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Letters: Illness in the Public Eye, MLK Statue
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Letters: Illness in the Public Eye, MLK Statue

From Our Listeners

Letters: Illness in the Public Eye, MLK Statue

Letters: Illness in the Public Eye, MLK Statue
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Listeners weigh in with their thoughts on what public figures should do when diagnosed with serious illnesses, and whether a statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. that has been deemed "too confrontational" should be redesigned.

NEAL CONAN, host:

It's Tuesday, and that's the day we read from your emails and blog comments. Last week, Senator Ted Kennedy learned he was suffering from a malignant brain tumor, and we wondered about public illness, the privacy celebrities lose, and how they use public interest in their diseases. We got a range of answers, including this from Lucy.

Those of us who have cancers with a poor prognosis depend on public figures with the same disease to bring our condition to the attention of those who can effect funding for research. The trouble is that most of us don't last long enough to keep the disease in the public eye. For example, Patrick Swayze and I were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the same week, but his fame will keep the disease and possibilities for early diagnosis and treatment in the public eye in a way that mine cannot.

You don't have to be a celebrity to be in the public eye. Karen in Wausau, Wisconsin, wrote, I'm a pastor, and I was diagnosed last fall with a very rare appendix cancer. It's incurable. As a pastor, I'm used to living in a fishbowl, so I didn't consider not letting people in on my illness. It's simply too difficult to keep secrets from my congregation. I've chosen to be very open about all aspects of my cancer, including the way I see God, and wrestle with questions of faith in the midst of it all.

It is, in the words you used, a teachable moment. In return, I know I have the prayers of people around the world, and I know that I'm offering something of value to others who are wrestling with major illness. And Karen continued, I've had congregation members who chose to keep their illness secret. It was a way to preserve control and dignity for them, but in the end, it just piled up all the hurt of those who loved them 'til they were gone. I would not choose to do that to my family and friends. Going public still makes me feel less alone on the journey.

We also talked with a writer who complained about plans to redesign a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. to be placed on the National Mall to make him look less confrontational. Ibram Rogers said the confrontation was just right for a radical who challenged racism. Listener Sarah Springer disagreed. Dr. King may have been confrontational, and indeed, racism and poverty must be confronted, but his most famous speech, "I Have a Dream," was ideological. He wants the world to aspire to a greater vision, and that idealism would be better conveyed with a softer look.

Gayle had a different take. I'm from Detroit, and one of our centerpiece statues is a giant black fist aiming right for your jaw. It's a tribute to Joe Louis, after whom our Red Wings' hockey arena is named. Is it confrontational? You bet. Let's face it. You can think of his giant fist as a hateful symbol, an inspirational sculpture, or as a piece of junk. Let the artist make his art. Let your own eyes, brain, and heart make the connection for you.

You can make a connection with us any time, and you can find a photo of the proposed MLK statue on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. The best way to reach us is by email, talk@npr.org. Please tell us where you're writing from and how to pronounce your name. ..COST: $00.00

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