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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.