or showers of light, loss of vision, and tingling or confusion: the device is also used for other purposes, such as treating severe depression.

The TMS works by sending a strong electric current through a metal coil, creating an intense magnetic field for about one millisecond. This magnetic pulse, when held against a person’s head, generates an electric current in the neurons of the brain, interrupting the aura before it results in a throbbing headache.

“This is a landmark in the treatment of migraines,” said Dr. Yousef M. Mohammad, a neurologist and assistant professor at Ohio State University, who is the principal investigator of a study at Ohio State’s Medical Center that found the device safe and effective in eliminating headaches when used as they begin.

Last June, Mohammad reported to the American Headache Society that of 164 patients involved in the multi-university, randomized clinical trial receiving TMS treatment, 39 percent were pain-free at the two-hour post-treatment point. That compares to 22 percent who were pain-free after receiving “sham” pulses — due to a placebo effect.

“Since almost all migraine drugs have some side effects, and patients are prone to addiction from narcotics or developing headaches from frequent use of over-the-counter medication, the TMS device holds great promise for migraine sufferers,” said Mohammad.

If the FDA approves the device for migraines, he expects it to be on the market in about six months.

The device sounds worth trying to Patti Salinas, 43, a long-time migraine sufferer from Channahon, Illinois, south of Chicago. “If it’s something that helps and prevents migraines, I would try anything.”

Fortunately, she’s already found some relief, even if not complete.

At age 10, she started having headaches. When she was in her mid-20s, the migraines became debilitating. She’d have four migraines a month, with milder headaches in between from taking lots of over-the-counter drugs.

Her migraines could last six to eight hours and literally put her out of action. “I could do nothing but lay down and put ice packs against my head in a dark room. No sound, no light, nothing that had a scent to it.”

Salinas and other migraine sufferers say people who don’t have migraines usually don’t have a clue about how bad they can be.

“For me, it’s a throbbing, severe pain in the back of my neck, and it feels like my brain is being squeezed,” she said. “It can even affect your eye sockets so [that] you want to take your eyeballs out and massage them to take the pain away.”

For many like Salinas, migraines interfere with their lives.

She had to leave her office job at a utility company when they’d hit. She couldn’t drive. She’d also have to get childcare for her son. After Salinas relied on over-the-counter and sinus medication, a neurologist prescribed an analgesic with anti-inflammatory properties that helped for a couple years.

But the migraines persisted, so she sought help at the Diamond Clinic five years ago. She learned about headache triggers, kept a log of her headaches, took many tests, and stopped all over-the-counter drugs except ibuprofen. Preventive medications — daily dosages of Inderal and Vivactal — and Imitrex injections she does herself for a severe headache have helped limit her migraines to only one every couple months.

“I still get headaches, but now I know how to treat them,” said Salinas. “I think it’s manageable. My quality of life is better. The severity and frequency (of migraines) have decreased with these preventive drugs.”

For those with chronic, intractable migraines who can’t find such relief, another type of stimulator may be the answer. A study presented at the recent headache conference showed promising results from occipital nerve stimulation (ONS), said Silberstein.

ONS treatment involves implanting a neurostimulator under the skin at the base of the head. The device delivers electrical impulses near the occipital nerves via insulated lead wires tunneled under the skin. People can adjust it themselves.

While the cost isn’t estimated yet, he said the device may be federally approved and on the market within a couple years.

In addition to the potential new drugs and devices, migraine sufferers may get some additional choices with generic versions of existing medications, drugs being repackaged into different modes of delivery, and new combinations of drugs.

Here are some of the options under study, according to the National Headache Foundation:

Even with all the promise of new drug and nondrug therapies, experts advise those who experience chronic headaches and migraines to find out and avoid the triggers in their environment and diets that prompt an attack.

A migraine sufferer since age 4, Ashley Etters of Cary, Illinois, has to stay clear of many different foods and scents — caffeine, chocolate, candles, perfumes. Etters, now a 19-year-old Illinois State University student, knows to avoid extended time in the sun and going without eating for too long.

Unfortunately, she’s learned this through years of experience with migraines, causing her to miss a lot of school and interfering with basketball and soccer practices.

“I usually got them for 48 to 72 hours. I was always throwing up with them. I had to sleep in a dark, quiet room or just lay there,” she recalled. “It felt like someone was taking a hammer to my head.”

Now Etters, who takes preventive medications every day, gets a bad migraine about once a month as well as various minor headaches that she’s able to control all the time.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to get rid of them,” she said, seeming resigned to put up with them, as her mother has done for 25 years. Still, she knows how to adapt by taking steps like not falling behind in her studies. If she did, stress would lead to an inevitable migraine.

Stress can also be relieved by other strategies, such as good exercise and massages, and nondrug therapy like biofeedback, say headache experts.

“It’s not a cure-all, but it can work prophylatically in many people because stress is one of the triggers of headaches,” said Diamond, who studied using biofeedback for migraines more than 30 years ago.

Biofeedback is a method that teaches people to control bodily functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension, which were once considered to be beyond voluntary control. Research has shown that by monitoring these functions and feeding back information to people on an ongoing and immediate basis, through visual and auditory instruments, voluntary control can actually be taught.

Using techniques of self-regulation, people can learn to change specific responses of the body, such as releasing muscle tension and spasm, lowering blood pressure, and diminishing headache pain.

No matter what combination of drugs and nondrug therapies they’re using, migraine sufferers often have to stay on high alert — avoiding known triggers but also worrying about attacks they can’t control.

After years of not being able to make definite plans, BenAvram’s life is getting somewhat more predictable. She has responded better to the beta-blocker, anti-inflammatory and antinausea medications she takes. She also knows what to do and not do, eat and not eat.

“You have to wake up at the same time every day,” she said. “I have to eat lunch at noon or I’m going to have a headache at 12:30. I haven’t had alcohol in three years.”

Still, her migraines force her to leave work sometimes. Her scalp is so sensitive, she can’t wear hats, headbands, or tight sunglasses. Her doctor at the Diamond Clinic thinks she’ll always be a headache patient.

“But it’s definitely better,” she said optimistically. “I just try to tell myself, ‘This is a good month or this was not a good month.’ I’ve had two good months in a row. That’s more than I’ve had in the last two years.”

Art’s Healing Powers

On any given day, landscape artist Barbara Ernst Prey is apt to find e-mails from museum curators and patrons clogging her in-box. Prey’s canvases hang on the walls of world-class institutions, in private collections, and even at the White House. But the messages that cause her voice to crack with emotion are the ones from ordinary people who write about the transforming effects her paintings have on their lives. There’s the letter, for instance, from a man recounting how his relative, suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, found solace in Prey’s paintings. “When he was ill and in a wheelchair, he lined up my paintings on a long mantelpiece so he could just look at them and enjoy them,” Prey says.

Prey is a creator of beautiful things. Among her works is a painting of the Space Shuttle Columbia lift-off commissioned by NASA as a tribute to the families of the astronauts who lost their lives in the disaster. Her images soften life’s blows.

Art has that kind of healing effect. Turns out what’s on the wall is a lot more than a statement of style. Medical experts say it can change a person’s physiology, alter perceptions, and have a calming, curative influence. And they knew it even before they could prove it. In 1860, Florence Nightingale wrote about the effect of “beautiful objects” on sickness and recovery. “Little as we know about the way in which we are affected by form, by color and light, we do know this, that they have an actual physical effect.”

In the early 20th century, medical advancements progressed at such a rapid clip, the human factor became secondary to technology. Modern hospitals were sterile, sleek and stark. Then in the 1940s, the curious new field of art therapy came into its own, advancing the notion that art-making could be used to improve and enhance one’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. Conventional medicine remained skeptical until the results became too compelling to ignore, and that’s only been in the past 20 years, says Dr. Brent Bauer, director of the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Adjunct treatments like art therapy that were once considered “weird” are now being welcomed. “If looking at a beautiful picture in a room or having access to art-making helps an individual get through a difficult day or a difficult procedure, it’s getting harder and harder not to be excited about it,” Bauer says, “It’s a fun time of medicine.”

These days, studies are drilling down on the mind-body connection, and the mounting evidence of art’s therapeutic benefits is indisputable. Art helps ailing children gain some control over their helplessness. It reduces pain in cancer patients. It helps Alzheimer’s patients develop a new language of communication and combat memory loss. The Museum of Modern Art in New York hosts a free monthly program for Alzheimer’s patients in which its vast collection of modern masters is used as a platform for mental stimulation.

Mayo Clinic launched a pilot program among men and women battling such serious diseases as leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma, many of whom were in hospital isolation. “The idea was to bring something to the bedside that could help improve their quality of life and reduce stress,” says Bauer. That something was art. “Without even trying to be therapeutic, in many cases it was. We were looking at their pain, their mood. If it was negative, could we improve it? If it was positive, could we enhance it?” The answer was an unequivocal yes. And to Bauer’s surprise, the findings crossed over “gender and age and all things I thought might have been barriers.” Bauer says the trial revealed a “trend toward improvement in pain” and “significant improvements” in mood and anxiety reduction.

alzheimer.jpg“When we reduce stress, we improve sleep and we improve the immune system,” Bauer explains. Mayo has received benefactor support to expand the program.

Art history and art-making workshops are a regular part of the schedule offered at Hewlett House, a cancer-support resource center on Long Island. Eileen P. McCarthy has been a regular since she was diagnosed with her third bout of breast cancer in 2005. “Cancer can be in your mind 24/7,” says McCarthy. “Art pushes all that aside.” Not long ago she was painting a beach scene when her instructor, Laura Bollet, came up beside her and asked McCarthy what was the matter. “The calm sea I was painting was suddenly a storm. I didn’t even realize it but it made me grasp how upset I was. It had been all bottled up. I couldn’t get my ocean to calm.” Bollet says the canvas was capturing emotions before McCarthy had a chance to articulate them. The woman who once told a family member she couldn’t draw a straight line with a ruler now says art has “become a part of my life. It’s an amazing medium. I was surprised at how far I’ve gone and how far it’s helped me.”

The simple act of enjoying a work of art can be just what the doctor ordered. The University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor has an “Art Cart” program, a kind of lending library of framed poster art. Volunteers go room to room allowing patients to select artwork that connects with them personally to hang on their walls.

As an artist, Barbara Prey says, “It’s very touching to see how your work is used in ways you just don’t know. And it’s rewarding to know I’ve done something that’s made someone’s life a little better.”

Trying to figure out what art is the right prescription for health and healing is, as you might expect, in the eye of the beholder. One man’s Norman Rockwell is another man’s Jackson Pollock.

The_Simple_Life.jpgBauer says landscape scenes have shown promise in studies. “We’re wired to enjoy nature.” According to Bauer, patients in hospital rooms that face woods and trees do better than those in rooms facing, say, a brick wall, which explains why so many medical offices and hospitals are adorned with pictures of the great outdoors. “If you’re going to have a tube placed in your stomach, a fairly uncomfortable procedure, and you can stare at a beautiful scene of a mountain or an ocean, it reduces stress and makes the procedure easier,” Bauer says.

For some, familiar images can spark an emotional connection and release a memory that generates positive feelings. Others get that reassurance by staring at pictures of large color fields or religious iconography.

“Art-making or the act of creating involves every single part of the brain,” says art therapist Elizabeth Cockey of Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center in Baltimore and author of the memoir Drawn from Memory (2007). “It stimulates our neurology, and that feels good.”

Cockey ticks off a list of restorative benefits she’s seen as a result of her work, even in her lowest functioning patients: alleviation of depression, enhanced hand-eye coordination, improved motor coordination leading to more independence, and the restoration of self-esteem. When individuals engage in art-making, they realize, “there’s more to life than their own circumstances.”

Hewlett_House.jpgHer experience is backed up by a report released by the National Endowment for the Arts on the impact of arts programs on older Americans. The study found that seniors who participate in weekly arts programs reported better health, fewer doctor visits, and less medication usage than those who don’t.

Julie Gant is an art therapist who works with patients at the other end of the spectrum at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Art is used to help kids as young as two and three offset hopelessness. “There are so many things kids don’t have choices about — surgery, medical procedures, even blood pressure takings — that getting the chance to make choices instead of passively lying in bed counteracts feeling of helplessness,” she says. The choices may be as simple as what colors to select or what materials to use, but if youngsters can pick up a pencil or a crayon, they can take an active role in creating. “It’s a chance for them to make choices in an environment where their choices are limited.”

Art is such a natural part of kids’ lives that it helps normalize their strange and difficult surroundings and distract them from pain or side effects of medication. Gant says that for youngsters who haven’t had a chance to process what’s happened to them, art can help stave off post-traumatic stress syndrome and other related woes. “Art helps them make sense of their situation.” What’s more, it’s a vehicle to communicate emotions they may not be able to articulate. Drawing something might be easier for a first-grader than talking about it.

In the meantime, Eileen McCarthy says she is winning her battle with cancer. “I would not have gotten through this without the art course at Hewlett House. Art has helped as much as any medication.”

That’s no surprise to folks like Elizabeth Cockey. “The truth is, art makes you better. It doesn’t happen overnight. And not everybody is going to get better in the same way or in the same time frame. But it will happen.”

Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues

A set of values defined in 1741, in his own words.

  1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. MODERATION. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
  11. TRANQUILITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

In this piece it was my design to have endeavored to convince young persons that no qualities were so likely to make a poor man’s fortune as those of probity and integrity. My list of virtues contain’d at first but twelve; but a Quaker friend having kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud; that my pride show’d itself frequently in conversation; that I was not content with being in the right when discussing any point, but was overbearing, and rather insolent, of which he convinc’d me by mentioning several instances; I determined endeavouring to cure myself, if I could, of this vice or folly among the rest, and I added Humility to my list.

How to Create Your Own Bucket List

I am a habitual list maker.

My assessment of a day corresponds to the number of items ticked off my list. But after swimming with dolphins (check), running a marathon (check), and giving birth with hypnosis (check), my list has grown mundane. Most days, it looks something like: drop my son off at preschool, write for an hour, brush teeth (and do it in the right order tomorrow).

As my goals have downsized, so have the quixotic quests I pursue that help to shape who I am. Perhaps that’s why the idea of a Life List is so appealing to me, and to so many other dreamers who are doers, too.

Evidence of the popularity of these lists is everywhere — bestselling books like 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, No Opportunity Wasted: Creating A Life List and 101 Things to Do Before You Turn 40. Several social-networking websites, such as, bring together like-minded list-makers to offer each other motivation and support. Hollywood has even made a movie inspired by the phenomenon: Rob Reiner’s The Bucket List, about a couple of cancer patients out to tackle some adventures before they go.

It’s not surprising these lists are in vogue. In our time-crunched, technology-minded world, they serve as a shortcut to self-expression and personal fulfillment. Measurable, results-driven and unwaveringly upbeat, Life Lists allow us to focus on our innermost goals. They clearly define personal desires and things we want to achieve, which is the first step to realizing our dreams.

Susanna Barry, a health educator at M.I.T., says that writing (and reading, and re-reading) a list of goals has deep and subtle power. “The process creates a mindful awareness that shapes our way of seeing the world. It encourages us to view our experiences with an eye toward ‘How can I contribute toward my goals?’”

But are these lists a shot in the arm or a recipe for disappointment?

Consider John Goddard, a motivational speaker who many regard as the grandfather of the Life List. The internationally renowned explorer jotted down 127 goals on a yellow pad when he was 15. From living with pygmies in Africa and headhunters in Borneo to exploring the world’s greatest rivers and highest peaks, he’s crossed off 112 goals in the intervening years (and made 400 more as an adult).

He’s also been trapped in quicksand, charged by an elephant, and nearly drowned—twice—while running rapids. Yet he continues crossing to-do’s off his original list.

Professionals advise that the key to an effective Life List is to set goals that are attainable, relevant, and measurable, with a mix of the serious and frivolous. To create a list, Barry advises, “Ask yourself 100 times a day: ‘What do I want? What’s my heart’s desire?’ Or even the age-old question, ‘Who am I?’ Ask yourself when you’re on your way to the bathroom, when you’re waiting for the light to change, when you’re drying your hair. Don’t worry about the answer. It’s like sending an e-mail. Just ask the question and click ‘send.’ The reply will come.”

So that’s what I’ve been doing, and the answers have come as a surprise. My list doesn’t include jobs I’ll have or houses I’ll live in. And it doesn’t include goals I know I can’t meet. I’m not aiming to do yoga every day of my life, because it’s not going to happen. Instead, I’m shooting for a healthy practice, and I’m closer to success.

“Articulating our dreams is a way to make deeper meaning of our lives, to live more authentically and express our true selves,” Barry says. It’s a lesson in receptivity and a chance to ponder a question many of us haven’t considered since grade school: What do you want to be when you grow up?

So get out a pencil, get quiet, and think about your list. Approach it with wide-eyed delight. It will provide a snapshot of your soul and a new way to savor your life.

And along the way, you just may collect a few checks.