Thursday, December 18, 2014

Can't see the forest for the tree

So I dashed into the military surplus store today to finish up the last of my Christmas list. Of course I do my Christmas shopping at Ranger Surplus. They sell things I never imagined I could buy and I have a vivid imagination. Where else can you buy Russian pea coats, baby camo, gas masks, stun guns, and everything for the suburban survivalist?

I found exactly what I was looking for—why should I ever be surprised?—and headed for the cashier at the front of the store. In the back corner of the store, several people were engaged in a very heated argument. I wasn’t close enough to hear what they were saying. There were two employees at the cash register in the front—a sinewy heavily tattooed older dude, and a baby-faced tattooed younger dude. (I pulled down my sleeve to hide my own feeble tattoo, shamed by its size and lack of color.)

Older dude says, “They’re doing it again, the same old argument they always have.” And he explains to me that they are arguing about whether or not there is sound when a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it. I ask if they are kidding.

Younger dude says, “No, they’re serious, ma’am. There has to be a sound because sounds create vibrations. Vibrations are vibrations, whether anyone hears them or not.”

Older dude says to younger dude, “Oh, come on! Someone has to hear it for it to be a sound.”

And the two dudes continued the argument. So now there was an argument in the front of the store and the back of the store, both on the same unsolvable puzzle.

As I got to the door, I turned back to them and said, “Merry Christmas. Can you be satisfied knowing that this question will never be answered?”

“Merry Christmas, ma’am,” they said in unison before resuming their argument about the tree falling in the forest.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Acceptance without understanding

You do realize, don’t you, that I write this blog for myself, as a way to work out things in my feeble brain? I’ve been sitting by a fire, talking to God, listening for God, holding my aching head. And crying.  

Once again I am reminded of the need to accept what is, to accept God’s will in my life, even when I have absolutely no understanding of the why. There are so many whys. God must be tired of me. I ask Him why, why He keeps taking away people and things I love. Is it His plan to strip me down to nothing? No response. I ask Him why a certain person in my life (unnamed to protect the clueless) behaves toward me the way he does.  The answer I get is that it’s not about me, I’m not the center of the universe, have compassion. I ask Him why I’m alone, and He doesn’t respond. I ask Him why, when I try so hard, why . . .  Even I get sick of hearing myself whining. 

I know there are Bible verses that address this very question but I’m not in the mood to look them up. My head hurts and reading Scripture makes me cry more. I love the Lord, I believe, I believe. I know that He has it all in control, that everything will make sense eventually. Even the painful things that tear me apart now won’t matter at the end of my life. But when I’m hurting here and now and my patience is running thin, I need to be reminded. It’s one of those times when I want God to come and sit beside me on the couch, in front of the fire, and patiently explain things to me again. Yet again. I’m a slow learner when it comes to the inscrutable ways of God. Sometimes I just need Him to be a bit more scrutable. (Apparently scrutable is not a real word—why not? Just another one of my why questions.)

I know that all things work for the good of those who are called according to His purpose. I don’t have to look up that one—I know it’s in Romans somewhere. Like I said, I’m feeling too lazy, too much of a headache to look it up. I trust that it’s true but it doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with it sometimes. I don’t think God is saying that all things are good. No, not by any stretch of the imagination. Death, disease, war, mayhem, cruelty, and heartbreak suck; they are just part of the whole enchilada called the human condition. God knows that this enchilada sucks (even though He probably would not approve of my language—sorry, Lord). What I need to be reminded of is that those things, those wretched human things that suck, don’t matter in the long run. Where I struggle is seeing past today, seeing past the pain of this flawed humanity to the greater glory of God. In the end, none of it will matter. What matters is that God is God and I’m not, He has a plan, and in the long run, when I’ve slipped out of this mortal coil, I’ll get it. But now, while I’m still in the mortal coil and I don’t get it, I want Him to tell me why.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Day zero

This was the day. Today I had my dear cat, my darling girl, put to sleep. It was gentle and quick. She was so beautiful lying there after her last breath, the stress and pain were gone from her body. My heartache is too raw today, the house too empty. I will process all of this in time.

Funny how my life has been so steeped in grief. I’ve been grieving the death of my father, the murder of my brother, and the death of my dear Mike. And now I add Miss Kitty to the mix. I’ve been going to a grief support group and doing a lot of reading on sorrow and healing over the past couple of years. There are still more questions than answers. It probably will always be that way.

On this sad, sad day, there are two things that I have seen clearly for the first time.

One is the realization that I have held God responsible for what happens in my life—I shake my fist at Him and ask Him how He can allow such terrible things to happen. Yet, I go to this same God for comfort, I trust Him to carry me through this tumultuous life that He brought about.

My second thought is that today is the day Eva died. Tomorrow will be day one, one day after the day she died. I’ll take it one day at a time.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Dying on a cold cloudy day

Everyone has the right to die in their own unique way. The day is cold and damp, nothing but deep clouds in the sky, not even a hint of sunshine. And Eva spends nearly all of her time resting on her bed with the heated throw to keep her warm. Her body seems to be shrinking before my eyes. She eats little—some rice cooked in beef broth, a little mango yogurt, a few slivers of deli turkey. She drinks a few sips of water. And I keep the death watch. I get up in the middle of the night to check on her, to take her to the bathroom. I don’t sleep much. Even in the middle of the night I usually find her awake, sitting up in her bed, staring vacantly into the darkness. She may acknowledge me when I ask how she’s doing but she turns from me if I try to hold her. She is in her own world it seems, retreating into something that is beyond my understanding.

But it has been her life, and now it’s her death. I don’t own it. The only input I have is how I care for her, how I try to honor her journey. It’s breaking my heart to know that today, tomorrow, soon her final day is coming. I will miss her.

Eva is 17 years old, rather old for a cat. She is beautiful, even still, even though her body is failing fast, I still see that beautiful kitten, that young wild girl in her face. I won’t let her suffer. When the time comes, I will do what she would want me to do. She will tell me when it’s time or she will simply die on her own. I am cherishing these last days while at the same time I am steeped in deep sorrow. My girl, my companion for so many years. . .

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Gestalt and God

Not a good start. The first thing I did today was get out of bed and groan. My back hurt, my leg hurt, my hand hurt, actually everything hurt. I had coughed half the night and it was generally not a good day to be me. I said aloud, “Oh, good Lord, really? Why am I getting so doggone old? This just isn’t right. I don’t deserve this.”

To which the Lord responded, “Stop it. Just stop it. What did you expect?”

Uh-oh—He heard me. I shouldn’t talk like that if I don’t expect Him to pay attention. So I paid the price. We had to sit down and have a little fatherly chat, sort of like Gestalt therapy with God in the “empty chair.” It was brutal. It went something like this:

God said: Okay, tell me again what you’re complaining about and why you think you have the right to complain. I realize that is a two-part question but I think you can handle it.

I said: Oh, Lord, well you know I painted the entire kitchen yesterday, even the trim work, and everything hurts now. You know it’s tough to paint a kitchen, all that cutting around the edges, up and down the ladder a hundred times. I can’t do what I used to do and it’s making me really cranky. I’ve heard about this getting old shit progression of life—sorry, Lord—and I didn’t believe it would happen to me. I am fiercely independent. No one can do any of this work for me. I have to be able to do it myself. Didn’t you make me this way? What was part two . . . oh, yes. Why do I have a right to complain? Because it’s me this time. Look who you’re talking to. Yes, I can nod and say I understand, commiserate with my aging friends, but does that really mean I have to be included beyond the theoretical concept of aging? I don’t mind the numbers creeping up, I just don’t want the infirmities that go along with the bigger numbers.

God said: Donna Lee (I was touched that He called me by my birth name and He actually acknowledges it even though the priest that baptized me wouldn’t accept it because it’s not a saint’s name. . . but I digress.) Donna Lee, I created you mortal and I created the universe and the laws of nature. Nothing living lives forever. Nothing. Some people live many years, full lives; some die before they are born or their lives are cut short prematurely. You don’t think you’re being singled out, do you? Do you think you’re exempt from the laws of nature? What about your husband John—don’t you think he would have appreciated a chance to see your grandchildren? Do you really think I am treating you unfairly? So can you tell me again what you are complaining about?

I said: Well, I am not exactly complaining . . .

God said: It sounded like complaining to me.

I said: But, Lord, I haven’t been that bad, have I? I’ve pretty much done what I have to do and haven’t been nearly as bad as some people—and if anyone knows who the bad ones are, You do—so why can’t I get a pass on this? It’s not fair that my back hurts, it’s not fair that I messed up my knee, it’s not fair that my waist is getting thicker and my hair is getting thinner, it’s not fair that I’m tired . . .
 
God said (in a voice like thunder rumbling in the distance): Hush, child. Hush. Don’t for one minute forget what I have done for you. Need I remind you about my son Jesus? Need I remind you that I gave you life, that I gave you a mind, children and grandchildren, and that I wrapped you in a beautiful world that sustains you, surrounded by people who love you? Now I don’t want to hear you complain any more about growing old. Consider it a privilege reserved for only a select few. Now go on and live with some gratitude. I hope we won’t have to have this discussion again. You are dismissed.

 I said: Okay, Lord. You win. Again. Sorry.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Where lies my soul?

That old rock and roller Jerry Lee Lewis is now 79 years old and married to his 7th wife. He says this wife, #7, is his “soul mate.” I’m reading his biography—quite an interesting book, especially since it is written by Rick Bragg, one of my favorite writers. (Rick Bragg is the quintessential southern writer, a modern Faulkner in my humble opinion. Jerry Lee couldn’t have chosen a better writer to pen his biography.) So it took Jerry Lee seven tries to find his soul mate. Whatever . . . if that’s what he needs, who am I to question him. I’m glad he’s happy.

The question of the soul, what it is, where it is, has been on my mind. It snowed here last night and it snowed two days ago. But, like some sort of meteorological miracle, five days ago was a glorious day—sun shining, temperature in the mid-70s—like some last bittersweet reminder that we are heading in to the long haul of a cold, damp winter. In a stroke of pure good luck, I went to the Chesapeake Bay on that last glorious day, to the place where I spent my childhood summers on the western shore of the Bay. There was no one on the beach but my childhood friend and me. We walked in the sand, and I waded into the cool water of the Bay up to my shins. I found one puny little shark’s tooth, but even that miniscule fossil was enough to make me smile. Even today, I found sand in the shoes I wore that day. I left those last few grains in the shoes, just because I could. 

I stood on the shore five days ago, looking across the wide expanse of Bay, choking back tears. I was with a friend I knew back then who still lives there. She said, “It really gets inside of you, doesn’t it? It gets into your soul.”

I agreed. I can’t understand or explain what it is about that expanse of water, why it brings tears to my eyes, why it tugs at me some 50 years after I regularly spent time there. If something can indeed occupy a spot in my soul, that beach on the Chesapeake Bay is firmly planted.

This soul that I’m trying to understand is not the soul in the immortal sense, not the center of my devotion to God. It is a different aspect of the soul, the essence of my mortal fiber. It is something else, something I feel but can’t define or adequately describe.

Ever since that time on the Bay earlier this week, I’ve been thinking about moving away. I consider moving to the shores of the Bay. But that life 50 years ago has gone and perhaps moving there would end up feeling empty. That time, that home, no longer exists. What is this longing of my soul and is there anywhere on the face of the Earth that would feel like home to me? I’m feeling restless, like I want to find that sense of peace and connection to the Earth that I haven’t felt since. And there’s also something in me that makes me want to move far away and start over, fresh, leaving the troubles of the past years far, far behind me.

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. Adventurousness is a quality outside my range of thinking. But there’s this nagging feeling, this restless soul that won’t let me rest in peace.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

( . . . hush . . . )


My friend the psychotherapist called today. She could tell from my voice—just squeaks and grunts and wheezes—that I have laryngitis. “Didn’t you just have laryngitis a couple of weeks ago?” she asked.

“Yes,” I responded indignantly in my voice like an Ewok sucking helium, “but I think I caught it again from myself.” How indignant can a person sound with a voice like that? I don’t think she could grasp the full impact of my frustration.

“Hmmm. . . ,” she says. “Maybe there’s some sort of message in this that you’re not getting.”

Oh, no! A message? What message? It’s bad enough that I have a bum knee/leg that is not healing quickly enough. I’ve had to forego yoga for two months. Yoga keeps me sane. Now I can’t talk either? These were all things I was thinking. My absence of a voice kept me from saying them. I want to scream but nothing comes out, just the silent howl of a madwoman.

“Well, happy Thanksgiving to you too. Talk to you later.” I think she understood me. Maybe not.

Now I’m worried that there is indeed a message. Is God trying to tell me to shut up? Did I say something horribly offensive to someone and I’m paying the price? Do you remember the story of Zechariah told in the Gospel of Luke? The angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him that his old and barren wife Elizabeth would have a son, who would be John the Baptist. Zechariah didn’t believe the angel Gabriel so Zechariah was struck dumb, unable to speak until the prophecy was fulfilled. No angel has appeared to me and, I swear, if an angel appeared to me I would not refute what the angel was telling me.

What’s the message? I’m listening. There’s nothing else I can do.

Seriously. Can I dial 911 and tap a message on the phone to tell them to send me help? Is there an appropriate hotline? I never learned sign language. I can sign “I love you” but that doesn’t work in all circumstances. Like I can’t go to the deli counter to order a pound of ham and sign “I love you” to the deli clerk. Do you think the barista at Greenberry’s will understand that I want a grande chai tea latte with skim milk if I sign “I love you” to her?

Okay, okay, calm down. Put some music on Pandora and sing along with Janis Joplin—that’s what I usually do. “Take another little piece of my heart now, baby . . .” Fail. So I can’t sing with Janis, then I’ll dance. “Ouch, no, stupid leg.”

Frustration leads people to do desperate things. I cleaned my bathroom. I hate cleaning my bathroom.

Just another quiet descent into madness. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

That wretched ten percent

Ninety percent of the time I’m fine with being single. No, maybe it’s 95 percent . . . ummm. . . could be 85 percent. For the sake of argument, let’s say it’s 90 percent. Today is the 10 percent, that wretched 10 percent.

All I did was go to the grocery store mid-afternoon to pick up a prescription, cat food, milk, and toilet paper. (It’s supposed to snow tomorrow. There’s some sort of mandate in our state constitution that says all citizens have to buy milk and toilet paper if there’s snow in the forecast. So I did my civic duty and bought the last container of organic skim milk in the store and a couple of rolls of toilet paper.) 

Lines were long and people were crazy. The nice lady behind me in line was buying some ground beef and a bag of cranberries, along with other things I didn't notice. We commiserated about the idiots in the line who slowed up the process by talking on their cellphones. She said cellphones should be banned in grocery store check-out lines and I agreed. We laughed and smiled, comrades in the check-out line. We’re both over a certain age—old biddies and no one cares about what we think anymore. I noticed that there were a lot of seemingly happy couples shopping on this midafternoon, two days before Thanksgiving, snow in the forecast. I thought, well at least the nice old biddy in line behind me, buying ground beef and cranberries, is alone too. Then she sees a man in the distance, waves and calls, “Tom, Tom, I’m here.” A perfectly lovely gray-haired man with his arms full of groceries joins her in the line. My sense of comraderie with the other old biddy instantly faded.

Yesterday I had lunch with three friends, all happily married for the second time. For me, the first marriage failed and there was no happy second marriage. The other women talked about domestic life in an entirely different way than I experience my life. They talked about planning trips and making decisions about household repairs and grown children and negotiating what they are doing for the holidays. They simply have someone there to share the mundane things in life and to support them through the tough stuff. They have partners who participate in those decisions.

So I came home and resumed painting the bookshelves in my office. By myself, of course. I’m not talking to anyone because for the past week I’ve had a bad case of laryngitis that relapsed because I talked some yesterday. So the feeling of aloneness and isolation is staring me in the face.   

“I don’t want a man, I don’t want a man, I don’t want a man,” I whisper to myself repeatedly. I really don’t care. It's really good just as it is. There’s no one to upset my routine, no one to cook meals for, no one to intrude on my tranquility. But sometimes I do care. Sometimes it really hurts and I feel so alone that I want to scream. Like now. I would scream but I have laryngitis.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Cold meatballs

It might have been a sign from God and I ignored it. My late-ex-former husband was never satisfied with my cooking or anything else I did that involved food. I worked on it, honest I did, and it seemed everyone loved my cooking. Everyone but himself. Here’s the sign from God that I missed. Early in our marriage the former husband complained to me that I “never” had anything good in the refrigerator like his mother had. When I asked him for a specific example of something that was in his mother’s refrigerator and never in our refrigerator, his response was “cold meatballs.” Yep, I was making beef stroganoff and he was looking for cold meatballs. Let me point out that these allegedly wonderful meatballs that I could not produce would have been sitting on a plate in his mother’s refrigerator completely unwrapped. Just sitting there like the day they were produced with nothing between them and the cold air circulating in the avocado green Coldspot. They most likely would have been next to a plate of cold unwrapped spareribs, another thing I failed to produce. I should have said, “Well, if cold meatballs is what you want, my darling, then maybe you just need to park yourself in front of your mama’s refrigerator and leave me alone with the vichyssoise.” I can come up with some great comebacks, given 40 years or so to think about it.

There is no implication that his mother was not a good cook. She was a wonderful woman, I loved her probably as much as he did, but she was an Irish woman from Philadelphia who knew how to cook meat and potatoes. Thanksgiving dinner at her house involved the slaughter of a number of animals from someone's farm. It would include: turkey, ham, roast beef, cocktail shrimp, spareribs, mashed white potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing with sausage, rolls (always burned), gravy (homemade, of course), and a seasonal Jello mold. Note the absence of a single green vegetable. Nothing. Nada. The Jello might have been green but I recall it was usually red and it might have included canned fruit cocktail and maraschino cherries. Dessert included pumpkin pie, apple pie, banana cream pie, cheesecake, and various flavors of ice cream. Cool-Whip for all.

Okay—it’s less than a week before Thanksgiving and now I’ve done what I needed to do. I have completely lost my appetite for all things Thanksgiving. But I might go look in the refrigerator to see if there are any cold meatballs.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

With open hands

There once was a man, very dear to me, who called me Stands with Fist. Stands with Fist is a fictional character, a Lakota woman from the book and the film Dances with Wolves. She was a symbol of defiance and strength. And perhaps I embraced that image and have seen myself as someone who could withstand the blows that life threw at me. (I have written about Stands with Fist briefly on this blog before—at http://donnaxander.blogspot.com/2011/05/stands-with-fist.html.)

Perhaps that defiance, that perceived self-reliance, does not serve me well when it comes to relating to God. My strength comes from God; my weakness becomes an asset because it reminds me of my reliance on Him, that His grace is all I need. No need to be strong, no need to clench my fists, just rest in His grace. Probably my most favorite Bible verse, from 2nd Corinthians, is:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

I am reading a short Henri Nouwen book entitled, With Open Hands, a guide to prayer. He writes about being comfortable in silence and coming to God in prayer with acceptance and trust. Funny, but in a literal sense, that’s the way I’m most comfortable praying. With open hands, beseeching Him, receiving what He has to say to me. The hands clenched in desperation don’t seem appropriate.

A quote from the Nouwen book:
The wisdom of the world is the wisdom that says: “It is best to stand firm, to get a good grip on what’s yours here and now, and to hold your own against the rest who want to take it away from you; you’ve got to be on your guard against ambush. If you don’t carry a weapon, if you don’t make a fist, and if you don’t scramble to get what you need—food and shelter—then you’re just asking to be threadbare and destitute, and you’ll end up trying to find a mediocre satisfaction in a generosity which no one appreciates. You open your hands and they pound in nails! Smart people keep on their toes, with muscles tense and fists clenched; they squint and are always ready for an unexpected attack.”
So much for the wisdom of the world—let down your guard, unclench your fists and they will pound nails into your hands. Maybe the wisdom of the world doesn’t serve us well. I need to unclench my fists, open my hands and trust God.