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Friday, December 12, 2014

Heartbeat Of The World

In a blogpost dated 4/16/2012 I wrote:

Today my daughter texted the answer I'd feared, the answer I knew the way mothers just know:  '+'...

She is my first born, the most anticipated child of four.  She arrived in the winter of 1987, three years after my own mother passed away.

On ultrasound the beginning looks like the glowing rim of a full moon, the inside hollow except for a pulse, the heartbeat of the world.

I sense this first grandchild must be a girl because she will come in winter, a favorite season for our females, another gypsy.

So I ordered Anne Lamott's book, Some Assembly Required, to quell my anxiety and laugh about this grandmother thing.  But I still want to crawl into my daughter's womb, pull up a chair and sit beside this unique pulse to monitor intricate vitals, to wipe away the fever and sweat of becoming.

L was born seven months later, 11/1/2012, and was indeed a girl.  She's now two years old, but only chronologically.  In spirit, she's just shy of seven centuries.  'Old Soul' doesn't do her justice, and neither does 'smart' nor 'funny'.

But I won't brag you to death.  In fact this post isn't even about my most precious genius granddaughter; it's about her unborn brother, G.  He's due by scheduled c-section on 12/17/2014.

Who is G?  Well, he's not small.  We know this much.  We also know he'll share a birthday with a former club bouncer, His Holiness, Pope Francis.

That's just cool.

I haven't been as fearful this time around.  My daughter's got this mama thing down to a perfect science, complete with her own brand of moxie and a personalized Citrus Lane subscription.  She has a vast collection of vogue baby clothes and cloth diapers, earth friendly and state-of-the-art everything.  She's a cooler mother than I ever was, maybe even a better mother, period.

Isn't that the goal of reproduction?  Of any production line?  To make better product?

I've got to stop reading the New York Times.  It's killing me -- the wars, ebola and U.S. government nonsense, abuses of power and people.  My brain freezes over every morning when I see the headlines, then my heart skips and overheats as I scroll down the list of atrocities.  What kind of world will my grandchildren inherit?  I don't really want to know.

When I sprouted in 1964, we hadn't yet put a man on the moon.  Today, we're gearing up for space tourism.  We can transplant faces, hands and uteruses.  We can make a baby in a test tube, or clone one.

In 1964 the term terrorism was most often used domestically in the context of violence against blacks and civil rights workers in the South.  Now we use the word to mean something else.

In 1964 we were a different people.  Or were we?

There was no internet in every back pocket, no Keurig, microwave, electric car or Kim Kardashian.  We've doubled our vaccination schedule, can treat erectile dysfunction, enhance our anatomy and alter our gender.  We have a drug for EVERYTHING.

Have we malfunctioned, or are we equal parts messed up and progressing sloppily toward evolutionary maturity?  I honestly don't know.  We're either going down, or this is that terrible moment just before dawn.  I can't help but hope.  I still have young children to raise, grandchildren too.  I have to keep my mind open, but wrapping it around this world is a challenge.

The reason strangers Oooh and Awww over babies, besides the fact that most babies are so stinkin' cute, is because a baby represents hope.  Every new life is another possibility, a casting of fresh DNA into the world, our round asylum on its wobbly axis.

A newborn doesn't have a criminal record or a leaked sex tape floating around the internet.  He or she isn't a member of ISIS or Westboro Baptist Church.  A baby is, as far as anyone can guess, "good".  Infants are the closest a human being will ever be to sacred.  And that's what we want, something sacred, or at least something better that what we've got.


I'm not as worried about the health of my daughter or second grandchild this time around (lie), nor do I have any concerns about my daughter's mothering ability (truth).  I also know that I can be a pretty decent grandmother.  L has confirmed this with her explosive enthusiasm when we see each other.  So we're good, and aside from a wee bit of anxiety regarding standard surgery risks, I'm comfortable with what will happen next Wednesday, 12/17/2014.

G will be lifted out of his cozy gestational nest, and he will cry because the room will be cold and the overhead fluorescence glaring.  He'll have to process strangers' gloved hands, the sudden shift in gravity and proprioception.  A stranger will weigh his bigness, and measure his longness.  They will listen to his steady heartbeat, wrap him in a warm but unstylish blanket, and hand him to his fabulous parents.

Someone will then find the slightly (extremely) nervous grandmother waiting nearby and tell her that everything is better than okay.  Baby and mother are spectacular.

Beyond this bright beginning, the journey depends on G's particular genome, his parents' influence, this place and time, his future choices, and circumstances beyond his control, most of which are the choices of others.

Fate is a committee.

For now, G is a new heartbeat in the world, the most important heartbeat there is:  HOPE.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Living & Dying Tidy

Brittany Maynard's brain tumor was the size of two fists, a large chaotic cloud disturbing her otherwise beautifully symmetrical brain.  Her doctors were surprised the twenty-nine year old functioned so well for so long.

I read about Brittany in the October 27th issue of People magazine, intrigued by her decision to end her own life rather than ride out the cancer storm for the next few months which meant more expense, pain, and the inevitable loss of her mind.  "My [cancer] is going to kill me, and it's a terrible, terrible way to die," she told People.

Brittany wanted to die on her own terms, so she, her husband and family moved to Portland, Oregon which has a right-to-die law.   Her plan was to dissolve 100 capsules of the sedative secobarbital in water and, surrounded by loved ones, slip into a permanent sleep.  The proposed date was November 1st.

I watched the calendar after reading the story.  Her life had been magical.  She was smart, accomplished, beautiful, happily married, well-traveled.  Now her days were numbered, and she knew the count.  We all did.

On November 1st, as planned, Brittany passed away.  Although her death was an assisted suicide, the official cause of death was listed as a brain tumor.  She'd written in her final Facebook post:  "Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love.  Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me...but would have taken so much more."

Three days later a top Vatican official condemned her decision to die, calling assisted suicide "an absurdity".

Was it?  Was it ridiculous, foolish, incongruous or unreasonable?  Did Brittany's action manifest the view that there is no order or value in human life or in the universe?

A friend just lost his young wife to the same type of brain cancer, a glioblastoma.  The prognosis is most often 99% grim.  The young wife lived one year then died in hospice.  Her children watched her suffer.  I juxtapose the two cases, Brittany and the other young wife, and I can't tell you what I would have chosen, but I can say that I'd like to have a choice either way.

Hopefully I will never have to consider suicide or palliative care, but chances are the subject will come up.  Dying will most definitely come up.  So the question is, what now?  How do I want to live?  What's more frightening to me than dying is dying unprepared, dying with a life in limbo.  There are not only things I haven't accomplished yet, but things in the way.  My life is cluttered.  This must be how purgatory feels, to be neither living nor dying.  I'm stuck.

I've been reading and thinking about purging my house for the past six months.  I've gotten rid of a few bags of clothes and toys so far, but now I'm getting more serious.  I've noticed that when my house is tidy, so is my mind.  Both worlds, which may be mirrors it turns out, are more peaceful, clear, balanced.  Once fully purged of the things that are no longer useful, things that no longer bring us joy, there's a sense of ineffable freedom and lightness of being.  We lose those final ten pounds or complete unfinished projects.  We quit the dead-end job or loveless marriage.  We move again, finally able to see the wide open spaces beyond the choke hold of clutter.

In the end, if we're lucky, all that remains are treasures.  We're surrounded only by the things we need or love.

I've been surrounded by clutter for more than three decades.  There are clothes that don't fit, irrelevant stacks of papers, books I'll never read, broken Christmas ornaments and stray pieces of junk rattling in forgotten drawers.  There are drawers filled with makeup items that seem to have duplicated themselves over the years.  I keep replacing what I already have, stacking taller and taller mountains around my life.  I no longer know what I have, need or want.

My soul can't breathe.

Brittany gave away her possessions just before she died.  When she moved to Portland, I'm sure she purged thoroughly with the help of friends and family.  There were boxes to keep, to donate, to throw away.  There's a picture of her sparsely furnished bedroom in People.  In the photo is a four-poster bed, two matching nightstands and lamps, photographs of Brittany's husband and family.  The flooring is a light honey-colored hardwood.  The white window blinds are drawn up, completely open.  The bedspread is white, walls sand, ceiling fan a buttery cream.  The room is flooded with golden sunlight.

This is where Brittany died.  In this clean room full of light and loved ones.  She did not die in a hospital bed beneath harsh fluorescence.  She did not die with plastic tubes snaking in and around her head and body, with needles in her arms or neck.  She did not die surrounded by strangers, mechanical beeps, ventilators, the smell of plastic and Clorox.

She died at home, surrounded by love. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Your Number, Not Mine

Tomorrow is my birthday.  I'll be fifty, 5-0.  Freaking fifty.  Tonight I say goodbye to forty-nine, thirty-nine, twenty-nine, nineteen, nine, and nine minutes.

Who was I at nine minutes old?  Who am I now?

Being fifty won't change much about my life, but the age reminds me of words like Ma'am and Loss Of Bladder Control.  The sound of fifty is not a beautiful sound, not the sound of twenty, thirty or even a spunky spike-haired forty.  Fifty is a Fifty & Older online dating site, routine colonoscopies, the pendulous and wrinkled reality of gravity.  Even when a person looks, feels or acts younger than their fifty years, they're still fifty.  The number is what it is, not so young.

How did this happen?  Just yesterday I was twenty-six, I swear.

Fifty years is half a century.  I'm a rotary phone years old, Romper Room years old, smoking as many cigarettes as you want in the doctor's office years old.

In a perfect world, we'd all make it to one hundred in good health.  We wouldn't look visibly older until thirty seconds before death.  Our sex organs would still function optimally, our minds would fire in our nineties as they did in our twenties.  Passing through life wouldn't mean passing beyond our best years.

But let's be honest.  We do pass our best years, our "best" meaning the ability to walk without assistance, remember what day it is, recognize our own faces in the mirror.  Some day I will miss my best days, and I know that turning fifty means getting perilously close to that day.

So I'll enter the The Not-So-Young Zone tomorrow.  Maybe I'll forget to feel old.  I certainly hope so.  Why do we measure years instead of moments?  Why all those dumb candles?

Why not count Kodak moments instead of years?  Kisses, laughs, memories?  What's a year?  It's 365 days, many of them not very special.  A birthday is an obligatory same-as-always day.  What's the point of remembering how "old" we are?

I'd rather remember how many times my mother rocked me to sleep, how many dogs I've had, or boyfriends (Freudian slip).  I'd rather remember best sunsets, best kisses, best cheeseburgers.  Why not count the varied ways others have made us feel special, without the added weight of feeling older?   Why not count what really counts?  

So how many moments am I?  How many smiles?  Giggles?  Hugs?  Loves?

Tomorrow will be a struggle, because I don't want to think of myself in terms of years.  I'm four great kids and some new tires; a bamboo box full of pure essential oils I'm learning to use, and a new iPhone 6 Plus.  I'm the Iced Cookie wax melts I can smell downstairs, a pair of orange sandals made by a company that donates profits to AIDS research.  I am and always will be green eyes, too much sugar, not enough vegetables.  I'm silver, not gold, and a mid-morning person, a fan of dark chocolate, too many books and not enough time to read them all.

I'm now, not tomorrow or yesterday, this morning or an hour from now, but right nowNow can't be measured, counted, numbered.  You'll never find it on a calendar, in history books or the 6 O'clock News.  Blink and you'll miss it. 

I'm anything but fifty.  What the hell is fifty?  It's two digits, a long tick in time, a random number that belongs to somebody else.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Beware Of Sea Zombies

Fog can be amazing.  If you didn't know any better, nothing else exists beyond the dense white cloud surrounding your immediate environment.  Of course you know your world is out there, the usual streets and stop signs, the corner Shell station and the Starbucks two blocks away.  You generally know where the landmarks are, so you navigate by memory and fairly solid faith.

But if you're in a strange place and trying to navigate in fog, it's not so easy.  It's like crossing the Mexican border after dark and not speaking Spanish.  If you've ever visited Nuevo Laredo at night, and know zero Spanish, you're in trouble.  Life moves with lightening speed, traffic and people.  There are street lights, headlights, everywhere lights and movement, flashes of what you know to be humans and cars but you can't compute the images, or understand the street signs.  You're completely and utterly lost.

It's like a speeding carousel within a cotton thick pyrotechnical fog.

I've read that when a woman has PMS, she literally has "water on the brain".  It's more difficult to think.  She feels dense, foggy.  This can be terrifying and frustrating (hence the handgun).  We can't find the words we're looking for, or leap from one thought to the next, because we can't see through the mental fog.

I'm hearing that menopause feels about the same way.  Goodie.

Back in 1980 there was a horror film, The Fog.  The plot was basically that sea zombies, the vengeful ghosts of mariners who were killed in a shipwreck 100 years earlier, traveled within a supernaturally glowing fog that rolled across a Californian coastal town and killed the living.   They ship's crew had perished because they'd followed a false beacon, a fire lit by conspirators, which caused the ship to crash into rocks.

Residents of the small coastal town knew the zombies were coming when machinery began turning on by itself, or payphones rang simultaneously, and then they would see the glowing fog, moving eerily over hills and streets, until finally closing in on a home or place of work.  But they were in acute trouble once the creepy white fog rolled beneath their doors.  That meant "adios".

It was an okay movie, but a little stupid, like when the driftwood sends messages to the buxom Adrienne Barbeau then bursts into flames.  But looking back, I see that the horror aspect of the movie was fueled by fears similar to fog-camouflaged sea zombies.  These fears are about anything believed to be dangerous that we can't see clearly, can't understand.  We deeply fear the monsters under the bed, in the closet, around the dark street corner.  It's anything we can't control or make sense of, spray dead with a can of Raid.

Fog can be old age, dementia, disability.  It's anything that slows or shuts us down, blinds us, holds us back or cuts us off forever.  Little deaths are still deaths.

Woody Allen's psychiatrist once told his little brother, an agoraphobic radiologist I used to work with, that all fears are related to the fear of death.  Death is the big grandaddy fear, the ultimate ending.  Beyond death is essentially a blind spot.  All we know for sure is that death means inevitable loss, darkness, physical and emotional pain.  And we want none of that.

If your Uncle Niles from Bardstown, Kentucky wrote back from the afterlife to gripe about the food, weather or sleeping arrangements, we'd feel better about dying.  Anything like normal, like life as we know it, even a less than ideal version of it, is comforting.  It's what we know.  But as things are, we can't see what's on the other side of this life.  We know something happens, that energy cannot be created or destroyed.  We become one thing or another, maybe scattered, or we go back to square one and start over again as an amoeba or paramecium.  We just can't know, not with sufficient incontrovertible detail.  And for our own sanity, we have to navigate this not knowing, rein in this fear with some kind of explanation or story to tell ourselves, because we're gonna think about death, and we need to know how to think about it.

So for now, just move slowly through the fog of not knowing, and try to avoid violent collisions with immovable solids.   Go ahead and trust that your familiar world is out there, or some not too disorienting version of it.  And do your best to remember where the curbs are, the ditches, guardrails, cliffs and rocks -- especially the rocks.  Don't be deceived by false beacons (and um, good luck with that one).

The other option is not to risk wondering or wandering through the fog.  Just stay home, binge on '80s movies or shop endlessly on Amazon, and pretend you don't see the glowing supernatural cloud.  Just ignore your television turning on and off by itself.  What's that annoying ringtone?  You'd better answer your phone.

Sunday, September 7, 2014


I remember my mother's hands, the olive skin moisturized with Vaseline Intensive Care, her long piano fingers, the nicotine stains on her right index finger.  The veins were large and spongy, swollen green anatomy snaking along the backs of the hands that caressed me, held me when I was afraid, held me when I was hurt, held me for no reason.

The veins were large, as if trying to escape, or maybe her skin was just very thin.  Way too thin.

Her nails were always painted.  I never saw them otherwise, or any color but a light honey frost to match her full lips.  Maybe she kept her nails painted because they had yellowed.  She smoked all her life, from age sixteen to forty-four.  Her autopsy report would state that her lungs showed signs of early emphysema.  Already, at age forty-four. 

Her hands were shaking the night she came home after a three day absence.  I'd been praying in our yellow bathroom, picking out shapes in the peeling paint.  I promised God that I would never ask for anything else as long as I lived if he would just bring her home.

Moments later our heavy front door swung open, hitting the wall hard.  She lurched forward, her blouse half-buttoned.  She stumbled into the kitchen.  I tiptoed behind her, trying to avoid the areas of the floor that creaked.  I found her swaying at the kitchen counter, holding a lit match to the nozzle of a Dristan bottle to make its opening larger.  Her hands were shaking, causing the yellow light of the match to tremble.

Those three days she'd been sitting in a grassy field, she told us later.  She wasn't sure how long she was there, but remembered trying to decide whether and how to kill herself.

Her hands fed and dressed three children.  Her hands kept a clean house.  Her hands shook a tambourine at an old Baptist church, underlined what mattered to her most in the books she read.  Her hands played an upright piano we kept in the dining room, wrote poetry and songs about God, heaven and hell.  Her hands lit cigarettes, opened beer cans, pill bottles.  Several times these thin-skinned hands were cupped full of pills, pills swallowed all at once.

I remember her hands softly scratching my arm, a comfort we both loved.  We took turns caressing the arm of the other, lightly raking the skin's surface with thin trimmed nails.  I'd snuggle up close wherever she was sitting, our legs drawn up beneath us, then one of us would take the arm of the other and begin the ritual.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Are There Tuesdays In Heaven?

I never had to physically view the bodies, but I've imagined the death scenes many times, my mother slumped forward in a recliner, my brother in pieces on an Arizona highway.

I faced their autopsy reports. The medical examiner got the color of my mother's eyes wrong. They were green, not brown, but by the time her body was found, and because of all the retching, blood had obscured the true color.

My brother's body was no longer recognizable. There were extruded brain fragments on his t-shirt, almost every bone broken, his once handsome face and muscular body distorted. The human I grew up in the same house with, played cowboys and Indians with, listened to the Beatles' Blue Album with, was reduced to lifeless pulp.

Just like that. We fall off the planet.

It was these autopsy reports in particular that brought my agnosticism into sharp relief. Nothing could be further from the "Jesus Saves" and "God Listens" bumper stickers than the very real and grisly images of my loved ones in death. It was how they died, and when they died, and why they died. Not death itself. Death is part of life, but not torture, murder, or the irony of someone chronically suicidal finally succeeding by accidentally choking on a ham sandwich. God can't possibly be that ironic. Paradoxical, maybe, but not ironic. That's just cruel.

Any confusion about life after death can be summed up in this burning question: Are there Tuesdays in Heaven? I'll come back to this later.

For a instant this morning, everything made sense. I had an epiphany after glancing at a book on my kitchen counter, Hyperbole And A Half. It's a creation of part web comic, part blog, by Allie Brosh. The comic is drawn in Paintbrush and is described as "intentionally artistically crude." It's about everything from intellectually disabled dogs to debilitating depression. The colorful pages are inspiring, and the humor, even when it addresses all that isn't funny, makes one take life less seriously. I mean, what else is humor for?

So I decided right then and there in the kitchen that creation is an infinite explosion of colorful confetti.  All this, our lives and what we've put into the world, is an amazing gorgeous blast of paper bits -- every flower, poem, song, star, laugh. We argue over where the confetti originally came from, when it came into being. We war when we can't agree on the answers.

It's everybody's confetti, but that's just not enough for some. And confetti alone doesn't satisfy. We have to paste and glue it, dye it, drown it, own it. We turn it into money, churches, walls and dungeons. That's just how we roll.

We've ruined everything. But that explains a lot.

Jesus saves. Saves us from what? Certainly not ham sandwiches, monstrous murderers and heavy vans that kill best friends (a death I left out). What's that I hear way in the back row? Hell? He saves us from hell? No, I'm afraid not. He might hold your hand, apologize profusely, but there are no surefire hell preventions. The best Christians I know have frequent flyer passes to hell. All they have to do is close their eyes, and there they are.

God listens. Hear that? Hear the warmth of being heard? That's all the warmth you're gonna get, because after God listens you're on your own to deal. He never promised bad things would never happen, that you'd never get cancer, that you'd live a long happy life and end up with a condo next to his.

Here's the hardest thing to face, which I've almost mastered: It's not meant to make sense. Sometimes it seems to, in a wonderful My Little Pony for Christmas kind of way, but other times it's just ugly black confetti everywhere. And it doesn't always clean up well.

Are there Tuesdays in Heaven? No, love. There aren't. There aren't Mondays, Mays, Groundhog Days or s'mores. But here, in a wondrous world that won't last forever, there's confetti, lots and lots of it.  Life is intentionally, artistically crude, which is usually a pretty good thing.

Try and celebrate it.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Rapers & Rape Guards

Whatever his name is, he's still out there, raping 1 in 4 women living in Sweden.  It's 1 in 5 in the US.  And get this, about 35% of women raped as minors will be raped again as adults.  So yeah, you can get struck by lightening and raped twice, more often in Democratic Republic of Congo.

Why are rapers called rapists?  Rapist sounds like specialist, gynecologist, psychologist, psychiatrist.  Raper is nothing special, but you'll need at least one specialist when Raper gets through with you.

I recently read an article in the New York Times about rape kits sitting for years on shelves, untested.  Law enforcement's excuse was that the testing was just too expensive (meanwhile, they're polishing their new shiny semiautomatic weapons).  I bet they wouldn't say that if more men were raped.

Men do get raped (1 in 71), which isn't far from their breast cancer odds (1 in 100).

Women are also more likely to be raped (1 in 6) than get breast cancer (1 in 8).

My own rape kit, which is an assortment of hairs and body fluids collected in the emergency room, sits on a shelf in Houston, Texas.  It's covered with thirty years of dust, never tested.  Raper is 30 years older than he was the morning he broke into my apartment.  If the fact that he raped someone else one week before me is any indication of his usual frequency, I don't want to do the math to determine how many more victims he assaulted these past 30 years.  Even if he were caught, only 3% of Rapers ever see the inside of a jail cell.

Quail Walk Apartments let me out of my lease after the rape.  It was simple.  I walked into the leasing office the next day, sat in a chair across from Lisa-the-apartment-lady and said, "I can't live here anymore.  I was raped."  That last word got tangled in my mouth for a minute, just like it did when I called the police the morning before.

"I'm afraid," I'd told Lisa-the-apartment-lady, but I stopped there.  The rest of it was too weird, that I was afraid Raper could still get into my apartment through the tiny air vents, that no matter how many times I checked the door and window locks, I feared Raper could unlock them somehow, perhaps with telekinesis.  The apartment just wasn't safe anymore, especially since many Rapers return to the scene.  Plus, everywhere was a memory, the kitchen where he searched for a knife, the bedroom where I fought him, the floor where he bound my hands and mouth with electrical tape, the bathroom where the rape occurred, or the end of it anyway.  Worst of all was the living room I crossed to unlock the front door when my boyfriend, a policeman, called to say he was on his way.

The boyfriend was late.  He had another girlfriend, I would later find out.  He gave Raper his opportunity, he and I, the ditz who unlocked the door. 

Raper raped another girl down the street, in a local park beside a recreation center.  There were no Rape Guards on duty.  They should have been stationed as frequently as fire hydrants and flagpoles, churches and Starbucks. 

A Rape Guard should have been alerted had the girl pressed a little button implanted somewhere on her body, a place Raper would never find it, perhaps under her right clavicle or beneath her bellybutton.  Maybe hers was a dental implant, a lever she could flip with her tongue and bite down.  Silently, the nearest Rape Guard would have been notified, could locate this latest victim by the signal of her rape prevention implant (RPI). 

But Rape Guards didn't exist back in 1984.  Oh yeah, they don't exist now either.  One can't even Google "rape guard" and see it appear as one word, like "lifeguard."  There's a website which is, ironically, a poker tournament site.

She hugged her Raper, that other girl.  She hugged Raper, maybe to save her life or miraculously, out of compassion and empathy.  I remember being shocked by this.  She mentioned it nonchalantly as she and I sat with a sketch artist working with the police.  We were there to describe the 5'9" white male with frizzy blondish hair.  He had a tan.  He smelled almost sweet, like exertion sweat, not nervous sweat.  He wasn't nervous at all.  Just determined. 

He's still out there, probably forever, but let's at least get his name right.  Raper makes rape sound more common, more everywhere, like a bad rash, like it is.  Raper sounds more like dangers waiting to pounce, like they are.  It sounds like both acting alone or in a group, one big party or a genocidal war game -- Let the rapes begin...  It's bride kidnappings, honor killings, bride burnings, acid attacks, female genital mutilation, human trafficking, ritual servitude (sex slaves).  It's all rape.

Raper is what we call him now, like driver or baker, shooter or taker; loser, hater, killer.  Raper is ancient, patient, and nowhere near retirement.  He can't tell you why he rapes, why women, especially, have it coming.  We won't forget his name, but he'll never know ours, the 1 in 4, the 1 in 5, the too many to count because not all want their names on kits collecting dust, collecting stigma and shame.  Why the shame?  There's a lot in a name.

What was the name of that other girl in the park?  Oh yeah, same as mine.  Nobody. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


In eighth grade my aptitude test results came with a warning:  Interest patterns too varied.

There was a little bit of this and that, and the only professions even close to my interests were: TV/Film director, teacher, social worker, nurse, writer.

Today I took a test on a website called Belief-O-Matic.  It's a place to test your religious personality and beliefs, to match you up with the perfect religion.  It's like, only it hooks you up with the right god(s). 

I scored the highest (100%) with the Unitarian Universalism religion.  If you visit their "What We Believe" website, there are a lot of "diverse beliefs" and "it depends" and "many believe it's unimportant or irrelevant."  The beliefs are all over the place, just organized confusion.  Like me. 

My lowest score was 11%, Roman Catholic, which is -- cough -- technically what I am.  Next to Roman Catholicism, also in the bottom 11%, was Orthodox Judaism.  Which means I'd more likely be a Muslim (20%), or a Scientologist (53%), than a Catholic.

I wanted my #1 religion to be Theravada Buddhism, because it sounds cool, or maybe Transcendentalism, because either Henry David Thoreau or Ralph Waldo Emerson chose that one.  The latter didn't even make the list.  Atheism wasn't on there either.

Aside from Unitarian Universalism, my top five religions (out of the 27 listed) were:

1. Liberal Quaker (84%)
2. Secular Humanism (79%)
3. Taoism (78%)
4. New Age (66%)
5. Theravada Buddhism (61%)

So I'm essentially screwed.  I'm going to hell, or I'll be reincarnated as a leech or leper, and I'll be thoroughly confused every step away from Nirvana.  I'll never find inner peace, a savior, or ultimate enlightenment.  Screwed.

I guess the simplest way to deal with ambiguity is to break things down to their smallest parts.  What exactly am I looking for? 

1.  I need a belief system (or do I?).

2.  There are many, too many to choose from without definite guidance from a superior expert, those being Jesus, Mohammad, Buddha, Ron Hubbard, etc.  But they're all dead, and God won't answer the phone.

3.  All I know for sure is that it's important to do no harm in life, to be kind, treat others as I want to be treated, tell the truth (when it does no harm)...  There's a little bit of good in almost every religion, and I think I'm enough of a grownup to choose the buffet and make the right choices.

4.  I don't really believe in life after death, in the sense that consciousness is involved.  I might be a dust mote or a water bear, stardust or ash.  Whatever it is, it won't be me, so I would only be good for goodness's sake, not to get into anyone's idea of Heaven or Happy Hunting Ground.  I think Heaven and Hell are states of mind, perhaps estates of mind, if there's any truth to cumulative Karma, which there might be in some weird cosmic butterfly effect sense.  It's just best to be good, what good means to me, which is doing no harm.

5.  I need to be an example to my children.  Can I be this good example without a religion?  Or can I call myself a Catholic to keep the peace in my family, to keep my husband from violently erupting in fear for my soul, and just quietly walk my own walk?

6.  Do I believe in a higher power?  Yes.  But this power has no name, and there is no appropriate pronoun, certainly not "he" or "it."  This power doesn't care to have a name, isn't built to care, doesn't have a language that involves "care."  Math doesn't "care."  Math just does what it does, quite well too, and Math doesn't ask for any praise.

A higher power caring would mean the power is human-like, which isn't what humans want, or is it?  We at least want better than us, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent.  We want a power that isn't petty, moody, unstable, weak.  I prefer something like "The Force" in Star Wars.  There was no pronoun to grapple with, which was quite nice.  It was an equal opportunity power.  No consciousness involved.  It's like a power source, magic soul fuel, and some kick-ass levitation. 

We're asked in Catholicism to "denounce Satan."  For me, Satan is right up there with ghosts and aliens.  I guess I get stuck on the fact that God was supposed to have created everything, including Satan (formerly Lucifer).  Therefore, if humans were made in the likeness of God, so was Satan.  So Satan is God/God is Satan.  Heads/Tails.  Am I the only one who sees this?

Henry Miller once said something to the effect that the only way to peace is to accept that God and Satan are two sides of the same coin.  Just like The Force and The Dark Side.  There are two ways to go.  Why do they need names?  Be good.  Do Good.  Show good.  Follow Good.  How hard is that?  Why do we need a gazillion religions to follow?  Powers with names.  Powers with egos that need praise, names, arbitrary rules and complicated rituals? 

Keep it simple, and sane.

I apologize if I've offended anyone.  I've spent at least forty years thinking/fretting about all this, trying to sort it out, but every truth I think I've found crashes eventually, splits on impact, like mercury.  There's no solid, no constant like Pi.  Except maybe Love, beautiful crazy Love.  It isn't particularly constant either, but that doesn't seem to matter, does it. 

May The Force be with us all (and no, there's no need to capitalize it)....  In fact, The Force could be represented by a symbol only, something like the-artist-formerly-known-as-Prince uses.  Then again, we'd probably argue over what that symbol would be.

May the <\+/>  be with you.  

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Kiss

I watched the little boy and his family during mass this evening.  I know his mother.  The boy is her third child, the first and only boy, probably a boy longed for by the father who held him during the entire service, who kissed the boy's soft cheeks with aching tenderness.

The child has Down Syndrome.  The kisses were saying:  I love you.  I love you in spite of, because of, no matter what.  I love you for the world to see.  They were the perfect kisses, whole, real, infinite.

He walks on his toes.  He can't sit still.  His almond shaped eyes are light blue, hair surfer blond.  He is maybe four years old, possibly five.  His tennis shoes were decorated with Spider Man.

I compared him to my own son, now seven.  My son is handsome, dark hair and Hershey's Kiss eyes.  He is funny, affectionate, adorable.

And he is autistic.

He has trouble sitting still, staying on task, understanding language.  He has the social skills of a three year old, gets stuck on ideas and movie scripts.  He may never live independently, have a job, drive a car, marry or vote.

I kiss him a lot, an inordinate number of times each day.  I kiss him in an almost desperate way, breathing in his cookie smell, the sweet of his doughy cheeks.  I kiss him to disappear from my world, to enter his.  I kiss him to seal the moment, a perfect eternity.

The other mother and I were disappointed when we learned that our sons weren't the sons we'd hoped for, expected.  Was it wrong to expect a healthy child?  Her third, my fourth.  We'd only known success, healthy, the usual.  We took these things for granted, believed that nature only screws up other people's kids, not ours.  We were special, different, protected.  Our lives were lucky, cocooned.

Not so.

Tonight, with my eyes half focusing on the alter and two priests, one with a cane, I saw a glimpse of my future.  My son was in his early twenties, strong, maybe a little too strong.  I was Medicare age, not so strong, still caring for the son who wasn't the son I'd hoped for, expected.

Some days, this image doesn't scare me.  I love him.  We'll be okay.

Other times, the image is too terrifying, like tonight.  I didn't want to look at it, so I refocused my eyes, stared at the slain Jesus, the priest barely able to walk, his blood red vestment and stole, the white alter approached with reverence where the ordained solemnly bow and kiss the clean white linens.

They have a ritual.  I have a ritual.  We have days, which begin and end about the same.  We wake up, every day, and live. I feed my son, literally and figuratively, walk beside him in a world made for others, not the disabled.  He is different.  I've heard all the sugary words, the platitudes meant to comfort.  Platitudes don't work, except when they're true, on good days, when I believe that his differences make him special, special in a good way, not the ways the world laughs at, points and stares at, and I struggle to stay here, where the good things are true, on the bright side.

I'm a better person, mother, human, because of him.  I've made more friends, real friends, living in Autism World.  I can write from the bottom of despair, parental despair, write my way from bottom to top.  I can make another mother of a disabled child smile, because it's not over, even if it's not the adventure she'd hoped for, expected.  I'm right there beside her, and we'll find ways to laugh at the absurd, to squeeze our strange outlier lives into a new Spanks-like normal.  We can have normal, just different.

But still, I sometimes feel disappointed when I remember what might have been, when I forget how much I love him, when I compare; when I focus on the cane and not the human, on the white and not the alter, on the cross and not the kiss.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Breakfast With Beast, Washing Feet, & Liquid Zoloft

My former father-in-law, an eighty-four year old I often refer to as "Beast" in my journals, came to visit last weekend to attend my eight year old's first communion.

We've gotten along better over the years, but sometimes he still tests me, like he did at breakfast the day I took him to the airport to fly home.  He asked me to pray over our pancakes at IHOP.  I reached across the Formica table for his hands as I mentally reached for the right words to decline his request.

"I want to hear you," he said, as if this were a job interview, a test of my worthiness, my holiness.

"I don't feel comfortable," I answered.  I never have felt comfortable praying aloud.  I struggle enough praying on my own these past few years, uncertain where to direct my prayers, worried it's all just a silly waste of time.  Besides, I don't like the sound of my voice.  The distraction makes it impossible to hear myself think.

So Beast began to pray out loud, something simple, good enough.  I could have offered something similar, but it still would have made me uncomfortable.  After the "Amen" he said, "I don't have to think about what I'm going to say.  It just comes out."

Bravo.  Must be an annointing or something.  I'm out of the loop, I guess.

The same weekend Beast came to visit, my husband bought me a CD lecture series, an RCIA course titled, "Welcome Home".  It's narrated by Father John Riccardo, a charismatic man, well spoken, intelligent.  You might even say he's cool.  He's handsome and young for a priest, maybe in his mid-forties.  He often does speaking engagements, recruiting new Catholics and urging those who are lapsed to come back "home."

The CD series is long.  Seventeen CDs.  I'm on #4.  I listen as I drive the kids to school every morning, and I catalog the information, wait for satisfying answers, convincing arguments.  I'm not buying any of it yet.  And this is unfortunate.  My life would be so much easier, if only.... 

But why is it necessary to teach the parts of a faith, step by step, rule by rule, symbol by symbol.  Why doesn't it happen naturally?  Why so much convincing?  Apologetics?  Seventeen CDs?

Do we need seventeen CDs to attract us to Love?  Do we need props, prayers and formulae?  No.  We don't.

It all seems very contrived to me.  If it requires this much explanation, so many apologetics, there's something inherently wrong.  This is way too many steps to God.  Too many predetermined steps toward an ultimate and equally impossible goal:  divinity.  If there's a heaven, we might achieve perfection there, whatever perfection is.  I'd have to lose my mind, my self, my power of thought to reach a state of absolute purity.  Rendered neutral.  Neutered.  Hollow.  Whatever Adam and Eve were before they ate that damn apple.

When we're hungry, we eat.  When we're thirsty, we drink.  When we're lonely, we reach.  When we're scared, we turn to a complex intellectualized fantasy called religion, a distraction of symbols and "holy" scripture, stories and promises, guides, gates, and a goal of eternity.  It's all suspended from a massive scaffolding, a dream we build out of a desperation to live forever, all glued together by some vapor called faith.

Albert Einstein said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."  Seventeen CDs sounds like what Shakespeare was trying to convey in Hamlet, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."  In his day, "protest" meant an attempt to convince.  

Add to Beast's prayer test and the long lecture series, a foot washing invitation last week from a church lady.  Yes, a foot washing.

Maureen is more of an acquaintance than a friend, someone I've volunteered with at our Catholic church.  We're both involved in the social concerns program and have lost a parent to suicide, but the comparison ends there.  If she knew me better, she would never have invited me to a "foot washing."

"We will get the experience of both washing each other's feet and getting our feet washed.  Come at 8:30 am for coffee and light breakfast, then from 9:00 to 10:00 we'll have the foot washing," she'd written in her invitation email.

Of course, this is supposed to be an exercise in humility and devotion, patterned after Mary Magdalene washing the feet of Jesus with her hair.  I get that.  But wouldn't it be more pragmatic to deliver blankets and food to the homeless?  Or offer babysitting to the exhausted parents of an autistic child?  Sitting around having coffee and washing each others' feet sounds self-indulgent, narcissistic.  I couldn't even bring myself to respond to the email.

I thought of Maureen though, during my daughter's first communion, when the priest said, "You can tell when someone is filled with the Holy Spirit.  They're filled with joy.  Their faces light up."  Really?  Maureen takes about three different types of antidepressants.  Without them, her face definitely doesn't light up.  Is this her fault?  Of course not.  Do we blame a lack of the Holy Spirit, or worse, Satan?  Do we blame Satan when a baby is born with two heads, when innocent children are casualties of war or die from an atrocious birth defect?

My sister-in-law and her husband were also present at my daughter's first communion.  We don't see them often since they live three hours away.  To prepare for their visit, I had to find a picture frame for an image of their deceased infant.  He was diagnosed with anencephaly during her eighteenth week of pregnancy.  Being Catholic, Syliva couldn't opt for abortion, even though the infant would not live beyond a few minutes or hours after birth.  The pregnancy was difficult on her already fragile mental state since she already suffered from depression, had had at least one nervous breakdown prior.

When the baby was born, his heart was beating, but he never took a breath.  He lived three minutes.  She and her husband took pictures.  She gave everyone in the family an 8x10 of the lifeless child, airbrushed, his blue eyes glassy and fixed.  I couldn't offend her by not displaying the photograph, which I'd put in a closet until I figured out what to do with it.  I dug around for a suitable frame, then placed the picture among others of family members, in a prominent place on the fireplace mantel.

Who do we blame for these things?  Sister Angelica touched on this during a program on EWTN yesterday (my husband watches frequently).  She didn't offer any satisfying answers.  People are desperate to know why they suffer so much.  God watches.  Satan trips us.  Bad crap happens.  Jesus hasn't returned, two thousand years later, but devout Christians still wait.

Why do they wait?  Without the promise of everlasting life, would they still wait?  Do they really love God, or are they desperate not to die?  Not to be some touched up photo on somebody's mantel?

There are five pill bottles on my kitchen counter.  Three are for the dog.  He came from a puppy mill.  He has allergies, anxiety, and is still recovering from sego palm seed ingestion.  So he takes two pills a day, one on an empty stomach in the morning, one with a meal at night, and he gets antibiotic eye drops twice a day.

The other two bottles are for my seven year old son.  One is liquid Zoloft.  We started him on the antidepressant a week ago Tuesday, to combat the OCD, tics and anxiety that come with his autism.  The liquid Zoloft didn't work out.  He could taste it in the yogurt, his juice, applesauce.  We switched to pills and he took them like a champ.  We'll know by Tuesday if it's working, the psychiatrist said.  We hope to see that he's no longer repeating lines from Dr. Seuss's Cat In The Hat or Green Eggs & Ham.  We hope he's no longer afraid of growing up, that he no longer cries at the prospect of having to drive a car one day, move away from home.  The idea of adulthood terrifies him.  I can understand that.  Adulthood terrifies me sometimes.

Autism drugs, a picture of anencephaly, the price of anxiety, seventeen CDs of apologetics, a morning of washing feet and being asked to pray over pancakes -- this has been my life lately.

My children are watching the movie Frozen as I type.  During the movie, the trolls sing a song about being a fixer-upper, and a lyric about making bad choices when we're mad, scared or stressed caught my ear.  They were referring to Anna agreeing to marry Hans immediately after they meet.  She was desperate.  She'd been lonely.  No one else was asking.  Is this how we choose our religions?  Do we simply reach for the one next door?  The first one that asks that we seek salvation, divinity?  Don't we all want to be saved, in one form or another?

The only time I don't think about these things is when I listen to music from a time when I wasn't worried about anything.  When I hear old Earth, Wind & Fire, or America, I feel firmly grounded.  Revisiting the past makes us feel better.  We know it.  We lived it, survived it.

There's no such feeling when we imagine tomorrow.  Even with religion, there are no guarantees.  Even if you're in the best possible position to enter Heaven, you're still gonna have to die to get there.  And there are no postcards from your deceased loved ones.  No brochures on heaven.  No infomercials.  Just faith.  And a few rules, like not fornicating, masturbating or using birth control.  No supporting gay marriage or abortion.  No living together out of wedlock.  Stuff like that.  And you have to memorize a few dozen prayers, receive a few sacraments (after receiving months of classroom instruction).  You have to go to confession regularly.  And pray.  Out loud.

I've been imagining Beast on his deathbed lately, not out of contempt.  I can just see our saying goodbye.  We've actually learned to get along over the years, have come to some understanding.  He's actually expressed to me some of his own doubts about Catholicism and what we can expect after death.  I can imagine our final conversation, low whispers as I sit on the edge of his hospital bed, the air around us thick with the smell of plastic and bleach.  I would tell him not to be afraid, that he won't be alone, that we'll meet him wherever he's going.

People have been dying for as long as they've existed.  We've "survived" death in a sense, have gotten pretty good at it.  What's to fear?  Aside from the pain that sometimes comes with it, or the idea of no longer being?  The thing is, I can't promise Beast or anyone that there's a heaven waiting for them, or that they're loved by God and heaven's angels.  I can't understand such a hands off love.

I can only express my own love, hold someone's hand.  And if on his deathbed Beast asks me to wash his feet, I will.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Paper Thin

My seventy-four year old dad called last week, just as I arrived at Texas Children's Hospital.  He called not because he'd learned that my sixteen month old granddaughter had had a seizure, a child he's never met.  He called because I hadn't written him in a while.

I haven't seen him either, not since 1998. 

I still owe him that letter, which I'll get to after this writing exercise.  There's not a whole lot to say to him, except that my granddaughter is okay, that her name is London, that her seizure was febrile. When I told him what happened to her over the phone last week he seemed disinterested, as thought he was watching the clock.  I mentioned that I planned to visit this summer with my younger children, to spend a week so I could see everyone, including him.  I heard the faintest disbelieving grunt on the line.  I've said this before. 

I might tell him in my letter that my husband and I will break ground soon for our house, that we've finally selected the exterior color:  HGTV's White Duck.  Or that my son will be leaving his school for autistic children and mainstreaming in a Catholic school.  Or that my skin biopsy came back benign.  But I don't think these things would really interest him. 

I recently typed up all the letters my family has ever written to me, to archive them.  I needed to preserve the span of over forty years, remember who we were then, what life looked like when Nixon was president, when the Beatles were traipsing through Strawberry Fields, when Remco was a household name.  We're not the same people now.  It's not the same world.  Some of us died long ago.

I feel closer to my father when I read through his letters.  All the pieces make more of a whole, or at least a bottom and couple of sides.  But I still don't want to see him, despite that at some point I may succumb to an overwhelming sense of guilt.  He might be on his death bed, or worse, in a coffin. 

Now I want to stop typing.  It's a depth I don't want to dredge up.  Better stay close to the surface, like waving to a neighbor you've never really met.  And that's terrible on so many levels.

I have reached out to my father before, reminded him of good times, assured him that just because Mom died doesn't mean it had been the wrong decision to divorce her ten years earlier.  She and her addictions would have brought him down with her.

I've asked him hard questions about our family, for details I was too young to remember.  But I've never asked him the other, equally important questions, like why he ultimately gave me to his sister to raise, or what happened the night he came home at 3 am with stitches in his forehead. I've never asked about the unfamiliar corner house where he once parked his car all night, the house my mother and I watched until I finally fell asleep in her lap. I never knew for certain what she suspected.  I'm still afraid to ask my father anything hard about our personal history, to shatter the delicate glass slipper, wave through the shimmering ruse, destroy the possibility of magically becoming what a father and daughter should be.  Real.

Like my mother I'm ridiculously addicted, to hope. 

A psychiatrist once told me, regarding my father, that sometimes we have to let go of people, even when they're family.  I'm still trying to decide whether that's what I want, but first I have to decide why I'm afraid to face him.  I thought I knew last year when I abandoned an attempt to visit him.  I got as close as Fort Worth, Texas, to the tiny house in Polytechnic Heights where I grew up.  But I couldn't move beyond it, to my father's house in Burleson where he lives alone after three failed marriages.  I then decided it was his long ago cruelty to my siblings and mother that justified my discomfort.  Why should I honor this man, our tenuous relationship, when he deeply hurt the people I love, no apologies?  But now I'm not so sure.

Opinions differ, my sister saying one thing, my father another.  I'm stuck in the middle; the two don't speak anymore.  But I'm haunted by what I do know, the night I saw him beat my sister, the afternoon he struck my thirteen year old brother in the face with a white-knuckled fist.  I remember the day not long after when he lunged at my brother, chased him out of the house for saying he wanted to move out and live with our mother.  My brother lived in the streets for the next nineteen years, and died there. 

My mother and brother can't corroborate any story.  I'm left with only pieces. 

So I go with my gut, remain on my side of the ruse, continue writing to my father about the present, but never about us.  I don't want to face him, in words or physicality.  I don't want to risk finding out that confronting my fears might result in nothing but an awkward moment, empty talk, hollow sounds masking raw wounds.  He would disappoint me.  I can't accept his destroying the fantasy we've built out of thin pieces of ourselves, out of paper and minutiae.  I can only live with disappointing myself, with facing him too late. 

The letters are insulation, and a substitute for the father/daughter relationship that is most likely impossible.  I just need to know that this is enough, for both of us. 

In the past I invited him to see me several times, but his excuse was always that he didn't "travel much."  I remember these words when I go through his letters, the post cards from the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas.  He couldn't travel 257 miles, 3 hours and 53 minutes to walk me down the aisle in 2003.  He declined when I invited him to see my last two children when they were born.  He just couldn't.

And now, neither can I.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Faith Deep

A Vietnamese woman once placed her small warm hand on my then pregnant belly and said, "You have girl."  I believed her, because she was so different from me, at a time when I didn't want to be me.  I believed her because we were standing in her element, fresh figs in a bamboo bowl, unsweetened green tea in a cup, other Vietnamese women softly clucking in what was for this Texas girl, a foreign tongue.  I believed because she believed. 

A doctor who had a reputation for incompetence once stopped me at work to say that my neck must be hurting because of the fixed tilt of my head.  He was right, and the pain was intense.  He took the time to walk me upstairs to his office, help me onto an examination table, and spend a half hour trying different neck collars to find the perfect fit.  His attention was thoughtful, slow and methodical, sweetly paternal.  He seemed to care about me in that moment despite all the other things he could have been doing, should have been doing, and this made me trust him, maybe even believe in him.

Two women visited me in the hospital while I labored with my fourth child, two complete strangers.  They came to pray for me.  I'll never know if it was their practice to visit all maternity patients, or only those who, for whatever reason, were laboring alone (my husband could not be with me at the time because we had no one to watch our two year old).  As I sat in an uncomfortable birthing chair the women prayed the Lord's Prayer, each holding one of my hands.   I felt embarrassed for crying, but the tears were unstoppable.  These women had been unexpected, their maternal kindness filling my deepest need which was, simply, to know that I wasn't alone.

What do these instances have in common?  Is it vulnerability, pain, fear and uncertainty?  Is it gentle touch, intimate attention, that others had intuited a need or question that I hadn't articulated?  These were people I didn't know well, might never see again, adding a rare ephemeral quality which focused the moment.

In all three instances and many others like them, I trusted someone, at least for a moment.  But I wasn't required to invest long term trust.  These were very low risk exchanges.  I would lose nothing for trusting these people.  A gender guess, a non-invasive medical prop and sincere prayer weren't going to kill or bankrupt anybody.

But what about riskier types of trust?  How do we discern the trustworthy from the predators, the  otherworldly wise from the out-of-this-world crazy?  In many cases, we don't have to.  When a psychic tells us we'll travel the world and meet Prince Charming in the next six months, it's no big deal.  But what about when large sums of money are involved, or our basic human rights, or even the long term future of our souls?

While we're busy worrying about GMOs, irregular moles and holes in the ozone layer, we're told this life is nothing compared to eternity.  We keep on paying on our mortgages, sending our kids to college, flossing and planning for retirement, despite this life being just a Pinto compared to the Cadillac that follows -- if we're good, a relative term.

But I trip over this part about the after life, especially after working in the medical field for so long.  Death is real, life is real, and both can get ugly.  And I've never heard from those who landed in any hereafter. 

I admit that I'm an SNSB, a Special Needs Spiritual Being.  I'm a mess when it comes to religion and faith.  Call it my "cross to bear".  I've had holy water poured on me by well-meaning Christians. Some wearing giant diamond Jesus pins have prayed over me outside busy shopping strips, prayed that my former husband, a cheating, gambling, drug-addicted abuser would return to me because "marriage is a sacrament, and what God has joined together..."

So many have worried over the fate of my soul, all because I struggle with reconciling the reality of the every day with resurrections and virgin births.  There seems to be such a chasm between the Catholic church and what looks like the real world to me.  Is real so wrong?  Is God so picky about where and with whom He works?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a THICK book.  Add the THICK Bible to that.  I get lost in all those words, in what reads like both a taunting riddle and a legal summons.

I need simple.  I need Bible Braille and a seeing-eye dog for the many busy contradictory intersections.  I need extra time on tests, miracles, signs, SIGNS, SIGNS!!!  Something like a bubbling brook that gurgles, The confusion is theirs.  The barriers and strictures are man made.  Relax.  I'm everywhere...------>And would God actually speak this, our human language? Or would it more likely be Math?  Or visual images?  Or the patterns in music?  Why would God limit communication to only words, or rely solely on them to reach each one of us?  Some can't read.  Some aren't allowed to go to school to learn.  Some will never see a Bible nor have the freedom to choose a religion.

And another thing, Why is God a He?  The apologists say that women can not be priests because Jesus, the first priest, was a man.  In other words, because Jesus had a penis.

My minds gets stuck in loops when I try to make sense of everything.  It goes something like this:   

The Catholic church states that abortion is wrong because of the sanctity of life, but says that capital punishment is right because the guilty must be punished, the worst guilt punishable by death, guilt decided by a jury of fallible humans.  The church says that killing the guilty is sanctioned by God (in the Old Testament at least), because it's written in the Bible by men who heard God's voice or had visions, and those visions or auditory hallucinations were different then than they are now, um, because those people weren't crazy like we'd assume in modern times. Anyway, the whole point of religion is giving our lives over to God, to Christ, who died for our sins, though we're still sinners, but he died to save us, to save us from death, though we die anyway, so rather we're saved from eternal damnation in Hell, Hell being either a hot fire or merely a separation from God, at least more of a separation that we already experience when worshiping a silent invisible being.  So Heaven is our goal, which is either gold and pearls or a mental state of union with God, sort of like we have now on a good day.  And Heaven exists because the Bible says it does, a book written by men only, the same men who thought the earth was the flat center of the universe. 

Pope Francis gives me hope.  I've considered writing him a letter, but the last time I wrote to a Pope (Benedict), he quit.

In our everyday lives we are advised to check the accuracy of our purchase receipts, to read the fine print of contracts and other complex legal documents, to ask questions, dig deeper, follow our instincts.  But religion says the opposite, that no matter what, we are to fall into faith, forget logic, forget ourselves and all that is "secular".   We're told to simply trust the mystery.

But there's a big difference between a mystery and a puzzle.  A puzzle has pieces.  We can find the pieces, solve the puzzle.  A mystery is elusive, baffling, confusing.  And I know one thing for sure, especially since the Affordable Healthcare Act became a reality:  There's money in confusion.

My brain can not reconcile these things.  And my common sense will not let me make that leap of faith.  As a child it was easy to believe, just as believing in Santa was easy.  But I'm no longer a child.

I'll let a soft-spoken woman predict the sex of my unborn child in broken English.  I can temporarily have faith in a doctor I wouldn't let operate on my dog while he makes a benign attempt to soothe a pain in my neck.  I can sit with those who wish to pray over me when I am afraid and lonely, even though prayer is an odd practice if God's will, which is always aligned with our best interests, can not be altered.

But I can't take the biggest leap of all, that giant ten meter dive, complete with divine rotations and impossible flips without making even the tiniest splash. I can't because I don't know what I'm diving for, believing the impossible for, suspending disbelief for, and I simply can't comprehend ambiguous unproven consequences or trust that there's even water in the pool.

You're diving for eternal salvation...  Salvation from what?  From the wages of sin...  Which are?  Death...  We still die.  Your body dies...  Exactly.  But your soul goes on to be with the Lord...  What's a soul?  Your spirit... Which goes where?  To Heaven...  Which is where?  Where God is...  Which is where?  In too beautiful a place for our feeble minds to comprehend...just trust that God is with you, that you are not alone.  Have faith.

For now I have no choice but to be still, at least until the water rises up to meet me. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Flying Cats & Lost Shoes

Bette Midler and my mother, Beverly, share a December 1st birthday.  That says a lot, or not.  It depends on whether you believe in astrology, that Sagittarians are a little wild, will punch you in the eye then take you to the doctor.  I like to compare average folk to celebrities, romanticizing both.

Mom saved alcoholics.  Bette saves trees.  Mom was an alcoholic.  Bette played one in The Rose.

The comparison ends there, except Beverly's fate was similar to that of Bette's fictional character.

Today is weird.  I've been on Twitter way too much, which means I now know of every disaster and crime around the world, and every flu death so far this season.  Maybe it's not a good idea to be so randomly connected after all, especially when you're deep in the doldrums.

The flu is going around, and my thirty-nine year old niece is in ICU on a ventilator.  She has pneumonia in both lungs, a complication of the flu.  She hadn't been feeling well for a week or two, went to the doctor and was immediately transported by ambulance to Baylor All Saints Medical Center in Fort Worth.

I have a babysitter on standby in case I have to fly there on a moment's notice.  I hope I don't have to make that call.

This cusp of tragedy coincides perfectly with my sudden preoccupation with mortality.  Too many friends have cancer or recently died.  Death seems to be knock-knock-knock'n on everybody's door.

I thought this wasn't supposed to happen until I was old, maybe 82.

The obituaries in the New York Times are usually a short list -- three names to save space -- of famous or semi-famous people.  I always focus on the age.  It's comforting to see that death usually occurs in the eighth decade of life.  This matters because I have much to do before I join the daisy pushers.  I have small kids to raise for starters.

But this isn't the problem I have with death, that it could happen too soon, will happen to me one day.  I have a problem with death happening at all, to anyone.  Which is unfortunate because it does happen, to everyone.

Deepak Chopra, who annoyed me until I watched an interesting interview this morning, talked about finding a mental state that enables us to peacefully accept mortality.  I haven't found that mental state yet.  But I need it, because the small loose ends are getting to me.  For instance, the gray fluffy cat on Highway 6 last week.  Her body was stretched as if flying, midair in a Superman pose, when she was hit by a car.  It was a completely insignificant event on the whole.  It certainly won't make the Twitter feed.   But I noticed it.

Then there was the lone shoe at the base of the curb farther down, a shoe without its foot or person attached, which metaphorically screams:  RANDOM.  Just as random was a leaf, bright red and brittle, floating peacefully from its tree limb to the street below before it was blown asunder by my rushing SUV.  Every few miles there was something else, a plastic shopping bag blown across the highway, the pulpy remains of squirrels, stray animals wandering near stray people.

These things really bother me, especially juxtaposed with Jesus Saves and God Listens bumper stickers.  Those stickers mean what exactly, when a young beautiful mother of two is fighting for her life in a Fort Worth hospital bed.

People get lost, hurt and die.  No one is spared.  And that sucks, even on a good day.

I remember my niece, Linda, when she was a toddler.  She was born in Hawaii, moved here to Texas when she was very young.  The first time I met her was an afternoon at her paternal grandmother's house when Linda emerged from a bedroom, still groggy from a long nap.  Her hair was a mad high rise, dark eyes puffy.  She was so timid, suspiciously eying those in the room.  She certainly didn't know who I was yet, her mother's younger sister.  I never heard her speak that day.

Linda grew up watching me.  She used to sit on the back of the toilet to watch me apply my makeup.  Like most little girls, she was fascinated with growing up, with feminine mysteries, but she would never need makeup.  She is exceptionally beautiful -- black hair, brown eyes, a flawless olive complexion and lashes as thick as a grass skirt.  She also grew into a courageous outspoken woman, no longer timid.  She describes herself on Facebook as "Loud". 

There are several others in ICU with Linda, similar symptoms, hooked up to ventilators.  This flu season the victims seem to be in their mid-twenties or middle-aged and otherwise healthy.  It doesn't make any sense.  Nothing does, really, unless I accept random as the norm, which is tricky and disturbing.  The other option is to believe in magical nonsense, which I'm too old for now.

I wish I still believed. 

Perhaps Deepak can suggest a nice balance between science and spirituality, or put a pleasant spin on random events.  I vaguely recall something about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, that the act of observing changes what is observed.  Kind of like an Escher drawing.  Something more easily digestible would be nice, some peace with permanent endings, and reassurance to quell the fear that none of this, none of us, really matter.

This is a dark blip in my usually positive outlook, but while it's here it's real and worse, there are real circumstances feeding it.

No celebrities immediately come to mind when I think of my niece.  Except maybe Melody Moezzi, an Iranian American writer, attorney and activist.  She is exotically beautiful, smart, and "Loud".  She's a fighter who overcame serious health problems.

This comparison is a strange comfort, my own version of nonsense.  It's also comforting to read that All Saints is committed to meeting everyone's spiritual needs:  "Persons of all faiths and those of none may come with equal confidence."  Those of none.

I like the word confidence.  Is it a cousin to faith?  Deepak described faith this morning as the act of accepting the unknown, releasing the need to make sense of everything.  Faith is also defined as belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.  The definition that gives me the most trouble is "the theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God's will."  Those words leave me feeling like the empty shopping bag blowing randomly across the universe.

Maybe it was faith that propelled the cat across the busy highway.  Maybe faith is the lost shoe owner's trusting acceptance that he would have the strength to move on and buy another pair.  Faith might be the courage to gracefully leave the tree, to accept the messy random pulp of life.  My mother, who saved others but couldn't save herself, was a frequent visitor at All Saints before alcohol won the war.  She always advised that we do what we can then, "Let go and let God."  But when she let go, so did God.  Poor communication, perhaps.