This one has me stumped.
I have been dealing with the effects of the people from a church that my mom's friend attends. These folks are some brand of "Full Gospel" Christianity, very much into "healing and miracles".
They have somehow convinced my mom that "if enough people pray for her," and "if she prays enough", she will be healed of her emphysema, her depression, and her diabetes. This belief has affected her ability to make good medical choices regarding her chronic illnesses. At this point, I don't believe she has been foolish enough to stop taking her meds, but I wonder how much longer before that becomes part of her thought processes.
Meanwhile, she continues to deteriorate and her depression is taking on aspects that are worrisome in terms of whether or not she is taking her meds or eating properly, having social interaction, etc. She lives 40 miles away and has no intention of moving up here.
She's not that old. She's only 70. But a half century of two packs of cigarettes a day took her to a place where simply to live, she is on 4 liters of oxygen 24/7/365. She has lived through two less than stellar marriages; one to a philanderer, and one to an abuser turned philanderer. She wanted to live the life of June Cleaver, but when you marry James Dean (twice) it's not likely to happen. She lived within eyeshot of her mother for less than a decade of her life, and, quite frankly, my late grandmother dominated her. At this stage of her life, she is incredibly angry that I am not living across the road from her and taking care of her "the way I'm supposed to be doing." Her immediate family is down to two people...her and me. So in some ways, I can see where the promise of "instant healing" is attractive for her.
It's difficult. It's not that I don't believe in miracles. It's not that I don't believe in healing. I just don't believe in "God the celestial Coke Machine" where the prayer quarters go in, and the can of Coke comes out. There is plenty of healing for her to be had, but it is not likely to be the reversal of her emphysema or the disappearance of her diabetes. She insists her belief "makes her feel better" but what I am seeing speaks to the contrary. She withdraws further and further, and waits and waits for God to do what she expects from him, just as she waited for her abusive husband to see the light and stop beating her, or her domineering mother to stop her demands. I am sad that her version of God has become just another cruel abusive figure in her life, and I am angry at her friend for feeding her this stuff.
I pray for her to experience "healing"--it's just not for the exact form of healing that she expects.
Today, when I was out on my evening "walk around Thousand Hills Lake", I was trying to recall one of my favorite lines in Psalm 27. This is the psalm that most people know as "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?" one.
But that is not the line that sticks with me when I think of that psalm. It's a more obscure verse, verse 13 that rings true in my mind: "I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living."
One of the hardest things for me is the concept of "discernment", because discernment takes three things: 1) Being receptive to the things God presses upon my heart; 2) A willingness to act upon those things; and 3) The ability to stand still long enough for God's will to completely unfold. I am fairly ok with #1, a little edgy about #2, and way too "antsy" for #3.
Without a doubt, standing still is my downfall. I can't even stand still to fish if the fish are not biting. If I don't get even a nibble in 20 minutes or so, I move to another spot.
I have had two separate experiences this year that were spiritually profound, but in both instances I felt a little like I was the "bus driver for someone else's moment of destiny." Don't get me wrong, I was okay with it both times--in fact, I have a great deal of gratitude for being allowed so intimately into "someone else's journey." But it leaves a nagging question: "Why am I in on this trip? What am I supposed to be taking home as a souvenir?"
I was thinking about that at the end of my walk, standing there cooling off. One of my favorite forms of "self-entertainment" is looking up at clouds and imagining images in them. Today, when I started to look at the few little wispy clouds that were out, my first thought was, "Oh, hell, I don't see a thing." But as I stood there, and the wind kind of shuffled them around, things took shape. I could see a horse head, an outline of Newfoundland, and a bearded man with his mouth hanging open in astonishment.
Suddenly, something clicked in my head and I realized that what first started out as "nothing" becamed shaped by the wind into things I recognize. I had to stand still long enough for that to happen, I had to be persistent that I'd eventually "see something" and be willing to keep looking, and I had to trust the wind to do the shaping. Well, gee whiz, that's discernment! It made me realize that these two experiences are not discernible yet b/c I have not allowed the wind to have its way with them.
That, I believe, is where Ruach (the "divine wind" that is reminiscent of the Holy Spirit) comes into play. It's a situation where perhaps the wind just hasn't shaped these experiences yet, and my job at this point is simply to be aware and keep looking, trusting that they will be shaped into something more easily recognizable. I need to keep reminding myself that these things appear in God's time frame, not the time frame of my preference.
I still have no clue what these experiences mean; but in the meantime I will just "keep lookin'."
Ok, I admit, there are times that the lolcats are a little too cheesy and cutesy for me, but I do get the occasional big laugh from that site and its dog counterpart. So I decided to try my hand at using Mr. Boomer and Little Eddie as loldog fodder. Just remember, I can't be spiritually profound all the time!
Nothing, I've decided, beats lameness and the ability to trivialize like the news media. The news of Sen. Edward Kennedy's malignant brain tumor set the talking heads on TV going like there was no tomorrow, already eulogizing the man before he's yet to receive one radiation or chemo treatment. But the phrase that so often pops up in these yammerfests is one that drives me nuts when we are talking about the seriously ill or dying..."He's a fighter."
I think it's harmful to set our stock in measuring the journey of a loved one's illness in terms of "whether they fought or not," or "how hard they fought." It's based on the presumption that overcoming illness is always "winnable." This presumption, in fact, has the ability to tear families asunder. We are obsessed with colored ribbons these days. There seems to be this pervasive mindset that if we only buy enough t-shirts and golf balls with pink ribbons on them, somehow Mom or Sis or Aunt Boo will not die of breast cancer. We say people have "beaten" cancer. In reality we have only postponed our inevitable deaths. In all of us, "The grass withers, the flower fades," eventually, to borrow from Isaiah 40:8.
I recall in my own family when "fighting cancer" became a family fight. When my grandmother was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer, she decided to undergo palliative treatment rather than potentially curative treatment. She was 83 years old, and the chemo was a fairly brutal chemo regimen. In her frail health, the treatment was not an attractive option and could actually reduce her overall quality of life. Small cell lung cancer is associated with a worse prognosis overall than other types of lung cancer, across the board. Palliative radiation seemed to be a better option in terms of quality time in an otherwise dismal diagnosis. She chose palliation over a remote shot at "cure."
My mom, a breast cancer survivor, was horribly upset that "Mom doesn't want to fight her cancer." I was upset with her for upsetting Granny. I remember one heated interchange where I finally blurted out, "Mom, over 90% of people with this are dead in two years. Half of them are dead in one year. Barring a miracle, it ain't gonna happen, and if a miracle DOES happen, whether she fights it or not ain't got shit to do with it!"
So many times, the issue of someone "fighting" or being a fighter seems to have more to do with the survivors than it does the sufferer. For that matter, it also seems to obscure the fact that other people have chronic and serious illnesses that are just as devastating as cancer, and their sufferers are as much "fighters" as anyone else, but there are no ribbons or rallies for chronic renal disease, emphysema, or just plain "getting old and feeble."
So many people walk through the shadow of death daily, dancing between the life they used to have and the life they now have. Each is an individual footprint of the strength of the human condition, and deserves dignity. Somewhere along the road in each, the fight is to "accept the reality of death." I am reminded of this collect in the BCP:
This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring
forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I
am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still,
help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it
patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.
Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit
of Jesus. Amen.
That's the question Wallace asked me on Saturday morning. I'll have to explain this one a bit.
Every year, the graduating class of the local osteopathic medical school selects one basic science faculty member and one clinical faculty member to place their doctoral hoods over their heads and on their shoulders at the graduation ceremony. It is a special honor because it the class' way of saying, "We want to be like you." This year makes the sixth time in my career I have been asked to perform this act. I find myself humbled each time I am chosen, because there are plenty of days I don't want to be like me when/if I ever grow up! Also, the class is a class of D.O.'s (doctors of osteopathy) and they end up asking lil' ol' M.D. me to carry out this honor and deep down inside I keep thinking they should be asking a D.O. in order to be more "politically correct." But I always accept this honor gratefully and enjoy the moment, just the same.
We call this "hooding" the graduates and the person doing the honor is a "hooder". Sounds a little gangsta-oid, but what the heck.
I had to laugh at Wallace's phraseology. "Dude!" I replied. "I'm just hooding them. Consecration is YOUR schtick."
His answer, was, "No, you ARE consecrating them. You are laying on hands to bring them into a long and ancient tradition, and there is power in that."
This answer stuck in my head all throughout the ceremony that morning. What I first thought was a funny blooper on his part turned out to be absolutely true. It is a form of "apostolic succession" although we really don't know who gets the title of "first physician." It is similar to baptism or confirmation in that it unites us into a "community of believers." Physicians take an oath that says they will treat their colleagues as brothers and sisters, similar to when we recite the Baptismal Covenant, and state a standard of ethical behavior in the oath similar to when we recite the Nicene or Apostle's Creed.
Every commencement, there is always one graduate who steals my heart. This year it was a young man I'll call S. The best way I can describe S.'s medical school career is to say, "It's been quite a trip." I first became acquainted with him because he had been in academic difficulty. I have been teaching medical students for almost two decades now, and I know a certain subset of "academic difficulty." This subset consists of young people who are so smart, they have cruised through school with little effort until they hit medical school. They literally have NEVER failed academically in their lives--ever. A single mild failure puts them in a tailspin b/c they have no coping mechanisms. They drive this failure inward and hatchet their own self esteem. Then add family pressures, life crises, and self-flagellation to the mix, and their failures start to compound.
Suddenly the powers that be and even their own classmates label them. They are lepers, mistakes, "should have never let him/her in" people. I could tell early on S. was this kind of student. We spent a lot of time together working through this. This was not easy for me, because I realized that part of how I had to bring him forward in this was that I had to be vulnerable enough to share some of my OWN failures in life and medicine, so he could see that his journey was not a solo flight. I felt like I was trying to take the wheel of a jumbo jet that was careening to the ground. But somehow he started leveling out. He started to get a few more faculty types in his corner--even the dean--who saved him from dismissal despite the Promotion Board's recommendation to dismiss him.
His second chance was his salvation, and he used it wisely. I knew that within this person was a young doctor capable of great empathy and compassion for his future patients, and the stick-to-it-ive-ness to go the distance to figure out difficult diagnoses, mysterious illnesses, and the subtleties of the things that are not "textbook" in clinical medicine. S. graduated on Saturday, and it was my absolute delight to be one of the first people to shake his hand and say "Congratulations, Doctor."
I was prepared for the joy of this moment, but not quite prepared for the intensity of it. He grabbed me onstage in front of a packed auditorium and hugged me like there was no tomorrow--a hug that was so long, under any other circumstance I would have been embarrassed, but I thought, "Aw, screw 'em all. I'm gonna hug this boy as long as it takes." I could feel my shoulder getting wet--whether it was sweat or tears, I don't care. As he squeezed me near in two, I whispered in his ear, "You will never know just how truly proud I am of you. Never forget this moment."
In that moment, I felt the power of my own confirmation when the Bishop laid hands on me. In that moment, I was given a little glimpse of what Wallace must feel sometimes in being a priest, what all priests and clergy must feel at certain times. I felt like the moment transcended time and space and all earthly boundaries. Every year, at commencement, there is a moment and a graduate that I will take to my deathbed as an unforgettable memory. It is how I hope I am welcomed by God when I enter His heavenly kingdom. Wallace was right--it may be secular, but it is a form of "consecration" and a window into our own connection with God.
I am thinking tonight what it is going to feel like not having Vince in the pew behind me.
Vince was one of the "old guard" at our church and passed away on Monday after a winter of kind of stormy health where you knew all winter long "he wasn't doin' good", as we say around here. A lot of us were wondering if he'd make it through the winter...but he did.
He sat in the pew behind me every week. Even as his multiple chronic illnesses weakened him, I could always feel a strong spiritual presence sitting behind me. One of the ways we all knew "he wasn't doing well" is he started not making it to church on Sundays. This is a guy who braved all sorts of Kirksville winter weather during Advent and our extremely early Lent/Easter season. When he doesn't show, you know something's wrong.
Father Time and his various illnesses got the best of him and he passed away early this past week. We buried him on Friday.
Over the time I got to know him, I recognized that when Vince was a younger man, he was probably a pretty robust, burly guy who "did a lot" and didn't have much time or patience for people who weren't interested in hard work. There were many times I was working on various things at church and he'd tell me, "A few years ago, I'd be helping you with that. I should be helping you with that, but old age is getting in my way." I would tell him not to worry, that he'd put in "his time" and then some with church projects, and he deserves to rest on his laurels a little.
But you could tell being older and weaker really bugged him. The best he could do now was to be a robust spiritual presence. It was a job he did well. On the days that I didn't want to get out of bed this winter and shovel snow at Trinity, I did it anyway, because I knew I wanted to make the walks safer for the "old guard", including Vince. I knew he was going to be there come hell or high water, and I owed it to him to guard his safety.
Tomorrow, I know I am going to feel a big empty hole in the pew behind me. Oh, sooner or later, someone will fill this spot, but for now it is still "Vince's spot", and I know tomorrow, I will feel that gap.
I got a notice some time back for open requests for submissions for a prayer book that will be published next year. So I thought, what the heck, I'll give it a whirl. I was in a Lenten discussion group this year that required me to write prayers as part of each week's assignment. Let me be up front, I hated it. It was hard because I had to think about writing things poetically and inclusively instead of "just blurting out what I had on my mind for talking to God."
I would show these to the vicar via e-mail, and grumble the whole time. To my surprise, Wallace would shoot back e-mails that "Hey, these are really good." That kind of got me to thinking maybe I could do this. So when I got this request for submissions, I thought, "Ok, what the heck. I'll try."
This is the one I did that I am most pleased with the effort. I decided to make this one a litany, so there could be group response...
A litany for the fleeting moments of nature that bring joy
(responses in italics)
Lord God of Heaven and Earth, open our hearts and train our vision to see the gifts of your creation that come into being for only a short time each year.
We thank you for the budding lilacs, the creeping wood sorrel, the daintiness of the blooms of Dutchman’s breeches, and the birds’ foot violet.
We thank you, Lord, for flowering plants in all their glory.
We thank you for the first crocus that peeks its head above the snow, the first gray morel mushroom that pokes up from the grass, the first cottonwood fluffball that falls from the tree, and the first yellow dandelion that dares to invade our grassy lawn.
We thank you, Lord, for the sentinels of Your seasons.
We thank you for the shiny innocence of newborn livestock, the wiggly rhythm of nests of hatchlings, the pristine camouflage of white-tailed fawns, and the dancing friskiness of colts.
We thank you Lord, for the renewal of life in Your infant creatures.
We thank you for the shortness of the winter solstice, the length of the summer solstice, and the equality of the vernal and autumnal equinoxes.
We thank you Lord, for the ever changing seasons.
We thank you for the sedate old cow, the gray-muzzled family dog, the pudgy old housecat, and the scraggly old donkey in the pasture.
We thank you Lord, for the beauty of maturity in Your kingdom.
We thank you for the falling leaves of October, the artistry of the first frost, the first snowflake of winter, and the orange horizon on the snow-covered ground at sunset.
We thank you Lord, for the death in nature that comes before new life.
O God, author of the universe, grant us wisdom to see Your hand in nature’s cycles and apply their truths to our own lives as we wander through the cycle of human life. For in everything there is a season, and a time for every living creature. Instruct us in the understanding of our own lives through the cycles you have provided us through nature; help us to see the fleeting window of the defining moments of our own lives through the appreciation of the short seasonal wonders of your creation. In the name of Jesus, whose own short season of life changed the world, we pray.
My dad is a guy who wouldn't think of doing anything in the garden without consulting the almanac. Probably before I was old enough to read I knew "You plant things that grow below ground (like potatoes) in the dark of the moon, and things that grow above ground in the light of the moon." You wean livestock from their mothers when the "sign is in the knees or below." You castrate livestock "when the sign is in the feet." You will get opinions on the validity of this ranging from sheer hokum to the Gospel truth--but there's no doubt, my dad's life in garden, farm, or field are connected to the almanac in a way that cannot be denied.
Well, and some things have been happening to me lately that makes me realize that the liturgical calendar may have that sort of power. I've had more than my share of "parallel shared spiritual experiences" in the past year and a half.
My friend Sue and I freak each other out all the time. She and her husband and our friend Andy have very broad and interesting spiritual discussions at the dinner table all the time. Sue and I will hit a topic, enjoy the discussion, and a couple days later, the VERY SAME THING will be the verse in Forward Day by Day, or our vicar will say something in his homily that will be in almost the EXACT same way we worded it. We just look at each other and do the theme from "The Twilight Zone" at each other.
I've had similar experiences with both my priests. We both thought of something separately and days later, were chatting on the phone or in person, and one of us said, "You know, the other day I was thinking..." and the other goes, "Uh...when did you think that?" and it's the same day. I could name similar types of experiences with at least 1/2 dozen of people I consider "in my inner spiritual circle."
Then, on Sunday, I put my personal "Ascension Sunday" experience here on my blog, and later that night did a little blogsurfing and found this post on Elizabeth Kaeton's blog, "Telling Secrets." Cue the Twilight Zone theme song! We were both coming to a similar conclusion about the meaning of "ascension" in parallel time zones on the same day, not too temporally apart from each other.
Well, my theory is, "It's the liturgical calendar." All of these people in which I have these shared parallel experiences are psychologically "in tune" to varying degrees to the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church. All of us are people who in some way, study and read the upcoming texts for next week or are some way aware of "where we are in the church year". Some are clergy, some are lay people; status doesn't matter on this.
So I decided to broach my theory with the vicar. I asked, "Wallace, is it possible, as one becomes more “in synch” again with the liturgical calendar, that OUR innate psychological rhythms start matching the liturgical calendar, much in the way two female college roommates start having their periods about the same time? Could it be that part of how God connects us to others is that as people grow in their faith, they become more connected to the liturgical calendar, and thereby we all become more connected to each other?"
I asked this almost half cringing, expecting the grand "Huh?"...but his response was, "It's a very real idea. It helps us become more aware of our psychological/spiritual rhythms." (Ok, so there's a reason my nickname for him is "The Dali Lama.")
Maybe this is one of the ways the Eucharist links us one to another through the body and blood of Christ. Maybe this is how our connection with God connects us one to another in a deeper and more solid way. Or, even in a totally non-theistic bend, humans by nature are creatures of ritual, and perhaps linking one to another through the use of ritual is simply a broader dimension of our humanity.
It doesn't matter how a ritual starts, or why it started, rituals become entities in themselves. My friend Cole and I were joking about this when he and I attended church at a different locale, and we were not used to not "putting our hands up" to get the host. At Trinity, we are used to putting our hands up in the air a little when we receive the host. Well, that is simply because we have a 6 foot 7 inch priest with three blown lumbar disks and are helping him out a little. Cole and I got to laughing while imagining Trinity 100 years from now. People would still be putting their hands up in the air. People would be saying, "Why do we put our hands up?" and the answers will probably be some hoo-haa about lifting up our hands to God in praise or something. Meanwhile, Cole and I will be sitting where light perpetual shines on us, yelling down, "NO, you bozos! It's because a hundred years ago we had a tall priest with a bad back!"
I’ll be up front, I have a hard time with “the Ascension” same as I do “the Resurrection”, simply again because, John’s the only one that talks about it in any great detail. Luke just sort of scratches at it; Matthew and Mark are mum. I can’t possibly know what it means, really. But what I do know is Jesus’ posse was left alone (AGAIN) and that had to be a very scary prospect for them. I always think of Dorothy leaving Oz. The scarecrow and the tin man and the lion loved her, wanted her to be “home” but did not want to be without her. The disciples had to be feeling that way, for sure! “NOW what do we do?”
But no matter what the truth about the historical details, again...the details don’t matter. It's about the wholeness of the story, and the story is about moving forward in the face of imminent loss—about looking inward into emptiness and back out again with purpose. For the disciples, it had to be a lot like seeing the empty tomb again. They saw a promise but no distinct or clear future.
This is hard to explain but I’m going to try. All day today, I have felt “antsy.” Not distressed or upset, just incredibly “itchy.” I found myself feeling very expressive in my singing and responding at church today. For some reason, the readings (Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68; 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11) seemed “made for me” in terms of the “tests” I’ve been faced with, the fortitude with which I've had to press forward and my never-ending obsession to be bound and determined to do battle with myself. I remember thinking in the middle of being at the lectern, “Wow, I just feel really expressive today—these verses are just sort of bursting out of me—I wonder if anyone is seeing this, or is it just me?” (Well, I do know the vicar noticed. Wallace said to me later, "Wow, I was sitting there thinking, 'You're really feeling this stuff.'")
As the sermon unfolded today, I had this distinct sense of feeling like “Today, I can’t just HEAR the sermon, I have to BE the sermon. Gotta go outside and enjoy the day.” Then my friend Roger (of my friends "Roger'n'Nancy") said something to me after church that was one of the nicest things anyone’s told me for a while (in an odd sort of way). He said, “You just really look...well...like you today. Like as much you as you are.” And Nancy (the other half of "Roger'n'Nancy") is going, “Well, DUH!” Then Roger says, “Yeah, but it’s just more you today than you've been lately,” and laughs.
Well, and that got me to thinking. Is this part of our own “ascension?” When we are as much of “us” as we are capable of being on a given day? When we feel our own “fit” to the deepest parts of ourselves are we “fitting” in God’s world in a way that “ascends” us to a different place?
Good questions, huh?
So, I planned on my usual "post-church activity"--a trip about 35 miles up the road to Memphis, MO to the Sunday afternoon consignment auction. This is one of my favorite weekend activities. It can be anything from garage sale crap to treasured antiques. The thrill is finding the "pony in the middle of the pile of crap"--some treasured goodie in a box of detritus. My other favorite thing is when something pops up I've been meaning to buy and I can get it for 1/4 the price. I love the rat-a-tat-tat cadence of country auctioneers. I like the fast action of the bidding. It appeals to me on multiple levels. So off to the consignment auction I went.
I sort of realized early on that innately that I’d enjoy the drive. I make this drive almost every week, taking the "back way" to shave off a few miles, winding around the country blacktops in the middle of the rolling hills of NE Missouri, the hayfields, the cow pastures, the corn and milo fields. Sometimes I notice the trip and sometimes my mind is preoccupied. But Roger’s comment about me being more “me” than usual sort of kept my mind open to see and enjoy.
I realized during my time on the road that the fields and pastures and little strips of woods seemed more expansive to me today. The grass was that wonderful spring emerald color from the overabundance of rain. Plenty of little calves were out and about. I realized that the rolling hills and prairies are, to me, as fascinating as the ocean must be for folks who live on the coast. The wind is ALWAYS blowing in NE Missouri, and in the summer, the trees, the hayfields, move like waves. The shadows cut across the pastures and make strange shapes. When tourists think of Missouri, they think of "the Ozarks." Most people don't realize that the "flatlands" in the northern part of the state have their own beauty. It's just not a "touristy kind of beauty." It's a beauty that you have to let marinate and soak in before you can see it, and really, it's hard to see if you didn't grow up in it.
There wasn’t much at the auction that I wanted to hang around and wait on to buy, so I decided to swing by and just hang out at one of my favorite "secret quiet places"-- “The Soldier in the Field”--for a while. "The Soldier in the Field", a hidden local curiosity, is a monument that was put out in the middle of nowhere by the parents of a young man, their only child, who died of pneumonia 43 days into his enlistment in WWI. They were devastated, and the monument reflects their devastation and heartache by the tone of what is inscribed on the monument.
The phrase that sticks out on the monument for me is, “We gave all the child we had, and it broke our hearts. What did you give?” It’s a phrase that takes on real meaning when you think about the turmoil in today’s world. It is a place where I can sit silently and stare into my own emptiness by channeling on the emptiness that comes up from the ground in this place. I stayed about a half hour, just looking out at the pasture from "the soldier's" viewpoint.
But the trick of this as part of my own “ascension” is that I have to come out of these places of emptiness with PURPOSE. Not a plan, per se; not a clear vision of what is supposed to happen, but with a sense of purpose, a sense of trust that God reveals the details, and a sense of awareness to be open to seeing them. I sat there a while, and I realized that part of “me” that is the deepest and truest part of me is the part that connects to God’s creation. The reason rural northeast Missouri is “home” to me is simply because I am most intimately connected with the visual images and “feel” of the geography here. I am 5th generation northeast Missourian, and my family cemetery plot looks over a similar field. I see the tiniest details in nature because my rootedness to God’s creation frees me in a unique way.
When I am walking outdoors with friends, they are always astounded at the ease and playfulness that I notice things, or what I just stop and watch. I realized today that these moments are my "ascension." Part of letting others see the light of God in us is developing a boldness in letting the truest and purest parts of us be out front more often. Being one with nature is my highest and truest meditative state, and I can do it on a hot day, a cold day, a perfect day, a not so perfect day. To be "that person" in other venues is the challenge. The more I can get in touch with that, the better a person I can be, and the more I can feel the warmth of the light of God.
Oh, and if you'd like to see "The Soldier in the Field," here he is, as well as the view from his viewpoint...
I posted a story back in January about my friend M.J., who became Bar Mitzvah at age 77, and learning the Hebrew portion of his Torah, despite his dementia. The last five months following that have been a little pockmarked with bits and pieces of physical and cognitive decline. He entered assisted living back in March. He has had a few health problems related to his circulation, as well as coordination/balance issues. None of these declines are huge jumps but more or less "by inches." As I was telling one of the nurses, "It's kind of like his mind and his body are having a contest as to who craps out first, but neither is in a hurry to win."
When he decided to go into assisted living, he decided to come to Kirksville rather than stay in Columbia, because, as he put it, "The social situation is better." M.J.'s dementia is not an Alzheimer's type dementia, it's more of a vascular one, which means the deficits are more specific, and, therefore, he has more of an "awareness that he is failing" compared to folks with an Alzheimer's type dementia. I think a lot of his sense of his "social situation" is that the folks he'd lived and worked with for 40 years could see his decline more clearly and he could sense "being treated differently." My friends and acquaintances in Kirksville have basically only known him since he began his decline, so to them, he's just "the guy he is." The only real problem is that moving to Kirksville put him 90 miles from his synagogue, but our friend Dan, who also attends services there, is glad to bring M.J. along to services and congregational events when possible.
The hard part about a long-time friend with dementia is that you catch yourself almost forgetting at times the full breadth of the person he or she used to be. You get glimpses, flashbacks. For about 12 years now, I realize I have been on this constantly changing landscape in relating to M.J., where he drops, plateaus, and drops again. Each time you have to readjust to the new plateau in relating to him, it's a "fly by the seat of your pants" operation. You find yourself so wrapped up in the adjustment, that it's easy to forget the guy you knew in his prime.
What I am noticing is the jumps aren't getting any steeper, but the plateaus are getting shorter. I have always been able to adjust reasonably well to this overall, but with some rocky moments sprinkled in. Both Wallace and Carrol have been aware of some of those rocky moments, and I have always been grateful that they have two different styles--Mr. Ethereal and Ms. Practical. I have also been grateful that they both realize I'm not looking for "direction" from either of them, just a mirror. I am lucky in that they both have distinctly separate personality aspects that mirror my own, and each is able to validate my thoughts in their own way.
Carrol sees the "nuts n' bolts" of maneuvering through situations; Wallace tends to like to put things in a bigger perspective. I remember chatting about one of those "plateau adjusting days" in conversation to each of them at separate times. Carrol's answer was "Hey, this is grief, and grief comes at funny times, and just giving it a name doesn't make it any better. It's important to accept those moments for what they are, and trust that the meaning of it will become clearer over time. We don't really see a lot of stuff until we are at a place we can look backwards." Wallace's answer was that "Well, look at it this way. Every piece of him you 'lose' is not really lost, it's just being given back to God. It was his all along. We don't like it when God gets in the way of our delusions of control. But keep in mind what we might see as 'loss' is actually M.J. becoming closer to God. It's painful b/c it's not your trip, it's M.J.'s." Two totally different conversations, but both applicable.
But once in a while something happens where I realize there is something that will remain even after he's gone. Yesterday I got a glimpse of it, and it had nothing to do with M.J. directly.
My colleague at work had a situation where he was going on the absolutely wrong track on a diagnosis. He asked my opinion and I gave it, but I could tell he was not convinced. I suggested doing some additional testing and letting the results speak for themselves. As it turned out, I was right, and when we were talking about it afterwards, he said, "How did you know?" I realized that it was because of something I had learned when M.J. was my trainer, nothing earthshaking, just something I had "picked up" because of his vast knowledge of "the basics" he used to have. I'm not even sure at this point M.J. would know what he had taught me in this specific instance. But at the time it happened, he certainly did, and this piece of knowledge lives within me. I passed it to my junior colleague, and now it lives in him. The second law of thermodynamics shows its face in weird ways. Energy is neither created nor destroyed, it is merely transformed.
Sometimes I think the second law of thermodynamics is one of my "windows for seeing God."